Wednesday 14 August 2019

Understanding Islam: Why the Qur'an was not Revealed All at Once?

The revelation of the Holy Qur'an took some 23 years to be raveled in full. The revelations in bits and pieces often irked the disbelievers / pagans of Makkah and they would ask the Prophet of Allah that why the Qur'an is raveled all in one go. While this  was oft asked question from the Prophet of Allah, the same is still being asked many non believers even today. And by the way had Quran been revealed in one go, the disbelievers would still had not been satisfied and had asked: "Why all at once? We have not been able to grasp it. It should have been better that it had been revealed in bits and pieces so that we could understand." But did they still grasp it or were just finding excuses not to accept the true message from God.

It was for this very purpose and to answer their query that the Divine Answer came which is given in verses 32-33 of Surah Al Furqan, the 25th Chapter / Surah of the Holy Qur'an:

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ 
"In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful"

وَقَالَ الَّذِيۡنَ كَفَرُوۡا لَوۡلَا نُزِّلَ عَلَيۡهِ الۡـقُرۡاٰنُ جُمۡلَةً وَّاحِدَةً​  ​ۛۚ كَذٰلِكَ ​ۛۚ لِنُثَبِّتَ بِهٖ فُـؤَادَكَ​ وَرَتَّلۡنٰهُ تَرۡتِيۡلًا‏ 
( 32 )   And those who disbelieve say, "Why was the Qur'an not revealed to him all at once?" Thus [it is] that We may strengthen thereby your heart. And We have spaced it distinctly.
As the disbelievers of Makkah considered this objection to be very strong, they repeated it over and over again. The Quran also has cited it with its answer at several places. Their question implied: Had the Quran been really the Word of Allah, it would have been sent as a complete book all at once; for Allah has the knowledge of everything and every human affair. Thus it is obvious that nothing is being sent down from above; but this man himself fabricates all its themes or gets these from other people or other books.

So that by it We may strengthen your heart and imbue it with courage. The words are comprehensive. This concise sentence contains the following explanation why the Quran was revealed piecemeal by degrees:
  • (1) So that the Prophet (peace be upon him) may commit it to memory perfectly and recite it to his people, who are illiterate, rather than present it in a written form.
  • (2) So that its teachings and messages may be impressed deeply on the minds.
  • (3) So that the way of life it teaches, may be followed with complete conviction, which would not be possible if all the commandments and the whole system of life had been sent down all at once.
  • (4) So that the hearts of the Prophet and his followers may be imbued with courage during the conflict between the truth and falsehood. This required that the divine guidance and messages of encouragement should be revealed as and when needed according to the practical situation. Obviously, this could not have been possible if these had been sent down all at once. 
  • (5) "Slow, well-arranged stages": though the stages were gradual, as the occasion demanded from time to time, in the course of twenty-three years, the whole emerged, when completed, as a well-arranged scheme of spiritual instruction
This also showed that Allah had not left His Messenger alone amidst persecution to counter all sorts of resistance and opposition after appointing him to the mission, but He Himself was watching the struggle with concern and guiding His Prophet through every difficulty by direct communion in every critical situation.

"And We have spaced it distinctly": This perhaps is the final answer that says it all. The verses have been "spaced distinctly" which allows not only memorizing the earlier verses correctly by the Prophet of Allah but also allow the breathing time for its correct understanding as lot of questions and queries arose after every revelation and Prophet of Allah had to satisfy each questioner so that no ambiguity was left. In some cases, the supporting revelations were revealed to explain the earlier verses to make those more elaborate and understandable.

Had the Qur'an been revealed all at once, it would have been difficult for the Muslims who had lived all their lives under a different set and traditions of the days of ignorance. They had been slave to traditions and culture which were at tangent to the teachings of Islam. In order to condition them for their new lives as Muslims, the commandants of prohibitions and  restrictions, the revelations were softer in the beginning and got tougher as the days went by. The transition from soft to harder commandments took a lot of time and Muslims started to understand the reason why of these commandments when they saw the Prophet of Allah himself living under same commandments. 

And in the next verse, Allah further clarifies the spacing of revelations in distinctive intervals:

وَلَا يَاۡتُوۡنَكَ بِمَثَلٍ اِلَّا جِئۡنٰكَ بِالۡحَـقِّ وَاَحۡسَنَ تَفۡسِيۡرًا ؕ‏ 

(25:33) "(This was also done so that) whenever they put any strange question to you, We sent its right answer and explained the matter in the best manner."

This is yet another point of wisdom of sending down the Quran by degrees. Allah did not intend to produce a book on guidance and spread its teachings through the agency of His Prophet (peace be upon him). Had it been so the disbelievers would have been justified in their objection as to why the Quran had not been sent down as a complete book all at once. The real object of the revelation of the Quran was that Allah intended to start a movement of faith, piety and righteousness to combat disbelief, ignorance and sin, and He had raised a Prophet to lead and guide the movement. Then, on the one hand, Allah had taken it upon Himself to send necessary instructions and guidance to the leader and his followers as and when needed, and on the other, He had also taken the responsibility to answer the objections and remove the doubts of opponents and give the right interpretation of things which they misunderstood. Thus the Quran was the collection of the different discourses that were being revealed by Allah; it was not merely meant to be a code of laws or of moral principles, but a Book, which was being sent down piecemeal to guide the movement in all its stages to suit its requirements on different occasions.

Divine knowledge is a fathomless ocean. But glimpses of it can be obtained by any individuals sincerely searching for the Truth. Their progress will be in grades. If they ask questions, and answers are then furnished to them, they are more likely to apprehend the Truth, as they have already explored the part of the territory in which they are interested. In the same way, when concrete questions arise by the logic of events, and they are answered not only for the occasion, but from a general stand-point, the teaching has a far greater chance of penetrating the human intelligence and taking shape in practical conduct. And this is the usual way of instruction in the Qur'an.

To sum the discussion, let me quote Fethullah Gülen who in one of his blog posts writes:
The Qur'an was revealed in stages so that its audience could understand, internalize, and apply its prohibitions, commands, and reforms. Revelation came when the need for guidance arose, without discouraging or grinding down morale: warning and condemnation preceded prohibition, appeal and exhortation preceded command. For instance, alcohol and other intoxicating drinks were prohibited in three or four stages; female infanticide in two stages; uniting warring tribes and building up a close-knit society based on brotherhood, thus raising the collective consciousness, in several stages. These difficult reforms were not gestured at or expressed in slogans—they were achieved.
Thus it could be said that had the revelations not spaced distinctly, it would not have allowed the teachings of Islam to mature, understood and implemented right from the heart as emotions cooled down and logic took over, which was must for Islam to rest on solid foundations.

Photo | References: | 1 | 2 | 3 |
Reading the Holy Quran should be a daily obligation of a Muslim - Reading it with translation will make it meaningful. But reading its Exegesis / Tafsir will make you understand it fully.

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