A Critical Evaluation of Farahī’s View on the Collection of the Qur’ān

A Critical Evaluation of Farahī’s View on the Collection of the Qur’ān


Qur'ān

I Introduction

To the Muslims, the Qur'ān is the final of the series of divine scriptures revealed by the Almighty; after the Old and New Testaments, it is the Final Testament. As the ipsissima verbum of God, they believe that they have with them its urtext without the slightest of alteration.

It is known that the Qur'ān was not revealed in one go. It was revealed over a period of about twenty two years. It is also known that it was not collected and arranged in its chronological sequence. The question then arises: When was the text of the Qur'ān collected and given its final shape and who was responsible for this task? The answer to this question has been given by many scholars and researchers of the past and present both Muslim and Western.

According to traditional Muslim scholarship,[1] it was 'Uthmān (rta) who was responsible for a textus receptus ne varietur of the Qur'ān. It was nothing but the Qur'ān revealed to the Prophet (sws) written in the dialect of the Quraysh with the sūrahs arranged in their current form by the Companions (rta).

The view of the traditional[2] western scholars can perhaps be summed up by saying that it was 'Uthmān (rta) in whose times the consonantal text of the Qur'ān was finalized. This prima facie might seem similar to the traditional Muslim accounts of collection. However, there is a world of difference. According to most Western scholars, the text finalized by 'Uthmān (rta) was not a true copy of what was revealed to the Prophet (sws).

In contrast to the above views, Hamīd al-Dīn al-Farāhī (d. 1930),[3] a scholar, thinker and exegete of the sub-continent has come to the conclusion that the Qur'ān was collected and arranged in its current sequence in the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad (sws) under divine supervision.[4] In his exegesis of Sūrah Qiyāmah,[5] al-Farāhī has pointed out that in certain verses of this sūrah the Almighty has informed us about the final formation of the Qur'ānic text. In this article, al-Farāhī's interpretation of the relevant verses will be critically analyzed and a comparative study will be conducted of how these verses have been generally interpreted.

The sequence of discussion is as follows:

First, al-Farāhī's view will be presented.

Second, the view of traditional scholars on the relevant verses will be put forth.

Third, an analysis of both views will be undertaken.

Fourth, the discussion will culminate on a conclusion regarding the tenability of al-Farāhī's view.

Some relevant supplementary material forms part of three Appendices given at the end.

II. Al-Farāhī's View

In the opinion of al-Farāhī, the following verses of Sūrah Qiyāmah portray the Qur'ānic view on its own collection and final arrangement:

لاَ تُحَرِّكْ بِهِ لِسَانَكَ لِتَعْجَلَ بِهِإِنَّ عَلَيْنَا جَمْعَهُ وَقُرْآنَهُ فَإِذَا قَرَأْنَاهُ فَاتَّبِعْ قُرْآنَهُثُمَّ إِنَّ عَلَيْنَا بَيَانَهُ(75 :16-19)

[O Prophet!] do not move your tongue to hastily acquire this [Qur'ān]. Indeed, upon Us is its collection and recital. So when We have recited it, follow this recital. Then upon Us is to explain it. (75:16-19)

The key word in the above quoted verses is jam' (translated as: collection). According to al-Farāhī, it means bringing together in a unified whole, all the parts of the Qur'ān revealed in various episodes at various instances in the life of Prophet Muhammad (sws); according to him, the verses state that the Almighty would Himself have the whole of the Qur'ān collected and arranged in a new sequence after its revelation was completed. The Almighty would then read out to him this arranged Qur'ān from the beginning to the end. Once the Almighty has read out the Qur'ān in this final form and sequence, the Prophet (sws) would be bound to follow this new recital and would be required to abandon the previous one. During this final recital if an explanation of any part of the text was required, it would also be furnished.

An elaboration of al-Farāhī's view now follows.

While explaining these verses in his exegesis, he first stresses that these verses are deeply related to the context of the sūrah and are not independent of it as contended by some scholars. The piecemeal revelation of the Qur'ān would make the Prophet (sws) anxious. An obvious reason for this was that the Qur'ān was the primary source of faith, motivation and inspiration for him; if a delay occurred in the coming of a revelation, it would make him anxious. Moreover, the Qur'ān itself has also alluded to various other reasons due to which the Prophet (sws) was anxious to receive the whole of the Qur'ān. One of these reasons was that the Qur'ān might become a source of guidance for his opponents. So anxious was he in this matter that the Almighty had to tell him that he could not provide guidance to whomever he willed:

إِنَّكَ لاَ تَهْدِيْ مَنْ أَحْبَبْت وَ لكِنَّ اللهَ يَهْدِي مَنْ يَشَاءُ وَهُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِالْمُهْتَدِينَ (28: 56)

You cannot guide people whom you desire; it is only God who gives guidance to whom He wishes; only God knows those worthy of being guided. (28:56)

Similarly, another thing which made the Prophet (sws) impatient was the objection of his opponents mentioned in the Qur'ān (25:32) as to why it was not revealed in one episode:

وَقَالَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا لَوْلَا نُزِّلَ عَلَيْهِ الْقُرْآنُ جُمْلَةً وَاحِدَةً (32:25)

And the disbelievers said: "Why is not the Qur'ān revealed to him in one go." (25:32)

Furthermore, the Prophet (sws) also wanted the completion of revelation to be accomplished as soon as possible so that he was relieved of his responsibility.

All these factors made him anxious and he would fondly wait for a new revelation and would hasten to acquire it whenever it came so that he was able to preserve it and become entitled for a new episode.

According to al-Farāhī, this anxiety and impatience of the Prophet (sws) to receive the Qur'ān is evident from various other verses of the Qur'ān also. At various instances, he is told to exercise patience by seeking refuge in prayer and in remembering God as much as he could. In SūrahDahr, the words are:

إِنَّا نَحْنُ نَزَّلْنَا عَلَيْكَ الْقُرْآنَ تَنْزِيلًافَاصْبِرْ لِحُكْمِ رَبِّكَ وَلَا تُطِعْ مِنْهُمْ آثِمًا أَوْ كَفُورًاوَاذْكُرْ اسْمَ رَبِّكَ بُكْرَةً وَأَصِيلًاوَمِنْ اللَّيْلِ فَاسْجُدْ لَهُ وَسَبِّحْهُ لَيْلًا طَوِيلًا(76: 23-26)

We alone have revealed this Qur'ān to you in an elaborate manner. So with perseverance wait for the judgement of your Lord and pay no heed to any sinner or ingrate among them. And remember the name of your Lord from dawn to dusk and prostrate yourselves before Him in the night and glorify Him till late at night. (25:32)

This patience was necessary because the Almighty was following the piecemeal scheme of revelation for a purpose: it was essential for the training of the Prophet's opponents as well as that of his followers that the Qur'ān be revealed piecemeal and at intervals deemed appropriate by the Almighty.

According to al-Farāhī, following is another instance when this assurance is given:

وَلَا تَعْجَلْ بِالْقُرْآنِ مِنْ قَبْلِ أَنْ يُقْضَى إِلَيْكَ وَحْيُهُ وَقُلْ رَبِّ زِدْنِي عِلْمًا وَلَقَدْ عَهِدْنَا إِلَى آدَمَ مِنْ قَبْلُ فَنَسِيَ وَلَمْ نَجِدْ لَهُ عَزْمًا (20 :113-14 )

And be not in haste in acquiring the Qur'ān before its revelation is completed to you and pray: "O Lord! advance me in knowledge." And before this, we took a pledge from Adam but he forgot and we did not find determination in him. (20:113-4)

This verse, opines al-Farāhī, states that man is weak in his pledges and resolve and if the whole sharī'ah is given to him in one go, he will not be able to bear it. Hence the Prophet (sws) should not ask for all the Qur'ān be soon revealed to him. In other words, it is man's own frail and feeble nature that calls for a piecemeal revelation.

The following verse, in the opinion of al-Farāhī, also depicts this reason:

وَقَالَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا لَوْلَا نُزِّلَ عَلَيْهِ الْقُرْآنُ جُمْلَةً وَاحِدَةً كَذَلِكَ لِنُثَبِّتَ بِهِ فُؤَادَكَ وَرَتَّلْنَاهُ تَرْتِيلًا (32:25)

And the disbelievers said: "Why is not the Qur'ān revealed to him in one go." Thus shall We reveal it [piecemeal] to strengthen your heart, and We have revealed it painstakingly.(25:32)

It is evident from this verse, according to al-Farāhī, that a single-episode revelation of the Qur'ān would adversely effect its reception by the Prophet (sws). Piecemeal revelation was necessary so that the burden of the Qur'ān could be borne with ease and facility.

Al-Farāhī also cites the following verse which according to him also sounds the same assurance to the Prophet (sws) in this regard:

سَنُقْرِئُكَ فَلَا تَنسَىإِلَّا مَا شَاءَ اللَّهُ (8:87)

Soon We shall recite it to you; then you will not forget except what Allah pleases. (87:8)

In the opinion of al-Farāhī, the state of the Prophet (sws) being in haste and impatient had become a permanent feature of his life, and that is why he was assured by the Qur'ān from various aspects. In other words, this state of the Prophet (sws) was not something which surfaced at the revelation of these verses of Sūrah Qiyāmah under discussion; however, at this instance, the Almighty stopped him forthwith from showing haste and to assure him, spelled out the whole scheme of Qur'ānic revelation. As per this scheme, the various portions of the Qur'ān would be arranged in a sequence by the Almighty once its revelation was complete. Then the whole of the arranged Qur'ān would be read out to him. He would be required to follow this new recital and abandon the previous one. Any portion requiring an explanation would be further elaborated at this instance. Once this scheme was delineated, the Prophet (sws) was further assured in subsequent verses (twenty and twenty one) that if his addressees were not accepting his message, it was not because of the piecemeal revelation of the Qur'ān; it was because they had become slaves of this world and had become indifferent to the Hereafter.[6]

Thus, according to al-Farāhī, the verses under discussion are deeply related to the context of the verses.

He expresses the view that the exegetes have limited the scope of this verse by saying that the haste showed by the Prophet (sws) was due to his fear of losing any part of the revelation brought to him. He says that though what the exegetes have surmised is true, yet the verse has much broader implications.

In al-Farāhī's opinion, if all the implications and indications found in these verses are unfolded, the verses would mean something like this:

لم تجتهد هكذا في تلقى الوحي اما حفظه و جمعه فعلينا واما هداية قومك فهم منهمكون في محبة العاجلة فكثير القول و قليله سواء عليهم

Why are you burdening yourself [O Prophet!] with such hard work in acquiring the revelation? The responsibility of preserving the Qur'ān and its collection rests with Us. As far as the guidance of your people is concerned, your people are engrossed in the love of this world. Whether you recite a small or a large quantity of revelation to them, it will make no difference to them.[7]

Al-Farāhī subsequently goes on to state the conclusions he has drawn from the above quoted verses of Sūrah Qiyāmah:

الاول ان القرآن يجمع في عهد النبى و يقرء عليه بنسق واحد فانه لو ابخر هذا الوعد بعد عهد النبى لم يا مره باتباعه الثانى ان النبى مامور بالقراءة حسب هذه القراءة الثانيه التى تكون بعد الجمع. وليس للنبى ان يلقى عليه شى من الوحى ولا يـبلغه الامة عقلا ولما امره الله تعالى في قوله يايها الرسول بلغ ما انزل اليك من ربك وان لم تفعل فما بلغت رسالتك" امرا عاما. فلا بدان علم النبى الامة قراءته الاخيرة التي عليه القرآن في اللوح المحفوظ فان العرضة الاخيرة لابدان تكون مطابقة بالاصل. والثالث ان بعد هذا الجمع والترتيب بين ماشاء الله بيانه من التعميم والتخصيص والتكميل والتخفيف.

First, the Qur'ān was collected and arranged in the lifetime of the Prophet and recited to him in a specific sequence. If this promise was to be fulfilled after his death, he would not have been asked to follow this new recital [referred to by the words: "so when We have recited it, follow this recital"]. Second, the Prophet was directed to read according to this second recital that took place after this arrangement of the Qur'ān [in its new final sequence]. It is against sense and reason that he be divinely revealed something and then he not communicate it to the ummah. And also when the following words of the Qur'ān: "[OProphet!] Communicate what has been revealed to you; if you do not do so, you would not have discharged your responsibility as a prophet," (5:67) constitute a general directive, it is certain that the Prophet must have communicated the final recital of the Qur'ān in the way it was found in the guarded tablet (the lawh-i mahfūz). This is because the final recital had to match the original recital [found in the tablet]. Third, after this collection and arrangement, the Almighty explained whatever He intended to from among specifying a general directive or vice versa (al-ta'mīm wa al-takhsīs), furnishing supplementary directives (al-takmīl) and reducing the extent of application of some directives (al-takhfīf).[8]

Al-Farāhīalso presents some corroboration of this whole scheme of Qur'ānic collection and arrangement from various historical narratives.[9]Thus for example:

i. The Prophet (sws) would read out whole sūrahs of the Qur'ān to people[10]and this could not have been possible unless they had been read out to him in their specific sequences. The Companions (rta) would listen to and preserve the Qur'ān in accordance with this arrangement.

ii. The Prophet (sws) directed the Companions (rta) to place the revealed verses of the Qur'ān at specific places of specific sūrahs and the Companions (rta) would obey this directive.[11]

iii. When some explanatory verse was revealed, the Prophet (sws) would have it written at either the place immediately following the verses which needed this explanation or at the end of the sūrah in case these verses related to the whole theme of the sūrah. Deliberation reveals another distinct feature of these explanatory verses: they themselves contained words which would show that these verses have in fact been revealed as an explanation. For example, the words in Sūrah Baqarah are: (2: 187) كَذَالِكَ يُبَيِّنُ اللهُ أياتِهِ لِلنَّاسِ(thus does Almighty explain His verses for people, (2:187)).[12]

iv. It is known from authentic and agreed upon narratives that once the whole of the Qur'ān had been revealed, Gabriel recited the complete Qur'ān to the Prophet (sws) in its real sequence and the Prophet (sws) taught it to the ummah the way he had received it from Gabriel.[13]

The aforementioned discussion summarizes al-Farāhī's view on the collection and arrangement of the Qur'ān. This view is based on his interpretation of certain Qur'ānic verses. In the next section, we shall take a look at how other scholars and exegetes have generally interpreted these verses.

III. The General Interpretation

A vast majority of scholars[14]interpret these verses in the light of a narrative attributed to a famous Companion of the Prophet (sws), 'Abdullāh ibn 'Abbās (rta) (d. 68 AH). Variants of this narrative are recorded in various anthologies of Hadīth. Following is a typical text:

وحدثنا قُتَيْبَةُ بن سَعِيدٍ وأبو بَكْرِ بن أبي شَيْبَةَ وإسحاق بن إبراهيم كلهم عن جَرِيرٍ قال أبو بَكْرٍ حدثنا جَرِيرُ بن عبد الْحَمِيدِ عن مُوسَى بن أبي عَائِشَةَ عن سَعِيدِ بن جُبَيْرٍ عن بن عَبَّاسٍ في قَوْلِهِ عز وجل لَا تُحَرِّكْ بِهِ لِسَانَكَ قال كان النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم إذا نَزَلَ عليه جِبْرِيلُ بِالْوَحْيِ كان مِمَّا يُحَرِّكُ بِهِ لِسَانَهُ وَشَفَتَيْهِ فَيَشْتَدُّ عليه فَكَانَ ذلك يُعْرَفُ منه فَأَنْزَلَ الله تَعَالَى لَا تُحَرِّكْ بِهِ لِسَانَكَ لِتَعْجَلَ بِهِ أَخْذَهُ إِنَّ عَلَيْنَا جَمْعَهُ وَقُرْآنَهُ إِنَّ عَلَيْنَا أَنْ نَجْمَعَهُ في صَدْرِكَ وَقُرْآنَهُ فتقرأه فإذا قَرَأْنَاهُ فَاتَّبِعْ قُرْآنَهُ قال أَنْزَلْنَاهُ فَاسْتَمِعْ له إِنَّ عَلَيْنَا بَيَانَهُ أَنْ نُبَيِّنَهُ بِلِسَانِكَ فَكَانَ إذا أَتَاهُ جِبْرِيلُ أَطْرَقَ فإذا ذَهَبَ قَرَأَهُ كما وَعَدَهُ الله

Ibn 'Abbās narrates regarding the verse:لَا تُحَرِّكْ بِهِ لِسَانَكَ (do not move your tongue ...]: "When Gabriel would descend with a revelation to the Prophet, he would move his lips and tongue[15]and this would distress him and his anguish would be apparent from him. At this, the Almighty revealed the verse of Sūrah Qiyāmah: لَا تُحَرِّكْ بِهِ لِسَانَكَ لِتَعْجَلَ بِهِ [Ibn 'Abbās explained this and the subsequent verses thus:] do not move your tongue to acquire it; إِنَّ عَلَيْنَا جَمْعَهُ وَقُرْآنَهُ (it is upon Us to collect it in your heart (najma'ahu fī sadrika)) and so you can read it. فإذا قَرَأْنَاهُ فَاتَّبِعْ قُرْآنَهُ (so when We reveal it, listen to it carefully). إِنَّ عَلَيْنَا بَيَانَهُ (it is our responsibility to recite it through your tongue).[16] The Prophet would then be silent when Gabriel came and would recite later as promised by the Almighty."[17]

While summarizing the purport of the variants of this narrative which explain these verses, Ibn Hajar writes:

وكان النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم في ابتداء الأمر إذا لقن القرآن نازع جبريل القراءة ولم يصبر حتى يتمها مسارعة إلى الحفظ لئلا ينفلت منه شيء قاله الحسن وغيره ووقع في رواية للترمذي يحرك به لسانه يريد أن يحفظه وللنسائي يعجل بقراءته ليحفظه ولابن أبي حاتم يتلقى أوله ويحرك به شفتيه خشية أن ينسى أوله قبل أن يفرغ من آخره وفي رواية الطبري عن الشعبي عجل يتكلم به من حبه إياه وكلا الأمرين مراد ولا تنافى بين محبته إياه والشدة التي تلحقه في ذلك فأمر بأن ينصت حتى يقضي إليه وحيه ووعد بأنه آمن من تفلته منه بالنسيان أو غيره ونحوه قوله تعالىوَلَا تَعْجَلْ بِالْقُرْآنِ مِنْ قَبْلِ أَنْ يُقْضَى إِلَيْكَ وَحْيُهُ

At the beginning, when the Prophet would be imparted the Qur'ān, he would try to immediately receive the Qur'ān from Gabriel and would not wait until Gabriel had finished reciting it out to him. This was because he was enthusiastic to preserve it lest any part of it be lost. This is reported by al-Hasan[18] and some others. It is mentioned in the narrative recorded by Al-Tirmidhī[19] that he would move his tongue wanting to memorize it; Al-Nasā'ī[20] mentions that he would show haste in reading it in order to preserve it; Ibn Abī Hātim[21] records that he would acquire the first part of the revelation and would move his lips fearing that he might forget it before he acquired the last part. In a narrative recorded by al-Tabarī[22] from al-Sha'bī, it is mentioned that he would show haste in reading it [after Gabriel] because of his love for it. And both these reasons are implied as there is no contradiction between [he reading it because of] his love for it and the distress he would feel in reading it at which he was directed to remain silent until all of it has been revealed to him and was assured that he would not lose it from his memory because of forgetfulness or because of any other reason. And the [following] verse also is of similar meaning: وَلَا تَعْجَلْ بِالْقُرْآنِ مِنْ قَبْلِ أَنْ يُقْضَى إِلَيْكَ وَحْيُهُ (and be not in haste in acquiring the Qur'ān before its revelation is completed to you).[23]

If the ascription of this explanation to Ibn 'Abbās (rta) is correct, it would mean that these verses were primarily revealed to sound an assurance to the Prophet (sws) not to be anxious about memorizing the Qur'ān. He is told that he will not lose any part of it and that the Almighty would collect a portion of the Qur'ān brought down by Gabriel with other portions found in the heart of the Prophet (sws).

IV. Critical Analysis

As mentioned earlier, al-Farāhī is of the opinion that the word jam' in these verses refers to the final sequential arrangement of various portions of the Qur'ān revealed piecemeal. This was done once its revelation was complete. On the other hand, the general, view which originates from a narrative attributed to Ibn 'Abbās (rta) is that the word jam' refers to the collection of an episode of the Qur'ān at the time of its revelation in the heart of Prophet with other episodes already present in it.

A more detailed look at al-Farāhī's interpretation shows that it is very faithful to the words of the Arabic text. The word "collection" is used in the very meaning it conventionally has: "collection of what is not in one place."[24] The verb jama'a and its various inflections have been used abundantly in the Qur'ān itself in this sense.[25] When used with reference to a text, it can only mean to bring its parts together.

However, an objection arises on his interpretation of the verse prior to the jam' (collection) verse which is in fact the background verse on which the jam' verse sounds an assurance. Before this question is stated, here in a nutshell is what al-Farāhī says about the verse prior to the jam' verse:

In his opinion, if the set of verses under discussion are analyzed in the light of parallel verses, it becomes evident that the Prophet's impatience and haste in receiving the Qur'ān was due to two reasons: first, in order to carefully preserve it, and second, so that he was able to acquire the complete Qur'ān as soon as possible so that the Qur'ān may become a source of guidance for his people.[26] Thus the subsequent verses give assurance to the Prophet (sws) on both these apprehensions by spelling out the whole scheme of the revelation and collection of the Qur'ān.

Now, the objection:

If all the parallel verses of the Qur'ān are analyzed, the issue of revelation being faithfully preserved in the memory of the Prophet (sws) and his eagerness to receive the whole Qur'ān as soon as possible so that it could become a source of guidance for his people are two issues discussed separately in the Qur'ān. The Prophet (sws) is assured separately in the Qur'ān on both of them. Al-Farāhī has erroneously combined both issues while interpreting the verses of SūrahQiyāmah under discussion.

Thus, the above-quoted verse of Sūrah A'lā (87:8) which assures him of the preservation of the Qur'ān in his memory relates to the first issue, and it does not seem correct to relate it to the second issue (eagerness to receive the whole Qur'ān) as al-Farāhī has done. In contrast, other verses referred to by him specifically relate to the second issue.

Moreover, there are many other verses which corroborate the second of these issues thus strengthening al-Farāhī's view on this issue: the Prophet (sws) was very anxious to receive the whole Qur'ān so that it could be a source for his people to embrace faith:

لَعَلَّكَ بَاخِعٌ نَّفْسَكَ أَلَّا يَكُونُوا مُؤْمِنِينَ (26: 3)

You will perhaps fret yourself to death that they are not embracing faith. (26:3)

It is similarly stated:

لَقَدْ جَاءكُمْ رَسُولٌ مِّنْ أَنفُسِكُمْ عَزِيزٌ عَلَيْهِ مَا عَنِتُّمْ حَرِيصٌ عَلَيْكُم بِالْمُؤْمِنِينَ رَؤُوفٌ رَّحِيمٌ (9: 128)

There has now come to you a Messenger from amongst yourselves, one who is distressed at your doom, who is greedy for [your faith]; one who is benevolent and merciful to true believers. (9:28)

The wisdom behind the piecemeal revelation is mentioned thus:

وَقُرْآناً فَرَقْنَاهُ لِتَقْرَأَهُ عَلَى النَّاسِ عَلَى مُكْثٍ وَنَزَّلْنَاهُ تَنزِيلاً (106:17)

And We have revealed the Qur'ān in parts so that you can gradually recite it to people and We have elaborately and painstakingly revealed it [thus]. (17:106)

At another place in the Qur'ān, the angels have presented an excuse to the Prophet (sws) that they only come to him at God's command and do not have the authority to come when they want to. In other words, they cannot do anything on their own to allay the impatience of the Prophet (sws) by bringing the revelation at short intervals. In this regard, they are bound by the command of God:

وَمَا نَتَنَزَّلُ إِلَّا بِأَمْرِ رَبِّكَ لَهُ مَا بَيْنَ أَيْدِينَا وَمَا خَلْفَنَا وَمَا بَيْنَ ذَلِكَ وَمَا كَانَ رَبُّكَ نَسِيًّا (19: 64)

We descend only at the bidding of your Lord. To Him belongs what is before us and behind us, and all that lies between. And Your Lord does not forget. (19:64)

It can thus be said that if this distinction is made between the issues on which the assurance is sounded, al-Farāhī's view indeed is very well grounded: the jam'verse and the subsequent ones assure the Prophet (sws) because of his impatience and anxiety on its piecemeal revelation only; they do not assure him because he was anxious on an episode of revelation getting lost.

Thus, in technical parlance, as per this distinction and as per the words of 25:32 quoted earlier (specifically the word kadhālika translated as "thus shall We reveal it [piecemeal]") there is an ellipsis after verse sixteen of Sūrah Qiyāmah of a part of the discourse to the effect: kadhālika anzalnāhu. falamā yatimmu tanzīluhū … (thus shall We reveal it [piecemeal]. So when We have revealed all of it …). These implied words then dovetail with the next verse: "It is upon Us to collect it and to recite it."

Now, as far as the general view is concerned, certain questions arise on the matn and isnād of the narrative which forms the basis of this view. They are presented below.

A. Critical Analysis of the Matn

i. The word jam' used by the Qur'ān does not readily accept its explanation offered by the narrative. If the issue, as the narrative says, was to assure the Prophet (sws) that no part of the revelation would be lost, why has the Qur'ān used the word jam' (collection) for this purpose; why has it not employed a word commonly used to convey this meaning. In Arabic, words such as hafaza, qara'a,[27] thabata are much more appropriate for this purpose.

ii.According to the narrative, the translation of the verse إِنَّ عَلَيْنَا جَمْعَهُ وَقُرْآنَهُ is: "It is Our responsibility to collect it in your heart and [it is Our responsibility that] you read it." The translation of the second part of the verse is not accurate. It should be translated as: "Its recital is upon Us." In other words, the verbal noun قُرْآنَهُ (recital)[28]should relate to the Almighty and not, as the narrative says, to the Prophet (sws) reading it.

iii. The verse فإذا قَرَأْنَاهُ فَاتَّبِعْ قُرْآنَهُ is interpreted as: "when we reveal it, listen carefully to it," by relating it to the verse لَا تُحَرِّكْ بِهِ لِسَانَكَ. Thus what is meant is that when Gabriel recites the revelation to the Prophet (sws), he should not move his tongue to acquire it in haste. However, the sequence of the discourse naturally relates the verse فإذا قَرَأْنَاهُ فَاتَّبِعْ قُرْآنَهُ to the verse immediately preceding it: إِنَّ عَلَيْنَا جَمْعَهُ وَقُرْآنَهُ. This is evident from the way فإذا قَرَأْنَاهُ has come after the last part of the previous verse: قُرْآنَه.

iv. The explanation of the words فَاتَّبِعْ قُرْآنَهُ (follow this recital) by the word فَاسْتَمِعْ له (to listen intently) is also inappropriate.

v. The explanation of the verse إِنَّ عَلَيْنَا بَيَانَهُ ثُمَّ by the words

ثُمَّ إِنَّ عَلَيْنَا أَنْ تَقْرَأَهُ (it is upon Us that you read it) is just a repetition. The narrative already has explained a part of the verse before this to have this meaning: إِنَّ عَلَيْنَا قُرْآنَهُ (it is Our responsibility that you read it).

On the other hand, each and every word of this group of verses becomes very appropriate for the purpose it has been used if the interpretation of al-Farāhī is adopted with the distinction stated earlier.

A comment has already been made about the word jam' (collection). When used with reference to a text, it can only mean to bring its parts together.[29]

Similarly, the second part of the verse: إِنَّ عَلَيْنَا قُرْآنَهُ becomes very meaningful if the word قُرْآنَه refers to the recital of the Qur'ān by the Almighty in its final sequence through the archangel Gabriel.

Moreover, the word فَاتَّبِعْ is used in its conventional meaning in al-Farāhī's interpretation. The implication is that the Prophet (sws) is directed to follow this final recital and abandon the previous one.

Finally, the verse إِنَّ عَلَيْنَا بَيَانَهُ ثُمَّ according to al-Farāhī's interpretation refers to the Almighty's further explanation of any directive that was needed. The Qur'ān itself refers to this promise of the Almighty by certain generic verses which are place at the end of the explanatory directive. Thus, for example, this generic verse in Sūrah Baqarah is: (2: 187) كَذَالِكَ يُبَيِّنُ اللهُ أياتِهِ لِلنَّاسِ (thus does Almighty explain His verses for people, (2:187)).

B. Critical Analysis of the Isnād

Shabbīr Ahmad Azhar Mayrathī[30]has criticized the ascription of this narrative to Ibn 'Abbās (rta) and shown that the narrative in all probability is munqati' (broken). Following is a summary of his arguments.

This narrative is from Ibn 'Abbās (rta) who was not even born at the time of revelation of Sūrah Qiyāmah which belongs to the Makkan period. So how can the content of this narrative be trusted? Thus, for example, the variant[31]reported by Abū 'Awānah Waddāh ibn 'Abdullāh Yashkurī from Mūsā ibn Abī 'Ā'ishah mentions that Ibn 'Abbās (rta) told Sa'id ibn Jubayr that he would move his lips to show him how the Prophet (sws) moved his lips.[32]If Ibn 'Abbās (rta) was not even born at the time of revelation of this sūrah, how could he have said these words at all? In all probability, these words as well as the rest of the content have been wrongly ascribed to him.[33]

A very clear indication of this wrong ascription can be seen in the isnād of the narrative. It may first be noted that in the corpus of hadīth literature there are many narratives which Sa'īd ibn Jubayr had directly heard from Ibn 'Abbās (rta) and others which he had not directly heard from him and had in fact heard them from people who had heard them from Ibn 'Abbās. Whenever Sa'īd narrated directly from Ibn 'Abbās (rta), he always specified this by saying:حدثني ابن عباس (Ibn 'Abbās narrated to me)or سمعت ابن عباس (I heard from Ibn 'Abbās) أخبرني ابن عباس (Ibn 'Abbās informed me). When he narrated indirectly from Ibn 'Abbās (rta), he either named the person in between eg. حدثني مجاهد عن ابن عباس (Mujahid narrated to me from Ibn 'Abbās) and حدثني عكرمة عن ابن عباس ('Ikramah narrated to me from Ibn 'Abbās) or did not name anyone at all and just said عن ابن عباس (from Ibn 'Abbās). Now as far as the narrative under discussion is concerned, if all its variants are analyzed it will be found that in all of them the words without any exception are عباسعن ابن (from Ibn 'Abbās) which means that Sa'īd never heard this narrative directly from Ibn 'Abbās (rta). In all probability, Sa'īd heard hit from someone who had attributed it to Ibn 'Abbās (rta) and trusting this person, Sa'īd ascribed it to Ibn 'Abbās (rta).

The above criticism by Mayrathī seems to be very well-grounded. A recourse to all the variants of the narratives corroborates his statement that in none of them does Sa'īd ibn Jubayr specify that he heard this report directly from Ibn 'Abbās (rta). Hence Mayrathī is right in concluding that this narrative in all probability is broken and cannot be safely ascribed to Ibn 'Abbās (rta).

V. Conclusion

The interpretation of al-Farāhī of these set of verses is in harmony with the conventional meaning of the words of these verses. It is also supported by other verses of the Qur'ān. The general interpretation based on the narrative of Ibn 'Abbās (rta), on the other hand, does not do justice to the words of the verse and to the sequence of the discourse. Moreover, its ascription to Ibn 'Abbās (rta) also stands on flimsy grounds.

Now if al-Farāhī's interpretation is correct, then it carries great significance as it sheds new light on the issue of the collection and arrangement of the Qur'ān in the light of the Qur'ān itself. It would mean that according to the Qur'ān itself the Qur'ān was be given its final arrangement by the Almighty through the Prophet (sws), who was then bound to follow this new arrangement.




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A Re-Evaluation of Early Developments in Qur’anic Orthography (2/4)

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