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A Study of the Chronological Order of the Glorious Quraan

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Author Topic: A Study of the Chronological Order of the Glorious Quraan  (Read 1703 times)
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« on: May 23, 2008, 07:55:01 pm »


By: Dr. Hasanuddin Ahmed

The Ayaat and the Surahs of the Qur`an are not arranged in chronological order.  The Prophet did not mean to retain the chronological order.   The divine verse: "We have, without doubt sent down the Message: and We will assuredly guard it (from corruption)” [Qur’an 15:9] is applicable to the text and to the present order and not to the chronological order.  Allah has not taken the responsibility to safeguard the chronological order because that's not an important issue.  But Allah has taken the responsibility to safeguard and preserve the total original contents of the Quran which is of great importance.

However, attempts have also been made to differentiate between the Makkan and the Medinite Surahs but opinions differ slightly on this issue.  This will be discussed in detail here in a little while.

The serial order of the ayaat and surahs had been shown by the  Prophet (pbuh) himself as per the Divine guidance and therefore accepted as revealed one.  There is no difference of opinion with regard to the serial order of the ayaats, but the arrangement of the Surahs or Chapters are not in the order revealed which isn't a matter of importance anyway.  The arrangement of some of the Surahs were decided by the Prophet himself, while the arrangement of other Surahs were decided during compilation of the Quran by Umar bin Khatab and Usman bin Affan, the 2 righteous Caliphs.

A basic study of the chronological order of the Quran has been an interesting one.  It is not merely of academic interest but it is no doubt helpful for the proper understanding of the Quran. Sometimes to understand the meaning of an ayah clearly it is necessary to refer to the context and the background in which that ayah was revealed.  The order of particular revelation and the time and circumstance relating to it is useful in its better understanding.  But it does not make it necessary that every ayah in the Surahs should be arranged according to the order of revelation.   The Surahs would also not remain in their original shape because the serial order of ayaat in the Surah is not in accordance with the order of their revelation.  Besides, as stated, it's neither very necessary nor possible to arrange the Surahs according to order of revelation.

The existing serial order of the Quran as was arranged and compiled by Umar bin Khattab and Usman bin Affan is collectively and universally accepted and is being followed throughout the world without any interruption since the last fourteen hundred years and enjoys consensus.   

Meccan and Medinite Surahs:

Reserchers felt that what was possible and desirable was to divide the Surahs into two parts, i.e., those which were revealed in Makkah and those revealed after migration to Medina.  In this regard, only authentic reports can be relied upon.  Obaidullah Sindhi observes:  "Regarding every Surah, reports are available as to whether it was revealed in Makkah or in Medina, but in respect of some Surahs reports on their venue of revelations are quite conflicting and it's not easy to accept or reject such reports.  Scholars and commentators on the basis of their own notions had accepted or rejected such reports. Therefore, this conventional practice has become unsatisfactory."

Also, in certain Medinite Surahs, a few Makkan ayats are mixed and vice-versa.   Going into details it would be known that during the period of revelation Prophet Muhammad (SAAW) had visited places other than Makkah and Medina where some ayaats were revealed. After the conquest of Makkah, the  Prophet remained there for sometime and thus, opinions differed regarding the place of revelation of the Ayaat revealed then, that could be Makkah or Medina.

Thus, the most suitable definition is: “Makkan Surah or ayah is one which was revealed before the migration, whether revealed in Makkah or elsewhere, and Medinite Surah or ayah is one revealed after migration although it might have been revealed in Makkah itself". This definition of the division is unanimous. This above division would render the commentary (tafsir) easy to understand.  In the light of this division, the purpose of revelation can also be determined.  On the basis of Makkah or Medina revelations, six periods of revelations have been figured out as follows:

1.  Those Surahs which were revealed in the early Makkan period i.e., Surah Al-Alaq, Surah Al-Muddaththir, Surah Al-Takwir, Surah Al-Ala, Surah Al-Layl, Surah Al-Sharah, Surah Al-Adiyat, Surah Al-Takathur, Surah An-Najm.

2.  Those revealed during Middle of the Makkan period:  i.e., Surah Abasa, Surah At-Teen, Surah Al-Qariah, Surah Al-Qiyama, Surah Al-Mursilat, Surah Al-Balad, Surah Al-Hijr.

3.  Those revealed during later Makkan period: i.e., Surah As-Safat, Surah Az-Zukhruf, Surah Al-Dukhan, Surah Al-Dhariyat, Surah Al-Kahaf, Surah Ibrahim, Surah As-Sajda.

4.  Those which were revealed in the beginning of the Medinite period i.e. Surah Al-Baqara, Surah A'l-e-Imran, Surah Al-Ahdhab, Surah Al-Mumtahana, Surah Al-Nisa, Surah Al-Hadeed.

5.  Those revealed in Middle of the Medinite period i.e., Surah Muhammad, Surah Al-Talaq, Surah Al-Hashr, Surah Al-Nur, Surah Al-Munafiqun, Surah Al-Mujadala, Surah Al-Hujrath.

6.  Those revealed in the later Medinite period i.e., Surah At-Tahrim, Surah Al-Juma, Surah Al-Maida, Surah At-Tuba, Surah Al-Nasr.

The Makkan revelation lasted for about 13 years (from the first revelation in 610 up to the migration in 622).  The Medinite revelation lasted for about 10 years i.e. from the migration to the demise of the Prophet.

As stated earlier, quite a few Surahs are admittedly composed of both Makkan and Medinite portions.  As per the instruction of the Prophet some Ayaat revealed in Medina are included in Makkan Surahs and similarly some Ayaat revealed in Makkah are included in Medinite Surahs, and these are verifiable on account of historical data and contents of these verses.  For example, Surah Al-Ankabut is Makkan but its ayah 33 was revealed in Medina. Surah An-Nisa is Medinite but its ayah 58 was revealed in Makkah.  Surah Muddaththir is Makkan but its ayah 31 is Medinite, Similarly Surah Al-Muzzammil is Makkan but after 12 years of its revelation in the year 2/623 when armed resistance was permitted relevant ayah was revealed which is included as ayah 20 in the last part of Surah Al-Muzzammil. 

Distinctive Features of The Makkan and Medinite Revelations:

The Division between Makkan and Medinite Surahs was made by various reports and when the reports were differing with each other, researchers looked at the text of the Ayaat for internal evidence.  The Surahs and Ayaat can generally be differentiated by their respective themes.  Moreover there are certain peculiarities of Makkan and Medinite Surahs which are indicative of the period of revelation. 

In the Makkan Surahs usually:

1.  The Ayaat are brief and short.

2.  People are invited towards 'Belief' (Iman) and hell, heaven and Day of Judgment are referred to.

3.  Previous prophets and messengers are referred to, except Surah Al Baqarah which is Medinite.

4.  Adam and Devil are referred to.

5.  All the Surahs containing the 14 Ayaat after recitation of which Sajdah (prostration) is obligatory are Makkan.

6.  Where the words addressing the entire humanity are used they are also Makkan.

7.  Of the 29 Surahs which begin with Muqattaat 26 (Arabic letter 'Laam' equivalent to 'L' of English) are Makkan (except Surah Al-Baqara, Surah Al Imran and Sura Al-Ra’ad, which are Medinite).

8.  The word Kalla (i.e., ever or never) is used in Makkan Surahs. 

9.  Where Oath is taken in Arabian tone.

10. Almost all the terms of the Qur`an are mentioned.
11. The addresses are mostly: ‘O people’, or ‘O Mankind’.

12. All the ayaat beginning with the word 'qala' are Makkan.

13. Most of the Surahs in the latter part of the Qur`an i.e., of the group 'mufassal'.

Similarly in Medinite Surahs usually:

1.  Ayaat are long.

2.  Dos and Don'ts, rights, liabilities and laws are discussed.

3.  The hypocrites are referred to.

4.  The Surah beginning with address to the believers are Medinite (except Surah Al-Hijr which is Makkan).

5.  The Medinite topics are mostly of social and legal implications.
6.  Ayaat about warfare were revealed after Hijrah when the Muslims were allowed to retaliate.

7.  The addresses are 'O you who believe', 'O people of the Book’.

Above peculiarities of Makkan and Medinite Surahs are of general nature and express general trends.   Therefore, in addition to the above criteria reliable reports and meaning of the ayaat are also taken into account to determine the surahs as Makkan or Medinite. However, it is clear from the peculiarities as to how discreetely the Message was propagated, step by step keeping in view the nature of the message and the mind of the addressee. As far as the chronological order of the Surahs is concerned, no such information is available in the earlier works and it is a fact that no considerable research was done, the reason being, it was neither considered necessary nor was it easily possible.  Many Muslim and Western historians have made their own chronological arrangements, but these have little or no significance.

(Has been abridged for the convenience of readers)
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