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The First Revelation
Author/Source: Allamah Jalaluddin Suyuti  Posted by: Tariq Hashmi
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Jalaluddin Suyuti: Al Itqan Fi Uloomil Qur’an

Regarding the First Revelation


1. First Five Verses of Surah ‘Alaq

There is a number of different opinions regarding the first revelation. The first and the right, is that it was ‘Read in the name of your Lord.’ Bukhari and Muslim have narrated Hazrat Aishah say:

The commencement of the Divine inspiration to Allah’s messenger was in the form of good dreams, which came true like daylight, and then the love of seclusion   was bestowed upon him. He used to go to the cave of Hira, where he used to worship [Allah alone] continuously for many days. And he used to take with him food for the stay and then come back to Khadijah (ra) who would supply him with food likewise, till suddenly the truth descended upon him while he was in the cave of Hira. The angel came to him there and asked him to read. The Prophet (saw) said, ‘I replied that I do not know how to read. The angel caught me [forcibly] and pressed me so hard that I could not bear it any more. He then released me and again asked me to read and I replied, ‘I don’t know how to read.’ Thereupon he caught me again and pressed me a second time till I couldn’t bear it any more. He then released me again and asked me to read and I replied, ‘I don’t know how to read.’ Thereupon he caught me for the third time and pressed me, and them released me and said, ‘Read, in the name of your Lord, who created’ until he reached ‘what he knew not.’ The Prophet came back trembling.

And Hakim in his Al-Mustadrik and Bahaqi in Al-Dalail have brought a narration and declared it a Sahih[1] tradition.

Narrated. Aishah: The first Surah of the Holy Qur`an to be revealed was ‘Read in the name of your Lord.’

And Tabrani has narrated in Al-Kabir as a narration equal to the Sahih in reliability. Abi Raja` Al-`uttardi narrated:

Abu Moosa would teach us how to read and we would be sitting in a circle. And he would be wearing two white pieces of cloth. When he recited the Sura ‘Read in the name of your Lord’ he said ‘ this is the first surah to be revealed upon Muhammad (saw).

Sa`d Bin Mansoor, in his book Sunan has said:

Narrated Sufyan, narrated `Amr Bin Dinar, narrated `Abid bin `Umair that angel Gabriel came to the Holy Prophet (saw) and said to him, ‘Read.’ The Prophet replied, ‘What do I read? By God I don’t know how to read.’  He [angel] said ‘Read in the name of your Lord who created.’ He used to say it was the first to be revealed.

Abu `Ubaid has said in his [book] Fazail:

Narrated Abdul Rehaman, narrated Syfyan, narrated Ibn-e-Abi Najih that Mujahid said, “Verily the part of the Qur`an revealed first was ‘Read in the name of your Lord’ and ‘Noon Wal Qalam’.”

Ibn-e-Ashtah narrated in his book Kitab-ul-Musaif the following tradition.

`Abid Bin Umair said: Gabriel came to the Holy Prophet (saw) with a piece of cloth and said, ‘Read’. The Holy Prophet (saw) replied, ‘I don’t know how to read.’ The angel said, ‘ Read in the name of your Lord.’ People say that it was the first to be revealed.

Zohri is narrated to have said:

The Prophet was in the cave of Hira when the angel came to him with a brocade of   silk on it was written, ‘Read in the name of your Lord’ until ‘What he knew not.’

2. Starting Verses of Surah Al Mudassir:

The second saying is that the first revelation was ‘Ya Ayyuhal Muddassir[2]. Bukhari and Muslim have narrated Salma Bin Abdul Rehman say:

I asked Jabir Bin Abdullah, ‘which part of the Holy Qur`an was revealed first? He replied, ‘Surah al-Mudassir’. I asked that wasn’t it ‘ Read in the name of your Lord’. He said, ‘ I am going to tell you what the Prophet (SAW) has told: “I neighbored Hira. When I passed the desired time there I descended the mountain and got to the bottom of the valley. I looked in front and to back of me and to my right and left. Then I looked towards the sky. There was he, Gabriel. I started trembling and went to Khadija and asked to enfold me what they did. Then God revealed, ‘Oh enfolded! Arise and warn[3].”      


Reconciling the Contradictory Narratives:


The upholders of the first view refuted the second one on various grounds.


First, (in this tradition) the question was about the first completely revealed surah. So he clarified that the first surah to be revealed as a whole was Surah Muddassir that was revealed before the completion of the revelation of Surah Iqra. For it is this Surah beginning part of which, was revealed first. This argument is corroborated by what narrated Abi Salmah in Sahihain [4]:

Jabir said: I heard the Prophet talk of the commencement of the revelation. He said, ‘While walking I heard a voice from the heavens. I raised my head. There was the angel who had come to me in Hira assuming his seat between the heavens and the earth. I returned and said, ‘Enfold me! Enfold me in a blanket, which they did. And God revealed, ‘ Oh enfolded one!’

His saying ‘the angel who had come to me in Hira’ testifies to the fact that this incident happened after the incident of Hira in which was revealed, ‘Read in the name of Your Lord’.

Second, Jabir meant a certain revelation after the start of revelation not strictly the first revelation.

Third, in the tradition a certain revelation, in relation with Divine decree of waning is meant. This is expressed by some of the scholars in the following words: First revelation concerning prophet hood was ‘Read in the name of your Lord’ and first verses dealing with the Divine decree of warning people were ‘ Oh! Muddassir!

Fourth, that here the first revelation means “the first” caused by a prior incident. That is what caused by enfolding himself of the Prophet because of the terror. As regards Surah Iqra, that was revealed without a prior concern. This is what Ibn-e-Hajar held.

Fifth, It is Jabir’s own deduction not narration. That is why Aishah’s narration is preferable to that. This is what Al-Kirmani held.

The best refutation is the first and the last.

3. Surah Fatihah:[5]

The third opinion is that Surah Fatiha was revealed first. Zamakhshari has said in his exegesis ‘Al-Ksshaf’:

Ibn-e-Abas and Mujahid opined that the first surah to be revealed was ‘Iqra`’ and most of the interpreters held that it was Fatihah-ul-Kitab.

Ibn-e-Hajar commented on this as the following: Most of the imams held the first opinion. And even a smallest number, when compared with that of the first opinion, does not hold what he has attributed to the majority. He has based his opinion on what Bahaqi narrated in his Al-Dalail and Wahidi:

Narrated Younis Bin Bukair, narrated Younis Bin Amr, narrated his father, narrated Abi Maisara Amr Bin Sharhabil: The holy Prophet said to Khadijah’ “ When I went into seclusion I heard a voice. By Allah I feared that something wrong was going to happen.” She said, “God Forbid! Allah would not do you that kind of harm because you return others their entrusted items, establish the relations, and speak truth.” When Abu Bakr came, Khadijah told him the story and asked him, “Take Muhammad to Warqa.” They both went and narrated the incident to him. The Prophet (saw) told him, “When alone, I heard a voice coming from my back. Oh Muhammad! - Oh Muhammad! I fled away.” Warqa said, “Don’t flee. When he comes to you be yourself so that you may listen what he has to say then come to me and inform me. When he was alone again, the voice called him, ‘Oh Muhammad! Say “ In the name of God the most gracious the most merciful.  Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the worlds’ to ‘nor who went astray’. This tradition is Mursal[6] whereas its narrators are Siqat[7].

Bahaqi has said: Although the tradition is mahfooz[8], it tells us about the immediate revelation after ‘Iqra’ and ‘Muddassir’.


4. The Verse Bismillah:


According the fourth viewpoint it was ‘in the name of Allah, Most beneficent Most Merciful’ which was revealed first. Ibn-e-Naqib has narrated in the introduction to his exegesis as additional information.


And Wahidi has narrated from Akrama and Hassan that they said:


The first to be revealed from the Holy Qur`an was ‘In the name of God, Most Beneficent Most Merciful’ and the first revealed Surah was ‘Iqra`’ 


Ibn-Jarir and others have narrated form Ibn-e-zahaq:


 Ibn- Abbas said, “when Gabriel came to the prophet for the first time he said, seek Allah’s refuge and then say ‘In the name of God, Most Beneficent Most Merciful’.

To me it does not seem to be worthy saying. For the revelation of Basmalah[9] was revealed as a necessary (invocation) before revelation of the Surah. Therefore that is the first verse to be revealed actually.


5. Some Part form Mufassal Surahs:


And there is another narration about the first revelation. Bukhari and Muslim narrated Aishah say:


The first revelation formed part of one of the ‘Mufassal’[10] Surahs in which there is a mention of the Heaven and the Hell. When people came in the folds of Islam the forbidden and the allowed were revealed.


It has created confusion because the first revelation was ‘Iqra’ which doesn’t mention the Heaven and the Hell. In order to avoid this confusion it is held that the sentence implies ‘Min’ (from among) and would mean that the mention of the Heaven and the Hell is found in what was revealed in the beginning. It is meant considering the fact that Surah Muddassir mentions the Heaven and the Hell. It is the Surah that was revealed first after the start of the revelation. Perhaps its last part was revealed before the completion of Surah Iqra.


[1] Tradition without any break of chain of narrators who are reliable, of sound memory and

[2] Oh! Enfolded. Al-qur`an 74.1

[3] Al-Qur`an 74.1

[4] Bukhari and Muslim

[5] Some scholars have criticized the first view mentioned in this essay. They hold that the Hadith quoted in favor of the view seems to contradict the Qur’an. Mr. Shehzad Saleem: has summarized the critique of the popular view in the following words:

1. All the verses of Surah ‘Alaq are so closely knit that the first five verses cannot be separated from the rest. If  it is accepted that the first five verses were revealed first, then of course this would mean that the remaining verses of the surah were revealed sometime later. Now, the sixth verse begins with the particle: Kalla which means ‘certainly not’. It is unlikely that a set of verses that begin with this word be revealed since this word requires something pre-posed to it, which it negates. In other words, a sentence which begins with ‘certainly not’, is unlikely to form the beginning of a new revelation.

2. The similarity of the word ‘Iqra’ in the first revelation and in Surah ‘Alaq probably prompted the narrator to link Surah ‘Alaq with the first revelation.

3. The word ‘Iqra’ in this H~adith does not mean ‘to read’ but to ‘read out’. Had it been used in the former sense, it was necessary that Gabriel present something written before the Prophet (sws) and then asked him to read. He did not and how could he have done so knowing that the Prophet (sws) was not literate.

Those who hold the second opinion say that the contents of Surah Fatihah make it very appropriate as the first revelation since the Qur’an seems to be an answer to the prayer of guidance made at the end of this surah, placed right at the beginning of the Qur’an. This prayer mentions that the Jews and the Christians have lost this divine guidance which is now needed afresh.


[6] Tradition where the narrator above a Tabi`I is dropped.

[7] Reliable

[8] fdfasdfsdf

[9] to say Bismillah I rhman I rahim

[10] According to one division The Holy Qur`an is divided in four parts considering the no of verses. Surahs of the Qur`an  from No 50 to 114 are called Al-Mufassal

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