Stages of the Revelation of the Qur'an
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful;
All praise and thanks are due to Allah, May Allah blessings and peace be upon His Messenger.
Essential to learning the history of the Qur'an is the study of the stages of its revelation (wahyu), which is usually referred to by the term, "Tanzil of the Qur'an" literally, the descent or the 'sending down' of the Qur'an from the Heavens to Earth. Some of the aspects to be discussed in relation to that would be the meaning of the Tanzil and why it happened in stages, what was revealed first and what was revealed last, and the significance of understanding the sequence in revealing the different parts of the Qur'an, among others.
Certainly, the study of the Tanzil of the Qur'an is one of the most important aspects of the Sciences of the Quran because it is related to the beginning of revelation, and to being certain of its descent from Allah, which is the foundation of believing in the Qur'an as the word of Allah that came from Him, as well as in the truthfulness of the Message of Prophet Muhammad (sallallāhu `alayhi wa sallam).
The Meaning of Tanzil
Lexically, the term Tanzil has its Arabic root in Nuzul, which means the descent or the movement from a high place down to a lower one. This is exactly what happened in the process of revelation where the angel Gabriel used to come down from the Heavens with a varying number of verses of the Qur'an to deliver to Prophet Muhammad (sallallāhu `alayhi wa sallam). The exact nature of this Nuzul and how Gabriel actually brings Qur'an with him are matters of the unseen, the details of which, Allah chose not to clarify for us, perhaps because they involve matters that can be very hard for humans to imagine or grasp. What we should understand is that this Nuzul happened in a fashion that is befitting to the greatness and sacredness of the Words of Allah. Qur'an was revealed in two stages.
In this stage, the Qur'an was brought by Gabriel from the Preserved Tablet down to the First Heaven (sky) and placed it in the 'Place of Power or Honor'.
First, the Qur'an mentions the Preserved Tablet:
"Nay! This is a Glorious Qur'an, inscribed in a Preserved Tablet" [Al-Buruj, 85:21-22].
Then it tells of the fact it was sent down during a specific night:
"By the Book that makes things clear, We sent it down during a blessed night. Lo! We are ever warning. Whereupon every wise command is made clear " [Ad-Dukhan, 44:2-4],
"We have indeed sent down this during the Night of Power." [Al-Qadr, 97:1].
These two verses indicate that the Qur'an was revealed in a single blessed night in the month of Ramadan that is called the Night of Power or Authority.
This stage of revelation lasted for about 23 years in which the Qur'an was sent down in response to the development of events and in accordance with the sequence needed to complete the delivery of the Message. Allah says, "And [it is] a Qur'an which We have divided [into parts], in order that you may recite it to men at intervals. And We have revealed it by stages (in 23 years)" [Al-Israa’, 17:106].
But verse Al-An’am, 6:7 observes:
“And even if We had sent down unto you [O Muhammad] a Message written on paper so that they could touch it with their hands, the disbelievers would have said: 'This is nothing but plain sorcery."' [Al-An’am, 6:7]
And verse Al-Furqān 25:32 records the unbelievers tauntingly wanting it that way [as in Al-An’am, 6:7]:
"Why has the Qur'an not been vouchsafed to him in one single whole?" And the answer to that, "…that We may strengthen your heart thereby. And We have revealed it to you gradually." [Al-Furqān 25:32]
[Excerpted from Al Juma'ah Vol. 14 issue 12 published in Islam Web on 21 July 2003]