The Muslims believe that God speaks to His chosen servants through the process of revelation. It is through this process that spiritual knowledge and wisdom is given to man by God. The knowledge received through revelation is considered to be the truest form of learning.
Revelation can be of many kinds. It may comprise ordinances, laws and injunctions. It may be prophetic in nature and bring knowledge of future events. It may bring great insights into matters of material or spiritual nature. It may convey God’s goodwill, pleasure and love; or it may be the medium of God’s warning, displeasure and rebuke.
The nature of revelation varies according to circumstances and the spiritual station of the recipient. Muslims believe that of all revelations and divine communications, the most complete, the most perfect and the most comprehensive is the Holy Quran.
The Quran is a compilation of the verbal revelations given to the Holy Prophet Muhammad over a period of twenty two years. The language of the Quran is Arabic. The word Quran means something that is “read” or “recited”. The diction of the Quran could be best described as poetic prose and its language is a model of linguistic purity and stylistic elegance.
The Quran is the Holy Book or the Scriptures of the Muslims. It lays down for them the law and commandments, codes for their social and moral behaviour, and contains a comprehensive religious philosophy. It is the ultimate source of the Islamic law and a complete guidance for the Muslims. Besides its proper name, the Quran is also known by the following names:
al Kitab – The Book
al Furqan – The Discriminant
al Dhikr – The Exposition
al Bayan – The Explanation
al Burhan – The Argument
al Haqq – The Truth
al Tanzil – The Revelation
al Hikmat – The Wisdom
al Huda – The Guide
al Hukm – The Judgment
al Mau’izah – The Admonition
al Rahmat – The Mercy
al-Noor – The Light (64:9)
al-Rooh – The Word (42:53)
The Quran is divided into 114 Surahs or Chapters and each Chapter consists of individual Ayaat or verses. There are in total 6,348 verses in the Holy Quran. The Surahs are of varying lengths, some consisting of a few lines while others run for many pages. Surah al Baqarah is the longest Chapter comprising 287 verses while Surah al Kauthar is the shortest with only four verses including the tasmia.
Each Surah in the Quran has a name given to it. These names are not necessarily revealed but have been introduced by scholars and editors for the sake of reference. These names are usually taken from some prominent or unusual word which occurs in the Surah.
At the beginning of each Surah, except one, stands the following invocation which is part of the Surah:
(In the name of God, the Most Gracious, Ever Merciful)
The one exception is Surah al Taubah, the 9th Chapter of the Holy Quran. Many scholars view this Chapter as part of the previous one. According to the subject matter Chapters 8 and 9 are one. In Surah al-Naml, the 27th Chapter of the Holy Quran, the phrase “In the name of God, the Gracious, the Merciful” is mentioned twice: once in its usual place at the beginning of the Surah and the second time in verse 31, in reference to the opening line of Prophet Solomon’s letter to Queen Sheba.
In the printed copies of the Quran, the title of each Surah is followed by the name of the place where the Chapter was revealed. The place names used are “Meccan” for all Surahs revealed before Hijrah (622 A.D.), and “Medinite” for all Surahs revealed after Hijrah. Many of the Surahs in the Quran are composite, and a Chapter marked Meccan may contain some verses from the Medinite period, and vice versa.
During the twenty two year period of the Quranic revelations, Prophet Muhammad lived in Mecca for twelve years (610 622 A.D.) and in Medinah for ten (622 632 A.D.). Of the 114 Surahs of the Holy Quran, about 92 were revealed in Mecca and 22 in Medinah. Generally speaking, there are three characteristics which distinguish Meccan Surahs from the Medinite ones:
The arrangement of the Quran does not follow the chronological order in which the verses and the Surahs were actually revealed. Except for the short “Opening” Chapter which has been placed at the head of the Quran, the long Surahs are generally in the beginning while the short ones are generally towards the end. This is not a rigid principle as there are many exceptions to it. Because of the presence of long Surahs at the beginning of the Quran, about half the text of the entire Quran is contained in the first 18 Chapters while the other half is contained in the next 96 Chapters. Although the Quran is not arranged in a chronological order or by subject matter, there is certain continuity between the various Chapters. If we were to observe closely the closing lines of some Surahs and the opening lines of those immediately following these, we would detect a continuity of the underlying theme.
The First Revelation
The beginning of the Holy Quran took place in the year 610 A.D. with the first revelation received by the Holy Prophet while he was meditating on Mount Hira. The Angel Gabriel brought this revelation and made the Prophet repeat after him:
Read, in the name of thy Lord Who created
Created man from a clot of blood
Recite, for thy Lord is Most Beneficent
Who taught by the pen
Taught man what he knew not. (96:2-6)
These verses are now part of Surah al-Alaq, the 96th Chapter of the Holy Quran. This first revelation marks the beginning of the prophetic mission of Muhammad which lasted twenty-two years. No special instructions were given to the Holy Prophet at this stage. Such instructions started to come down in subsequent revelations. The second revelation forms the beginning of Surah al-Mudathir, the 74th Chapter of the Holy Quran, and starts to define the Prophet’s mission more clearly:
O thou covered in a mantle
Arise and deliver thy warning
And thy Lord do thou magnify
And thy garments do thou purify
And all uncleanliness do thou shun
And give not to gain more
And for thy Lord’s cause, be patient (74:2-8)
The Last Revelation
The last whole Surah to be revealed is considered to be Surah al-Nasr, the 11oth Chapter of the Holy Quran. This is a “Medinite” Surah in the sense that it was revealed after the Hijrah. But this Chapter was actually revealed at Mecca, during the time of the Prophet’s farewell pilgrimage. The very last verses with which the Quranic revelations came to a close however, belong to Surah al Maidah, the 5th Chapter of the Holy Quran. These verses were also revealed during the farewell pilgrimage, immediately after the Prophet’s sermon on the Mount:
This day have I perfected for you your religion, and completed upon you My favour, and have chosen for you Islam as religion. (5:4)
Cryptic Letters Of The Holy Quran
At the beginning of twenty nine Surahs, following the invocation, stands a letter or a group of letters of the alphabet. These letters are known as Muqatta’at or abbreviations. Of the twenty eight letters of the Arabic alphabet, fourteen have been used in this way. Below, these Muqatta’at are indicated by a bracket around the letter:
(alif) ba ta tha jim (ha)
kha dal dhal (ra) za (sin)
shin (sad) dad (ta) za (ain)
ghain fa (qaf) (kaf) lam (mim
(noon) (ha) wow (ya)
The Quran has used the Muqatta’at in groups as well as singly, in fourteen different combinations, as under:
alif-lam-mim alif-lam-mim-sad alif-lam-ra
alif-lam-mim-ra kaf-ha-ya-ain-sad ta-ha
ta-sin-mim ta-sin ya-sin
sad ha-mim-ain-sin-qaf ha-mim
The significance and meaning of these mysterious letters is not known for sure. According to some scholars of the Quran, these letters are abbreviations of certain words. For example:
alif lam mim stands for “anallaho a’lamo” (I am Allah, the Most Knowing)
alif lam ra stands for “anallah al-Rai” (I am Allah, the Most Seeing)
Following is a list of all the Surahs that contain these cryptic letters:
For a time the Quran was being preserved by the early Muslims who would memorize the revelations received by the Holy Prophet. This was the normal practice at that time and the pre Islamic Arabic poems were treated in the same way. However, as the revelations grew in number and as some of the Muslims who had memorized the Quran started to be lost in battles, the Holy Prophet appointed some scribes to write down the Quran.
As the Quranic verses were revealed in passages of varying sizes and belonging to different Surahs, the text of the Holy Quran did not exist in one volume during the life of the Prophet Muhammad. It was during the Caliphates of Abu Bakr and Omar that the task of collecting the Quran in one volume was entrusted to Zayd bin Thabit. During the time of Uthman, the third Caliph of Islam, an authorized version of the Quran was established which was then used for making duplicate copies. These duplicate copies were sent to various parts of the Muslim world to be used as standard texts for further copying.
The text of the Holy Quran has remained unchanged over the past 1400 years. The millions of copies of the Quran circulating in the world today are all identical down to a single letter. And this is not strange since God says in the Holy Quran that He Himself will guard this book:
“Surely it is We Who have revealed the Exposition, and surely it is We Who are its guardians” (15:10)