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What evidence supports the claim the first Qur'anic verse to be revealed was "Read"?

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Islamic researcher, graduated from Al-Azhar University, Islamic Studies in the English language. I also studied at Temple University in the US.
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In a Nutshell:
The majority of scholars argue the first revelation was 'Read in the name of your Lord' appearing in surah al-Alaq. The evidence for this opinion is narrated in Bukhari and Muslim on the authority of Aisha (ra) along with a number of companions' and successors' narrations.


Evidences

Aisha (ra) narrated concerning the first revelation on the Prophet (saw) when Gabriel asked him to read:

أَوَّلُ مَا بُدِئَ بِهِ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم مِنَ الْوَحْىِ الرُّؤْيَا الصَّادِقَةُ فِي النَّوْمِ، فَكَانَ لاَ يَرَى رُؤْيَا إِلاَّ جَاءَتْ مِثْلَ فَلَقِ الصُّبْحِ، فَكَانَ يَأْتِي حِرَاءً فَيَتَحَنَّثُ فِيهِ ـ وَهْوَ التَّعَبُّدُ ـ اللَّيَالِيَ ذَوَاتِ الْعَدَدِ، … فَجَاءَهُ الْمَلَكُ فِيهِ فَقَالَ اقْرَأْ‏.‏ فَقَالَ لَهُ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏"‏ فَقُلْتُ مَا أَنَا بِقَارِئٍ فَأَخَذَنِي فَغَطَّنِي حَتَّى بَلَغَ مِنِّي الْجَهْدَ ثُمَّ أَرْسَلَنِي‏.‏ فَقَالَ اقْرَأْ‏.‏ فَقُلْتُ مَا أَنَا بِقَارِئٍ‏.‏ فَأَخَذَنِي فَغَطَّنِي الثَّانِيَةَ حَتَّى بَلَغَ مِنِّي الْجَهْدَ، ثُمَّ أَرْسَلَنِي فَقَالَ اقْرَأْ‏.‏ فَقُلْتُ مَا أَنَا بِقَارِئٍ‏.‏ فَغَطَّنِي الثَّالِثَةَ حَتَّى بَلَغَ مِنِّي الْجَهْدُ، ثُمَّ أَرْسَلَنِي فَقَالَ اقْرَأْ بِاسْمِ رَبِّكَ الَّذِي خَلَقَ ‏"‏‏.‏ حَتَّى بَلَغَ ‏{‏مَا لَمْ يَعْلَمْ‏}.

What evidence supports the claim the first Quranic verse to be revealed was Read?

The commencement of the Divine Inspiration to Allah's Messenger (saw) was in the form of good righteous (true) dreams in his sleep. He never had a dream but that it came true like bright daylight.

He used to go in seclusion (the cave of) Hira where he used to worship (Allah Alone) continuously for many (days) nights…

The angel came to him in it and asked him to read. The Prophet (saw) replied, "I do not know how to read." (The Prophet (saw) added), "The angel caught me (forcefully) and pressed me so hard that I could not bear it anymore. He then released me and again asked me to read, and I replied, "I do not know how to read," whereupon he caught me again and pressed me a second time till I could not bear it anymore. He then released me and asked me again to read, but again I replied, "I do not know how to read."

Thereupon he caught me for the third time and pressed me and then released me and said, "Read: In the Name of your Lord, Who has created (all that exists). Has created man from a clot. Read and Your Lord is Most Generous … (up to) … that which he knew not." (Qur'an 96:15)" (Bukhari and Muslim)

The Shafi'i jurist Imam Nawawi commented on the hadith saying:

ِهَذَا دَلِيلٌ صَرِيحٌ فِي أَنَّ أَوَّلَ مَا نَزَلَ مَنَّ القُرْآَنِ ( إِقْرِأْ ) وَهَذَا هُوَ الصَوَابُ الّذِي عَلَيْهِ الجَمَاهِيرُ مِنَ السَلَفِ والخَلَف
"This is explicit evidence that the first revelation of the Qur'an was 'read' and this is the right opinion held by the majority of later and former (scholars)." (Nawawi, Sharh Sahih Muslim, Vol. 1, p. 170)

It was also narrated on the authority of Aisha (ra):

أَوَلُ سُوَرةِ نَزَلَتْ مِنَ القُرْآَنِ { اقْرَأْ بِاسْمِ رَبِّكَ}
"The first surah was revealed in the Qur'an is 'read in the name of your Lord' (Qur'an 96:15)." (Mustadrak, al-Bayhaqi in ad-Dala'il)

Ibn Abas also narrated:

َاقْرَأْ بِاسْمِ رَبِّكَ هُوَ أَوَّلُ شَيءٍ نَزَلَ عَلَى مُحَمَدٍ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَم
"Read in the name of your Lord' is the first matter revealed on Prophet Muhammad (saw)." (Al-Qasim ibn Salam, Fadda'il al-Qur'an, Vol. 2, p. 222)

A similar statement of ibn Abas is cited in ad-Durr al-Manthur authored by Syutti (Vol. 14, p. 615).

Al-Hasan (the grandson of the Prophet) and 'Ikrimah (the Prophet's cousin) along with Ali ibn al-Husayn (the son of the grandson of the Prophet) narrated (a statement of Ali):

أَوَّلُ سُوَرَةِ نَزَلَتْ عَلَى رَسُولِ اللهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَمَ بِمَكَةِ: اقْرَأْ بِاسْمِ رَبِّكَ
"The first revelation on the Prophet (saw) in Mecca was 'read in the name of your Lord.'" (al-Wahidi, Asbab an-Nuzul, pp. 8-11)

Raja' al-'Attariddi (accepted Islam in the life of the Prophet but he did not see him and later met Abu Bakr) narrated that Abi Musa al-Ash'ari (ra):

َاقْرَأْ بِاسْمِ رَبِّكَ الَّذِي خَلَقَ، وَهِيَّ أَوَّلُ سُوَرَةٍ أُنْزِلَتْ عَلَى مُحَمَّدٍ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَم
"Read in the name of your Lord' is the first surah was revealed on Prophet Muhammad (saw)." (Musanaf Abi Shaybah, Vol. 10, p. 542, al-Bajli, Fadda'il al-Qur'an, Vol. 1, p. 38)

Mujahid, Ubayd Allah ibn 'Umayr (two of the students of the companions, tabi'een) and many other Tabi'een confirmed the same statement. (Musanaf Abi Shaybah, Vol. 10, p. 541-542)

Disputes

They are a number of differences to this perspective amongst scholars. They depend on the hadith narrated on the authority of Jabir ibn Abdullah (ra) who says the first revelation was the surah of al-Mudathir.

The problem with this view is that Jabir (ra) embraced Islam much later and the story he narrates seems to be from after the first revelation.

Thus scholars believe he must have heard the later story of the Prophet and narrated from that point, apparently not hearing the earlier part. For that reason, he only narrates one of them and the other companions narrated both.

The narration of Aisha and her understanding and the order of the narratives (as well as the other witnesses (shawahid)) are to given more weight over the narration of Jabir (ra) because they experienced the event as they embraced Islam before him.

Conclusion

The first surah revealed on the Prophet (saw) was surat al-'Alaq that begins with 'read.' This is the opinion of the majority of scholars all over the centuries that was supported by many other sound narrations especially the narration on the authority of Aisha (ra) in Bukhari in the book of the beginning of revelation along with a number of companions' and successors' narrations.

References

Nawawi, Sharh Sahih Muslim
Al-Bayhaqi, ad-Dala'il
Al-Bajli, Fadda'il al-Qur'an
Al-Qasim ibn Salam, Fadda'il al-Qur'an
Syutti, al-Durr al-Manthur
Al-Wahidi, Asbab an-Nuzul
Musanf Abi Shaybah


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