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What is the traditional order of the earliest Quranic surahs (chapters)?

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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:
Traditionally, the earliest Qur'anic suras are those revealed in Mecca starting with al-Alaq (Iqra' No. 96); al-Qalam (Nun No. 68); al-Muzammil (No. 73); al-Mudathir (No. 74) through to al-Masad (No. 111).


Background

The issue of the order of revelation is quite complicated, especially regarding the early revelations, because there were 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.

Accepted Traditional Order

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.

Scholars basically agree on the following order of the first ten early revelations:

  • Al-Alaq (Iqra' No. 96);
  • Al-Qalam (Nun No. 68);
  • Al-Muzammil (No. 73);
  • Al-Mudathir (No. 74);
  • Al-Masad (No. 111);
  • At-Takwir (No. 81);
  • Al-A'la (No. 87);
  • Al-Layl (No. 92);
  • Al-Fajr (No. 89);
  • Ad-Duha (No. 93).

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

وَكَانَ أَوَّلَ مَا أَنْزَلَ مِنَ الْقُرْآنِ: اقْرَأْ بِاسْمِ رَبِّكَ ثُمَّ ن ثُمَّ يا أيها المزمل ثم يا أيها الْمُدَّثِّرُ ثُمَّ تَبَّتْ يَدَا أَبِي لَهَبٍ ثُمَّ إِذَا الشَّمْسُ كُوِّرَتْ ثُمَّ سَبِّحِ اسْمَ رَبِّكَ الْأَعْلَى ثُمَّ وَاللَّيْلِ إِذَا يَغْشَى ثُمَّ وَالْفَجْرِ ثُمَّ وَالضُّحَى ثُمَّ أَلَمْ نَشْرَحْ ثُمَّ وَالْعَصْرِ ثُمَّ وَالْعَادِيَّاتِ ثُمَّ إِنَّا أَعْطَيْنَاكَ ثُمَّ أَلْهَاكُمُ التَّكَاثُرُ ثُمَّ أَرَأَيْتَ الَّذِي يُكَذِّبُ ثُمَّ قُلْ يا أيها الْكَافِرُونَ ثُمَّ أَلَمْ تَرَ كَيْفَ فَعَلَ رَبُّكَ ثُمَّ قُلْ أَعُوذُ بِرَبِّ الْفَلَقِ ثُمَّ قُلْ أَعُوذُ بِرَبِّ النَّاسِ ثُمَّ قُلْ هُوَ اللَّهُ أَحَدٌ ثُمَّ وَالنَّجْمِ ثُمَّ عَبَسَ ثُمَّ إِنَّا أَنْزَلْنَاهُ فِي لَيْلَةِ الْقَدْرِ ....

"The (order of) the first revelations are:
  • 'Read in the name of your Lord' (Iqra' No. 96);
  • Then 'Nun (No. 68);
  • Then 'O you who are muzammil' (No. 73);
  • Then 'O you who are Mudathir' (No. 74);
  • Then Tabat Yada Abi Lahab (No. 111);
  • Then 'when the sun is wrapped up' (No. 81);
  • Then 'Exalt the name of your Lord, the Most High,' (Al-A'la No. 87);
  • Then 'By the night when it covers' (Al-Layl No. 92);
  • Then Al-Fajr (No. 89);
  • Then Ad-Duha (No. 93);
  • Then 'Did We not expand for your breast?' (ash-Sharh No. 94);
  • Then al-'Asr (No. 103);
  • Then al-'Adiyat (No. 100);
  • Then 'Indeed, We have granted you, (O Muhammad), al-Kawthar' (No. 108);
  • Then 'Competition in (worldly) increase diverts you' (at-Takathur No. 102);
  • Then 'Have you seen the one who denies the religion?' (al-Ma'un No. 107);
  • Then ' Say, O disbelievers' (al-Kafirun No. 109);
  • Then 'Have you not considered, (O Muhammad), how your Lord dealt (with the companions of the elephant?)' (al-Feel No. 105);
  • Then 'Say, I seek refuge in the Lord of daybreak' (al-Falaq No. 113);
  • Then 'Say, "I seek refuge in the Lord of mankind' (an-Naas No. 114);
  • Then 'Say, He is Allah, who is) One' (as-Samad No. 112);
  • Then an-Najm (No. 53);
  • Then Abasa (No. 80);
  • Then 'Indeed, we sent the Qur'an down during the Night Qadr' (al-Qadr No. 97) …" (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 who differed:

اتَّفقوا على أَنَّ أَوّل السُّور المكِّية اقرأ باسم رَبِّكَ الذي خَلَقَ ، ثمَّ ن والقلم وَمَا يَسْطُرُونَ ، ثمَّ سورة المزمِّل ، ثمَّ سورة المدَّثِّر ، ثمَّ سورة تبَّت

"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) … (and added the above order)." (Fairuz-Abadi, Basa'ir Dhawi at-Tameedh, Vol. 1, pp. 98-99)

Ash-Sheikh Haafizh Saalih (rh) addresses the argument as to whether the dawah was private or public from its inception.

So for example they say that the Da’wah was secret until the following Aayah was revealed:
And proclaim what you have been commanded and turn away from the polytheists(Al-Hijr 94).

So the Messenger (saw) then proclaimed the matter and embarked in his Da’wah. He commenced to insult the idols of Quraish, he exposed and discredited their indulgences and challenged them all of which made them in turn plot against him and oppose him with hostility, hatred and aggression against him (saw) and his companions (rah).

However by examining this Aayah in Soorat ul-Hijr which was preceded by 47 Soorahs or 52 in accordance to some reports and then examine these Soorahs which came before it i.e. those Soorahs which were said to have been in the secret stage of the Da’wah, the truth of what they have claimed can be made clear. Was it really in truth a secret stage restricted to the explanation of the Islamic Aqeedah and to explain its thoughts or did this stage incorporate other subject areas? It is also required to connect these subjects with the historical events which have been agreed upon like Hamzah Ibn Abi Taalib (ra) embracing Islaam and the circumstances and time surrounding it or the embracing of Islaam by ‘Umar Ibn Al-Khattaab (ra) and how and when this occurred, and did these occur before the proclamation of the matter or after its proclamation and did the Muslims meet with harm and persecution before the revelation of this Aayah or not? Did the 47 Soorahs that preceded this Aayah insult the idols, discredit their dreams and ambitions, expose the falsehood of their thoughts and concepts or did they not? And did the effects of that represent the motivation and incentive to be hostile against those who believed amongst them or not? In this way and what is similar to it we are able to understand the stages and which each of the stages requires in terms of work and actions and this is in accordance to the ordering of the Suwar in respect to the time of their revelation.

In accordance with Suyuti's ‘Al-Itqaan Fee ‘Uloom il-Qur’an’ the first 50 or so suras comprised:

1) Iqra’

2) Al-Muzammil

3) Al-Mudaththir

4) Al-Masad

5) At-Takweer

6) Al-A’alaa

7) Al-Lail

8) Al-Fajr

9) Ad-Duhaa

10) Sharh

11) Al-‘Asr

12) Al-‘Aadiyaat

13) Al-Kawthar

14) At-Takaathur

15) Maa’oon

16) Al-Kaafiroon

17) Al-Feel

18) Al-Falaq

19) An-Naas

20) Al-Ikhlaas

21) An-Najm

22) ‘Abasa

23) Al-Qadr

24) Ash-Shams

25) Al-Burooj

26) At-Teen

27) Quraish

28) Al-Qaari’ah

29) Al-Qiyaamah

30) Al-Humazah

31) Al-Mursalaat

32) Qaf

33) Al-Balad

34) At-Taariq

35) Al-Qamar

36) Saad

37) Al-A’araaf

38) Al-Jinn

39) YaSeen

40) Al-Furqaan

41) Al-Faatir

42) Maryam

43) TaHa

44) Shu’araa’

46) An-Naml

47) Al-Qasas

48) Al-Israa’

49) Younus

50) Hood

51) Yousuf

52) Al-Hijr


Conclusion

Traditionally, the earliest Qur'anic suras are those revealed in Mecca starting with Al-Alaq (Iqra' No. 96); Al-Qalam (Nun No. 68); Al-Muzammil (No. 73); Al-Mudathir (No. 74) to Al-Masad (No. 111).

References

Suyuti, al-Itqan Fi 'Ulum al-Qur'an
Zarkashi, al-Burhan Fi 'Ulum al-Qur'an
Fairuz-Abadi, Basa'ir Dhawi at-Tameedh


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