Order of the Quran
When we open the Quran and look at the different chapters, it begins with ‘The opening’ Al-Fatiha. And then there are additional chapters, and they’re in the Quran we read.
So, where did that order come from?
Did Allah reveal it?
Was it decided upon by the Prophet Mohammad?
Or was it decided by people after the Prophet Muhammad, his companions who compiled the Quran?
They were 114 chapters in the Quran, and each chapter is subdivided into many verses.
The shortest chapter(Surah Al-Kawther) has three verses.
The longest chapter has 286 verses(Surah Baqara).
So the order of verses within a chapter is also like the question, first of all, there’s the order of the chapters, like who determines which was chapter number one, as opposed to chapter number 114.
And then if let’s say a verse has three verses. Who determines which verse is number one, number two, and number three?
The first revelation, which many people think is the first, is, Alaq.
But then that occurs towards the end of the Quran.
Why won’t it just come as it was revealed?
Why didn’t it just appear like that in the Quran?
So in terms of this first revelation, which is based on a common report, the Prophet peace be upon him was being told,
“Iqra Bismi Rabbika Allahzi Khalaq” means “Read in the name of your Lord who created.” That is now the beginning of the 96 chapters of the Quran.
Only the first five verses were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad(PBUH) on that occasion. The remaining verses of that chapter were revealed on some other event. Now they were all put together.
So that gives you a sense that pieces of the Quran are revealed to the Prophet peace be upon him. A part from one chapter, maybe a piece from another chapter.
And then, third, a revelation that belongs to the first chapter we’re already talking about may come.
The order of verses within the chapter is said in Hadith works to be dictated by the Prophet Muhammad(PBUH), himself, to his companions.
So, a piece of the revelation is imprinted in his mind somehow. He repeats that to his companions they write it down.
And then he tells them that this new piece that has now been revealed to me should be written in such and such a chapter at such a point.
So that means there is a way of identifying the chapter, sometimes by a keyword or the way the chapter begins. And then there is a way of identifying the verse just after which the new piece of revelation should be placed.
They were not working so much with verse numbers and chapter numbers. Otherwise, today we want to refer to a verse we might easily say the verse number we’re talking about,
“No compulsion in religion.” That’s surah 2:256.
Everybody knows where to go and find it in the Quran.
But the numbers were not used in this way at that time. They would refer to what the chapter says or deals with and then
the specific verse where this should be placed by mentioning maybe the wording of that verse.
So that settles for us that the sequence of verses within each chapter was dictated by the Prophet Muhammad(PBUH)
And we believe he would not have done so of his own accord. But that would have been part of the revelation given to him by Allah, through the angel Jibrael, as well.
Ordering the chapters
One would like to think that the chapters are also settled. However, the reports about the chapters’ settlement are a little vague in that you may find some reports saying that the Prophet Muhammad(PBUH) was praying. In his prayer, he recited the second chapter of the Quran; then, he followed up with the third chapter of the Quran, what we now know to be the third chapter.
Otherwise, it was not mentioned first, second, or third. It was said surah Al-Baqara, then surah Ali’Imran, then surah An-Nisa and then surah Al-Ma’idah like this.
What we know to be the Quran’s second, third, fourth, and fifth chapters today. So, we get a sense that that is the appropriate sequence because the Prophet Muhammad(PBUH) is reported to have read these chapters in that sequence. His companions heard that order. And on some other occasions, it is mentioned that the Prophet (PBUH) prayed to and led people in the Jummah(Friday) prayers.
And he read what we know to be the 87th and the 88th chapters of the Quran, so we know them to be in that order,
surah Al-Ala, followed by surah Al-Ghashiyah.
But what, we do not have this kind of report for all of the chapters of the Quran, and that may explain why it is reported in our history that some companions of the Prophet(PBUH) had their copies of the Quran, which we refer to as Mushaf in Arabic, meaning a codex.
And their codexes were observed to have had the chapters arranged in some places, slightly differently.
So, for example, it might be mentioned that in the codex of Ibn Mas’ud, a close companion to the Prophet(PBUH), what we now know to be surahs number 89 and 90 were in his copy in
the reverse order.
But that does not pose any problem in terms of interpretation, because classical interpretations of the Quran did not take so much into consideration the order of the surahs.
So, it makes for interpretation it makes little difference that surah three comes after surah two.
Each chapter is interpreted individually. However, if we had the same lack of certainty in terms of the verses and their sequence within the chapters, then that would be a problem for interpretation because a story is being told, the series is continuous, and what is said secondarily depends on what was said primarily.
So we need to know the proper order of what is said within an individual surah. Still, each surah is interpreted as a unit independently of the other surahs, not so much independently of the other surahs, because Quran still has to be construed as a whole. But alone of the sequence of the surahs.
So question arises
The Quran that we have today has a certain order; who decided that order?
This is one of the puzzles in our Islamic history because we have 114 chapters. Our math students out there will know from combinations, their study of varieties, that if you have two things to be organized, you can have A first and B second or B first and A second.
So you have two different ways. But if you have three things to be organized, ABC, you can have A first, B second, and C third, or you can have B first, A second, and C third. You can have so many combinations.
So if we go to 114 chapters and think about the many different ways the 114 can be organized, this will be exponential.
So it wouldn’t be by chance that everybody agrees on the same order. This is why we find some variations among the Mushaf but the codexes of the early companions of the Prophet(PBUH). But those few variations mentioned are a drop in the bucket compared with the many combinations that are theoretically possible.
So that means there were some limiting factors. One limiting factor was the reports that showed that the Prophet Muhammad(PBUH) read it in a certain sequence.
And the second limiting factor may be that even though there were no clear statements about what sequence should be followed. Muslims to have memorized the Quran as they did from starting within the lifetime of the Prophet
Muhammad(PBUH) must’ve had a sequence in mind.
Because without a sequence in mind, how do you even remember if you have read a certain surah already?
So somebody starts reciting but not in any particular order. He recites surah 2, 3, 57, 72. How does he remember that I read 63 or not?
But if you’re reading it in sequence, from one, two, three, four, all the way down to 114, as we know them now, he would see that he has read the whole thing.
Because the Quran was recited publicly, in public prayers, the whole book was being recited in public. There must have been a known sequence, and that known sequence must have maybe coalesced among the collective of Muslim scholars on the Quran from within the first generation of the Muslims, meaning the companions of the Prophet(PBUH).
Otherwise, you would have massive variations, but we don’t have enormous variations. We have some minor variations in terms of the surah order, and that shows that the order that we have now merged very quickly among the companions of the Prophet.