The entire noble Qur’an was not revealed to the Holy Prophet Mohammad all of a sudden. On the contrary, it was revealed, little by little, over a span of nearly twenty three years. At times, the angel Jibrael would come with a small verse, or even with some unit of a verse. Then, there were times when several verses would be revealed at one time. The smallest portion of the Quran which was revealed as such is
(al-N isa: 4:94) which forms part of a long verse. On the other hand, the whole of Surah al-Anam (Chapter 6) was revealed at one time.
Rather than being revealed all at once, why was the Quran revealed little by little? The polytheists (mushriks) of Arabia had themselves put this question to the Holy Prophet. Allah Almighty has taken it upon Himself to answer the question in the following words:
It is sufficient to understand a gist of the wisdom behind the gradual revelation of the Holy Quran as stated by Imam al Razi in his explanation of this verse. He says:
- The Holy Prophet (pbuh) was ummiyy, that is, being unlettered, he did not know how to read or write. So, had the entire Quran been revealed at one time, it would have been difficult to remember and document. Contrary to this, Prophet Musa knew reading and writing, therefore, the Torah was revealed to him at one single time.
- If the entire Quran had been revealed all at once, the immediate compliance of all its injunctions would have become obligatory, and this would have gone against the wise graduation which has featured as a matter of concern in the Shariah of Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
- The Holy Prophet (pbuh) had to go through ever-new tortures inflicted by his people. That Angel Jibrael came, again and again, with the words of the noble Quran, made his stand against these tortures bearable, and gave strength to his heart.
- A large portion of the Quran is devoted to answers given to people who posed questions, while some other portion refers to various particular events. Therefore, the revelation of those verses was appropriate at the time when those questions were asked, or those events came to pass. This increased the insight of Muslims and when the Quran unfolded that which was unseen, its truth became all the more manifest.
Cause and background of revelation of particular verses (Sabab al nuzul)
The verses of the noble Quran are of two kinds. In the first place, there are the verses that Allah Almighty revealed on His own. Their revelation was not caused by some particular event or a question asked by someone. In the second place, there are those verses which were revealed in answer to some question or with reference to some event. This could be termed as the background of these verses. This background is known, in the terminology of the commentators, as the sabab of nuzul (cause of revelation) or the shan of nuzul (the background of revelation). The background of revelation is, therefore, very important in the exegesis of the noble Qur’an. There are many verses the meaning of which cannot be correctly understood unless the circumstances underlying their revelation become known.