Preparing for the Quran Year Project (QYP) involved thinking through how I wanted to read the Quran. I concluded that I wanted to read the Quran in the order it was revealed to the Prophet. I think one of the issues I ran up against when I was researching and preparing for this project was pinpointing my motivation for reading the chronological order of revelation. Why was I so adamant to read it in this particular order? Everybody just starts from the beginning and reads it through to the end. I was being contrarian, but for an important reason.
This aspect of the QYP [here’s some background here] goal was contrary to what most people reading the Quran do today. People start at the beginning, the first surah (chapter) and go until the last one. I wasn’t trying to create difficulty for myself or to just be contrary to what everyone does. In fact, two of my friends who have read the Quran, both read it cover to cover. But I am digging into what motivates me about this project. I find that I keep turning to the the numerous Seerahs’ I have read. Each of the Seerahs presents various pertinent portions of revelations that came to the Prophet based on the theme of the Seerah. But none of them actually go through the chronological order of revelation in detail. Why?
I don’t have a clear answer for this. Maybe in the scholarly world of Islam this is a given. What I do know is that my goal was simply to read the Quran in the order that the Prophet received it to better understand the life of the Prophet, thereby getting closer to the character of the Prophet.
Aisha, the Prophets wife, was asked about the character of the Prophet. She responded to this by stating that “the Quran was his character.” This is significant to me because if I want to get to the character of the Prophet, to understand the religion, it is through understanding the Quran. To read and study the Quran then is to approach it the way it was revealed to the Prophet. In essence what I want to do is to read the Quran through the lens of the Prophets life.
Sheikh Jamaal Diwan, who I turned to for advice on this project, from the Safaa Center told me that “the quran was compiled in full written form within two years of the Prophet’s death during the time of Abu Bakr. It was fully finalized and sent around the [M]uslim lands by Uthman[,] so that’s within 15-20 years.” The fashion it was put together was the way that the Angel Gabriel required the Prophet to recite the Quran back to him; this order was the Divine end product of the Prophets mission.
The revelation order is known as Tanzil in Arabic (and Urdu). This is a whole area of Islamic academics that scholars of the Quran specialize in. What I have come to realize, within just the first few revelations I read, is that this order is well known, but that there are numerous solid opinions that contend a possible different order. This muddies the project for me with uncertainty.
However, the underlying goal of reading the Quran in a sort of complimentary Seerah fashion, is not changed. It is worth it. I have already began to glean insight into things that I took for granted from the various Seerah’s I have read. Things that I feel really signify the Prophets life and character, and reflect back on anyone who wants to live up to the message he delivered. One key aspect to what I have gained insight on is the idea of better understanding the Divine, therefore Prophetic, methodology to spirituality, or faith.
For instance, when the Prophet and the nascent Muslim community faced challenges or encountered setbacks, even had celebrations or needed reassurances, the constant was the revelation of the Qur’an responding to the situation. The Prophet was provided guidance and reassurance in these incidents. By my approaching the Quran in revelation order, I hope to extract this understanding for my own.
Nothing in English really approaches this methodology explicitly, at least nothing I have read over the years. The various seerah’s offer a bit of this, however, what I would love is for a Quran tafsir to exist that approaches the Quran from the seerah’s point of perspective. If this exists in Arabic, Farsi, or Urdu, it is beyond my reach. But this gleaning so far has been incredibly satisfying.
Sh. Diwan also shared this link on the Revelation Order to help me plan out my reading. I am using this as the definitive guide, even while there are some other lists floating around out there. The list I compiled below is from the link.
Chronological Revelation Order of Suras
In the future I will post links to my reflections on this list as I progress further down into the reading. But for now this is the game plan, do you want to join me?
This is another order I began referencing, check it out- Chronological Order of Quranic Surahs, rendered by Kevin P. Edgecomb.