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Which sura came first - sura al-Mudathir or sura al-Muzammil?

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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 traditionally accepted order of these suras is that al-Muzammil was revealed before al-Mudathir, but given the historical context, the content and the causes of the revelation of each sura one could easily argue the contrary; i.e. al-Mudathir was revealed before al-Muzammil.


Background

The issue of the order of revelation is quite complicated, especially the early revelations, because there was not a lot of Muslims around at the time to document the causes of revelation nor its order. There are a number of narrations by the companions for why a certain revelation came, as well as conflicting narrations about the order of certain verses; there are also similar causes of revelation often narrated for different revelations, including the two chapters in question.

The Accepted Traditional Order

Traditionally, there are three narrations from the first-century hijri on the authority of Mujahid, 'Atta' al-Khurasani and Jabir ibn Zayd narrated from Ibn Abbas (ra) regarding the order of revelation. (Ibn 'Ashur, at-Tahrir wa at-Tanwir, Vol. 1, p. 90)

They differ slightly between each other, the later narration traditionally more widely accepted as most scholars of 'Ulum al-Qur'an relied on it, such as Suyuti and al-Ja'bari.

The three narrations of Ibn Abbas basically agree on the following order of the early revelations:

  • Al-Alaq (Iqra' No. 96);
  • Al-Qalam (Nun No. 68);
  • Al-Muzammil (No. 73);
  • Al-Mudathir (No. 74);
  • Al-Masad (No. 111).

It was narrated Ibn Abbas (and other tabi'een) said:

وَكَانَ أَوَّلُ مَا أنزل مِنَ الْقُرْآنِ ِ: اقْرَأْ بِاسْمِ رَبِّكَ الَّذِي خَلَقَ ثُمَّ ن وَالْقَلَمِ ، ثُمَّ يَا أَيُّهَا الْمُزَّمِّلُ ، ثُمَّ يَا أَيُّهَا الْمُدَّثِّرُ ، ثُمَّ تَبَّتْ يَدَا أَبِي لَهَبٍ
"The (order of) the first revelations are: 'Read in the name of your Lord' (Iqra'), then 'Nun wa Al-Qalam', then 'O you who are muzammil' (Al-Muzammil), then 'O you who are Mudathir' (al-Mudathir), then Tabat Yada Abi Lahab (Al-Masad) …" (Suyuti, al-Itqan Fi 'Ulum al-Qur'an, Vol. 1, pp. 40-44, Zarkashi, al-Burhan Fi 'Ulum al-Qur'an." Vol. 1, pp. 193-194)

The eight-century lexicographer and Mufasir Fairuzabadi narrated this case of agreement of the scholars of 'Ulum al-Qur'an, not the historians or commentators because they are on the contrary. He said:

ْاتَّفَقُوا عَلَى أَنَّ أَوّلَ السُّورِ المَكِّيّةِ اقْرَأ بِاسْمِ رَبِّكَ الّذِي خَلَقَ ، ثمَّ ن والقَلَمِ وَمَا يَسْطُرُونَ ، ثمَّ سُوْرَةِ المُزَمِّل ، ثُمَّ سُورَةِ المُدَّثِّرِ ، ثُمَّ سُورَةِ تَبَّت
"They agreed that the first Meccan suras are: 'Read in the name of your Lord' (Iqra'), then 'Nun wa Al-Qalam', then 'O you who are muzammil' (Al-Muzammil), then 'O you who are mudathir' (al-Mudathir), then Tabat Yada (Al-Masad) …" (Fairuz-Abadi, Basa'ir Dhawi at-Tameedh, Vol. 1, pp. 98-99)

I will however focus this answer on the two suras of al-Mudhathir and al-Muzammil.

The content, the causes of revelation, the narrations of some companions and reasoning suggest sura al-Mudathir was revealed before al-Muzammil.

Historical Context

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.

After the first revelation, the Prophet (saw) and his wife Khadijah (ra) went to Waraqah who recognised the revelation. The revelation was intermittent for about forty days, something that upset the Prophet (saw). A'isha (ra) noted:

ثُمَّ فَتَرَ الْوَحْيُ
"Then the revelation was intermittent." (Bukhari 3)

Later, the revelation continued after forty days, according to the majority opinion. Jabir Ibn Abdullah (ra) narrated this re-continuation of revelation and said al-Mudathir was the first revelation after that intermission.

Jabir (ra) narrated:

قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم وَهْوَ يُحَدِّثُ عَنْ فَتْرَةِ الْوَحْىِ قَالَ فِي حَدِيثِهِ ‏"‏ بَيْنَا أَنَا أَمْشِي سَمِعْتُ صَوْتًا مِنَ السَّمَاءِ فَرَفَعْتُ بَصَرِي، فَإِذَا الْمَلَكُ الَّذِي جَاءَنِي بِحِرَاءٍ جَالِسٌ عَلَى كُرْسِيٍّ بَيْنَ السَّمَاءِ وَالأَرْضِ فَفَرِقْتُ مِنْهُ فَرَجَعْتُ فَقُلْتُ زَمِّلُونِي زَمِّلُونِي‏"‏‏.‏ فَدَثَّرُوهُ فَأَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ تَعَالَى ‏{‏يَا أَيُّهَا الْمُدَّثِّرُ * قُمْ فَأَنْذِرْ * وَرَبَّكَ فَكَبِّرْ * وَثِيَابَكَ فَطَهِّرْ * وَالرِّجْزَ فَاهْجُرْ‏}‏‏.‏ … قَالَ ثُمَّ تَتَابَعَ الْوَحْىُ‏.
"While Allah's Messenger (saw) was talking about the period of intermission of revelation, he said in his narration:
"Once while I was walking, all of a sudden I heard a voice from the sky. I looked up and saw to my surprise, the same Angel as had visited me in the cave of Hira.
He was sitting on a chair between the sky and the earth. I got afraid of him and came back home and said, Wrap me! Wrap me!"
So they covered him and then Allah revealed: 'O you, wrapped up! Arise and warn and your Lord magnify, and your garments purify and dessert the idols.' (Qur'an 74:1-5) … After this, the revelation started coming frequently and regularly." (Bukhari 4954)

There are three important points in this narration: It concerns the period after the first revelation, so any revelation comes after must be the second one; al-Mudhathir was the immediate revelation after this incident; after al-Mudharhir, the revelation started coming frequently and regularly.

Given this historical context, the sura al-Muzammil must have come after al-Mudathir when the revelation started coming frequently and regularly.

Al-Muzammil Cause of Revelation

There are some narrations mix the cause of al-Mudathir mentioned above as if it was the cause of al-Muzammil (See for example narrations in Razi, Mafatih al-Ghaiyb, Vol. 30, p. 681).

But given the authenticity and the weight of the narrations of al-Mudathir's following the intermission and the frequent visit to the mountain waiting for revelation, its narrations must be given the authenticity over the others.

In addition, there are other narrations mentions another cause of revelation of al-Muzammil which would clarify the order of the two suras.

It was narrated on the authority of a number of narrators (such as Abd ar-Rahman al-Wasitti, Muhammad al-Qattan and Shurayk) from Jabir Ibn Abdullah (ra):

اجْتَمَعَتْ قُرَيْشٌ فِي دَارِ النَدْوَةِ فَقَالَتْ سَمُّوا هذا الرَجُلَ اسْمًا يصدُّ النَّاسَ عَنْه قَالُوا كَاهِنٌ، قَالُوا لَيْسَ بِكَاهِنٍ، قَالُوا مَجْنُونٌ، قَالُوا لَيْسَ بِمَجْنُونٍ، قَالُوا سَاحِرٌ، قَالُوا لَيْسَ بِسَاحِرٍ فتَفَرَّقَ المُشْرِكُون على ذَلِكَ فبَلَغَ ذلِكَ النَبيَّ صلَّى اللهُ عَلَيهِ وسَلَّم فَتَزَّمَّلَ في ثِيّابِهِ وتَدَثَّرَ فيها فَأَتَاه جِبْرِيلٌ صلَّى اللهُ عليه وسلَّم فقالَ يَا أَيُّهَا الْمُزَّمِّلُ يَا أَيُّهَا الْمُدَّثِّرُ
"Quraysh (members) were gathered in Dar an-Nadwah and said 'label this man with a name that would prevent people from listening to him.'
They suggested he is a clergyman, but (they knew) he was not; they argued he is insane, but (they knew) he was not; they suggested he is a sorcerer and agreed on it.
The Prophet (saw) heard their accusation and became the same and wrapped himself with clothes.
Gabriel came to the Prophet (saw) and revealed on him 'al-Muzammil' and 'al-Mudathir,'" (Musnad al-Bazar 2276, Tabarani, al-Mu'jam al-Awsat 3408, al-Haythami, Mujama' al-Zawa'id, Vol. 7, p. 133, Suyuti, Lubab an-Nuqul, 317 and others)

What makes more sense is to say al-Muzammil was revealed after the people of Mecca accused the Prophet (saw) and wanted to prevent people from accepting his message, and the Quraysh would not even know of his Message except after the order of Allah to arise and warn (al-Mudathir 2).

Ibn 'Ashur backed up this understanding and said:

فَيَتَعَيَّنُ أَنَّ سَبَبَ نِدَائِهِ بِ يَا أَيُّهَا الْمُزَّمِّلُ كَانَ عِنْدَ قَوْلِهِ: "زمّلوني" ، فَذَلِك عِنْد مَا اغْتَمَّ مِنْ وَصْفِ الْمُشْرِكِينَ إِيَّاهُ بِالْجُنُونِ وَأَنَّ ذَلِكَ غَيْرُ سَبَبِ نِدَائِهِ بِ يَا أَيُّهَا الْمُدَّثِّرُ فِي سُورَةِ الْمُدَّثِّرِ.
"Thus it is appointed that he was called 'O you who are muzammil' when he said zamiluni 'warm me up' after he was depressed by the polytheists' accusation of madness against him.
It is not the same cause of the revelation that called him 'O you who is mudathir' in sura al-Mudathir." (Ibn Ashur, at-Tahrir wa at-Tanwir, Vol. 29, p. 252)


The Content of Each Sura

There are some signs in both suras prove the above assumption. Allah says in al-Mudathir:

وَثِيابَكَ فَطَهِّرْ
"And purify your clothes." (Verse 4)

It was narrated in the books of seera Gabriel (as) taught the Prophet (saw) the wudu' and then the Prayer and in turn, the Prophet (saw) taught Khadijah. (Ibn Ishaq, Ibn Hisham)

In al-Muzammil, Allah ordered the Prophet (saw) to pray at night:

قُمِ اللَّيْلَ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا
"Arise (to pray) at all night, except for a little (resting)." (Verse 2)

The legislation of wudu must precede the legislation of prayer; in al-Mudhathir, Allah ordered the Prophet (saw) to purify himself and in al-Muzammil ordered him with prayer, so the former must have been revealed first, especially the term (المزمل) "wraps himself (in clothing)" means someone who ready dressed for prayer.

The third-century mufassir Tabari supports this meaning of Muzammil:

ِوَصَفَهُ بالتَزّمُّل بِالثِيَابِ لِلصَلاةِ، وأنّ ذلك هُو أَظْهَرُ مَعْنَيَيَه
"He describes him as (the one who do) tazammul for his (prepared) clothes of prayer and this is the best meaning of it (the term muzammil)." (Tafseer at-Tabari, Vol. 23, p. 676, Ibn Ashur, at-Tahrir wa at-Tanwir, Vol. 29, p. 252)

Thus the Prophet (saw) would not dress and be ready for prayer except if he has purified his clothes first as al-Mudathir ordered him.

Ibn Ashur said:

وَثِيابَكَ فَطَهِّرْ فَإِنَّهُ إِيمَاءٌ إِلَى شَرْعِ الطَّهَارَةِ، فَلَعَلَّ ذَلِكَ إِعْدَادٌ لِشَرْعِ الصَّلَاةِ.
"(the verse) 'purify your cloth' refers to the legislation of purity and it may have been a preparation for the legislation of prayer." (Ibn Ashur, at-Tahrir wa at-Tanwir, Vol. 30, p. 296)

Sura al-Muzammil orders the Prophet (saw) to recite the Qur'an for about all the night except resting for a little while (verse 4). This means there was a big deal of Quranic verses suitable to hold all the night prayer, while in the suggested order there were only ten verses of al-Alaq preceded it. It also ordered the Prophet (saw) be patient over what they said about him (which is understood in light of the causes of the revelation of people mocking and accusing him with sorcery) and avoid them with gracious avoidance (verses 10-13).

People would have not mocking or accusing him of anything if he has not yet approached them. But in light of al-Mudathir order of "Arise and warn," this verse now makes sense: So the Prophet (saw) arose and worn them and they accused him of laying and sorcery, for that reason Allah ordered him to be patient over what they say.

Ibn Ashur said:

ِأنّ هذهِ الآيَةِ أَولُ ما نَزَلَ فِي الأَمْرِ بِالدَعْوَةِ؛ لأنّ سُورَة العَلَق لم تَتَضَمَنْ أَمْرًا بالدَعْوَةِ . وصَدْرِ سُورَةِ المُزَّمِّل تَضْمِنُ أَنَهُ مَسْبُوقٌ بِالدَعْوَةِ لِقَوْلِهِ فِيهِ إنّا أَرْسَلْنَا إَلَيّكُم رَسُولًا شَاهدًا عَلَيّكُمْ ، وَقَوْلِه وذَرْنِي والمُكَذِبِينَ وإِنّمَا كَانَ تَكْذِيبِهِم بَعدَ أنْ أَبْلَغَهُمْ أَنّهُ رَسُولٌ مِنّ اللهِ إليّهُم وابْتَدَئَ بالأَمْرِ بالإنْذَارِ
"This verse is the first to order (the Prophet) with dawa because sura al-Alaq does not include and order of approaching (people with) dawa.

The beginning of sura al-Muzammil implies it was preceded by approaching people with dawa because (Allah says) 'Indeed, We have sent to you a Messenger as a witness upon you' (Verse 15) and says 'And leave Me with (the matter of) the deniers.'
They would deny after the Prophet (saw) approached them with order and warning." (Ibn Ashur, at-Tahrir wa at-Tanwir, Vol. 30, p. 294)


Conclusion

The traditionally accepted order of these suras is that al-Muzammil was revealed before al-Mudathir, but given the historical context the content and the causes of the revelation of each sura one could easily argue the contrary; i.e. al-Mudathir was revealed before al-Muzammil.

References

Ibn 'Ashur, at-Tahrir wa at-Tanwir;
Tabari, Jami' al-Bayan 'An Ta'weel 'Aay al-Qur'an
Suyuti, al-Itqan Fi 'Ulum al-Qur'an;
Zarkashi, al-Burhan Fi 'Ulum al-Qur'an;
Fairuz-Abadi, Basa'ir Dhawi at-Tameedh;
Razi, Mafatih al-Ghaiyb;
al-Haythami, Mujama' al-Zawa'id.


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