The Qur'an Arrangement
The Qur’an’s Arrangement
When we reflect on recurrent themes in the Qur’an, it becomes evident why the Prophet did not arrange the Qur’an in the sequence in which it was revealed. As we have noted, the context in which the Qur’an was revealed over the course of twenty-three years was the mission and movement of the Prophet; the revelations correspond with the various stages of this mission and movement. Now, it is evident that when the Prophet’s mission was completed, the chronological sequence of the various parts of the Qur’an (revealed in accordance with the growth of the Prophet’s mission) could in no way be suitable to the changed situation. What was now required was a different sequence in tune with the changed context resulting from the completion of the mission.
Initially, the Prophet’s message was addressed to people totally ignorant of Islam. Their instruction had to start with the most elementary things. After the mission had been successfully completed, the Qur’an acquired a compelling relevance for those who had decided to believe in the Prophet. By virtue of that belief they had become a new religious community–the Muslim ummah. Not only that, they had been made responsible for carrying on the Prophet’s mission, which he had bequeathed to them, in a perfected form on both conceptual and practical levels. It was no longer necessary for the Qur’anic verses to be arranged in chronological sequence. In the changed context, it had become necessary for the bearers of the mission of the Prophet to be informed of their duties and of the true principles and laws governing their lives. They also had to be warned against the deviation and corruption which had appeared among the followers of earlier prophets. All this was necessary in order to equip the Muslims to go out and offer the Light of divine guidance to a world steeped in darkness.
It would be foreign to the very nature of the Qur’an to group together in one place all verses relating to a specific subject; the nature of the Qur’an requires that the reader should find teachings revealed during the Madinan period interspersed with those of the Makkan period, and vice versa. It requires the juxtaposition of early discourses with instructions from the later period of the life of the Prophet. This blending of teachings from different periods helps to provide an overall view and an integrated perspective of Islam, and acts as a safeguard against lopsidedness. Furthermore, a chronological arrangement of the Qur’an would have been meaningful to later generations only if it had been supplemented with explanatory notes and these would have had to be treated as inseparable appendices to the Qur’an. This would have been quite contrary to God’s purpose in revealing the Qur’an; the main purpose of its revelation was that all people (children and young people, old men and women, town and country dwellers, laymen and scholars should be able to refer to the divine guidance available to them in composite form and providentially secured against adulteration. This was necessary to enable people of every level of intelligence and understanding to know what God required of them. This purpose would have been defeated had the reader been obliged solemnly to recite detailed historical notes and explanatory comments along with the Book of God.
Those who object to the present arrangement of the Qur’an appear to be suffering from a misapprehension as to its true purpose. They sometimes almost seem under the illusion that it was revealed merely for the benefit of students of history and sociology!