The Qur’aan was revealed in sections to Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) from the beginning of his prophet hood until shortly before his death. Thus, the Qur’aan came down continuously over a period of twenty-three years.
The various sections of the Qur’aan were generally revealed to solve the problems which existed among the Muslim communities in both Makkah and Madeenah. Since the problems and needs of Makkah were different from those of Madeenah, the revelations of Makkah and Madeenah have special characteristics of their own.
It is very important that the differences between the revelations of Makkah and Madeenah be clearly understood if the Qur’aan itself is to be clearly understood. Because of the great importance of the Qur’aan to Islaam, Islaamic scholars from the time of the sahaabah have devoted much time and effort in this area of study.
Makkan revelations are defined as all verses and chapters of the Qur’aan which were brought by Jibreel to the Prophet (ﷺ) before the Hijrah (622 CE). This includes verses which were revealed in Taa’if, as well as those revealed in other areas outside of Makkah. These revelations represent the first stage of the Islaamic movement, in which its fundamentals were established.
1. Tawheed (The Oneness of Allaah):
When Islaam was first presented to the people of Makkah, they were in a state of disbelief. Most of them believed in Allaah, but they had put many intermediaries between themselves and Allaah. They made idols to represent these intermediaries and worshipped them instead of Allaah.
Thus, the early revelations taught the people about Allaah’s unity and power over all things. They told the people that Allaah was without parents, offspring or any partner who shared His powers. They also pointed out that idols could neither bring good nor hold back evil. They questioned the logic of worshipping things which could not even see or hear.
2. Salaah (Formal Prayer):
After the first verses of revelation came informing the Prophet (ﷺ) that he had been chosen for prophethood, Allaah sent Jibreel to teach him the correct method of prayer. This was necessary because the correct method of prayer could not be arrived at by logical reasoning.
Therefore, even the Prophet (ﷺ) himself had to be taught the correct method of worshipping Allaah. Due to the great importance of salaah in nurturing a person’s consciousness of his Lord, the early verses called upon the Prophet (ﷺ) and his early band of followers to make their salaah regularly.
Since the Makkans were in the habit of worshipping idols in the belief that these home made gods would carry their prayers to Allaah for them, the early verses were also aimed at clarifying this misconception. The verses taught that both salaah and du‘aa (supplication) should only be made for and to Allaah, as He is the only one who can answer them. Great stress was placed on salaah because of its relationship to tawheed. Pure salaah to Allaah represents tawheed in practice.
3. The Unseen:
Since there was no way that human beings could possibly come to know about the unseen world, the early verses taught them about its wonders, its mysteries, and its horrors. The verses described paradise and its pleasures in order to encourage the believers to continue to do good deeds.
They also There were some individuals among the Makkans who were in doubt about Allaah’s very existence. Thus, some of the early verses presented logical arguments proving Allaah’s existence. described the Hellfire and its torments in order to encourage the believers to strive to avoid evil deeds.
Descriptions of the Fire and its inhabitants also reassured the believers that those who do wrong in this life will not escape Allaah’s punishment. Such descriptions were also aimed at scaring the disbelievers into reconsidering their position before it became too late.
Some of the verses also reasoned with those who could not accept the resurrection by giving them examples from nature, such as rain falling on dead earth bringing it back to life. Others pointed out logically that the recreation of life would be easier than its creation, although it is all the same to Allaah.
4. Allaah’s Existence:
Sometimes proofs were taken from nature and the creatures common to that society. Allaah asked the Makkans,
“Why don’t they look at the camels and how they were created, and the sky and how it was raised, and the mountains and how they are firmly fixed and the earth and how it was spread out?”
At other times straight logic was used. Allaah asked them if they were created from nothing or if they created themselves:
“Were they created from nothing, or were they themselves the creators?”
This verse is amazing in the conciseness of its challenge. There are only three possible answers to the question of the source of creation. The verse mentions only two and leaves the third unstated due to its obviousness. It doesn’t bother to disprove these two possibilities because they are so obviously false.
Something which doesn’t exist doesn’t have the power to bring anything into existence. Likewise, everyone knows there was a time when he or she didn’t exist, so we can’t have created ourselves. Even if some were to argue that they came from their parents and that their parents came from their parents and so on, the chain of causes must eventually decrease to one whose existence doesn’t depend on anything.
Thus, Allaah, the Creator, has to be accepted for our existence to make sense. In fact, one of the people of Makkah, Jubayr ibn Mut‘im reported that he heard the Prophet (ﷺ) reciting this passage in his salaah, and it made him feel that his heart was going to fly, which caused him to eventually accept Islaam.
5. Challenges of the Quran:
In order to prove to the Quraysh that the Qur’aan was from Allaah and that Muhammad (ﷺ) was a prophet of Allaah, some of the Makkan verses challenged the Arabs to imitate the Qur’aan. Many of the chapters began with individual letters like “ Alif, Laam and Meem,” “ Saad,” or “ Noon” in order to tease the Makkans with the same letters of the alphabet with which they made their flowery speeches and poetry.
Allaah revealed the Qur’aan with the same letters, but they just could not imitate it. Since the Arabs were unable to produce a chapter like even the smallest chapter of Qur’aan, the miraculous nature of the Qur’aan and its divine origin were clearly proven to the people at that time. However, many of them preferred to look at the Qur’aan as a magical spell, and the Prophet (ﷺ) as a master magician.
6. The People of Old:
The Makkan verses often mentioned historical examples of earlier civilizations, like the ‘Aad and the Thamood. They were mentioned in order to warn those who had rejected the message of Islaam. The verses spoke about the wonders of the ancient civilizations. They recounted the many blessing which Allaah had bestowed on the peoples of those civilizations.
Then they told how the people disobeyed Allaah and denied His blessings, and how Allaah’s punishment caught them while they were totally unconcerned of what could become of them if they displeased Allaah. These examples were quite familiar to the Arabs because the ruins of such civilizations could still be seen. For example, the stone tombs of Madaa’in Saalih, associated with the Thamood, the people of Prophet Saalih, were directly on the trade route to Syria.
Very few laws were revealed in the Makkan verses. Instead, the verses concentrated on principles which would build the eemaan (faith) of the early Muslims. These verses spoke of the importance of fearing Allaah and being aware of His presence and knowledge of all things. They were often filled with advice about being patient, perseverant, truthful and trustworthy, in order to build the moral and spiritual character of the early Muslims, who were in a minority and under great pressure from Makkan society.
8. Short Verses:
The Makkan soorahs usually had short verses, catchy rhymes, and a very strong rhythm. These qualities were meant to catch the attention of listeners who were basically opposed to the message of Islaam. The verses had to be short because the audience would not be willing to listen to long, drawn-out statements.
As soon as they heard any of the Qur’aan, they would stick their fingers in their ears and turn away. Thus, the verses often had to strike home immediately. They often resembled the chants of the oracles and fortunetellers, but their meanings were very clear, whereas the oracles’ chants were mostly obscure and vague. For example, the oracle Zabraa warned her people about a disaster that would soon strike them in the following words:
By the fluttering wind, And the falling night; By the shining morn, And the piercing star; By the rain-laden clouds,
Verily, the trees of the valley are really deceptive, And teeth gnash until twisted.
Verily, the boulders of the mountain warn of mourning, That you won’t find any escape from.