In the Spirit of the Gracious and Compassionate
Creator of the Heavens and the Earth
Allah speaks. The Qur’an is a book of Allah speaking directly to Muhammad and to other human beings. The Qur’an is not a “thus saith the Lord” book, in which the Almighty is quoted indirectly. In the Qur’an, Allah speaks directly.
Qur’an إِنَّا نَحْنُ نَزَّلْنَا عَلَيْكَ الْقُرْآنَ تَنزِيلًا – 76:23
Yusuf Ali’s version is, “It is We Who have sent down the Qur’an to thee by stages.”
Closer to literal: “Surely, we, we, we caused to come down upon you (Muhammad) the Qur’an coming down.” (The pronoun for “you” is masculine singular and apparently directed at the Prophet.)
This statement is best explained word-by-word.
“innaa” consist of the particle “in-” which means “surely” and the pronoun “-naa” which means “we”. This is the “we” of respect — the “royal we” — and is used by Allah to refer to himself alone. Allah makes clear throughout the Qur’an that he is a single being, not plural in any sense.
“nahnu” is the pronoun meaning “we”. Obviously, Allah is repeating himself. For emphasis, I assume. Inasmuch as this pronoun comes before the verb, English-speaking people such as myself tend to read it as the subject of the verb. Not so. In Arabic, the doer always follows the verb. Overall, this is a noun sentence, and in a noun sentence the subject of the sentence comes at the beginning. “nahnu” is the subject of the entire following sentence, not the doer (“subject”) of the verb.
“nazzalnaa” is the verb of a verbal sentence, with the pronoun “-naa” (“we”) attached. Thus, the doer is following the verb. This means “we sent down.” The verb “nazzal” means “to cause to come down.” From “nazzalnaa” to the end is the verbal sentence contained within a noun sentence. In Arabic, one sentence often encloses another sentence. They do not necessarily (as is the case here) have the same subject or doer. This is a verb sentence (starting with “nazzalnaa“) enclosed in a noun sentence (starting with “nahnu“). In turn, this noun sentence could be described as being enclosed within another noun sentence, which begins with “innaa.”
English can never be a simple translation of Arabic.
“‘alaika” means “upon you” — the “you” (“-ka“), in this case, being masculine singular. Except in pseudo-religious language, English has lost the use of “thee” and “thou” (singular) and “ye” (plural). Arabic has at least ten different words (whose meanings are easily distinguishable) for the English word “you” — “anta” or “-ka” (masculine singular), “anti” or “-ki” (feminine singular), “antumaa” or “-kumaa” (dual, any combination of masculine and feminine), “antum” or “-kum” (masculine plural, or a combination of masculine and feminine), “antunna” or “-kunna” (feminine plural). The forms beginning with a hyphen are attached either to a verb or, as in this case, to a particle (“‘alaa-“). Much of the Qur’an is addressed directly from Allah to Muhammad. Therefore, the singular pronoun for “you” — (“-ka“) — is used. Using “thee” is misleading, because there is nothing archaic or “religious” about using the singular pronoun for “you” in Arabic.
“al-Qur’an” is (of course) the Qur’an. Allah uses the verb “nazzal” to describe how he sends the Qur’an to Muhammad in the same way that he uses “nazzal” to describe how he sends water from the sky. (“Maaaa’um min-as-samaaaa‘” is a frequent expression in the Qur’an — “water from the sky” captures neither the sound nor the deeper meaning.)
“tanzeelaa” is a different form of the word “nazzal.” “tanzeelaa” means “coming down.” In the Qur’an, Allah often uses different forms of the same word in the same statement. This is just not our style in English. We would not say, “He ran off, running” — but that is a common form of statement in the Qur’an. It might be considered a form of emphasis, but it also has a flavor which we tend to avoid in English prose.
There is no way to translate this simple Arabic statement into English.
First, we have the triple emphasis of “we we we” (‘innaa” — “surely we” — and “nahnu” — “we” — and “nazzalnaa” — “we sent down”) at the beginning. Then we have the use of a pronoun (“-ka” — the masculine singular for “you”) which is absent from English. We also have the use of the word “qur’an” — a word with a clear and simple Arabic meaning, but for which there is no English equivalent. And finally, the use of the word “tanzeelaa” which cannot properly be incorporated into an English translation without sounding strange.
But, the most important aspect of this statement is that it is directly from Allah to his servant, his prophet, his messenger, Muhammad. Neither Muhammad nor anyone else but Allah is speaking here.