The Quran and Hadith on continuity of Revelation

[BACK] According to the Holy Quran, the distinctive characteristic of a true religion is that it invites towards a living God who listens to the prayers of the distressed, removes their troubles, and speaks to His servants. The following verses illustrate this point:

Abraham said to his idol-worshipping father:

``Why do you worship a thing which hears not, sees not, and helps you not a whit''


God condemned the worshippers of the golden calf by saying:

``Could they not see that it spoke not to them, nor did it guide them to the right path''


and elsewhere:

``Did they not see that it answered them not, nor did it control harm or benefit for them''


Referring to all worshippers of false gods, it is said:

``Those whom these people call upon, besides God, they do not answer them at all''


Hence true religion in every age invites to a living God Who speaks to man. Every follower of the faith can make the verbal claim that Islam takes man to God, but to call people of the world towards God on the basis of one's personal experience and attainment is the work of only those who are purified by God Himself, and are perfect followers of the Holy Prophet Muhammad.

Revelation to non-prophets

With prophethood having ended with the Holy Prophet Muhammad, the guidance which mankind was to receive reached its completion. But is it the case that, with the completion of the guidance, the link between the Creator and His creatures has been forged permanently, and all men in future will attain to God from birth? Or, will people still drift away from God and lose the right path, even after the finality of prophethood? Who will take the place of prophets to establish the link between God and the lost people, when people can go astray despite the existence of perfect teachings? In this regard, the Holy Quran instructs the Holy Prophet Muhammad to declare:

``Say: This is my way. I invite to God through certain knowledge --- I and those who follow me.''


Hence, as the Holy Prophet called people to God through the light given to him by revelation (``certain knowledge''), so will those of his followers who receive the light of revelation establish the link between God and His creatures on the basis of ``certain knowledge''. Such persons are called auliya (sing. wali), or saints, of God. The revelation they receive is not nubuwwat, but wahy wilayat, because the former has ended with the Holy Prophet. The Quran says about auliya:

``Now surely the auliya of God --- there is no fear upon them nor do they grieve. Those who believe and guard against evil, for them are good news (bushra) in this world and the hereafter.''


Those who invite to God must first themselves have a strong connection with God. The way to forge this connection is through sainthood (wilayat) and what is termed ``good news'' or bushra above.

As to what bushra means, the Holy Prophet explained the above verse to his followers as below:

``He said: Nothing remains of prophethood except mubashshirat [same as bushra]. People said: What are mubashshirat? He said: True dreams.''

(Bukhari, Book of Interpretation of Dreams, ch. Mubashshirat, 91:5)

These ``true dreams'' are related to prophethood, as the Holy Prophet is reported to have said:

``The good dream of a righteous believer is one of the forty-six parts of prophethood.''

(Bukhari, op. cit.)

And referring to the Holy Prophet's revelation before he became a prophet, Bukhari records from Aishah, wife of the Prophet:

``The revelation to the Holy Prophet began first of all with true dreams.''

(Bukhari, Book 1)

Hence revelation or wahy includes true dreams.

Modes of revelation

The Holy Quran says:

``It is not vouchsafed to a mortal that God should speak to him except by revelation (wahy), or from behind a veil, or by sending a messenger.''


Hence, there are three modes of Divine communication with man:

[1.] The infusion of an idea into the mind, which is called wahy in this verse. The Holy Prophet has described this mode in the words: ``The Holy Spirit has put this into my heart.''

[2.] ``From behind a veil'' --- this includes dreams, visions, hearing words of inspiration.

[3.] ``By sending a messenger'' --- this refers to the sending of angel Gabriel, who is seen and whose word is heard by the man receiving the revelation.

The first two modes of revelation are common to saints (auliya) and prophets. The third is exclusive to prophets, and after the Holy Prophet Muhammad this mode has terminated. Gabriel cannot now bring revelation of this sort, known as wahy nubuwwat --- revelation of prophethood.

The first two modes, however, apply to non-prophets as well, as in the cases of Moses' mother, Jesus' disciples, and the saints among the Muslims. The Holy Prophet has called such revelation a part of prophethood, and an acknowledged hadith indicates that there are to be persons among Muslims to whom God will speak:

``The Holy Prophet said: Among the Israelite people before you, there used to be men who were spoken to by God although they were not prophets. If there is such a one among my followers, it is Umar.''

(Bukhari, Book of Virtues of the Companions, ch. Umar; Book 62, ch. 6)

It is meant to convey in this hadith that just as there used to be Divine communication with non-prophets in nations before the Muslims, so would it be with the Muslim nation. All commentators agree that Umar is mentioned as a premier or outstanding example of a recipient of revelation.

Hence the Quran and Hadith agree that wahy nubuwwat, the type of revelation exclusive to prophets, has ended, but Divine communication (regarded as partial prophethood) continues among the Muslims. The individuals favoured with this revelation are called auliya (singular wali) in the Quran. They are also bashir (givers of glad tidings) and nazir (warners), as Muhiy-ud-Din Ibn Arabi wrote:

``The wali [saint] is indeed a bashir and nazir, but he is not a law-giver.''

(Futuhat Makkiyya, Part II, p. 376)

The Indian Muslim theologian and leader of the early nineteenth century, Sayyid Ismail Shaheed, commenting on the Quranic verse ``There is no town but it had a warner,'' writes:

``It has been said that the word nazir [warner] includes prophets and saints.''

(Abqaat, Urdu translation by Manazir Ahsan Gilani, published in A.P., India, p. 402)

Revelation to non-prophets mentioned in the Quran

The saints (auliya) not only receive knowledge of the unseen, and revelations containing glad tidings and warnings (against wrong-doers), but also commands and prohibitions to the recipient (though not law). The Quran gives the following examples:

``We sent revelation to the mother of Moses: `Give him suck. Then when you fear for him, cast him into the river, and do not fear or worry. We shall bring him back to you, and make him one of the messengers'.''


In the revelation to Moses' mother, the words ``give him suck'' and ``cast'' are commands, whilst ``do not fear or worry'' are prohibitions. Was this revelation not certain and definite, just like revelation to prophets? By acting on her revelation and casting her baby in the river, did not Moses' mother show that she had as much belief in her revelation as the prophets did in theirs? Had this revelation not been from God, the prophecies in it could not have been fulfilled.

To Mary, the mother of Jesus, came the revelation:

``Shake towards yourself the branch of the palm-tree. Fresh, ripe dates will fall on you. Eat and drink and cool the eye.''


``Shake'', ``eat'', ``drink'' and ``cool'' are commands.

The disciples of Jesus, who were not prophets, received the revelation:

``When I revealed to the disciples: `Believe in Me and My messenger.' They said: `We believe. Bear witness that we submit'.''


Hence it is clear that the revelation of non-prophets is certain and definite, uncorrupted by the devil. This is so that the saints can act as a true model to people, as the prophets used to be models to their people. But as the chain of prophets was cut off with the Holy Prophet, in the Muslim nation his followers have been chosen to call to God. The Quran states:

``I [the Holy Prophet] invite to God through certain knowledge --- I and those who follow me''


These saints are also called khalifas in the Quran:

``God has promised those of you who believe and do good that He will make them khalifas in the earth as He made khalifas of those before them [i.e., the Israelites].''


The Holy Prophet has explained this verse as follows:

``The Israelites used to be led by prophets. Whenever a prophet died, he was succeeded by another prophet. But there shall be no prophet after me. There will, however, be khalifas, and there will be many.''

(Bukhari, Book of Prophets, 60:50)

Not only will the khalifas be the likes of the prophets --- indicated in the words ``as He made those before them'' of the verse above --- but the criteria for their truthfulness will also be the same. The Holy Prophet said:

``The successorship [khilafat] shall be upon the pattern of prophethood.''

(Mishkat, Book of Riqaq, ch. 9, sec. 3)