The Qur’an is composed of verbal revelations made to Prophet Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam during a period of twenty three years at Makkah (610-622) and Madinah (622-632). The arrangement of the Qur’an is not in accordance with the chronological order of the revelation. The first revelation was verses 2-6 of Chapter 96. The last chapter revealed was chapter 110.
Literal meaning of wahy is to intimate or indicate; to communicate; to inspire; to put in somebody’s heart or to converse secretly. The basic meaning however of the word wahy is to talk to others hiddenly or silently.
The word wahy has been used in the Qur’an to express different meanings, for instance it is used to put some message into the heart:
We infused this into the (mind of) Moses’s mother. (28:7)
Assignment of duty to both living and non-living things:
And thy Lord commanded the Bee to build its cells in the hills. (16:68)
And He assigned to each heaven its duty and command. (41:12)
To converse silently:
Then (Zakariyya) came out from the shrine and told them by signs to give glory to their Lord morning and evening. (19:11)
In the instance mentioned above the word wahy is used in its literal sense. But the word wahy has been used more often in the Qur’an for the divine revelation made to the prophets:
“Surely we have revealed (awhaina) to thee as we revealed to Noah and the Prophet after him........”. (4:163)
Then we revealed to Moses to strike the Sea with his staff. (7:31)
And we revealed to Noah. (11:36)
Forms of revelation
The Quran is composed of wahy matlu, the recited words, and the traditions (ahadith) are composed of wahy Ghair Matlu.
The Quran states:
He (Muhammad) does not speak out of his own fancy. This is no other than an inspired revelation. He is taught by one who is mighty in power and vigorous. (53:1)
The external inspiration or wahy matlu has been divided into three categories.
- Wahy Quran, that which was given by the mouth of the angel Gabriel and which reached the ear of the Prophet after he knew it that it was Gabriel who spoke to him.
- Isharatul Malik: that which was received from Gabriel, but not by word of mouth. On such occasions the Prophet said: ‘The Holy Ghost has breathed into my heart.’
- Ilham or Wahi Qalbi: That which was made known to the Prophet by light of prophecy.
Ilham or inspiration of the sufis should not be confused with the ilham of the Prophets. Wahy Matlu is to be recited and forms part of the Quran while wahy ghair matlu is the wahy which is not meant to be recited. This is preserved in the form of the authentic traditions.
So far as wahy matlu is concerned it has reached us without the slightest possible error. The whole of it is preserved in the form of the Quran. But so far as Wahy Ghair Matlu is concerned the actual wordings of all the sayings have not been preserved intact.
The following are the different ways through which the revelation came to the Prophet. The Quran tells us that God has communicated to his messengers in the following ways:
It is not vouchsafed to any man that God should speak to him except by revelation or from behind a veil or through a messenger sent and authorized by Him to reveal His will. (42:51)
Another difference between wahy matlu and wahy ghair matlu is as follows:
Wahy ghair matlu is the suggestion thrown by God into the heart or mind of his messengers. The Prophet understands the substance of the message. It may be a command or prohibition or an explanation of a truth (a) wahy matlu is the verbal or literal revelation by which the actual words of God are conveyed to man in human language. This is also known as wahy jali (the apparent revelation). (b) The second way through which God communicates with man is that He speaks from behind a veil.
The third way is through a messenger i.e. the angel Gabriel brings the revelations to the Holy Prophet.
The following ways of the coming down of revelation have been mentioned in the Hadith.
1. Al-Ruya al Sadiqa (true dreams)
According to a hadith the true dreams are 46th part of prophethood. Aisha, Prophet’s wife has narrated that the commencement of the divine revelation to the Messenger of God was in the form of true dream which came true as the dawn of the day.
2. The second way of communication from God to Man is ‘from behind a veil.’ (38:51)
Some scholars say that this refers to dreams and visions. Because a certain light is shown in this case which has a deeper meaning than that which appears on the surface. The dreams mentioned in chapter 12 of the Quran are an illustration of this. Through dreams or visions God reveals certain truths.
This also refers to the case of Moses with whom God spoke while He remained invisible to him (20:13)
3. Angel used to suggest directly to the heart of the Prophet, remaining invisible to him. As the Prophet said:
The angel Gabriel has suggested to my heart that none of the living beings would pass away unless he finishes his providence (destined for him in the world).
Sometimes the wahy came in the form of the ringing sound of a big bell (salsalatul jars). According to a hadith ‘sometimes the revelation, comes like the ringing of a bell.’ This type of revelation is the hardest of all and when I have grasped what is revealed this condition passes away.
Commenting upon this type of revelation Aisha says: I saw the Prophet receiving revelation on a very cold day and noticed that the sweat was dropping from his forehead. This condition lasted till the revelation was over.
According to the Sahaba his body used to become very weighty during such a revelation until the camel on which he was riding used to sit down due to that load.
The Prophet would hang his head and his companions would do the same, and when that condition was over he would raise up his head. Sometimes the Angel came in the form of a man. The angel also visited the Prophet in the shape of Prophet’s companion, Dahiya Kalbi.