Selections from the Quran
The need to read the Quran in a chronological method
To fully realise the gradual growth of Muhammad’s religious system in his own mind, it is absolutely necessary to read the Quran through not in order in which it now stands, but that in which Muslim theologians admit that it was revealed.
The chronological order given in Syuti’s Itqan show the gradual development of Muhammad’s mind other versions such as ‘Rodwell’s Introduction to the English Quran’ seek to do the same. This approach to the Quran seeks to detail the development of Muhammad from being a mere moral teacher and reformer, to that of a prophet and warrior chief. The contrast between the earlier, middle, and later suras is very striking. He who at Mecca is the admonisher and persuader, at Medina is the legislator and the warrior, who dictates obedience, and uses other weapons than the pen of the poet and the scribe. When business pressed, as at Medina, poetry makes way for prose when he has to defend himself against the charge of being merely a poet additionally we meet with injunctions to obey God and the Prophet.
According to Sir William Muir the 6234 verses can be divided into five periods:
- First Period: consist of 18 suras of short rhapsodies before he conceived the idea of a divine mission - none of these are in the form of a message from the deity.
- Second Period: contains 4 suras (96; 112; 74; 111) referring to the opening of Muhammad’s ministry. For example sura 96 contains the command to recite, and tradition states it was the first revelation.
- Third Period: contains 19 suras where the description of the Resurrection, Paradise, and Hell come to the fore. This period is also contains information in respect of the growing opposition from the Qurraish from the commencement of Muhammad’s ministry up to the Abyssinian emigration.
- Fourth Period: contains 22 suras and deal with the period which cover the 6th to 10th year of Muhammad’s ministry. This material covers the narratives of the Jewish scriptures, Rabbinic Arab legends and the temporary compromise with idolatry found in Sura 53.
- Fifth Period: contains 31 suras and cover the period from 10th year to the Hegeira. Here we find some Gospel material, the rites of pilgrimage are enjoined, the opposition of the Qurraish, with additional information about the Resurrection and Judgement and pictures of Heaven and Hell. In this period later suras were interpolated with Medina passages.6th Period: these contain 20 suras revealed at Medina
Consequences of lack of Order of the Quran
As the order is not chronological the same surah can contain utterances belonging to very different periods of the Prophet’s career, and as proper names both of persons and places are ordinarily, though not always avoided, there is much uncertainty as to the occasions.
a) A man whose conduct is censured in one of the suras may, it is thought, be either Balaam, a contemporary of Moses, or Umayyah son of Abu’l-Salt, a contemporary of Muhammad. b) When one of his wives is rebuked for divulging something to another, very different opinions are held as to what she divulged. c) Where the people of Ras are enumerated among those who had merited destruction, no fewer than six suggestions are offered by commentators for their identification, no one knowing who were meant. d) Even the division of the suras which appear in their headings into Meccan and Medinese is only partially accurate.
Size of the Quran
Muslims believe that the Quran was revealed in order to respond to various events and incidents: Sometimes answers were said to be revealed to the many questions Muhammad faced, at other times they were in response to non-Muslims, other times to assure Muslims going through hardships; other times for legislation and for putting rules to govern the social, economical, and political life of Muslims.
The book, as compiled by the order of the Prophet’s successors, contains both too much and too little. Too much, because whole passages and indeed whole narratives are repeated, in some cases many times, with only slight variation. The same text is found in different contexts, in some of the suras we find recurring refrains, and there are formulae which the author never tires of re-iterating. Indeed there is so much repetition that the whole content of the Quran might be reduced to a small fraction of its size. Then, there is too little because the work admits that passages were cancelled, and the collection is far too small to be a record of communications continued with only brief interruptions for more than twenty years.