Views of Muslim theologians and religious authorities on revelation

[BACK] Raghib in Mufradat: In his classical dictionary of the Quran, Imam Raghib defines wahy as follows:

Al-kalimatu-llati tulqa ila anbiya'i-hi wa auliya'i-hi wahy-un.

``The word of God which is communicated to His prophets and His saints is called wahy.''

(Mufradat of Raghib, under wahy)

Imam Ja`far Sadiq (d. 765 C.E.): The following is recorded of this early Imam from the line of Ali:

[i] He said: ``Revelation is one of the characteristics of the chosen ones of God. To give arguments without revelation is a mark of being rejected from the Divine Presence.''

(Tazkirat al-Auliya, ch. 1, p. 23)


[ii] ``Imam Ja`far says: I read the Quran with such zeal and enthusiasm that it was revealed to me through revelation.''

(Futuhat Makkiyya by Ibn Arabi)


[iii] ``Some of those who have Divine experience have said about themselves that they hear the word of God, and that He communicates with them, as is recorded of Imam Ja`far Sadiq that he said: I read a verse of the Quran so frequently that I heard it from God, the Revealer of the verse.''

(Maktubat of Mujaddid Alif Sani, vol. iii, p. 166)

Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (d. 855 C.E.): Regarding Imam Hanbal, founder of one of the four systems of Islamic jurisprudence, it is written:

``He said: One day I was in the public baths, and there was a group of people who entered the water without any clothes. I kept in mind the hadith: He who believes in God and the Last Day should not enter the public bath without a waist-wrapper. So I did not remove all my clothes. That night I saw in a dream someone saying to me: `O Ahmad, receive good news that God has forgiven you on account of your following the hadith, and made you a leader who shall be followed.' I said: Who are you? He said: Gabriel.''

(Ihya as-Sunna)

Ghazali (d. 1111 C.E.): This great philosopher, writer and mujaddid, wrote in his best-known work as follows:

[i] ``Undoubtedly, knowledge comes to our hearts through the angels, and this is referred to in the word of God: It is not vouchsafed to a mortal that God should speak to him except by revelation... ''

(Ihya al-`Ulum, vol. iii, p. 14)

[ii] ``Know that the men of the heart are shown the secrets of the worlds through inspiration [into the mind], or through true dreams, or through visions while awake. This is one of the highest grades of the degrees of prophethood, as a true dream is one of the forty-six parts of prophethood. So beware of denying this knowledge through lack of understanding.''

(ibid., p. 67)

Sayyid Abdul Qadir Jilani (d. 1166 C.E.):

[i] ``Woe unto you, O innovator! Does God not have the power to say: I am God. Our God, great is His glory, is a speaker, and not dumb. His word is heard and understood.''

(Al-Fath ar-Rabbani, p. 153)

[ii] ``When you attain perfection in {\em fana} [annihilation], your rank near God will be raised, and you will be addressed in the words: This day you are with us, a dignified, trusted one.''

(Futuh al-Ghaib, with Persian commentary, Discourse no. 28, p. 171)

The words referred to are in a verse of the Quran in chapter Joseph (12:54).

[iii] The words wa-stana`tu-ka li-nafsi (I have chosen thee especially for Myself), which are in the Quranic verse 20:41, were revealed to Abdul Qadir Jilani several times.

(ibid., p. 33)

[iv] ``I am not an ordinary preacher like your preachers. I speak by command of God Almighty. Take my words to be the orders of God. When I preach from the pulpit, God manifests Himself upon my heart.''

(Tuhfa Qadiriyya, p. 82)

Imam Qurtabi:

``The true, righteous Muslim is he whose condition resembles the condition of the prophets. He is favoured with that with which the prophets were favoured, that is, information of the unseen.''

(Fath al-Bari, standard commentary of Bukhari, vol. xii, p. 319)

Muhiy-ud-Din Ibn Arabi (d. 1240 C.E.): The famous Muslim philosopher and saint of Spain wrote:

[i.] ``It is impossible that revelation from God can stop. For if it were to be cut off, there would not remain for the world any spiritual food by which it continues to subsist.''

(Futuhat Makkiyya, Part II, p. 90, question no. 82)


[ii.] ``Of us [saints] are those who receive from God those very commandments which are in the Shari`ah. The source is the same as it used to be for the Holy Prophet Muhammad. Such persons are his followers because these commandments are not opposed to the Shari`ah.''

(Fusus al-Hukam, p. 183)


[iii.] ``All the forms of revelation we have explained here are to be found in men of God, from among the saints. The revelation which was exclusive to the prophet, and not for the saint, is the revelation containing the Shari`ah.''

(Futuhat Makkiyya, Part II, p. 376)


[iv.] ``And thus the coming of the Quran upon the hearts of the saints is not cut off, despite the fact that the Quran is safely preserved with them. It appens due to their zeal, and it is for only some of them.''

(ibid., p. 258)

[v.] The Quranic verse ``We believe in God and what has been revealed to us and we submit to Him'' (2:136) was revealed in revelation received by Ibn Arabi.

(ibid., Part III, p. 367)

Jalal-ud-Din Rumi (d. 1273 C.E.): This Persian saint and author of Masnawi wrote:

``It is not astrology or sorcery or mere dream, It is true revelation --- God knows best. To hide it from the common people, The Sufis term it inner revelation.''

A commentary on the Masnawi explains the above verses as follows:

``The expediency of hiding it from the public is to avoid trouble, because if a man of God were to say, I learnt such and such a thing from Divine revelation, people may think that he was claiming prophethood. Then, let alone people being alienated from him, he would actually fear for his life…

``The fact is that God speaks to angels, prophets, and specially-chosen saints through His ancient word, and puts words in their souls with different meanings. In accordance with His eternal knowledge, God makes them understand the meaning which He intends, and they receive that significance according to their capacity. With angels and prophets, this is called wahy, and with saints it is called ilham, but the Sufis term wahy as inner revelation.''

(Miftah al-`Ulum, Daftar iv, Part I, vol. xi, p. 361)

Imam Hajar Asqalani: He wrote in his commentary of Bukhari:

``When revelation was cut off with the Holy Prophet's death, ilham [revelation to saints] came to those whom God chose.''

(Fath al-Bari, vol. i, p. 332)

Imam Abdul Wahhab Shi`rani:

[i.] ``The door of prophethood is closed after the Holy Prophet Muhammad, and shall not be opened for anyone till the Day of Judgment. However, revelation (wahy, ilham) remains for the saints, which does not contain Shari`ah in it.''

(Al-Yawaqit wal-Jawahir, p. 37)

[ii.] ``Law-bearing prophethood has been cut off with the death of the Holy Prophet Muhammad. Hence the angel of revelation brings to the saint (wali) the understanding of the Shari`ah, and informs him as to its secrets.''

(ibid., p. 71)

[iii.] ``The revelation which brings Shari`ah has been stopped after the Holy Prophet Muhammad. And of the favours which God has bestowed upon me, one is that He has made me a recipient of sound revelation.''

(Al-Kibariyya al-Ahmar, footnote in Yawaqit, vol. ii, p. 8)

Shaikh Ahmad of Sirhind (d. 1624 C.E.): This famous mujaddid of India expressed the following views:

[i.] He records a question and then answers it as below:

``Question: Since the religion has been completed and perfected by the Holy Quran and the Holy Prophet's example, what is the need for revelation (ilham), and what deficiency is there which is made good by revelation?

``Answer: Revelation makes manifest the hidden perfections of the religion, not increase the perfections in religion. Just as exercise of reason (ijtihaad) makes clear the commandments of the religion, so does revelation make clear the secrets and subtleties which most people cannot understand. The distinct difference between the exercise of reason and revelation is that the former is related to opinion while the latter is ascribed to the Great Creator of opinions. Therefore, revelation has a certainty which reason does not.''

(Maktubat, vol. iii, Part VII, Daftar ii, Letter no. 55, p. 19)

[ii.] ``Commandments of the Shari`ah are revealed at particular times but commands of revelation in general are required at all times… The Shari`ah commandments are based on four sources [the reference is to Quran, Hadith, Ijma and Qiyas through which laws are derived], where revelation of saints (ilham) finds no place. But leaving aside Shari`ah commandments, there are many other religious matters in which the fifth source is ilham. In fact, it may be said that, after the Quran and Hadith, ilham is the third source. This source will continue to exist till the end of the world.''

(ibid., p. 19)

[iii.] ``The revelation of saints partakes of the light of prophethood, and is the consequence of the blessings of following the prophets.''

(ibid., Part VI, Daftar iii, Letter no. 23, p. 63)

[iv.] ``This humble one was lifted up from the dirt of degradation, and a voice called my soul saying: I have forgiven you and those who come to Me through your mediation, whether directly [through you] or indirectly, till the Day of Judgment. And it kept on repeating this, so that no scope remains for doubt.''

(Mabd wa Mu`ad with Urdu translation, p. 17)

[v.] ``Shaikh Ahmad said that one day he prepared food for the Fatiha of his son [i.e. charitable deed following the death of his son]. There was doubt about its Divine acceptance because of the Quranic teaching: `God only accepts the deeds of the dutiful.' Then he had a revelation: 'Thou art indeed from among the dutiful'.''

(Kahl al-Jawahir, p. 14)

[vi.] Before the birth of his youngest son, Shah Muhammad Yahya, he received the revelation: ``We give thee good news of a boy, whose name is Yahya.'' This is, in fact, verse 19:7 of the Quran. So he named the boy Yahya.

(Maqamat Imam Rabbani, published in Delhi, p. 136)

[vii.}] He related that for a few days he was overcome by a deficiency of good deeds. So when during prayer he reached the words, ``Thee do we serve,'' he faced a dilemma: if he said these words, he would be guilty under the verse ``why do you say that which you do not do''; if he omitted them, he would be guilty of omission. Then he had the revelation: ``Shirk [worship of things other than God] has been removed from your worship, and your faith has become pure.''

(Kahl al-Jawahir, p. 15)

[viii.] He said: ``All those who have entered, or are going to enter, into my spiritual order, directly or indirectly, were shown to me, and I was told of the places of their birth and residence. They were all given to me. If I wish, I can describe them all.''

(ibid., Life of Shaikh Ahmad by Khawaja Muhammad Baqir of Lahore, p. 5)

Mu`in-ud-Din Chishti (d. 1236 C.E.): This saint and missionary of India, whose shrine in Ajmer is visited by thousands of Muslims every year, wrote the verse:

``Every moment the Holy Spirit breathes into Mu`in, So it is not I who says this, but in fact I am the second Jesus.''

(Divan of Chishti, ode no. 70, p. 102)

Al-Baidawi: The classical Arab commentator of the Quran, al-Baidawi, wrote:

``Just as the devils put bad thoughts into the hearts of disbelievers, so shall We [God] reveal the truth to you [O Muslims] and urge you to do good.''

(Commentary of Baidawi, vol. ii, p. 267, published in Delhi)

Fakhar-ud-Din Razi: Another classical commentator, Fakhar-ud-Din Razi, wrote:

``The angels project their influence into the souls of men by revelation, and show them their [i.e.\ angels'] accomplishments by sure visions.''

(Tafsir Kabir, vol. vii, p. 370)

Shah Wali-ullah of Delhi (d. 1763 C.E.): He is an eminent thinker, theologian and writer, who is recognised as mujaddid of his day. He wrote:

[i.] ``The Muslim nation is not deprived of revelation through angels. Do you not know how Mary saw Gabriel as a strong, healthy man, and how the angels called her? Similarly, Hadith records that a believer was going towards a village to visit a fellow. In the way an angel appeared to him and said: I am an apostle of God to you. Hadith also says that if you maintain the same [high] level of faith, angels will greet you while you are lying in your beds.''

(Tafhimat, vol. ii, p. 134)

[ii.] ``God revealed to me, saying: I will give you the Tariqa [course of teachings for spiritual progress] which shall take man nearer to God than do any of the existing Tariqas, and it shall be more powerful than any of them.''

(ibid., vol. i, p. 45)

Khawaja Mir Dard of Delhi (d. 1785 C.E.): In his great work `Ilm al-Kitab, this famous saint of Delhi writes under the heading Tahdees Ni`mat ar-Rabb (`Mention of the bounties of the Lord') that he received in revelation numerous verses of the Quran, some of which are those where the Holy Prophet is addressed by God. For instance:

[i.] ``Warn thy near relatives.'' (The Quran, 26:214)

[ii.]``Say: Allah is sufficient for me.'' (39:38)

[iii.] ``Be steadfast as thou art commanded, and follow not their low desires.'' (42:15)

[iv.] ``Grieve thou not for them, nor be distressed because of what they plan.'' (27:70)

[v.] ``Did He not find thee groping, and guided thee.'' (93:7)

See 'Ilm al-Kitab, pp. 61,--,64.

Sayyid Muhammad Ismail Shaheed (d. 1831 C.E.): He was a learned theologian and a famous martyr of North-West India. He writes:

[i.] ``Among these matters, one is ilham [revelation], and ilham is that thing which is established from the prophets. It is called wahy. If it is proved from persons other than prophets, it is called tahdees [revelation of a non-prophet]. In the Quran, ilham as such has been called wahy, whether it came to prophets or to saints.''

(Mansab-i Imamat, Urdu translation by Muhammad Husain Alwi, published by A'inah Adab, Lahore, 2nd ed., 1969, p. 73)

[ii.] ``Those people who consider knowledge to be no more than talk and words, and meaningless nonsense,…if such a man means to say that no person other than the prophets can obtain knowledge of the future from the unseen, I believe that he is denying a teaching of the religion which is established by repeated evidence, i.e. those teachings of the faith which spread into the world because they were abundantly reported [from the Holy Prophet], he is denying one of those.''

(Abqaat, Urdu translation by Manazir Ahsan Gilani, published in A.P., India, p. 14.)

Maulavi Abdullah Ghaznavi: He was an Indian saint of the last century who was originally from Ghazni in Afghanistan, but settled in Amritsar in the Punjab. His biography records that he received a very large number of Quranic verses in his Divine revelation. Some are given below:

[i.] ``Send peace and blessings upon him.'' (The Quran 33:56)

[ii.] ``And soon thy Lord will give thee so that thou art well pleased.'' (93:5)

[iii.] ``Have We not expanded for thee thy bosom.'' (94:1)

[iv.] ``Is not God sufficient for His servant.'' (39:36)

[v.] ``He is only a servant upon whom We bestowed favours.'' (43:59)

He also received the following revelation:

``Thou art from Me and I am from Thee. So fear not nor grieve.''

(Biography of Maulavi Abdullah Ghaznavi by Maulavi Abdul Jabbar Ghaznavi, pp. 10,--,11)

Maulavi Abdul Jabbar Ghaznavi: One Maulavi Ghulam Ali Qasoori objected to the revelations of Maulavi Abdullah Ghaznavi as follows:

``There are some verses in the Quran which are addressed specially and solely to the Holy Prophet Muhammad. No one else can be addressed by them.''

In reply, Maulavi Abdullah Ghaznavi's son Maulavi Abdul Jabbar Ghaznavi, a contemporary of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad and a bitter opponent of the Ahmadiyya Movement, wrote the following:

``If someone receives a Divine revelation (ilham) which is some verse of the Quran addressed particularly to the Holy Prophet Muhammad, the recipient of this revelation would take it as referring to himself, and would interpret it in the light of his own circumstances and draw a lesson from it…

``So if someone has revealed to him verses specially addressed to the Holy Prophet, for instance: `Have We not expanded for thee thy breast', `thy Lord will soon give thee so that thou wilt be pleased', `Allah will suffice thee against them', `be patient and resolute as the messengers were', `hold thyself with those who call upon their Lord morning and evening', `pray to thy Lord and sacrifice', `obey not him whose heart We have made unmindful of Our remembrance, and he follows his low desires', `He found thee groping and guided thee'; the meaning would be that that person would be granted these things to the extent that he deserves, according to his station. And as for the commands and prohibitions [in the revelations], these would apply to him as to the Holy Prophet.''

(Asbat al-ilham, pp. 142,--,143)

Allama Khalid Mahmud: He is a present-day theologian who is a staunch opponent of the Ahmadiyya Movement. He wrote in an Urdu book:

``News of the unseen, visions and revelations are also received by some non-prophets. Saints (auliya) of God are informed of news of the unseen. In fact, Umar [the second Caliph] held the rank of muhaddas, at which station, according to the words of Hadith, God Himself grants the privilege of His communication, without the person reaching the rank of prophet.''

(`Aqidat al-Umma fi ma`ni khatam an-nubuwwat, published by Idara Hifz-i Muarif-i Islamia, Lahore, 3rd ed., 1965, p. 48, footnote)

Sayyid Abul Ala Maudoodi (d. 1979 C.E.): The most prominent Sunni religious and political leader of recent times in Pakistan wrote in answer to a question in his monthly magazine:

``You appear surprised at there being two types of revelation. Had you read the Quran you would know that this Book mentions three types of revelation, only one of which types was collected in the Quran: `It is not for a mortal that God should speak to him except by inspiration, or from behind a veil, or by sending a messenger who reveals by His permission what He [God] pleases.' Here three forms are described of God sending commandments and guidance to a man. One is direct revelation, i.e., inspiration into the mind. A second is speech from behind a veil. The third is that revelation is sent through a messenger --- an angel. The revelations collected in the Holy Quran are only of the third kind.''

(Monthly Tarjuman al-Quran, September 1961, p. 100)

Maulavi Muhammad Husain Batalvi: In his glowing review of Hazrat Mirza's Barahin Ahmadiyya, he replied to some Muslims who had criticised Hazrat Mirza for including his revelations in the book. Batalvi explained:

``In this way, it is not only intended to support the revelations of the author of Barahin Ahmadiyya, and of other saints, but the revelation of prophets is also supported, and that is the real aim. For, a denial altogether of the concept of revelation to non-prophets is a prelude to denial of revelation to prophets, and draws one to that position, because the nature and essence of both revelations is the same. In fact, the two are rivers from the same source, so that if one is denied, there remains no reason to accept the other, and the denial of the existence of one implies the risk of denial of the other. For this reason, the scholars of spiritual experience have said that the person who denies the inward grace and Divine knowledge bestowed upon the saints, risks a bad end. Eventually, the denial of the Divine knowledge and revelation of prophets will find place in his heart.''

(Isha`at as-Sunna, vol. vii, no. 7, June to November 1884, p. 194)

Maulana Sana-Ullah of Amritsar (d. 1949): He was a well-known opponent of the Ahmadiyya Movement during and after the time of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Commenting on the Quranic verse 42:51, which speaks of three modes of Divine revelation to man, he wrote:

``This means that it is the practice of God that when He speaks to a mortal it is by wahy, the first kind, or from behind a veil, the second kind, or by sending an angel to the apostle, the third kind, and revealing what He wishes. These three kinds of revelation are known as ilham shar`i [revelation as recognised in Islamic theology]… Prophets can have revelation of all the three kinds, but saints, who are perfect followers and heirs of the prophets, have a share of the first two kinds, but not the third.''

(Nuqoosh Abul Wafa, by Maulana Abu Yahya Imam Khan of Noshera, published by Idara Tarjuman as-Sunna, Lahore, 1969, vol. i, pp. 82,--,83.)

Deoband School founded under revelation: Tarikh Darul-`ulum Deoband is the official history of the first hundred years of the theological school at Deoband (India), founded in 1867, and has been written by Maulana Muhammad Tayyib, Principal of the school. In the introduction, referring to the original meeting at which the founding fathers gathered to discuss the establishment of the school, the author writes:

``The persons who girded up their loins for these aims [of the school] were not typical leaders, but godly holy men and saints of the age. And their mutual discussion was not the customary sort of consultation or exchange of views, but it was an exchange of revelation. As I heard from Maulana Habib-ur-Rahman Usmani, the sixth Principal of the school, that the hearts of all these saints of the time received revelation to the effect that the sole means of the defence and preservation of Islam and the Muslims in India was to set up a school. So it was that, at this consultative meeting, one said that he had seen in a dream that, for the defence of the faith and the Muslims, a school should be set up; a second said that he had seen a vision that a school must be set up; a third said that it had entered his heart that the founding of a school was essential; and yet another said in clear words: I have received revelation from God that in these circumstances it is essential to set up a school for religious teaching.''

(Tarikh Darul-`ulum Deoband, published by Darul Isha`at, Karachi, pp. 12,--,13)