The Arrangement of the Qur’an: Tafsir ibn Kathir

al-Haafidh Ismaa’eel ibn Kathir mentioned the following in the introduction to his tafsir in a section entitled “The Gathering of the Qur’an” which focused on the preservation and collection of the Qur’an. This is the fourth of five sections of our translation of that discussion:

وكان عثمان – والله أعلم – رتب السور في المصحف ، وقدم السبع الطوال وثنى بالمئين ؛ ولهذا روى ابن جرير وأبو داود والترمذي والنسائي من حديث غير واحد من الأئمة الكبار ، عن عوف الأعرابي ، عن يزيد الفارسي ، عن ابن عباس قال : قلت لعثمان بن عفان : ما حملكم أن عمدتم إلى ” الأنفال ” وهي من المثاني وإلى ” براءة ” وهي من المئين ، فقرنتم بينهما ولم تكتبوا بينهما سطر بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم ، ووضعتموها في السبع الطوال ؟ ما حملكم على ذلك ؟ فقال عثمان : كان رسول الله مما يأتي عليه الزمان وهو ينزل عليه السور ذوات العدد ، فكان إذا نزل عليه الشيء دعا بعض من كان يكتب فيقول : ضعوا هذه الآيات في السورة التي يذكر فيها كذا وكذا ، فإذا أنزلت عليه الآية فيقول : ضعوا هذه الآية في السورة التي يذكر فيها كذا وكذا ، وكانت الأنفال من أول ما نزل بالمدينة ، وكانت براءة من آخر القرآن ، وكانت قصتها شبيهة بقصتها ، وحسبت أنها منها وقبض رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم ولم يبين لنا أنها منها ، فمن أجل ذلك قرنت بينهما ولم أكتب بينهما سطر بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم فوضعتها في السبع الطوال . [ ص: 30 ] ـ

It was ‘Uthman who arranged the surahs in the mushaf – and Allah knows best. He placed the Seven Long surahs[1] first but inserted some of the Mi’oon surahs [surahs of roughly 100 ayaat] among them.

On this subject ibn Jarir, Abu Dawud, al-Tirmidhi, al-Nasaa’i relayed a narration from more than one of the great scholars of hadith, on the authority of ‘Awf ibn al-A’rabi, on the authority of Yazeed ibn al-Faarisee, that ibn ‘Abbaas said:

I said to ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affaan, “What led you to place surah al-Anfaal (08) where you did when it is one of the Mathaani surahs?[2] Likewise with surah al-Baraa’ah (09 – also known as surah al-Tawbah)  when it is one of the Mi’oon surahs? And then you put these two surahs next to each other without writing the line of bismillah al-Rahman al-Raheem between them and placed them in the middle of the Seven Long surahs. So what prompted you to do all of that?”

‘Uthman replied, “It used to be that some time might pass by without anything being revealed to the Prophet and then a surah with many ayaat would be revealed. So when something was revealed to him, he would call for someone who could write and say, “Put these ayaat in the surah that mentions such-and-such things,” and when an ayah would be revealed to him he would say, “Put this ayah in the surah that mentions such-and-such.” Surah al-Anfaal was one of the first surahs to be revealed in al-Madinah, while surah al-Baraa’ah was one of the last surahs of the Qur’an to be revealed, however their contents were very similar. I suspected that surah al-Baraa’ah was part of surah al-Anfaal but the Prophet passed away before having made it clear if that was the case. So because of all that, I placed them next to each other without writing bismillah al-Rahman al-Raheem between them and placed them in the midst of the seven long surahs.”

ففهم من هذا الحديث أن ترتيب الآيات والسور أمر توقيفي متلقى عن الرسول صلى الله عليه وسلم ، وأما ترتيب السور فمن أمير المؤمنين عثمان بن عفان ، رضي الله عنه ؛ ولهذا ليس لأحد أن يقرأ القرآن إلا مرتبا ؛ فإن نكسه أخطأ خطأ كبيرا . وأما ترتيب السور فمستحب اقتداء بعثمان ، رضي الله عنه ، والأولى إذا قرأ أن يقرأ متواليا كما قرأ ، عليه الصلاة والسلام ، في صلاة الجمعة بسورة الجمعة والمنافقين وتارة ب ” سبح ” و ” هل أتاك حديث الغاشية ” ، فإن فرق جاز ، كما صح أن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم قرأ في العيد ب ” قاف ” و ” اقتربت الساعة ” ، رواه مسلم عن أبي واقد في الصحيحين عن أبي هريرة ، رضي الله عنه ؛ أن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم كان يقرأ في صلاة الصبح يوم الجمعة : ” الم ” السجدة ، و ” هل أتى على الإنسان . ـ

It is understood from this hadith that the arrangement of the ayaat within the surahs is a matter which is not left up to one’s own reasoning, but something taken from Allah’s Messenger, while the the arrangement of the surahs came from the Ameer al-Mu’minoon ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affaan (may Allah be pleased with him).

Because of this, no one is permitted to recite the Qur’an any other way than how its ayaat are arranged; to reverse their order would be a serious error. When it comes to the arrangement of the surahs however, it is encouraged though not obligatory to follow the ordering of ‘Uthman, and the best practice when reciting would be to recite them in sequence just as the Prophet did for the Jumu’ah prayer when he would recite surah al-Jumu’ah (62) and surah al-Munaafiqoon (63), or sometimes he would recite surah al-A’laa (87) and surah al-Ghaashiyah (88). But if one makes a jump between the surahs he recites, that is fine, just as has been authentically transmitted that Allah’s Messenger did when he recited surah Qaaf (50) and surah al-Qamar (54) on the ‘Eid. And Muslim relayed on the authority of Abu Waaqid from Abu Hurayrah that Allah’s Messenger used to recite surah al-Sajdah (32) and surah al-Insaan (76) for the Friday morning Fajr prayer.

وإن قدم بعض السور على بعض جاز أيضا ، فقد روى حذيفة أن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم قرأ البقرة ثم النساء ثم آل عمران . أخرجه مسلم . وقرأ عمر في الفجر بسورة النحل ثم بيوسف . ـ

And it is also permissible to recite one surah before another, as Hudhaifah relayed that Allah’s Messenger once recited surah al-Baqarah (02), then surah al-Nisaa’ (04) and then surah Aal ‘Imraan (03). This was reported by Muslim. Furthermore, ‘Umar recited surah al-Nahl (16) and surah Yusuf (12) for Fajr.

[Tafsir ibn Kathir 1/29-30]

[1] Translator’s Note: Elsewhere in his tafsir, Ibn Kathir defined the Seven Long surahs by saying:

السبع الطول . يعنون : البقرة ، وآل عمران ، والنساء ، والمائدة ، والأنعام ، والأعراف ، ويونس ، نص عليه ابن عباس ، وسعيد بن جبير . ـ

The Seven Long surahs – by which the salaf meant: al-Baqarah (02), Aal ‘Imran (03), al-Nisaa’ (04), al-Ma’idah (05), al-An’aam (06), al-A’raaf (07), and Yunus (10). This listing was mentioned by ibn ‘Abbaas and Sa’eed ibn Jubayr.

[Tafsir ibn Kathir 4/546]

[2] Translator’s Note: In his explanation of Sunan al-Tirmidhi, sheikh Mubaarakfoori makes the following comment on this hadith:

قال في المجمع : يقال المثاني على كل سورة أقل من المئين ، ومنه عمدتم إلى الأنفال وهي من [ ص: 380 ] المثاني . انتهى . وقال في النهاية : المثاني السورة التي تقصر عن المئين وتزيد على المفصل كأن المئين جعلت مبادئ والتي تليها مثاني ( وإلى براءة ) هي سورة التوبة وهي أشهر أسمائها ، ولها أسماء أخرى تزيد على العشرة ، قاله الحافظ في الفتح ( وهي من المئين ) أي ذوات مائة آية . قال في المجمع : أول القرآن السبع الطول ، ثم ذوات المئين ، أي ذوات مائة آية ، ثم المثاني ، ثم المفصل . انتهى . ـ

al-Haythami wrote in al-Majma’: The term al-Mathaani is applied to any surah that is less than one hundred ayaat, as it is used in the phrase, “…what led you to place surah al-Anfaal (08) where you did when it is one of the mathaani surahs?”

Ibn Atheer said in al-Nihayah: An al-Mathaani surah is one which is less than one hundred ayaat yet still longer than the Mufassal surahs. Think of the Mi’oon [roughly hundred-ayah surahs] as the base line, then what comes next are the Mathaani surahs. “And what led you do place surah al-Baraa’a…” – which is surah al-Tawbah. That is its most well-known name though it has as many as ten other names according to al-haafidh ibn Hajr in Fath al-Bari – “…when it is one of the mi’oon…” i.e. when it has about one hundred ayaat.

al-Haythami wrote in al-Majma’: The first part of the Qur’an are the Seven Long surahs, then come the Mi’oon surahs – i.e. those which have about one hundred ayaat -, then come the Mathaani surahs, and then the Mufassal surahs.

[Tuhfat al-Ahwadhi #3086]

This article is the fourth part of the Gathering of the Qur’an Series. Follow the link to learn more.

See also: How the Sahabah Used to Divide the Qur’an: Tafsir ibn Kathir

See also: How the Sahabah Read and Divided the Qur’an: ibn Taymiyah

See also: The Arrangement of the Final Chapters of the Qur’an: Ibn Taymiyah

See also: Connections and Links between Surahs: al-Zarkashi

See also: ‘Ilm al-Munasabat and its Proper Place: Sheikh Saalih Aal al-Sheikh

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3 thoughts on “The Arrangement of the Qur’an: Tafsir ibn Kathir

  1. Pingback: How the Sahabah Used to Divide the Qur’an: Tafsir ibn Kathir | Tulayhah

  2. Pingback: Connections and Links between Surahs: al-Zarkashi | Tulayhah

  3. Pingback: Uthman’s Service to the Qur’an: Tafsir ibn Kathir | Tulayhah

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