Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Nature of Revelation

The Nature of Revelation

In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful;
All praise and thanks are due to Allah, May Allah blessings and peace be upon His Messenger.

Allah sent Adam, his wife and Satan down to this earth after they had failed their first trial. Ever since that time, He, the Most High, has been sending them and their progeny guidance and direction to explain their purpose in life and what is required from them. Allah says:

 "We said, 'Go down from it, all of you. And when guidance comes to you from Me, whoever follows My guidance -there will be no fear concerning them, nor will they grieve." [Al-Baqarah, 2:38]

This guidance from Allah came in the form of revelation, or Wahyu and was given to the various Prophets.

The Meaning of Revelation

Revelation and inspiration are two English words which translate the meanings of the Arabic term Wahyu. Ar-Raghib al-Asfahani said in his dictionary of Qur'anic Terms that Wahyu means a quick hint or informing that may take the form of speech, writing, a gesture or a mere sound. Imam Ibn Hajar said it is a "subtle and rapid informing." Lexically, the Qur'an has used the word Wahyu to denote a variety of things such as:

1. Inspiration or revelation to the Prophets, the Qur'an says, "Indeed, We have revealed to you, (O Muhammad) as We revealed to Noah and the Prophets after him." [An-Nisaa’, 4:163]

2. Instructing and directing the Angels, "(Remember) when your Lord inspired to the angels, I 'am with you, so strengthen those who have believed." [Al-Anfal, 8:12]

3. Communicating using a quick sign or gesture, "So he (Prophet Zechariah) came out to his people from the prayer chamber and signaled to them to exalt (Allah) in the morning and afternoon." [Maryam, 19:11].

4. Intuition and instinctual insight or ilham that Allah has given to someone, "And We inspired to the mother of Moses, (saying): 'Suckle him, but when you fear for him, cast him into the river and do not fear and do not grieve. Indeed, We will return him to you and will make him (one) of the Messengers." [Al-Qasas, 28:7]

5. Instinctive animal feeling and sense, "And your Lord inspired to the bee, Take for yourself mountains houses (i.e., hives), and among the trees and in that which they construct. Then eat from all the fruits and follow the ways of your Lord laid down (for you)." [An-Nahl, 16:68-69].

6. Evil whispers from the Satan to humans, "And indeed do the devils inspire their allies (among men) to dispute with you." [Al-An’am, 6:121].

As a Qur'anic term, Wahyu means three following things:
  •  First, the communication from Allah to His Prophets, directly or through a medium, informing them about whatever message He wants them to deliver to people. This type is indicated in number one above, and is the most common, typically referred to when the term Wahyu is used.
  • Second, an understanding or knowledge that one may find in his heart and feel certain that it is from Allah.
  • Third, whatever Allah sends down to His Prophets as a part of His Law or as a knowledge of the unseen, whether in the form of a book or by other means.
How does it happen?

Allah says, "And it is not for any human being that Allah should speak to him except by revelation or behind a partition or that He sends a messenger (i.e., an Angel) to reveal, by His permission, what He wills. Indeed, He is Most High, All-Wise." [Ash-Shura, 42:51].

The second major method that Allah, subhanahu wa ta'ala, uses to reveal and inspire His Prophets is one that involves intermediaries.

With an intermediary

This type, also called 'Indirect Revelation', was explained by Imam Ibn Kathir in his Tafsir where he indicated that this indirect revelation is carried out, through the use of, the angel Gabriel as the intermediary. The same was told by the Prophet s.a.w in the hadith of Aishah, "Sometimes it (the Wahyu) comes to me like the ringing of a bell, and this is the most severe form for me; then the ringing ceases and I would understand what (the Angel) said. And occasionally, the Angel would appear before me in the form of a man and speaks to me, and I grasp all that he says." [Al-Bukhari].

This hadith states the two common forms the Angel uses to deliver the message:
  •  A reverberating sounds (the voice of the Angel) like that of a bell.
  •  A direct speech of the Angel.
 Gabriel sometimes appeared in his true natural form in addition to appearing in the form of a man, "And indeed he (Muhammad) saw him (Gabriel) at a second descent (i.e., at another time)." [An-Najm, 53:13].

Another reference to Gabriel appearing in the human form is related in the well-known hadith of Umar Ibnul-Khattab in the two Sahih books of Al-Bukhari and Muslim in which he said: "... a man appeared before the Companions with exceedingly black hair, clean clothes, with no sign of traveling seen on him." Later in the hadith, the Prophet s.a.w told Umar that that man was "Gabriel, who came to teach you your religion."

Qur'anic use of the term Wahyu

We have shown that the word Wahyu has many lexical meanings that are all related to sense of communication taking place between Allah and whomever He chooses from His creation. It is interesting to note that Qur'an used the word Wahyu and its lingual derivatives about (78) seventy eight times - according to the Classified Index for the Qur'anic Terms, by Fuad Abdul Baqi. Out of this number, the Qur'an used such word to indicate revelation to Prophets only (66) sixty six times, and they occur in (31) thirty one Surahs.

[Excerpted from Al Jumuah Vol. 14 – Issue; published in Islam Web on 8 January 2003]

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