The revelation of the Quran is the most important aspect of the Qur’anic Sciences. This is because knowing that the Quran was divinely revealed is a pillar of faith and is the foundation of acceptance of Muhammad ﷺ as the final Messenger to all the worlds. This knowledge is the starting point for all researches in the Qur’anic sciences. For this reason, the Revelation of the Quran is the first chapter for the study of all branches of the Quranic Sciences.
The Magnification of the Station of the Quran and Its Being Revealed in Three Stages
Affairs of magnitude always take place in a deliberate and piecemeal manner. Put another way, momentous matters occur in stages. Human beings innately know this to be true with regard to such phenomena. For example, if one were to meet a person of high status, one would not just go straight to that person. First, one would approach such a one’s tertiary secretary, then such a one’s representative, and finally the person’s assistant before one communicated with the person himself.
Or, for example, if one were to dine in an exclusive setting, one would not be served the main course first. Initially, appetizers are served, then soup, then salad, then the entrée, and finally dessert. Also, if a person of status were to marry, one would not go directly to the wedding ceremony. Rather, there would be elaborations. First, one would hold an occasion to mark the formal request, followed by an engagement celebration, then a wedding feast, etc.
There is no comparison between mere worldly affairs and the nobility of the Quran. These examples are simply aids to understanding the wise purpose behind revealing the Quran in stages—that the Quran is noble, that its Revelation is an affair of great magnitude, and other considerations. Indeed, the Word of Allah is far more deserving of being held in high regard than any person or event of the world. Lastly, one should be reminded that if one is to accord regard and respect to people of status in the world and momentous worldly occasions, then there should be more regard and respect accorded to the Word of Allah and what it is telling us.
The First Descent
The first descent of the Quran is from Allah to a Heavenly Tablet Well-Preserved (Al–Law ḥ Al-Maḥfû·). The proof that the Quran is in a Well-Preserved Tablet occurs explicitly in Sûrat Al-Burûj, 85: 21-22: Rather, this is a glorious Heavenly Recitation, in a Tablet well preserved. When and how this descent of the Quran to the Well-Preserved Tablet in Heaven occurred are known to none but to Allah (and whomever He may have chosen to inform). It is beyond the reaches of our understanding.
The Quran descended unto the Well-Preserved Tablet in Heaven all at once, not in stages as it was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. We know this, first, from our understanding of the verses of the Quran. Thus, Quran scholars have seen no need to interpret these verses. Second, the reasons for which Allah revealed the Quran in an order that differs from their ultimate order as a Book, and part-by-part, were not in existence when the Quran was revealed unto the Well-Preserved Tablet in Heaven.
The wisdom behind the revelation of the Quran first to the Heavenly Tablet (that is, what we can see of this wisdom) is that the Heavenly Tablet is a record of all that Allah has decreed and of everything that would be in all the worlds. Hence, placing the Quran in the Well-Preserved Tablet in Heaven is a sign that comprehending the meanings of the Word of Allah is precisely what we need for both this life of the world and for the life Hereafter. Some scholars conjecture that the revelation of the Quran unto the Heavenly Tablet may have been an announcement to the Heavenly community of the advent of the Last Divine Revelation.
The Second Descent
In its second descent, the Quran was sent down in its entirety from the Heavenly Tablet to Bayt Al-ʿIzzah, or The House of Majesty, which is in this world and dimension. The proof for this is in the first verse of Sûrat Al-Qadr (97): Indeed, it is We who have sent this [Quran] down [from on high] on the Night of Empowering Decree. This ayah states that the revelation of the Quran took place in its entirety in one night. We do not know in what year, month or day of our calendars this occurred, but we know Allah has named it Laylat Al-Qadr, the Night of Empowering Decree, and that it falls in the month of Ramaḍân.
Among several a ḥâdîth, which mention the descent of the Quran to Bayt Al-ʿIzzah, Ibn Mardawayh and Al-Bay ḥaqî relate one on the authority of Ibn ʿAbbâs ʿAtiyyah ibn Al-Aswad said to Ibn ʿAbbâs: “The verse: ‘Shahru Ramaḍân’ [the month of Ramaḍân]…’ (Al-Baqarah, 2:185) and the verse ‘Innâ Anzalnâhu…’ (Sûrat Al-Qadr, 97:1) put a doubt in my heart because some of the Quran was revealed in [the month of] Shawwal, and some [in the month of] Dhu’l-Qiʿdah, some in Dhu’l-Ḥijjah, and in Muḥarram, Ṣafar, RabîʿAl-Awwal [and so on]. So Ibn ʿAbbâs said: ‘Indeed, it was revealed in Ramaḍân on Laylat Al-Qadr, the Night of Empowering Decree, altogether. Then it was revealed [in a scattered way, like] the placement of the stars, little by little during the [other] months and days [of its Revelation to the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ].’”
The Third Descent
The third descent of the Quran is the connection between its Heavenly Revelation and its entrance into the world of people, and that is the descent from Bayt Al-ʿIzzah into the heart of the Prophet ﷺ through Jibrîl (A.S). The proof for this is the Word of Allah: The Trustworthy Spirit [Gabriel] descends with its [verses] upon your heart, [O Prophet]—so that you may become one of the [chosen] forewarners [of God’s nearing Judgment]—in a clear Arabic tongue (Al-Shûʿarâ’, 26:193-195).
Neither Jibrîl (A.S) nor the Prophet ﷺ had any input in the words of the Quran or their order (neither in the order of the first Revelation, nor in the order of its verses and surahs as we have it with us today). This kind of Revelation, of the Quran, differs from that of the Ḥadîth Qudsî (Divine Pronouncement). When the Prophet ﷺ says in a Ḥadîth Qudsî that “Jibrîl (A.S) told me that Allah said….” such and such, this means that Jibrîl (A.S) understood what Allah said and narrated it in his own words, or the Prophet ﷺ understood what Jibrîl (A.S) said and repeated it in his own words.
The Period of the Quran’s Revelation
The Revelation of the Quran began with the beginning of the Prophethood of Muhammad ﷺ and ended with his death, which constitutes a period of 23 years.
Tanjîm Al-Qur’ân: The Apparent Scattered Revelation of the Quran
The Arabic word tanjîm, ‘star-like,’ derives from the word najm, ‘star.’ Thus tanjîm al-Qur’ân literally means the “starification of the Quran.” That is to say, even as the stars appear to be scattered in the heavens, the Quran was revealed in what seems to be a scattered order, rather than in its ultimate order in the finished Book form. This also resembles the arrangement and difference between pearls in a string of pearls, each pearl coming one after the other in a certain order whose rationale cannot readily be ascertained, or as the scattered stars in the sky, which do not have an order which a human can readily make sense of or calculate.
The proof of the Quran being revealed in this way is in Sûrat Al Furqân, 25:32-33: Moreover, those who disbelieve have said: If only the Quran was sent down to him all at once, [then truly it would be from God]! Yet even so [is it revealed gradually], so that We may set firm your heart with it, [O Prophet]; thus have We recited it [to you] in a measured recital. And never do they bring forth for you any [false argument by way of] example, but that We have brought forth for you the truth [of it] and [its] best exposition. These verses also imply, as the majority of the scholars agree, that the Heavenly Books before the Quran, unlike the Quran, were revealed at one time.
The wise purpose behind the gradual, non-sequential Revelation of the Quran include these three elements:
1. Setting firm the heart of the Prophet
Every time the Prophet ﷺ received revelation, it would make him happy. Hence, gradual revelation brought him continually renewed peace and serenity, rather than a solitary joyous experience had the Quran come down to him all at once. Moreover, Revelation in this gradual way made it easier, in terms of preservation and understanding, for the Quran to settle in his heart little-by-little.
2. Raising the Muslim community up in a gradual way
Tanjîm al-Qur’ân facilitated the gradual uplift of the Muslim community by making it easier for the community to memorize the Quran as it was coming down little-by-little over the course of twenty-three years. This was especially important in the beginning. What it took to set firm the Quran in the hearts of the Muslim Ummah, or Community, at first was far more than what it took thereafter to preserve the Quran in the hearts of Muslims and their Community once the Ummah had been established. In addition, the Quran was being revealed to the first-generation Muslim believers in a context, and there is nothing like a context as an aid to memorizing a Text. Obviously, the very word ‘context’ means something that surrounds or is attached to a text.
Moreover, the gradual Revelation of the Quran meant that the Sharîʿah, Divine Law, was being imposed upon these early believers and the Ummah in a gradual way. So, for example, the Arabs were a people with deeply ingrained habits of alcoholism and womanizing, but Islam did not immediately come down with prohibition against these habits. Rather, Allah gradually weaned them away from these vices. Had the Quran come down all at once, these injunctions would not have taken deep root in the community.
In the often-mentioned case of the prohibition against alcohol, Allah first indicated in the Quran that it was not wholesome. Thereafter, Allah forbade the believers to enter the Prayer in any state of intoxication, which made it possible for believers to drink in only one span of a 24-hour period—at night, after ʿIshâ’, the Night Prayer. Now, the Anṣâr were a farming community. So they would naturally be tired after ʿIshâ’, which made it further difficult for them to drink. After these two intervals of Revelation regarding alcohol consumption, and after the intervening periods for adjustment because of the Quran’s gradual, piecemeal revelation, the Quran’s absolute prohibition against alcohol consumption came down.
As to womanizing (adultery being banned from the beginning), there were intervening periods where temporary marriage was allowed. But as the Quran gradually set the rules for intimacy between men and women and marriage, finally only one kind of marriage remained. Although it remained permissible for men to have access to the women which “their right hands’ possessed,” this condition was minimized in the extreme because Islam has built into its Sharîʿah a sure social formula that requires a gradual emancipation of slavery from Islamic societies. This means that if at any time a population of slaves was introduced into a functioning Sharîʿah community, even though the Sharîʿah would not forbid it altogether, immediately, and up-front, it always gradually eradicated slavery from society. This is a direct and necessary outcome of the Quran’s encouragement and instances in the Sharîʿah where a person must free slaves.
3. Gradual, dispersed revelation as a proof
The most important aspect of tanjîm al-Qur’ân is that it serves as a clear, undeniable proof of the Quran’s Divine origin. Only an All-Knowing Being could bring forth Texts out of order, perfectly addressing actual specific contexts, and have these Texts come together again in a seamless Sacred Recitation!