Allaah’s word may be revealed to the prophets in two ways: directly, in the form of true dreams or in the form of direct conversations; and indirectly, by way of the angel of revelation, Jibreel. These ways were identified by Allaah in the Qur’aan as follows:
“Allaah does not speak to a person except by inspiration (wahy), or from behind a veil or by sending a messenger who then reveals (yoohee) by His permission whatever He wishes. Verily, He is most High and Wise.”
A portion of Allaah’s revelation was communicated directly to the prophets without any intermediary. This form of revelation came either as visions during a prophet’s sleep, or in the form of words spoken by Allaah from behind a veil of light.
1.True Dreams: Divine commands were communicated to the prophets in their sleep in the form of dreams that gave them accurate glimpses of future events.
‘Aa’ishah, said, “ Revelation to the Prophet (ﷺ) first began as righteous visions in his sleep. Whenever he saw a vision, it would occur as surely as the break of the day.” This form of revelation was a very gentle means of preparing the Prophet (r) for the tremendous burden of revelation in the waking state.
Sometimes visions directed the prophets to perform certain acts, as in the case of Prophet Ibraaheem, who is recorded in the Qur’aan as saying to his son Ismaa‘eel,
“O my dear son, verily, I saw in dream that I am to sacrifice you. What is your opinion?”
Ismaa‘eel’s reply is recorded as follows:
“O dear father, do as you are commanded. You will find me, Allaah willing, among those who are patient.”
Both Prophet Ibraaheem and his son knew that the vision was a divine command which they had to fulfill.
The only soorah of the Qur’aan reported to have been revealed in a vision was Soorah al-Kawthar. The sahaabee Anas ibn Maalik said, “ Once while Allaah’s Messenger (ﷺ) was among us in the masjid, he dozed off, then raised his head, smiling. I asked him, ‘What has amused you, O Messenger of Allaah (ﷺ)?’ He replied, ‘A soorah has just been revealed to me.’ Then he recited, ‘In the name of Allaah, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful,
“Verily, I have given you Kawthar (the fountain in paradise) so pray to your Lord and sacrifice. Verily, it is your enemy who will be cut off.”
It should be noted that true dreams are not restricted to the prophets only. However, true dreams of common people are not the same as the true dreams of the prophets. Every dream of the prophets was a true dream; hence, their dreams are a reliable source of guidance. On the other hand, ordinary persons only know that their dreams are true if and when they come true. The ordinary person’s dreams are mostly a mixture of recollections, fantasies, and evil dreams implanted by the devils, with occasional true dreams. Hence, one cannot claim any of one’s dreams to be true before its occurrence.
2. Divine Speech: The second method of direct communication by Allaah with His prophets took the form of direct speech, in which the actual words of Allaah were spoken to the prophets. In this case, the prophets were in a waking state, but a veil of light separated them from Allaah and prevented them from seeing Him. This form of communication only occurred with two prophets, as far as we know. The first of those was Prophet Moosaa, about whom Allaah stated the following in the Qur’aan:
“And when Moosaa came to Our appointed place and his Lord spoke to him…”
This method of communication was apparently the main way in which Prophet Moosaa received revelation, hence his title “Kaleemullah” (the one to whom Allaah spoke). The second prophet to listen to the direct speech of Allaah was Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ). However, this pheno-menon occurred on only one occasion during his prophethood; at the time of the Prophet’s ascension up into the heavens (Mi‘raaj).
The vast majority of Allaah’s revelation was conveyed to the prophets by way of the angel of revelation, Jibreel. The final book of revelation, the Qur’aan, was revealed in this way for the most part. This form of revelation reached the Prophet (ﷺ) in two ways: either in the form of the reverbrating sound like the gong of a bell, or in the form of the direct speech of the angel.
In the first case, the angel remained in a spiritual state and the Prophet (ﷺ) was required to raise spiritually to a suitable state in which to receive the revelation. This method was extremely taxing on the Prophet (ﷺ). During it the voice of the angel resembled the loud ringing of a giant bell. The sahaabee al- Haarith ibn Hishaam once asked the Prophet (ﷺ) to describe how the revelation came to him. The Prophet (ﷺ) replied,
“ Sometimes it comes to me like the ringing of a bell—this is the most severe form for me—then the ringing ceases and I have understood what (the angel) said.”
‘Aa’ishah described the intensity of this form as follows: “I have seen him when revelation (wahy) descended upon him on an extremely cold day, yet when it stopped his forehead would be dripping with sweat.”
The second method was much easier for the Prophet (ﷺ) to bear than the first. In this case, the angel would leave the spiritual world, appear to the Prophet (ﷺ) in human form and pass on the revelation in the medium of human speech. The Prophet (ﷺ) described this form to al-Haarith ibn Hishaam as follows:
“ Occasionally the angel appears before me in the form of a man and speaks to me, and I grasp all that he says.”
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