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According to Islamic tradition, the Quran was revealed gradually to the prophet Muhammad over the 23 years of his prophethood, generally in the form of divine guidance for the circumstances Muhammad found himself in at any given time. Thus, in addition to containing commandments and laws aimed at the entire Muslim population, the Quran also contains content intended only for Muhammad's employment. Often revelation of the latter sort was related to the extremely personal circumstances of the prophet, including exclusive exemptions for Muhammad from Islamic law, admonitions of his wives and guests, and intimate family affairs. In addition to revelations passed to Muhammad in the form of the Quran, according to the hadith literature, Muhammad would sometimes assert he had received a message from God which was not intended as part of the Quran but which was nonetheless binding in all the same ways. These non-Quranic revelations form a genre of the hadith known as the hadith qudsi. Traditional Islamic scholars do not consider these hadith qudsi to be any more important than regular hadiths, although the reasoning behind this absence of distinction has not been clarified by them or agreed upon in common.
Historical interpretations of convenient revelations
There are three different historical interpretations of this highly-intimate variety of revelational circumstance (Asbab al-Nuzul), particular where it occurs in the Quran.
According to traditional Islamic scholars and perhaps the Quran itself, while these "convenient revelations" may appear superficially to be of no use to individuals other than Muhammad, they are in fact spiritually, legally, or theologically instructive in some manner and are thus God is entirely justified to include them in the Quran.
According to critics, this variety of revelation scarcely merits inclusion in a eternal document of divine importance that conceives of itself as "guidance for all of mankind". In this vein, critics often cite the hadith in Sahih Bukhari according to which Aisha, Muhammad's favorite wife, once said to him after such revelation, "I feel that your Lord hastens in fulfilling your wishes and desires." To critics, these highly-personal and suspiciously convenient revelations are evidence that Muhammad simply employed God's voice to get what he wanted, such as, for instance, an exemption from the four-wife limit imposed by Islamic law as well as a last-minute clarification that marrying the ex-wife of one's adopted son was permissible.
According to most historians, the highly convenient revelational circumstance attributed to certain Quranic verses are no more, or even far less reliable as historical documentation than the typical variety of revelational circumstance used to explain the meaning of any other verse in the Quran. To these historians, the vast majority of the hadith corpus was generated many decades after Muhammad's death in order to justify competing legal preferences and in order to explain otherwise context-bereft and incomprehensible passages in the Quran, of which there are many (this end being not entirely distinct from the former). Some other historians, however, prefer to view the the convenient revelational circumstances reported in the hadith as being exceptionally reliable due to their apparently condemnatory nature. The reasoning with these historians is that anecdotes which appear to cast Muhammad in an often negative light could not have been made up by devout Muslims, and thus may actually have historical basis. These two interpretations advanced by historians are not mutually exclusive and are often considered in tandem, with the explanations of some passaged being later inventions and some being historically plausible.
Exemption from limit on wives
Allah revealed to Muhammad that Muslim men are permitted to marry up to four women.
Muhammad was granted an exception in this respect to be allowed to marry an unlimited number of wives:
One-wife limit for son-in-law
Although Allah allowed men to marry up to four wives, Muhammad allowed only one wife for his son-in-law Ali who was married to Muhammad's daughter Fatima. When Ali desired to take a second wife, Muhammad insisted he first divorce Fatima before taking a new wife.
I heard Allah's Apostle who was on the pulpit, saying, "Banu Hisham bin Al-Mughira have requested me to allow them to marry their daughter to Ali bin Abu Talib, but I don't give permission, and will not give permission unless 'Ali bin Abi Talib divorces my daughter in order to marry their daughter, because Fatima is a part of my body, and I hate what she hates to see, and what hurts her, hurts me."
Exemption from equal treatment of wives
In Quran 4:3 is an injunction to treat all wives equally, with the requirement that: "if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one...".
Muhammad initially gave each of his multiple wives equal attention and time with him, visiting a different wife each night. With time, however, he developed favorite wives who garnered more attention and affection than others. This created a great deal of tension among the ladies, and jealousy, and often rage, ensued. Muhammad then received a revelation absolving him from the earlier admonition to treat all wives as equals and deal with them justly, and allowed him to select his favorite wives according to his desires:
Aisha, the favorite wife of Muhammad, was expressly suspicious about this sort of revelation. After Muhammad received the verse above, Aisha commented, "I feel that your Lord hastens in fulfilling your wishes and desires."
Permission to wed adopted son's ex-wife
Zaynab was initially married to Zaid ibn Haritha, Muhammad's adopted son. One day Muhammad paid a visit to Zaid's house to consult with him about a matter, but he was not home. Not expecting Muhammad to be at the door, Zaynab answered the door instead, dressed in a revealing garment. At this moment, Muhammad developed a desire for her. When Zaid learned of his father's infatuation, he divorced Zaynab so Muhammad could marry her. This turned into a scandal among the Arabs, who equated Muhammad's actions with incest. Soon thereafter, Muhammad received the following revelation:
Despite adopted sons not being treated as real sons in Islam, another legal fiction was at one time endorsed according to hadiths. Adult Suckling was a practice which allowed an unrelated male to become a woman's mahram until that ruling was later abrogated.
Permission to have relations with concubine despite promising otherwise
Muhammad used to take turns among his wives, visiting a different one each night. One night during the time allotted for Hafsa, she had to take care of an urgent need involving another family member and so was not at home. Muhammad instead had intimate relations with Mary, a Coptic slave that had been given to him. Muhammad was not married to Mary the Copt.
Grade: Sahih (Darussalam)
When Hafsah found this out and questioned him, Muhammad promised (on oath) not to touch Mary again if Hafsah would keep the occurrence a secret, and promised that Umar (Umar's dad) and Abu Bakr (Aisha's dad) would be his successors. Hafsah, however, did not keep quiet and told Aysha about this event. As a result Muhammad had no interactions with any of his wives for a full month during which he lived with Mary alone. In response, Aisha and Hafsa conspired with the rest of the prophet's wives against Muhammad and isolated him from physical relations.
Regarding his actions with Mary, Muhammad received the following revelation:
Allah then proceeded to chastise Aisha and Hafsa for getting upset with Muhammad for having sex with Mary:
Excusing the Satanic Verses
Pre-Islamic Mecca was a center of paganism and polytheism. It is said 360 idols surrounded the Ka'aba, with additional idols stored inside, and that these were worshipped as gods. Thus, it is storied in the hadith that when Muhammad first began preaching monotheism and denouncing other gods, he met resistance and hostility.
In an what was apparently an attempt to appease the Meccans, buy some time and bring relief to his followers from hostility, Muhammad one night had a revelation found in Surah 53:19-22 which originally read, "Have you thought of al-Lat and al-Uzza and Manat the third, the other?; these are the exalted Gharaniq whose intercession is approved."  Al-Lat, al-Uzza and Manat were three female deities, known as daughters of Allah, who were considered especially important by Arabs in the region. By this revelation Muhammad acknowledged these deities as extant, worthy of worship, and as entities whose intercession in heaven was to be sought. Acknowledging these deities had the effect of rendering the Arabs accommodating towards Muhammad, who reportedly fell into prostration in approval upon hearing the acceptance of these deities. Later, the angel Gabriel chastised Muhammad for uttering these verses and informed him that Satan, not Allah, had put these words in Muhammad's mouth. Thus, these verses became known as the Satanic Verses (al-Ayaat al-Shaytaniyyah). Later, Islamic theologians would have tremendous difficulty reconciling this grievous error, which amounted to shirk (polytheism), with Muhammad's status as the infallible and perfect man (uswa hasana).
Muhammad then received another revelation absolving him of responsibility for the verse:
Christian and Jewish polemicists would later mount criticism of Islam on the basis of these story, citing the fact that no such instance of prophets succumbing to Satan's trickery and pronouncing false revelations was found in either the Bible or in Jewish literature. Indeed, Christian and Jewish scripture (scriptures recognized by the Qur'an as containing the words of other prophets) were quoted by these polemicists to the contrary:
Permission to violate sacred months with military activity
Four months of the year were considered sacred to early Arabs. During these months no warfare was allowed and bloodshed was completely forbidden. The months which the Arabs held sacred were al Mu'harram, Rajab, Dhu'l Qaada, and Dhu'l Hajja; the first, the seventh, the eleventh, and the twelfth in the year. Muhammad adopted this custom of the Arabs and codified it in the Quran: Quran 2:194 and Quran 5:97.
In one of the earliest raids on a trade caravan by warriors dispatched by Muhammad, a convenient revelation is received regarding the sacred months. Muhammad's men spotted the caravan passing by on the last day of a sacred month. According to ibn Ishaq:
In the end they decided to attack the caravan and capture its goods, thereby violating the prohibitions against warfare in the sacred month. When Muhammad learned of it, he at first admonished them for violating the sacred month, but then received a new revelation:
Condemnation of those avoiding war preparations
When preparing for the Battle of the Trench, Muhammad ordered his followers to dig a large trench around the perimeter of Medina, to hold off the expected army of Meccans intent on killing Muhammad and ending his religious movement. A number of Muhammad's men put less than full effort into the task, and some even left without Muhammad's permission. At the same time, another Muslim needed temporary leave to attend to an urgent matter. He asked Muhammad's permission, was granted permission, and returned to trench digging as soon as he could.
Muhammad became upset and angry at those who left the task without asking his permission. Here, Muhammad received the following revelation:
Further emphasizing the point, ibn Ishaq (one of the earliest biographers of Muhammad) records the following words from Allah:
Gabriel assists with prophethood quiz
A man by the name of Abdullah bin Salam wanted to determine if Muhammad was a legitimate prophet and so posed three questions that he assumed only a prophet would be able to answer correctly: Firstly, what is the first portent of the Hour? Secondly, what is the first meal of the people of Paradise? and thirdly, why does a child look like its father or mother?
Muhammad responded that he had immediately been informed by Gabriel as to the answers of these questions. Muhammad proceeds to share the following revealed answers. Responding to the first question: the first portent of the hour is an all-consuming fire from east to west. To the second: the first meal in paradise is extra fish liver. And third: a child looks like whichever parent achieves orgasm first during sexual intercourse (a response which, critics point out, is plainly at odds with modern science and which aligns perfectly with an ancient Greek explanation of gender determination).
Historians have noted that this exchange is historically suspect because it would not have been possible to confirm whether Muhammad had in fact given the correct responses to these questions regarding the hereafter and the science of reproduction if only a prophet could know them. Abdullah bin Salman wanted to confirm whether Muhammad was a prophet. To do this, he supposedly asked Muhammad questions only a prophet could answer. But Abdullah bin Salman should then have been unable to verify the correctness of these responses, rendering the questions pointless. To historians, this hadith is thus likely later fabrication.
'Abdullah bin Salam heard the news of the arrival of Allah's Apostle (at Medina) while he was on a farm collecting its fruits. So he came to the Prophet and said, "I will ask you about three things which nobody knows unless he be a prophet. Firstly, what is the first portent of the Hour? What is the first meal of the people of Paradise? And what makes a baby look like its father or mother?. The Prophet said, "Just now Gabriel has informed me about that." ... "As for the first portent of the Hour, it will be a fire that will collect the people from the East to West. And as for the first meal of the people of Paradise, it will be the caudite (i.e. extra) lobe of the fish liver. And if a man's discharge proceeded that of the woman, then the child resembles the father, and if the woman's discharge proceeded that of the man, then the child resembles the mother." On hearing that, 'Abdullah said, "I testify that None has the right to be worshipped but Allah, and that you are the Apostle of Allah...
Appending a Quranic passage for a blind bystander
Muhammad, having received the version of Quran 4:95 contained in the Quran today, called on Zaid to write down the revelation. Muhammad began to recite the verse about the superiority of those who participate in jihad to Zaid. A blind man, overhearing the verse, asked if the verse applied to him, considering that he was blind and could not participate in jihad. Muhammad then immediately received revelation exempting disabled persons from partaking in Jihad.
There was revealed: 'Not equal are those believers who sit (at home) and those who strive and fight in the Cause of Allah.' (4.95)
The Prophet said, "Call Zaid for me and let him bring the board, the inkpot and the scapula bone (or the scapula bone and the ink pot)."' Then he said, "Write: 'Not equal are those Believers who sit..", and at that time 'Amr bin Um Maktum, the blind man was sitting behind the Prophet . He said, "O Allah's Apostle! What is your order For me (as regards the above Verse) as I am a blind man?" So, instead of the above Verse, the following Verse was revealed:'Not equal are those believers who sit (at home) except those who are disabled (by injury or are blind or lame etc.) and those who strive and fight in the cause of Allah.' (4.95)
Once, major Meccan chiefs were sitting in the assembly of Mohammad, and he was earnestly engaged in trying to persuade them to accept Islam. At that point, a blind man, named Abdallah ibn Umm Makhtum, approached seeking explanation of some point concerning Islam. Muhammad disliked this interruption and ignored the blind man. Later, remorseful, Muhammad received a revelation acknowledging the blind man's plight. The blind man was thus made to feel better about his unpleasant encounter with Muhammad.
Condemnation of house guests
Muhammad's followers were at one point staying too long in and around his house and talking to his wives, to Muhammad's chagrin. Muhammad thus received a verse condemning this behavior on the part of his companions.
- Sahih Bukhari 6:60:311
- Sahih Bukhari 6:60:311
- Gerhard Nehls & Walter Eric - The Challenge of Islam/ Chapter II - English Press Limited Nairobi, New Revised Edition 1996, ISBN 9966 895 16 7
- ibn Ishaq, p. 165-166; see also History of al-Tabari , vol VI: Muhammad at Mecca, p. 108-109
- ibn Ishaq, p. 287
- ibn Ishaq, p. 451