The Revelation of the Qurān

This is a guest post that has been taken from the Light of the Furqan blog.

انا انزلناه في ليلة القدر

Indeed We sent it down on the Night of Ordainment1

This post is the fifth in a series of summaries of Ayatollah Haadi Ma’rifat’s book entitled, Amouzish Ulum Qurāni (Learning the Qurānic Sciences). For an introduction to Ayatollah Haadi Ma’rifat and his works, click here. To read the previous post which discussed narrations claiming that Satan interrupted revelation, click here.

In the third chapter of his book, Allamah Ma’rifat discusses a series of issues that surround the beginning of revelation. Upon looking through his discussion, I found that it requires some context in terms of discussions that have previously occurred between our scholars. Due to this, I have instead focused this post on a view that Sheikh Saduq and his student, Sheikh Mufid, both discuss after which I have clarified some points and posed some questions. God willing in the next post I will discuss Ayatollah Ma’rifat’s view on some of the matters discussed within this post.

The following is a discussion concerning the issue of “how” the Qurān was revealed; that is, was it revealed all at once upon the Prophet, or was it sent down gradually over a period of many years. This discussion centres around a narration that brings forward many interesting views and questions concerning matters discussed in the Qurānic sciences. The narration is as follows,

Hafs bin Ghiyāth narrates from Imam al-Sādiq,

“I asked him [Imam al-Sādiq] about what Allah has said in the Qurān, ‘The month of Ramadhān is that in which the Qurān was revealed…’2 whilst at the same time, Allah revealed the Qurān over 20 years from beginning to end.

Abu Abd Allah responded, ‘The Qurān was sent down as one piece in the month of Ramadhān to bait al-ma’moor3 and then sent down over a period of 20 years’”4

It should be noted that in the above translation, the words “one piece” are in bold, this is because there are different grammatical interpretations of the usage of these two words in the sentence. Some scholars argue that “one piece” is describing the way in which the Qurān was revealed, that is, it was revealed as one piece, this is the view that the above translation is indicative of. Others disagree and argue that “one piece” is part of an elliptical construction, that is, part of the sentence has been omitted; according to this view, that part of the narration would be translated as such, “The Qurān was sent down, one piece of it, in the month of Ramadhān to bait al-ma’moor…”

Sheikh Saduq says in regards to the revelation of the Qurān,

Our belief concerning the revelation of the Qurān during the night of Ordainment is that the Qurān was sent down during the month of Ramadhān on the night of Ordainment as one piece to bait al-ma’moor. Then it was revealed from bait al-ma’moor over a period of 20 years and that Allah granted his Prophet knowledge [of the Qurān] instantaneously [or all at once as opposed to gradually/over a period of time] 5

Sheikh Saduq goes on to quote two verses which are as follows,

وَ لَا تَعْجَلْ بِالْقُرْءَانِ مِن قَبْلِ أَن يُقْضىَ إِلَيْكَ وَحْيُه‏

Do not hasten with the Qurān before its revelation is completed for you 6

لَا تحُرِّكْ بِهِ لِسَانَكَ لِتَعْجَلَ بِه‏

Do not move your tongue with it (Qurān) to make haste with it7

Exegetes typically explain these verses by proposing that the Prophet had complete knowledge of the Qurān before its piece by piece revelation and thus when Gabriel would be delivering revelation to the Prophet, he would sometimes recite what was being revealed faster than its revelation. This is one of the common explanations for these verses, although there are others8. I only wished to mention these verses to demonstrate that Sheikh Saduq used them as proof to claim that the Qurān was revealed upon the Prophet all at once. Sheikh Mufid focuses his criticism upon this claim.

He writes as follows,

That which Sheikh Saduq has adopted as his opinion in this matter is based on a solitary report9 which does not lead to certainty or have any practical implications. Moreover, the revelation of the Qurān piecemeal, as needs arose, is contrary to what the narration claims. That is, seeing as the Qurān included descriptions of what had occurred in the past, it is not possible for the Qurān’s narration of such events to be true unless the Qurān was revealed as such events occurred. The following two verses may be taken as examples.

وَ قَوْلِهِمْ قُلُوبُنَا غُلْفٌ بَلْ طَبَعَ اللَّهُ عَلَيهْا بِكُفْرِهِم‏

“…and for their saying,” Our hearts are uncircumcised.” Rather Allah has set a seal on them for their unfaith…10

وَ قَالُواْ لَوْ شَاءَ الرَّحْمَانُ مَا عَبَدْنَاهُم  مَّا لَهُم بِذَالِكَ مِنْ عِلْم‏

“They said,” Had the All-beneficent wished, we would not have worshipped them.” They do not have any knowledge of that…” 11

These are narrations of the past which require that the narrator should not precede the occurrence of the events being related. If the narrator preceded the occurrence of the events (and thus narrated the events before their occurrence) then such events would be related as the future.

There are many such instances in the Qurān, one of which is the narration of dhihār12 and its reason. This occurred when a woman complained to the Prophet, may Allah bless him and his progeny, about the issue of dhihār and Allah revealed the first verse of the chapter of Mujādila.

Allah has certainly heard the speech of her who pleads with you about her husband and complains to Allah. 13

This event occurred in Medina, how is it so that Allah revealed the verses concerning it in Mecca before the migration (hijra). If it was as such then Allah narrated an event to have occurred even though it had not[since the event was narrated in the past tense]. Furthermore, if we were to examine other accounts narrated within the Qurān then we would come across many instances similar to that which we have mentioned which would take us beyond the scope of our discussion. Thus, what we have mentioned is sufficient for those who are perceptive…

Also, it is possible in the aforementioned narration about the revelation of the Qurān as a piece on the Night of Ordainment, that the intent by the revelation ofa piece be a piece of the Qurān on the Night of the Ordainment; after which the other parts of the Qurān were subsequently revealed until the death of the Prophet. However, the opinion that the Qurān was revealed in its completeness and altogether on the Night of Ordainment is very far-fetched with respect to what is warranted by the apparent meaning of the Qurān, mutawātir traditions 14as well as the consensus of the scholars…

Sheikh Mufid makes a very convincing argument, however it is not free from any criticism. For example, the claim that a solitary report cannot result in any sort of certainty is a topic of much discussion. Ayatollah Khoei seems to disagree with this claim15. Another possible criticism, which is more grammatical, concerns the nature of association between verbs and time in Arabic (seeing as Sheikh Mufid argues that a future event cannot be narrated in the past tense). For example, the arguement can be made that time in association with a verb is not understood from its structure (which is the popular view as well as the view that Sheikh Mufid seems to have held), rather it is understood from contextual clues16. For example, the following verse may be taken into consideration

أُدْخِلَ الَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ وَ عَمِلُواْ الصَّالِحَتِ جَنَّاتٍ تَجْرِى مِن تَحْتِهَا الْأَنْهَارُ خالِدِينَ فِيهَا

Those who have faith and do righteous deeds will be admitted into gardens with streams running in them

Here the verb, أُدْخِلَ, is a “past” tense verb, however due to its association with a discussion about the hereafter, which serves as a contextual clue, it is understood and translated to be indicative of the future tense. In the case of the Prophet, the fact that the “piece by piece” revelation of the verses had not occurred would serve as a contextual clue to their being in the future tense for the time being. Of course, this warrants a lengthier discussion as many questions come to mind with such a claim.

Overall, the question of whether the Qurān was indeed revealed upon the Prophet all at once has been the source of much discussion and debate, many exegetes have discussed this matter and offered differing views within their works. My goal here was to simply present some different opinions in order to encourage thinking as well as to pave the way for future discussions. In the next post, I hope, by Allah’s will, to cover Ayatollah Ma’rifat’s views and reasoning in relation to some other issues concerning the revelation of the Qurān. I can only hope that the discussion brought forth in this post was beneficial, as to its answer, God truly knows best.

و الله اعلم


  1. al-Qadr 97:1
  2. al-Baqra 2:185
  3. Often translated as “the oft-frequented house”, there are differences of opinion as to what bait al-ma’moor is. A popular opinion, as mentioned by Allāmah Tabrasi is that it is a house in the fourth heaven where angels perform acts of worship
  4. Kulayni, Usul al-Kāfi v. 2 pg. 649, I have refrained from mentioning the whole chain of narration, or discussing any of the narrators for the sake of brevity and because such discussions require the development of a thorough and consistent framework of evaluation. Although it is interesting to note that Hafs Bin Ghiyāth was Sunni, however Sheikh Tusi seemed to rely on him, for a thorough discussion, page 148 of the sixth volume of Syed al-Khoei’s Mu’jam al-Rijāl can be referred to.
  5. Saduq, al-I’tiqādāt, pg. 83
  6. Taha 20:114
  7. al-Qiyāmat 75:16
  8. Tabrasi, Majma’ al-Bayān fi Tafseer al-Qurān v. 7 pg. 52 Allamah Tabrasi has recounted the above mentioned view as well as others
  9. Any report which is not mutawātir constitutes a solitary report, refer to footnote 14 for a definition of mutawātir
  10. Al-Nisā 4:155
  11. al-Zukhruf 43:20
  12. Dhihār was a common practice amongst Arabs, particularly before the time of the Prophet. This was a practice in which Arab men would compare the backsides of their wives to their mothers’ backsides. It is recorded in multiple sources that the first few verses of the chapter of al-Mujādilah were revealed after a woman (there is a difference of opinions concerning who she was) complained to the Prophet concerning this practice, for further reference refer to, Tusi, al-Tibyān fi Tafseer al-Qurān v. 9 pg. 539
  13. al-Mujādila 58:1
  14. A tradition narrated to such an extent that there is no doubt that any of its narrators could have colluded to fabricate it, the number of such traditions is very little, refer to, al-Shaheed al-Thāni, al-Bidayāt fi ‘Ilm al-Dirāyat pg. 21
  15. Khoei, al-Bayān fi Tafseer al-Qurān pg. 398-399
  16. Hussaini Tehrani, ‘Ulum al-‘Arabiyyat v. 2 pg. 896

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