The History of The Quran: Nuzul Quran

In this article, we will look into how the Quran was descended from the Heavens to humanity. Are there any differences between Laylatul Qadr (Night of Qadr) and Nuzul Al-Quran (Descent of the Quran)? And how did the Quran develop into the holy book that we hold on to today?
by Ustaz Muhammad Abdul Mateen Bin Hisham 2024-03-27 • 18 min read
Upon graduating from Madrasah Aljunied Al-Islamiah, Ustaz Mateen pursued his studies at Al-Azhar University and graduated with a degree in Islamic Theology, specialising in Creed and Philosophy.
2024-03-27 • 18 min read

The History of The Quran: When was The Quran Descended?

The month of Ramadan is known to be called by many virtuous names. Amongst many, it is known as the month of Al-Quran. In fact, the Quran was revealed in the month of Ramadan. Allah s.w.t. mentions in Surah Al-Baqarah:

شَهْرُ رَمَضَانَ ٱلَّذِىٓ أُنزِلَ فِيهِ ٱلْقُرْءَانُ هُدًى لِّلنَّاسِ وَبَيِّنَـٰتٍ مِّنَ ٱلْهُدَىٰ وَٱلْفُرْقَانِ

Ramadan is the month in which the Quran was revealed as a guide for humanity with clear proofs of guidance and the standard (to distinguish between right and wrong)

(Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:185)

In this regard, It is commonly viewed that the Quran is said to have descended on Laylatul Qadr. Yet the Quran is also known to have descended upon humanity on the night of Nuzul Al-Quran.

Are there any differences between the eventful observances of Laylatul Qadr and Nuzul Al-Quran? Or are they actually referring to the same thing?

Well, some of our scholars view that Nuzul Al-Quran happened on the 17th of Ramadan as marked in many of our Hijri calendars today.

On the other hand, there are many Hadiths that point out Laylatul-Qadr to be in Ramadan as well. The exact date itself, however, remains to be unknown by the wisdom of Allah s.w.t.

 إِنَّ هَذَا الشَّهْرَ قَدْ حَضَرَكُمْ وَفِيهِ لَيْلَةٌ خَيْرٌ مِنْ أَلْفِ شَهْرٍ مَنْ حُرِمَهَا فَقَدْ حُرِمَ الْخَيْرَ كُلَّهُ وَلَا يُحْرَمُ خَيْرَهَا إِلَّا مَحْرُومٌ

Verily, this month (Ramadan) has presented itself to you. There is a night within it that is better than a thousand months. Whoever is deprived of it has been deprived of all good. None is deprived of its good but the Mahrum (he who is truly deprived).

(Sunan Ibn Majah)

While the former has a distinct date, the latter remains ambiguous. This helps us realise that both events are different and they are not particularly referring to the same thing. Although both events happened in the month of Ramadan, the night of Nuzul Al-Quran and Laylatul Qadr does not refer to the same particular event.

So how can the Quran descend from the Heavens on two separate events?


To understand this matter, it is first important to know that there are stages to the Quran’s descent. The Quran that was recorded in the Al-Lauh Al-Mahfuz (The Preserved Tablet) was first sent down to the lowest Heavens (Sama’-Dunya) on the night known as Laylatul Qadr (The Night of Decree). 

إِنَّآ أَنزَلْنَـٰهُ فِى لَيْلَةِ ٱلْقَدْرِ

Indeed, (it is) We (Who) sent this (Quran) down on the Night of Qadr

(Surah Al-Qadr, 97:1)

In another verse, Allah s.w.t. says 

إِنَّآ أَنزَلْنَـٰهُ فِى لَيْلَةٍ مُّبَـٰرَكَةٍ ۚ إِنَّا كُنَّا مُنذِرِينَ

Indeed, We sent it down on a blessed night, for We always warn (against evil)

(Surah Ad-Dukhan, 44:3)

Both Laylatul Qadr and Laylatul Mubarakah as per the former and latter verses respectively indicate the same night where the first stage of the Quran’s descent upon the lowest Heaven happens.

Then, from the lowest Heavens, the Quran was sent down and revealed to the Prophet s.a.w. gradually in parts throughout the span of 23 years of prophethood, both in Makkah and Madinah.

Read: 4 Beautiful Significances of Laylatul Qadr

The Night of Nuzul Al-Quran

Unlike the previously revealed scriptures such as the Tawrah, Zabur and Injil, the Quran was not revealed to Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. as a complete book all at once. This gradual revelation upon the Prophet s.a.w. marks the second stage of the Quran’s descent.

The first revelation to descend upon the Prophet s.a.w. is known as the night of Nuzul Al-Quran (The Descent of the Quran). This happened when the Prophet s.a.w. first met Jibril a.s. on Jabal Nur (Mount Light) in the cave of Hira where the angel asked him to read thus revealing the first five verses of Surah Al-’Alaq:

 ٱقْرَأْ بِٱسْمِ رَبِّكَ ٱلَّذِى خَلَقَ. خَلَقَ ٱلْإِنسَـٰنَ مِنْ عَلَقٍ. ٱقْرَأْ وَرَبُّكَ ٱلْأَكْرَمُ. ٱلَّذِى عَلَّمَ بِٱلْقَلَمِ. عَلَّمَ ٱلْإِنسَـٰنَ مَا لَمْ يَعْلَمْ

Read, (O Prophet,) in the Name of your Lord Who created—He created humans a clinging clot. Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous, Who taught by the pen—taught humanity what they knew not.

(Surah Al-’Alaq, 96:1-5)

This is consistent with the hadith reported by Aishah r.a:

حتَّى فَجِئَهُ الحَقُّ وهو في غَارِ حِرَاءٍ، فَجَاءَهُ المَلَكُ فِيهِ، فَقالَ: اقْرَأْ، فَقالَ له النبيُّ صَلَّى اللهُ عليه وسلَّمَ: فَقُلتُ: ما أنَا بقَارِئٍ، فأخَذَنِي فَغَطَّنِي حتَّى بَلَغَ مِنِّي الجَهْدُ، ثُمَّ أرْسَلَنِي فَقالَ: اقْرَأْ، فَقُلتُ: ما أنَا بقَارِئٍ، فأخَذَنِي فَغَطَّنِي الثَّانِيَةَ حتَّى بَلَغَ مِنِّي الجَهْدُ، ثُمَّ أرْسَلَنِي فَقالَ: اقْرَأْ، فَقُلتُ: ما أنَا بقَارِئٍ، فأخَذَنِي فَغَطَّنِي الثَّالِثَةَ حتَّى بَلَغَ مِنِّي الجَهْدُ، ثُمَّ أرْسَلَنِي فَقالَ: (اقْرَأْ باسْمِ رَبِّكَ الذي خَلَقَ) - حتَّى بَلَغَ - (عَلَّمَ الإنْسَانَ ما لَمْ يَعْلَمْ)

“..till suddenly the Truth descended upon him while he was in the cave of Hira. The angel came to him and asked him to read. The Prophet replied, "I do not know how to read." (The Prophet added), "The angel held me (strongly) and pressed me so hard that I felt drained. He then released me and again asked me to read, and I replied, "I do not know how to read," whereupon he held me again and pressed me a second time till I was drained. He then released me and asked me again to read, but again I replied, "I do not know how to read (or, what shall I read?)." Thereupon he held me for the third time and pressed me and then released me and said, "Read: In the Name of your Lord, Who has created (everything). Has created man from a clot. Read and Your Lord is Most Generous. (He) who taught by (means of) the pen. (He) taught humanity what they knew not"

(Muttafaqun ‘Alaih)

Scholars differ in terms of the actual date of Nuzul Al-Quran. Some scholars, such as Imam At-Tabari, view that it happened on the 17th of Ramadan. Others view that it happened on the 21st or other dates within Ramadan. There are even other views of it happening in other Hijri months as well. Many scholars, however, agree that it happened on a Monday. Abu Qatada r.a. reports:

وَسُئِلَ عَنْ صَوْمِ يَوْمِ الاِثْنَيْنِ قَالَ: ‏‏ذَاكَ يَوْمٌ وُلِدْتُ فِيهِ وَيَوْمٌ بُعِثْتُ أَوْ أُنْزِلَ عَلَىَّ فِيهِ‏

He was then asked about fasting on Monday, whereupon he said: It was the day on which I was born. on which I was appointed with prophethood or revelation was sent to me

(Sahih Muslim)‏

In Summary, Laylatul Qadr refers to the first stage of the Quran’s descent while Nuzul Al-Quran refers to the first revelation from the second stage of the Quran’s descent. Both of which are blessed nights that happened in the month of Ramadan.

Ramadan and the Al-Quran

Much has been said of how both stages of the Quran's descent happened in the month of Ramadan. Indeed, Ramadan and the Quran bear a special relationship with one another. There are multiple narrations that point to the encouragement of enlivening the days of Ramadan with recitations and reflections on the Quran.

Often in Ramadan, many members of our community would hold circles (now even virtually) to recite the holy book. This practice is also known as ‘Tadarus Al-Quran’ where each individual in the group would read to a certain extent and pass it on to the next person to continue the recitation. Many of these circles would eventually reach the final Quranic chapter near the end of Ramadan.

Read: 5 Beautiful Dua for You this Ramadan

This tradition, in fact, can be traced back to Rasulullah s.a.w. Our Prophet s.a.w. would recite the Quran with Jibril a.s. together on all the nights of Ramadan. 

وكانَ جِبْرِيلُ يَلْقَاهُ في كُلِّ لَيْلَةٍ مِن رَمَضَانَ، فيُدَارِسُهُ القُرْآنَ

Jibril used to meet him (the Prophet s.a.w) every night in Ramadan and read the Quran with him

(Sahih Al-Bukhari)

Some scholars also view from the mentioned hadith, that although it is also encouraged to recite the Quran at any time of the day, it is even more prefered for the Quran to be read at night. Just as how the additional Sunnah prayers performed at night are highly valued within the religion, it is the same for the recitation of the Quran as well.

 يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلْمُزَّمِّلُ. قُمِ ٱلَّيْلَ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا. نِّصْفَهُۥٓ أَوِ ٱنقُصْ مِنْهُ قَلِيلًا. أَوْ زِدْ عَلَيْهِ وَرَتِّلِ ٱلْقُرْءَانَ تَرْتِيلًا

O you wrapped (in your clothes)! stand at night (for prayer) except a little - half of it, or a little less, or make it a little more, and recite the Qur'an (properly) in a measured way.

(Surah Al-Muzammil, 73:1-4)

It is worth mentioning that the Quran during the Prophet's time was yet to come in the form of a book (Mushaf). So how did the Prophet s.a.w. and Companions r.a. hold on to the Quran? And how did it develop into the holy book that we know today?

The Compilation of the Quran into a Book (Mushaf)

During the Prophet’s time, the Quran was not in the form of a compiled book (Mushaf). Instead, the Quran was memorised by heart. The Prophet s.a.w. mentioned in a hadith:

خُذُوا القُرْآنَ مِنْ أَرْبَعَة مِن عَبْدِ اللهِ بنِ مَسْعُود وَسَالِم وَمُعَاذ بِن جَبَل وَأُبَيْ بن كَعَب

Take the Quran from four people: Abdullah Ibn Mas’ud, Salim, Muaz Ibn Jabal and Ubayy Ibn Ka’ab (r.a.)

(Sahih Al-Bukhari)

Although there are only four companions that are mentioned in the hadith, there are many others who also memorised the Quran, such as Uthman Ibn Affan, Ali Ibn Abi Talib, Abu Darda’, Abu Musa Al-Ash’ari and Umm Waraqah r.a. just to name a few.

Even when writing was not yet considered to be the main medium for transmitting knowledge, the Prophet s.a.w. also assigned younger companions as scribers such as Zayd Ibn Thabit r.a. to write the revealed Quranic verses or chapters with whatever material they had.

After the Prophet’s departure from this world, the companions eventually became the main reference for the Holy Quran. It later became a concern notably after the battle of Yamamah when a large number of those who memorised the Quran, also known as the Huffaz, were martyred in battle. 

Umar Ibn Al-Khattab r.a. suggested the idea of gathering and documenting the Quran into a single copy for future references. Abu Bakr r.a. as the Caliph at that time was initially reluctant, but eventually agreed to the idea and assigned Zayd Ibn Thabit r.a. as the lead scriber to oversee a team and undertake this momentous task.

Thus the first compiled copy/book of the Quran was issued and remained with Abu Bakr r.a. until his departure from this world. It then was passed onto Umar Ibn Al-Khattab r.a as the second Caliph, and then later to his daughter Hafsah r.a. towards the end of his life here.

The second task to gather the Quran happened during the time of Uthman Ibn ‘Affan r.a. as the third Caliph, during which the Muslim community began to grow at an exponential rate. Many were very new to Islam. This later led to a disorganised and multiple ‘styles’ of Quranic recitation.

Another team to undertake the task led by Zayd Ibn Thabit r.a. was thus commenced by Uthman r.a. in order to prevent confusion and to standardise the styles of recitation guided by the Quraysh dialect - upon which the Quran was revealed. This standardised style and script were later coined as Rasm Uthmaniyy (Uthmani Script), the version that we use today. 

Uthman r.a. then ensured that it was made into multiple copies to be sent to the major cities of the time and had the other written materials burnt. 

It is also important to note that despite the Quran being gathered much later after the Prophet’s demise, he s.a.w. have mentioned the specific order of the Quranic chapters and verses during his lifetime when the verses were revealed. This meant that every word and order of the Quran is verbatim (Tawqeefi). The companions have agreed upon this by cross-checking their own respective notes and memorisation of the Quran.

Through the contributions of the companions and our scholars, we are now able to enjoy reciting and learning the Quran with much ease. Today, Muslims around the world continue to try and memorise the Quran, making it a communal obligation (Fardh Kifayah) - not to be mistaken for an individual obligation. This huge effort and success can also be seen as part of Allah's way of protecting the holy Quran until the end of time:

إِنَّا نَحْنُ نَزَّلْنَا ٱلذِّكْرَ وَإِنَّا لَهُۥ لَحَـٰفِظُونَ

It is certainly We Who have revealed the Reminder (Quran), and it is certainly We Who will preserve it.

(Surah Al-Hijr, 15:9)

If we are new to the Quran, Ramadan can be a good start to open and explore the miraculous book. If we have already learnt how to recite it, Ramadan is an opportunity to increase our recitation of the Quran.

Let us take this opportunity to be a part of the communal effort of preserving the Quran by learning how to recite it and internalising its meanings to embody the Quranic values in our daily lives.

Read: 5 Benefits of Reciting the Quran

May Allah s.w.t. accept our efforts and bless us by the Quran.

And Allah knows best.

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