Islam Under Scrutiny by Ex-Muslims

Did the Quran Come Down as a Complete Book?

Allah has said in the Quran:
16:44: “(We sent them) with Clear Signs and Books of dark prophecies; and We have sent down unto (thee) the Message; that thou mayest explain clearly to men what is sent for them, and that they may give thought.”

This is a Medinese verse. The word “Book” in it leads us to conclude:

It is evident from the Quran that in his preaching in Mecca, Muhammad always insisted, even in the face of severe objection from the Quraish, that the Quran had been revealed in piecemeal through inspiration brought to him by the angel Gabriel, who carried the Soul or Spirit of Allah, hence his title “the Holy Spirit.”[1] When people asked him, “Why not the Quran is revealed to him all at once (jumlatan wahidatan),” Allah had him tell them:

“…Thus (is it revealed), that We may strengthen thy heart thereby, and We have rehearsed it to thee in slow, well-arranged stages, gradually.”[2]

This was not intended to oppose the Jewishand what Muhammad understood to be the Christiancontention that Scriptures are revealed all at once. Instead, it conforms to the Quran’s descriptions of his early visions and what every Muslim knows, that he continued to receive revelations[3] right down to the very end of his life. But his position on revelations changed after he arrived in Medina; here, he began asserting that the Quran (“The Book”) had in fact, like the Torah, been revealed to him on a single occasion, first, ‘we hypothesize, on Ashura, the very same day as the Torah, and then, after his break with the Jews, on the old Arabian New Year’s “Night of Destiny”[4,5] ‘for the express purpose of making clear those things (to the Jews) in which they differed.’[6]

But how good is our assumption? Not much, for the Quran says “Ramadhan is the (month) in which was sent down the Quran, as Guide to mankind….”[7] This clearly contradicts Allah’s assertion that He had revealed the entire Quran in a single night.

As it is clear from the above verse, Allah had revealed the entire Quran to Muhammad in the month of Ramadhan, and not in the single Night of Destiny. This being the fact, the question is: What is the significance of the “Night of Destiny” and what He revealed or reveals in this night?

As the Quran explains, the Night of Destiny is a Night,[8] which is better than a thousand months, for “on that night the angels and Spirit[9] by their Lord’s leave come down with each decree. That night is peace, till break of dawn.”[10]

Muslim scholars do not know which night the ‘night’ of the verse refers to, as such, one of them says: “Usually taken to be a night in the month of Ramadhan, say the 23rd, 25th or 27th night of that month.”[11]

Maududi thinks this refers to the Night in which Allah had handed over the entire celestial Quran to the angels from which angel Gabriel “kept on revealing its verses and Ayats from time to time to Rasul Allah for 23 years in accordance with events and circumstances.”[12]

Tafsir al-Jalalayn agrees and accordingly, it translated the verse 97:1 in the following words:

“Lo! We revealed it, that is, the Qur'ān, in its entirety, [sending it down] from the Preserved Tablet to the heaven of this world, on the Night of Ordainment, that is, [the Night] of great eminence.”

But if Allah had revealed the entire Quran in the Night of Destiny or Glory, why has He not stated it clearly in the verse and also what He intended to say by using the word “errand” or “decree” in verse 97:4?

In our understanding, the “Night of Destiny,” or “The Blessed Night”[13] was a new expression, or rather, an old occasion newly employed by Allah to appease the Jews of Medina. From its generic descriptions, the Night of Destiny can be identified with a typical New Year’s day observance, an occasion, as on Rosh ha-Shana, on which Allah determines how the humans and all other creatures would fare in the following year;[14] i.e. their lot; this having been written down by Him in the Heavenly Book[15] before He created the Universe. As we have stated earlier, the Quran is a prototype of the Heavenly Book.

But was the Quran revealed in a single night? Here is Allah’s response to the question:

“(This is) the revelation of the Book in which there is no doubt, - from the Lord of the worlds.” [16]

It is clear from the verse that what the Quran contains are the revelations from the Heavenly Book – referred to in the Quran as the Book - and these came to Muhammad in piecemeal over a period of almost 23 three years. So, the question of the Quran coming to him in the form of a Book did not and could arise, for it took its present shape only after all the revelations were brought together following his death.

This reality brings us to the question: Why Allah insisted that He revealed the Quran to Muhammad in a single night?

F. E. Peters answers:

“Linked with this new assertion of a single revelation of the Quran was another notion that might also have been Jewish inspired, that an angel, specifically Gabriel, was an agent of that revelation. This too had been thrown up to him earlier (6:8) but he {Muhammad} dismissed it (16:43). Now, however, at Medina, he concedes that Gabriel was the messenger for his revelations – an assertion that of course caused later Muslims to read the visions of Sura 53 as referring not to God but to an angel. But if the identification of Gabriel was intended to make the Quran more “scriptural,” it did not satisfy the “enemies of Gabriel,” probably the Jews of Medina who preferred to see Michael as the guardian of Scripture: “Say: Who is an enemy of Gabriel? For he it is who revealed it [that is, the Quran] to your heart by God’s permission, confirming what was before it, and a guidance and glad tidings to believers (Quran 2:97).”[17]

Conclusion

he Quran is a Book of contradiction, hence it could not have come from Allah or an all-knowing Deity, as Allah is believed to be by Muslims and other monotheists of the world.


 

[1] The Quran, 16:103.
[2] Verse 25:32.
[3] The Arabic word “wahy” translated as “inspiration” is generally understood as the “inspiration of scriptural revelations by the Muslims, but as Richard Bell has pointed out (Bell, 1934, pp. 94-96), the Quranic usage is more generally “to suggest” or “to prompt.”
[4] The Quran; 97:1.
[5] F. E. Peters, The Origins of Islam. p. 206.
[6] The Quran; 16:64.
[7] Cf. The Quran; 2:185.
[8] Lit., “Glory.”
[9] Usually understood to be the angel Gabriel, who descends on earth on the “Day of Destiny” for distribution of next year’s sustenance among the humans.
[10] Verse 97:1-5, as translated by N. J. Dawood.
[11] Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The Holy Quran; vol. 2, p. 1344.
[12] Tafhimul Quran, Vol. 6, p. 404.
[13] The Quran; 44:3.
[14] To Muslims of the Indian sub-continent, this night is known as “Shab-e-bara’at,” the “Night of Lot.” A large number of them pass this night, beseeching Allah to bestow His favors on them in the days to come.
[15] Shelomo Dov Goitein (b. 1900) translates ‘Lailat al-qadr as “the night of the measuring-out,” or “night of the decree’” a typical New Year’s night. The Jewish parallel is important: the Heavenly Book is opened on New Year’s day, the first of Tishri, but it is not closed until the tenth, the ashorlashura of Tishri, and the intervening ten days, the “Ten Days of Penitence” of the Jewish tradition, a view that found a notable, if temporary, echo in Islam.
[16] The Quran; 32:2.
[17] The Origins of lslam,. p. 206.

 
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