THE QURAN (Arabic qur’ân), refers to itself with a number of descriptive terms, including these:

  • “Reminder” (Arabic dhikr);
  • “Book, written divine writ, revelation” (kitâb);
  • “Guidance” (hudâ);
  • “Admonition” (tadhkira);
  • “Standard by which to discern the true from the false, criterion of right and wrong” (furqân);
  • “Divine wisdom, scriptures” (zabûr);
  • “God-inspired recitation” (tanzîl);
  • “[Inspired] word” (qawl);
  • “Guiding light” (iyâ’);
  • “Revelation, blessed reminder” (dhikr mubârak)

Examples of these usages:

Behold, God’s guidance is the only true guidance.   [Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:120]

Step by step has He bestowed upon thee from on high this divine writ, setting forth the truth which confirms whatever there still remains [of earlier revelations]:  for it is He who has bestowed from on high the Torah and the Gospel aforetime, as a guidance unto mankind, and it is He who has bestowed [upon man] the standard by which to discern the true from the false [Sûrat Âl ʿImrân, 3:3-4 ]

In this, behold, there is indeed a reminder for everyone whose heart is wide-awake – that is, [everyone who] lends ear with a conscious mind. [Sûrat Qâf, 50:37]

Behold, it is a truly noble discourse, [conveyed unto man] in a well-guarded divine writ which none but the pure [of heart] can touch: a revelation from the Sustainer of all the worlds! [Sûrat Al-Wâqiʿah,  56:77-79]

Verily, all this is an admonition: whoever, then, so wills, may unto his Sustainer find a way…  He admits unto His grace everyone who wills [to be admitted]… [Sûrat Al-Insân, 76:29-31]

After the opening prayer of the Quran, Sûrat Al-Fâtihah, the Quran answers that request for guidance on the Straight Way with these words:

It is guidance for the God-conscious: Those who believe in what is beyond the reach of human perception, and are constant in prayer, and spend on others out of what we provide for them as sustenance; and who believe in that which has been bestowed from on high upon thee, [O Prophet,] as well as in that which was bestowed before thy time… [Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:2-4a]

The Quran is a Book—the Book—in terms of definitive divine Revelation, and, as we know, uncorrupted in its preserved form (Sûrat Al-Ḥijr, 15:9—quoted below). A “Book,” means a Composition.  Before it attained to its present form—as found in bookstores today, or even before it was a complete written text between two covers, it was an ongoing collection of oral recitations, that is, readings to be “read out” verbally, recited from memory.  Thus, the printed, written form of the collected composition is simply the definitive “script” of this collection of oral recitations after its “verses” (ayahs / ayât) were sequenced into “chapters” (sûrahs /suwar) by Prophet Muhammad ﷺ himself.

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There is no such thing as a physical book handed down from heaven, as proposed by some of the recalcitrant Quraysh people of Muhammad–as the climatic proof to them of his message:

And they ask thee about [the nature of] divine inspiration. Say:…

… most men are unwilling to accept anything but blasphemy—and so they say: “[O Muhammad,] we shall not believe thee til … or …, or … or [till] thou bring God and the angels face to face before us, or … or thou ascend to heaven—but nay, we would not [even] believe in thy ascension unless thou bring down to us [from heaven] a writing which we [ourselves] could read! [Sûrat Al-Isrâ’, 17:85a, 89b-93a]

Rather, the Quran—that is, its component parts—were “sent down” from “heaven” in oral installments by the divine messenger identified as “Gabriel”—the angel of revelation throughout human history—and received by a willing human receptacle, Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.  Seventh century Arabia was strategically located in history and geography to host the renewal of Abrahamic religion, shunning, as did Abraham, the veneration of, or dependency upon, any and all created persons, or objects, or even ideas, in the realm of our human experience; only the unseen Creator of “the heavens and the earth”—and of all in it—was to be given unreserved allegiance and depended upon for one’s needs.  Muhammad ﷺ is described in a Hadith below as one who engaged in taannuth, meaning the mode of worship of the anîfîyya, that is, of Abraham (Arabic Ibrâhîm).

What does it mean for the verses (âyât) ‘signs,’ this divine inspiration, to have been “sent down”? What we know is that these verses of guidance originated with our Creator, the one and only Deity, Allah, and that they were communicated to a purified human soul, who accordingly was assigned the task of passing on the verses verbatim, while daily exhibiting its godly ways, so as to embody a model human lifestyle (i.e., the “Sunnah” of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ).

And they will ask thee about [the nature of] divine inspiration. Say: “This And they will ask thee about [the nature of] divine inspiration.  Say: “This inspiration [comes] at my Sustainer’s behest…For indeed, many facets have We given in this Qur’ân comes] at my Sustainer’s behest;

…For, indeed, many facets have We given in this Qur’ân to every kind of lesson [designed] for [the benefit of] mankind!

… And as a guide towards the truth have We bestowed this [revelation] from on high; with this [very] truth has it come down [unto thee, O Prophet]: for We have sent thee but as a herald of glad tidings and a warner, [bearing] a discourse which We have gradually unfolded, so that thou might read it out to mankind by stages, seeing that We have bestowed it from on high step by step, as [one] revelation. [Sûrat Al-Isrâ’, 17: 85a, 89a, 105-106]

How did the Prophet ﷺ receive these “sent down” recitations (Arabic wai)?

And it is not given to mortal man that God should speak unto him otherwise than through sudden inspiration, or [by a voice, as it were,] from behind a veil, or by sending an apostle to reveal, by His leave, whatever He wills [to reveal]; for verily He is exalted, wise.  And thus, too, [O Muhammad,] have We revealed unto thee a life-giving message, [coming] at Our behest.  {Ere this message came unto thee,] thou didst not know what revelation is, nor what faith [implies]: but [now] We have caused this [message] to be a light, whereby We guide whom We will of Our servants: and, verily, [on the strength thereof] thou, too, shalt guide [men] onto the straightway – the way that leads to God, to whom all that is in the heavens and all that is on earth belongs. [Sûrat Al-Shûrâ, 42:51-53]

The following descriptions of how the verses came down to Prophet Muhammad ﷺ are from Saiḥ Muslim, Book 1, Kitâb Al-Îmân, Chapter 74 “The Beginning of Revelation to the Messenger of Allah ﷺ “:

Hadith #301: ʿÂishah, the wife of the Apostle of Allah ﷺ reported:

The first (form) with which was started the revelation to the Messenger of Allah was the true vision in sleep. And he did not see any vision but [that] it came like the bright gleam of dawn. Thenceforth solitude became dear to him and he used to seclude himself in the cave of Ḥira’, where he would engage in taannuth (and that is a worship for a number of nights) before returning to his family and getting provisions again for this purpose. He would then return again to Khadija and take provisions for another like period, till Truth came upon him while he was in the cave of Hira’.

There came to him the angel and said: ‘Recite’, to which he replied: ‘I am not lettered.’ He took hold of me [the Apostle said] and pressed me, till I was hard pressed; thereafter he let me off and said: ‘Recite.’ I said: ‘I am not lettered.’ He then again took hold of me and pressed me for the second time till I was hard pressed and then let me off and said: ‘Recite,’ to which I replied: ‘I am not lettered.’ He took hold of me and pressed me for the third time, till I was hard pressed and then let me go and said:

Recite in the name of your Lord Who created, created man from a clot of blood. Recite. And your most bountiful Lord is He Who taught the use of pen, taught man what he knew not [Sûrat Al-ʿAlaq, 96:1-4].

Then the Prophet returned therewith, his heart was trembling, and he went to Khadija and said: ‘Wrap me up, wrap me up!’ So they wrapped him till the fear had left him. He then said to Khadija: ‘O Khadija! What has happened to me?’ And he informed her of the happening, saying: ‘I fear for myself.’ She replied: ‘It can’t be. Be happy. I swear by Allah that He shall never humiliate you. By Allah, you join ties of relationship, you speak the truth, you bear people’s burden, you help the destitute, you entertain guests, and you help against the vicissitudes which affect people.’

Khadîjah then took him to Waraqah ibn Naufal ibn Asad ibn ʿAbd Al-‘Uzza, who was the son of Khadîjah’s uncle, i. e., the brother of her father. And he was the man who had embraced Christianity in the Days of Ignorance (i. e. before Islam), and he used to write books in Arabic and, therefore, wrote the Injil (i.e., the Gospel) in Arabic as God willed that he should write. He was very old and had become blind. Khadija said to him: O uncle! Listen to the son of your brother. Waraqah ibn Naufal said: ‘O my nephew! What did you see?’ The Messenger of Allah ﷺ, then, informed him what he had seen, and Waraqah said to him: ‘It is nâmus that God sent down to Musa. Would that I were then (during your prophetic career) a young man. Would that I might be alive when your people would expel you!’ The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: ‘Will they drive me out?’ Waraqah said: ‘Yes. Never came a man with the like of what you have brought but that he met hostilities. If I see your day I shall help you wholeheartedly.’

adîth #304: Jâbir ibn ʿAbdullâh Al-Ansâri who was one of the Companions of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ reported that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ told about the intermission of revelation and narrated:

While I was walking I heard a voice from the sky, and raising my head I saw the angel who had come to me in Ḥira’, sitting on a Throne between heaven and earth. I was terror-stricken on that account and came back (to my family) and said: Wrap me up, wrap me up! So they wrapped me up, and the Blessed and Most Exalted Allah sent down:

You who are shrouded, arise and deliver warning, your Lord magnify, your clothes cleanse, and defilement shun [Sûrat Al-Muddaththir, 74:1-5], and “defilement” means idols; and then the revelation was followed continuously.

adîth #305: It is narrated on the authority of Jâbir ibn ʿAbdullâh that he heard the Messenger of Allah ﷺ say:

The wai was intermittent for me for a small span of time and while I was walking, and then the hadith like the one narrated by Yûnus was transmitted but with the exception of these words: ‘I was terror-stricken till I fell on the ground.’ Abû Salamah said: Defilement means idols. After this the revelation was sped up and followed rapidly.

adîth #307: Yaḥya reported:

I asked Abû Salamah what was revealed first from the Qur’an. He said [it was]: “O, the shrouded one…” I said: Or [it was],” Recite…” Jâbir said: ‘I am narrating to you what was narrated to us by the Messenger of Allah ﷺ.’ He said: ‘I stayed in Hira’ for one month and when my stay was completed, I came down and went into the heart of the valley. Somebody called me aloud. I looked in front of me, behind me, on the right of my side and on my left, but I did not see any body. I was again called and I looked about but saw nothing. I was called again and raised my head, and there on the Throne in the open atmosphere he, i.e. Gabriel was sitting. I began to tremble on account of fear. I came to Khadîjah and said: Wrap me up. They wrapped me up and threw water on me and Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, sent down this‘: You who are shrouded! Arise and deliver warning, your Lord magnify, your clothes cleanse [Sûrat Al-Muddaththir, 74:1-4].

Further description of the state of the Prophet ﷺ during revelation is found in the same Hadith collection of Saiḥ Muslim:

adîth #5764: ʿÂishah reported:

When revelation descended upon Allah’s Messenger ﷺ, even during the cold days his forehead perspired.

adîth #5765: ʿÂishah reported that

Al-Hârith ibn Hishâm asked Allah’s Apostle ﷺ: ‘How does the wai (inspiration) come to you?’ He said: ‘At times it comes to me like the ringing of a bell and that is most severe for me and when it is over I retain that (what I had received in the form of wai), and at times an Angel in the form of a human being comes to me (and speaks) and I retain whatever he speaks.’

adîth # 5766: ʿUbâdah ibn Al-Ṣâmit reported that

when wai (inspiration) descended upon Allah’s Messenger ﷺ, he felt a burden on that account and the color of his face underwent a change.

adîth # 5767: ʿUbâdah ibn Al-Ṣâmit reported that

when wai descended upon Allah’s Apostle ﷺ, he lowered his head and so lowered his Companions their heads, and when (this state) was over, he raised his head.

The Quran has many statements about itself.  Here are a few:

…it is We (i.e., God) Ourselves who have bestowed from on high, step by step, this reminder …   it is We who shall truly guard it [from all corruption]. [Sûrat Al-Ḥijr, 15:9]

…this is Arabic speech, clear [in itself] and clearly showing the truth [of its source]. [Sûrat Al-Naḥl, 16:103b]

[Say, O Muhammad:] ‘If all mankind and all invisible beings would come together with a view to producing the like of this Qur’ân, they could not produce its like even though they were to exert all their strength in aiding one another!  For, indeed, many facets have We (i.e., God) given in this Qur’ân to every kind of lesson [designed] for [the benefit of] mankind! [Sûrat Al-Isrâ’, 17:88-89]

The reader of the Quran will find countless other, similar self-claims. The Quran is not shy about “tooting its own horn.” It is indeed rewarding to revisit what it means that this Book is actually “a message from the Lord of the Worlds”!

Now, behold, this [divine writ] has indeed been bestowed from on high by the Sustainer of all the worlds; trustworthy divine inspiration has alighted with it from on high upon thy heart, {O Muhammad,] so that thou mayest be among those who preach in the clear Arabic tongue.  And, verily, [the essence of] this [revelation] is indeed found in the ancient books of divine wisdom [as well]. [Sûrat Al-Shuʿarâ’, 26:192-196]

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