Rebuttal to Sam Shamoun's Article "Which Came First? An Analysis of the Conflicting Reports on Muhammad's First Revelations"
Sam Shamoun's article could be located here. We encourage our readers to read Shamoun's article first before proceeding to read this rebuttal.
Yes it is true that there is a difference of opinion amongst the scholars in regards to which Surah had been revealed first, however the alleged contradictions that Shamoun claims to exist in the hadith could be easily harmonized and resolved.
All the authentic (you will know why I emphasized this word as you read on) narrations that Shamoun has provided clearly portray the events as happening in this order:
Event 1: Muhammad (peace be upon him) was in cave Hira and saw angel Gabriel who revealed the first five verses of Surah 96 to him.
Event 2: After walking out of Cave Hira and during the period of pause of revelation Muhammad (peace be upon him) saw angel Gabriel in the sky and went home in a state of shock.
Event 3: Muhammad (peace be upon him) reached home and told his wife Khadija to cover him and this is when the first three verses of Surah 74 were revealed.
Shamoun cites Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 60, Number 478, which mentions event 1.
Shamoun then cites the narration from Yahya ibn Abi Kathir from the 33rd chapter of Saheeh Al Bukhari and Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 60, Number 444. This narration shows that Jabir bin Abdullah mentioning Event 1 then Events 2 & 3. However, he forgot to state an essential part of Event 1, which is that the Prophet (peace be upon him) received verses 1-5 of Surah 96. It's very likely that when the Prophet (peace be upon him) was telling Jabir the story that he only wanted to emphasize the part of the story regarding Surah 74 and did not mention the other details. Note, that Jabir didn't directly cite the Prophet (peace be upon him) as stating that Surah 74 was the first Surah to be revealed, rather Jabir took that non-comprehensive story from the Prophet (peace be upon him) and mistakenly understood the story as implying that Surah 74 was the first Surah to be revealed. Hence, this story only shows Jabir's mistake in taking that non-comprehensive story as proof for Surah 74 being the first revealed story and it does not show any contradiction so far in the Prophet's (peace be upon him) words. This is one way of lookig at it. The second and preffered way is to realize that the fact that Jabir affirmed a pause in the revelation during the revealing of Surah 74 indirectly implies that he was aware that Surah 74 wasn't the first revelation, since there can't be any "pause" in revelation if there were no revelation prior. This is why scholars such as Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalani stated that Jabir's intention was to say that Surah 74 was the first Surah to be revealed after the pause in revelation and not in an absolute sense. If one is not convinced of this explanation then one may opt for the previous one I just mentioned.
Shamoun then cites a narration from Jabir from Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 60, Number 448. This narration shows Event 1 then Event 2 and then Event 3 in proper sequence (so far no contradiction), yet this time as opposed to the previous narration we have an extra detail regarding Event 1 mentioned to us and that is that the Prophet (peace be upon him) saw an angel (yet no mention about the revelation of Surah 96). This refutes Shamoun's comment about the previous narration:
If this version of the events is correct then this means that Muhammad didn't see anything when he was in the cave itself
Because in the previous narration Jabir didn't mention the Prophet (peace be upon him) seeing an angel in the cave, while in this narration he did and that is proof that lack of mentioning details in a narration does not provide clear testimony to its affirmative denial of those details. Hence, so far we still don't see any narrations directly conflicting with the order of the events I have stipulated at the beginning of this article.
Shamoun then cites a narration from Aisha from The Sahih Collection of al-Bukhari, Chapter 1: The Beginning of the Revelation. This narration mentions Event 1 then Event 3 (though it did not mention the revelation of Surah 74 in Event 3), but skips out Event 2. It's possible that Aisha was summarizing the entire story and decided to not mention Event 2. This summarizing is most likely from her since she didn't say that she is quoting the Prophet's (peace be upon him) words here.
Shamoun then cites a narration from The History of al-Tabari - Muhammad at Mecca, however this narration is weak and cannot be used as evidence as I have illustrated here.
To answer Shamoun's questions:
Did Muhammad first encounter the spirit while meditating in the cave?
Or did he only see him (or something) during his descent from the cave after having finished his period of seclusion?
No he saw the angel again after his descent from the cave, just as the Prophet (peace be upon him) made clear according to Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 60, Number 448 when he said
"While I was walking I heard a voice from the sky. I looked up towards the sky, and behold! I saw the same angel who came to me in the Cave of Hira', sitting on a chair between the sky and the earth."
Did he receive Q. 96:1 in his first meeting?
We know that the Prophet (peace be upon him) first saw angel Gabriel in his dreams and that he told him to read. (Sirat Ibn Hisham, Volume 1, pages 299-302. The chain is good (Hasan). Also see Aisha's initial comments in Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 60, Number 478). But if one is referring to while he was awake then the answer is yes.
Or was Q. 74 the first surah that was "revealed" to him?
No it wasn't the first Surah revealed to him, since the hadeeth make it clear that this occurred after his seclusion in Cave Hira where he received Surah 96, however Jabir could have been mistaken and didn't know the full story in detail and hence reached the wrong conclusion. It's important to note that no where did the Prophet (peace be upon him) say that Surah 74 was the first Surah revealed to him either directly nor indirectly. His words were clear, yet Jabir was at fault for appealing to a non-comprehensive story of the events, which the Prophet (peace be upon him) told him at a certain time. The alternative which I prefer and which many scholars stated was that Jabir's intention was to state that Surah 74 was the first Surah to be revealed after the pause in revelation.
Or did Muhammad actually receive Q. 74 after a pause in the so-called revelations?
Yes it was revealed after a pause in the so-called revelations. (This is where the scholars have debated how long this period of cessation actually was. This is why I personally opt for the position that it was a matter of days, since it's reasonable to assume that the Prophet stayed at the cave for a short time after he encountered Gabriel and not two and a half years or six months as some scholars have suggested. Allah knows best).
Did Muhammad ask to be covered up after the spirit appeared to him in the cave which was the event that led to the "revelation" of Q. 96, thereby implying that Q. 74 was the second surah to be "revealed"?
As I have said Aisha could have been summarizing the story.
Or did he ask to be wrapped up after he had finished his seclusion and had already left the cave, which one report says was the first time that he saw something or someone, thereby implying that Q. 74 was actually the first surah to be "revealed"?
He asked to be wrapped up after seeing the angel in the sky and then went home. As I have said Jabir could have been appealing to a non-comprehensive story. This doesn't imply Surah 74 was the first revealed Surah.
In conclusion, Shamoun has failed to show that there are any contradictions in the hadeeth literature regarding this story. He has only done a surface level reading of the texts as usual.
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