Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala sent Prophets and Messengers at different times to convey his message to their fellow human beings. Allah says to His final Messenger Muhammad sallallahu alayhe wa sallam,
“We have sent to you an inspiration, as We sent it to Noah and the Messengers after him: we sent inspiration to (the Prophets) Ibrahim, Ismail, Ishaq, Ya’qub and the tribes, to Isa, Ayyoub, Yunus, Harun and Sulayman, and to Dawud we gave the Zabur.” [Surah Al-Nisa’ 4:163]
The Different Meanings of Wahyi
In Arabic, the word wahyi means to inform secretly. The word occurs in shades of meaning in the Qur’an. For example, the innate intuition given to individuals has been mentioned in the Quran as a form of wahyi. Allah says,
“So We sent this inspiration (awhayna) to the mother of Musa (Moses)…” [Surah Al-Qasas 28:7).
Similarly, wahyi can also be the guidance provided through natural instinct found in animals. Allah says,
“And thy Lord taught (awha) the bee to build its cells in hills, on trees and in (man’s) habitations.” [Surah Al-Nahl 16:68]
Another form of wahyi can be guidance through signs. In Surah Maryam, Allah says,
“So (Zakariyya) came out to his people from his chamber (al-mihrab): he told them by signs (awha) to glorify Allah’s praises in the morning and in the afternoon” [Surah Maryam 19:11]
Guidance Whose Source is Evil Can Also be Termed as Wahyi
“Likewise did We make for every messenger an enemy – evil ones among jinns, inspiring (yuhee) each other with adorned speech by way of deception..” [Surah Al-An’am 6:112]
Finally, wahyi can be the guidance from Allah, as Allah says,
“Remember your Lord inspired (yuha) the angels (with the message)…” [Surah Al-Anfal 8:12]
Although linguistically the term wahyi can be used in various contexts, in the Shari’ah wahyi is used as a term to mean Allah’s revelation to His prophets through one of the revelation methods. One should realize that wahyi is a matter of the unseen (ghaib) and all that we know about it are based on very limited number or Qur’anic and Sunnah texts. Even-believer must have a firm belief in it. It is also the means by which Allah relays His message to the prophets.
There are Four Types of Wahyi as Defined by the Shari’ah
The first is the hidden speech through which Allah spoke directly to His servants. This is the manner in which Allah spoke to Prophet Musa alayhis-salam. Allah says,
“And to Musa (Moses) Allah spoke directly.” [Surah Al-Nisa’ 4:164]
The second type occurs in the form of intuitive knowledge which Allah inspires into the heart of his chosen ones (prophets) such that they can firmly accept it. The Prophets could neither have avoided nor ‘doubted it. An example is the Prophet’s saying,
“Verily, the Divine Spirit (Jibril) inspired into my soul that no soul would pass away until it has completely exhausted its provisions and life span…” (Abu Na’eem in al-Hilya)
The third type of wahyi is the inspiration in the form of true dreams that comes to pass exactly as he saw it. A proof that the dreams of Prophets is wahyi is the true dream of Prophet Ibrahim alayhis-salam in which he saw himself slaughtering his son, Ismail. If this dream had not been a divine revelation to be followed, he would not even have considered slaughtering his son. Allah says,
“And. when he (Ismael) was old enough to walk with him. he said, ‘O my son! I have seen in a dream that I am slaughtering you (offer you in sacrifice to Allah), so look what do you think!’ He said, ‘O my father! Do that which you are commanded, if Allah wills, you shall find me of the patient ones.’” [Surah Al-Saffat 37:102]
The fourth type of wahyi is the guidance received through Angel Jibril who is a special messenger from Allah. This is the most obvious and common form of revelation. It is also the type often referred to in Ulum al-Qur’an because all of the Qur’an’s wahyi is of this category.
The Prophet sallallahu alayhe wa sallam received the Qur’an from Angel Jibril in two ways, which are recorded in the Sahih of al-Bukhari. A’isha radhiallahu anha reported,
“Al-Harith Ibn Hisham asked the Messenger of Allah sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, ‘O Allah’s Messenger, how is the divine inspiration revealed to you?’ Allah’s Messenger replied, ‘Sometimes it is revealed like the ringing of a bell. This form of inspiration is the hardest of all and then this state passes off after I have grasped what is inspired. Sometimes the Angel comes in the form of a man and talks to me and I grasped whatever he says.’”
The Beginning of Revelation to the Prophet
Prophet Muhammad sallallahu alayhe wa sallam received the revelation of the Qur’an for the first time at the age of forty around the year 610 A.D. The revelation occurred while the Prophet was secluded in the cave of Hira on a mountain near Makkah, A place where he often meditated and reflected about Allah’s creation.
Imam Al-Bukhari reported the incident in his Sahih as follows: A’isha radhiallahu anha narrated,
“The beginning of the divine inspiration to Allah’s Messenger was in the form of good dreams. These dreams came true like the bright daylight. Then the love of seclusion was bestowed upon him. He used to go in seclusion in the Cave of Hira, where he worshiped continuously for many days before returning to his family. He used to take with him food for the stay and then returning to Khadija (his wife) to replenish his provision. The truth descended upon him suddenly while he was in the Cave of Hira. The angel came to him and asked him to read. The Prophet replied, ‘I do not know how to read.’ The Prophet added, ‘The angel caught me (forcibly) and pressed me so hard that I could not hear it anymore. He then released me and again asked me to read and I replied, “I do not know how to read.” Thereupon he caught me again and pressed me a second time till I could not bear it anymore. He then released me and again asked me to read, but again I replied, “I do not know how to read.” Thereupon he caught me for the third time and pressed me, and then released me and said, “Read, in the name of Your Lord, who created, created man from a clot. Read! And Your Lord is the most bountiful.”’” (Bukhari).
These verses in the beginning of Surat al-Alaq (96:1-5) were the first to be revealed to the Prophet sallallahu alayhe wa sallam. The hadith goes on to report that the Prophet sallallahu alayhe wa sallam left the cave and rushed home in a state of shock and fear. When he explained the incident to his wife, Khadija, she calmed him down. She then went to explain the situation to her cousin, Waraqa, who had knowledge of Jewish and Christian scriptures. Waraqa immediately reassured the Prophet that this was a major sign for Muhammad sallallahu alayhe wassalam as it is the same Namus (sign of Revelation) that Prophet Musa received.