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The First Revealed Verses of the Holy Quran

The Prophetic life of the Prophet (s) lasted approximately 23 years. 13 years in Mecca and 10 in Medina.

According to the popular opinion within the Islamic tradition, the first five verses of the 96th chapter (Surah Alaq) of the Qur’an, were the first verses to be revealed upon the Prophet Muhammad (s). The day of the Mab’ath (the appointment of Prophethood) has been narrowed down to either the month of Rajab or Ramadan, within these dates is a difference of opinion amongst scholars.[1]

The following are a collection of a few narrations which support the view of the first five verses of Surah Alaq being the first ones to be revealed:

أبو علي الأشعري، عن محمد بن عبد الجبار، عن صفوان، عن إسحاق بن عمار، عن أبي بصير، عن أبي جعفر (عليه السلام) قال :أوّل ما نزل علی رسول اللّه (صلی اللّه علیه و آله و سلم) بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِیمِ. اقْرَأْ بِاسْمِ رَبِّکَ. و آخر ما نزل علیه إِذا جاءَ نَصْرُ اللَّهِ.

Abu Ali al-Ashari from Muhammad b. Abd al-Jabbar from Safwan from Ishaq b. Ammar from Abi Baseer from Imam Baqir (a) He said: “What was first revealed upon the Prophet (s) was “اقْرَأْ بِاسْمِ رَبِّکَ” (Read, in the name of your Lord). And what was revealed last was “ إِذا جاءَ نَصْرُ اللَّهِ” (When the victory of Allah has come…) [2]

سورة العلق. لأنّ نبوّته (صلی اللّه علیه و آله) بدأت بنزول ثلاث أو خمس آیات من أوّل سورة العلق. و ذلک حینما فجأه الحقّ و هو فی غار حراء، فقال له الملک: اقرأ فقال: ما أنا بقارئ، فغطّه غطّا ثم قال له: «اقْرَأْ بِاسْمِ رَبِّکَ الَّذِی خَلَقَ. خَلَقَ الْإِنْسانَ مِنْ عَلَقٍ. اقْرَأْ وَ رَبُّکَ الْأَکْرَمُ . الَّذِی عَلَّمَ بِالْقَلَمِ. عَلَّمَ الْإِنْسانَ ما لَمْ یَعْلَمْ

Surah Alaq: “The Prophet’s prophethood began with the revelation of either the first three or five verses from Surah Alaq. When he went on the Mount of Hira he was faced with astonishment/surprise (revelation), the Angel said to him “Read” then he said “ I cannot read” He (the angel) squeezed him then said “Read In the Name of your Lord Who created. Created man, out of a clot. Read, and your Lord is the Most Generous. Who taught by the Pen. Taught man that which he knew not.”[3]

وَأَخْرَجَ الْحَاكِمُ فِي الْمُسْتَدْرَكِ وَالْبَيْهَقِيُّ فِي الدَّلَائِلِ وَصَحَّحَاهُ عَنْ عَائِشَةَ قَالَتْ: “أَوَّلُ سُورَةٍ نَزَلَتْ مِنَ الْقُرْآنِ:اقْرَأْ بِاسْمِ رَبِّكَ

Taken from al-Hakim al-Nishapuri[4] from al-Mustadrak and Beyhaqi in al-Dala’il and his Sahih from Aisha, She said; “The first Surah to be revealed in the Qur’an was “اقْرَأْ بِاسْمِ رَبِّكَ”  

وَقَالَ أَبُو عُبَيْدٍ فِي فَضَائِلِهِ: حَدَّثَنَا عَبْدُ الرَّحْمَنِ عَنْ سُفْيَانَ عَنِ ابْنِ أَبِي نَجِيحٍ عَنْ مُجَاهِدٍ قَالَ: إِنَّ أَوَّلَ مَا أَنْزَلَ مِنَ الْقُرْآنِ: اقْرَأْ بِاسْمِ رَبِّكَ و: نْ وَالْقَلَمِ

Abu Ubayd in his Fadha’il al-Qur’an says, narrated to me, Abd al-Rahman from Sufyan from Ibn Abi Najih from Mujahid who said,[5] “Certainly the first to be revealed in the Qur’an was اقْرَأْ بِاسْمِ رَبِّكَ and نْ وَالْقَلَمِ.

Many narrations of a similar nature can be found in books of Hadith, Tafsir, and ‘Ulum ul-Qur’an. The question, however, remains, what exactly transpired after this first revelation? Was the Prophet immediately commanded by God to spread the divine message and pose himself as a messenger? If not, was there a gap between the Mab’ath and the commencement of the Prophetic mission? Do the different variations of the timeline of the life of the Prophet as a Prophet, effect the timeline of the revelation?

Certainly, if one poses these questions and begins the quest of finding answers, they will find that the revelation was not preached to the general public of Mecca by the Prophet in the early Meccan stages. Consider the following narrations and historical claims:

سعد، عن أحمد بن محمد بن عيسى ومحمد بن الحسين بن أبي الخطاب، عن الحسن بن محبوب، عن علي بن رئاب، عن عبيدالله بن علي الحلبي قال: سمعت أبا عبد الله عليه السلام يقول: مكث رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم بمكة بعدما جاءه الوحي عن الله تعالى ثلاث عشرة سنة، منها ثلاث سنين مستخفيا خائفا لا يظهر حتى أمره الله تعالى أن يصدع بما يؤمر، فأظهر حينئذ الدعوة

Sa’ad from Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Isa and Muhammad b. Hussayn b. Abi Khattab, from Hassan b. Mahbub from Ali b. Ra’b from UbaydAllah b. Ali al-Halabi who said; I heard from Imam Sadiq (a) he said: The Messenger of Allah resided in Mecca in which revelation occurred upon him for 13 years. 3 years from those 13 years, the command (revelation) was hidden (due to fear) and was not propagated until Allah commanded the Prophet “ Then declare what you are commanded…” He then declared (propagated) the mission.[6]

قال يعقوبي: و أقام رسول الله بمكة ثلاث سنين يكتم أمره

“And the Messenger of Allah stayed in Mecca while he concealed his command (from Allah) for three years.” [7]

قال علی بن إبراهیم القمیّ: فلمّا أتی لذلک ثلاث سنین، أنزل اللّه علیه: فاصدع بما تؤمر و أعرض عن المشرکین. إنّا کفیناک المستهزئین. قال و كان ذلك بعد أن نبيء بثلاث سنين.

Ali b. Ibrahim al-Qommi: “When three years had passed, Allah revealed: “Then declare what you are commanded and turn away from polytheists, Indeed we are sufficient for you against the mockers”. And this was three years after (the Mab’ath).[8]

قال محمد بن اسحاق: و بعد ثلاث سنین من مبعثه نزل فاصدع بما تؤمر، فأمر أن یجهر بالدعوة و یعمّ الإنذار

Muhammad b. Ishaq: “Three years after the Mab’ath it was revealed. “Then declare what you are commanded…” He (Prophet) was then commanded to prevail the message and warn. [9]

The phenomenon of the three years of concealment also known as the فترة (Fatra), is constantly repeated throughout the traditions presented above and in other sources. During this period, the Prophet(s) aimed to preach the message of God and convert his close family and friends, as opposed to the public. This indicates that there was an interval or pause within the revelation, although some attempt to attribute certain verses that were revealed upon the Prophet during this interval.[10]

Considering the aforementioned, another important question worth analyzing is whether or not the first five verses of Surah Alaq were revealed at the time of the Mab’ath i.e. before the Fatra, or afterward? Consequently, is there evidence that places these verses in a specific timeline of the revelation? What may cause confusion to the individual in an attempt to answer this question is encountering the following narration:

قال الأوزاعي: سمعت يحيى بن أبي كثير يقول: سألت أبا سلمة: أي القرآن أنزل من قبل؟ قال: (يا أيها المدثر) فقلت: أو (اقرأ باسم ربك) فقال:

سألت جابر بن عبد الله: أي القرآن أنزل قبل؟ قال: يا أيها المدثر. فقلت: أو اقرأ؟ فقال جابر: أحدثكم ما حدثنا رسول الله قال: (جاورت بحراء شهرا. فلما قضيت جواري، نزلت فاستبطنت الواد، فنوديت فنظرت أمامي وخلفي، وعن يميني وشمالي، فلم أر أحدا. ثم نوديت فرفعت رأسي، فإذا هو على العرش في الهواء، يعني جبرائيل. فقلت: دثروني دثروني، فصبوا علي ماء، فأنزل الله، عز وجل يا أيها المدثر

Awza’i:[11] “I heard Yahya b. Abi Kathir say: I asked  Aba Salma; What was revealed in the Qur’an first? يا أيها المدثر or اقْرَأْ بِاسْمِ رَبِّکَ? He Said; I asked Jabir b. Abdallah; What was revealed in the Qur’an first? He said, يا أيها المدثر. I said, or was it اقرأ? He (Jabir) said, I am telling you what has been told to us by the messenger of Allah who said, I was in the vicinity of Mount Hira and when my stay ended I came down and stayed in a valley. Then there was a call, I looked in front of me and behind me, and my right and left, but I did not see anyone. Then after a slight moment, there was that call (again) so I raised my head and (saw) Him (Jibraeel) on the throne in the skies. (The Prophet then said) cover me, cover me, then they poured water on me. Then Allah revealed, يا أيها المدثر.”

Other variations of this narration exist in many books such as Tasfir al-Tabari, Sahih Bukhari, and others. After encountering the aforementioned narration, one may assume there is an alleged contradiction between the narrations surrounding which verses were revealed first. In order to solve this issue, the timeline of the Prophets (s) prophetic life must be systematically broken down. Thereafter, the interpretation of the narration of Jabir by various scholars needs to be analyzed.

The Prophetic life of the Prophet (s) lasted approximately 23 years. 13 years in Mecca and 10 in Medina, considering the 3 years of the Fatra in Mecca. Which would mean that the Prophet had passed away approximately at the age of 63.[12] Accordingly, this places the time of the Mab’ath at the 40th year of the Prophets life, with the total time span of the revelation (after the Fatra) being 20 years.[13]

قال الإمام الصادق (علیه السلام): «ثم نزل القرآن فی طول عشرین عاما[14]

Imam Sadiq (a): “The Qur’an was revealed over a span of 20 years.”

It is important to note here that narrations of this nature do not disregard the Fatra, rather they specify the time span of the revelation in accordance with the commencement of the Prophetic mission. Evidently, if it is proven with certainty that there was no revelation during the 3 years of the Fatra[15], there would be no need for the narrations to mention that the Prophetic mission lasted 23 years. Consequently, this requires us to further narrow down the timeline of the Prophet’s prophetic life. Hereon, it is important to keep in mind that after the Mab’ath, which was supposedly established with the revelation of Surah Alaq, the period of the Fatra started.

The role of the Prophet during this early Meccan period was not a role intended as a public preacher, rather a role to spread the message of Allah to his close family and relatives and convert them. Fortunately, the narrations provide us with evidence to prove, that the end of the Fatra was marked by a new role given to the Prophet in which Allah commands the Prophet, فَاصْدَعْ بِمَا تُؤْمَرُ وَأَعْرِضْ عَنِ الْمُشْرِكِين “ So declare what you are commanded and turn away from the polytheists.[16]” This command, commanding the Prophet to rise and preach to the public can also be proven through another verse in which Allah commands the Prophet:

يٰۤاَيُّهَا الۡمُدَّثِّرُۙ. قُمۡ فَاَنۡذِرۡ “O you who covers himself with a garment, arise and warn”.[17] Through these contextual pieces of evidence, is it possible to attribute revelation to two stages of the Prophetic life? The first stage is that which was revealed at the time he was appointed as a Prophet i.e Surah Alaq, and the second, which was revealed at the time he was commanded to be a warner and preach to the public which lasted 20 years i.e Surah Muddaththir or Surah Hijr. In order to strengthen this argument, I will present the view of some of the many scholars, which can reconcile the supposed contradiction regarding which verses were revealed first.

Views regarding Surah Muddaththir being the first Surah[18] to be revealed according to the narration on the authority of Jabir b. Abdallah:

1. فإذا هو على العرش في الهواء، يعني جبرائيل.., “(it was him, Jibrael on the throne in the skies) or in another variation of the same narration فإذاالملك الذي جاءني بحراء… (It was the angel, that came to me from the mount Hira).This evidence proves that the Prophet (s) was familiar with the presence of the angel Jibrael as to why he was able to specify that it was an angel and not anything else. This also proves that the revelation of the verse يٰۤاَيُّهَا الۡمُدَّثِّرُۙقُمۡ فَاَنۡذِرۡ was after the revelation[19] of اقْرَأْ بِاسْمِ رَبِّکَ.”

2. It is a possibility that Jabir had assumed himself (اجتهد) that this was the first surah to be revealed because the explanation of the revelation of this verse from the Prophet (s) does not signify in any way that it was the first to be revealed. Or it is likely that what Jabir meant from “the first Surah to be revealed” was, in reality, the first verse after the Fatrah.[20] Suyuti in his al-Itqan says something of the same nature i.e. it was the first revelation after the Fatra, not the first revelation of the entire Qur’an.

3. The second verse of Surah Muddaththir قُمۡ فَاَنۡذِرۡ gives us a lot of context in relation to it being part of the second stage of the Prophets(s) prophetic life i.e the stage of him being a messenger.

أَنَّ الْمُرَادَ أَوَّلِيَّةٌ مَخْصُوصَةٌ بِالْأَمْرِ بِالْإِنْذَارِ وَعَبَّرَ بَعْضُهُمْ عَنْ هَذَا بِقَوْلِهِ أَوَّلُ مَا نَزَلَ لِلنُّبُوَّةِ: {اقْرَأْ بِاسْمِ رَبِّكَوأول ما نزل للرسالة: {يَا أَيُّهَا الْمُدَّثِّرُ} . [21]

The meaning behind attributing this verse to be the first revelation is the first vis. commanding the Prophet (s) to warn (بِالْأَمْرِ بِالْإِنْذَارِ). Therefore, some interpret اقْرَأْ بِاسْمِ رَبِّكَ to be the first revelation for Nubuwwah (Prophethood) and يَا أَيُّهَا الْمُدَّثِّرُ to be the first revelation for Risalah (Messenger).

4. From ibn Abbas: Walid b. Mughira had prepared food for the Quraysh, while they were eating he said; “What do you (Quraysh) say about this man (Prophet Muhammad)? Some of them said he is a magician, and some said he is not a magician. Some said he is a soothsayer, and some said he is not a soothsayer. Some said he is a poet, and some said he is not a poet. Some said he has magical abilities. Upon hearing this, the Prophet (s) grieved, and covered his head, and cloaked himself. Allah then revealed upon him [22], يَٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلْمُدَّثِّرُ. قُمْ فَأَنذِرْ until وَلِرَبِّكَ فَٱصْبِر.”

This narration signifies that there was a point in the Prophet’s life where some of the people of Quraysh were falsely accusing the Prophet (s) of not truly being a Prophet. They demeaned his noble status by attributing negative characteristics to him. Thus, this shows us that the Prophet (s) had already started preaching the word of God and his role as a Prophet to his close family members and relatives in his tribe.

As a result of this, some supported him while others denounced him. This most likely occurred during the Fatra. Thus what marked the end of the Fatra, and his role merely as a Prophet was the revelation of the first few verses of Surah Muddaththir. Upon hearing the false accusation attributed to the Prophet, Allah commands the Prophet (the cloaked one) to rise and publicly preach the message of Allah and to warn the people. This ultimately proves that there was a second stage to the Prophetic life, which Suyuti calls the stage of Risalah.

After examining and investigating the contextual evidence related to this subject matter, it is possible to attribute two stages to the Prophetic life of the Holy Prophet (s). The first being the stage of Nabuwwah i.e Prophethood in which the Prophet received the first revelation, the beginning verses of Surah Alaq, from which succeeded the three-year period of the Fatra. Thereafter, the early Meccan verses commanding the Prophet to rise, warn and preach the message of Allah mark the second stage, being the stage of Risalah i.e the role of being a Messenger.

This can accurately place the first five verses of Surah Alaq as being the first verses to be revealed in the Qur’an, and consequently placing the first few verses of Surah Muddaththir at the end of the Fatra. And Allah knows best.

This article was first published on Iqra Online by author Mohsin Jaffery. You can find the original article here


Footnotes

[1] Allamah Majlisi mentions 5 opinions regarding this date in Bihar ul-Anwar v.18, p.19. These opinions include: 17th of Ramadan, 18th of Ramadan, 24th of Ramadan, 12th of Rabi ul-Awwal, 27th of Rajab.

A narration from Imam Sadiq (a) and Imam Ridha (a) mention that the Mab’ath was on the 27th of Rajab. This is mentioned in al-Kafi v.4, p.149, h. 1 and h.2.

[2] al-Kafi v. 2, p. 628-629 h.5, Uyun ul-Ikhbar al-Ridha v.2, p.5-6, h.12, Bihar ul-Anwar v.92, p.39, h.1.

[3] al- Tamhid fi al-Ulum ul-Qur’an. v.1 p.157. Hadith is taken from Sahih Muslim v.1 p.97.

[4] al-Itqan fi al-Ulum ul-Qur’an . p. 61.

[5] Ibid.

[6] al-Ghayba, Shaykh Tusi. p.333.

[7] Tareekh al-Ya’qubi v.2 p.19.

[8] Tafsir al- Qommi v.1 p.378.

[9] Seerah ibn Hisham v.1 p.280.

[10] Noldeke, The History of the Qur’an p.71.

[11] Majma ul-Bayan. v.10, p.370.

[12] Usul al-Kafi, v.1 p.342 h.33, Kamal ul-Din p.189 & 197, Bihar ul-Anwar v.18 p.177 & 188.

[13] Tabari v.2 p. 387, Tabaqat ibn Sa’ad v.1 p.127, al-Bidayah wa al-Nihaya, ibn Kathir v.3, al-Itqan fil al-Ulum ul-Qur’an p.45.

[14] al-Kafi, v.2 p.628-629 h.6, al-I’tiqadat, Saduq p.101, Bihar ul-Anwar v.18 p.250 h.3.

[15] Although it can be argued that certain verses from Surah Dhuha (93) were revealed during the Fatra in response to people doubting the Prophet, and claiming that Allah was not sending revelation because He was displeased with the Prophet. al-Jami’ fi al-Asbab ul-Nuzul, al-Shibli. p.547. Also found in Tafsir al-Qommi v.2 p.428.

[16] Surah Hijr, 94.

[17] Surah Muddaththir, 1-2.

[18] Some hold the view that parts of Surah Muzzammil were revealed alongside Surah Muddaththir. Tafsir al-Mizan v.20 p.123.

[19] al-Itqan fi al-Ulum ul-Qur’an p. 62.

[20]  al- Tamhid fi al-Ulum ul-Qur’an p.157.

[21] al-Itqan fi al-Ulum ul-Qur’an p. 62.

[22] al-Jami’ fi al-Asbab ul-Nuzul p.528. This narration is mentioned by Imam al-Tabarani in Mu’jam al-Kabir and is considered to have a weak chain of narration according to al-Haythami in his al-Majma’. He claims one of the narrators, Ibrahim b. Yazir al-Khuzi is Matruk (accused of lying or heresy).

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