How did the Prophet receive revelation? What was the state of the Prophet like in the face of the heaviness of revelation?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

The Prophet (pbuh) spoke to Allah and received orders from Him through revelation. Revelation was sent down to the Prophet in Arabic. Revelation came in different ways.

The ways revelation came

There is no clear information in the Quran about how revelation came. We learn how revelation came from the hadiths of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and the witnessing of the Companions. It is possible to form the following list about the ways revelation came. 

1. The first way of revelation is the true dreams the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) saw in his sleep. Those dreams were called "true dreams" (Ru’ya as-Sadiqa). Those dreams, which the Prophet (pbuh) saw, came out to be true afterwards. Hz. Aisha said, "The Prophet did not see any vision but it came like the bright gleam of dawn."  (Bukhari, Badul-Wahy, 1; Muslim, Iman 252) Thus, she sheds light on those dreams.

2. The angel of revelation brings revelation to the heart of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) when he is awake. This kind of revelation is expressed in the following hadith:

"Ruhul-Quds blew the following into my heart: 'No soul will die before consuming his sustenance.' Therefore, fear Allah and seek your sustenance through legitimate ways." (Mundhiri, at-Targhib wat-Tarhib, 4/12)

Ruhul-Quds is Jibril (Gabriel). There is no evidence that Jibril was seen. It is understood from the hadith that the angel delivered revelation without being seen.

3. Jibril brought revelation to the Prophet (pbuh) disguised as a young man or as a human being. Many Companions report that Jibril brought revelation disguised as Dihya. That is the easiest and most painless way of revelation. (Nasai, Iman, 6)

4. The angel bringing revelation to the Prophet without being seen. The Prophet would hear something like the sound of a bell. That was the hardest form of revelation. This form of revelation was related to the verses of threatening. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) narrates this form of revelation as follows:

"It sometimes came with a sound like the sound of a bell. That is the hardest one to me." (Bukhari, Badul-Wahy, 1/2; Mus­lim, Fa­da­il, 87)

The Prophet (pbuh) would shiver, sweat and feel disturbed in case of such revelation. It is stated in a hadith reported from Ibn Abbas that the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) had difficulty in memorize those verses and that he moved his lips. God Almighty warned his prophet as follows regarding the issue:

"Move not thy tongue concerning the (Qur´an) to make haste therewith. It is for Us to collect it and to promulgate it: But when We have promulgated it, follow thou its recital (as promulgated)." (al-Qiyama, 75/16-18)

After the verse above was sent down, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) would listen to Jibril and read the verses like he did after he left.

5. The angel appeared as he was and brought and read the order of Allah to the Prophet (pbuh). (Buhari, Kitabut-Tafsir, 53; Muslim, Iman, 280-287)

Jibril brought revelation like this twice. The first one took place at the beginning of the prophethood. The Prophet (pbuh) fainted. The second one took place during the Ascension (Miraj). The following verse can be mentioned as an evidence for this incident:

"For indeed he saw him at a second descent near the Lote-tree..." (an-Najm, 53/13, 14)

6. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) spoke to Allah when he was awake. There is no intermediary between them in such speaking. (see Muslim, Iman, 279) The following verse can be mentioned related to this way of revelation:

"…And to Moses Allah spoke direct." (an-Nisa, 4/164).

7. Jibril brought revelation to the Prophet (pbuh) when he was asleep. It is narrated that the chapter of al-Kawthar was sent down like that.

Wahy al-Matluww – Wahy Ghayr-Matluww (revelation that is recited and revelation that is not recited)

Most of the forms of the revelations mentioned above related to the Prophet (pbuh) are verses; some of them are sacred hadiths and some of them are hadiths. The following is stated in verse 4 of the chapter of an-Najm:

"Nor does he say (aught) of (his own) Desire. It is no less than inspiration sent down to him."

According to a narration of Miqdam b. Ma'di-Karib, the Prophet stated the following:

"I have been given the Quran and something like it with it. Know it very well that what the Messenger of Allah renders haram is like what Allah renders haram." (al-Hadith wa'l Muhaddithun,12; Qurtubi, Tafsir, 75)

Accepting the verse and hadith above as evidence, some Islamic scholars hold the view that it is not permissible to make ijtihad about the hadiths of the Prophet (pbuh) and that they should be regarded as revelation sent by Allah. However, when the history of madhhabs is studied, it will be seen that the Prophet (pbuh) answered the questions directed to him based on wahy, and when there was no revelation, based on his own view. If he made a mistake with his ijtihad, Allah would correct his mistake through revelation. As a matter of fact, the ijtihad of the Prophet related to the captives in the Battle of Badr was corrected by verses 67 and 70 of the chapter of al-Anfal.  This shows that the ijtihad of the Prophet (pbuh) could be wrong. (see Muhammad Abu Zahra, Mezhepler Tarihi, 21). Sacred hadiths and hadiths and the statements of the Prophet (pbuh) through inspiration are the second resource of the shari’ah but they are not at the same level as verses.

The definition of the Quran, sacred hadith and hadith show what revelation that is recited and revelation that is not recited are: The Quran is the divine word that was revealed to the Prophet (pbuh) through Jibril with Arabic words and true meaning, that is an evidence showing that he is the Messenger of Allah, that is a law through which people find guidance, with which people approach Allah by reading it as a deed of worship, that is written in books called mushafs, that starts with the chapter of al-Fatiha and ends with the chapter of an-Nas, that reached us through tawatur, that is transferred from generation to generation with the protection of Allah and without undergoing any change.    

The characteristics of revelation

a) It was sent down to the Prophet (pbuh) when he was awake, when he was asleep and through other ways by Jibril.

b) Its words and meanings come from Allah.

c) Its words are in Arabic.

d) It is possible to worship with it by reading it in prayer and outside prayer.

e) Its shape and meaning are protected by Allah.

f) It is haram for a person to touch it without wudu and without ghusl.

g) A person who has to make ghusl cannot read it before making ghusl.

h) There are ten thawabs for reading each letter of it (with the intention of worshipping).

ı) Its certain parts are called verses and chapters.

j) It is written in mushaf.

k) It starts with the chapter of al-Fatiha and ends with the chapter of an-Nas.

l) It reached this age in the form of a book through tawatur.

m) It was protected by Allah from being changed when it was transferred from generation to generation.

n) Humans are too weak to produce something similar to it.

o) It is not permissible to narrate (report) it in meaning, without its original words.

The Quran forms wahy al-matluww (revelation that is recited) with those characteristics. One can worship by reading it in the prayer and outside prayer with the intention of approaching Allah. One cannot worship by reading sacred hadiths and hadiths, which are other products of hadiths, in prayer. However, they can be read outside prayer to learn and for blessing.

When the Prophet (pbuh) received revelation, he entered into another realm from the realm we are in. He virtually left this realm and entered into another dimension. Although he had special equipment regarding the issue, he felt the heaviness of revelation seriously. He underwent the spiritual pressure of the contact with that realm and felt the difficulty of receiving revelation.

Bukhari and Muslim report from Hz. Aisha. She said,

"Harith bin Hisham asked the Prophet: "How does revelation come to you?" The Prophet said, "Sometimes it is like the ringing of a bell, this form of revelation is the hardest of all and then this state passes off after I have grasped what is revealed. Sometimes the angel comes in the form of a man and talks to me and I grasp whatever he says."  (Bukhari, Badul-Wahy, 1; Muslim, Fadail, 86-87)

After reporting the words of the Prophet (pbuh) about the revelation that came to him, Hz. Aisha said,

"Verily I saw the Prophet receiving divine revelation on a very cold day and noticed the sweat dropping from his forehead when the revelation was over." (see Tirmidhi, Manaqib, 15)

Muslim reports the following from Ubada bin Samit:

"When the Prophet (pbuh) received revelation, he found it very hard; his blessed face would go pale." (Muslim, Fadail, 88)

The following is stated in a narration from Hz. Aisha: "When the Prophet (received revelation, he found it very hard." As a matter of fact, the following is stated in a verse: "(O Muhammad!) Soon shall We send down to thee a weighty Message."

Zayd bin Thabit narrates:

"I wrote down the revelation in the presence of the Prophet. When the revelation came, the Messenger of Allah would shiver and shake, and sweat would come down from his temples. When the revelation ended, he would come round. Then, he would say and I would write. The divine revelation that came pressed so hard on me that I would think that my leg broke and that I would not be able to walk again..." (Bukhari, Tafsir, 91, Jihad, 31; Muslim, Imara, 141-142; Abu Davud, Jihad, 19; Tirmidhi, Tafsir 5; Nasai, Jihad, 4)

Ahmed, Tabarani and Abu Nuaym narrate the following from Ibn Amr: He said, I asked, "O Messenger of Allah! Do you feel when revelation comes?" He gave the following answer:

"Yes revelation comes to me and I hear it like the ringing of a bell and I shiver and shake severely. Then, the shaking ends and I remain calm. I memorize exactly what is said to me. The revelation is so heavy that whenever it comes, I think, “I will die this time." 

Bukhari, Muslim and Abu Nuaym narrate the following from Yala bin Umayya: He said,

"When the Prophet (pbuh) received revelation once, I looked at him. I saw that he wheezed severely and his eyes and temples went red."

Ibn Sa´d narrates the following from Abu Arwa of Daws:

"I witnessed revelation coming to the Prophet while he was riding his camel. It screamed and contracted its fore-legs. Sometimes it sat and sometimes it stood up straightening its fore-legs. Sweat was coming down the temple of the Prophet like a string of pearl."

Ahmad and Bayhaqi´s narration from Hz. Aisha regarding the issue is as follows:

"When revelation came to the Messenger of Allah on his camel, the camel would kneel down due to the heaviness of the revelation. Sweat would come down the temple of the Prophet even when the weather was cold."

Tabarani reports the following from Asma bint Amis:

"When revelation came to the Messenger of Allah (pbuh), he would almost faint."

Ahmed, Tabarani, Bayhaqi and Abu Nuaym narrate the following from Asma bint Yazid: She said,

"When the chapter of al-Maida was sent down, the Messenger of Allah was on his camel and I was holding the halter of the camel. The fore-legs of the camels almost broke down due to the heaviness of the chapter."

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