Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Quran: Part I--The Revelation of the Recitation (Ramadan 610-632); A Book of Revelations

The Revelation of the Recitation (Ramadan 610-632)

Pilgrims at the Cave of Hira' where the Qur'an was first revealed to the Prophet Mohamed on Lailat al Qadr, 610

Muslims believe that the message of the Quran and his identity as a prophet was first revealed to the Prophet Mohamed one night in the latter third of Ramadan 610, when he was 40 years old. The date is thought to be one of the odd numbered nights during this period, but was deliberately not specified. This is the Lailat Al-Qadr or Night of Revelation, Night of Power, which was also the subject of an earlier post.

A very honourable and pious man before the Revelation, Mohamed used to withdraw to a cave in the hills around Makkah to meditate, and worship Allah in solitude, the Cave of Hira'. It was during one of these meditations that the Angel Gabriel (Jibril) appeared to Mohamed and commanded him to recite/read: qura, which holds both meanings in Arabic. "Qur'an" itself is the verbal noun, meaning recitation.

The first revelation to the Prophet Mohamed is transcribed in the first verses of Surah 96 Al-'Alaq (The Clot, Read) ayat 1-3 (or 1-5 according to some).
Proclaim! (or read!) in the name of thy Lord and Cherisher, Who created-
Created man, out of a (mere) clot of congealed blood:
Proclaim! And thy Lord is Most Bountiful,-
He Who taught (the use of) the pen,-
Taught man that which he knew not.
After a pause (Al-Fatra) the second revelation was the beginning of Surah 74 Al-Muddaththir (The Cloaked One, The Man Wearing A Cloak) ayat 1- 5.
O thou wrapped up (in the mantle)!
Arise and deliver thy warning!
And thy Lord do thou magnify!
And thy garments keep free from stain!
And all abomination shun!
Future revelations continued without another such pause. Many believe the third revelation was the whole of Surah 1 Al-Fatiha (The Opening), ayat 1-7.
In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
Praise be to Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds;
Most Gracious, Most Merciful;
Master of the Day of Judgment.
Thee do we worship, and Thine aid we seek.
Show us the straight way,
The way of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy Grace, those whose (portion) is not wrath, and who go not astray.
Al Fatiha (The Opening) 1:1-7

Other early revelations, though the exact order is disputed, include Surah 73 thought by some to be the third revelation, Surat 111, 81, 87, 92, 89, and the other Makkan surat; that is, those revealed during the time before the hijra, or migration, to Madinah. The revelations continued throughout the Prophet's lifetime, the last occurring about 10 days before his death in 632.

The last revelation before the Prophet's death is believed by many scholars to be Surah 2 Al-Baqara (The Cow), though there is disagreement as to whether the ayah or ayat revealed was/were 281, 282, 278 or all 3.
O ye who believe! Fear Allah, and give up what remains of your demand for usury, if ye are indeed believers.
And fear the Day when ye shall be brought back to Allah. Then shall every soul be paid what it earned, and none shall be dealt with unjustly.
O ye who believe! When ye deal with each other, in transactions involving future obligations in a fixed period of time, reduce them to writing Let a scribe write down faithfully as between the parties: let not the scribe refuse to write: as Allah Has taught him, so let him write. Let him who incurs the liability dictate, but let him fear His Lord Allah, and not diminish aught of what he owes. If they party liable is mentally deficient, or weak, or unable Himself to dictate, Let his guardian dictate faithfully, and get two witnesses, out of your own men, and if there are not two men, then a man and two women, such as ye choose, for witnesses, so that if one of them errs, the other can remind her. The witnesses should not refuse when they are called on (For evidence). Disdain not to reduce to writing (your contract) for a future period, whether it be small or big: it is juster in the sight of Allah, More suitable as evidence, and more convenient to prevent doubts among yourselves but if it be a transaction which ye carry out on the spot among yourselves, there is no blame on you if ye reduce it not to writing. But take witness whenever ye make a commercial contract; and let neither scribe nor witness suffer harm. If ye do (such harm), it would be wickedness in you. So fear Allah; For it is Good that teaches you. And Allah is well acquainted with all things. If ye are on a journey, and cannot find a scribe, a pledge with possession (may serve the purpose). And if one of you deposits a thing on trust with another, let the trustee (faithfully) discharge his trust, and let him Fear his Lord conceal not evidence; for whoever conceals it, - his heart is tainted with sin. And Allah knoweth all that ye do.
Others believe more controversially that Surah 5 Al-Maeda (The Table, The Table Spread ) ayah 4 was the final revelation.
They ask thee what is lawful to them (as food). Say: lawful unto you are (all) things good and pure: and what ye have taught your trained hunting animals (to catch) in the manner directed to you by Allah: eat what they catch for you, but pronounce the name of Allah over it: and fear Allah; for Allah is swift in taking account.
In the Quran 7 Al Araf (The Heights) ayah 157 the Prophet Mohamed is described thus:
[Allah's reply to Moses/Musa]"Those who follow the messenger, the unlettered Prophet, whom they find mentioned in their own (scriptures),- in the law and the Gospel;- for he commands them what is just and forbids them what is evil; he allows them as lawful what is good (and pure) and prohibits them from what is bad (and impure); He releases them from their heavy burdens and from the yokes that are upon them. So it is those who believe in him, honour him, help him, and follow the light which is sent down with him,- it is they who will prosper."
As the Prophet was unlettered (though not necessarily analphabet), 40 of the companions served as his scribes to record the revelations; while many more committed the Quran to memory.Salim was one of the few entrusted by the Prophet with teaching the Quran. The scribes recorded the revelations on any manner of writing material, and each kept his own as a private possession. The Prophet prohibited that copies be brought into battle, but did send copies to neighbouring tribes so that they might learn of the revelations.

After the Battle of Yamama in 633, that is, about a year after the Prophet died, 700 Muslims who had memorized the Qur'an were killed, including Salim. Umar then insisted that Abu Bakr collect the scattered transcriptions into one copy of the Qur'an. The chief scribe, Zaid Ibn Thabit was required to collect all the manuscript copies of various revelations, verify each by 2 of the companions who had memorized the Quran during the time of the Prophet (often himself and Abu Bakr), and then compile the authenticated ones.

7th century manuscript in Hijazi script, Surah 2 Al-Baqarah 283-286

This compilation was entrusted to each successive caliph, until at the time of the Caliph Uthman there was a need for a codified compilation, that is a re-transcribed complete copy of the original manuscript, which could be further copied and spread to new believers, and understood by those who were farther geographically and temporally from the original memorizations. This transcription of the complete Qur'an, authentic to the original manuscript version, and known as Al-Mushaf al-Uthmani, the Uthmanic Codex, was completed about 650-656, after which Uthman sent copies to the different regions of the ummah, and scribes there made further copies.

The Qur'an was written in the script used by Uthman, that is, one without the vowel markings which can leave words open to interpretation. From 700-900 scribes and scholars added diacritical marks to indicate the vowels and thus the more precise meaning of the words.

Pilgrims ascend to the Cave of Hira' where the Angel Gabriel first revealed the Qur'an to the Prophet Muhammad.

A Book of Revelations

Unlike the Bible, which primarily follows a narrative arc from the beginning (Genesis) to the end of the world (The Book of Revelation), the primary structure of the Qur'an is as a series of revelations, codified in a non-linear manner.

It is said that the message was revealed in this manner, as a series of revelations for a number of reasons including to mitigate for the Prophet the great discomfiture that occurred with each revelation, and which his wife Khadijah would comfort him through; to enable memorization; to respond to new circumstances of the Muslims with pertinent advice and information; and to reinforce the message. Similarly the non-linear organization of the Qur'an is thought to engage the reader more thoroughly with the message, and along with the repetitions and poetry to enhance its power.

A 9th century manuscript of the Qur'an in kufiq script; at the Telyashayakh mosque in Tashkent

The Qur'an is not the only revelation, or wahi, from Allah. The others are mentioned in the Qur'an itself.

The 'sheets' (suhuf) of Ibrahim and Musa
But those will prosper who purify themselves,
And glorify the name of their Guardian-Lord, and (lift their hearts) in prayer.
Day (behold), ye prefer the life of this world;
But the Hereafter is better and more enduring.
the kitab, book, of

Musa, The Torah (Tauraat)
Let the people of the Gospel judge by what Allah hath revealed therein. If any do fail to judge by (the light of) what Allah hath revealed, they are (no better than) those who rebel.
To thee We sent the Scripture in truth, confirming the scripture that came before it, and guarding it in safety: so judge between them by what Allah hath revealed, and follow not their vain desires, diverging from the Truth that hath come to thee. To each among you have we prescribed a law and an open way. If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (His plan is) to test you in what He hath given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues. The goal of you all is to Allah; it is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which ye dispute;
Dawoud, The Psalms (Zaboor)
Before this We wrote in the Psalms, after the Message (given to Moses): My servants the righteous, shall inherit the earth."
and Isa, The Gospel (Injeel).
Muhammad is the messenger of Allah; and those who are with him are strong against Unbelievers, (but) compassionate amongst each other. Thou wilt see them bow and prostrate themselves (in prayer), seeking Grace from Allah and (His) Good Pleasure. On their faces are their marks, (being) the traces of their prostration. This is their similitude in the Taurat; and their similitude in the Gospel is: like a seed which sends forth its blade, then makes it strong; it then becomes thick, and it stands on its own stem, (filling) the sowers with wonder and delight. As a result, it fills the Unbelievers with rage at them. Allah has promised those among them who believe and do righteous deeds forgiveness, and a great Reward.
Each of these books of revelations contain the same essential message, as tailored to the needs of the time. The Qur'an of Mohamed is the final revelation, the one that encompasses and updates the others. It also corrects the errors introduced by humanity since their original revelation.

What I have recounted here is the standard view from within the Muslim faith. There is of course a great deal of scholarship both secular and Islamic which varies somewhat or greatly from this. That will be the subject of a later post. In the meantime, the next post on the Qur'an deals further with the structure of the Qur'an, and approaches to reading it: The Quran: Part II--For New Readers and Readers Anew.

*Translations here are from Yusuf Ali.

Qur'an, scribe likely the famous Umar i-Aqta, c. 1400, Timurid Dynasty (now Uzbekistan), opaque watercolor, ink and gold on paper Muqaqqaq script

Related Posts:
Lailat Al Qadr, The Night of Power: Quranic Revelation, Prayer, Forgiveness, and the Final 10 Days of Ramadan
Khadija bint Khuwaylid (c. 555-10 Ramadan, 619 CE)

Related resource:
The Tanzil Quran Navigator offers the Quran online in multiple Arabic scripts, and multiple translations, either independent of the Arabic text or intercalated. It also provides multiple recitations. Information about the Tanzil Project itself is here.

12th century Andalusian Qur'an, Surah 15

Your comments, thoughts, impressions?


Susanne said...

Interesting to read the Muslim belief about their religion and its compilation. I remember that all copies not deemed true were burned so only one final version would exist, right? Even that's not true though as I believe there is not the same number of suras among all Muslim groups.

Chiara said...

Susanne--thank you for your comment. The 2 aspects you mentioned, the original establishment of one text and burning of the others; and the current differences among Muslim sects are both highly relevant, and which I will address in later posts. I wanted to keep this one very standard, and simple--kosher so to speak! LOL :)


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