First ever serialisation of the newly translated Volume II of Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad’sra outstanding biography, Seerat Khatamun Nabiyyin, on the life and character of the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa. We continue with chapter 9.
Sequence of the Holy Qur’an
The question as to whether the current sequence of the Holy Qur’an is founded on the basis of any principle or not, and if so, then what, does not relate to history, and nor can a question of this nature be elaborately answered in a historical work. However, at this instance, a brief indication would perhaps not be without benefit. It should be known, therefore, that it is accepted by friend and foe alike, and history and the Ahadith are replete with references which substantiate that the current arrangement of the Holy Qur’an is not according to its order of revelation. Rather, it is a varying order which was arranged by the Holy Prophetsa himself under divine inspiration. As such, Allah states in the Holy Qur’an:
“It is Our responsibility to compile the Holy Qur’an, and it is We who shall complete this task.”1
It is obvious that the task of compiling the Holy Qur’an implies the task of its arrangement as well, especially when the order of compilation is different from the order of its revelation. Moreover, as mentioned above, the Ahadith explicitly mention that upon the revelation of every verse and upon the completion of every Surah, the Holy Prophetsa would himself instruct that the following verse or Surah should be placed at such and such a place.2 In these circumstances, whether someone is able to comprehend the current arrangement of the Qur’an or not, there can be no doubt in the fact that there is definitely some principle which has been employed in its arrangement. In actuality, if one contemplates, the very fact that the original order of revelation has been altered proves that in the new arrangement, some principle has definitely been taken into account. If this was not the case, there would have been no reason to disregard the order of revelation and set a new sequence. For example, a few people enter a hall one after the other. Now if the manager of the hall takes special care not to seat these people according to the order of their entry, and seats them in a different arrangement, this very action of his would establish the fact that irrespective of whether anyone is aware of the rule that he has employed in his arrangement or not, there must definitely be some principle in his own consideration. Otherwise, there would have been no reason to alter the order of entry, because no man in his right mind does anything without purpose and in vain.
At this instance, most European historians assert that the manager of the hall has altered the order of entrance, and seated people according to the principle of sizing, as it were. In other words, they claim that the Qur’anic Surahs have been arranged according to length. However, this is absolutely unfounded and incorrect, because firstly, we have already proven above that the task of compilation and arrangement was performed by the Holy Prophetsa himself under divine inspiration, and a nonsensical action of this nature can never be attributed to a person such as the Holy Prophetsa. Such an action can only be performed by a person who is completely bereft of sense and understanding. To abandon the order of revelation, which could have in the least, furnished various historical benefits, merely so that the Surahs of the Holy Qur’an could be arranged with respect to length, which possesses no academic benefit whatsoever, is such an action which cannot be committed by even a man of meagre understanding, and is out of the question as far as the Holy Prophetsa is concerned. The person of the Holy Prophetsa is far above and beyond this. Secondly, the very existence of these Surahs in their current form, due to which this notion has come about in the first place, proves that there is some kind of intelligent arrangement behind them. For as we have mentioned, the Holy Qur’an was not revealed in the form of Surahs; rather, it was revealed very gradually in the form of verses. Surahs only came into existence as a result of the collection of these individual verses. In addition to this, as far as actual fact is concerned, it is absolutely incorrect and contrary to reality as well that length has been taken into account in the arrangement of the Qur’an. Even an elementary study of the number of verses in the Surahs contained in the Holy Qur’an is sufficient to refute this notion, because there are numerous examples where various lengthy Surahs have been placed afterwards, while shorter Surahs have been positioned first. There is no telling how Western scholars have been so negligent and committed such a blatant mistake in this respect.
Hence, there is no room for uncertainty and doubt that firstly, the current arrangement of the Holy Qur’an is not according to its order of revelation; secondly, nor is this arrangement according to the length of various Surahs; rather, thirdly, this is a unique arrangement which was fixed by the Holy Prophetsa himself under divine instruction. Now, the question which arises is: what kind of an arrangement is this? In response to this, all that can be alluded to here, at this instance, is that the very same principle of arrangement has been taken into consideration by the Holy Qur’an, which is the word of God, as is found to exist in the action of God, i.e., the book of nature, as it were. In other words, just as an order has been established in the physical world, and ways and means for the material life of this world, its progress and well-being have been provided for, so too, there is an order in the word of God, i.e., the Holy Qur’an. This is in accordance with the eternal laws of psychology, which are most effective for the moral, social and spiritual life of the world, and for its reformation and progress. Then it is ironic that just as there are some who can see no order in this physical world, those people who are deprived of spiritual insight can see no order in the arrangement of the Holy Qur’an either. However, as for those who are accustomed to deep study and possess the insight, piety and purity within themselves which is necessary to understand the essence of a spiritual book, consider this arrangement to be of a lofty status, and feel the effect of it upon their own souls.
At this instance, the question may arise that if the current arrangement was best suited for the purpose of reformation, training, and with respect to its spiritual influence, why then was the Qur’an not revealed in this very order, so that the Companions who were the very first addressees of the Qur’anic teaching could have also benefitted? The response to this is that the circumstances of the Companions and those of latter Muslims are different. The order in which the Holy Qur’an was revealed was best suited for the Companions. However, after a pioneer community had been established, for future times, as a permanent arrangement, the sequence which is found in the Qur’an at present was best suited. This variance is based on two principles:
Firstly, it should be known that the Companions were the first community to have been established upon the precepts of the Islamic Shari’at. Prior to this, there was no group of people who had ever bore the Islamic Shari’at, nor did it exist in the world before that time. By means of the Holy Qur’an, the ancient way of practice and civilization was to be abolished, and the foundation of a completely new order and civilization was to be established. Therefore, it was necessary for Qur’anic injunctions to be revealed to the people of that time according to their mentality and environment, so that it was easier for them to transform their lives and assimilate this new teaching into themselves. For this purpose, it is obvious that the best course of action was that in the very beginning such verses be revealed which primarily dealt with the rectification of doctrine, whereby polytheistic beliefs were uprooted and Divine Unity was established. After this, came commandments and prohibitions pertinent to the Islamic method of worship, the Islamic practice in civil affairs, the Islamic form of civilization and the Islamic system of governance. As such, this is precisely as it occurred.3 However, when a community had been established on the precepts of the Islamic Shari‘at and a framework had been constructed in the manner of a seed or nucleus, for the future growth and progress of that seed or nucleus, this original sequence of revelation became unfit and inappropriate. As such, this arrangement was altered to a more appropriate one. Hence, the current arrangement of the Holy Qur’an is completely in accordance with the principle which is best suited for the consolidation, growth, and progress of a fully matured community.
The second principle which was taken into account in altering the order of revelation to something else, was that the order of revelation was more in line with the specific circumstances which were confronted by the Holy Prophetsa and his Companions. For example, in the Makkan life of the Holy Prophetsa, since the message of Islam was still being conveyed to the disbelievers and it was intended that the Muslims be moulded and prepared through patience and tribulation, teachings of Jihad have not been given in the Makkan verses; rather, greater emphasis was laid upon teachings of patience and forbearance. However, when the message had been conveyed incontrovertibly, and the Companions had also been moulded by patience and forbearance, and the Muslims were even made to leave their homeland due to the atrocities of the disbelievers, and the time had arrived for the tyrant to be punished, it was then that the verses of Jihad were revealed. Similarly, in Makkah, since the Muslims were unable to congregate themselves as united communities do, and the cruelties of the disbelievers had kept the Muslims completely scattered from one another, i.e., they did not live a communal life, verses on the Islamic method of living and civil affairs were not revealed. However, when the Muslims were given the opportunity to live together as a community in Madinah, relevant verses were revealed. If this revelation had not taken into account the relation and relevance of prevalent circumstances, it would have most definitely become very difficult for the early Muslims to assimilate this new Shari‘at into themselves and act upon it in true spirit.
Therefore, inasmuch as possible the revelation of the Qur’an walked side by side, along with the relevant circumstances which presented themselves, so that its doctrine could continue to be absorbed by the Companions. However, when everything had been revealed and a community had come into existence on the precepts of the Qur’anic law, it was no longer necessary to maintain that sequence. As a matter of fact, the requirement was for it to be arranged according to the permanent needs of the future, and this is how it was done.
At this instance, if someone raises the objection that by altering the order of revelation, the historical value of the Holy Qur’an has been lost, this would be a weak and silly allegation. Firstly, a better part of the chronological order of the revelation of Qur’anic verses have been safeguarded in the Ahadith and history, and with the slightest effort and attention, it can be ascertained as to when a certain verse or Surah was revealed. Therefore, in this case, it cannot at all be asserted that the historical value of the Qur’an has been lost; rather, the truth is that it has been preserved in full, and friend and foe alike accept this verity. The only difference is that if the Qur’an had been arranged according to its order of revelation, its historical background would have been more conspicuous and obvious, but now it must be derived with effort and attention.
Secondly, it should be remembered that the actual fundamental purpose of the Holy Qur’an is not the preservation of history. Quite the contrary, it is to provide a law in the best possible form, which is best suited for the social, moral and spiritual progress of mankind, and so that a servant may be led to God. Hence, in its arrangement as well, it was necessary to take into consideration such rules as best served these objectives. Furthermore, in its arrangement, if these rules had been forgone and the historical aspect had been given greater preference, this would have been an extremely unwise action.
Prior to bringing this topic to a close, it is also necessary to mention that the current arrangement of the Holy Qur’an is not one of such nature as is commonly found in books, whereby the subject is divided into chapters, sections, and paragraphs, etc. An arrangement of this type is at odds with the fundamental objective of the Qur’an. The Qur’an claims that it has brought a law for all nations and all eras,4 and that there are concealed treasures of all kinds of knowledge hidden within it, which shall continue to reveal themselves as needed.5 It is related in a Hadith that scholars shall never become satiated in their study of the Qur’an, nor shall its miracles ever be exhausted.6 In another Hadith it is related that the Qur’anic verses are not only confined to apparent meanings. In fact, every verse conceals numerous hidden verities, each of which branches out into a multiplicity of meanings.7 In other words, just as the world is a physical universe, Islam states that the Holy Qur’an is also an entire universe of spirituality in itself; and the physical world is a most befitting example by which the principles of its arrangement may be comprehended. The manner and way in which there is an order in the physical world, whereby everything, despite its appearing to be separate and unrelated, is actually connected and intertwined at its depths; rather, its different parts are joined to each other by many hidden chains in various respects, so too, links of relation and unity exist in the depths of the Qur’an. Moreover, just as researchers and scientists extract gems of knowledge according to their individual ability and investigation, in all eras, there has never been a dearth of spiritual pearls for those who submerse themselves into the ocean which exists in the spiritual realm of the Qur’an, and nor shall there be in the future. From among the miracles of the Holy Qur’an, the greatest of all, is that its words and sequence have been arranged in such a manner that despite being shorter than all other heavenly scriptures, it possesses a never-ending treasure of spiritual knowledge within it, which has always manifested itself according to the investigation of research scholars and according to the needs of the time; and shall continue to reveal itself.8 It is for this very reason that its arrangement has not been divided in the form of specific subject matter, consisting of chapters, sections, and paragraphs, etc., as is generally the case with other books. For if such a course had been employed, its breadth of meaning would have been lost, taken on a limited and specific form, and would have become confined to its apparent and literal sense. In summary, the Holy Qur’an claims that an infinite treasure of all kinds of knowledge is hidden within it, which shall continue to be revealed according to requirement, and that its scope of investigation shall never be exhausted. As such, this salient feature of the Qur’an and this purpose of its revelation, verily, would have been lost if its arrangement had been strictly confined by dividing subject matter in the form of chapters and sections, etc. Therefore, where it should be kept in mind that the Qur’an is a very orderly and organised book, and it is completely incorrect to believe that it is in disarray, it should also never be forgotten that its arrangement is not like ordinary books. On the contrary, it has been arranged in accordance with the laws of the physical world, and there are limitless depths of meaning; and in these depths there are infinite chains of connection and unity, which join together in the form of a single net, from which any individual and all nations can and do derive benefit, according to their individual capability, need and circumstances. At this instance, the brief note we have written is undoubtedly no more than a mere claim. It is unfortunate, however, that except for this brief indication, there is no additional room in this historical work for such a vast and scholarly subject; otherwise, a long list of arguments could have been presented in support of this claim. Now we return to our actual topic.
1. The Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Qiyamah (75:18).
2. *Fathul-Bari Sharhu Sahihil-Bukhari, by Al-Imam Ahmad bin Hajar Al-‘Asqalani, Volume 9, p. 27, Kitabu Fada’ilil-Qur’an, Babu Katibin-Nabisa, Qadimi Kutb Khanah, Aram Bagh, Karachi.
*Fathul-Bari Sharhu Sahihil-Bukhari, by Al-Imam Ahmad bin Hajar Al-‘Asqalani, Volume 9, p. 50, Kitabu Fada’ilil-Qur’an, Babu Ta’lifil-Qur’an, Qadimi Kutb Khanah, Aram Bagh, Karachi
3. *Sahihul-Bukhari, Kitabu Fada’ilil-Qur’an, Babu Ta’lifil-Qur’an, Hadith No. 4993.
*Fathul-Bari Sharhu Sahihul-Bukhari, by Al-Imam Ahmad bin Hajar Al-‘Asqalani, Volume 9, p. 48, Kitabu Fada’ilil-Qur’an, Babu Ta’lifil-Qur’an, Qadimi Kutb Khanah, Aram Bagh, Karachi.
4. The Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Furqan (25:2), Surah As-Saba’ (34:29), Surah Al-An‘am (6:91).
5. The Holy Qur’an, Surah Bani Isra’il (17:90), Surah Al-Hijr (15:22).
6. Sunan At-Tirmidhi, Kitabu Fada’ilil-Qur’an, Babu Ma Ja’a Fi Fadlil-Qur’an, Hadith No. 2906.
7. *Mishkatul-Masabih, Part 1, pp. 65-66, Kitabul-‘Ilm, Al-Fasluth-Thani, Hadith No. 238, Darul-Kutubil-‘Ilmiyyah, Beirut, Lebanon, First Edition (2003).
*Al-Jami‘us-Saghir Fi Ahadithil-Bashirin-Nadhir, by Imam Jalaluddin As-Suyuti, Volume 1, p. 163, Harful-Hamzah, Hadith No. 2727, Darul-Kutubil-‘Ilmiyyah, Beirut, Lebanon (2004).
8. Izala’-e-Auham, pp. 305-317, Ruhani Khaza’in, Volume 3, pp. 255-261.