Is half the Qur'an already fully detailed?

Verses in conflict with the theory of a piecemeal descent of the Qur'an

The Qur'an contains contradictory statements about how the Qur'an was supposedly revealed: Was it at one time as one complete book or did it come in many small installment over the time of twenty-three years?

The belief that the Qur'an was revealed piece by piece is based on passages like these:

We sent down (anzalnahu) the (Qur'an) in Truth, and in Truth has it descended (nazala): and We sent thee but to give Glad Tidings and to warn (sinners). (It is) a Qur'an which We have divided (into parts from time to time), in order that thou mightest recite it to men at intervals: We have revealed it (wa-nazzalnahu) by stages. S. 17:105-106 Y. Ali

And those who disbelieve say: "Why is not the Qur'an revealed (nuzzila) to him all at once?" Thus (it is sent down in parts), that We may strengthen your heart thereby. And We have revealed it to you gradually, in stages. (It was revealed to the Prophet in 23 years.). S. 25:32 Hilali-Khan

However, these verses are not only in conflict with the other passages that speak about the Qur'an having been revealed at once (cf. The descent of the Quran: Piecemeal or all at once?), they also stand in tension with statements like these:

Indeed in their stories, there is a lesson for men of understanding. It (the Quran) is not a forged statement but a confirmation of the Allah's existing Books (the Taurat (Torah), the Injeel (Gospel) and other Scriptures of Allah) and a detailed explanation of everything and a guide and a Mercy for the people who believe. S. 12:111 Al-Hilali & Khan

One day We shall raise from all Peoples a witness against them, from amongst themselves: and We shall bring thee as a witness against these (thy people): and We have sent down to thee the Book explaining all things, a Guide, a Mercy, and Glad Tidings to Muslims. S. 16:89 Y. Ali

The claims that the Qur'an is a detailed explanation of everything are exaggerations to the extreme. As they stand, these claims are simply wrong. The Qur'an is not a book that explains all things. However, for argument's sake, let's assume for a moment that this claim is true in some sense, e.g. that the Qur'an is explaining everything that is necessary to know for right belief and right conduct of a believer.

Why then do these passages conflict with the assumption that the Quran was sent down piecemeal over 23 years?

The theory of a "piecemeal revelation of the Qur'an" comes with an elaborate system of which suras (or even smaller passages) were revealed at what time and occasion in the life of Muhammad. According to Muslim scholars, Sura 12 and Sura 16 were both revealed in the late Meccan period (cf. the Sura Introductions provided by Yusuf Ali and Maududi). In other words, when these two verses were revealed only about half of the time of Muhammad's prophethood had passed.

Maulana Muhammad Ali states in the introduction to his translation of the Qur'an:

... Of the entire number of chapters, 93 were revealed at Makkah and 21 were revealed at Madinah, but the 110th chapter, though belonging to the Madinah period, was revealed at Makkah during the well-known farewell pilgrimage. The Madinan chapters, being generally longer, contain really about a third of the entire Qur'an. In arrangement, the Makkan revelation is intermixed with the Madinan revelation. Thus the Holy Qur'an opens with a Makkan revelation which is entitled the "Opening", and is followed by by four chapters revealed at Medinah, which take up over one fifth of the whole Book. Then follow alternately Makkan and Madinan revelations. (Maulana Muhammad Ali, The Holy Qur'an, Introduction, p. ii; bold emphasis mine)

Here now is the reason why the repeated claim of the Qur'an to be "a detailed explanation of everything" (cf. this article) conflicts with the understanding that it was revealed piecemeal. Particularly the timing of the two verses S. 12:111 and 16:89 in the Makkan period causes the following dilemma:

A. If the Qur'an was already "a detailed explanation of everything" at the time these particular verses were revealed, what purpose does the rest of the Qur'an serve? Why was the Qur'an not finalized at that time? What more is there to add to a book that is already "a detailed explanation of everything"? Is at least a third of the Qur'an merely redundant repetition?

B. However, if the Quran was NOT YET "a detailed explanation of everything" at the time this claim was made, then the author of the Qur'an made statements that are clearly false. "God revealed" (?) something that was wrong -- at least it was wrong for some time, maybe even for several years until the Quran finally became complete and fully detailed and an explanation of everything. In other words, for at least ten years the Qur'an contained these statements that were false until the book was finally completed.

For illustration, Suras two, three, four and five are from the Medinan period. However, all the instructions about inheritance are found in Sura 4. How can the Makkan part of the Qur'an alone be "a detailed explanation of everything" when it does not contain the laws of inheritance? Moreover, the Makkan part of the Qur'an does not define the Qiblah. That is done in Sura 2:142-150. How can the Qur'an be "a detailed explanation of everything" when it does not even tell the Muslims in what direction they should pray? Many more examples about various sins and their punishments could be listed here, since most of the legal instructions that are the basis of Islamic Law (Sharia) are found in chapters revealed in Madinah when Muhammad had to organize and regulate a Muslim state and community. Additional examples of essential Islamic teachings that came only after S. 12:111 and 16:89 are listed in this article.

Thus, at the time when S. 12:111 and 16:89 were supposedly revealed they were clearly false. This is a serious problem for the theory that the Qur'an was revealed piecemeal.

The claim that the Qur'an is "a detailed explanation of everything" would make sense in either of these two cases: (A) If the book was sent down complete, i.e. the whole book at once, then this claim could still be true or false but it would at least be meaningful. Or, (B) within the theory that the Qur'an was revealed piecemeal, such verses would make sense when they were revealed at the end, as the final verses added to the Qur'an.

As it stands, claiming that the Qur'an is a detailed explanation of everything together with the chronology of these verses within the theory of a piecemeal revelation of the Qur'an, is a logical problem.

Implication: these verses conflict with the theory that the Qur'an was revealed piecemeal and therefore indirectly support the thesis that the Qur'an was revealed at one time as a complete book.

This is, however, not the end of the confusion. There are other verses which conflict with the theory that the Qur'an was given complete at one time, see the discussion in this article.

Finally, I need to repeat that I had accepted the claim of the Qur'an to be "a detailed explanation of everything" only "for argument's sake" for the purpose of this discussion. In reality, this claim is wrong not only for the Makkan part of the Qur'an. It is still wrong when we look at the full Qur'an. At the most basic level, the Qur'an does not even tell Muslims how often, when and how to pray (what are Muslims supposed to say in prayer, what movements are they required to make and how often are these supposed to be repeated?). Also the inheritance laws now specified in the Qur'an cannot be obeyed (the numbers do not add up), and they are incomplete (e.g. the Qur'an nowhere says that believers and unbelievers cannot inherit each other; this essential aspect of Islamic Law is derived from hadiths only). In some cases, even the death penalty, certainly the most drastic punishment imaginable, is derived from the sayings of Muhammad only, and not from the Qur'an. Specifically, the command of stoning adulterers is found only in the hadith, not in the Qur'an, and the death penalty for apostasy from Islam rests on a hadith. It is a command issued by Muhammad, but it cannot be derived with certainty from the Qur'an alone. There are many more examples of incoherence and incompleteness of the Qur'an all of which prove false the boisterous claim that the Qur'an is "a detailed explanation of everything".

Jochen Katz

Bassam Zawadi published a response to the above article (*). In turn, we provide two rebuttals looking at the matter from different angles: Haste Makes Waste is an analytical rebuttal by Jochen Katz examining Zawadi's faulty approach, and Mutee'a Al-Fadi presents Further thoughts by a former Muslim.

Contradictions in the Qur'an
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