Revelation or waḥy (Arabic: الوحي) is a spiritual unknown connection between a prophet and the Unseen World, in which a divine message is conveyed to that prophet. Sometimes there is a medium in this connection and sometimes, without any medium, the message is conveyed. In theology, this process is called "legislative or prophetic revelation" and it is specific to the Prophets (a) and is different to inspiration and conversation. This subject has attracted thinkers of our contemporary time and new interpretations have been proposed for it which are mostly based on "religious experience".
In religious terminology, it refers to the spiritual connection between a prophet and the Unseen World, in which a divine message is conveyed to that prophet. The result of this process is a definite awareness bestowed from God upon the prophet.
This word has been used in different cases in the Qur'an which include its specific meaning as well:
- "A hidden notice" as in the story of Prophet Zechariah (a), "So he emerged before his people from the Temple, and signaled to them that they should glorify [Allah] morning and evening."
- Guidance through instinct such as the natural guidance of honey bee: "And your Lord inspired the bee [saying]: 'Make your home in the mountains and on the trees and the trellises that they erect."
- Natural guidance like the revelation upon the matters: "And revealed in each heaven its ordinance."
- Inspirations from God to ones who are not prophets: "We revealed to Moses' mother, [saying], 'Nurse him; then, when you fear for him, cast him into the river"
- Prophetic revelations upon the Prophets (a): "Certainly it has been revealed to you and to those [who have been] before you: 'If you ascribe a partner to Allah your works shall fail and you shall surely be among the losers."
Prophetic revelation has some characteristics:
- During this process, teachings are delivered to Prophets (a) through a non-human medium: "It is just a revelation that is revealed [to him], (4) taught him by One of great powers,"
- In most cases, the process of delivering the divine message has been done by the Angel of Revelation, Jabra'il: "Brought down by the Trustworthy Spirit"
- The Prophet (a) himself is fully aware that this process is not a self imagination and that its source is from outside him.
Deliverance of the divine message through revelation occurs in different ways. These ways have been mentioned in verse 51 of the Qur'an 42: "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. Indeed He is all-exalted, all-wise."
- Conversation of God with His prophet without any medium (conversational revelation)
- Direct deliverance of divine word upon the heart of the prophet, without interfering any medium in between (inspirational revelation)
- In the form of a true dream in sleep; such as the true dream of Prophet Abraham (a) regarding the sacrifice of his son, Isma'il (a): "When he was old enough to assist in his endeavor, he said, 'My son! I see in a dream that I am sacrificing you."
- Through a non-human medium, i.e. The archangel Gabriel, the angel Ruh or another angel.
- Unseen from behind something; such as the revelation on Prophet Moses (a) on Mount Sinai where it occurred through a tree: "When he approached it, he was called from the right bank of the valley at the blessed spot from the tree: 'Moses! Indeed I am Allah, the Lord of all the worlds!'"
Tasdidi (Directive) Revelation
In these case, a message from God will be received by the heart and the soul of ones who have the competence for it. In these cases, without any oral communication or hearing experience, the person follows this heartfelt message: such as the story of the mother of the Prophet Moses (a) who was inspired to cast her suckling into the river or the revelations received by Infallible Imams (a) and friends of God.
Such a revelation is not for telling the rulings, but personal instructions, social guidance, news of the future, to send down composure and certainty and as such which fortify the person's heart.
Difference with Satanic Temptation
Even though like revelation, satanic temptations are harried, hidden, and mystical, the difference between divine inspirations and satanic temptations is that upon receiving inspiration and divine revelation, a feeling of exhilaration sweeps through the person; while, satanic temptations, due to their opposition to human's nature, bring a sense of dejection and depression.
Up to 10th/16th century, believing in the unseen nature of revelation was common among Western scholars. However, with the spread of experimental sciences and materialistic thoughts, some rejected metaphysical nature of revelation. They firstly regarded it superstitious, but a group of them reconsidered about the truth of revelation, and according to the principles of empirical knowledge, regarded it as psychic states and sixth sense of human being and the prophet and the maturity of these people.
Some other Western scholars, based on a similar understanding of religious experience and revelation came to this belief that human being, based on his nature, seeks fulfillment of his needs, but problems such as discrimination in world of nature, deficiency of knowledge and morality in human being, the feeling of desolation and problems as such are not the matters all people concern. Therefore, people who have great souls and great concerns gradually retreat from the society and their attention is drawn towards the higher realms. Due to special and severe practices, they come to states other people are unaware of.
Accordingly, religion is the spiritual and social experience of the Prophet and the Word of God is the very word of the prophet; thus, revelation depends on the prophet and expands according to the greatness of his personality.
In the contemporary time, new discussions and interpretations have been proposed about the phenomenon of revelation and its process. In the Arab world, Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd, Muhammad Arkun, Fazlur Rahman Malik, Hasan Hanafi, Muhamamd Khalf Allah and in Iran, 'Abd al-Karim Surush and Mujtahid Shabistari have proposed new interpretations of revelation. Although, these views are not similar and have serious differences, but most of these opinions are common in two factors: one that they do not discuss religious texts outside humanity, history and human culture (not a metaphysical look) and they all want to somehow stress on the role of human being in it and secondly, they regard revelation not adopted from facts and statements, but of encounter and spiritual experience nature. The views proposed by these people have been opposed by advocates of the common Islamic belief.
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