Lecture 3 in the Ramadaan series:
EXPLORING THE SHIA APPROACH TO THE QURAN
Saturday 19 May 2018 (3 Ramadaan 1439)
at the Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
delivered by Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
In the previous lecture, we discussed the different divisions in the Holy Quran and what is its significance and effect in understanding of the Quran. We concluded by discussing the division of Surahs as Meccan and Madani, together with understanding the benefit for this.
We will now start the discussion of the history of the Quran. Naturally, the history of the Quran starts from the very birth of the Quran. Indeed, the Quran started with the first revelation from Almighty Allah (SWT) to our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), which we refer to as Wahi in the Arabic language.
Therefore, the history of the Quran starts with Wahi, and we need to understand what Wahi is, since this is the first stage of the Quran. Our discussion on Wahi will cover the following points:
1. What is the literal definition of Wahi?
2. What does the term Wahi refer to?
3. Wahi in Quran
4. Different types of Wahi in the Quran
5. Direct and indirect Wahi
Once we have understood this, we need to have a deeper discussion on Wahi, which is a very interesting and important contemporary discussion. This thought-provoking discussion will delve into whether the phenomenon of Wahi is divine intervention or an experience of human excellence. It is a very technical discussion which we will get to in due course.
WHAT IS WAHI?
Let us start with the definition of Wahi, which has many different meanings in Arabic, such as:
6. Transferring something to someone, or delivering some content to another person, very fast and very secretively in a manner that another person in close proximity does not know or understand what has been conveyed.
All of these meanings are very close. Hint, signal and indication are all very secretive ways of conveying a certain message. Example, I give you a hint or a signal, and you understand it without anybody else knowing. So, the secrecy is there.
When we use the term Wahi in Islamic terminology, it refers to the connection between the Prophets (a.s) and Almighty Allah (SWT), with the purpose of receiving the Divine Message. There is a mechanism which serves the purpose of the delivery of the message of Allah (SWT) to the Prophets (a.s) who receive the Divine Message, and this channel is called Wahi.
WAHI COVERS THE GAP OF THE LIMITATIONS OF INTELLECT
The most important discussion is to understand the nature of this connection and this mechanism of contact between Almighty Allah (SWT) and His Prophets (a.s). It is one of those discussions which is difficult to digest. It is one of those secrets which, quite honestly, nobody knows. Nobody knows the reality and fact about what Wahi really is. It is beyond our intellect and senses, as we do not have access to it.
In our earlier course on Islamic theology, there was a detailed discussion about the necessity of Wahi. This was covered in our curriculum under the chapter of Nubuwwat (Prophethood). I would like to cite one point from those discussions to explain this phenomenon.
We said that our intellect can guide and help us in understanding the fundamentals of belief like existence of God and Hereafter and necessity of Prophethood, but it is not sufficient to know the details of religion.
Our intellect makes mistakes and our intellect develops and evolves over time. We cannot depend on our intellect since it will reach different conclusions on the same matter in later years as a result of its evolution. We therefore need something beyond intellect to guide us fallible human beings, and this is the necessity of Wahi!
Wahi comes only at the point where our intellect is not able to reach. Hence, our intellect is also not able to comprehend the nature of Wahi. We will now delve deeper into this discussion.
WHAT ARE THE VARIOUS MEANINGS OF WAHI IN THE QURAN?
Let us look at the use of the word Wahi in the Quran. The Quran has used the word Wahi to mean different things. Firstly, the Quran uses the word Wahi as an inspiration to the angels. Verse 12 of Surah Anfaal refers:
إِذْ يُوحِي رَبُّكَ إِلَى الْمَلَائِكَةِ أَنِّي مَعَكُمْ
“When your Lord revealed to the angels: I am with you…”
So we see clearly in this verse of the Holy Quran that the word Wahi is used in reference to the inspiration of angels.
Sometimes, the Quran uses the word Wahi to refer to normal human beings ie. not Prophets (a.s). We see this in verse 7 of Surah Qasas (chapter 28):
وَأَوْحَيْنَا إِلَىٰ أُمِّ مُوسَىٰ أَنْ أَرْضِعِيهِ
“And We inspired the mother of Moses, saying: Suckle him”
The mother of Musa (a.s) was not a Prophet, but still she is inspired, and the same word Wahi is used.
Sometimes, we see that the Quran uses the word Wahi to refer not only to normal human beings, but even goes as far as to use the word Wahi for inanimate objects! We note this in verses 4 and 5 of Surah Zalzala (chapter 99):
يَوْمَئِذٍ تُحَدِّثُ أَخْبَارَهَا
“On that day when the earth shall reveal its news (verse 4)”
بِأَنَّ رَبَّكَ أَوْحَىٰ لَهَا
“Because your Lord had inspired the earth (verse 5)”
Human beings will be perplexed at what is going on, since the earth will be speaking. It is because our Lord (SWT) has inspired the earth to speak out!
Let us go even further…sometimes we see that the Quran uses the word Wahi for Satanic whispers as well! Quran also calls it Wahi when Satan very secretively pollutes our ears! This is evident from verse 112 of Surah An’aam (chapter 6):
وَكَذَٰلِكَ جَعَلْنَا لِكُلِّ نَبِيٍّ عَدُوًّا شَيَاطِينَ الْإِنْسِ وَالْجِنِّ يُوحِي بَعْضُهُمْ إِلَىٰ بَعْضٍ
“And thus did We make for every prophet an enemy, the Shaitans from among men and jinn, some of them suggesting to others varnished falsehood to deceive (them)”.
The devils inspire each other with flowery language by way of deception.
The next very interesting use of the word Wahi is in the context of natural guidance. We have an innate guidance, which the Quran refers to as Wahi ie. that inner voice of conscience. In verse 68 of Surah Nahl (chapter 16), we read that Allah (SWT) gives Wahi to even a bee!
وَأَوْحَىٰ رَبُّكَ إِلَى النَّحْلِ أَنِ اتَّخِذِي مِنَ الْجِبَالِ بُيُوتًا وَمِنَ الشَّجَرِ وَمِمَّا يَعْرِشُونَ
“And your Lord revealed to the bee saying: Make hives in the mountains and in the trees and in what they build”
Similarly, we see that the Quran sometimes uses Wahi as a secretive hint or signal, such as to Nabi Zakariyya (a.s) in verse 11 of Surah Maryam (chapter 19):
فَخَرَجَ عَلَىٰ قَوْمِهِ مِنَ الْمِحْرَابِ فَأَوْحَىٰ إِلَيْهِمْ أَنْ سَبِّحُوا بُكْرَةً وَعَشِيًّا
“So Zakariya came out to his people from his chamber: He told them by signs to celebrate Allah’s praises in the morning and in the evening.”
We therefore see how many different variations there are to the usage of the word Wahi in the Holy Quran.
WAHI TO THE PROPHETS IS A DISTINGUISHED FORM OF COMMUNICATION
The most important and most common usage of the word Wahi in the Quran, for which it is used more than 70 times, is Wahi to the Prophets (a.s).
We read in verse 52 of Surah Shura:
وَكَذَٰلِكَ أَوْحَيْنَا إِلَيْكَ رُوحًا مِنْ أَمْرِنَا ۚ
“And thus did We reveal to you an inspired book by Our command.”
This is now where our most important discussion is regarding the topic of Wahi ie. the communication of Almighty Allah (SWT) with His Prophets (a.s) which needs to be conveyed to the people.
The great commentator of the Holy Quran, Allama Tabataba’i, says that Wahi is the power of communication which cannot be comprehended by senses or intellectual processing. Nobody knows exactly what Wahi is. Wahi is the most important distinctive quality which separates us from Prophets (a.s).
When people would see Prophets (a.s) coming with their Divine Message, the elite of society who denied Wahi would say that this Prophet (a.s) is nobody except a human being like us, and wants to have superiority over us. He cannot be a Prophet from God (SWT), because if Allah (SWT) wanted to guide us, He would have sent angels to us.
What was the reply of the Prophets (a.s)? In verse 110 of Surah Kahf (chapter 18) we see that they distinguish themselves through having access to Wahi.
قُلْ إِنَّمَا أَنَا بَشَرٌ مِثْلُكُمْ يُوحَىٰ إِلَيَّ
“Say: “I am but a man like yourselves, (but) the inspiration has come to me”
This is the place where we draw the line between Ambiya (Prophets) and non-Ambiya. Ambiya have exclusive access to this system called Wahi. That being said, it does not mean that Allah (SWT) does not talk to us. Indeed, he speaks to each of us and we all communicate with Allah (SWT). However, when we are using the word Wahi, we are referring to that particular message which Allah (SWT) wants to give to the whole nation, and not for a particular individual.
The message which He wants to reveal is a principle that He wants to establish as a guideline, instead of being a personal intervention or support. That is called WAHI.
WAHI TO PROPHET (A.S) ARE THROUGH 3 MODES OF COMMUNICATION
Prophetic Wahi is divided into 3 categories in the Holy Quran. This means that when Allah (SWT) wants to communicate with His Messenger, He does it through the 3 mediums, as referenced in verse 51 of Surah Shura (chapter 42):
وَمَا كَانَ لِبَشَرٍ أَنْ يُكَلِّمَهُ اللَّهُ إِلَّا وَحْيًا أَوْ مِنْ وَرَاءِ حِجَابٍ أَوْ يُرْسِلَ رَسُولًا 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.”
We learn from this verse that the 3 mediums of communication are:
1. Through Wahi ie. Allah (SWT) speaks directly to a Nabi;
2. Through a barrier, like when Allah (SWT) spoke to Nabi Musa on the Mount of Tur via the burning bush;
3. Through a messenger like angel Jibra-eel
Now, in the first form of communication ie. direct, we do find that it is not very common.
Similarly, the second form of communication is also not very common.
The third form of communication where Allah (SWT) speaks to Prophets (a.s) through messengers like angel Jibra-eel is the common form and standard practice.
The Holy Quran is basically a compilation of what Almighty Allah (SWT) has spoken to Rasulullah (SAWA) through angel Jibra-eel, in the form of Wahi. Therefore, it is important for us to understand the nature and reality of this Wahi, because we as human beings do not have access to it.
In summary, we can say that the truth and reality of Wahi is only known to Prophets (a.s) because they enjoy a much elevated strength of communication with Allah (SWT), whereby their signal strength is able to receive and absorb Wahi, whereas our “reception signal” is very weak!!!
Therefore, Allama Tabataba’i refers to this divine communication mechanism of which its comprehension is not possible through senses or intellect. It requires a much deeper comprehension which is rewarded to special people by Allah (SWT).
As a result, Wahi is one of those secretive things which we know very little about. This is the standard position about Wahi.
WAHI INTERPRETED IN THE MATERIAL SENSE
For those who are interested in further intellectual discourse on this matter, there is a discussion for the past 100 plus years about Wahi, where some people like to somehow interpret and explain everything in material terms.
If you ask them what is Heaven and what is Hell, they will not say that there is a Paradise beyond this world etc. Instead, they prefer to explain the reward in this worldly sense ie. you will be successful in this world if you do good and conversely if you do bad. So there isn’t anything by the name of Heaven and Hell in the hereafter.
They say it is just an excuse like a bogeyman, in the same way that we threaten our children by saying that the bogeyman will come if they do bad. The reality is that the bogeyman does not exist! So they like to interpret everything in this material way.
When they reach to Wahi, it was difficult for them to understand how the Prophets (a.s) communicated with God (SWT) and how was the message of Allah (SWT) revealed to them? They tried to interpret and explain it in material terms.
This will be the subject of our next discussion.
To be continued…..
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