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What The Qur'an Teaches: Revelation: Its Methods And Nature

Islamic Perspectives - Muslim Journals

Arab News & Information - By Adil Salahi

In the name of God, the Lord of Grace, the Ever Merciful

It is not granted to any human being that God should speak to him except through revelation or from behind a veil, or by sending a messenger to reveal by His command what He will. He is exalted, wise. Thus have We revealed a spirit to you (Muhammad) by Our command. You knew neither revelation nor faith, but We made it a light, guiding with it whoever We will of Our servants. You most certainly give guidance to the straight path, the path of God, to whom belongs all that is in the heavens and earth. Most certainly, to God all things shall in the end return. (Consultation, Al-Shura, 42: 51-53)

As it draws to its conclusion, the surah picks up its main theme again, which is the truth of revelation and message. It now speaks of the nature of this contact between God and His chosen servants and how it is done. It asserts that such contact has actually taken place with the last messenger, Muhammad (peace be upon him). This last contact has a definite objective God wishes to accomplish, namely, providing guidance along a straight path to whoever chooses to be guided: "It is not granted to any human being that God should speak to him except through revelation or from behind a veil, or by sending a messenger to reveal by His command what He will. He is exalted, wise."

This verse makes it abundantly clear that no man is ever spoken to by God face to face. Ayesha is quoted as saying: "Whoever claims that Muhammad has seen his Lord is delivering a very grave falsehood." (Related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim.) God speaks to people in one of three ways. First, by "revelation", which is given directly and the recipient knows that it comes from God. Secondly, "from behind a veil", as God spoke to Moses whose request to see God was denied. In fact, he was unable to stand firm when God's glory was revealed to the mountain. The relevant Qur'anic report states: "When Moses came for Our appointment and his Lord spoke to him, he said: ‘My Lord, show Yourself to me, so that I may look at You.' Said (God): ‘You shall not see Me. But look upon the mountain; if it remains firm in its place, then, only then, you shall see Me.' When his Lord revealed His glory to the mountain, He sent it crashing down. Moses fell down senseless. When he came to himself, he said: ‘Limitless You are in Your glory. To You I turn in repentance. I am the first to truly believe in You.'" (7: 143)

The third form of address is that God sends a messenger, who is an angel, "to reveal by His command what He will." This takes different forms, which the Prophet explained as follows:

• The angel would impart to him something he recognized within himself, without seeing the angel. The Prophet said: "The Holy Spirit has imparted to me that no soul will ever die until it has had whatever provisions assigned to it. Therefore, remain God-fearing and moderate your requests."

• The angel would come to the Prophet in the form of a man who spoke to him and made sure that he understood what was being said to him.

• The angel would give him the revelation in a way that sounded like a bell ringing in his ear. This was the hardest form for the Prophet. He would be perspiring even on a very cold day. If he was riding a camel, his camel would fall to the ground. Once he received revelation in this way when he was seated, with his thigh next to that of Zayd ibn Thabit who felt then that his bone was almost broken.

• The Prophet would see the angel in the angel's own form, giving him whatever God bid him give. This happened to him twice as mentioned in verses 7 and 13 of Surah 53, The Star.

Such were the different forms of contact and revelation. "He is exalted, wise." He bestows His revelation from on high, to whomever He chooses, according to His wisdom.

At this point I have to say that whenever I read a Qur'anic verse or a statement by the Prophet that mentions revelation, I feel a shudder as I try to think how it happened. How does such contact take place between the One who is eternal, having no defined space in time or place, who encompasses everything and has nothing that bears any resemblance to Him, and an ordinary mortal? And how is such contact then represented in words, sentences and meanings? How can a mortal receive God's eternal word which is totally unlike what we know? How this, and how that? I then say to myself: why should I ask when I cannot imagine things beyond my limited space within the world of mortals? The truth is that this took place and was given a form which I can now recognize within my immediate world.

Yet the shudder remains. Prophethood is something great indeed. Similarly, the moment when an ordinary man receives revelation from on high is indeed very great. My reader, can you feel it with me? Are you, like me, trying to imagine it; imagine this revelation coming from ‘there'? Am I saying, there? No! there is no such thing as ‘there'. Revelation comes from no place, time, space, direction or situation. It comes from the Absolute, the Infinite, the Eternal, from God Almighty. It is addressed to a mortal: it is true that the recipient is a Prophet and a Messenger, but he remains confined to the limited world of mortals. It is such a wonderful and miraculous contact which can only be made a reality by God who alone knows how it becomes reality. My reader, do you appreciate the feelings I am trying to portray in such disjointed sentences? Indeed, I do not know what I am saying about what I experience in the depths of my heart as I try to contemplate this great event, which is miraculous in both nature and form. It took place on numerous occasions during the lifetime of God's Messenger. Several people saw some aspects of it with their own eyes.


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