There are a number of reasons why the second revelation took place in segments rather than all at once, as happened with the former books of revelation. The following are only a summary of the most obvious reasons:
1. Steadying the Prophet’s Heart
The Prophet (ﷺ) was faced with many trials at the hands of his enemies among the idolaters and the Jews. They called him a liar and a fake and tried every possible way to break his spirit. Whenever the pressure of his opponents reached its peak and became virtually unbearable, Allaah would reveal certain verses to comfort the Prophet (ﷺ). For example:
“And those who disbelieve say, ‘Why is the Qur’aan not revealed to him all at once?’ But it is like that in order that we may steady your heart with it; and We have arranged its component parts in an orderly, consistent manner.”
Allaah would also give him confidence by reminding him of the trials of the former prophets and how they were eventually given success. For example,
“Verily, the prophets before you were called liars, but they were patient in spite of being accused of lies and in spite of the harm which befell them until My aid came to them.”
At other times Allaah would actually promise him help and victory:
“And Allaah will help you with a great victory.”
Or Allaah would inform him of the failure of his enemies:
“Tell those who disbelieve, ‘You will be defeated and gathered in Hell, a terrible place of rest.’ ”
Thus, certain segments of the Qur’aan were revealed at various point in his mission specifically to comfort the Prophet (ﷺ) and give him steadfastness and confidence in order to fulfill his obligation of propagating Islaam.
2. Gentleness With the Prophet (ﷺ)
The descent of revelation was a great burden which usually left the Prophet(ﷺ) drained and weak. ‘Aa’ishah reported that once, on an extremely cold day, she saw him when revelation came and left him. And, in spite of the cold weather, his forehead was dripping with sweat. Even Allaah Himself referred to the Qur’aan as being weighty and burdensome:
“Verily, I will cast on you a heavy set of words.”
And, in order to emphasize the greatness, power and weight of the word of God, Allaah set forth the following metaphor:
“If I were to have revealed this Qur’aan to a mountain, you would have seen it humbly crumble into pieces out of fear of Allaah.”
Thus, the revelation of the final word of Allaah in one stroke would have been too much for the Prophet (ﷺ) to bear. Such a revelation would have placed him under the most extreme pressure. It was, therefore, broken down into bearable segments and revealed gradually. In this way the Prophet (ﷺ) would only be burdened for short periods of time and his mission would not be hampered by long periods of recovery. Thus, the segmented method of revelation represents the gentle manner in which Allaah dealt with His last messenger due to the might and glory of the final message.
3. Gradation in Legislation
The method by which the Qur’aan was used to present the principles of Islaam was a gradual method. All of the principles were not enjoined in the beginning or all at once during any stage. The early soorahs of the Qur’aan were aimed at treating the main problem which confronted the worship of Allaah and His unity: shirk. Belief in Allaah’s supremacy and unity had to be built and the false gods of creation had to be removed.
Thus, the early soorahs concentrated on tawheed and the other major pillar of eemaan, belief in the Resurrection and Judgment. It was not until after twelve years of building eemaan that salaah was made compulsory, during the Prophet’s Ascent (mi‘raaj) to the heavens. One year before the Hijrah, the Qur’aanic verses began to stress salaah as a requirement for the believers. It was not until two years after the Hijrah that the Qur’aanic verses turned to sawm and zakaah and enjoined them on Muslims. Finally, in the sixth year after the Hijrah, the verses of the Qur’aan revealed hajj as an obligation for whoever is able to perform it.
‘Aa’ishah mentioned that the first thing to be revealed of the Qur’aan dealt with Heaven and Hell and that it was only after some time that issues of legal and illegal acts were dealt with. She said, “If the first thing to be revealed had been, ‘Don’t drink liquor,’ or ‘Don’t commit adultery and fornication,’ they would have said, ‘We will never give [it] up.’ ”. If the Qur’aan had been revealed all at once, it would not have been possible to establish the laws in a gradual fashion.
This method was particularly important for the first generation of Muslims who would later establish Islaam in the earth. It was necessary for them to have a clear understanding of the principles of Islaam because the later generations of Muslims would depend on their interpretation and practice of Islaam.
4. Facilitating the Preservation of the Qur’aan
Since the majority of the Prophet’s followers were unable to read or write, the main method of preserving the Qur’aan became that of memorization. So, if the whole Qur’aan had been revealed at once, they would have been unable to memorize all of it due to its length. Even the few who were able to write would have been unable to record all of it, due to the scarcity of writing materials at the time. Thus, the revelation of the Qur’aan in sections made it easier for the companions to memorize the whole Qur’aan and teach it to each other.
‘Umar ibn al-Khattaab was reported to have said, “Learn the Qur’aan five verses at a time, for verily, Jibreel used to descend with the Qur’aan for the Prophet (ﷺ) five at a time.” This also made it easier for the scribes of the Prophet (ﷺ) to record all of the Qur’aan during his lifetime. This early preservation of Qur’aan was critical to maintaining the purity of the teachings of Islaam, as it was the alterations in earlier books of revelation which led their followers astray. The gradual revelation of the Qur’aan also gave them a greater opportunity to contemplate the meanings of the verses.
This, in turn, caused them to question the Prophet (ﷺ) in order to clarify certain points or verify certain interpretations. Thus, this generation was able to gain a truly deep understanding of the Qur’aan. This was of great importance, because their practical implementation of the principles of the Qur’aan became a guide to later generations of Muslims and continues to be one to this day. Such an understanding would not have been possible had the Qur’aan been revealed all at once.
5. Dealing With Problems as They Arose
Often the verses of the Qur’aan would be revealed to deal specifically with problems which faced the Prophet (ﷺ) and his companions. Sometimes people would ask the Prophet (ﷺ) questions about which he had no knowledge, and Allaah would reveal the answer. For example, it was reported that the story about Thul-Qarnayn was revealed because the Jews asked the Prophet (ﷺ) about him, as a test of his prophethood. Allaah revealed:
“And they ask you about Thul-Qarnayn. Tell them, ‘I will read to you a report.’ ”
“May Allaah pardon you. Why did you grant them permission to stay at home before it became obvious to you who was speaking the truth and you came to know who were the liars?”
Mujaahid said the verse was revealed about some people who advised others, “Ask the Messenger of Allaah (ﷺ) to excuse you (from participating in the expedition to Tabook). If he gives you permission, stay home, and if he doesn’t permit you, stay home, (anyway).” Ibn Katheer said “The Most High is saying, ‘You shouldn’t have given permission to any of them to stay behind so you could have known who was truthful in his display of obedience to you and who was lying. For they were firm in their intention to stay behind.’ ”
Verses were also revealed to correct wrong attitudes which were widespread among the Muslims of that time. An example of such a revelation is the case of the Battle of Hunayn. Muslims had left to do battle with the disbelievers feeling that they were sure to be victorious, since their numbers exceeded that of the enemy many times over. The enemy ambushed them and caused them to turn on their heels and flee in defeat. However, after that initial lesson, Allaah gave them success over the enemy in the same battle. Then, He revealed the following verse:
“And on the day of Hunayn, when your large numbers pleased you, they did not benefit you at all, and the earth became narrow in spite of its vastness, then you turned around in retreat.”
By dealing with the various incidents at the time that they occurred, the Qur’aan was able to reach those involved more directly. Corrections made immediately after errors take place tend to have a greater impact than general advice given long before or after. If the Qur’aan had been revealed all at once, it would not have been possible to treat these and similar problems within their context.
6. An Indication of the Qur’aan’s Source
The revelation of the Qur’aan in segments over twenty-three years is clear proof that it is Allaah’s word, alone, and not that of Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) or any other member of creation. That is proven by the unity and consistency of expression from beginning to end. Its basic subject matter is intimately interwoven throughout its one hundred and fourteen chapters, and all of the chapters seem interconnected like priceless pearls on a single necklace. Its rhyme and rhythm flow unhindered through every verse in the book in a unified style, in spite of the variations in subject matter and sentence structure.
How could such a consistency arise when the Qur’aan was not available in its complete form from the beginning? How could it arise when its verses and chapters often dealt with incidents occurring at various stages of the movement? How could it be the product of the mind of a man who could neither read or write, nor had he displayed any special ability to compose prior to the beginning of his mission? Even the greatest of writers have variations in their styles, especially over long periods of time. Therefore, the fact that the Qur’aan was revealed in sections over a period of twenty-three years clearly proves that its origin was not of this world. Its source had to be the Lord of the Worlds, Allaah, Most Great and Glorious. Allaah Himself pointed to this fact in the Qur’aan, saying,
“Won’t they contemplate the Qur’aan? If it had come from other than Allaah, they would have found in it many contradictions.”
Whenever the Prophet (ﷺ) had a new revelation, he would tell his companions to put it after other earlier revelations or before them. The Prophet (ﷺ) had no idea what he was going to face in the future or how long he was going to live. His life was filled with a multitude of incidents which, without a doubt, altered his mood and his mode of expression. Yet, the Qur’aan in no way reflected these differences. The Qur’aan is definitely not the product of Muhammad (ﷺ), as some would like to claim, and that fact is proven by the Qur’aan itself.
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