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What is the traditional order of the earliest Quranic suras (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)


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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