Prophet, or talks about him, and nowhere leaves him to speak for himself. The Qur'an describes itself as a scripture which God ''sent down'' to His prophet, and this expression, ''sent down'', in its various derivations, is used in the Qur'an well over 200 times. In Arabic this locution conveys immediately, and, implicitly, the principle that the origin of the Book is heavenly, and that Muhammad is no more than its receptacle. God is the one who speaks in this Book: Muhammad is addressed as ''O Prophet!'', ''O Messenger!'', ''Do'', ''Do not do'', ''They ask you ...'', ''Say!'' (this last command appearing more than 300 times). Sometimes the Prophet is reproached (9:43; 80:1-11). His status is unequivocally defined as ''messenger'' (rasul), and he is often reminded that his duty is simply to communicate (balagh) the message to his community.
A hadith reports that during his first experience of revelation the Prophet was alone in the cave, but subsequent circumstances in which the received episodes of revelation were witnessed by others and recorded. Sometimes these witnesses would report visible, audible and sensory reactions when the Prophet experienced the ''state of revelation''. His face would ''become bright'', and he would fall silent and seem to be contemplating distant things; his body would become heavy as though in sleep, a humming sound would be heard around him, and sweat might appear on his brow, even on winter days. This stage would swiftly end, and as it did so he would immediately recite new verses of the scripture. The sources report that this state was not the Prophet's to command: it might descend on him as he was walking, sitting, riding or giving a sermon, and there were occasions when he waited for it anxiously for over a month when he needed an answer to a question he had been asked, or sought an interpretation of some event. The Prophet and his followers understood these signs as experiences accompanying the communication of scriptural verses by Gabriel, the Angel of Revelation; his adversaries explained them as proof that he was ''possessed'', and in this regard, the Qur'an itself records many claims and attacks made upon it and upon the Prophet in his lifetime.2
The evidence suggests that for the Prophet himself, the Qur'an was ''sent down'' and communicated to him by ''the faithful Spirit'', Gabriel, and was categorically not his own speech. Stylistically, qur'anic material which the Prophet recited following the states of revelation described above is so evidently different from the Prophet's own sayings as recorded in the hadith, whether uttered incidentally or after long reflection, that the tradition has always ascribed them to two radically different levels of discourse.
For the Qur'an, the Prophet is the passive recipient of a revelation over which he has no control, and which does not allow for dialogue, even between him and the Angel of Revelation. By contrast, a general feature of the hadith is a constant conversation addressed to and reported by named individuals. In hadiths narrating the actions of the Prophet, there is often a description of the setting and the occasion, where the narrator speaks at length, while the Prophet, if he is involved, speaks only a few words, and perhaps not at all.
The Muslim historians report that with each new accumulation in the qur'anic corpus, the Prophet would recite it to those around him, who would memorise it and in turn communicate it to others. Throughout his mission the Prophet repeatedly read the Qur'an to his followers in formal prayer and at other times. An inner circle of his disciples wrote down the verses that he taught them. He himself was assiduous in having the text recorded even in the days of persecution, and he acquired scribes for this purpose (twenty-nine have been counted in the Medina period).
The word 'Qur'an' itself means ''reading'', and came to refer to ''the text which is read''. The Muslim scripture often calls itself kitab, ''writing'', and this word came to denote the scripture, the ''written book''. Thus the significance of uttering and writing the revealed scripture was emphasised from the beginning of the new religion, and is locked into the very nouns that designate the qur'anic canon.
Qur'anic revelations are believed to have come to the Prophet piecemeal over a period of twenty-three years. The disparate material is invariably divided into 114 suras (''sections'', conventionally translated in English as ''chapters''). A sura may consist of no more than one line, such as suras 108 and 112; while sura 2, the longest, stretches over dozens of pages. Each sura consists of verses, each known in Arabic as aya (a ''sign'' from God). Some suras contain Meccan and Medinan ayas: the order of material in each sura, according to classical Muslim teaching, having been determined by the Prophet at the command of the Angel of Revelation, who delivered the qur'anic material to him. The hadith record that when each new unit of text was received he would request his disciples to place it in a given chapter, and the result was that material was distributed over the suaras not in chronological order of appearance, but as they were to be read by the Prophet and the believers.3
Over the years, in formal liturgical practice and in counselling his followers, the Prophet recited qur'anic material so frequently and at such length that it is reasonable to regard the current sequence of suras today as faithfully reflecting this original arrangement. By the time of the
Prophet's death in the year 632, the entire scripture had been written down in the form of uncollated sections, but many of his followers, having spent years in his company where the Qur'an was a constant presence, had memorised much or all of the text, and the book was principally experienced as an aural phenomenon.4 These men and women were members of a cultural world that had a longstanding tradition of committing literature, history and genealogy to memory. Two years after the Prophet's death, the battle of Yamama against the people of Najd in Central Arabia took place, in which a number of those who knew the text lost their lives, and the sources report that it was feared that parts of the text might be lost. The first caliph, Abu Bakr (632-4), therefore ordered that the Qur'an should be collected in a single written copy, which was then placed in the custody of 'Umar, and, after his death, was left with the Prophet's widow Hafsa. This copy was the basis of the codex issued in several copies by the third caliph, 'Uthmaan (644-56), to be distributed to several parts of the Muslim world to ensure that a universal standard text of the scripture would prevail. This has remained the sole canonical text of the Qur'an, recognised by Sunni and Shi'i theologians to the present time.5
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