Revelation is often thought as being a myth of the past, a psychological phenomenon with little relevance in the modern age. The Qur’an on the other hand holds out the promise of revelation to those who have a true relationship with Him. In every age the Saints of Islam have claimed true communion with God through revelation, something which continues today in abundance within the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.
Mirza Ghulam Ahmad
PEACE BE UPON HIM
What is revelation?
“What is revelation? It is God’s converse in living and powerful words with a chosen servant or with one whom He desires to choose. When this converse starts in an abundant and satisfactory manner and is free from the darkness of false thinking and is not confined to a few scattered and incomplete phrases, and is delicious and is full of wisdom and majesty, it is the Word of God by which He desires to comfort His servant and through which He manifests Himself to him. Sometimes a communication is made only for the purpose of a trial and is not accompanied by all the characteristic blessings of revelation. A servant of God Almighty is thereby tried whether by tasting a little of revelation he adjusts his circumstances to those of true recipients of revelation or fails to do so. Then if he does not adopt true righteousness, he is deprived of the perfection of this bounty and is left with only vain boasting.”
What is the need for revelation?
“As God has invested man with the faculty of reason for the understanding, to some degree, of elementary matters, in the same way God has vested in him a hidden faculty of receiving revelation. When human reason arrives at the limit of its reach, then at that stage God Almighty, for the purpose of leading His true and faithful servants to the perfection of understanding and certainty, guides them through revelation and visions. Thus the stages which reason could not reach are traversed by means of revelation and visions, and seekers after truth thereby arrive at full certainty.
This is the way of Allah, to guide to which Prophets have appeared in the world. Without treading this path, no one has ever arrived at true and perfect understanding. But a poor dry philosopher is in such a hurry that he desires everything to be disclosed at the stage of reason.
He does not know that reason cannot carry a burden beyond its strength, nor can it step further than its capacity. He does not reflect that, to carry a person to his desired excellence, God Almighty has bestowed upon him not only the faculty of reason but also the faculty of experiencing visions and revelations. It is the height of misfortune to make use of only the elementary means out of those that God has, out of His Perfect Wisdom, bestowed upon man for the purpose of recognizing God, and to remain ignorant of the rest. It is extremely unwise to let those faculties atrophy through lack of use and to derive no benefit from them. A person who does not use the faculty of receiving revelation and denies its existence cannot be a true philosopher, whereas the existence of this faculty has been established by the testimony of thousands of the righteous and all men of true understanding have arrived at perfect understanding through this means.” -Essence of Islam, Vol. 2, pages 27-38
Revelation: the highest stage of understanding
“Our claim is true and is clearly established that by treading along the straight path a true seeker can become the recipient of Divine revelation. My own experience testifies to it. Besides, every reasonable person can understand that there is no higher stage of the understanding of the Divine in this world than that a person should converse with his Gracious Lord—glory be to Him. This is the stage where souls are completely satisfied and all doubts and suspicions are removed. Having arrived at this stage of purification a person achieves the understanding for which he has been created. This stage is truly the key to salvation and to solving the problems of ephemeral existence. It proves how close the True Creator is to His weak creation. We have learnt of this stage by the light which is the Qur’an. That light gives us the good news that the fountain of revelation never runs dry. Any dweller of the East or the West, when he searches for God Almighty and makes his peace with Him and removes the intervening veils in between, will surely find Him; and when he finds Him truly and perfectly, then God will speak to him.” –Essence of Islam, Vol. 2, pages 40-41
“The Gracious and Merciful Lord, Who has invested human nature with the hunger and thirst of His own complete understanding has endowed human nature with two types of faculties for the purpose of arriving at that understanding. One type is the intellectual faculties, the source of which is the brain, and the other type is spiritual faculties the source of which is the heart. The purity of spiritual faculties depends upon the purity of the heart. That which cannot be discovered through the intellectual faculties is reached through the spiritual faculties. Spiritual faculties can develop such purity that the graces of the Source of Grace can be mirrored in them, but the condition is that they should be eager for the acquisition of grace and all intervening veils and obstructions should be removed so that they might become the recipients of the grace of perfect understanding. Their recognition of the Divine should not be limited to the affirmation that there should be a Creator of this universe. Rather, by being perfectly graced with the honour of Divine converse, they should be able to behold His countenance directly through having observed His great signs and should thus be able to see with complete certainty that that Creator truly exists. But as the nature of most people is not free from obstruction, they are afflicted with the love and greed of the world, pride, arrogance, self-esteem, hypocrisy, self-worship, and other moral delinquencies, and are deliberately neglectful of the obligations due to Allah and to His creatures, and purposely turn away from sincerity and fidelity and love of God and devotion to Him, and cut asunder deliberately from God Almighty. On account of all types of obstructions, veils, desires and passions, they are not qualified that the grace of converse with the Divine should descend upon them which should exhibit the lights of their being acceptable to God.
Yet the eternal bounty of God, which does not wish that human nature should go to waste, makes it possible for most human beings to see occasionally true dreams or to receive true revelation so that they should realize that the way for their stepping forward is open. But their dreams and revelations do not indicate their being acceptable to God and are not accompanied by signs of the love and grace of God, nor are such people purified of the impurities of their egos.
They see these dreams so that they might be furnished with an argument for believing in God’s Prophets, for if they were to be deprived altogether of the understanding of true dreams and true revelations, and they should have no certain knowledge of them, they could plead before God Almighty that they were unable to understand the reality of Prophethood for they had no knowledge of it. They had no sample of it before their eyes.
Therefore, from the beginning it has been the way of God that irrespective of a person being good or bad or righteous or disobedient, or being the follower of a true faith or of a false one, he is shown true dreams or is vouchsafed true revelation so that his conjecture which derives from hearing of such matters may be converted into certainty and he may have a sample in his hands which should help his spiritual progress. The Wise Creator has so fashioned the human brain and has so invested it with the spiritual faculties that it can see some true dreams and can receive some true revelations. But these dreams and revelations are not an indication of any spiritual rank or greatness, but are only a sample of the way through which progress could be made. ” –Essence of Islam, Vol. 2, pages 41-43
Mirza Tahir Ahmad
MAY ALLAH BE PLEASED WITH HIM
“The term ‘unseen’ in its wider application is employed to cover everything which is not directly visible or audible. Likewise it also covers all that is not directly accessible through other human sensory faculties. In this respect we may also define the unseen as a domain which covers all forms of existence which lie beyond the direct access of the five senses. The things which belong to this category do not remain permanently inaccessible. They are inaccessible only with reference to a given period in time.
All hidden knowledge of perceivable things, whether it pertains to the past, the present or the future, lies within the scope of this category. In other words, we are required to believe in the existence of things which are not known at a given point in time, but do exist and may become known at another point in time. This belief cannot be dubbed as blind faith.
The Quran does not require the believers to have faith in anything which is not supported by irrefutable arguments. Hence the unseen covers only such things as may become accessible through the instruments of reason, rationality and deductive logic.
The point to be noted here is that the unseen as defined, though not directly perceivable by the senses, is yet verifiable. The rationale of this Quranic injunction is fully supported by human experience.
Of the material forms of existence, there are many categories which defy direct examination. The knowledge of their existence and that of their physical properties can only be gained through logical deduction, or with the help of sophisticated electronic devices, which make them accessible to the senses, indirectly. What are neutrinos and anti-neutrinos? What is matter and antimatter? What are bosons and anti-bosons? The answer to these questions cannot be obtained through any direct means of examination, yet their unseen world has become a universally accepted reality. It should be remembered here that the mind is the ultimate entity of life, which receives and computes all messages transmitted to it by the senses through the computer of the human brain. Mind is not just another name for the brain. It transcends the brain and manipulates its operation.
The mind is the ultimate seat of consciousness. Deductive logic is the most amazing faculty of mind. Even when there are no facts fed to it, it may continue to operate with hypothetical data. It can also operate by ruminating over the previously stored data. All decision making is done at the level of the mind, while the brain is merely a material hardware, a storehouse of memory. Moreover, the mind has the power to contemplate upon metaphysical and conceptual issues like infinity and eternity. It endeavours to resolve the enigma of a seemingly endless chain of cause and effect. Where did a certain thing begin and what lies beyond every beginning? Was there a first cause preceding all other causes? If so, was that first cause living and conscious, or was it dead and mindless? The only rational conclusion the mind can draw is that the first cause could not be unconscious and dead.
Why doesn’t God just send down his messages to everyone?
Again the question as to whether death can create life, and unconsciousness give birth to consciousness, is a subject fit only to be explored by the mind and not by the mere brain mass itself. Thus, sometimes the mind learns to believe in the unseen entirely through hypothetical exercises, while at other times it examines and sifts material data and draws logical conclusions from them. It can visualize all forms of radiation which coexist with us, but man can learn of their presence neither through sight, hearing, taste or smell nor through the sense of touch. They can be seen and heard of course by means of radio and television, but only when they are transformed into visible and audible pulses. Even then it is only the faculty of mind which is responsible in the final analysis for decoding these electrical vibrations into sounds and pictures and lifelike phenomena. The images which the mind creates are not merely those seen by the eye on the flat surface of television. There is more to them than meets the eye. Many an unseen meaning is added to the visible scene by the mind, before it is finally developed into a meaningful concept.
But the hidden knowledge within the realm of the unseen is also accessible through revelation in addition to the instruments just discussed. Thus the faculty of mind which is the final recipient of all impressions can be fed both through the sensory organs and the phenomenon of revelation. Both can work independently or jointly, one helping the other.
For instance, revelation can help provide a better understanding of things which are observed through sensory organs by illuminating the human faculties to a much higher and more refined order of perception. It helps the mind decipher the message of sensory organs with such clarity and precision as could not have been possible otherwise. The sensory organs in their turn also help the recipient of revelation to understand its message better, with the help of the data stored in its memory banks, without reference to which no meaningful perception is possible anyway. However, for man to reach beyond his physical limitations even without any direct help from revelation, is neither impossible nor rare. But the faculty of mind has its own limitations too. The domain of God’s knowledge transcends time and space but that of human knowledge cannot. Hence all such knowledge as lies beyond the reach of human faculties can only be obtained by means of Divine revelation bestowed upon whomsoever He desires. Thus the Quran states:
“He does not grant ascendancy to anyone over His domain of the unseen,
Except to him whom He selects as His messenger.”
(Holy Qur’an, 72: 27-28)
It should be clearly understood that the second verse does not rule out the possibility of non-prophets witnessing the unseen through Divine dreams, visions or even verbal revelations. What is denied is the possibility of people, other than the messengers of God, gaining ascendancy over any area of God’s knowledge. What is asserted is the fact that the knowledge granted to the non-messengers, even through revelation, can in no way be matched in clarity, certainty and perfection with that bestowed upon the messengers of God.
Again, this exclusiveness of transcendent knowledge granted to the prophets relates largely to the field of spiritual knowledge and to the knowledge about life after death. There are many areas of mundane knowledge however, which are also covered by some Divine revelations, but this is done only incidentally to strengthen the faith of the believers in the truth of the prophets and in the existence of an All-Knowledgeable God. In all areas of secular research, man is generally left free to investigate into the realm of the unknown without being directly aided by Divine revelation.” -Ch: Belief in the Unseen; Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge and Truth, Part IV