The Phenomenon of Revelation

This is a guest post that has been taken from the Light of the Furqan blog.

اقرأ باسم ربك الذي خلق

Read in the Name of your Lord who created[1]

This post is the second in a series of summaries of Ayatollah Haadi Ma’rifat’s book entitled, Amouzish Ulum Qurāni (Learning the Qurānic Sciences). For an introduction to Ayatollah Haadi Ma’rifat and his works, click here. To read the previous post which discussed the sources for Qurānic research, click here.

The second chapter of the book discusses the phenomenon of revelation (wahi). In this post I will attempt to briefly cover Ayatollah Ma’rifat’s discussion concerning the usage of the word “أَوْحَى” (a derivative of wahi), some issues surrounding the matter of Prophetic revelation, as well as his discussion on the different forms through which prophetic revelation was conveyed to Prophets.

The root letters, و ح ي, have multiple “dictionary definitions” according to different scholars. The famous linguist, Raghib Isfahani, defined wahi as, “a prompt signal”[2]. Ibn Fars defined it as, “the delivery of knowledge in a hidden manner (or in some other manner) to someone else”[3]. In Taaj al-Urus, wahi is defined as, “indication”. Most meanings across different dictionaries tend to associate secrecy, speed and the transfer of knowledge with the term wahi.

In terms of its usage within the Qurān, the word wahi and its derivatives have been used 87 times. The verb “أَوْحَى”, a derivative of “وَحِي” has had four primary usages within the Qurān which are the subject of discussion. The first meaning is the same as the dictionary definition as seen in surah Maryam when Prophet Zakariya exits from a place of worship and signals to his people.

فَخَرَجَ عَلَىٰ قَوْمِهِ مِنَ الْمِحْرَابِ فَأَوْحَىٰ إِلَيْهِمْ أَن سَبِّحُوا بُكْرَةً وَعَشِيًّا

So Zakariya came out to his people from the chamber. He told them by signs to celebrate Allah’s praises in the morning and in the evening[4] [5]

Allamah Tabrasi, when discussing the verb and its usage within this verse interprets it as, “He signalled to them using his hands”[6]. As evident, the meaning in use here is the same as the “dictionary” definition.

The second meaning used within the Qurān for this word is that of instinctive guidance. This is a sort of innate guidance that Allah has instilled within different creations such as the bee as discussed within the Qurān.

وَأَوْحَىٰ رَبُّكَ إِلَى النَّحْلِ أَنِ اتَّخِذِي مِنَ الْجِبَالِ بُيُوتًا وَمِنَ الشَّجَرِ وَمِمَّا يَعْرِشُونَ

And your Lord inspired the bee [saying]:” Make your home in the mountains, and on the trees and the trellises that they erect.[7]

The third usage of the verb within the Qurān is that of ilhām, a sort of inspiration wherein the source of inspiration is unknown, it could be God, angels etc. Oftentimes, “lightbulb moments” are described as a form of ilhām. Some verses in which this meaning is used are as follows:

وَ أَوْحَيْنَا إِلىَ أُمِّ مُوسىَ أَنْ أَرْضِعِيه‏

We revealed to Moses” mother, [saying],” Nurse him…[8]

وَ إِنَّ الشَّيَاطِينَ لَيُوحُونَ إِلىَ أَوْلِيَائهِمْ لِيُجَادِلُوكُم‏

…Indeed the satans inspire their friends to dispute with you…[9]

The last meaning of the verb “أوحى” according to Allamah Ma’rifat is that of Prophetic revelation. This meaning has been used within the Qurān over 70 times such as follows

وَ كَذَالِكَ أَوْحَيْنَا إِلَيْكَ قُرْءَانًا عَرَبِيًّا…

Thus have We revealed to you an Arabic Qurān…[10]

The main focus of Alamah Ma’rifat’s discussion is this sort of revelation as there are many questions that pertain to it. There are generally two sets of issues that are dealt with when discussing Prophetic revelation. The first is the discussion surrounding the reality of revelation. Revelation is taken to be a metaphysical reality and thus some challenge this phenomenon by questioning the possibility of interaction between a metaphysical reality with a physical being, i.e. a human. In response to this, scholars of the Quranic sciences typically discuss and attempt to prove the concept of the soul, a metaphysical reality connected to humans which is responsible for interacting with revelation. Allamah Ma’rifat deals with this issue in depth in his 10 volume “al-Tamheed”.

The second issue which Allamah Ma’rifat focuses upon within this book is that of incorrect claims and problematic narrations pertaining to Prophetic revelation. For example, one issue is the accusation that the Prophet was not prepared to receive revelation and was thus taken completely by surprise when he first received revelation. It is due to this that Allamah quotes the following narration from “al-Kafi”:

Allah did not send any prophet or a messenger before the perfection of his intellect and before his intellect was greater than the intellects of all of his followers[11]

This narration is meant to indicate that the Prophet was intellectually perfected before he received revelation, and as such he was prepared to receive revelation when the time arrived. Another issue that is presented within some narrations is that of the corruption of revelation through Satan. There are some narrations that propose that the Prophet recited something as Qurān only to realize later on that he had been fooled and that Satan had tampered with what God had intended to reveal. In dealing with this issue, Allamah mentions the following tradition narrated by Zurara where he is said to have said,

“I said to Abi Abdi Allah, ‘How was it so, that the Prophet was not frightened that, that which came to him from Allah was something with which Satan was causing corruption?’ The Imam replied, ‘When Allah takes a servant as a messenger, he sends upon him tranquillity and sobriety, therefore that which comes to him from Allah is as if it is what he sees with his eyes.[12]

The above narration is used as evidence that the source of Prophetic revelation was always known to the receiver as opposed to ilhaam. That is, the Prophet, upon receiving revelation did not have any doubts as to its source. This narration, concerning Satan corrupting the Qurān, and others similar to it are typically referenced to challenge the authenticity of the Qurān, Allamah Ma’rifat has discussed such narrations in a thorough manner and refuted them in his “al-Tamheed”.

The above was a brief discussion concerning different issues surrounding Prophetic revelation. After this discussion, Allamah Ma’rifat discusses the manner through which revelation was conveyed to the Prophet, he mentions three ways of its conveyance according to the following verse,

وَ مَا كاَنَ لِبَشَرٍ أَن يُكَلِّمَهُ الله إِلَّا وَحْيًا أَوْ مِن وَرَاى حِجَابٍ أَوْ يُرْسِلَ رَسُولًا فَيُوحِىَ بِإِذْنِهِ مَا يَشَاء

It is not [possible] for any human that Allah should speak to him except through revelation or from behind a curtain, or send a messenger who reveals by His permission whatever He wishes[13]

  1. Direct revelation, in this manner of revelation there is no intermediary during revelation.
  2. Creation of sound, this manner of revelation consists of a prophet receiving revelation through sound that Allah has created and that only the prophet can hear. This sort of revelation is recounted as having occurred when Prophet Musa went to Mount Sinai. This is also the sort of revelation that occurred on the night of Mi’rāj.
  3. Revelation through means of an angel, this would occur through Jibraeel who would deliver the revelation to the Prophet.

The above is a brief summary of Ayatollah Ma’rifat’s discussion surrounding the phenomenon of revelation. As evident, the above summary merely outlines some of the discussions that are relevant to this phenomenon. God willing, I hope to delve into deeper discussions associated with revelation in the future.

[1] Al-Alaq 96:1

[2] Raghib Isfahani, Mufridaat Alfaadh al-Quran,

[3] Ibn Fars, Mu’jam al-Maqaees al-lughat, v. 6 pg. 93

[4] This translation is by Yusuf Ali, Ali Quli Qarai translates “Auha” as Zakaraya signaling to his people.

[5] Maryam 19:11

[6] Allamah Tabrasi, Tafseer Javamay al-Jaamay, v.2 pg. 445

[7] Al-Nahl 16:68

[8] Al-Qasas 28:7

[9] Al-Anā’m 6:121

[10] Al-Shoora 42:7

[11] Usul al-Kafi, v. 1 Kitab al-Aql wa al-Jehl H 11

وَ لَا بَعَثَ الله نَبِيّاً وَ لَا رَسُولًا حَتَّى يَسْتَكْمِلَ الْعَقْلَ وَ يَكُونَ عَقْلُهُ أَفْضَلَ مِنْ جَمِيعِ عُقُولِ أُمَّتِه‏

[12] Tafseer al-Ayashi v. 2 pg. 201

عَنْ زُرَارَةَ قَالَ: قُلْتُ لِأَبِي عَبْدِ الله ع كَيْفَ لَمْ يَخَفْ رَسُولُ الله ص فِيمَا يَأْتِيهِ مِنْ قِبَلِ الله أَنْ يَكُونَ ذَلِكَ مِمَّا يَنْزِغُ بِهِ الشَّيْطَانُ قَالَ فَقَالَ إِنَّ الله إِذَا اتَّخَذَ عَبْداً رَسُولًا أَنْزَلَ عَلَيْهِ السَّكِينَةَ وَ الْوَقَارَ فَكَانَ يَأْتِيهِ مِنْ قِبَلِ الله عَزَّ وَ جَلَّ مِثْلُ الَّذِي يَرَاهُ بِعَيْنِه‏

[13] Al-Shoora 42:51

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