What of the Quran Was Revealed First?
This study revolves around naql, which means “transmission.” In other words, there is no way to arrive at this question’s answer by means of the unaided exertion of human rationality. On the contrary, we are completely dependent upon the germane facts that are narrated to us in a sound manner.
The Benefits of Knowing What of the Quran was Revealed First
There is a clear benefit to knowing the chronological order of the Quran’s Revelation when it comes to deriving Laws of fiqh, or Revelation-based legal understanding. Keep in mind that this is a unique characteristic of the Quran, the fact that it has a chronological order that differs from the order in which Allah meant it to be recited, which is due to its divine origin. Thus, an abrogated verse always comes before the verse that abrogates it, for example.
The second benefit of knowing the chronological order of the Quran’s Revelation is that it enables us to see the wisdom of Islam in how it was deliberate and gradual in establishing the Sharîʿah (Divinely Revealed Law), and thus in bringing down the weight of Revelation upon the earth.
When we examine the âyât, or sign-verses, of the Quran in chronological order, it makes clear to us that people had the Sharîʿah enjoined, or laid, upon them step by step. Moreover, we see that the Quran was revealed in the course of a twenty-three year period, whereby the weightiness of the revelation of its sign-verses could be spread out over time and strengthen people rather than crush them.
To place all the verses of the Quran in chronological order would require massive research and a book of its own. So for practical purposes, we will cover only two aspects of this subject. First, what of the entire Quran was revealed first? Second, we shall give an example of a verse that was revealed and then abrogated by the subsequent revelation of another verse. In this article, we shall address only the first question.
What of the Entire Quran was Revealed First?
The first five verses of Sûrat Al-ʿAlaq were revealed first: Read, in the name of your Lord who has created! He has created man from a clinging clot. Read! For your Lord is the Most Gracious, who has taught by the pen, has taught man what he has known not! [Sûrat Al-ʿAlaq, 96:1-5]
The proof of this is the ḥadîth narrated by both Bukhâri and Muslim. (Between these two there are slight differences in the Texts of the narrations. The following ḥadîth is according to the narration of Bukhâri):
ʿÂisha said: The initial commencement of Revelation to the Messenger of Allah ﷺ was the true dream, such that no dream would he see, save that it would come true like the break of dawn. Thereafter, seclusion was made dear to him. Thus he used to seclude himself in the Grotto of Ḥirâ’, worshipping there for a number of nights before retreating to his family, his provisions being with him [at Ḥirâ’]. [When his provisions were depleted], then he would go back to Khadîjah and replenish himself with provisions for another seclusion of similar duration, until the Truth came unto him. He was in the Grotto of Ḥirâ’ whereupon the angel came to him and said: ‘Read!’ He replied: Mâ ana bi qâri’, ‘I am no reader.’ (Or, ‘What shall I read?’) Then the angel took him and whelmed him [meaning he squeezed him in his embrace] until he [the Prophet ﷺ] struggled to breathe, whereupon he released him and said: ‘Read!’ Then the Prophet ﷺ said: ‘What shall I read?’ Then the angel whelmed him a second time until he struggled to breathe, whereupon he released him and commanded: ‘Read!’ Then the Prophet ﷺ said: Mâ ana bi qâri’, ‘What shall I read?’ (Or, ‘I am no reader.’) Then the angel whelmed him a third time and released him and said: Read, in the name of your Lord who has created! He has created man from a clinging clot. Read! For your Lord is the Most Gracious… until he reached mâ lam yaʿlam, what he has known not. Thereafter, he [the Prophet ﷺ] went back to Khadîjah with his heart quaking.
Al-Ḥâkim narrates in his book Al-Mustadrak and Al-Bay ḥaqi also narrates in his book ™alâ’il Al-Nubûwwah (Evidences of Prophethood) on the authority of ʿÂisha, that she said:
The first sûrah revealed in the Quran was Iqra’ bismi rabbika… Read, in the name of your Lord.
Al->abarâni narrated in his book Al-Muʿjam Al-Kabîr (The Extensive Encyclopedia of Ḥadîth) on the authority of Abû Rajâ’ that “Abû Mûsa [Al-Ashʿari] used to recite the Quran to us in a ḥalaqa (study circle) wearing two [clean] white garments. Whenever he would come to Sûrat Al-ʿAlaq, he would say: ‘This is the first sûrah sent down upon Muhammad ﷺ.’”
There is a narration going back to Al-Zuhri, wherein Al-Zuhri states that “the Prophet ﷺ was in Ḥirâ’ and the angel came to him with a cloth of silk on which was written Iqra’ bismi…, Read, in the name… until mâ lam yaʿlam, what he has known not.”
There are some that have said that the first revealed verse of the Quran was Yâ ayyuha’l-muddaththir! O you who are mantled! [Sûrat Al-Muddaththir, 74:1]. The proponents of this opinion use as evidence the ḥadîth reported by Bukhâri and Muslim on the authority of Abû Salama: “Ibn ʿAbd Al-Ra ḥmân ibn ʿAwf said: ‘I asked Jâbir ibn ʿAbdullâh: ‘Which [verse] of the Quran was revealed first?’ he replied: Yâ ayyuha’l-muddaththir! O you who are mantled! Then I asked: ‘And what of Iqra’ bismi rabbika…Read, in the name of your Lord? Thereupon Jâbir said:
I tell you what the Messenger of Allah ﷺ told us. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:
I took shelter in Ḥirâ’, and when I had completed my stay there I came down [from the Mount of Light] until I reached the bottom of the valley, whereupon I was called. Thus I looked in front of me and behind me, and to my right and to my left [and I saw no one]. Then I looked to the sky and behold! It was him [Jibrîl , the Arch Angel Gabriel] sitting on a throne between heaven and earth. A great tremor [of fear] overtook me. Thus I came to Khadîjah, and I commanded them [the folk of my house to cover me up]. So they covered me up whereupon Allah revealed: Yâ ayyuha’l-muddaththir! Qum fa’an-dhir! O you who are mantled! Rise and forewarn! [Sûrat Al-Muddaththir, 74:1-2]
It is important to note that this narration is not evidence that Yâ ayyuha’l-muddaththir! O you who are mantled! was the first of the Quran ever to be revealed to the Prophet ﷺ because there is no mention in the Text of this ḥadîth of it being so. Moreover, this is after the Prophet ﷺ had finished his stay in Ḥirâ’, and we know that Iqra’ bismi rabbika, Read, in the name of your Lord, was revealed in Ḥirâ’. Thus the Prophet ﷺ must have received the first revelation in Ḥirâ’and then come down to the valley, hastened home, and then received the second one shortly after the first.
The Companion Jâbir ibn ʿAbdullâh understood from this ḥadîth that Yâ ayyuha’l-muddaththir! O you who are mantled! was the first of the Quran to be revealed; yet he was mistaken in his understanding, for it seems he was unaware of the other ḥadîth that mentions Iqra’, Read! So when it comes to the Companions, we follow their opinions as long as there is no difference of opinion among them or a Text that contradicts what they say.
Now, if they have differing opinions concerning an issue, then we exert our knowledge and our best judgment and choose one of the opinions. Importantly, this scenario also shows that the Companions were able to manage differing opinions even where weighty matters were concerned, and even though their opinions would have lasting impact. They coped with such situations without conflict, and so should we.