The Qur’an was being revealed to the Prophet (May the peace and blessing of Allah be upon him) in a piecemeal, i.e., piece by piece over a period of twenty-three (23) years. This is for certain wisdom mentioned in the Qur’an by Allah, the Most High, “And (it is) a Qur’an which We have divided (into parts), in order that you might recite it to men at intervals. And We have revealed it by stages”. Q17:106. And He also says: “And those who disbelieved say: “Why is the Qur’an not revealed unto him all at once?” Thus (it is sent down in parts), that We may strengthen your heart thereby. And We have revealed it unto you gradually, in stages” Q25:32.
The collection and arrangement of the chapters of the Qur’an started during the reign of the Prophet. Angel Jibril used to present the Qur’an to the Prophet (May the peace and blessing of Allah be upon him) during the month of Ramadan once every year. However, he presented it to him twice in the last month of Ramadan of his life. He used to descend on him and says to him: place so and so verse in so and so place, as narrated by Ahmad. The Prophet (May the peace and blessing of Allah be upon him) used to memorize the Qur’an as well as some companions. In addition to memorization, he has scribes that he used to command to write down whatever was being revealed to him on the patches, scarves, sheets of stones, palm leaves, and others. This is an indication that the arrangement of the Qur’an was customary and it started from his reign (May the peace and blessing of Allah be upon him).
During the reign of Abubakr (may Allah be pleased with him), the Qur’an was collected from every written material and organized, and it was kept in the house of Hafzah, the daughter of Umar, mother of the faithful.
It was from the copy that is with Hafzah, Uthama, (may Allah be pleased with him) duplicated some copies and sent them to other provinces. The arrangement of the Qur’anic chapters and its verses are not related to the time in which it was revealed. The explanation of this is as follows:
1. As regards the arrangement of the Qur’anic verses, it is a divine matter, i.e., it came to us as the Prophet (may the peace and blessing of Allah be upon him) arranged them based on the directive of angel Jibril (peace be upon him). This is a matter of consensus and no one disagreed with it among the great scholars. In fact, there was a report of consensus on that by a group of scholars among which are Azarkashi in his book “Al-Burhan” and Abu Ja’far in his book “Al-Munasabat”
There was a narration regarding this from Imam Ahmad with its chain from Uthman, the son of Abu al-As, who said: I was sitting with the messenger of Allah (May the peace and blessing of Allah be upon him) when he glanced and then directed his sight and said: Angel Jibril came to me and commanded me to place this verse in this place in the chapter: (Verily, Allah commands justice, righteousness and giving the nearer…) to the end of the verse. (Q16:90)
It was narrated in Sahih Muslim by Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) who said: I did not ask the Prophet (may the peace and blessing of Allah be upon him) about a thing more than I asked him about Al–Kalalah till he stroke me in my chest and said: “the summer verse at the end of Suratun Nisai is sufficient for you”, thus, this verse was named the summer verse because it was revealed during the summertime. It is His statement, the Highest, “They will ask you for a legal verdict. Say: “Allah directs (thus) about Al-Kalalah (those who leave neither descendants nor ascendants as heirs”. See: Tafsir Tabari Vol 6 p 29.
2. But on the arrangement of the chapters of the Qur’an, there exist on it three opinions of scholars:
An opinion that says it is divinely from the messenger of Allah (May the peace and blessing of Allah be upon him).
An opinion that says it is the companion’s effort whereby they placed long chapters at the beginning then the mi’in (i.e., the chapters with one hundred verses or more) afterward, then al–mathani (i.e., chapters with verses less than one hundred) afterward, then followed by al-mufassal which are short chapters. Among the mufassal itself are long and moderate chapters, likewise, short chapters. This arrangement was agreed upon by the companions.
The evidence for this opinion is that the masahif (i.e., copies of the Qur’an) of the companions varied in terms of their arrangement before the Qur’an was compiled during the reign of Uthman. What was narrated by Ahmad, Tirmidhi, Nisai and Ibn Hibban was that Uthman was the one who compared suratul Tawbah with suratul Anfal without writing Basmalah between them, due to similarity in their stories, even though Suratul Anfal was among the early chapters revealed in Madinah, while Bara’ ah was among the last chapters revealed there the reason for which both were arranged in that order.
3. The third opinion says that some chapters were arranged divinely by the prophet (may the peace and blessing of Allah be upon him), while some others were arranged based on the companions’ effort. This is the preferred view of most scholars.
Among those (chapters) which the prophet (may the peace and blessing be upon him) arranged by himself were al-Baqarah and al-Imran. It was authenticated in the Hadith of Muslim that the Prophet said: “Read az-zairawayn: i.e., al-Baqarah and al-Imran”. Also is the Qul huwallah ahadun and al-Muawwithatayn. It was authenticated in Bukhari that when the prophet (may the peace and blessing be upon him) goes to bed every night, he gathers his palm, spits on them, and read Qul huwallah ahad and al-muawithatayn. Although, it could be argued that this might be a narration of a situation and not an instruction on the arrangement. However, it could be used to corroborate (other evidence)
- The Qur’an was not arranged in chapters and verses based on revelation because it was revealed in piecemeal and bit by bit over a period of twenty-three years as earlier mentioned. It was revealed based on the situation and the necessities in order to explain a verdict on a case or to answer a question or direct to good behavior or for other reasons. A complete chapter may be revealed on an issue or situation as a number of verses from a particular may be revealed from on a particular topic, then a number of verses on another topic either from the same chapter or from another one.
Furthermore, the fact that there is a connection between some verses either on some rulings or in discussing a specific circumstance, it was decreed by Allah -Glory be to Him – to combine these verses that have a connection to one another, just as He separates between some verses that talk about the story of a prophet such as Moses (peace be upon him) for instance, and makes them far apart in the chapter for wisdom part of which could be to give the prophet (may the peace and blessing of Allah be upon him) courage in modeling in order to make his heart strong and firm or to present this story to him from a specific angle that is suitable to the circumstances of its revelation so that this part of the story is given a Sharia verdict or verses that are suitable to be connected with the story. Thereby, there is a spread of one story which has made some people who do not understand the secret behind that to say: Why did Allah not gather the whole story in one chapter for example? But the arrangement of Allah is the most perfect, and not a random arrangement. In other words, it is the work of Allah who perfected everything.
Whatever the case may be, the presently available arrangement must be respected because it was unanimously agreed upon by the companions after the mushaf was written by Uthman and sent to the cities.
For verification, see: “Manahil al-Irfan” by Zarqani, and “Al-Itqan fi Ulumil Qur’an” by Suyuti.