[By: Mufti Muhammad Shafi’i Uthmani (rahimahullah)]
Since the Holy Qur’an was revealed to our beloved prophet Sayyidina Muhammad al-Mustafa (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) by means of Wahy (revelation), an understanding of some particulars about Wahy is imperative at the very outset.
The need for Wahy
Every Muslim knows that Allah Almighty has sent man into this world as a matter of test, and in return for his being obligated with certain duties, the whole universe has been placed at his service.
For this reason man, once he is in the world, must do two things:
1. He should make the best use of this world, and of things created in it.
2. While using this world to his advantage, he should keep the injunctions of Allah Almighty in sight and do nothing that goes against His will and pleasure.
For these two functions man needs knowledge. Therefore, unless he knows the reality of this world, the properties of different things and the manner in which they can be put to use, he cannot use anything in this world to his advantage. Likewise, unless and until he knows the will of Allah Almighty as to what pleases Him and what displeases Him, it will be impossible for him to lead a life in line with the will of Allah Almighty.
So Allah Almighty, along with ‘the creation of man, has created three things through which he could continue receiving knowledge of the above-mentioned matters of concern. These are:
1. Man’s senses, that is, the eyes, the ears, the nose, the mouth, the hands and the feet.
2. The reason.
3. The Wahy.
Consequently, man finds out many things through his senses, many others through reason, and the knowledge of things he cannot get through these two sources are bestowed upon him through Wahy.
The arrangement between these three sources of knowledge is such that each one has its limits, and a particular sphere of activity beyond which it does not work. In natural sequence, the knowledge of things man collects through his senses cannot be deduced through bland reason. For instance, you know by seeing a wall with your eyes that its colour is white. But, should you close your eyes and try to find out the colour of that wall on the sole strength of your reason, this will then be impossible. Similarly, the knowledge of things that comes through reason cannot be discovered by senses alone. For instance, you cannot find out as to who made that wall by simply seeing it with your eyes or touching it with your hands. Not at all, you rather need reason to arrive at that conclusion.
In short, reason gives no guidance as far as the five senses work efficiently, and when the five senses become helpless, reason starts functioning. But, even the guidance given by this reason is not unlimited. This too stops at a certain limit. Then there are things the knowledge of which can neither be acquired through senses nor through reason. For instance, to find out about this very wall, as to what manner of its use will please Allah Almighty and what manner of its use will displease Him, is possible neither through senses nor through reason. In order to give man the answer to such questions, the source that Allah Almighty has prescribed is what is known as Wahy. And the method it follows is that Allah Almighty selects one of His servants, ordains him as His messenger and to him He reveals His Word. This Word is Wahy.
This makes it clear that Wahy is the highest source of knowledge for man which offers to him the answer to questions about his Life which cannot be solved by means of reason and senses, but, he still has to have that knowledge. This further explains that reason and perception alone are not enough to show man the way. It is rather all the more necessary, almost inevitable, that the Divine Wahy be there for his guidance. Since Wahy is basically needed where reason does not work, it is, therefore, not necessary that everything communicated through Wahy be compulsively comprehended through reason. On the contrary, as reason is no help in finding out the colour of some object since that is the job of the senses, so is the knowledge of many religious beliefs, the gracious giving of which is the sole prerogative of Wahy and not of reason. Furthermore, trusting reason alone for their comprehension is not sound and correct.
To begin with, it is totally senseless to discuss the issue of Wahy with a person who, God forbid, does not accept the very existence of God. But, for a person who believes in the existence of Allah Almighty and has faith in His perfect power, it is not at all difficult to understand that Wahy is a rational need, that it is possible and that it is there for real. If you have faith in the fact that this universe has been created by an absolutely powerful entity, He is the One who has sent man down here to accomplish some particular mission, how then is it possible to imagine that He, after once having created man, would leave him off in total darkness, without ever telling him why did he come into this world, what his duties were, where was he destined to go and how could he realize the purpose of his life? How could a person, whose sanity is still there, send one of his servants on a certain trip under a designated mission without ever telling him the purpose of the trip while he is leaving, nor explaining it to him later on through some message as to why he has been sent out there and what duties he is supposed to carry out during the trip? When a man of ordinary reason cannot do something like this, how can something like this be imagined with respect to the most Holy Lord of the Universe under Whose ultimate wisdom this whole system of the universe is functioning? After all, how is it possible that the Being, that did create such a mind-boggling system composed of the moon, the sun, the sky, the earth, the stars and the planets, would remain unable to institute some arrangement of communication with His servants, through which human beings could be given guidance about the purpose of their lives? If there is ‘Iman or faith in the ultimate wisdom of Allah Almighty, then admitting that He did not forsake His servants in the dark, will become all the more necessary; rather on the contrary, He has surely instituted some regular system for their guidance. And so, this very regular system of guidance is known as Wahy (Revelation) and Risalah (Prophethood).
This makes it crystal clear that Wahy is not only a religious belief but also a rational need the rejection of which amounts to a rejection of the ultimate wisdom of Allah Almighty.
The Modes of Descent
This sacred sequence of Wahy (revelation) and Risalah (prophethood) came to an end with the last of the prophets, Muhammad al-Mustafa (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam). Nevermore, shall Wahy descend upon any man, nor there is need for it. Wahy used to come to the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) in several forms and modes. In a hadith from Sahih al-Bukhari, Sayyidah ‘A’ishah (radhiyallahu anha) says that Sayyidina Harith ibn Hisham (radhiyallahu anhu) once asked the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) as to how did Wahy come to him. The Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) said that ‘there are times when I hear something like the chiming of bells and this mode of Wahy is the hardest on me. After that, when this chime-sequence ends, that which has been said by the sound seems to have been committed to my memory. And there are times when the angel appears before me in the shape of a man.’ (Sahih al-Bukhari 2/11)
As regards the likening of the sound of Wahy to the sound of bells in the hadith cited above, Shaykh Muhyy al-din ibn al-‘Arabi (rahimahullah) has explained it by saying that, in the first place, the sound of Wahy is continuous like the sound of a bell which does not break off in between; and in the second place, when the bell rings continuously, it generally becomes difficult for the listener to determine the direction of its sound because its sound seems to be coming from all directions. And the Divine Word too carries with it the distinction that it has no one single direction, in fact, the sound gives the impression of being heard from all directions. A correct realization of this phenomenon is just not possible without auditory experience, however, in order to bring this happening closer to common comprehension, the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) has simply likened it to the sound of bells. (Fayd al-Bari, 1/9,2011)
With the descent of Wahy in this mode, the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) came under very heavy strain. Sayyidah ‘A’ishah (radhiyallahu anha) says towards the end of this very hadith that she had seen the coming of Wahy to him during days of extreme winter. When the progression of Wahy ceased, his blessed forehead would have already become dripping-wet inspite of the chilly weather. In yet another narration, Sayyidah ‘A’ishah (radhiyallahu anha) relates: When Wahy came to him, his breath would seem to stop, the radiant face would change — turning pale like the branch of a date palm, the front teeth would shiver from cold and he would perspire so much that its drops would roll like pearls. (A1-Itqan, 1/46)
On occasions, so much intensity would be generated in this state of Wahy that the animal he would be riding at that time would sit down, wilting under his weight. Once, when he was resting his blessed head on the lap of Sayyidna Zayd ibn Thabit (radhiyallahu anhu) there started the descent of Wahy in that very posture. This released so much weight on Sayyidna Zayd’s thigh that it seemed to break. (Zad al-Ma’ad, 1/18,19)
There were times when a low-volumed sound of this Wahy was sensed by others as well. Sayyidna ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) says: When Wahy came to him, a sound somewhat similar to the buzzing of honey-bees could be heard close to his most bright face. (Tabwib Musnad Ahmad, Kitab al-Sirah al-Nabaviyah, 20/212)
Under the second mode of Wahy, an angel would come to him in some human form and deliver Allah’s message. Generally, on such occasions, Sayyidna Jibra’il (alayhissalaam) used to come to him in the form of Sayyidna Dihyah al-Kalbi (radhiyallahu anhu). Certainly, at other times, he has come in other forms as well. In any case, this mode of the coming of Wahy when it was brought by Sayyidna Jibra’il (radhiyallahu anhu) appearing in human form, was the easiest on the Holy Prophet . (Al-Itqan, 1/46)
The third mode of the coming of Wahy used to be that Sayyidna Jibra’il (alayhissalaam) would appear as he was, without having taken on the shape of a man. But this has happened only thrice in his entire life-time. First of all, it was when the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) had himself wished to see him in his real form and shape. The second time, it was in the Me’raj (the Ascent to Heaven), and the third time it was at Ajyad in Makkah al-Mukarramah during the very early days of prophethood. The first two happenings stand proved authentically, however, the last one suffers from weak chains of authority and is, therefore. doubtful. ( )
The fourth mode is distinguished by a direct, non-intermediary, two-way conversation with Allah Almighty. This honour was bestowed upon the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) only once, that is, in Mi’raj, while awake. In addition to that, once it was in a dream as well that he was in a conversing situation with Allah Almighty.
Under the fifth mode of Wahy, it so happened that Sayyidna Jibra’il (alayhissalaam) would, without appearing physically In any form whatsoever, let some words of the message fall into his heart. This is technically known as nafth fi al-rau’: blowing into the heart. (Ibid)