Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
It was in the month of Ramadan that the Quran was revealed as guidance for mankind, clear messages giving guidance and distinguishing between right and wrong. So anyone of you who is present that month should fast, and anyone who is ill or on a journey should make up for the lost days by fasting on other days later. God wants ease for you, not hardship. He wants you to complete the prescribed period and to glorify Him for having guided you, so that you may be thankful.
(Chapter 2, Verse 185)
The word ‘Ramadan’ is derived from the Arabic root ر-م-ض (Ra – Ma- DDa) which refers to extreme heat or thirst. Hence, the word Ramadan has in its origin the scorching desert sun. It is as if the ancient people who originally named the months experienced this month in the mid-summer heat, so they called it ‘Ramadan.’ You can see a similar theme throughout the Arabic calendar. For example, the two months ‘Rabee Awal’ and ‘Rabee Thani’ literally translate to ‘The first spring’ and ‘the second spring’. Likewise, ‘Jumada Awal’ and ‘Jumada Thani’ are translated into the first and second freeze. These names were probably very descriptive of the months during the first few years after they were named; however, as the lunar years passed, the months shifted to different solar seasons. Thus, Ramadan fell in the summer, and at times in the fall, spring and winter. This is similar to a person who names his newborn daughter “Grace” hoping for her to grow up a well-mannered lady. But, unfortunately, in her teenage years she started being rude and antagonistic towards her family; her name no longer matches her behaviour.
When Allah inspired the human minds to specifically choose the name Ramadan for the sacred month, it carried within its named the future difficulty this month may bring to a person who fasts. It is the month that helps you train and discipline yourself to rise above material needs and the constant rush towards instant gratification. Allah also blessed this month with the revelation of the Quran which is sent to help you train yourself towards spiritual purification and higher moral values. So, the month of Ramadan disciplines both: the body with fasting and the soul with the Quran. God says: “It was in the month of Ramadan that the Quran was revealed as guidance for mankind, clear messages giving guidance and distinguishing between right and wrong.”
Let’s take a few moments to look at the Arabic origin of the word ‘revealed’ or ‘sent down.’ These words –revealed, sent down- are translated from one of three Arabic origins: Nazal, Nazzal, Anzal انزل ,نزّل and نزل . Each carries a distinct meaning from the others. We’ll take them one by one.
Whenever the word Anzal انزل is used in the Quran, you will find it referring to Allah. God says:
Truly We sent it down on the Night of Power. (97:01)
In the following verse, the word Nazal نزل is used referring to the Archangel Gabriel. God says:
The Trustworthy Spirit brought it down (26:193)
Lastly, the word Nazzal نزّل is used for the rest of the angles. God says:
on that night the angels and the Spirit descend again and again with their Lord’s permission on every task (97:04)
So the use of the verb Anzal انزل in the Quran is exclusive to God, while Nazal نزل is used for Gabriel, and Nazzal نزّل is used for the angels. The difference between the uses of these words gives us clues about the revelation of the Noble Quran. We understand that God Almighty revealed the Quran from the preserved slate to the lowest heaven all at once as a single complete book. Later on, it was revealed to prophet Muhammad a few verses –and occasionally entire chapters- at a time according to what was appropriate for the circumstances.
There are those who criticize the Quran and question: how do you say that Quran was revealed in the month of Ramadan, while you also say that it was revealed little by little over the twenty-three years of Muhammad’s Prophethood? We answer that our knowledge of the nuances of the Arabic language clarifies things for us. Allah revealed the entire Quran from His knowledge and sent it down to the lowest heaven in the month of Ramadan. From that moment on, the Quran started its mission in this world. According to that mission, portions of the Quran were revealed to our beloved prophet based on the circumstances. In other words, a few verses specifying a religious ruling would come down at the time when it was needed. Had the Quran been sent all at once, the rulings and religious teachings might have existed while there was neither need nor hunger for them. But when a teaching is revealed at the time of need, it becomes established and appreciated.
Let’s clarify this point with an example. Say that you decided to put together a first aid kit and small medicine cabinet for your family. You would go and buy all the medicines and supplies necessary to manage common home emergencies and illnesses. You would buy many medicines that you do not need today and then organize them in the cabinet. But when one of your family members gets a cold or falls down, you would go to the medicine cabinet and grab only the appropriate medicine. In this case, the emergency is effectively addressed with the proper medicine.
Similarly, when Allah wanted to address a problem facing the prophet and his companions, He Almighty did not order it to be sent form the preserved slate, rather the Quran was already on hand in the lowest heaven. God would then order the angels to descend with those specific verses that properly addressed the situation, and whenever God willed, the Archangel Gabriel would come down to the Prophet with the revelation.
The Arabic language is a vast language with intricate details and precise meanings hidden within its words, and often within specific letters in these words. There is a difference between the verbs Nazal, Nazzal, and Anzal نزل, نزّل and انزل although they are almost identical and are all derived from the same root. God says:
It is with the truth that We have sent it down, and it is with the truth that it has come down. We have not sent you but as a bearer of glad tidings and to warn. (17:105)
As for those who still question why the Quran was not revealed altogether at once? God answers:
The faithless say, ‘Why has not the Quran been sent down to him all at once?’ So it is, that We may strengthen your heart with it, and We have recited it little by little. (25:32)
Allah revealed the Quran a little at a time to strengthen the heart of the Prophet and the believers. Muhammad (peace be upon him) faced tremendous challenges from day one of his call to faith. Thus, whenever a tough challenge presented itself, a portion of the Quran -appropriate for that challenge- was revealed to support the Prophet and those standing by him. Each revelation made the prophet feel tranquil and calm and illuminated the path ahead of him. This also gave the believers time to understand, implement and appreciate each and every new ruling and heavenly teaching.
Let’s clarify this point with another example. Suppose that your child wanted new toys; would you bring him everything all at once? Or would you rather bring him a new toy one day and then another when he does well in school and so on? When you spread your gifts over time and occasions, your kid feels happiness and appreciation for every new toy. Each new gift has its own charm, and creates a lasting memory.
Moreover, the prophet was often challenged by the non-believers, the Jews, and the Christians. And each time, Allah answered them with clear revelation. Had the Quran been sent down all at once, these rebuttals would have lost some of their impact. God says:
The faithless say, ‘Why has not the Quran been sent down to him all at once?’ So it is, that We may strengthen your heart with it, and We have recited it little by little. Every time they come to you with a difficult point, We bring you the truth and the best of explanations. (25:32, 33)