How Was the Qur’an Revealed?

Answered by Ustadh Tariq Abdul-Rasheed

Question: As-Salāmu `Alaykum,

We all know that the Qurʾān was sent down to the Prophet ﷺ. We are also taught that it was indeed Jibrāʾīl (ʿalayhi s-salām) who would recite the Qurʾān with the Prophet ﷺ. It came down over a period of years. We know it is the word of Allāh, and protected by Him too.

But where exactly did Jibrāʾīl (ʿalayhi s-salām) bring it from? Yes, it was Allāh, but was there intermediary seeing as even Jibrāʾīl (ʿalayhi s-salām) never witnessed the splendours of Allāh, as seen from the miraculous night journey.

I ask because I came across a teacher that stated that once the Prophet ﷺ asked Jibrāʾīl (ʿalayhi s-salām) if he knew where the Qurʾān was from, Jibrāʾīl answered he hears it from behind a veil and then brings it down to the Prophet ﷺ, the Prophet ﷺ then said was he aware whose voice it was, Jibrāʾīl said he didn’t, then the Prophet ﷺ said it was his.

I understand this might be a contentious issue for some, and I apologize if I have come across in an improper manner. I just found the entire subject matter engrossing, and very important.

Answer: In the name of Allah of the Beneficent the Merciful

Wa laikum salaamu wa rahmatullahi wa barkaatuh,

We ask Allah that He increase us in beneficial knowledge. Amongst the most noble of the sciences of Islam are the sciences and knowledge of the Holy Qur’an. The scholars say, “the nobility of a knowledge extends from the nobility of its sources.” The Qur’an being Allah’s final revelation to all of creation then it is clear that the sciences which facilitate us having a sound study of the Qur’an are indeed exalted, lofty and noble.

What is Revelation?

The scholars of Qur’anic sciences define ‘wahy’ or revelation as:
Communication of Allah to whom He has chosen from His servants what He wants of guidance [legal rulings and the likes thereof] in a rapid hidden way.

The Importance of Asking

There is no problem at all with your question. There is no shyness as it pertains to seeking knowledge and understanding ones religion properly. The scholars mention that from the etiquettes of seeking knowledge is to ask. The problem in many cases is that a student does not ask because of misplaced shyness or worse assuming he knows.

Imam al-Bayhaqi (Shu’ab al-Iman), relates the following hadith in this meaning, “Moderation in spending is half of [one’s] sustenance, friendliness toward people is half of [one’s] intelligence, and asking good questions is half of [one’s] knowledge.” [Provision of the Seekers]

In fact, the mother of the faithful ‘Aisha relates a very similar question from the Sahabi Al-Harith bin Hisham when he asked “O Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him)! How is the Divine Inspiration revealed to you?” Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him ) replied, “Sometimes it is (revealed) like the ringing of a bell, this form of Inspiration is the hardest of all and then this state passes off after I have grasped what is inspired. Sometimes the Angel comes in the form of a man and talks to me and I grasp whatever he says.” ‘Aisha added: Verily I saw the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him ) being inspired divinely on a very cold day and noticed the sweat dropping from his forehead (as the Inspiration was over). [How Divine Revelation Began, Bukhari Hadith No.2]

*Note: The “ringing of a bell” refers to the revelation as it comes by way of the angel Jibreel.

How is the Divine Revelation Revealed?

Allah says, “And it is not for any human being that Allah should speak to him except by revelation or from behind a veil or that He sends a messenger to reveal, by His permission, what He wills. Indeed, He is Most High and Wise.” [Shura: 51]

The scholars of Qur’anic Sciences discuss this issue in their books and have identified that revelation occurred in about four ways:

1. What Allah reveals directly to the hearts of His Messengers. This is what is understood from the first portion of the above verse, “except by revelation”.

2. What comes in the true dreams of the messengers and prophets and is also understood from the verse, “except by revelation”.

3. When a messenger perceives the speech of Allah without ascertaining the source of the speech. This is understood from Allah’s saying, “from behind a veil” and is know from the story of Prophet Musa (peace and blessings be upon him ) when Allah says, “and Allah spoke to Moses with [direct] speech” [Nisa: 164]

4. What is revealed by way of a an intermediary (the angel Jibreel (peace and blessings be upon him )). This is understood from the verse, “or that He sends a messenger to reveal, by His permission, what He wills”. [Fadl Abbas, Gida’a al-Janan and Mana`a al-Qattaan, Mabahith fi Uloom al-Quran]

This is important to understand as the how-ness of the revelation can be generally classified into two general categories. Namely; what is revealed directly without an intermediary and what is revealed by way of an intermediary. So we see not all revelation comes by way of the Angel Jibreel (peace and blessings be upon him ).

In regards to revelation that has come by way of Jibreel. The scholars have several opinions regarding this. However, the opinion that is accepted by the scholars of Ahl Sunnah is that Jibreel would take revelation directly from the speech of Allah.

Imam Suyuti mentions a hadith from at-Tabarani [with a connected chain] which aids this position from an-Nawas bin Sam`an who says, “When Allah speaks with revelation the heavens shake fiercely from the fear of Allah. The inhabitants of the heavens hear this and fall prostrate. Then Jibreel is the first to raise his head and Allah speaks to him and reveals to him what He wills. Jibreel then reaches the angels as he descends traversing each heaven its inhabitants ask, “what has our Lord said?” he responds, “The utter truth”. He continues until he completes what he was ordered with. [Suyuti, al-Itqan fi Uloom al-Qur’an]

While Imam Suyuti doesn’t mention the grading of the this hadith. Imam Bukhari mentions a sahih hadith of Abu Huraira where The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him ) said, “When Allah ordains something [i.e. reveals revelation] on the Heaven the angels beat with their wings in obedience to His statement which sounds like that of a chain dragged over a rock. [Book of Tawheed, Sahih al-Bukhari 7481]

Imam Abu Dawud also mentions a sound hadith in this meaning. ‘Abd Allah (b. Mas’ud) reported the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him ) as saying ; when Allah, the exalted, speaks to send revelation the inhabitants of the heaven hear the clinging of a bell from the other heaven [like the sound of] pulling a chain on the mountain of as-Safa, and then swoon. They continue to remain like this until Jibreel comes to them. When Jibreel comes the fear is removed from their hearts and they ask, what did your Lord say Gabriel? He would say; Truth, so they would say; Truth, Truth. [Sunan Abi Dawud 4738]

A Note on Sunni Belief

There are two points that should be considered here related to Sunni Creed.

1. When we refer to Allah we should affirm in ourselves that Allah is not defined by directionality as might be assumed in the verse “from behind a veil” [Shuraa: 51]. Imam Fakhr ud-Deen Razi mentions when explaining issues related to this verse that the usage of “from behind a veil” is figurative and that its indication of apparent resemblance [to created things] is because of the usage of metaphors in the Arabic language. [Razi, Mafatih al-Gayb]

2. The speech of Allah is another issue which has been discussed by the scholars of Islamic creed. Because of the nature of language confusion has arose regarding how to understand Allah attribute of speech. What has been soundly established is that the speech of Allah does not resemble the speech of creation. Therefore, it is not comprised of letters and sounds which require air and vibration.

Conclusion

Allah reveals to His Prophets and Messenger by various means. The revelation that comes by way of Jibreel (as) is divinely revealed to Jibreel from Allah as demonstrated by the various narrations. As in the case of the Qur’an Jibreel then delivers that revelation directly to the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him ) without stint. This particular way of revelation was the hardest on the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).

Allah knows best

Tariq Abdul-Rasheed

Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani