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The Quranic Revelation and Compilation: From the Book 'Essential Message of Islam' By Muhammad Yunus & Ashfaque Ullah Syed

 

By Muhammad Yunus & Ashfaque Ullah Syed

March 23, 2015

 

 

 

As a hanafi (believer in the Oneness of God), Muhammad had taken to periodic meditation in a mountain cave above Mecca. During one of these meditations, he heard a voice saying:

“Read! (O Muhammad,) in the name of your Lord who creates (96:1), (who) created man out of a clot (2). Read! Your Lord is Most Noble (3). He taught humans the use of the intellect (4). He taught man what he did not know” (96:5).

This was the beginning of the Qur’anic revelation (610). The next revelation, comprising the first seven verses of the 74th Sura (al- Mudaththir), came after a pause (Fatarah) of two to three years, commanding the Prophet to proclaim his Prophetic mission, and setting out some of the core concepts of Qur’anic message:

“O you enwrapped (Mudaththir) (in your thoughts) (74:1)! Arise and warn (your people) (2). Magnify your Lord (3). Purify your inner self (thiyab) (4).14 Shun all defilements (5). Do not bestow favour, seeking gains (6). And turn to God in patience” (74:7).

The revelations came in phases,15 and at an early stage of the revelation, it assured the Prophet that he would have no difficulty in remembering and reciting the Qur’an.16 This enabled verbatim recording of the revealed passages. The revelation continued for almost twenty-three years (610-632) until it declared its own completion, and the ‘perfection of its laws’ (5:3):

“…This day, those who reject (this Qur'an) despair of (ever harming) your religion. Therefore, do not fear them; fear Me. This day I have perfected your religion for you, completed My favour on you, and have chosen Islam for your religion…” (5:3).

1.       THE QURANIC REVELATION AND COMPILATION

1.1.          Social and Moral Setting Of Pre-Islamic Arabia

Barren sandy desert, extremely hot climate, and scarcity of water resources made the heartland of the Arabian Peninsula an inhospitable abode for man since ancient times. Its original people were pagans, except for some Unitarians (Ahnaf) who contemplated on the Oneness of God. In the post Judeo-Christian era, pockets of wet fertile land attracted Jewish and Christian settlers from the adjoining regions, and became isolated centres of trade and commerce. However, the vast stretches of the desert heartland that only sustained a nomadic life, remained in a primitive state until the advent of Islam. The nomadic tribes had preserved their ancestral paganism, with each tribe having its own idol; and the Ka‘ba, a cubical shrine at the heart of an ancient sanctuary (Haram) in Mecca, was the centre of idol worship. The nomadic Arabs were largely unlettered, had no notion of central state or kingdom, and their social and moral norms were based on traditions (Sunnah) and dictated by the struggle for survival.

The Qur’an does not offer any details on the social and moral conditions of the time. However, as part of its dialogue with the pagan Arabs, it touches on the major vices of the era, as summarized below.

The Arabs abhorred the birth of a female child and would rather bury it alive than bear the shame and ignominy of raising it.1 They also slaughtered their own children,2 as sacrifice to idols, or on account of poverty.3 They forbade certain crops and animals to common people, reserving them only for the priests.4 They reserved some livestock for men, but allowed the women to share only that which was born dead,5and forbade four kinds of cattle of either sex for food.6

The men folk did not take any financial responsibility for their wives, and so when they were away on trading missions, their wives cohabited with other men to maintain themselves,7 and the vestiges of incest had lingered on.8

The poor, orphans, and travellers in distress were left uncared,9 slavery was institutionalized,10 and the sick and the mendicant were ostracized.11   

Offences against members of rival tribes were avenged by ‘like for like’ injury resulting in an unending cycle of avenge and blood vendetta often lasting for generations,12 while economic injustice and immoral commercial practices were rampant.13  

1.2.          The Qur'anic revelation

As a Hanafi (believer in the Oneness of God), Muhammad had taken to periodic meditation in a mountain cave above Mecca. During one of these meditations, he heard a voice saying:

“Read! (O Muhammad,) in the name of your Lord who creates (96:1), (who) created man out of a clot (2). Read! Your Lord is Most Noble (3). He taught humans the use of the intellect (4). He taught man what he did not know” (96:5).

This was the beginning of the Qur’anic revelation (610). The next revelation, comprising the first seven verses of the 74th Sura (al- Mudaththir), came after a pause (Fatarah) of two to three years, commanding the Prophet to proclaim his Prophetic mission, and setting out some of the core concepts of Qur’anic message:

“O you enwrapped (Mudaththir) (in your thoughts) (74:1)! Arise and warn (your people) (2). Magnify your Lord (3). Purify your inner self (thiyab) (4).14 Shun all defilements (5). Do not bestow favour, seeking gains (6). And turn to God in patience” (74:7).

The revelations came in phases,15 and at an early stage of the revelation, it assured the Prophet that he would have no difficulty in remembering and reciting the Qur’an.16 This enabled verbatim recording of the revealed passages. The revelation continued for almost twenty-three years (610-632) until it declared its own completion, and the ‘perfection of its laws’ (5:3):

“…This day, those who reject (this Qur'an) despair of (ever harming) your religion. Therefore, do not fear them; fear Me. This day I have perfected your religion for you, completed My favor on you, and have chosen Islam for your religion…” (5:3).

1.3.          Genesis, Literary Grandeur and Consistency

The revelation came like ad hoc passages, without any continuity of theme or rhythm. Moreover, no attempt was made by the scribes to record the revealed passages in a chronological order: the Prophet directed their exact location in the Qur'an. This led the Prophet’s Meccan enemies to question his claim to be God's messenger. The revelation responded by challenging its audience to produce a chapter like it (2:23/24):17

“If you (O people,) are in doubt concerning what We have revealed to Our Servant, then produce a chapter like it; and call on your witnesses besides God – if indeed you are truthful (2:23). But if you do not do (it) - and you can never do (it), then heed hellfire, whose fuel is human beings and stones - prepared for the disbelievers” (2:24).

The Qur’an also claims that no one can even forge it (10:38),18 and asserts that it is of such a literary grandeur that only God Almighty could be its Author (10:37):

“This Qur'an could not possibly have been devised by (anyone) other than God – rather, (it) is a confirmation of what was (revealed) before it; and a fuller explanation of the Book in which there is nothing doubtful, from the Lord of the worlds (10:37). Do they say, he [Muhammad] forged it?’ Say (to them): ‘Then bring a chapter like this, and call upon anyone besides God you can - if indeed you are truthful’” (10:38).

At the height of literary eloquence, the Arabs had great poets and poetry was big part of their lives, but they recognized in the Qur’an, the most eloquent language they had ever heard. The Qur’an virtually cast a spell on the listeners, so much so that the Quraysh asked people to chat and make noise during Qur’anic recitation, understandably, to foil its magical effect.19  

The Qur’an also challenged the priests and the learned among its audience to probe into it and find any contradiction in it (4:82) and asserted that its self-consistency is yet another illustration of its divine character (18:1):20

“Don’t they ponder over the Qur’an?  Had it been from (someone) other than God, they would have surely found much contradiction in it” (4:82).

“Praise be to God who has revealed to His devotee the Book, and did not put any distortion in it” (18:1).

As the revelation progressed, the seemingly unrelated passages fell in place and created an immensely intricate and inexplicably harmonious pattern of the Qur’anic text. This fully convinced the Arabs, who had opposed Muhammad for almost two decades, of the divinity of the Qur’an, and they came to the Prophet in large numbers from all over Arabia to embrace the new faith.  

1.4.          Memorization / Recording during the Prophet's Lifetime

Early Qur’anic revelations were generally short, and were memorized by Muhammad’s followers, as pieces of a divine litany. In later years, revealed passages became longer. They were not only memorized, but also recorded. The scribes wrote them down on dry palm leaves, camel hides, paper scroll etc. When any writing material was not at hand, they inscribed them on white stone, animal bones, hardened clay, wooden tablets etc. These early records and inscriptions were then written down on sheets (Suhuf), which were held in reverence (80:11-16).

“Nay! The Qur’an is a message (80:11) for anyone who wants to remember (12), (retained) in honoured pages (Suhuf) (13), elevated and immaculate (14), (written) by the hands of scribes (15) – noble and virtuous” (80:16).

As the pagans put pressure on the Prophet to alter the wordings of the revelation such as by accommodating their deities, the Qur’an declares (6:115, 85:21/22):21    

“The Words of your Lord will be fulfilled truthfully and justly: none can change His Words, for He is All-Knowing and Aware” (6:115)

“Surely We have sent down this Reminder, and surely. We will protect (preserve) it” (15:9).

 “Nay! This is a Glorious Qur'an (85:21). (Inscribed) in a Tablet (well) guarded (Lauh al-Mahfuz) 22 (against corruption)” (85:22).

These Qur’anic pronouncements serve as irrefutable proof of the integrity of its text. Had there been any alteration in the Qur’an, the Prophet’s enemies as well as the general Arab public would not have embraced Islam during his lifetime; and even if, for the sake of argument, they did so under the prevalent historical setting, they would have definitely rejected the Qur’an immediately after the Prophet’s death. However, this did not happen. The Prophet’s immediate successors were as intense in their faith in the Qur’an as their predecessors during the Prophet’s lifetime. Thus there can be no iota of doubt that the Qur’an was handed down to the Prophet’s successors, and through them to the posterity in its original form.

1.5.          Final Compilation and Authentication

While some of the Prophet’s companions23 compiled their own manuscripts (Masahif), Zayd bin Thabit, the foremost among the Prophet’s scribes collated all the original sheets (Suhuf) within two to three years of the Prophet's death (632). These were retained originally by the first Caliph, Abu Bakr (632-634), then by the second Caliph, ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab (634-644), then by Hafsah bint ‘Umar, one of the Prophet’s widows, and finally authenticated by the special committee set up by the third Caliph, ‘Uthman Ibn ‘Affan (644-656).

The personal manuscripts of the Prophet’s companions showed nominal differences in spelling, arrangement and numbering of chapters (Suras) and synonyms. Uthman's commission cross checked Hafsah's original sheets (Suhuf) with each of these manuscripts as well as with the memorized litany, and arrived at a ‘singular' text, which had the concurrence of all the companions of the Prophet, and was declared authentic without doubt (Mutawattir). Some of Uthman’s manuscripts are preserved. He made five copies and sent one copy each to Egypt, Syria and other dominions of Islam. Three of the copies have survived, and modern secular research has also established that except for dots and orthographic marks that were introduced later, 24 they are identical to what we have today.25

1.6.          Historical Accuracy of Qur'anic Records

The Qur’anic records of the social, moral and political setting of the revelation, and its references to contemporaneous events must be necessarily true, because its verses were recorded as well as memorized during the lifetime of the Prophet. If this was not so the very premise of the Qur'an as a book of Truth26 and Wisdom,27 as it repeatedly claims, would have been challenged in the Prophet's lifetime, and Islam would never have spread out of the townships of Medina and Mecca, let alone to the farthest corners of the Arabian peninsula, in the very limited span of the last few years of his life.

This intrinsic accuracy of the Qur’anic records of contemporaneous events is of great significance. They can be used to verify the authenticity of Islamic theological records, which date at least a hundred and fifty years after the revelation, and are not always accurate because of their sole dependence on oral accounts, transmitted across the preceding generations.

It is also worth noting that since the Qur’an reflects the social circumstances of the time of revelation, it could not have been written in historical stages and increments as some orientalists argued, because then social and historical circumstances of a later era would have been inevitably reflected in the text.

Notes

1.       16:58/59, 43:17, 81:8.

2.       6:137, 6:140, 60:12. 

3.       6:151, 17:31.

4.       6:138.

5.       6:139.

6.       5:103, 6:143/144.  

7.       Muhammad Husayn Haykal, The Life of Muhammad, English translation by Ismail Ragi, 8th edition, Karachi 1989, p. 319.

8.       4:23.

9.       2:215, 4:36, 17:26, 30:38.

10.     2:177, 4:25, 4:92, 5:89, 9:60, 24:32/33, 58:3, 90:13.

11.     24:61.

12.     2:178.

13.     2:188, 2:275, 4:29.

14.     The word thiyab in 74:4 literally connotes clothes that one wears, and accordingly most commentators have linked the verse 74:1 with the verses 74:4/5 to imply that the Prophet, who used to be enwrapped (74:1) in his cloak, is commanded to keep his cloak clean of all filth and pollution (74:4/5). However, Muhammad Asad observes quoting early scholars, that in classic Arabic the word thiyab is used metaphorically to denote the inner self, and that according to most of the (earlier) commentators, “the meaning of (the verse 74:5) is to ‘purify thy heart of all that is blameworthy.’” Muhammad Asad, Message of the Qur’an, Gibraltar 1980, Chap.74, Note 2.  

15.     17:106, 25:32.

16.     75:16-19.  

17.     17:88, 52:34.

18.     11:13, 52:33.

19.     41:26.

20.     39:23, 39:28.

21.     6:34, 18:27, 41:42.

22.     This is the only verse with the phrase Lauh al-Mahfuz, rendered as ‘Tablet (well) guarded’. Many scholars take the literal meaning of the word and advocate that the Qur’an has been preserved in the heaven since eternity in an imperishable Tablet. However, others hold that this expression implies God’s promise to protect the Qur’anic text from any corruption. In the early centuries of Islam, this generated much debate and confusion as it bore on the highly contentious and sensitive issue of whether the Qur’an is created or uncreated and that of divine predestination. These are, however, purely theological questions and God best knows their answers.

23.     Ibn Mas‘ud, Ubayy Ibn Ka‘b and Zayd Ibn Thabit, ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib - to name the noted ones.

24.     Caliph Malik al-Marwan (d. 68/686) introduced the dots and orthographic marks into the plain text of the Qur’an to enable the non-Arabs to differentiate between the different Arabic words as without these marks, many words look identical.

25.     Ahmad von Denffer, ‘Ulum al-Qur’an, U.K. 1983 / Malaysia 1991, p. 163.

26.     2:176, 39:2, 39:41, 42:17.

27.     10:1, 31:2, 43:4, 44:4. [Same as Note 7, Preface]   

[27 references]

Published by Amana Publications, USA, 2009

Published on New Age Islam with permission

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URL: http://www.newageislam.com/books-and-documents/muhammad-yunus---ashfaque-ullah-syed/the-quranic-revelation-and-compilation--from-the-book--essential-message-of-islam--by-muhammad-yunus---ashfaque-ullah-syed/d/102072

 

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