These verses speak about the revelation of the Qur'ân. They tell us that Allah revealed the Qur'ân on one particular night.
Another verse specifies that this night was in Ramadân. Allah says: "The month of Ramadan in which we sent down the Qur'ân." [Sûrah al-Baqarah
Allah names this night in another verse: "Indeed, We sent it down on the night of decree." [Sûrah al-Qadr
All of these verses emphasize that the Qur'ân was sent down on a single occasion, on the Night of Decree in the month of Ramadan. This brings us to an important question: It is well-known that Allah revealed the Qur'ân to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) little by little, over the course of 23 years. This is a matter of consensus. How do we understand this indisputable historical fact in light of these verses?
Scholars have divided into two opinions about this matter. One group understands that the Qur;ân was sent down many times. The other group asserts that the Qur'ân was sent down once, snd this was directly to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) by way of the angel Gabriel. We will explore both of these claims.
I. The Qur'ân was sent down more than once
Many scholars understand that the Qur'ân was sent down more than once, each in a different way. Some of these scholars count it as two events while others count it as three, though they all agree about what took place.
They cite the following two verses:
"And verily, it is in the Mother of the Book, in Our Presence, high, full of wisdom." [Sûrah al-Zukhruf
"Yea, it is a glorious Qur'ân, in a guarded tablet." [Sûrah al-Burûj
These verses refer to the Qur'an existing in the Guarded Tablet in the heavens. Many scholars derive from these verses that the Qur'ân was sent down in two ways. First, the Guarded Tablet was sent down to the lowest heavens in the month of Ramadan on the Night of Decree. That is what the three verse refer to that speak about the Qur'ân being sent down. Secondly, it was sent down gradually to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) by way of revelation over the course of 23 years, in response to circumstances and the needs of the people.
Some scholars have identified three occasions. They see the first as the Qur'ân being sent down upon the Guarded Tablet. They understand this from the two verses quoted above.
It should be said that his understanding is not widely held. In most of the leading classical writings on the Qur'ân, including al-Zarkashî's Burhân
and al-Suyûtî's Itqân
, the presence of the Book in the Guarded Tablet is not understood as being a case of the Qur'ân being "sent down". It seems that al-Zarqânî is the first scholar to suggest that the presence of the Qur'ân in the Guarded Tablet should be enumerated as one of the occasions in which the Qur'ân was sent down. He was followed in this idea by a few scholars, most notably al-Dhahabî.
Whether it is understood that the Qur'ân was sent down on two or three occasion, in any event, we need to be aware of the fact that this concept of the Guarded Tablet being sent down to the lowest heaven is mentioned nowhere in the Qur'ân or Sunnah directly. It is merely something deduced by the scholars who support the idea of "multiple sendings" as a way to reconcile the three verses that tell us the Qur'ân was sent down on the Night of Decree with he fact that the Qur'ân was revealed to the Prophet gradually over the course of his prophetic mission.
What these scholars rely upon most strongly is the statement of the eminent Companion, Ibn `Abbâs. I would venture to say that were it not for Ibn `Abbâs's claim, the idea of the Qur'ân being sent down more than once would never have been suggested.
The statement of Ibn `Abbâs is merely his own statement. It is not authentically narrated from the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Furthermore, as a statement of Ibn `Abbâs, there is considerable inconsistency in its narration. It could, therefore, be a misunderstanding that some narrators had of what Ibn `Abbâs was trying to say.
Some narrations of Ibn `Abbâs's statement refer to the "House of Might" (Bayt al-`Izzah
) as being the place where the Guarded Tablet descended to in the lowest heaven. This is also a matter of the Unseen. Other narrations refer to various timeframes for the Qur'ân being gradually sent down upon the Prophet (peace be upon him).
None of these matters are narrated by any other Companion, even though the matter is of importance as a matter of belief. All of this cast doubts upon the possibility that the source of this statement is actually the Prophet himself.
II. The Qur'ân was sent down once
The second view held by scholars is that Allah sent down the Qur'ân once, but this took place as a gradual process. The Qur'ân was conveyed to the Prophet by way of revelation. The angel Gabriel brought it straight from Allah to the Prophet (peace be upon him). This process of revelation began in the month of Ramadan on the Night of Decree. It continued over the next 23 years.
This view is attributed to al-Sha`bî, Muhammad b. Ishâq from among the Successors. It was adopted by Ibn al-`Arabî and al-Nasafî among later commentators. Many contemporary scholars have adopted this view, including Muhammad Abduh, Muhammad Rashîd Ridâ, Dr. Subhî al-Sâlih, and Sheilh Muhammad b. Sâlih al-`Uthaymîn.
The scholars who hold this view have a different understanding of verses like: "Indeed, We sent it down on the night of decree." [Sûrah al-Qadr
They argue that what is intended by these verses is that the revelation of the Qur'ân began on that night, not that the Qur'ân descended on that night in its entirety. They point out that scholars agree that the word "Qur'ân" applies to a portion of the Qur'ân as well as to the whole book.
As for the verses that refer to the Guarded Tablet, these verses merely tell us that the Qur'ân is recorded in the Tablet as is everything else. It is well-known that everything that ever takes place in Creation is recorded there.
I believe the second opinion to be the strongest one. This is in light of the fact that there is no direct textual evidence – neither form the Qur'ân nor from the authentic Sunnah -- that the Qur'ân was sent down in total from the Guarded Tablet to some point in the lowest heaven on the Night of Decree.
All we have are narrations of an opinion of Ibn `Abbâs that are furthermore inconsistent with each other and of questionable veracity. Some might argue that since this is a matter of the Unseen, therefore Ibn `Abbâs could not have stated such a thing on his own authority. Therefore, he must have heard it from the Prophet (peace be upon him).
This argument is not conceded, since it is quite possible that Ibn `Abâss sincerely understood the verses of the Qur'ân in that way. Also, in light of the inconsistency of the narrations from him, it is possible that his opinion has been inaccurately conveyed to us.
The most straightforward way to understand the three verses:
"Indeed, We sent it down on a blessed night"
"The month of Ramadan in which we sent down the Qur'ân"
"Indeed, We sent it down on the night of decree"
is to understand that they refer to the beginning of the Qur'ân's revelation to the Prophet (peace be upon him), a single process that continued to unfold over the next 23 years of his life.
And Allah knows best.