QURAN (lit. a reader) is the name that occurs in the Holy Book itself (al-Qiyamah, 75:17), but the Quran also records a total of 55 names for itself, including Nur (light), Huda (guidance), Rahmah (mercy), Dhikr (reminder), Hikmah (wisdom), Kitab (book), Furqan (distinguisher), Shifaa (healing) among others.
Quran is defined as God's speech revealed to Prophet Muhammad through Archangel Gabriel in Arabic. It is the world's most widely read book, and also written about, and translated into almost all spoken languages among Muslims.
Muslims are required to read parts of the Quran in their daily prayers. Hence, every Muslim commits parts of Quran to memory, but outside the ritual prayers (salah) Muslims also read and recite the Quran and commit it to memory as acts of spiritual merit.
Imam Abu Hanifa was of the view that salah could be performed by reciting translated verses of the Quran, a view that is not, however, supported by the Hanafi school, including his two leading disciples, Abu Yusuf and al-Shaybani.
This is because the Quran itself declares that it is revealed in Arabic. Hence, it is generally held that a translation cannot be said to be the "Quran".
The Quran itself declares (97:1) that it was revealed on the Night of Honour (Laylatul Qadr, or Night of Power, as Qadr is a homonym).
Muslim scholars have, however, no less than eight different views on the timing of Nuzul al-Quran, including Ramadan 1, 17, 19, 21, 23, 27, the night of the Battle of Badr or one the middle 10 days of Ramadan. But first we look at how the Quran itself describes the Night of Honour.
The text declares that it was revealed on the Night of Honour (Laylatul Qadr ‒ henceforth LQ), which lasts from sunset to sunrise. LQ is further described as a "blessed night" (laylah mubarakah) that is better (khayrun) than one thousand months (97:1-5).
On this night, the angels and the Spirit (Archangel Gabriel) descend from on-high to the heavens above the Earth to honour the event of Nuzul al-Quran.
To say that the Quran was revealed on the Night of Honour signifies a single night. We also know from actual history that the Quran was revealed piecemeal to Prophet Muhammad in about 23 years.
This clearly signifies two separate instances of Quranic revelation: one of which occurred in a single night, when the whole of the Holy Book was revealed from an unknown place, said to be the Lawh al-Mahfuz (Preserved Tablet), and then it was sent gradually to Prophet Muhammad.
Most of the text (about 85 of the total of 114 surah) was revealed in Mecca and the rest in Medina.
The Quran does not specify the actual timing of LQ but numerous Muslim scholars have thought it to be in the last 10 days of Ramadan, most likely on the 27th night – based on reports attributed to the Companion Abdullah Ibn Abbas.
Imam Shafie has mentioned the most likely dates, however, to be either the 21st or 23rd night of Ramadan. But many leading Shafie scholars have mentioned the 27th.
Another Companion, Anas bin Malik, had reportedly said that LQ occured on the first night of Ramadan. According to another view, based on a hadith narrated by Companions Ibn Abi Arqam and Abdullah ibn Masud, LQ occured on the 17th night of Ramadan.
They have explained that the Quran was revealed on the night of the Battle of Badr, and they support this with their reading of a verse of the Quran in Surah al-Anfal (8:41).
Another view on the dating of LQ, attributed to Companion Osman ibn Abi al-Aas, and a renowned successor, Hasan al-Basri, as well as some Shafie and Maliki scholars, maintain that it occured on one of the middle 10 nights of Ramadan.
Three renowned companions, Ali ibn Abi Talib, Zayd ibn Thabit and Abdullah ibn Masud, maintain that LQ was on the 19th night of Ramadan.
The last view on the dating of LQ says that it occured in one of the last 10 nights of Ramadan but that it is not the same night every year; it may fall on different nights from year to year.
This is due to their combined reading of different hadith mentioning different dates wherein the prophet himself was reported to have observed supererogatory prayers to mark the event of LQ.
With so much variation, Muslim scholars have then concluded that God Most High has left a degree of ambiguity in the timing of LQ so as to engage the ummah in research and ijtihad in its quest.
They add further: it is somewhat like not declaring the Hour of Acceptance (sa'at al-ijabah) on Fridays as an incentive to worshippers to engage themselves in prayer and supplication.
Similar uncertainty obtains with regard to God's Greatest Name (al-Ism al-Azam) that occurs in His 99 Excellent Names (al-Asma al-Husna) but unknown which, nor is the Day of Resurrection made known so that believers are engaged in pious activities in anticipation.
Muslim scholars have even recommended that one who sees the Lalatul Qadr not to declare it.
The wisdom of this advice may be that witnessing LQ signifies piety and spiritual distinction and declaring it may mean self-commendation, not quite in line with the typical humility that characterises Islam.
Mohammad Hashim Kamali is founding chief executive officer of the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies Malaysia.
Published in: The New Straits Times, Tuesday 19 April 2022