The Noble Qur`an was revealed over the span of twenty-three years, following a chain of questions and answers [from the people] or with various events and incidents taking place.
Having knowledge of the history of revelation of the verses offers us a clearer understanding of the meaning of each verse. However, this does not mean that without knowing the history of revelation we are unable to go forth and explain the Qur`an. Rather, since the verses of the Qur`an are a source of guidance, clear proofs, and the distinguisher between right and wrong, just as we are told that:
هُدىً لِّلنَّاسِ وَبَـيِّـنَاتٍ مِّنَ الْهُدى وَالْفُرْقَانِ...
“…(this Qur`an is a) guide to mankind, and also clear (Signs) for guidance and judgement (between right and wrong)…”1
.وَأَنْـزَلْنَا إِلَيْكُمْ نُوراً مُّبِيناً...
“…and We have sent down to you the manifest light (the Noble Qur`an)…”2
thus naturally, this is exactly what has been meant and even without referring to the history of revelation of the verses, we are able to clearly understand their meaning.
However, with shifting our attention to the history of revelation of the verses, their meaning will become clearer and even more manifest.
At this point, we present an example that proves what we have just stated.
It is mentioned in Suratul Tawbah (9) that:
وَعَلى الثَّلاَثَةِ الَّذِينَ خُلِّفُوا حَـتَّى إِذَا ضَاقَتْ عَلَيْهِمُ الأَرْضُ بِمَا رَحُبَتْ وَضَاقَتْ عَلَيْهِمْ أَنْفُسُهُمْ وَظَنُّوا أَنْ لاَّ مَلْجَأَ مِنَ اللٌّهِ إِلاَّ إِلَيْهِ ثُمَّ تَابَ عَلَيْهِمْ لِيَتُوبُوا إِنَّ اللٌّهَ هُوَ التَّوَّابُ الرَّحِيمُ
“(He - Allah - turned in mercy also) to the three who were left behind; (they felt guilty) to such a degree that the Earth seemed constrained to them for all its spaciousness, and their souls seemed straitened to them, and they perceived that there is no fleeing from Allah (and no refuge), but to Him. Then He turned to them that they might repent, for Allah is Oft-Returning, the Most Merciful.”3
There is no doubt that the meaning of the verse is clear, however a person would definitely have, in regards to the (deeper) meaning of this verse, the desire to know the following things:
1. Who are the three people referred to in this verse?
2. Why were they left behind?
3. How did the Earth become constrained for them?
4. How did their chests become straitened in regards to the life of this world and how did their souls face pressure?
5. How did they realize that other than Allah (awj), there is no other source of refuge?
6. What is the meaning of the ability or opportunity given by Allah (awj) to humans (Tawfiq) in relation to these people?
The answers to each of these questions can easily be achieved by referring to the history of revelation of this verse.
At this stage, it would not be out of place to remind ourselves of the following point which is that any narration which details the history of revelation of a particular verse of the Qur`an can not automatically be accepted. Rather, in regards to the trustworthiness of a tradition which contains the history of revelation (of a verse), there must be some measurements in place through which the correct and incorrect narrations can be weighed.
This is especially true when it comes to the history of revelation of the verses of the Qur`an which relate the stories of the previous prophets and the past generations of people as in this area of review, precaution must not be neglected as many of the narrations which discuss the history of revelation (of these types of instances) have been related from unknown and unfamiliar sources and as we know, we can never (blindly) accept historical narrations from such sources.
Unfortunately, many of the commentaries of the Qur`an do not take this point into consideration and therefore, some commentators have gone forth to relate any narration which accounts the history of revelation – even from people who are not trustworthy or reliable!