The Order of the Suwar is Intentional (Part 2)
Part 2 looking at the arguments for why the ordering of the suwar is intentionally set by Allah ﷻ
This is a continuation of a series on the arguments for why the order of the suwar of the Quran, as they are compiled today, was intentionally set by Allah ﷻ. See Part 1 before continuing.
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2. Textual Argument
There are two main names Allah ﷻ gives for the Quran: “Quran” and “Kitāb” (book; written document). It is said that “Quran” comes from the word “qa-ra-a’”, which means to recite out loud.
When people are reading the book, i.e., when their eyes are doing the work, the word “kitāb” is used. When Allah ﷻ uses the word “kitāb,” He is referring to the written document. And when He uses the word “Quran,” He is referring to the aural experience. For example,
إِنَّهُ لَقُرْآنٌ كَرِيمٌ * فِي كِتَابٍ مَّكْنُونٍ * لَّا يَمَسُّهُ إِلَّا الْمُطَهَّرُونَ
It is a noble recital found in a hidden away book, only the most purified can touch1
Instead of saying that this book is found in a larger book, Allah ﷻ says that this recital is part of a larger book. “Kitāb,” to the ancient Arabs was not like a book nowadays. Rather, it was something carved into wood or stitched together. Something that is carved in or stitched in a particular order can no longer be changed. If one were only reciting something, they might change things around upon each recitation, but something that is “written” cannot be changed. Allah ﷻ is saying that this recital is the same as the one carved in the preserved Book, one that already has a set, presumably unchanging, sequence.
When one calls something a book, they are implying that it has a set order. If one takes a book and changes its chapters around, they have messed with the intention of the author. They have now corrupted the teaching process of that book. A book by definition is set in its sequence, just like writing. Using the word kitāb for the Quran is a strong textual proof of its set, divine, ordering.
Additionally, there are āyāt that allude to the God-given sequence.
إِنَّ عَلَيْنَا جَمْعَهُ وَقُرْآنَهُ
Indeed, upon Us is its collection and [to make possible] its recitation.2
Allah ﷻ is saying that He takes exclusive responsibility for gathering the Quran. And He says jamʿahu (its gathering), which implies the whole thing. He takes exclusive responsibility for the gathering and reciting of the whole Quran. If one takes responsibility to compile something and then recite it, it stands to reason that they would make sure it is in a set order.
كِتَابٌ أُحْكِمَتْ آيَاتُهُ
A book whose āyāt are already stitched together.3
The imagery here is quite illustrative of a structured Quran. When one stitches and weaves a thread, each stitch is in a specific place and order which holds the entire piece together tightly. If even one thread is out of place, then the whole thing threatens to unravel. Similarly, the āyāt are being likened to stitches which hold the entire Quran together, each in its proper place.
إِنَّا نَحْنُ نَزَّلْنَا الذِّكْرَ وَإِنَّا لَهُ لَحَافِظُونَ
Indeed, it is We who sent down the Reminder, and indeed, only We will be its guardian.4
Rationally, the more huffāẓ (memorizers of the Quran) there are, and the longer time has passed, the more human error should come into play. Leaving the actual contents of the Quran aside, one would expect to find many different versions of the Quran, each with a different ordering. But, every Ramadan, a Muslim can go to any mosque in the world and hear the Quran being recited in the same order throughout the 30 nights.5
There is one historical argument left that ties into the textual argument. In the last year of the Prophet’s life, he recited the entire Quran to the Angel Jibrīl twice. A famous companion, Zayb ibn Thabit, was in the Messenger’s company when the Messenger ﷺ recited the entire Quran twice. Zayd was later put in charge of the compilation of the Quran at the time of ʿUthmān ibn ʿAffān. It seems inconceivable that he would agree to any sequence other than the one he heard from the Prophet ﷺ.
Now, a quick note on Western academic criticism. There is a worldview that the most protected kind of documents are written documents. According to them, oral traditions are unreliable and prone to error; the assumption being that word of mouth can change slightly every time a message is passed on, either with or without intention. But even written records are not fully protected, as they may be altered, smudged, or erased. Regardless, western academics still consider this a safer preservation route.
However, when it comes to the Quran, a different formula applies. No other document can be reproduced like this. The memorization of the Quran is so protected that even if a ‘new Quran' is created and distributed to millions, it would be caught right away. When Islam first spread centuries ago, the possibility of an oral variation was seemingly inevitable, especially with limited communication between far distances. And yet, almost 1500 year later, we still recite the same Quran, even in the same sūrah order.
Next week we’ll explore the Spiritual Arguments for the divine ordering of the Quran.
This is because it is a custom of Muslims to recite the entire Quran at least once, all the way through, during the night prayers of Ramadan. The Quran is typically split into 30 parts and recited each night so that it is completed before Ramadan’s end.