This is the Introduction to the Book “The First and Last Revelations of the Qur’an“
The Qur’an was revealed by God to Prophet Muhammad over 22 years from 610 CE when he was in Mecca until his death in 632 CE in Medina. He migrated to Medina in 622 CE. This is one verse that describes this gradual revelation of the Qur’an:
A Qur’an which We have divided that you may read it to people at intervals. We sent it down, sending it down! (17.106)
At times an individual verse and at others a number of verses were revealed to the Prophet. As soon as a verse was inspired to the Prophet, he conveyed it to the Muslims, who memorized it, and had it written down. Leather, parchment, shoulder-bones, rib-bones, stones, and leaf stalks of date palms were used as writing material. The consensus, based on Ḥadīth sources, is that the Qur’an was compiled in one volume by the Prophet’s Companions after him. I find this claim extremely incredible, as it would have been in conflict with the natural course of action of the Prophet and early Muslims with regard to the Book they most revered, but this subject is outside the scope of this book.
The compiled volume of the Qur’an is known as the “muṣḥaf.” This Arabic word means a “collection or volume of written sheets,” but it has developed the technical meaning of the “compiled written sheets of the Qur’an.”
People often use the terms “Qur’an” and “muṣḥaf” interchangeably, which is an inaccurate use. “Qur’an” is the name of the revelation whereas the term “muṣḥaf” denotes the written record of that revelation. This important distinction will be maintained in this book. The term “Qur’an” is used to refer to the revelation, whereas “muṣḥaf” denotes how this revelation is laid out in a book form.
The Qur’an consists of 114 chapters. The longest chapter, which is number 2 (al-Baqara), has 286 verses. The shortest chapters have 3 verses each. These are chapters 103 (al-ʿAṣr), 108 (al-Kawthar), and 110 (al-Naṣr). In total, there are 6,326 verses in the Qur’an.
It is agreed by all that the Qur’anic chapters are not listed in the muṣḥaf in the chronological order of their revelation. For instance, the first chapter in the muṣḥaf is not the first chapter of the Qur’an, i.e. not the first chapter that was revealed. In fact, while the muṣḥaf starts with a Meccan chapter, the next 4 chapters are all from the Medina period. Similarly, the first and last verses in the muṣḥaf do not represent the first and last verses of the Qur’an.
Scholars have disagreed on how the chapters came to be in this order in the muṣḥaf. One group thinks that it was done according to the Prophet’s instructions, another believes the Companions who compiled it after the Prophet chose this particular order, whereas a third group takes the view that the order was chosen by the Prophet and his Companions.
I do not think the order of the chapters is insignificant to be left to the Companions to decide or discuss with the Prophet. One modern researcher convincingly notes that if the order of the chapters was chosen by those who compiled the Qur’an and it was not instructed by the Prophet, they would have mentioned the reasoning behind the organization they chose, yet there is no such explanation. He also notes that there is no clear obvious reasoning behind the current structure.
The order of the verses within each chapter is also not necessarily chronological. But unlike the case of the order of the chapters, there is consensus that the verses were ordered in their respective chapters by the Prophet. There are a number of ḥadīths in which the Prophet is said to have ordered a newly revealed verse to be inserted in a particular position in a partially revealed chapter.
As the order of the chapters and verses in the muṣḥaf does not reflect the chronology of their revelation, scholars have invested considerable time and effort to determine various aspects of the chronology of the revealed text. Knowing the chronology of the revelation can be helpful, even at times necessary, for interpreting the Qur’anic text, learning about the life of the Prophet and early Muslims, and understanding the Qur’anic legal rulings.
These efforts have developed into a sub-science within the broader discipline of ʿUlūm al-Qur’an (The Sciences of the Qur’an). This relatively late term denotes the study of various aspects of the Qur’an and its history. One particularly famous work is Al-Itqān fī ʿUlūm al-Qur’an by the 9th century Hijrī scholar Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūṭī.
More specifically in this subdomain, scholars have been interested in identifying the first verse that was revealed on certain subjects, such as the first verse that permitted the Muslims to take arms to defend themselves against their enemies, the first revelation that dealt with the drinking of alcohol, and the first inspiration about the permitted and prohibited foods. A specific enquiry that attracted considerable interest is determining the first and last verses and chapters of the Qur’an, which is the subject of this book.