Lecture 4 & 5 (combined) in the Ramadaan series:
EXPLORING THE SHIA APPROACH TO THE QURAN
Sunday/Monday 20 & 21 May 2018 (4 & 5 Ramadaan 1439) at the Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town delivered by Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider.
In the previous lecture we started the discussion on the history of the Quran with an explanation focused on the concept of “wahi” (revelation) and unravelling its meaning. We discussed the literal term “wahi” and the different usage of the term “wahi” in Quran.
We also indicated that among the different usages for the term “wahi” in the Quran, that the term is used over 70 times with specific reference to it being a communication of Allah to his Prophet or Prophets for the purpose of ultimately conveying His message to the people.
For this “wahi” to materialize, it requires a great deal of capacity within the recipient of the “wahi” and thus this type of “wahi” is not possible to be received by everyone. The recipient’s soul must reach a level where it can connect to the world beyond this world wherein a Messenger of God (Angel Jibreel) can deliver to that recipient the message of God.
This was our point of departure.
ANSWERING THE CHALLENGE POSED BY MODERN THINKERS WITH RESPECT TO DEFINITION OF “WAHI”
We also concluded last night with highlighting that there is a school of thought in the last 100 years that attempts to interpret “wahi” in a material sense. This is a very technical but extremely important question to answer.
In this regard let me say that there are “modernist” tendencies in interpreting matters like these in both the Sunni and Shia Schools of thought. Our approach is to have open dialogue with them to get to the bottom of the real motive behind their tendency as we defend the “wahi” aspect of the Quran which in our view is that the Quran in its COMPLETE sense is the word of Allah Himself and not that of Prophet Muhammad (sawa). Any other poetic or however seemingly beautiful explanation is presented is not acceptable and is in fact in direct contradiction with clear verses of the Quran.
We seem to have 2 extremes in the house of Islam – those who are “literalists” and stuck in the literal words of the Quran and then the other extreme of “modernists” who seek to dilute the meanings of the words of the Quran. Such people want Islam and its laws to fit into the framework of modern day values like democracy, human rights, etc. as understood in modern societies.
For modernists, if you are stuck in the words of Quran as being words of God then it’s difficult for the Quran to have the flexibility that they are looking for and thus they need to have a different explanation or definition for “wahi” itself. Thus they
saying that the outcome of “wahi” which are “words” containing the Message of God is the production of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) himself.
How is that so according to them?
They say sometimes it’s the same as having a dream, or an analogy is made with how a poet comes up with poetry – somewhere in his heart there is a pressing matter, but such matter is not in the form of “word” inside his heart – yet the poet gives words to that inner status or feeling.
So in the case of “wahi”, the inner status of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) is maybe from God, but to clothe that ideas in his heart (an idea itself does not have words) which can come from God, just like the poet manifests that idea in his own words, so this analogy is applied to “wahi”. Though Prophet Muhammad (sawa) has a higher status than a poet, he connects with that world of secrets/reality and gets inspiration from there but then presents it in his OWN words.
Now the point is that if this is the case, then Prophet Muhammad (sawa), while presenting the ideas in his “own words” is doing so while being a human being and thus all the limitations of being human applies to this process such as the likelihood of error, being influenced by society, being short sighted, etc.
So that means that what you see in the form of words of Quran can be entitled to possible “error” in the sense of its relation to time and space – and thus the “words” of the Quran is subject to continued updating and expansion.
Thus for them, the ayat (verses) of the Quran does not have a sublime value as it is a product of a human being – though admittedly an extraordinary, high class human being.
Such people then have a problem with Shariah which is based on those “revealed” words (which are a product of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) according to them) whereby they say that determination of Shariah should be based on the ideas behind the shariah instead of the actual literal meanings of the “words” of the Quran.
In this way in reality many understood Shariah concepts like Islamic governance, etc. has no role in modern times. This way of thinking thus needs to be cogently answered.
BEING RECIPIENTS OF “WAHI” DISTINGUISHES PROPHETS FROM OTHER HUMAN BEINGS
The Quran always says that though Prophets are human, they simultaneously are distinguished from other humans due to being recipients of “Wahi”. In verse 110 of Surah Kahf (chapter 18) we read about this reality as follows:
قُلْ إِنَّمَآ أَنَاْ بَشَرٌ مِثْلُكُمْ يُوحَي
“Say: “I am but a man like yourselves, (but) that inspiration (wahi) has come to me”
By referring to this one word “wahi”, a huge gap is established between normal human beings and Prophets!! That is because their souls are on a different level. Understand this!
When we say Prophets are like us human beings – yes they are – but with this distinction which makes them beyond our imagination.
That is because of the capacity required to receive Angel Jibreel (a.s) or even direct revelation from behind a hijab (barrier) or even direct communication from Allah without hijab (barrier) – this requires a highly advanced soul that can fly and elevate to a level capable to receive communication.
Don’t think that Prophets only have this one difference in relation to the rest of mankind – this differential is a huge differential.
In verse 51 of Surah Shura (chapter 42) we read:
وَمَا كَانَ لِبَشَرٍ أَنْ يُكَلِّمَهُ اللَّهُ إِلَّا وَحْياً أَوْ مِنْ وَرَاءِ حِجَابٍ أَوْ يُرْسِلَ رَسُولاً فَيُوحِيَ بِإِذْنِهِ مَا يَشَاءُ إِنَّهُ عَلِيٌّ حَكِيمٌ
“And it is not for any mortal that Allah should speak to him except by revelation or from behind a veil, or by sending a messenger and revealing by His permission what He pleases; surely He is High, Wise.”
As discussed last night, this verse teaches us how “wahi” occurs and that it only occurs in 3 ways:
– Direct communication (without an intermediary),
– Indirect communication (via a veil/curtain/barrier),
– Through a Messenger (Angel Jibreel (a.s))
In reality, “wahi” or Divine Revelation is one of secrets of Allah which is not clear for us. That is because “wahi” starts from the point where our intellect has reached its limit and we thus can never fully comprehend it.
But many did try to understand “wahi” over the ages and in the process made great mistakes which can even conclude with denial of Prophethood itself!
REALITY OF “WAHI” IS NOT KNOWN TO US
So the Reality of “wahi” is unknown to us. We may sometimes think that Allah gives a message to Angel Jibreel (a.s) and he comes to Prophet Muhammad (sawa) and reads what he brought. But this is too simplistic to perceive it in this manner.
Allah is beyond matter and immaterial. So too is the Angel Jibreel (a.s) also beyond matter and immaterial. How does something that is beyond our imagination which is Allah and Angel Jibraeel (a.s) (not a bird with wings!) convey this message and what does it mean that the Angel Jibreel (a.s) comes down? Also, what does it mean that Prophet Muhammad (sawa) receives Angel Jibreel (who is immaterial) and listens to him and how that results in “words” which are material!
We thus only have two ways of knowing what is “wahi”. We can ask Prophet Muhammad (sawa) himself to explain what is “wahi”?
Or we can look at his condition at the time of receiving “wahi” to get an idea what it is.
WAHI IS NOT A DREAM!
Some people made a dangerous mistake in interpreting “wahi” and thought that it is a dream that Prophets have, but claiming that it’s a true dream like seeing the future, etc.
Prophets DON’T receive “wahi” in the sense of Divine Revelation in their sleep – even though all the dreams of Prophets are nonetheless true.
In line with the various broad meanings of the term “wahi’, a true dream is indeed a type of wahi. That is because “wahi” is Allah’s guidance and that guidance is present in everything. We mentioned last night that “wahi” in this sense comes to the “earth” or the “bee” or the mother of Musa (a.s) (in other words non Prophets)
So “wahi” in the meaning of guidance of Allah also comes in form of dreams to people.
In line with this the philosopher Allamah Iqbal says that “wahi” is actually a quality of life in that ANYTHING living has a sort of “wahi”.
Ayatullah Mutahhari agrees with Iqbal on this point as the Quran uses the word “wahi” generally – but then says something more deep and that is that “wahi” is a quality of EXISTENCE (mawjud) – whatever exists is guided by Allah!
That guidance has different types – one of it is “wahi”.
“Wahi” is a secretive guidance by Allah. Our heart beats based on guidance / “wahi” of Allah. Everything in this world is guided by Allah – this “wahi” is inspiration and built into ALL existence.
BUT the “wahi” that resulted in Quran did not occur in the form of a dream or is not even “built in / instinctive”.
Some people even go further and say that “wahi” is not even a dream, nor did any angel come. These people think Prophet Muhammad (sawa) was an extraordinary genius who looked at the society of his time and analysed its issues and challenges and then due to his extraordinary genius ability, came up with a method or philosophy to rescue his people.
Thus also for them the Quran is not words of God but words of Prophet himself!
This is also absolutely incorrect. There’s no evidence for this.
DISTINCTIVE QUALITIES OF “WAHI”
In the light of the above mentioned uncertainties and the fact that God is absolutely abstract and not material at all – the question of how He makes connection with material beings like human beings is something that we can’t answer other than through the explanation of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) who is the recipient of “wahi” or by observing his condition when he received it.
In the light of these uncertainties, philosophers make certain assumptions and look at Quranic verses and narrations of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) to be able to interpret what “wahi” is.
So we then refer to Ayatullah Mutahhari (a great philosopher of the 20th century) who then provides us with an understanding of the specific distinctive qualities of “wahi” as follows (and thus disproves the above mentioned ideas):
1. “Wahi” is internal. This means that Prophets receive certain messages/realities internally without using their senses.
Under normal circumstances, if you want to know something, you use your 5 senses and then analyse the information collected through your intellect to conclude with a result. You thus use normal epistemology or tools of learning and go through an intellectual process of deduction or induction to arrive at knowledge which itself IS from Allah – BUT achieved through our senses and regular process of learning.
BUT when Prophets receive “wahi”, they disconnect from everything! When Prophet Muhammad (sawa) used to receive wahi, he was in a status of a type of unconsciousness and even experienced high fever and it appeared as if he was not present and listening to those around him. Clearly he was not using the regular epistemology or tools of knowledge. This is because he has a capacity of reception that we can’t see with our senses.
Here the receiver of “wahi” receives it onto his heart. Yes in a dream you do have a similar situation of receiving knowledge onto your heart. BUT dreams are occasional and we have no control over them OR definite knowledge of where it’s coming from.
2. There is a teacher involved. That is the one who is teaching the Prophet (sawa) is Allah Himself and thus what Prophet Muhammad (sawa) produces is not from himself nor does he make such claim.
In Suraa Shu’araa Verses 193 and 194 we read:
نَزَلَ بِهِ الرُّوحُ الأَمِينُ
عَلَى قَلْبِكَ لِتَكُونَ مِنَ الْمُنذِرِينَ
“The Faithful Spirit has descended with it.”
“Upon your heart that you may be of the warners”.
The ultimate teacher (who is Allah) is sending the “wahi” onto the heart of Prophet Muhammad (sawa). This shows that in “wahi” there is a teacher involved and Prophet (sawa) is not making use of his own senses to acquire this “wahi”. Furthermore, the actual descent (nuzul) also means that Prophet Muhammad (sawa) is not involved but the “wahi” is coming from Allah who is the teacher.
3. Awareness of external source – never did a Prophet or our Prophet Muhammad (sawa) claim that he came up with ideas but always insisted that he is a Messenger of Allah and thus the source of wahi was not from himself. He was absolutely aware of the source of “wahi” being from Allah, whereas in a dream you are not absolutely aware of the source of your dream.
In Surah Yaseen verse 17 we read:
وَمَا عَلَيْنَآ إِلاَّ الْبَلاَغُ الْمُبِينُ
“And our duty is only to deliver the clear Message.”
Verses like this appear in various places in the Quran.
Those who believe that wahi is “human experience” say that Prophet Muhammad (sawa) saw a dream but did not receive any “words” – they thus conclude that the Quran is the words of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) himself. And if that is the case, then such words are subject to change!
Thus they say Prophet Muhammad (sawa) was looking at that Arabian society – where women for example received no inheritance. So to bring about change he said they should receive inheritance equal to half of the inheritance received by men. If he had to suggest equal inheritance for women under those circumstances, then such change would be too revolutionary and not practical. But now we have moved on from that era and should say that women and men should receive equal inheritance.
However, as we said in the first lecture, the Ultimate criteria for everything is the Quran which is purely the words of Allah. The words of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) which are recorded in the form of hadith could have been subjected to change by the narrator for whatever reason by adding or omitting something – but the Quran is the exact words of Allah.
Thus understanding the reality of wahi is critical!
4. Wahi occurs in presence of Angel Jibreel (a.s)
Of the 3 types of “wahi” received by Prophet Muhammad (sawa), the method in which it occurred most frequently was through Angel Jibreel (a.s).
The human being consists of a body and soul – the soul (while being immaterial) DOES have a material aspect in being able to attach to our material body – but at the same time the soul has access to the world beyond matter.
Now it depends on the capacity of this very same soul and its evolution and elevation to the level where it has access to truth or receive realities.
Angel Jibreel (a.s) who is not material in essence, also then has that decent which enables him to appear in the form of a beautiful man in the presence of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) to deliver the message of God which is not material in essence but also descends.
In the verses 193 and 194 of Surah Shu’araa quoted above, we read that it is Jibreel (a.s) who is called the “Truthful Spirit” who descends with the Quran onto the heart of Prophet Muhammad (sawa).
This idea is re-emphasised in other places in the Quran. Example in Surah Baqarah Verse 97 we read:
قُلْ مَن كَانَ عَدُوًّا لِّجِبْرِيلَ فَإِنَّهُ نَزَّلَهُ عَلَى قَلْبِكَ بِإِذْنِ اللّهِ
“Say (O’ Muhammad): ‘Whoever is an enemy to Jibreeel, who brought down (the Qur’an) upon your heart by Allah’s leave”
So in wahi there is ascent of the soul of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) to a level to “receive” and in Angel Jibreel (a.s) there is descent from that sublime level to deliver the message, but in all of this the words are words of Allah. The active agent is NOT Prophet Muhammad (sawa), but Allah through His Messenger Jibreel (a.s) who brings the Message to Prophet Muhammad (sawa).
This is different to the concept of “mukashafa” or “unveiling”. Sometimes people go through spiritual exercises and as an outcome thereof can see “realities” that others can’t see.
This is possible for anyone who strives for it. Almighty Allah says in Surah Ankabut Verse 69:
وَالَّذِينَ جَاهَدُوا فِينَا لَنَهْدِيَنَّهُمْ سُبُلَنَا
“And those who strive hard for Us, We will certainly guide them in Our ways”
We call this process irfaan or tasawwuf (mysticism). In this case you are seeing certain truths and thus narrate what you see. But Prophet Muhammad (sawa) never says “I saw” as if it is his achievement but always insisted that Angel Jibreel (a.s) brought him this message.
SO WHAT ABOUT OTHER FORMS OF COMMUNICATION FROM THE SPIRITUAL WORLD?
In Arabic there are certain terminologies that need to be discussed in this regards.
Firstly there is something called Hadas. This refers to your level of being a genius. Sometimes when you pose a question, some people take an hour to answer, others may take a half hour, others make take 5 minutes or 1 minute or even answer it in an instant.
This is their intellectual capacity that is faster than others. However the source of this is from their own developed capacity through the regular means of acquiring knowledge which are your senses and intellect.
Ilhaam on the other hand is inspiration. You may be busy unravelling an issue and suddenly the answer “just comes to you” – it suddenly dawns on you. Other times it’s in situations where you are deciding between various options and decide to take a certain route as you feel that “your heart says it’s the right way”. That is all inspiration and is generally from Allah BUT such inspiration can also be from satan. You can thus not be sure of the source (which is one requirement of “wahi” as it relates to Prophets). In other words Ilhaam is inspiration from an unknown source.
Those people who purify their hearts and clean their souls are more capable of receiving Ilhaam (inspiration) – but even the receipt thereof is beyond their control.
Then you get something called “Tahdis”. It is known that Angels used to come to Prophets but also came to non-Prophets. The most famous example in Quran is the case of Lady Maryam (a.s) – mother of Prophet Eesa (a.s). Angels used to speak to her.
Example in Surah Aali Imraan Verse 42 we read:
وَإِذْ قَالَتِ الْمَلاَئِكَةُ يَا مَرْيَمُ إِنَّ اللّهَ اصْطَفَاكِ وَطَهَّرَكِ وَاصْطَفَاكِ عَلَى نِسَاء الْعَالَمِينَ
“And (remember) when the angels said: ‘O’ Mary! Verily Allah has chosen you and purified you and preferred you above the women of the worlds”
Maryam (a.s) was not a Prophet – that is generally accepted. So what does it mean that Angels used to speak to Maryam (a.s)? Even though the Angels spoke to Maryam (a.s), it was still not “wahi”!
Imam Saadiq (a.s) was asked about how Maryam (a.s) received Angels when they talked to her, and he replied she heard the angels but did not see them.
In the case of Prophet Muhammad (sawa), he used to see Angel Jibraeel (a.s) in a beautiful form. So Tahdis is to listen to Angels but not see them.
Thus Lady Fatima (a.s) is also known as Muhaddasa as the Angels spoke to her – but still this communication is not “wahi”. Thus what was communicated to Lady Fatima (a.s) became known as Mushaf Fatima. She listened to the Angels, read it out and Imam Ali (a.s) wrote it down. This Mushaf Fatima (a.s) is NOT Quran and thus not the “Shia” Quran as some people incorrectly allege. This issue will be discussed more in a later lecture. This Mushaf has information in it other than the Quran like information of the future.
DO ANGELS TAKE A HUMAN FORM?
One further critical question that is raised in light of the above mentioned discussion is what form did the Angels take when they communicated with Prophets or even other human beings like Lady Maryam (a.s) and can Angels communicate with humans without losing their nature??
This question is further exacerbated by narrations that state the Jibreel (a.s) came to Prophet Muhammad (sawa) in the form of a beautiful, well-built man looking like his foster brother.
Also we read in Surah Maryam Verse 17 the Angel appeared before Maryam (a.s) looking like a man. The verse says:
فَاتَّخَذَتْ مِن دُونِهِمْ حِجَاباً فَاَرْسَلْنَآ إِلَيْهَا رُوحَنَا فَتَمَثَّلَ لَهَا بَشَراً سَوِيّاً
“So she took a veil (to screen herself) apart from them. Then We sent unto her Our Spirit (Holy Spirit) that presented himself to her a perfect man.”
Then there are verses in the Quran which say Angels have wings. For example in Surah Fatir Verse 1 we read:
لْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ فَاطِرِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأَرْضِ جَاعِلِ الْمَلآئِكَةِ رُسُلاً اُوْلِي أَجْنِحَةٍ مَّثْنَي وَثُلاَثَ وَرُبَاعَ يَزِيدُ فِي الْخَلْقِ مَا يَشَآءُ اِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلي كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ
“(All) praise belongs to Allah, the Originator of the heavens and the earth, Who appointed the angels messengers having wings two, three, and four. He adds to creation what He pleases”.
In response to this issue, Modernists simply say this is philosophically not possible in that Angels who are by nature non material cannot be seen. So if Prophet Muhammad (sawa) saw anything or Lady Maryam (a.s) saw anything, then it’s actually their powerful imagination and thus the product of this process which is the Quran is also a product of their imagination!
Then the traditional ulama like Allamah Majlisi believe that Angels have “jismul latief” which is a “flexible or delicate body” like gas which can take any shape. If you put gas in a bottle, it will take the shape of the bottle. Thus Angels can come in any format as they have a flexible body and thus can appear in form of a man too.
But deep thinking philosophers have a different view as they maintain that Angels are immaterial beings who do not have a body at all – not even a flexible body. Thus they do not occupy space. So the question remains how does the Angel communicate with Prophet Muhammad (sawa) who has a human form.
Allamah Tabatabai says that Angels DON’T change their nature and thus do not take a material form when they communicate with Prophet Muhammad (sawa) or even Lady Maryam (a.s).
BUT he says that the soul of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) elevates to be able to see the Angel and when he sees the Angel, he comprehends it to appear as a handsome/beautiful man. This is “tamath-thul” which is referred to in the verses above. The Angel is ACTUALLY there – Prophet (sawa) is not imagining something!
So Maryam (a.s), in “seeing” the Angel in the form of a perfect man – the Angel did not become a human being – BUT that is the view that she saw from HER perspective.
And then in reference to the narrations that the Prophet Muhammad (sawa) saw Jibreel (a.s) on two occasions in his complete reality (one being at the time of the first revelation and the other on another occasion) – here Prophet Muhammad (sawa) did not see Jibreel (a.s) with his material eyes but with the eyes of his heart. So when the narration states that Jibreel (a.s) extended from East to West it is an indication that this experience of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) of Jibreel (a.s) was beyond the borders of matter.
This is in line with narrations of Imam Ali (a.s) who said that Allah cannot be seen with our material eyes but CAN be seen with the eyes of our heart.
QURAN IS IMPENETRABLE!
Thus in conclusion, “wahi” must satisfy the 4 above mentioned requirements and “hadas”, “ilhaam” and “tahdis”, while being great by themselves are not “wahi” and thus not Quran.
To re-emphasize the unique nature of “wahi”, Ayatullah Jawadi Amuli makes an interesting point.
He says there are 7 surahs in the Quran that start with the “secret letters” (huruful muqatti’aat) called “Haa-Meem”.
And after these letters, in certain cases Almighty Allah describes the revelation in the following words:
تَنْزِيلُ الْكِتَابِ مِنَ اللَّهِ الْعَزِيزِ الْحَكِيمِ
“The revelation of [this] Book is from Allah, the Omnipotent, the All-Wise” (Surah Ahqaf Verse 2)
“Azeez” means powerful and is usually translated as “omnipotent”. However Ayatullah Jawadi says though the word “Azeez” means powerful, its root word is “ardul izaaz” which is an earth which is “impenetrable”. Thus Almighty Allah’s creation of the Quran is not penetrable and cannot be influenced by ANY external force.
Thus the Quran even challenges humans and jinn together that they will never be able to bring anything like the Quran.
To be continued………
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