The Order of the Suwar is Intentional (Part 1)
Part 1 looking at the arguments for why the ordering of the suwar is intentionally set by Allah ﷻ
For the next while, future posts will explore structures that span two or more adjacent suwar.
There is an argument that the order of the suwar as they are compiled in the muṣḥaf (written Quran) today is random and arbitrarily placed in their order as the companions1 of the Messenger ﷺ saw fit. The upcoming posts will hopefully demonstrate that the organization of the suwar is intentional, and that the structural relationship between adjacent suwar is beyond coincidence.
Before looking at case studies, below is a summary of arguments presented by Nouman Ali Khan in his seminar, Heavenly Order,2 wherein he addresses the greatest arguments for the Quran being intentionally organized by Allah ﷻ, as opposed to being placed together based on the desires of the generation after the Messenger.3
Books are traditionally organized in a way such that content is presented chronologically, and later subjects build upon previously mentioned ones. However, the Quran is unlike any other book and shatters these notions. The sequence of the Quran is not determined by length, subject, revelation, nor chronological order. Rather, it is that of a divine design.
There are Four Major Arguments for the divine ordering of the Quran (in order of increasing strength):
4. Case studies4
1. Historical Arguments Against Heavenly Ordering of the Quran
The weakest arguments to use to convince someone of the Quran being in a heavenly order are the historical arguments, though they still have merit.
Different companions – though only a few due to the fact that a minority were capable of writing - had their own personal written copies of the Quran in different orders.
· The muṣḥaf of Ubayy ibn Kaʿab was ordered sūrah number 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, …to 114.
· Ibn Masʿūd’s muṣḥaf was ordered sūrah number 2, 4, 3, ...to 112. Fātiḥah, Falaq, and Nās were not included.
· The muṣḥaf of ʿAlī ibn Abi Ṭālib was compiled in order of revelation beginning with sūrah numbers 96, 74, 50, 11, and 81.
As a consequence of this, some argue that the Quran today is ordered how the companions agreed to compile it. Probably the most famous example used is the situation of the companion and caliph, ʿUthmān. His copy of the Quran put Sūrat At-Tawbah and Surat Al-Anfāl together as one sūrah.
When compiling the official copy of the muṣḥaf, ʿUthmān commanded them to begin, after Sūrat al-Fātiḥah, with the seven long suwar.5 The long suwar are Sūrat Al-Baqarah, Āl ʿImrān, An-Nisā’, Al-Mā’idah, Al-Anʿām, Al-ʿArāf, and Al-Anfāl. However, ʿUthmān said to include Surāt at-Tawbah, combining it with Sūrat al-Anfāl into a single sūrah. This is understandable as this is the only place in the Quran where two suwar are not separated by a basmalah.6
The Messenger ﷺ was no longer alive, so no one could ask for clarity. The Messenger ﷺ never told them if they were two separate suwar or just one sūrah. All they knew that there was no basmalah. So, after coming to this conclusion, he decided to put Sūrat al-Anfāl and Sūrat at-Tawbah altogether.
Those who use this historical incident as a counter argument against a divinely ordained order in the Quran fail in that it is not a counter argument at all. There is nothing about the order here. The order would still be the 8th and 9th sūrah (Sūrat al-Anfāl and Sūrat at-Tawbah, respectively). The only discussion happening is whether they are one sūrah or not. The sequence, regardless of whether you put a basmalah between them, would be the same.
Excluding any discussion of companions, there are numerous sayings of the Messenger ﷺ himself that allude to the idea of a heavenly sequence, which we will explore in detail later. It should be noted, however, that the differing order of the written manuscripts is not an argument for or against a divine sequence to the Quran.
It is important to remember that writing materials were rare, and there was no easy method of “copy and pasting” to move the order of suwar around as they were being revealed and rearranged during the 23-year mission of the Messenger ﷺ. Their sūrah sequences may have differed simply because they did not have the means, time, or resources to rewrite it all in its proper order.
Another argument that comes up is that only some suwar are in divine order, but not all of them due to certain aḥādīth7 in which the Messenger ﷺ specifically spoke of the ordering of some suwar. For example:
The first seven long suwar (2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8) were recited by the Messenger ﷺ in this order.
The Messenger ﷺ said the protective suwar and the ones he inherited are numbers 17, 18, 19, 20, and 21. He mentioned it in this order, just as the Quran is ordered.
The Messenger ﷺ recited the last three suwar of the Quran - numbers 112, 113 and 114 - before bed in its current, preserved order.
Historical Arguments in Favor of Heavenly Order
If you believe the order of the Quran, according to Allah ﷻ, is a different than what we have today, look at the companions. These are people who did not do a single thing that they were not sure about. They took every matter back to Allah’s Word and the example of the Messenger ﷺ.
So much so that Abū Bakr was even nervous of compiling anything of the Quran because it was not compiled into a single written form at the time of the Prophet ﷺ - though it was written down in parts with many companions. And even though many memorizers of the Quran were being killed during his caliphate, and there was a clear necessity to preserve the Quran, he was still not willing to do it because they were too careful with anything to do with the Quran. They did not want to accidentally innovate some matter. It was not in a single copy while the Messenger ﷺ was alive, so how could they put it in one book now? That was the level of sensitivity the Companions had.
The fact that no one raised an issue when the Quran was organized in the way it is now demonstrate that they all knew that it was divine. The people whose copies had different sequences eventually agreed to burn their copies presumably because they agreed with the ordered disseminated by the caliphate. There should have been hundreds of variations of the sequence of the Quran, but the fact that you do not find that in history, and the fact that the companions did not debate this, demonstrates that the sequence existed since the time of the Prophet ﷺ. They could have only agreed because it is a divinely inspired order. The fact that debates do not exist in history is proof enough.
If the Quran was ordered based on the opinions of the companions, one would expect them to have taken all the suwar with similar beginnings and put them together. Or organize by sūrah length. Or maybe based on subject matter. The fact that people still debate the logical behind the order indicates that human logic was not involved.
Next week we’ll explore the Textual Arguments for the divine ordering of the Quran.
This is the Arabic translation of ṣaḥābah, the title given to those who met and followed the Messenger ﷺ while he was still alive.
Yes, this blog gets its namesake from there. Yes, he knows.
For the full seminar, watch the course, Heavenly Order, at https://bayyinahtv.com/topics/1/categories/1/series/28
Which is what future blog posts will explore.
Known in Arabic as “as-sabaʿ aṭ-ṭiwāl”
The “bismillāh ar-Raḥmān ar-Raḥīm” that precedes every sūrah except at-Tawbah.
This is the plural of ḥadīth. One commonly accepted meaning of ḥadīth is any saying, action, tacit approval, or physical description of the Messenger ﷺ.