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Order and Arrangement of the Qur’ān
Qur'anic Exegesis
Masood Pasha

Some people mistakenly think that the Qur’ān is a disjointed book, and the order of its sūrahs and even of the verses within a sūrah is not divine. This misconception has arisen due to two reasons:

1. The present arrangement is not in the chronological order, ie the order in which it was revealed.

2. The Qur’ān was compiled in book-form during the times of Caliph Abu-Bakr and Uthman.

Before analyzing the above two objections, we would like to point out that this misconception has led to ‘atomism’. What is meant by atomism is a verse-by-verse approach to the Qur’ān. In this approach, the received arrangement and context of the Qur’ānic verses and sūrahs is not very significant for exegetical purposes. It must be appreciated that when one or a few verses are taken in isolation from the preceding and following verses, there is every likelihood for a misinterpretation. ‘The theory of 19’ based on verse 30 of Sūrah Muddathir put forward by Mr Rashid Khalifa is one glaring example. He has taken this verse: ‘over it are nineteen’, completely out of context and has built on it his theory of Qur’ānic numerology, which, of course is totally baseless.

Coming to the question of chronology, it is admitted that the present arrangement of the Qur’ān is not in chronological order. But at the same time, it must also be admitted that the present arrangement is from Allah and is not without wisdom so that we should always interpret a verse with reference to the context only and should not employ the verse-by-verse approach to study and interpret the Qur’ān at all. In Sūrah Hijr, verse 9, Allah  assures us that He has sent down the Message and He would guard and protect it from any sort of tamperance. This means that the present arrangement of the Qur’ān is the one which Allah meant for us and not the one in chronological order. Again, in Sūrah Qayaamah, the Almighty categorically declares:

“We shall see to its collection and recital.” (75:17)

Now, as we have received no other arrangement of the Qur’ān, it is inferred that this is the only arrangement having divine approval. Thus, it is proved on the authority of the Qur’ān itself that the present arrangement is the only one which Allah desired us to receive through His exalted Prophet (sws).

The fact that Allah revealed the Qur’ān to be preserved and arranged in the present order is proved historically, too. It is stated in many traditions that whenever a portion of revelation was received by the Prophet (sws), he told his Companions to write a verse before such and such a verse and after such and such a verse, thus indicating its place and position in the Qur’ān. Then the sūrahs were memorized by the Companions of the Prophet (sws) in that order and were recited (at least 17 times) in 5 daily prayers without any break. Of course, memorization and recitation can be done in a definite order and not in a haphazard manner. Had there been any order other than the present arrangement, it would have been known to almost all of the Companions of the Prophet (sws) and they would have objected to any effort made for the change in the arrangement.

We next take up the second reason for the misconception, ie the Qur’ān was compiled in book-form in the times of Caliph Abu-Bakr and Caliph Uthman. What the objectionists want to say is that, as the Qur’ān was not compiled during the lifetime of the Prophet (sws), the compilers might have changed its order and arrangement. We have already shown above that the Prophet (sws) always indicated the place of a newly revealed verse or sūrah and his Companions used to memorize the Qur’ān in that order. They had listened to the Prophet (sws) reciting the Qur’ān in the canonical prayers in some definite order, and, therefore, had complete knowledge of the order and arrangement of the Qur’ān. So no question of any changes in the arrangement of the Qur’ān at the time of its compilation was raised. The Qur’ān could not be bounded in book-form during the life time of the Prophet (sws) as there was every possibility of more revelations to be received by the Prophet (sws). The book-form could only be given once it was ensured that no further revelations were expected. However, it is reiterated that this does not mean that the order and arrangement was not given by the Prophet (sws) himself under divine guidance. As stated earlier, the Prophet (sws) always instructed about the place and order of the revelation he received. The sūrahs were then memorized by the Muslims in the same order and were recited daily in the canonical prayers. So a fool-proof system was present to check errors, if any. And above all, Allah Himself has taken the responsibility to protect His Book, as mentioned in the Qur’ān (15:9, 75:17).

Thus there remains no doubt that the present arrangement and order of the Qur’ān is according to the Will of Allah and has got wisdom behind it. It is, therefore, our duty to seek that wisdom and never accept an interpretation of a verse that does not conform to the context of the verse.

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