Al-inzal and al-tanzil of the al-quran
The processes of al-inzal and al-tanzil in communicating the quran to humankind require that the Quran exists prior to its communication. Since the Quran contains the objective sources of reality, its revelation to Muhammad occurred in a conclusive, unalterable manner, regardless of any circumstances of revelation (hence, the asbab al-nuzul do no apply to the Quran). Its revelation was inevitable, whether someone required this information or not. Allah even urged people not to ask questions in this respect before the Quran was revealed: as in (Ma”ida:101)
We have agreed that the Quran’s preexistence, before its inzal and tanzil, could not have been in the form of an Arabic text. This is because if it had been an Arabic text before it was revealed, Allah would be an Arabic native speaker. This, of course, is an absurd idea. What really happened was that Allah changed the Quran from something else unknown to use into an Arabic text, that is, He changed the text’s ‘becoming’ (al-sayrura) or as we can say a mutation, and the following verses attest to this truth:
We have made it a Quran in Arabic, that you may be able to understand (and learn wisdom). (Zukhruf:3) Therefore, rather than being an Arabic text the Quran was objective reality before its revelation, embodying general, absolute, and eternal laws of the universe, unaltered since the creation of the world. Allah revealed it for the first time in human history as (an Arabic) text, that is, He developed its ‘becoming’ so that it was, by way of al-inzal, perceivable by the human mind:
We have sent it down as an Arabic Quran in order that you may learn wisdom. (Yusuf:2)…
According to this sequence, al-inzal is the process of transforming (ja’l) the absolute laws of life and nature which had been stored primordially in a ‘tablet preserved’ (lawh mahfudh) and in a ‘record clear’ (imam mubin), or which were derived directly from Allah’s knowledge (‘ilm Allah), into the linguistic form of the Arabic language so that these laws, which previously existed outside the human mind, could now be perceived, heard, and seen. Al-tanzil, in contrast, represents the subsequent objective transfer of the content of al-kitab, via the messenger angel Jibril, into Muhammad’s brain, from where he delivered it verbatim to the people of Mecca and Medina.
Whereas al-inzal occurred in one single impulse during the laylat al-qadr (‘We have indeed revealed this [al-Quran] in the night of power’, Al-Qadr:1), al-tanzil took twenty-three years to be completed. The reason for this long process of revelation in installments was that Allah wanted to strengthen the hearts of the believers gradually: (‘Those who reject faith say: “Why is not the Quran revealed to him all at once? Thus (is it revealed), that We may strengthen your heart thereby, and We have rehearsed it to you in slow, well-arranged stages, gradually’, Furqan:32).
The Quran was revealed orally. It would have been possible to reveal it in written form (as was done with Moses’ ‘tablets’), but its dhikr, its format of remembrance, was in oral format which did not allow the unbelievers to touch Allah’s revelation ‘with their hands’ and deride its true identity.
This implies that today when we touch a copy of the Quran, we do not actually touch the Quran itself (the latter was revealed in one impulse during the night of power and transformed into—oral— Arabic). Instead, we have in front of us a copy of the Quran, a parchment (qirtas) which we can ‘touch with our hands’. Thus, what we touch is ink on paper, not the Quran itself. It also refers to it as ‘tanzil from the Lord of the worlds’, implying that after the original Quran had been hidden, it was first translated into Arabic and then transferred by Jibril—orally, not in writing—to Muhammad.
Those ‘who are clean to touch it’ ( al-mutahharun) are in fact, angels processing al-tanzil, since no human, ritually pure or impure, could ever touch the original Quran. Ritual impurity and touching the Quran are simply two different things, conflated together by unscrupulous tafsir exegetes.
Al-inzil and al-tanzil of the umm al-kitab Allah blots out and confirms what He pleases; and with Him is the mother of the book [umm al-kitab]. (Ra’d:39). Two important things are stated in verse 39 of Surat al-Ra’d:
- a) matters of the mother of the book (umm al-kitab) are either ‘blotted out or confirmed’, and this contains an acknowledgement of possible alterations, and
- b) the mother of the book is distinct from the Quran because the umm al-kitab is ‘with Him’, that is, in the immediate vicinity of God. From this we deduce that the umm al-kitab is not inscribed in the ‘tablet preserved’ (lawh mahfudh) and not stored in the ‘record clear’ (imam mubin); hence, everything contained in the umm al-kitab, that is, ritual prescriptions and specific rules of social behavior, are not absolute laws. If the fast in Ramadan, for example, had been inscribed in the ‘tablet preserved’, it would have become a word of God (kalam Allah). And if it had been stored in the imam mubin, it would have become an objective fact of nature, that is, the truth, and people would instinctively begin to fast, whether they wanted to or not. Fasting, as any other ritual and social behavior, would become a universal human attitude that recognizes neither modification nor deviation. But this is simply not the case. We know that Allah said: We have assigned a law and a path to each of you. If God had so willed, He would have made you one community… (Ma’ida:48)…
Instead, the umm al-kitab allows human behavior to change and diversify. It is for this reason that humankind has not become ‘a single people’. Since God has prescribed ‘a law and a path’ (shar’an wa-manhajan), the content of the umm al-kitab is issued directly from God and responds to ‘causes of revelation’ (asbab al-nuzul ). If Muhammad, for example, had not frowned upon the beggar Abdallah b. Amm Maktub, verses 1 to 4 of Surat Abasa would never have been revealed.
The same applies to the messages of previous prophets who brought legislation that was entirely geared towards the historical context of their time period and which had to be annulled once this period was over. So, for example, a very strict legal code was prescribed for the Jews ‘in recompense for their willful disobedience: for We are true (in our ordinances)’ (An’am:146), but once things had improved, Jesus was sent ‘to make lawful to you part of what was (before) forbidden…’ (al ‘Imran:50).
Later legislation abrogated earlier ones, and through Muhammad’s messengerhood we hear about instructions (ta’limat) that abrogated earlier messengerhoods. This was possible because revelations of the umm al-kitab were not taken from the ‘tablet preserved’ but given directly by Allah, transmitted by Jibril, and stored in Muhammad’s brain. It implies that al-inzil and al-tanzil occurred simultaneously, that is, not separately one after the other like in the Quran, and no pre-revelation took place, since the revealed messages were immediately available to Muhammad in their perceivable (Arabic) version.