al-Inzal & al-Tanzil

article picked 4U by - Mohammad Shahrour

May 27, 2020


The study of the two terms al-inzal and al-tanzil will lead to a correct understanding of Allah’s revelation. Our study is based on the principles of interpretation outlined and on the crucial premise that we do not accept the traditional notion of synonymity between the two terms.

We reject the idea that both describe the process of the Quran’s ‘coming down’ indiscriminately as revelation to the Prophet Muhammad. We believe, instead, that both terms support our thesis of the division of the text into many variant sections that differ in theme and status, at the center of which is the division between verses of prophethood and verses of messengerhood, which, according to our analysis, have been revealed in different ways.

References to both words in the Book will demonstrate the considerable extent to which the second form of the verb nazzala (in al-tanzil) differs semantically from the fourth form anzala (in al-inzal). Verses that use anzala (noun: inzal): …and We sent down [anzalna] iron… (hadid:25) We have sent it down [anzalnahu] as an Arabic quran…(Yusuf:2). …and We send down [anzalna] pure water from the sky. (Furqan:48)

Verses that use ‘nazzala’ (noun: tanzil):
It is We who have sent down [nazzalna] the Quran to you by stages. (Insan:23). The revelation of the book [tanzil al-kitab] is from God the exalted in power, full of wisdom. (Jathiyya:2)

All the translations that were consulted keep the spatial connotation of ‘coming down’ [from heaven] which is, as it will become clear, not connotated in our use of the word. The best translation of the term inzal would be: ‘transformation of revelation / information so that it enters human consciousness’ / to be aware of it. and of tanzil: ‘delivery of revelation so that it penetrates the human mind’/ to practically do something with it.

nazzala and anzala, implies processes of communication. a similar way as If ballagha is used, a message is delivered whose actual reception by an intended addressee remains uncertain; if, however, ablagha  is used, a conscious reception is implied.

A bulletin announcement of the state treasury, for example, issued in order to explain the new tax allowances for married couples, is delivered (like al-balagh in verse:99 ma’ida) without the need for feedback from citizens telling the addresser that they have received and understood his announcements. If, however, a full recognition by the addressees is intended, the term iblagh (as in verse :93 of A’raf) is used as in contacting everyone.  Prophets other than Muhammad had indeed been asked to do exactly this, since in their messages God’s punishment was announced to everyone who did not pay heed to the prophet’s words.

And since God would not punish anyone who had not consciously become aware of His revelation, prophets were required to disseminate God’s word to literally everyone. Therefore, whenever the text mentions prophets such as Shu’aib, salih, or Hud, the verb ablagha (4th form) is used: ablaghtakum As in (A’raf:79) (Hud:57) (Jinn:28).

This in stark contrast to the much broader mission of Muhammad who had been asked to proclaim Allah’s last revelation to all humankind. In his time, surely Muhammad did not have the means to reach everyone on earth. Hence, his role was limited to proclaim Allah’s message without the need to reach everyone (acoustically) and without the need to receive confirmation that he had been heard: O apostle! Proclaim [balligh] the (message) which has been sent to you from your Lord. If you did not, you would not have fulfilled and proclaimed His mission. And God will defend you from me (who mean mischief)… (Ma”ida:67)

If we apply the above considerations to the two terms of al-tanzil and al-inzal, we may deduce that al-tanzil (2nd form) refers to the process of communication that occurs outside the human mind. These ideas are exchanged unrecognized by the human brain.

Al-inzal (4th form), in contrast, describes the process of recognition inside the human mind. these ideas are transformed into information that is perceived and understood. The following example from everyday life will illustrate this point.
Phase 1: al-ja’l (Creation of information signals)

Football match in Brazil

Phase 2: al-tanzil
Waves are transporting sound and pictures from Brazil into the world

This transport occurs in the air and completely unnoticed by the human mind

Phase 3: al-inzal
(Transformation into perceivable information)
The process by which the TV aerials receive the waves and transform them into sounds and pictures

The result is a form of pictures and sounds that is perceivable by the human senses

Phase 4: al-idrak
Viewers in China can follow the football match in Brazil through their senses.
The football match enters the viewers’ knowledge.

This example shows that it is possible to distinguish between ways of communication that happen objectively and outside human perception (the transfer of sound and pictures via waves from Brazil to China), or that occur explicitly for the sensory perception of the human mind (the reconversion of the waves back into acoustic and visual signals for the reception of TV viewers).

The term al-tanzil is assigned to this process of objective, nonhuman communication (reception by human beings is uncertain, impossible, or unintended), while the term al-inzal refers to the process of changing unperceivablesignals outside the human mind to signals that can be perceived.

In the case of the televised football match, al-tanzil occurred first and al-inzal second. If, however, a sports reporter took photographs of the match in Brazil and then sent these pictures to China to have them displayed at the National Sports Show, the process of al-inzal (taking pictures) would have preceded al-tanzil (transport of pictures to China). Sometimes, al-inzal happens without an accompanying al-tanzil (e.g., if the pictures had been displayed immediately in Brazil),  but in all instances, al-inzal and al-tanzil communicate something that exists in reality (e.g., the football players, the ball, the referee, the spectators, etc.) and that exists before the process of communication has been initiated.