One Verse, Multiple Causes of Revelation
There are many instances when there is existence of more than one narration concerning the sabab an-nuzool of a particular verse. When there is existence of multiple narrations concerning asbaab an-nuzool for a single verse, the following guidelines are used:
Prefer The Authentic Over The Weak
If one of the narrations is weak, and the other is authentic, then the weak one is rejected and the authentic one accepted. For example, there are two reports concerning the sabab an-nuzool for soorah 93,
"By the Forenoon! And by the Night when it is Still! Your Lord has neither Forsaken you nor Hated you! (Q93[Duha]: 1-3)
Bukhari and Muslim narrate that once the Prophet (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) did not receive inspiration for a few days, so one of the women of the Quraysh ridiculed him, saying, "O Muhammad, I think your Shaytan has left you." Allaah then revealed these verses in response to her.
On the other hand, there exists a narration in Tabaraanee, stating that the Prophet (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) did not receive inspiration for a few days, so he started worrying about this. This caused the servant of the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) to clean the house and she discovered a dead puppy under the bed. When she removed it, this soorah was revealed. Since this narration is weak, it is rejected as sabab an-nuzool.
Prefer The Stronger Of The Two
If both narrations are authentic, then it is investigated to see if there are any grounds for preferring one narration over the other. For example, if one of them is narrated in a clear manner as being the sabab an-nuzool (l.e., the first type of phrasing mentioned in the previous section), whereas the other is not, then the former narration is accepted.
Another reason that one narration is preferred over another is if one of the narrations is reported by a Companion who witnessed the sabab an-nuzool of the verse and was present at the time of the revelation, and another that is based on secondhand information. In this case, the eyewitness report is accepted.
The verse, "They ask you concerning the Spirit. Say: 'The Spirit is from the command (or knowledge) of my Lord .. ." (Q17[lsraa]:85)
has two reports concerning its sabab annuzool. The first one is reported by Ibn Mas'ood (RA), who said, "I was walking with the Prophet (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) in Madeenah, and he was leaning on a stick. We passed by a group of Jews, who whispered to one another, why do you not ask him something (to try to outwit him)?' Then they asked, 'Tell us about the Spirit.' I saw the Prophet (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) stand for a while, raising his head, so I knew he was being inspired. When the inspiration finished, he read,
"They ask you concerning the Spirit. Say: The Spirit is from the command (or knowledge) of my Lord,' and of knowledge, you have only been given little." (QI7[lsraa]:85)
The second report is from Ibn 'Abbaas (RA), who said that the polytheists of Makkah asked the Jews to give them a question that they could ask the Prophet (salallahu alayhi wa sallam), in order to baffle him. The Jews told them to ask about the Spirit, and when they did, Allaah revealed these verses. In this report, it is the Quraysh who are asking the Prophet (salallahu alayhi wa sallam), and not the Jews. Faced with these two reports, precedence is given to the first one, since Ibn Mas'ud was present at the time and place of revelation, whereas Ibn Abbas (RA) was not.
This article was culled from the publications of Deen Communication Limited