The relationship between revelation and inspiration and the ways of inspiration are controversial issues among Muslim scholars. Unlike peripatetic philosophers, mystics and the followers of Mulla Sadra maintain that inspiration is a reliable source of knowledge. This hidden revelation might directly come from God or His angels.
"Ilham" literally means to suggest something to one's heart. It is technically used in Islamic mysticism to refer to what is revealed or suggested to one's heart from the hidden world. It also refers to a suggestion of knowledge to a person by means of divine grace, without the need to reflection or thinking on part of the person. There are no specific signs concomitant with inspirations, but the only sign is that the person will be spontaneously encouraged to do or to quit an action.
Inspiration in the Qur'an
The term "ilham" has its origins in Qur'an, 91:8, "Then He inspired it to understand what is right and wrong for it". The word "ilham" in this Qur'anic verse means to inspire someone to understand, to state, or to explain something.
According to Sufis, however, in this verse "ilham" refers to whatever occurs to one's mind, where these occurrences are from God. However, when they occur to one's mind (depending on whether one is free from the evil or is still struggling with it), it might both be a divine occurrence or an evil occurrence.
Relationship between Inspiration and Revelation
There are different views about the relationship between revelation and inspiration.
- Some people believe that there is an obvious difference between inspiration and revelation.
- According to others, they are different with respect to their extensions, with inspiration having a wider range of extension than revelation. So they are not completely divergent. On this view, revelation is indeed a type of inspiration.
- According to the majority of Sufis, inspiration and revelation are close to each other with respect to their meaning. They maintain that the distinction between them can only be revealed to a mystic after asceticism and mystical journey. The mystic can only then comprehend the difference between inspirations he or she receives from the hidden world and revelation.
In fact, Sufis believe that inspiration is in continuity with revelation. In this process, since revelation is no more available after the prophethood of the Prophet Muhammad (s), divine saints are connected to the hidden world by way of inspiration. Inspiration is an exclusive feature of such saints. Thus inspiration is, for mystics, in continuity with revelation, as divine saints or the Friends of God are in continuity with prophets (a).
How Inspirations Are Revealed
According to Muslim mystics: Inspiration is not a voluntary process and so it cannot be learned or acquired by practice. If one complies with the rulings of shari'a and keeps their heart pure, then they can achieve the power with which they are inspired by God.
According to Muslim philosophers: They maintain that inspiration depends on a human soul's relation with heavenly souls. If the soul is freed from mundane attachments, then they can observe the hidden world just as they can observe the sensible world.
According to some Sufis: Some Sufis who were influenced by the above philosophical view maintained that if there is an interaction between the human rational soul and the heavenly soul, then it can receive inspirations without the mediation of angels.
Types of Inspirations
The first classification: inspirations can be classified with respect to their origins:
- Inspirations which are directly revealed by God. They are called divine inspirations.
- Inspirations which are mediated by an angel or the exalted assembly (al-mala' al-a'la).
The second classification: inspirations are also classified with respect to the person or creature who receives them:
- Innate or instinctive inspirations: it refers to the basic knowledge or understanding bestowed to all creatures, including human beings, non-human animals, inanimate objects, and even devils.
- Non-innate inspirations: this type of inspiration is limited to humans. It is in two types itself:
1. Inspirations specific to divine saints.
2. Inspirations that can be received by all humans.
The Reliability of Inspirations
According to the majority of Muslim philosophers: according to rationalist Muslim peripatetic philosophers (who only rely on rational grounds and reasons), inspirations are not reliable.
According to the majority of mystics and the Sadraean or Transcendent Philosophy: inspirations and whatever is delivered or implied by them are reliable. They maintain that humans can acquire knowledge via two methods: discursive reasoning and divine inspirations.
According to the latter group, humans have two hearts: one which is directed at the kingdom of heavens (malakut), and another which is directed at the mundane world. The former receives intuitive, inspirational knowledge, and the latter receives acquired sensible and rational knowledge. If one's heart is open to the kingdom of the heavens, then the knowledge possessed by angels or inscribed in the preserved tablet (al-Lawh al-Mahfuz) will be inspired to him or her.
Advantages of Inspirations
For Sufis, inspirations have a great deal of advantages including:
- The introduction of many mystical concepts in light of inspirations,
- The comprehension of many hadiths from the Prophet Muhammad (s) by means of inspirational knowledge,
- It was helpful in some Sufi written works,
- It helps one achieve foresight or 'ilm al-firasa,
- Knowledge of the past and the future,
- It is the main foundation of divine knowledge,
- The realization of some super-human works or kiramat,
- The connection between mystical masters and commanders, and the supervision of masters over the practices of their pupils.
- The material for this article is mainly taken from الهام in Farsi WikiShia.