Verses 1-5 are known to be the first ever revealed of the Qurʾān. The Prophet ( ﷺ ) was retreating at a cave in the outskirts of Mecca when the angel Gabriel appeared to him, squeezing him tightly and ordering him to read. Since the Prophet ( ﷺ ) was unlettered, he responded, "I cannot read." Ultimately, Gabriel taught him: "Read in the Name of your Lord ..." Some scholars believe that this encounter is the fulfilment of Isaiah 29:12, which states, "Then the book will be given to the one who is illiterate, saying, 'Read this.' And he will say, 'I cannot read.'" 1318 The rest of the sûrah was later revealed to deter Abu Jahl, a Meccan pagan elite, from abusing the Prophet ( ﷺ ) .
Details from Tafheem-ul-Qurʾān
NameThe Surah is so entitled after the word alaq in the second verse.
Period of RevelationThis Surah has two parts: the first part consists of vv. 1-5, and the second of vv. 6-19. About the first part a great majority of the Islamic scholars are agreed that it forms the very first Revelation to be sent down to the Holy Prophet (upon whom be Allāh's peace and blessings). In this regard, the Ḥadīth from Hadrat Aishah, which Imam Ahmad, Bukhari, Muslim, and other traditionists have related with several chains of authorities, is one of the most authentic Aḥadīth on the subject. In it Hadrat Aishah has narrated the full story of the beginning of revelation as she herself heard it from the Holy Messenger of Allāh. Besides, Ibn Abbas, Abu Musa al-Ashari and a group of the Companions also are reported to have stated that these were the very first verses of the Qurʾān to be revealed to the Holy Prophet. The second part was sent down afterwards when the Holy Prophet (upon whom be peace) began to perform the prescribed Prayer in the precincts of the Kabah and Abu Jahl tried to prevent him from this with threats.
Beginning of RevelationThe traditionists have related on the strength of their respective authorities the story of the beginning of revelation from Iman Az-Zuhri, who had it from Hadrat Urwah bin Zubair, who had it from Hadrat Aishah, his aunt. She states that revelations to the Holy Prophet (upon whom be peace) began in the form of true (according to other traditions, good) visions. Whichever vision he saw it seemed as though he saw it in broad daylight. Afterwards solitude became dear to him and he would go to the Cave of Hira to engage in worship there for several days and nights (Hadrat Aishah has used the word tahannuth, which Imam Zuhri has explained as ta'abbud: devotional exercises. This was some kind of worship which he performed, for until then he had not been taught the method of performing the Prayer by Allāh). He would take provisions with him and stay there for several days, then would return to Hadrat Khadijah who would again provide for him for a few more days. One day when he was in the Cave of Hira, Revelation came down to him unexpectedly and the Angel said, to him: "Read". After this Hadrat Aishah reports the words of the Holy Prophet himself, to the effect, "I said: I cannot read! Thereupon the Angel took me and pressed me until I could bear it no more. Then he left me and said: Read. I said: I cannot read! He pressed me a second time until I could bear it no more. Then he left me and said: Read. I again said: I cannot read! He pressed me for the third time until I could bear it no more. Then he left me and said: Iqra bismi Rabbi kal- ladhi khalaqa: (Read in the name of your Lord Who created) till he reached ma lam ya lam (what he did not know)." Hadrat Aishah says: "Then the Holy Messenger (upon whom be peace) returned home to Hadrat Khadijah trembling with fear, and said to her: `Cover me, cover me', and he was covered. When terror left him, he said: `O Khadijah, what has happened to me?' Then he narrated to her whatever had happened, and said: `I fear for my life'. She said; `No never! Be of good cheer. By God, never will God debase you: you treat the kindred well, you speak the truth, (one tradition adds: you restore what is entrusted to you), you bear the burden of the helpless, you help the poor, you entertain the guests, and you cooperate in good works.' Then she took him to Waraqah bin Naufal, who was her cousin. He had become a Christian in pre-Islamic days, wrote the Gospel in Arabic and Hebrew, and had become very old and blind. Hadrat Khadijah said: `Brother, listen to the son of your brother.' Waraqah said to the Holy Prophet: `What have you seen, nephew?' The Holy Prophet described what he had seen. Waraqah said; `This is the same Namus (the Angel of Revelation) which Allāh had sent down to Moses. Would that I were a young man during your Prophethood! Would that I were alive when your tribe would expel you!' The Holy Prophet said: `Will they expel me?' Waraqah said; `Yes, never has it so happened that a person brought what you have brought and was not treated as an enemy. If I live till then I would help you with all the power at my command.' But not very long after this Waraqah died."
This narrative is explicit that even until a moment before the coming Angel the Holy Messenger of Allāh intimately aware of his life, his affairs and dealings. When he also heard of his experience, she did not regard it as an evil suggestion, but immediately said that it was the Namus who had descended on Moses (ﷺ). This meant that even according to him the Holy Prophet was such a sublime person that there was nothing surprising in his being elevated to the office of Prophethood.
Occasion of Revelation of vv. 6-19This second part of thee Surah was revealed when the Holy Messenger of Allāh began to perform the Prayer in the Islamic way in the Ka'bah and Abu Jahl threatened and tried to prevent him from this. It so happened that after his appointment to Prophethood even before he could start preaching Islam openly, he began to perform the Prayer in the precincts of the Ka'bah in the way Allāh taught him; and from this the Quraish felt for the first time that he had adopted a new religion. The other people were watching it with curiosity, but Abu Jahl in his arrogance and pride threatened the Holy Prophet and forbade him to worship in that way in the Ka'bah. In this connection, quite a number of the Aḥadīth have been related from Hadarat Abdullah ibn Abbas and Hadrat Abu Huraira, which mention the foolish behaviour of Abu Jahl.
Hadrat Abu Huraira says that Abu Jahl asked the people of Quraish: "Does Muḥammad (upon whom be Allāh's peace and blessings) set his face on the ground before you?" When they replied in the affirmative, he said: "By Lat and Uzza, if I ever catch him in that act of worship, I would set my foot on his neck and rub his face in the dust." Then it so happened that he saw the Holy Messenger in that posture and came forward to set his foot on his neck, but suddenly turned back as if in a fright and being asked what was the matter, he said there was a ditch of fire and a terrible apparition between himself and Muḥammad (upon whom be Allāh's peace and blessings) and some wings. On hearing this the Holy Prophet remarked: "Had he come near me, the angels would have smitten and torn him to pieces." (Ahmad, Muslim, Nasai, Ibn Jarir, Ibn AbI Hatim, Ibn al-Mundhir, lbn Marduyah, Abu Nu'aim Isfahani, Baihaqi).
According to lbn Abbas, Abu Jahl said:"If I caught Muḥammad (upon whom be Allāh's peace and blessings) performing his Prayer by the Ka'bah, I would trample his neck down." When the Holy Prophet heard of it, he said: "If he acted so, the angels would seize him there and then." (Bukhari, Tirmidhi, Nasai, Ibn Jarir, Abdur Razzaq, Abd bin Humaid, Ibn al- Mundhir, Ibn Marduyah).
According to another tradition from Ibn Abbas, the Holy Prophet was performing his Prayer at the Maqam Ibrahim. Abu Jahl passed that way and said: "O Muḥammad, did I not forbid you this," and then he started to threaten him. In reply the Holy Prophet (upon whom be peace) rebuked him severely. There upon he said: "O Muḥammad, on what strength do you rebuke me? By God, my followers in this valley far exceed yours in number." (Ahmad, Tirmidhi, Nasai, Ibn Jarir, lbn Abi Shaibah, Ibn al-Mundhir, Tabarani, Ibn Marduyah).
Because of these very incidents the portion of this Surah beginning with Kalla inn al-insana la yat gha was sent down. Naturally the place of this part should be the same as assigned to it in this Surah of the Qurʾān, for after the coming down of the first Revelation the Holy Prophet had given expression to Islam first of all by the act of Prayer, and his conflict with the pagans.