Ulum al Qur'an
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Several Views on Sabab al-Nuzul
It also occurs that the Companions of the Prophet when mentioning a revelation, differed in their views about its sabab al-nuzul. This is due to the fact that as already shown above there have been various asbab for one particular revelation, and each of the persons reporting the circumstances had been present only on one of the various occasions.
Otherwise several views about the same revelation have to be judged on their merits according to the rules of 'ulum al-,hadith, and one of them will be found to be stronger than the others.
There are two reports concerning the revelation of Sura 17: 85:
According to Ibn 'Abbas, as reported in Tirmidhi, the Quraish asked the Jews to give them something they could ask the Prophet about and they were advised to ask about the Spirit (al-ruh). Then the aya 17:85 was revealed.
From Ibn Mas'ud, as reported in Bukhari, it is related that he said:
While I was in the company of the Prophet on a farm, and he was reclining on a palm leaf stalk, some Jews passed by. Some of them said to the others: Ask him about the Spirit. Some of them said: What urges you to ask him about it. Others said: (Don't) lest he should give you a reply which you dislike, but they said, Ask him. So they asked him about the Spirit. The Prophet kept quiet and did not give them any answer. I knew that he was being divinely inspired so I stayed at my place. When the divine inspiration had been revealed, the Prophet said 'They ask you (O Muhammad) concerning the Spirit. Say: "the Spirit", its knowledge is with my Lord and from the knowledge it is only a little that has been given to you (mankind)' (17: 85).
The second report, although the first one has been declared sahih by Tirmidhi, is considered to be stronger because it comes from Ibn Mas'ud, who says that he was present on the occasion of the revelation, while the report from Ibn 'Abbas in Tirmidhi does not contain this information. [See Salih, op.cit., pp. 145-6; Bukhari, VI, No. 245.]