Revelations In Islam
Revelation is where Allah imparts whatever knowledge He wills to those whom He chooses to receive it. Allah gives this knowledge to them in order for them to convey it to whomever else He wishes.
All the Messengers of Allah experienced revelation. Allah says:
The possibility of divine revelation cannot be denied by anyone who believes in the existence of Allah and in His omnipotence. Allah maintains His creation in any manner that pleases Him. The connection between the Creator and his Creation is by way of His Messengers, and these Messengers only know what Allah wants from them by way of revelation, either directly or indirectly. The rational mind cannot dismiss the possibility of revelation, since nothing is difficult for the all-powerful Creator.
The Nature of Revelation:
Revelation is not a personal experience that a Prophet brings forth from within himself. It is not a spiritual state that a person can attain by doing certain meditations or spiritual exercises. Quite the contrary, revelation is a communication between two beings: one that speaks, commands, and gives, and another who is addressed, commanded, and receives. Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of Allah be upon him – as with every Prophet – never confused himself with the One who gave the revelation to him. As a human being, he felt his weakness before Allah, feared Allah’s wrath if he should disobey, and hoped for Allah’s mercy.
He sought help from Allah, submitted to what he was commanded to do, and was on occasion even sternly reprimanded by Allah. The Prophet admitted his absolute inability to alter even one word of Allah’s Book. Allah says:
This should make perfectly clear the difference between the essence, attributes, and ways of the Creator and those of His Creation.
The Prophet took great care to maintain a distinction between his own speech (the Hadeeth) and the direct speech of Allah, though both were the result of revelation. For this reason, in the early period of revelation, he used to prohibit anything that he uttered to be written down except for the Quran. This preserved for the Quran its distinctiveness as being the very word of Allah, unmixed with the speech of people.
The Prophet would also make a distinction in his own speech between his own opinions and what came from Allah as revelation.
The Prophet had no hand in the revelation that he received. Revelation is a force external to the being of the Prophet. He was not able to manipulate it in any way. This is supported by the fact that certain crises would befall the Prophet or one of those around him that required an immediate solution, but he found no verse of Quran to recite to the people. He had to remain silent and wait, sometimes in desperation, until Allah, in His wisdom, revealed what was needed.
A good example of this is the time when Aishah, the wife of the Prophet was accused of adultery by some of the hypocrites, though she was innocent. People began to say things that were painful for the Prophet until his heart was about to burst. He was unable to prohibit this. All he could say was:
A whole month passed like this before the revelation came down declaring Aishah’s innocence and exonerating the household of the Prophet.
In brief, revelation has nothing to do with the choices and wishes of the one who receives it. It is an unusual, external occurrence. It is a force of knowledge, because it gives knowledge. It is free from error. It comes only with the truth and guides only to what is right.
How revelation comes to the angels and to the Messengers
In the Quran it is mentioned that Allah speaks to the angels. Allah says:
Revelation to the angels happens by Allah speaking to them and the angels hearing from Him.
Revelation comes to Allah’s human Messengers either directly or through an intermediary. In the case of an intermediary, it is the angel Gabriel who brings the revelation. There are two ways that this occurs:
1. The angel would come to him with a voice like the clanging of a bell. This is the severest way revelation would come to the Messenger. Such a harsh sound demands the full attention of the one being addressed with it. When the revelation came in this manner, it was extremely demanding upon all of the Messenger’s faculties.
2. The angel would come to him in the form of a man. This was easier than the previous way, since the form of the angelic Messenger was familiar to the human Messenger and easier to relate to.
Both of these ways are mentioned by the Prophet in his answer to al-Haarith b. Hishaam when he asked how the revelation came to him. Allah’s Messenger said:
Revelation without an intermediary happens in two ways:
1. A good dream: Aishah relates:
This was to prepare Allah’s Messenger to receive revelation while awake. The whole Quran was revealed while the Prophet was awake.
The story of Abraham when he was commanded to sacrifice his son demonstrates how a dream can be revelation that must be acted upon. Allah says:
If that dream had not been revelation that had to be obeyed, Abraham would never have gone forward to sacrifice his son, but in fact he almost did so. He was only stopped because Allah commanded him to stop and ordered him to sacrifice something else instead.
The good dream is not only for the Prophets. It remains for the believers, even though it is not revelation. Allah’s Messenger said:
2. Allah speaking directly from behind a barrier: This happened to Prophet Moses. Allah says:
Allah also says:
This also happened to Prophet Muhammad on the night of his Journey and Ascension when he was taken up into the heavens and his Lord spoke to him.
All of these ways of receiving revelation are mentioned in the Quran. Allah says: