Revelation and how it came to the Prophet Muhammad
Allah the Creator has not only brought about the creation, but continues to sustain and direct it, in the way that He has created us and all that is around us. He has provided many forms of guidance, indeed, a system of guiding principles, of which the laws of 'nature' are a part.
But Allah has also granted a special form of guidance for mankind from the outset of its occupancy of the earth. He promised to Adam and his descendants: 'Get ye down all from here; and if, as is sure, there comes to you guidance from Me, whosoever follows guidance, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve' (2: 38).' [The word here used for guidance is hudan.] This guidance comes through the prophets, whom Allah continuously sent to mankind, until the last messenger, Muhammad received His final guidance.
We call a man to whom God in his own way communicates His guidance, a prophet or messenger (nabi, rasul). Prophets receive the word of God through revelation and then communicate it to their fellow human beings:
'We have sent thee INSPIRATION, as We sent it to Noah and the messengers after him: We sent INSPIRATION to Abraham, Ismail, Isaac, Jacob and the tribes, to Jesus, Job, Jonah, Harun and Solomon, and to David We gave the Psalms. Of some apostles, We have already told the story, of others We have not and to Moses God spoke direct apostles who gave good news as well as warning, that mankind after (the coming) of the apostles should have no plea against God: for God is exalted in power and ways' (4: 163-5).
The two words italicised (capitalized) in the above translationare both derived from the Arabic root 'wahy'.
The word awha, from which 'wahy' (revelation) is derived, occurs in a number of shades of meaning in the Qur'an, each of them indicating the main underlying idea of inspiration directing or guiding someone. In each example below, the italicised words in the translation are forms of the root word wahy in the original text of the Qur'an:
- Guidance in natural intuition:
'so we sent this inspiration to the mother of Moses . . .' (28: 7)
Guidance in natural instinct:
'and thy Lord taught the bee to build its cells in hills, on trees and in (man's) habitations' (16: 68)
Guidance by signs:
'So Zakaria came out to his people from his chamber: he told them by signs to celebrate God's praises in the morning and in the evening' (19: 11)
Guidance from evil:
'Likewise did we make for every messenger an enemy evil ones among men and jinns, inspiring each other with flowery discourses by way of deception ...' (6: 112)
Guidance from God:
'Remember thy Lord inspired the angels (with the message) ...' (8: 12)
Wahy in the sense of 'revelation' is guidance from God for His creation, brought by the Prophets, who received the word from God through one of the means mentioned in the following Qur'anic verse:
'It is not fitting for a man that God should speak to him except by inspiration, or from behind a veil, or by sending of a messenger to reveal with God's permission what God wills: for He is Most High, Most Wise' (42: 51)
Means of revelation are:
- Inspiration, e.g. in a dream (see 37: 102, where it is related that Ibrahim receives guidance in a vision, while asleep, to sacrifice his son).
- Speech hidden away (see 27: 8, where it is related that God spoke to Musa from the fire).
- Words (speech) sent through a special messenger from God (see 2:97, where it is related that God sent the Angel Gabriel as the messenger to Muhammad to reveal His message).
Prophet Muhammad, the last of God's messengers, received the revelation of the Qur'an through a special messenger sent by God for this purpose: the Angel Gabriel, who recited to him God's words exactly.
According to Suyuti' [al Itqan fi ulum al quran, Beirut, 1973, Vol. I pp. 39-40] on the basis of three reports from 'Abdullah Ibn 'Abbas, in Hakim, Baihaqi and Nasa'i, the Qur'an descended in two stages:
- From the lauh al-mahfuz, the 'well-preserved tablet', to the lowest of the heavens (bait al-'izza) of the world, all together, in the laila al-qadr.
- From the heavens to earth in stages throughout the twenty-three years of Muhammad's prophethood, and first in the laila al-qadr of Ramadan, through the Angel Gabriel.
This second descent from the heaven to the heart of the Prophet is referred to in Sura al-isra' (17) and Sura al-furqan (25).