How the Qur’an was Collected

How the Qur’an was Collected

(Hamid Mahmood) 

‘We have sent down the Qur’an Ourself and We Ourself will guard it’ (Qur’an 15:9).

Linguistically in English the word Qur’an has been used for both the oral and written (manuscripts), on the contrary, Arabic distinguishes between the written as Mus-haf and oral as Qur’an.  Hence, the concept of the ‘Qur’an’ being collected could be examined in its oral and written forms.  Francois Deroche explains this as a “precise distinction, which demonstrates the simultaneous existence of two realities: transmission in written form and transmission in spoken form.  Islam strongly emphasises the oral nature of the Qur’an and the particular importance of this feature should not be overlooked.  The role of the written word cannot, however, be ignored” (p. 172).  The Qur’an, was collected, gathered and transmitted in aural and written format.  It is therefore important to examine both notions of the collection of the Qur’an experienced over time.  I will initiate with the analysis of the oral collection and the emphasis the Prophet made towards the memorisation of the Qur’an and thereafter examine its collection in written format, which took place over three overlapping periods. The collection of the Qur’an was initiated in the Prophet’s era followed by the Caliphate of Abu Bakr and fully collected as a complete manuscript and codex in the third period under the authority of Uthman, the Third Caliph and son-in-law of the Prophet.

The primary and most effective collection of the Qur’an was its spoken form (jam’), which the Prophet himself instigated and also urged his companions to engage with.  At the time of Wahi (divine revelation) the Prophet rushed in its memorisation in-order to safely collect it letter by letter, thus he was commanded by Allah: “[Prophet] do not rush your tongue in an attempt to hasten [your memorization of] the Revelation: We shall make sure of its safe collection and recitation” (Q. 75:16-17).  Allah assured Muhammad of two critical elements within its oral transmission, its safe ‘collection’ and ‘recitation’.  Hence the pioneering institute for the fulfilment of this notion was the Prophet’s Mosque at Medina, where at times Muhammad had even rebuked his companions on the strident clamour they created whilst diligent on its memorisation.[1]  Many female companions of the Prophet were reluctant of materialistic dowry and instead wedded men, who in return would teach them the Qur’an, so they too could form a part of the oral collection of the Qur’an.  It is important to note how the collection through memorisation and recitation had become an integral part of the lives of the Sahabah (companions of the Prophet), which gives the observer an insight to the oral transmission of the Qur’an.

The other aspect of the oral collection, which has totally been ignored by contemporary Muslim and non-Muslim scholars, is the ‘recitation’.  To understand this notion, it is crucial to examine examples from the lives of the Sahabah, in this case I think it sufficient to observe one:  Sa’eed ibn Mansur in his Sunan relates:[2] A man was reciting the Qur’an to Abdullah ibn Mas’ud and he recited, “InnamasSadaqaatu lil-Fuqara-i wal-Masaakeen, Ibn Mas’ud said, “This is not how the messenger of Allah recited it to me!”, so the man inquired, “how did he recite it to you?” so he said, “lil-Fuqaraaaa-i wal-Masaakeen”, he prolonged the vowel, though not to do so constitutes a lahn al-Khafi.[3] It is evident from this incident that the collection and preservation of the Qur’an was not merely a written or spoken phenomenon, but rather transmitted phonetically and linguistically in accordance with the recitation of the Prophet and ultimately the Divine.

The oral transmission of the Qur’an has its significant and logical reasons.  Allah had promised Muhammad: “I am to reveal such a book upon you [Prophet], which water cannot obliterate”,[4] clearly evident from this, is the notion of the protection of the Qur’an in the hearts of men, which could not be obliterated or distorted.  In Arabia education was not widespread, only a minority could read, from among them only some could write and the majority were illiterate[5], but on the contrary they all had astonishing potential to memorise.  Muhammad’s youngest wife Aa’isha, had memorised 70,000 poems.  Montgomery Watt (1970) emphasised this phenomenon: “For one thing, knowledge of the Qur’an among the Muslims was based far more on memory than on writing” (p. 47).  The Prophet urged his companions to memorise the Qur’an as it was being revealed by promising them in return lofty palaces, streams of Rayyaan, high status in paradise and radiant crowns for their parents.  As this was a crucial task for the primary Muslim community.

Besides the oral collection, the Qur’an was written at the time of the Prophet.  At the death of the Prophet, it is traditionally recognised by al-Suyuti (Itkan, i. 71), ‘that there was not in existence any collection of revelations in ‘final’ form, because, so long as he was alive, new revelations were continually being added to the earlier ones’.[6]  However, there is substantial evidence to prove that the Qur’an was written during the life of the Prophet in its entirety, according to a statement made by Zaid ibn Thabit: “The Prophet was taken [from his life] whilst the Qur’an had not yet been ‘gathered’ into a book”.  The Arabic word used is jumi’a, which refers to the Qur’an not being ‘gathered’ rather than it being written.  Al-Khattabi commentates, “This quote refers to [the lack of] a specific book with specific traits”.[7]  Hence the Qur’an had been ‘written’ in its entirety during the life of the Prophet, but not collected together, nor the surahs arranged systematically between two covers.

The Qur’an was revealed over an approximate period of twenty three years, in which Muhammad ordered scribes to write the aayaat and surahs as they were being revealed.  A typical example of this:  ‘There was revealed, “Not equal are those who sit [at home] and those who strive and fight in the cause of Allah” (Q. 4:95).  The Prophet said, “Call Zaid and let him bring the board, the ink pot and the scapula bone.” Then he said: “Write: ‘Not equal are those believers’… (‘Asqalani, n.d., 9:22).[8]  The scribes according to Azami (cited in Esack. F.) were up to forty eight in number, the most prominent among them were Zaid ibn Thabit and Ubayy ibn Ka’b, and the four caliphs have also been counted among the many scribes.  It is also evident from Fathul-Bari (cited in Uthmani, T. 1996), that the Prophet also ordered the scribes to place a specific verse in so and so surah, before or after so and so verse (p. 179).  It therefore becomes evident that the written collection of the Qur’an had already been instigated during the life time of the Prophet, though not in the form of a complete systemised codex.  But on fragments of writing material such as paper, skin, papyrus and bone, which were termed as suhuf, and later the collected suhuf were termed mus-haf.


Under the reign of Abu Bakr, the Muslim empire had experienced a flood of ridda wars, in which many qurraa’[9] were martyred and there was a dire need for a further systemized and authoritative collection of the Qur’an.  In the Yamamah battles many qurraa’ had been martyred. Umar ibn al-Khattab, fearful of the Qur’an being lost if further more qurraa’ were to be matyred, urged Abu Bakr, the caliph, to initiated this task. After acceptance, together they approached Zaid ibn Thaabit, the most prominent of the scribes and ordered him to collect the Qur’an from the scattered suhuf and from the hearts of men.  Zaid ibn Thabit himself describes this difficult task:  “By Allah, had they asked me to move a mountain it could not have been weightier than what they requested of me now”[10].  Zaid ibn Thabit along with many other scribes, including Umar ibn al-Khattab himself were instructed to embark on the task under rigorous conditions.

Abu Bakr had instructed Umar and Zaid, “Sit at the entrance of the [Prophet’s] Mosque.  If anyone brings you a verse from the book of Allah along with two witnesses, then record it”[11].  Ibn Hajar commentates on the meaning of two witnesses, were memory backed by written word, or two witnesses to prove that the verse had been written in the presence of the Prophet. The analogy of the two witnesses must have been from verse dealing with writing a contract, “…Call in two men as witnesses (Q. 2:282).  According to Professor Shauqi Daif (cited in Al-Azami, 2006),  Bilal ibn Rabah paced the streets of Madinah requesting the attendance of any companion who possessed verses recorded by the Prophets own dictation” (p. 80).  After receiving such suhuf in the presence of the aforementioned witnesses, Zaid and Umar would confirm from memory such verses and thereafter have it written.

In this new collection, the verses of the Qur’an were written on paper, but every surah had been written on a separate sahifa[12].  Therefore this collection was scattered between many suhuf and termed ‘Umm’.  The specifications of this collection were; that, the ‘verses’ were systemised according to the Prophet’s dictation, but every surah had been written on a separate sahifa yet to be systemised.  The seven ahruf were all collected in this collection, and the abrogated verses were taken out.  The purpose of this collection was, that, under the collective witnessing of the ummah a systematic collection could be made, which could later be used to refer to as a primary source.[13] During the caliphate of Abu Bakr, he kept this collection under his possession and after his death it was passed down to Umar, the second caliph. Upon Umar’s death in 644 C.E the collection came into the possession of his daughter and widow of the Prophet, Hafsa.

The third and final of the overlapping periods of the collection of the Qur’an was the caliphate of Uthman.  During his reign, Islam had spread far and wide, and many qurraa’ had spread throughout the Islamic empire to teach the Qur’an.  Until knowledge of the sab’ah huruf[14] prevailed among the Muslims there were no problems. However, the problematic circumstances erupted as the teachers of  the Qur’an had spread far and wide teaching their students the different modes they had acquired from the Prophet, that when they heard the differences, they began accusing each other of heresy.   The situation worsened as witnessed by Hudhayfa ibn al-Yaman, who had led the Muslim forces against the Armenians in Azerbaijan, he experienced arguments break out between the Muslims from different areas.  Upon his return to Medina, he urged Uthman to solve this bewildering dilemma.  After hearing such news and delivering orations, Uthman consulted the high ranking Sahabah and they consented on collecting the suhuf of Abu Bakr as a single manuscript and codex.[15]

Once again, Zaid ibn Thabit was instructed to collect the suhuf under a single mus-haf (manuscript) alongside twelve other companions.  The suhuf of Abu Bakr were taken from Hafsa and the following tasks were undertaken in its final written collection as a complete codex:  The surahs, which were gathered on separate suhuf, were now systematically ordered and written under a single manuscript.  The text was written in such a way that it included all seven modes of recitation, which meant the absence of all diacritical signs, including the dots.  Up until now there was only one consented collection that had been made, but Uthman had prepared according to Abu Hatim Sijistani seven such manuscripts, which were distributed in the Muslim world, and one copy was kept in Medina.  Finally, Uthman burnt all other individual manuscripts that belonged to other companions, so to diminish the differences.  This was done after consulting the companions.  There are various views among the Shi’i scholars regarding a manuscript, which Ali had in his possession, but there is consensus among the Sunni and Shi’i schools that the difference between the Uthmanic codex and that produced by Ali was the arrangement of the surahs.[16]

I examined the collection of the Qur’an firstly from the notion of its two realities: Oral (jam’) and secondly transcript (tadween).  I mentioned it’s oral collection from its memorisation perspective followed by its recitation.  Thereafter, how the Qur’an was collected into written format from the time of the Prophet, followed by the collection of the surahs on suhuf and its final world wide accepted collection under the caliphate of Uthman and the difference between the second and third collections.



The Qur’an. A new translation by M.A.S Abdel Haleem, (2005). (O.U.P)

Al-Azami, M. Mustafa, The History of the Quranic Text: from Revelation to        Compilation, U.K., Islamic Academy 2003.

Deroche, F., 2006. ‘Written Transmission’.  In: Rippin, A.  The Blackwell Companion to the Qur’an, Blackwell, 2006

Esack, F., the Quran: A Short Introduction, pp. 78-99.

Rashed, M.,  Reach the Goal Via Tajweed Rules


Uthmani, T., (1996).  U’lum al-Qur’an.  Karachi: Maktaba Darul U’lum. [Urdu]

article Koran , Encyclopaedia of Islam (p. 1063-1076)

Watt, W. Montgomery, (1970). Introduction to the Qur’an. EdinburghUniversity Press (2005)

[1] Manaahil al-I’rfan (Vol. 1 – p. 234) cited in: Uthmani, T., (1996).  U’lum al-Qur’an.  Karachi: Maktaba Darul U’lum. (p. 175) [Urdu]

[2] Cited from:  Rashed, M.,  Reach the Goal Via Tajweed Rules. (p. 2)

[3] In the science of Tajweed (Correct recitation of the Qur’an), the Qari (the one reciting) must abstain from Lahn Jali (clear/obvious/major mistakes) and Lahn Khafi (not so obvious- minor mistakes).  Ibn Mas’ud rebuked his student even on the minor mistakes.

[4] Sahih al-Muslim cited in: Uthmani, T., (1996).  U’lum al-Qur’an. (pp. 173-174) [Urdu]

[5] article Koran , Encyclopaedia of Islam (p. 1067)

[6] Cited in: article Koran , Encyclopaedia of Islam (p. 1067)

[7] All cited in: Al-Azami, M. Mustafa, The History of the Quranic Text: from Revelation to        Compilation, U.K., Islamic Academy 2003 (p. 77)

[8] Cited in: Esack, F., the Quran: A Short Introduction, (pp. 78-97).

[9] Qurraa’ (sing. qari) [literally ‘reciters], thoses who had memorised the entire Qur’an.  Due to their piety, they fought on the front lines of the battles, hence suffered great losses.

[10] Sahih al-Bukhari (hadith no. 4986), cited in Al-Azami (2006) (p. 78)

[11] Ibn Abi Dawud cited in Al-Azami (2006) (p. 80)

[12] Sahifa (sing. of suhuf)

[13] See Uthmani, T., (1996).  U’lum al-Qur’an (pp. 185-187)

[14] There were seven modes in which the Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet.  See Uthmani, T., (1996).  U’lum al-Qur’an (pp. 97-156)

[15] Esack, F., the Quran: A Short Introduction, (pp. 78-97).

[16] Uthmani, T., (1996).  U’lum al-Qur’an (pp. 187-192)

Coherence of the Qurʾān

All Rights Reserved.

© Mohammad Akram Nadwi, Oxford

(This paper was prepared to supplement a day course taught by the author and is not meant to be an exhaustive discussion of the subject)

In relation to the Qurʾān, coherence can be understood in three different senses or aspects: consistency, interconnection (munāsabah) and thematic unity (niẓām). I will discuss here all these three different aspects of the coherence of the Qurʾān.


The coherence of the Qurʾān for the earlier generations meant that the Qurʾān is consistent. The Qurʾān itself says: “Do they not consider the Qurʾān? Had it been from other than God, they would surely have found therein much discrepancy” (4:82). Al-Zamakhsharī says: “Then much of the Qurʾān would have been at variance from each other and contradictory, its ordering, eloquence and meanings would have been at variance. Then some of it would have reached to the degree of miracle, and some of it would have been trailing behind that so that it could be contested; some of it would have been true information about the unseen, and some would have been false; some would have been denoting true meaning according to the experts of meaning, and some of it would have been conveying incorrect and incongruous meaning. Since all of its elements agree with each other in miraculous eloquence exceeding the abilities of the eloquent people, and all of them support each other in correctness of meanings and truth of the information reported, it is known that it is not but from One Who is Powerful over what others do not have power over, and Knower of what others are unable to know.” (al-Kashshāf, sub 4:82)

So the Qurʾān is consistent in the quality of its eloquence, in its call to the Hereafter, to worship God alone, in its central theme of guidance and its account of rewards and punishments. No part is at variance with another part, and no command contradicts any other command. The laws of God are universal and eternal and they never change. “The practice of God among those who lived aforetime; no change will you find in the practice of God” (33:62). Similarly, there is consistency in the messages of all the Prophets that the Qurʾān reports. And so too there is consistency between the teachings of the Qurʾān and the practice of the Prophet Muḥammad, upon him blessings and peace.

This meaning of coherence is agreed upon by all the scholars, it is supported by the Qurʾān itself, and one can examine the text of the Qurʾān by this criterion.


Later in the ‘Abbasid period, because of the influence of the so-called rational sciences another meaning of coherence developed, namely that the Qurʾān must have sequence and order in its statements and arguments. This is termed munāsabah. Munāsabah literally means closeness and relation (al-Jawharī, al-Ṣiḥāḥ, sub ‘n-s-b’; Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān al-ʿarab, sub ‘n-s-b’; al-Zabīdī, Taj al-ʿArūs, sub ‘n-s-b’). It is defined as interconnection of the discourse and interrelation of the arguments, much as the connection between beginnings of the verses and their endings. That connection or relation refers to a common term between them, such as general or specific, rational or known by sense or imagination, or other relation like the relation between cause and effect, similar or opposite, etc. The merit of this approach to the Text is to make the parts of the discourse hold to each other, and their interrelation thereby becomes stronger. (al-Burhān, 1/131)

The proponents of munāsabah believe and affirm that the Qurʾān is interconnected and interrelated. The chapters of the Qurʾān and the verses in every chapter are put together in their right place; any change in the order will corrupt the meaning. Imām Rāzī says in the tafsīr of Sūrat al-Baqarah: “Whoever ponders on the subtleties of the ordering of this chapter, and novelties of its arrangement, will know that as the Qurʾān is a miracle in the eloquence of its words and the nobility of its meanings, so also it is also a miracle in the ordering and arrangement of its verses’.

The first person who brought the knowledge of munāsabah was Shaykh Abū Bak’ al-Naysābūrī, who was very learned in the law and literature. Whenever anything of the Qurʾān was read to him he would explain why one verse is placed next to another, and why one chapter has been placed next to another chapter (al-Burhān, 1/132). Abū Jaʿfar b. al-Zubayr (d. 708), the teacher of Shaykh Abū Ḥayyān wrote a book on this topic and named it al-Burhān fī munāsabat tartīb suwar al-Qurʾān, and in the tafsīr of Imām Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī there is much discussion of this (al-Burhān 1/130). Shaykh Burhān al-Dīn al-Biqāʿī wrote Naẓm al-durar fī tanāsub al-Āy wa al-suwar; Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūṭī wrote Tanāsuq al-durar fī tanāsub al-Āy wa al-suwar. (al-Itqān, 2/299)

Many earlier works of tafsīr seek to bring out the connection and contextual relation between Qurʾānic verses. Imām Rāzī comments, while explaining the meaning of the verse (41:44) on the those who deny such interrelation in the Qurʾān: “This means that there is no connection and relation between the verses of the Qurʾān. And that is a grave objection against the Qurʾān. If that were so, it would be difficult to call the Qurʾān a book, let alone accept it as a miracle. To my understanding, this chapter, from beginning to the end, is an interrelated discourse” (al-Tafsīr al-Kabīr, sub 41:44).

To illustrate the importance of knowledge of munāsabah, the following example will show how it helps one to avoid some of the mistakes in interpretation that have crept into tafsīr literature. The instance in point is verse 40 of Sūrat al-Aḥzāb, proclaiming: “Muḥammad is not the father of any of your men, but he is the Messenger of God, and the seal of the Prophets.” Misconstruing this verse, the Qādiyānīs maintain that the Prophet Muḥammad, upon him blessings and peace, had a seal of prophethood. Any prophet who follows him will be endorsed by his seal. Thus no permanent or independent prophet will appear. This Qādiyānī notion betrays their ignorance of the proper context of the above verse. In the light of the theory of coherence, this Qurʾānic verse may be explained satisfactorily thus: in accord with Arab customs, an adopted son was regarded as one’s real son. The Qurʾān sought to abolish this custom. It therefore commanded that people should be ascribed to their father. Zayd, who was the Prophet’s adopted son, was called Zayd, the son of Muḥammad. After the revelation of the above sūrah, however, he was no longer attributed to the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace; rather he was called Zayd ibn Ḥārithah, ascribing him to his father. At the Prophet’s behest Zayd had married Zaynab bint Jaḥsh. However, it was not a successful marriage and Zayd divorced her, which hurt her all the more. The Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, was commanded by God to marry Zaynab. Since the Qurʾān intended to end the pre-Islamic Arab practice regarding adopted children, it clarified that the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, is not the father of any man. This being the case, there was nothing wrong in his marrying Zaynab. This could, however, give rise to the question of why he had to marry her. To answer this, the Qurʾān affirmed that he is the Messenger of God, upon him blessings and peace. In this capacity, he is to put an end to the ignoble traditions of the jāhiliyyah. One could also ask why such a great Messenger had to do this. Other prophets coming after him could have accomplished this. In reply the Qurʾān declares that no prophet will ever follow him, for he is the seal of the Prophets. It was therefore his duty to end this custom.

If the knowledge of munāsbah is so worthwhile, then why has there not been a sustained effort to understand and explain that munāsabah? Al-Zarkashī says: “The knowledge of munāsabah is a noble knowledge. However, the mufassirīn paid very little attention to it, because of its subtle nature. Among those who discussed it much is Imām Fakhr al-Dīn Rāzī who says in his tafsīr: “The most subtle interesting points of the Qurʾān are entrusted to the orders and connections” (al-Burhān 1/132). Qāḍī Ibn al-ʿArabī says in Sirāj al-Murīdīn: [Knowledge of the]; “Interconnection of the verses of the Qurʾān with each other so that the Qurʾān looks like a single discourse where the meanings are coherent and the structures are organized, is a great knowledge. No one has touched it except one scholar who applied it to Sūrat al-Baqarah, then God opened it for us. But when we did not find receivers of it and we saw the people are negligent we stopped it.” (al-Burhān 1/132)


Niẓām is defined as thematic unity; every chapter of the Qurʾān has a specific theme around which all elements of the chapter are woven. (Niẓām al-Qurʾān 5). According to the concept of niẓām, the Qur’an being coherent means that it has an overall theme, each chapter has a theme, and the whole book and every chapter of it are connected in how they present those themes. In other words, niẓām refers to the order of the Qurʾān, and the sequence of its arguments and statements, in relation to the theme of the whole Qurʾān, then to the order of different groups of chapters, then the order of elements within each sūrah in each group. Since the Qurʾān emphasizes that it is a book, and a discourse, then it must mean that it has an order like any other book or any other discourse.

Mawlānā Ḥamīd al-Dīn Farāhī (d. 1930) of India is credited with inventing the idea of niẓām and the systematic search for the coherence in the Qurʾān. He was a devout, insightful scholar, who dedicated his whole life to the study of the Qurʾān. The fruits of his life-long study of the Qurʾān are found in his works – Asālīb al-Qurʾān, Dalāʾil al-niẓām, Muqadimmah tafsīr niẓām al-Qurʾān, Mufradāt al-Qurʾān and Jamhara al-balāghah. Farāhī’s other writings also stand out for their originality and freshness of approach, namely al-Raʾy al-Ṣaḥīḥ fī man huwa al-dhabīḥ, and al-Imʿān fī aqsām al-Qurʾān. Reading these one gains a clear picture of Farāhī’s thinking.

Farāhī was alive to the significance of the niẓām of the Qurʾān and carried out a sustained study. He developed the thesis that every Qurʾānic chapter is thematically linked to the chapter immediately preceding and the chapter immediately following it. The same holds true, according to him, for the verses, which are interrelated with one another. The fact that the compilation of sūrahs in the Qurʾān, under the guidance of the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, was different from the order in which they were revealed, is an argument for some deliberate arrangement. Why is it arranged as it is? The simplest arrangement would have been to put the verses in the chronological order of revelation. But, as every one knows, the Qurʾān was put in an order different from that. Whenever the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, received any revelation of the Qurʾān, he would call those who wrote for him, and would say: “Put these verses in the chapter where so and so is mentioned’. ʿUthmān b. Abī al-ʿĀṣ narrates: I was sitting with the Messenger of God, upon him blessings and peace. Suddenly he raised his eye, then he lowered it, then he raised it again and said: Gabriel, peace be upon him, came to me and commanded me to put this verse in this place of this chapter, and he mentioned the full verse’. (al-Musnad, 13/546)

Mawlānā Farāhī’s student Mawlānā Amīn Aḥsan Iṣlāḥī wrote a complete tafsīr of the Qurʾān in which he implemented the ideas of his teacher on niẓām. According to Iṣlāḥī’s explanation, the sūrahs of the Qurʾān are divided into seven distinct groups, with a distinct theme. Every group begins with one or more Makkan sūrahs and ends with one or more than one Madīnan sūrahs. In each group, the Makkan sūrahs always precede the Madīnan ones. Each sūrah in all these groups is an independent unit and has a central theme around which the verses of the sūrah are woven in a close-knit way. The seven groups of surahs are as follows:

The first group starts with al-Fātiḥah (1) and ends with al-Māʾidah (5); the first being Makkan and the other four Madīnan, and the central theme of the group is Islamic Law.
The second group starts with al-Anʿām (6) and ends with al-Barāʾah (9); the first two are Makkan and last two are Madīnan, and the central theme of the group is the consequences for the polytheists of Makkah of denying the prophet.
The third group starts with Yūnus (10) and ends with al-Nūr (24); the first fourteen chapters are Makkan, and the last chapter is Madīnan, and the central theme is glad tidings of the Prophet Muhammad’s victory in Arabia.
The fourth group starts with al-Furqān (25) and ends with al-Aḥzāb (33); the first eight chapters of this group are Makkan, and the last one is Madīnan, and the central theme is arguments that substantiate the prophethood of Muḥammad, upon him blessings and peace, and the requirement of faith in him.
The fifth group starts with Sabaʾ (34) and ends with al-Ḥujurāt (49); the first thirteen are Makkan and last three are Madīnan; the central theme of this group is arguments that substantiate the belief of tawḥīd and the requirement of faith therein.
The sixth group starts with Qāf (50) and ends with al-Taḥrīm (66); the first seven chapters in this group are Makkan, and the last ten are Madīnan. The central theme is arguments that substantiate belief in the Day of Judgment and the requirement of faith therein.
The seventh group starts with al-Mulk (67) and ends with al-Nās (114); starting with Makkan surahs and ending with a Madīnan; the central theme is admonition to the Quraysh about their fate in this world and the Hereafter if they deny the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace. (Tadabbur-i Qurʾān, 1/17-25)

The nature of Qurʾānic coherence

Farāhī’s exposition is undoubtedly appealing. Yet he and his followers are not persuasive in convincingly identifying connection between consecutive verses and consecutive chapters of the Qurʾān. Moreover, there are a number of obvious objections that can be raised against the theory. To begin with, it does not have an authority from within the Qurʾān. Then, the division of the whole Qurʾān into seven groups is not convincing. Among the earlier generations there were people who divided the Qurʾān into seven parts—but these were equal parts to mark out and enable a complete recitation of the Qur’an in seven days, without any claim of thematic unity. That is why their division differs from Farāhī’s division; for example in their division, the second part starts with al-Māʾidah (5); the fourth group with Banī Isrāʾīl (17); the fifth with al-Shuʿarāʾ; the sixth with al-Ṣāffāt; and the seventh with Qāf (50).

Another problem is the distinction between Makkan and Madīnan sūrahs; about which there is no established unanimity. According to the above-mentioned grouping, the chapters al-Raʿd and al-Ḥajj of the third group are Makkan; but they are considered by many to be Madīnan; the chapter al-Raḥmān of the sixth group is Makkan, but some consider it as Madīnan; and there are many more differences about the chapters of the last group.

Because of problems like that, the scholars in the past did not search for a niẓām that would satisfy human reason or literary tastes which, necessarily, vary with epoch, culture and circumstance. They believed that the Qurʾān as the Book of God is necessarily different from works authored and arranged by merely human minds. The Qurʾān is neither the life-story of an individual nor the history of a people, it has no bias of that kind; it is neither prose nor poetry; it does not have the language or arrangement of the human works written about it, literary, philosophically, legal, and so on. Shaykh ʿIzz al-Dīn b. ʿAbd al-Salām says: “It is a condition of well interconnected discourse that it has a unified theme where the beginning is connected with the ending. If there is no unified theme; rather the arrangement is based on different relations then there is not a connectedness. Anyone who makes up a connectedness is a pretender of what he is unable to do except with an ugly [i.e. forced, tasteless] connection from which any discourse is to be spared, let alone the best discourse. The Qurʾān was sent down over more than 20 years about different rulings made for different causes. Whatever is like that, its parts can not be connected to each other” (al-Burhān 1/133).

Among the people of the later times, Shāh Waliullāh acknowledged this aspect of the Qurʾān and he is very clear that the coherence in the sense of thematic unity in every chapter does not exist in the Qurʾān. He says: “The noble Qurʾān was not sent down on the pattern of chapterized and sectioned texts, so it could have a theme specific to a chapter or a section. Rather, think of the Qurʾān as the collection of the letters or decrees sent by kings and rulers to their subjects according to their situations and conditions. They send one decree, then a second, then a third until their number becomes abundant, then someone comes and collects them and puts them together”. (al-Fawz al-Kabīr, 85). Another analogy that may be helpful is of sermons or religious teachings over many years, later complied into a ‘book’. However, with both analogies, we must remember that the knowledge and perspective of human teachers are limited by their culture, circumstances and their purposes, whereas the knowledge and perspective of the Author of the Qur’an are not constrained in this way, indeed it embraces all time, all being and existence, including the unseen.

Many followers of the Farāhī school consider those who deny the niẓām in the Qurʾān as rejecters of the coherence in the Qurʾān. That is is not true. The coherence in the sense of consistency is agreed upon by all scholars; in the second sense of munāsabah, the coherence in the Qur’an, has been supported by a great number of scholars. However, coherence in the third sense of thematic unity lacks any authority from within the Qurʾān, and in practice it places the Qurʾān within the limits of human reason and ingenuity and is in many respects an artificial ‘coherence’.

al-Farāhī, ʿAbd al-Ḥamīd. Tafsīr Niẓām al-Qurʾān, Sarae Mir, India: al-Dāʾirat al-Ḥamīdiyyah, 2000.
Ibn Manẓūr, Abū al-Faḍl Jamāl al-Dīn Muḥammad b. Mukarram, Lisān al-ʿarab. 15 vols. Beirut: Dār Ṣādir, 1968.
Iṣlāḥī, Amīn Aḥsan, Tadabbur-i Qurʾān. 7 vols. New Delhi: Tāj Company, 2001.
al-Jawharī, Ismāʿīl ibn Ḥammād. al-Ṣiḥāḥ, Dār al-ʿIlm li-l-Malāyīn, Beirut, 1956.
Al-Suyūṭī, Jalāl al-Dīn, al-Itqān fī ʿulūm al-Qurʾān. 2 vols. Eds. Muḥammad Sharīf Sukkar and Muṣṭafā al-Qaṣṣāṣ. Beirut: Dar Iḥyāʾ al-ʿUlūm, 1407/1987.
Waliullāh, Aḥmad b. ʿAbd al-Raḥīm al-Dihlawī, al-Fawz al-kabīr fi uṣūl al-tafsīr. Translated from Persian to Arabic by S. Salmān al-Ḥusaynī al-Nadwī. Lucknow: Dār al-Sunnah, 1423/2002.
al-Zamakhsharī, Jārullāh Abū al-Qāsim Maḥmūd b. ʿUmar. al-Kashshāf ʿan ḥaqāʾiq ghawāmiḍ al-tanzīl wa ʿyūn al-aqāwīl fī wujūh al-taʾwīl. 4 vol. Ed. ʿAbd al-Razzāq al-Mahdī. Beirut: Dār Iḥyāʾ al-Turāth al-ʿArabī, 2001.
Al-Zarkashī, Badr al-Dīn Muḥammad b. ʿAbdullāh, al-Burhān fī ʿulūm al-Qurʾān. 4 vols. Eds. Yūsuf ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Maraʿshalī, Jamāl al-Ḥamdī al-Dhahabī and Ibrāhīm ʿAbdullāh al-Kurdī. Beirut: Dār al-Maʿrifah, 1415/1994.


Sūra al-‘Qalam (Chapter 68): structure and organic unity

Hamid Mahmood

Analyse Sūra al-‘Qalam (Chapter 68) showing the structure and organic unity of the sūra.

وہ بجلی کا کڑکا تھا یا صوتِ ہادی
عرب کی زمیں جس نے ساری ہلادی

(مولانا حالی ؒ)

Exploring organic unities and structures within sūras is a new phenomenon, as I believe the early Muslims (ṣaḥāba and tābi’īn), when analysing verses and sūras could ‘organically unify and structure each verse with the lived experience of Prophet Muhammad. Hence they sought no need of understanding structures and organic unities. However, now the need intensifies, as even on grassroots level yearn to understand the organic unity of the Sacred Text. I will therefore analyse and experiment with Amin Ahsan Islahi’s idea of ’amūd, by using his basic principles alongside Marwān Nūr al-dīn Sawār’s innovative notion of colour coding verses grouped under specific contexts. I will also aid my analysis with illustrations and diagrams marked on pages 5 and 6.

I will initiate by elucidating Islahi’s notion of the ’amūd and how it functions within each sūra between the verses, knitting together all the sūras of the Qur’ān to form a structured organic unity. Mustansir Mīr explains the notion in four parts:
‘(1) Each Qur’ānic sūrah has a dominant idea, called the axis of the sūrah, around which all the verses of that sūrah revolve. Thus no verse, or no group of verses, stands alone but has a direct relation with the axis of the sūrah and is part of the coherent scheme of the sūrah. (2) The sūrahs of the Qur’ān exist in pairs, the two sūrahs of any pair being complementary to each other and, together constituting a unit. There are a few exceptions, however. The first sūrah, Fatihah, does not have a compliment, because it is a kind of preface to the whole of the Qur’ān. All the other exceptions too are not exceptions in the real sense of the word since each of them is an appendix to one or the other sūrah. (3) The 114 sūrahs of the Qur’ān fall into seven groups. The first group comes to an end at sūrah 5, the second at sūrah 9, the third at sūrah 24, the fourth at sūrah 33, the fifth at sūrah 49, the sixth at sūrah 66, and the seventh at sūrah 114. Each group contains one or more Makkan sūrahs followed by one or more Madīnan sūrahs of the same cast. Like individual sūrahs or each pair of sūrahs, each group has a central theme which runs through all its sūrahs, knitting them into a distinct body. In each group, the themes of the other groups also occur but as subsidiary themes. (4) Each group logically leads to the next, and thus all the groups become variations on the basic theme of the Qur’ān, which is: ‘Allah’s call to man to adopt the right path’.
Now, keeping in mind Mir’s concern regarding the difference between ‘connectedness’ and ‘organic unity’, ‘a connection, howsoever weird and farfetched, can be established between any two objects of the universe. But organic unity implies the presence of a harmonious interrelationship between the components of a body or entity which produces a unified whole, a whole which is over and above the sum total or the components of and has worth and meaning in itself’, I have sought to depict Islahi’s idea through a diagram (see fig. 1.1, p.5) to then project this notion upon each sūrah and in this case, particularly sūra al-qalam. I will explore, through Islahi’s tadabbr-e-qur’ān, the sūrah’s organic unity within itself; with its pair; within it’s group amongst the seven other groups and finally its unity within the Qur’ān.

According to Islahi’s understanding, the seventh and final group of suwar (pl. of sūrah) begins from sūrah 67 (al-mulk) till the end of the Qur’ān and Islahi believes that the Axis of this group is indhār (اِنذار), hence, all the suwar in this group have the notion of indhār flowing through them knitting them all together in harmony. The approach to indhār in this group is reminiscent to the Prophet’s indhār on mount ṣafā. This indhār therefore includes vivid images of qiyāmah; the aḥwāl of qiyāmah; the consequence of denying this indhār for the Quraysh and the power of language and kalām used in delivering this indhār is as described by Molana Ḥālī in his Urdu poem:

وہ بجلی کا کڑکا تھا یا صوتِ ہادی
عرب کی زمیں جس نے ساری ہلادی
Was it a thunderbolt or the voice of a guide (hādī)
That shook the entire Arabian Peninsula

The state was such after the revelation of these suwar that Arabia changed in its entirety: one was either for this call, or on the contrary ardently opposed to it.

However, it is now fitting to analyse the ’amūd (Axis) of sūra al-mulk and sūra al-qalam, as Islahi describes them to be pairs in this final group and believes that they both have the same ’amūd – ‘indhār’ despite the differing style of deliverance. It is also interesting to note that Ashraf ’Ali Thānwī too, portrays in his exegesis similarities between the sūras and marks the slight difference in both:
ربط: سورت سابقہ میں منکرینِ توحید کی طرف زیادہ روے سخن اور اس سورت میں طاعنین فی النبوت (الیٰ ٰاخرہ)
Interconnection (rabṭ): The previous sūra (al-mulk) covers the narratives of munkirīn-e-tawḥīd (those opposed to monotheism), on the contrary this sūra (al-qalam) deals with ṭā’inīn fī al-nubuwwa (those who reproach and taunt the Prophethood of Muhammadؑ), and because denying Prophethood is kufr, hence the earthly (dunyawiyya) and heavenly (ukhrawiyya) punishments have been the axis of certain verses. Hence, it is also possible to see how both the exegetes explain a similar notion from differing perspectives, as for Islahi, he views the axis of the sūra to be indhār, whereas for Thānwī a response to those who reject notions of tawḥīd and nubuwwa.

Hence, I will now experiment with Islahi’s basic concept to structure sūra al-qalam and explore whether the āyāt flow amid the ’amūd – indhār, as apposed to the atomistic approaches. In doing so I will now introduce an innovative idea on grassroots level edited and researched by Marwān Nūr al-dīn Sawār and his team, who have produced a ‘colour coded verse contextualised Qur’ān’, in which all the verses of the same context are colour coded together and a further specific verse based explanation of the text is given at the foot of the page (see Fig. 2.1 on p. 6). Sawār forms six groups of verses in this sūra as shown in Fig. 2.0 : (1) verses 1-4; (2) verses 5-16; (3) 17-33; (4) 34-41; (5) 42-47; and (6) 48-52. Keeping in mind Sawār’s categorization I will now merge Islahi’ṣ idea and axis (’umūd).

Verses’ 1-4, I opine, to be the Qur’ān’s response to the allegations laid down by the Quraysh, who were responding to the indhār of the Prophet by declaring him majnūn. These set of verses in their response play a major role in reassuring the Prophet of his ‘ajr and status, and in doing so hint towards the endeavour of previous Prophets, especially Yūnus (Jonah). Despite the mainstream cognisance of ḥurūf al-muqaṭṭa’āt, that their true meaning is only in the mind of the Author, to understand the relationship of nūn with the ’umūd Ḥamīd al-dīn Farāhī presents sūra al-nūn in support of his theory regarding these letters: “the letter nūn still denotes its ancient meaning of fish. In this sūra, the Prophet Jonah (sws) has been addressed as ṣāḥib al-ḥūt (he is also addressed as ṣaḥib al-nūn in sūra 21:87) that is he who is swallowed by a whale. Farahi opines that it is because of this reference that the sūra is called ‘nūn’. He goes on to say that if one keeps in consideration the example given above, it is quite likely that the abbreviated letters by which other Surahs commence are placed at the beginning of the Surahs to symbolize a relation between the topics of a particular sūra and their own ancient connotations”. Therefore the Prophet has been reminded at the very beginning of the sūra that patience is incumbent once the call (indhār) has been given, by reminding him of the incident of Yūnus in the whale (nūn) which is linked to verse 48 – and be not like the man of the fish. Finally, according to Islahi the purpose of the oath was to give a three fold response to the Quryash; (1) rejection of their claim of the Prophet’s junūn; (2) rejection of their claim that the Prophet’s endeavour is for a limited period, and it would soon fade away with the turning pages of history; and finally (3) that the Prophet is the beholder of high character, therefore the Quraysh call upon themselves grave torment. All purposes for the oath are linked to the axis (indhār) as the response of the Quraysh was a direct result of the Prophet’s indhār to them.

This first set of verses (1-4) then move onto the second, verses 5-16. I believe group 2 to be a follow on of the reassurance to the Prophet by instructing him not to give in and follow or become sympathetic in his call (indhār) (وَدُّواْ لَوْ تُدْهِنُ فَيُدْهِنُونَ) towards such a people, whom the Qur’ān describes as al-mukadhibīn, ḥallāf mahīn, hammāz etc. Thereafter, the theme moves onto a parable of the people of the garden (Group 3: verses 17 – 33). I view this parable from two distinct perspectives, both of which are intertwined with the ’amūd. The first being that of Thānwī mentioned earlier, the earthly (dunyawiyya) torment upon those who reproach nubuwwa, hence reject the indhār foretold to them. The second perspective, I opine, in the midst of all chaos a kind of glad tiding to the Prophet of an ultimate spread of Islam within the Quraysh. For the former notion the Quraysh are warned to beware of similar consequences to those who had all the wealth and the latter to the Prophet, working on the theme of patience, that the Quraysh will not accept in the initial stage of the indhār, but will ultimately embrace once the power of God can no longer be rejected: similar to the saying of one of them ‘Did I not say to you, ‘why do you not pronounce Allah’s purity?”, they said “we pronounce the purity of our Lord. No doubt, we were wrongdoers” (68:28-29) is reminiscent to the attitude of the Quraysh following the conquest of Makkah.

Group 4 of the verses (34-41) sets out an immensely significant ethical principle in Islam: the one who opposes the indhār and on the contrary the one who wholeheartedly accepts it cannot be equal, they will be rewarded accordingly. After illustrating the punishment for those who reject the call, the Qur’ān portrays the awaited rewards for those who take heed of the warning and clearly draws the line, ‘shall We make the obedient like the sinners? What has happened to you? How do you judge? (68:35-36), I believe this also reflects the message of verse 68:9. Group 5 (Verses 42-47) draws vivid images of the resurrection and verse 44 (فَذَرْنِى وَمَن يُكَذِّبُ بِهَـذَا الْحَدِيثِ) could also be taken as clear indication towards the significant unity with the ’amūd. And finally, group 6 (48-52) comes back to what was mentioned earlier: instructing the Prophet to be patient upon his people’s attitude towards the indhār, unlike ṣāḥib al-ḥūt (dhu al-nūn).

In conclusion I believe that if the verses in the suwar ‘seem’ to be disconnected, and there is no logical unity from one verse to the next, then it may in accordance with Islahi’s understanding be organically united with its ’amūd. Hence, unlike modern books which flow from one sentence, paragraph, page and chapter to the next, the Qur’ān’s each verse or grouped verses orbit around the ’amūd; and each group connects to its own axis; and then the seven groups outlined by Islahi encircle the ’amūd of the Qur’ān – ‘Allah’s call to man to adopt the right path’, which man constantly pleads for in the preface to the Qur’ān (اهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ). Therefore, when trying to reconstruct the unity in verses and within the Qur’ān as a whole, specifically here in the seventh group: I see the Prophet returning from his first message; enshrouded in his blanket commanded to stand and warn (indhār – qum fa’andhir wa rabbaka fa kabbir); I see his struggle at dār al-arqam and then standing at ṣafā ridiculed, God responding; at times he (the Prophet) warns (indhār) his people of al-qāri’ah, illustrating the unlit sun, the falling stars, the shattering of the earth. I envision him warning the jinn, alongside insān, and his golden promise the ’amūd of which flows through the last group of suwar,

‘if they put the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left…
I would not abandon it (the indhār).


Islahi, A. A. (2009). Tadabbur-e-Qur’an ( تدبرِ القران). Vol. 8 , p. 479
Mir, M. (1999). ‘Is the Qur’an a Shapeless Book?’. Accessed online [25.01.2011]:
Also for a detailed exploration see. Islahi, A. A. (2009). Tadabbur-e-Qur’an ( تدبرِ القران). Vol. 1 , pp. 13-42 [Urdu]. See also Campanini, M. (2010). The Qur’an: Modern Muslim Interpretations. Trans. by Higgitt, C. – Under Chapter IV ‘The Qur’an and Nazm’, pp. 85-88.
اِنذار : (انذر) Andhara (prf. 3rd.p.m.sing.IV.): War ned; Called attention to; Showed the danger to come (Omar, ‘A. M. (2008). Dictionary of the Holy Qur’ān. pp. 557-558) – hence, Indhār would mean ‘warning of an approaching danger’.
Islahi, A. A. (2009). Tadabbur-e-Qur’ān ( تدبرِ القران). Vol. 8 , p. 479
Thanwi, A. A. (1424 A.H.). Bayanul Qur’ān (بیان القران ). Vol. 3, p. 571.
Translation of the Urdu text of Bayānul Qur’ān. (بیان القران ). Vol. 3, p. 571
Al-Qur’ān al-Karīm: القرآن الکریم: بالرسم العثمانی بروایۃ حفص لقراءۃ عاصم مذیّلا بِالتفصیل الموضوعی استخدام فکرۃ الترمیز بالتدرج اللونی للدلالۃ علیٰ اقسام المواضیع ۔
Edited and researched by Sawār, M. N (1st ed. 2007)
Adapted from Islahi’s ‘Tadabbur-i-Qur’an’ and translated by Shehzad Saleem. ‘Ḥurūf-e-Muqaṭṭa’āt: Farahi’s View’. Accessed Online [18.03.2011]:
Islahi, A. A. (2009). Tadabbur-e-Qur’ān ( تدبرِ القران). Vol. 8, p.512.
all reminiscent to the orbit of the moon around their planets and the planets their sun, all existing in absolute harmony


The Qur’an: A New Translation by M. A. S. Abdel Haleem

Al-Qur’ān al-Karīm: القرآن الکریم: بالرسم العثمانی بروایۃ حفص لقراءۃ عاصم مذیّلا بِالتفصیل الموضوعی استخدام فکرۃ الترمیز بالتدرج اللونی للدلالۃ علیٰ اقسام المواضیع ۔
Edited and researched by Sawār, M. N (1st ed. 2007). Dār al-Fajr al-Islāmī: Damascus, Syria.

Campanini, M. (2010). The Qur’an: Modern Muslim Interpretations. Routledge: London & New York.

Hawting, G. R. and Shareef A. K. (1993). Approaches to the Qur’an (SOAS Series on Contemporary Politics & Culture in the Middle East). Routledge: New York, USA

Ibn Abbas, A. Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs.
Surah al-‘Asr (English Translation by Mokrane Guezzou) accessed online [20.01.2011]:

Islahi, A. A. (2009). Tadabbur-e-Qur’ān ( تدبرِ القران). Volumes 1 and 8. Faran Foundation: Lahore, Pakistan [Urdu]

Mir, M. (1999). ‘Is the Qur’an a Shapeless Book?’. Renaissance, 1999, Volume 9, No. 8.
[Accessed online: 25.01.2011]:

Mubārakpūrī, S. R. (2002). Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum – The Sealed Nectar: Biography of the Noble Prophet (PBUH). Revised ed. Darussalam: Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

‘Omar, ‘A. M. (2008). Dictionary of the Holy Qur’ān – (Arabic-English). 5th ed. NOOR Foundation – International Inc: USA and Germany.

Thanwi, A. A. (1424 A.H.). Bayānul Qur’an (بیان القران). Volume 3. Idārah Taleefat-e-Ashrafia: Multan, Pakistan
[Accessed online: 25.01.2011]

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