Ulum al Quran
An Introduction to the
Sciences of the Qur'an
AHMAD VON DENFFER
The Qur'an contains the revelations of Allah, the Creator
and Sustainer of the Universe, to mankind. It is the message
from God to man and therefore of utmost importance to us.
To properly grasp a message, one needs first of all to under-
stand its contents exactly, and for this purpose one must study
the Qur'an deeply and in detail. In fact, some people do spend
their whole lives studying the Qur'an, reading and reflecting
upon it and, as they grow and develop, both physically and
spiritually, they discover for themselves new meanings and
Secondly, some special knowledge of the circumstances
that surround the message is also necessary for fuller under-
standing of its meaning and implications. Although some part
of this special knowledge can be derived from the Qur'an
itself, there remain other areas of knowledge that can only be
discovered by wider study and research.
Muslims have from earliest times, applied themselves not
only to the message from Allah - the Qur'an - but also to its
setting and framework, and the preoccupation with these
ultimately developed into the 'sciences' of or 'knowledge'
about the Qur'an, known as "ulum al-qur'an'.
The proper approach to the Qur'an, in my humble view,
can be described in three stages. You must: .
receive the message of the Qur'an, by hearing or reading
understand the message of the Qur'an by reflecting
upon it and studying its meanings;
apply the message of the Qur'an by ordering your
personal life as well as the life of society according to its
The branch of knowledge, called 'ulum al-qur'an may be
used as a means for the accomplishment of the second stage,
understanding the message of the Qur'an, by understanding
its setting and circumstances.
According to a general definition, 'ulum al-qur'an (1) denotes
studies concerned with the book of revelations sent down
upon the last Prophet Muhammad, (2) namely:
- Its revelation.
- Its collection.
- Its order and arrangement.
- Its writing down.
- Information about the reasons and occasions of revelation.
- About what was revealed in Makka and what in Madina.
- About the abrogating and abrogated verses.
- About the 'clear' and the 'unclear' verses.
The term also covers Qur'an-related studies, such as:
- The explanation of verses and passages by the Prophet
himself, his Companions, their followers and the later
exegetes of the Qur'an.
- The methods of explanation.
- The scholars of exegesis and their books.
The aim of this book - as all 'ulum al-qur'an - is to help
towards a better understanding of the Qur'anic message by
providing information on its setting, framework and circum-
stances. To a great extent it is a descriptive account of the
traditional subject of 'ulum al-qur'an. Some branches of
'ulum al-qur'an, such as the divisions of the text, style, literary
form etc., have only been touched upon briefly, while others
that seemed more important have been dealt with in more
detail. In particular such topics related to the understanding of
the text (asbab al-nuzul, al-nasikh wa al-mansukh, etc.) have
been treated more extensively while others, such as the 'seven
ahruf' or the 'Uthmanic writing, which are of benefit only to
readers with a good knowledge of classical Arabic, have been
introduced, but not elaborated upon.
I have restricted myself to presenting the generally-accepted
views on the issues and, where no consensus exists, have
referred to the most important of the divergent opinions.
Although I do have my own views on some questions, my
basic aim in this 'Introduction' is generally to inform the
reader about the subject, and not to guide him- overtly or
covertly- towards my own conclusions.
There are a number of matters related to the study of the
Qur'an to which I have drawn special attention since this
'Introduction' to the 'ulum al-qur'an is aimed at a special
readership, namely, young educated Muslims with little or no
access to the original sources on the subject. I have therefore
included several topics, of special relevance for that reader-
ship, such as:
- Orientalists and the Qur'an.
- Translations of the Qur'an.
- Modern interpretation of the Qur'an.
- Language of the Qur'an.
- Reading and recitation of the Qur'an.
Again, particularly for the benefit of these readers, I have
often quoted typical examples to illustrate the various points
discussed and make them more easily comprehensible.
Finally, to assist readers not familiar with Arabic, I have
supplied references to English translations, where available
(such as translation of hadith books, etc.). However, on certain
topics (e.g. asbab al-nuzul or al-nasikh wa al-mansukh) there
is no literature available as yet in English and references had
to be restricted to Arabic sources only.
I have also attempted to note in the bibliography at least
one or two books in English for each section, from which
more insight may be gained on the topic discussed.
May this volume (to the best of my knowledge, the first of
its kind in a European language) fulfil its purpose and assist
you to grasp fully the message of the Qur'an and to apply it in
your life, and may Allah accept this humble effort and forgive
Ahmad von Denffer
Notes to the Introduction:
1. Sabuni, Muhammad 'Ali: al-tibyan fi 'ulum al-qur-an, Beirut, 1970, p. 10.
2. The customary blessings on the Prophet (Allah's blessings and peace be
upon him) each time his name is mentioned will not be repeated in the
text, but the reader is kindly requested to observe this Muslim
The Qur'an and Revelation
REVELATION AND SCRIPTURE BEFORE
God's Communication with Man
God communicated with man. This is the key concept of
revelation upon which all religious belief - if more than a mere
philosophical attempt to explain man's relationship with the
great 'unknown', the 'wholly other' - is founded. There is no
religious belief, however remote it may be in time or concept
from the clear teachings of Islam, which can do without or has
attempted to do without God's communication with man.
Man denies God
God's communication with man has always accompanied
him, from the earliest period of his appearance on this planet,
and throughout the ages until today. Men have often denied
the communication from God or attributed it to something
other than its true source and origin. More recently some have
begun to deny God altogether, or to explain away man's
preoccupation with God and the communication from Him as
a preoccupation with delusion and fantasy. Yet even such
people do not doubt that the preoccupation of man with
God's communication is as old as man himself. Their reasoning
is, they claim, based on material evidence. Following this line
of thought they feel that they should deny God's existence, -
but are at the same time compelled to concede the point- for
material evidence is abundant- that man has ever been pre-
occupied with thinking about God and the concept of God's
communication with man.
Empiricism and Realib
Their general approach- to emphasise material evidence-
in the search for reality and truth, is surely commendable. Not
only empiricist philosophy but also commonsense tell us that
one should accept as real and existent what can be grasped
empirically, that is, by direct experience, by seeing, hearing,
touching and so on. While there may be in other systems of
thought, other criteria for the evaluation of reality, at present
it is a materialistic philosophy that rules the day, and though
many people (especially the 'religious' type) are saddened by
this and wish back the 'old days of idealism and rule of the
creed', I personally think that we have to accept the present
state of affairs - not as ideal and unchangeable, but as our
point of departure - and moreover that doing so is of some
advantage to us.
Creation is Material Evidence for God
Many now accept empiricism as their guiding principles and
God gives ample evidence, material evidence, capable of
verification by all empiricists, for His being and existence. The
wide earth, the whole universe of creation, are evidence,
material evidence, for God. No empiricist would deny that
the earth and the universe do exist. It is only that he does not
always perceive them as 'creation', for then he would have to
argue from the material evidence that he has to a mighty and
puissant cause, to reason and purpose behind it. Such an
argument would by no means be in contradiction with his
empiricist, rational and scientific line of thought, rather in
perfect agreement with it.
I do not wish to discuss here in any detail why then, despite
this, man denies God and disregards His communication with
man. Suffice to say that the cause must be seen in man's
self-perception, his arrogance and false pride. Having dis-
covered that he and his kind constitute the peak of 'creation',
he thinks himself autonomous, self-dependent, absolutely
free and fully equipped to be master of the universe. Somehow,
this self-perception too has been with man from his early days.
He has always thought himself better than anything else. (1)
Guidance for Man
Muslims, referring to the Holy Qur'an, also conclude that
from the beginning of his life on earth, man has received
communication from God, to guide him and protect him from
such self-perception and deceit:
'We said: Get ye down all from here; and if, as is sure,
there comes to you guidance from Me, whosoever follows
My guidance on them shall be no fear, nor shall they
grieve' (2:38) (2)
This message and promise has been communicated by God
to all mankind, all children of Adam, as the Qur'an explains:
'O ye children of Adam! Whenever there come to you
apostles from amongst you, rehearsing My signs unto
you - those who are righteous and mend (their lives) - on
them shall be no fear nor shall they grieve' (7:35).
The guidance from God comes through the apostles or
messengers, and they bringwith them the scripture from God:
'We sent before time Our apostles with clear signs and
sent down with them the book and the balance (of right
and wrong) that men may stand forth in justice ...' (57:25).
The basic message of all prophets from God, and hence of
all scriptures they brought, is one and the same message from
God to man:'
'And verily We have raised in every nation a messenger,
(proclaiming): Serve Allah and shun false gods ...'
The Names of the Prophets and their Number
The Qur'an mentions the following prophets by name:
Adam, Nuh, Ibrahim, Isma'il, Ishaq, Lut, Ya'qub, Yusuf,
Musa, Harun, Dawud, Sulaiman, Ilyas, Al-Yasa', Yunus,
Ayyub, Zakariya, Yahya, 'Isa, Idris, Hud, Dhul Kifl, Shu'aib,
Salih, Luqman, Dhul Qarnain, 'Uzair, Muhammad.
This does not mean, however, that only these have been
God's prophets. Indeed the Qur'an is very clear that the
number of prophets is much larger and that to each community
from among mankind God has sent His messenger:
'We did aforetime send apostles before thee: of them
there are some whose story We have related to thee and
some whose story We have not related to thee ...' (40:78).
'To every people (was sent) an apostle ...' (10: 47).
The Names of the Scriptures and their Number
Just as there have been numerous prophets so there were
numerous written records of their messages. The Qur'an men-
tions the following revelations in particular, which are some-
times called sheets or leaves (suhuf) and sometimes book or
- The 'sheets' of Ibrahim and Musa.
- The Torah (taurat) of Musa.
- The Psalms (zabur) of Dawud.
- The Gospel (injil) of 'Isa.
- The Qur'an of Muhammad.
The Contents of the Former Scriptures
All the teachings contained in the former Scriptures that
were meant to be of lasting value and importance are included
in the Qur'an. The Qur'an also gives some specific accounts,
although selective, of what the pre-Qur'anic scriptures con-
tained and it is worthwhile to look briefly at this material:
A reference to the 'sheets' (suhuf) of Ibrahim and Musa:
'But those will prosper who purify themselves, and
glorify the name of their guardian Lord, and (lift their
hearts) in prayer. Nay, behold, ye prefer the life of this
world; but the Hereafter is better and more enduring'
(87: 14-17). (3)
A reference to the Torah (taurat) of Musa:
'It was We who revealed the law (to Moses): therein was
guidance and light ...
We ordained therein for them: life for life, eye for eye,
nose for nose, ear for ear, tooth for tooth and wounds
equal for equal, but if anyone remits the retaliation by
way of charity it is an act of atonement for himself and if
any fail to judge by (the light of) what God has revealed
they are (no better than) wrongdoers' (5: 47-8).
A reference to the Psalms (zabur) of Dawud:
'And verily We have written in the Psalms, after the
Reminder: My righteous slaves will inherit the earth'
A reference to the Gospel (injil) of 'Isa:
'Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. And those with
him are hard against the disbelievers and merciful among
themselves. Thou (O Muhammad) seest them bowing
and falling prostrate (in worship) seeking bounty from
Allah and (His) acceptance. The mark of them is on their
foreheads from the traces of prostration. Such is their
likeness in the Torah and their likeness in the Gospel -
like as sown corn that sendeth forth its shoot and
strengtheneth it and riseth firm upon its stalk, delighting
the sowers - that He may enrage the disbelievers with
(the sight of) them. Allah has promised, unto such of
them as believe and do good works, forgiveness and
immense reward' (48: 29).
The pre-Qur'anic scriptures, besides carrying the same basic
message about Allah, the Master of the worlds, and man, His
creation, also brought specific instructions addressed directly
to particular communities of people at given points of time in
history and in particular circumstances, such as the Jewish or
Christian communities. Revelation before the Qur'an, and
hence scriptures before it, were in many of their details
situation-oriented in nature and therefore confined to their
particular frameworks. This also explains the continuity of
revelation. With changing circumstances and in different situ-
ations new guidance from Allah was required. As long as the
revelation and scripture were not completely universal in
nature, revelation would not reach its finality.
The Final Revelation
Muhammad was the last messenger from Allah to mankind,
and he brought the final revelation from God to man. There-
fore the scripture containing this revelation is the last of the
The basic message of the Holy Qur'an is the same as the
basic message of the previous revelations and books, and the
directives and instructions, by which it provides guidance for
man are of a universal nature. They apply for all times to come
and in all situations. This revelation corresponds to man's
position on earth and in history. Man has reached, in his
development, the stage when universal principles need to be
applied to safeguard his purposeful existence.
THE QUR'AN, HADITH AND HADITH QUDSI
The Qur'an can be defined as follows:
- The speech of Allah,
sent down upon the last Prophet Muhammad,
through the Angel Gabriel,
in its precise meaning and precise wording,
transmitted to us by numerous persons (tawatur),
both verbally and in writing.
- Inimitable and unique,
protected by God from corruption.
The word Qur'an
The Arabic word 'qur'an' is derived from the root qara'a,
which has various meanings, such as to read, (4) to recite, (5) etc.
Qur'an is a verbal noun and hence means the 'reading' or
'recitation'. As used in the Qur'an itself, the word refers to the
revelation from Allah in the broad sense6 and is not always
restricted to the written form in the shape of a book, as we
have it before us today.
However, it means revelation to Muhammad only, while
revelation to other prophets has been referred to by different
names (e.g. taurat, injil, kitab, etc.).
Other Names of the Qur'an
The revelation from Allah to the Prophet Muhammad is
referred to - in the Qur'an itself - by the name qur'an (reci-
tation) as well as by other names, such as e.g.
- furqan (criterion, see 25: 1).
- tanzil (sent down, see 26: 192).
- dhikr (reminder, see 15: 9).
- kitab (scripture, see 21:10).
Other references to the Qur'an are by such words as nur
(light), huda (guidance), rahma (mercy), majid (glorious),
mubarak (blessed), bashir (announcer), nadhir (warner), etc.
All these names reflect one of the various aspects of the
revealed word of Allah.
The Meaning of hadith (7)
The word hadith means news, report or narration. It is in
this general sense that the word is used in the Qur'an. (8)
Technically, the word hadith, (pl. ahadith) means in partic-
ular the reports (verbal and written) about the sunna of the
Prophet Muhammad. Hadith reports about the Prophet
Muhammad are of the following kinds:
- What he said (qaul).
- What he did (fi'l).
- What he (silently) approved (taqrir) in others' actions.
There are also reports about him, i.e. about what he was
The difference between the Qur'an and Hadith.
There is agreement among most Muslim scholars that the
contents of the sunna are also from Allah. Hence they have
described it as also being the result of some form of inspir-
ation. (9) The contents of the sunna are however expressed
through the Prophet's own words or actions, while in the case
of the Qur'an the Angel Gabriel brought the exact wording
and contents to the Prophet, who received this as revelation
and then announced it, in the very same manner that he
The difference between these two forms has been illustrated
by Suyuti (following Juwaini) in the following manner:
'The revealed speech of Allah is of two kinds: As to the
first kind, Allah says to Gabriel: Tell the Prophet to
whom I sent you that Allah tells him to do this and this,
and He ordered him something. So Gabriel understood
what His Lord had told him. Then he descended with
this to the Prophet and told him what His Lord had told
him, but the expression is not this (same) expression,
just as a king says to someone upon whom he relies: Tell
so-and-so: The king says to you: strive in his service and
gather your army for fighting ... and when the messenger
(goes and) says: The king tells you: do not fail in my
service, and do not let the army break up, and call for
fighting, etc., then he has not lied nor shortened (the
'And as to the other kind, Allah says to Gabriel: Read to
the Prophet this (piece of) writing, and Gabriel descended
with it from Allah, without altering it the least, just as (if)
the king writes a written (instruction) and hands it over
to his trustworthy (servant) and says (to him): Read it to
so-and-so. Suyuti said: The Qur'an belongs to the second
kind, and the first kind is the sunna, and from this derives
the reporting of the sunna according to the meaning
unlike the Qur'an." (10)
It is generally accepted that the difference between Qur'an
and sunna is as follows:
The ahadith from or about the Prophet Muhammad are:
- The words or actions of a human being, and not the
speech of God as the Qur'an is.
- Not necessarily reported in tbeir precise wording, as the
- Not necessarily transmitted by tawatur, except in some
Hadith Qudsi (11)
Qudsi means holy, or pure. There are some reports from
the Prophet Muhammad where he relates to the people what
God has said (says) or did (does), but this information is not
part of the Qur'an. Such a report is called hadith qudsi, e.g.:
Abu Huraira reported that Allah's messenger said:
'Allah, Mighty and Exalted is He, said: If My servant
likes to meet me, I like to meet him, and if he dislikes to
meet Me, I dislike to meet him.' (12)
While the common factor between hadith qudsi and the
Qur'an is that both contain words from Allah which have been
revealed to Muhammad, the main points of difference between
Qur'an and hadith qudsi are as follows:
In the Qur'an the precise wording is from Allah, while in
the hadith qudsi the wording is given by the Prophet
The Qur'an has been brought to Muhammad only by the
Angel Gabriel, while hadith qudsi may also have been
inspired otherwise, such as e.g. in a dream.
- The Qur'an is inimitable and unique, but not so the
- The Qur'an has been transmitted by numerous persons,
(tawatur) but the hadith and hadith qudsi often only by a
few or even one individual. There are hadith qudsi which
are sahth, but also others hasan, or even da'if, while
there is no doubt at all about any aya from the Qur'an.
Another point is that a hadith qudsi cannot be recited in
Distinctive Features of the Qur'an
The most important distinction between the Qur'an and all
other words or writings therefore is that the Qur'an is the
speech from Allah, revealed in its precise meaning and wording
through the Angel Gabriel, transmitted by many, inimitable,
unique and protected by Allah Himself against any corruption.
REVELATION AND HOW IT CAME TO
THE PROPHET MUHAMMAD
God guides His Creation
Allah the Creator has not only brought about the creation,
but continues to sustain and direct it, in the way that He has
created us and all that is around us. He has provided many
forms of guidance, indeed, a system of guiding principles, of
which the laws of 'nature' are a part.
But Allah has also granted a special form of guidance for
mankind from the outset of its occupancy of the earth. He
promised to Adam and his descendants: 'Get ye down all from
here; and if, as is sure, there comes to you guidance from Me,
whosoever follows guidance, on them shall be no fear, nor
shall they grieve' (2: 38).' (13) This guidance comes through the
prophets, whom Allah continuously sent to mankind, until
the last messenger, Muhammad received His final guidance.
Guidance through Revelation
We call a man to whom God in his own way communicates
His guidance, a prophet or messenger (nabi, rasul). Prophets
receive the word of God through revelation and then com-
municate it to their fellow human beings:
'We have sent thee INSPIRATION, as We sent it to Noah and
the messengers after him: We sent INSPIRATION to Abra-
ham, Ismail, Isaac, Jacob and the tribes, to Jesus, Job,
Jonah, Harun and Solomon, and to David We gave the
Psalms. Of some apostles, We have already told the
story, of others We have not - and to Moses God spoke
direct - apostles who gave good news as well as warning,
that mankind after (the coming) of the apostles should
have no plea against God: for God is exalted in power
and ways' (4: 163-5).
The two words italicised (capitalized) in the above translation
are both derived from the Arabic root 'wahy'.
The Meaning of Wahy
The word awha, from which 'wahy' (revelation) is derived,
occurs in a number of shades of meaning in the Qur'an, each
of them indicating the main underlying idea of inspiration
directing or guiding someone. In each example below, the
italicised words in the translation are forms of the root word
wahy in the original text of the Qur'an:
- Guidance in natural intuition:
'so we sent this inspiration to the mother of Moses . . .' (28: 7).
- Guidance in natural instinct:
'and thy Lord taught the bee to build its cells in hills, on
trees and in (man's) habitations' (16: 68).
- Guidance by signs:
'So Zakaria came out to his people from his chamber: he
told them by signs to celebrate God's praises in the morn-
ing and in the evening' (19: 11).
- Guidance from evil:
'Likewise did we make for every messenger an enemy-
evil ones among men and jinns, inspiring each other with
flowery discourses by way of deception ...' (6: 112).
- Guidance from God:
'Remember thy Lord inspired the angels (with the
message) ...' (8: 12).
Means of Revelation
Wahy in the sense of 'revelation' is guidance from God for
His creation, brought by the Prophets, who received the word
from God through one of the means mentioned in the follow-
ing Qur'anic verse:
'It is not fitting for a man that God should speak to him
except by inspiration, or from behind a veil, or by sending
of a messenger to reveal with God's permission what
God wills: for He is Most High, Most Wise' (42: 51).
Means of revelation are:
- Inspiration, e.g. in a dream (see 37: 102, where it is
related that Ibrahim receives guidance in a vision, while
asleep, to sacrifice his son).
- Speech hidden away (see 27: 8, where it is related that
God spoke to Musa from the fire).
- Words (speech) sent through a special messenger from
God (see 2:97, where it is related that God sent the
Angel Gabriel as the messenger to Muhammad to reveal
The Qur'an revealed to Muhammad
Prophet Muhammad, the last of God's messengers, received
the revelation of the Qur'an through a special messenger sent
by God for this purpose: the Angel Gabriel, who recited to
him God's words exactly.
The Descent of the Qur'an
According to Suyuti' (14) on the basis of three reports from
'Abdullah Ibn 'Abbas, in Hakim, Baihaqi and Nasa'i, the
Qur'an descended in two stages:
- From the lauh al-mahfuz, the 'well-preserved tablet', to
the lowest of the heavens (bait al-'izza) of the world, all
together, in the laila al-qadr.
- From the heavens to earth in stages throughout the
twenty-three years of Muhammad's prophethood, and
first in the laila al-qadr of Ramadan, through the Angel
This second descent from the heaven to the heart of the
Prophet is referred to in Sura al-isra' (17) and Sura al-furqan
BEGINNING OF THE REVELATION
The revelation of the Qur'an began in the laila al-qadr of
Ramadan (the 27th night or one of the odd nights after the
21st) after the Prophet Muhammad had passed the fortieth
year of his life (that is around the year 610), during his
seclusion in the cave of Hira' on a mountain near Makka.
Bukharis Account (15)
This is the account, as reported in the Sahih of Bukharl:
Narrated Aisha the mother of the faithful believers: The
commencement of the divine inspiration to Allah's
apostle was in the form of good dreams which came like
bright daylight (i.e. true) and then the love of seclusion
was bestowed upon him.
He used to go in seclusion in the Cave of Hira', where
he used to worship (Allah alone) continuously for many
days before his desire to see his family. He used to take
with him food for the stay and then come back to (his
wife) Kha&ja to take his food likewise again, till sud-
denly the truth descended upon him while he was in the
Cave of Hira'.
The angel came to him and asked him to read. The
Prophet replied 'I do not know how to read'.
The Prophet added, 'The angel caught me (forcibly)
and pressed me so hard that I could not bear it any more.
He then released me and again asked me to read and I
replied, "I do not know how to read". Thereupon he
caught me again and pressed me a second time till I could
not bear it any more. He then released me and again
asked me to read, but again I replied, "I do not know
how to read" (or what shall I read?). Thereupon he
caught me for the third time and pressed me, and then
released me and said: "Read, in the name of Your Lord,
who created, created man from a clot. Read! And Your
Lord is the most bountiful" ... (16)
The narration goes on to tell us that the Prophet went back
to his wife Khadija and recounted to her his dreadful experi-
ence. She comforted him and both of them consulted Waraqa,
Khadlja's relative and a learned Christian, about it. Waraqa
told Muhammad that he had encountered the one 'whom
Allah had sent to Moses' and that he would be driven out by
How Revelation came
Narrated Aisha, the mother of the faithful believers:
Al-Harith bin Hisham asked Allah's apostle: 'O Allah's
apostle. How is the divine inspiration revealed to you?'
Allah's apostle replied, 'Sometimes it is "revealed" like
the ringing of a bell, this form of inspiration is the hardest
of all and then this state passes off after I have grasped
what is inspired. Sometimes the Angel comes in the form
of a man and talks to me and I grasp whatever he says'. (17)
The First Revelation' (18)
The first revelation that the Prophet Muhammad received
is in the first verses from Sura al-'alaq (96:1-3, according to
'Read in the name of your Lord, who created, created
man from a clot. Read! And your Lord is most bountiful.
(He who taught) the use of the pen taught man which he
The remainder of Sura 96, which now has 19 ayat, was
revealed on some later occasion.
The Pause (fatra)
After the first message thus received, revelation ceased for
a certain period (calledfatra) and then resumed:
Narrated Jabir bin 'Abdullah Al-Ansari while talking
about the period of pause in revelation reporting the
speech of the Prophet, 'While I was walking, all of a
sudden I heard a voice from the heaven. I looked up and
saw the same angel who had visited me at the Cave of
Hira' sitting on a chair between the sky and the earth. I
got afraid of him and came back home and said "Wrap
me (in blankets)" and then Allah revealed the following
holy verses (of the Qur'an): O you covered in your cloak,
arise and warn (the people against Allah's punishment)
... up to "and all pollution shun".'
After this revelation came strongly and regularly. (19)
The Second Revelation
The second portion of the Qur'an revealed to the Prophet
Muhammad was the beginning of Sura al-muddaththir (74: 1-
5). It now consists of 56 verses, the rest revealed later, and
begins as follows: 'O you, covered in your cloak, arise and
warn, thy Lord magnify, thy raiment purify, pollution
Other Early Revelations
Many hold that Sura al-muzzammil (73) was the next
According to others, Sura al-fatiha (1) was the third sura to
be revealed. (20)
Among other early revelations, which the Prophet declared
in Makka, are, according to some reports, Sura 111, Sura 81,
Sura 87, Sura 92, Sura 89, etc. Then revelation continued,
'mentioning Paradise and Hell, and until mankind turned to
Islam, then came revelation about halal and haram ... ' (21)
Revelation came to the Prophet throughout his lifetime,
both in Makka and Madina, i.e. over a period of approximately
23 years, until shortly before his death in the year 10 after
The Last Revelation
Many Muslim scholars agree that the last revelation was
Sura 2, verse 281:
'And fear the day when ye shall be brought back to God.
Then shall every soul be paid what it earned and none
shall be dealt with unjustly.'
Some also say that it was 2:282 or 2:278. (22)
It has also been suggested that all three verses were revealed
on one occasion. The Prophet died nine nights after the last
Others hold that Sura 5:4 was the last to be revealed:
'This day I have perfected your religion for you, com-
pleted My favour upon you and have chosen for you
Islam as your religion.'
The opinion that this verse was the last revelation is not
sound according to many scholars, since it was revealed during
the last pilgrimage of the Prophet. This information is based
upon a hadith from 'Umar. Suyuti explains concerning the
verse in Sura 5 that after it nothing concerning ahkam and
hal'al and haram was revealed, and in this sense it is the
'completion' of religion. However, revelation reminding man
of the coming day of judgement continued and the last such
revelation is the above verse. (23)
Reasons why the Qur'an was sent down in Stages
The Qur'an was revealed in stages over a period of 23 years,
and not as a complete book in one single act of revelation.
There are a number of reasons for this; most important are the
- To strengthen the heart of the Prophet by addressing him
continuously and whenever the need for guidance arose.
- Out of consideration for the Prophet since revelation was
a very difficult experience for him.
- To gradually implement the laws of God.
- To make understanding, application and memorisation
of the revelation easier for the believers.
1. The question of how evil came into the world has preoccupied many
sincere seekers after the truth. The answer which the Qur'an gives
is simple yet convincing if seen against all the evidence of historical
and contemporary human civilisation. At the root of all evil in this
world is disobedience to God, resulting from the belief that one is
superior to another. From this belief stems oppression of man by man
discrimination, crime and all other evils that rule the day. The test
lies in obedience to God, for seen against God, the 'wholly other',
all creation is indeed on the other side and equal. In Sura al-a'raf
(7) it is related that God asked all angels to bow before Adam, the
first man. The angels obeyed, and observed God's will, except Iblis.
When asked why he opposed God's will, he replied: 'ana khairun
minhu' - I (Iblis) am better than him (Adam), you created me from
fire and created him from clay' (7:12) . This then is the beginning
of all evil, for it is Iblis who after this makes it his mission to
incite men also to act against God's will.
2. I shall use the following two English translations of the Holy
Qur'an: A. Yusuf Ali, (Ali, Abdullah Yusuf: The Glorious Qur'an:
Text, Translation and Commentary. Leicester, 1978) and M. Pickthall
(Pickthall, Mohammad Marmaduke: The Meaning of the Clorious Koran,
New York, 1963).
3. Some say that the whole of Sura 87 is a reference to this first book
of revelation, but others hold that only the few verses quoted here
are actually meant. See mukhtasar tafsir Ibn Kathir, Beirut, 1402/1981,
Vol. 3, p. 631. Another reference to the suhuf of Musa and Ibrahim is
in Sura 53:36 ff.
4. Sura 17: 93.
5. Sura 75:18:17: 46.
6. Sura 17: 82.
7. For details on hadith see: A'zami, Muhammad Mustafa: Studies in Hadith
Methodology and Literature, Indianapolis, 1977.
8. e.g. Sura 12:101.
9. For details see kitab al-risala, by Imam al-Shafi'i, Cairo, n.d.,
especially pp. 28-9. In English: Khadduri Majid, Islamic Jurisprudence.
Shafi'i's Risala, Baltimore, 1961, chapter 5, especially pp. 121-2.
10. Sabuni, tibyan, p.52 .
11. For an introduction to the subject and select sample texts, see e.g.
Ibrahim Izzuddin and Denis Johnson-Davies: Forry Hadith Qudsi, Beirut,
12. ibid., No. 30.
13. The word here used for guidance is hudan.
14. al Itqan fi ulum al quran, Beirut, 1973, Vol. I pp. 39-40
15. English translations of ahadith are, unless otherwise indicated,
from Khan, Muhammad Muhsin: The Translation of the Meanings of
Sahih al-Bukhari, 9 vols., Istanbul, 1978 (abbr. as Bukhari)
and Siddiqui, Abdul Hamid: Sahih Muslim, 4 vols., Lahore, 1978
(abbr. as Muslim).
16. Bukhari, I, No. 3; VI, No. 478; Muslim I, No. 301.
17. Bukhari, I, No. 2.
18. See Suyuti, Itqan, I, pp.23-4.
19. Bukhari, I, end of No. 3.
20. Suyuti, Itqan, I, p.24.
22. Kamal, Ahmad 'Adil: 'ulum al-Qur'an, Cairo, 1974, p.18.
23. Sabuni, tibyan pp. 18-9.