WHAT IS REVELATION?
We present extracts from the writings of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Promised Messiah and Imam Mahdias, on revelation. These are republished from the second volume of Essence of Islam.
What a pity! They say that revelation has come to an end;
Now this Ummah will have to depend on old tales to the Day of Judgement
Surely this belief is against the Word of God;
But who would shed the weight of this age-old yoke?
That God still appoints whomsoever He wishes to be a recipient of revelation (Kalim);
He still speaks to whom He loves
Why do you discard the gem of Divine revelation? Take heed!
For this alone is the source of honour and distinction for the faith
This is the flower which has no peer in the garden;
This is the fragrance before which the musk of Tataristan pales into insignificance
This is the key, which opens up the gates of heavens;
This is the mirror, which shows us the countenance of the Beloved
This is the only weapon which guarantees our victory;
This alone is the fortress, the citadel of security
In Islam, this alone is the instrument of attaining knowledge of the Divine;
Mere tales cannot help a person out of the raging storm
Divine revelation alone is the sign of knowing God;
Whoever receives it, also finds the Eternal Friend
How wonderful is the garden of love! The passage to which lies through the valley of death;
Whose fruit is the communion with the Beloved even though it is surrounded by thorny bushes.1
Revelation is a message from the hidden, which does not depend upon any reflection or deep thinking. It is clear and open feeling as a hearer has about a speaker, or one beaten has about the beater, or one touched has about him who touches him. The soul does not experience any spiritual pain on its account. The soul has an eternal accord with revelation, which it enjoys as a lover finds pleasure in beholding the beloved. It is a delicious communication from God which is called revelation.2
What is Revelation?
By revelation is not meant something that arises in the mind as a result of thinking and reflection, like that which a poet experiences in writing his verses. He writes a verse and reflects about the next one and it suddenly arises in his mind. This is not revelation; it is a consequence of thought and reflection, which flows from the law of nature. Anyone who thinks about good things or evil things finds that something arises in his mind in consonance with his thinking and his search. For instance, a good and righteous person writes some verses in support of truth and another one, who is wicked, supports falsehood in his verses and abuses the righteous. Each of them will produce some verses and it should be no matter for surprise that the enemy of the righteous who writes in support of falsehood may, on account of greater practice, write better verses than the other one. Thus, if anything arising in the mind were to be called revelation, a wicked poet, who is the enemy of truth and of the righteous and always abuses the truth and indulges in imposture, would be deemed the recipient of Divine revelation. Works of fiction contain many affecting passages and the minds of authors are able to produce a series of writings on purely fictitious subjects, but they cannot be called revelation. If revelation were the name of any idea arising in the mind, a thief could be called a recipient of revelation for he can think of clever ways of robbery and ingenious plans of housebreaking and manslaughter cross his mind. We cannot call all this revelation. This is the thinking of people who have no clear notion of the True God, Who comforts the hearts with His converse and bestows the understanding of spiritual knowledge on those who are not familiar with it.
What is revelation? It is God’s converse in living and powerful words with a chosen servant or with one whom He desires to choose. When this converse starts in an abundant and satisfactory manner and is free from the darkness of false thinking and is not confined to a few scattered and incomplete phrases, and is delicious and is full of wisdom and majesty, it is the Word of God by which He desires to comfort His servant and through which He manifests Himself to him. Sometimes a communication is made only for the purpose of a trial and is not accompanied by all the characteristic blessings of revelation. A servant of God Almighty is thereby tried whether by tasting a little of revelation he adjusts his circumstances to those of true recipients of revelation or fails to do so. Then if he does not adopt true righteousness, he is deprived of the perfection of this bounty and is left with only vain boasting.
Millions of good people receive revelation but they have not all the same rank in the estimation of Allah. Even the Prophets who are the recipients of clear revelation are not all equal in rank, as God Almighty has said that some Messengers are superior to others.
It shows that revelation is pure grace and is not the insignia of rank. Rank depends upon the degree of sincerity and fidelity, which is known only to God. Revelation when accompanied by its blessed conditions is also a fruit of sincerity and fidelity. There is no doubt that if revelation takes the form of question and answer in a proper sequence and is characterised by Divine majesty and light and comprises hidden matters or true understanding, then it is Divine revelation. For Divine revelation, it is necessary that there should be converse between the servant and his Lord as there is converse between friends when they meet. When the servant asks a question and in reply hears a delicious and eloquent speech from God Almighty, in which there is nothing of his own thinking and reflection and such converse becomes a bounty, then it is Divine speech and such a servant is dear to God. But this degree of revelation, which is a bounty, and is living, pure, clear, and unsullied, is bestowed only upon those who march forward in their faith, sincerity, righteous action, and also in what is simply ineffable. True and holy revelation demonstrates great wonders of the Divine. On many occasions, a brilliant light appears and along with it a majestic and shining revelation is conveyed.
What could be greater than a recipient of revelation conversing with the Being Who is the Creator of heaven and earth? The beholding of God in this world is to converse with God. By this, we do not mean that condition in which some odd word, phrase or verse might flow from the tongue of a person without being accompanied by a direct address. A person who has such an experience is being tried. He casts about like a blind one and does not know the source of the communication whether it is from God or from Satan. Such a one should have recourse to Istighfar [seeking forgiveness from God for one’s sins]. But if a good and righteous person begins to receive Divine communication without obstruction, a bright, delicious communication which is full of wisdom, in majestic terms and in complete wakefulness, and there has passed between him and God Almighty a series of at least ten questions and answers in the course of which God accepted his prayers a number of times and conveyed to him fine understandings and informed him of coming events, then such a person should be most grateful to God and should be wholly devoted to Him, in as much as God has of His pure grace chosen him out of all His servants and has made him heir to the righteous ones who have passed on before him. Such a bounty occurs rarely and is a matter of good fortune. Everything beside it is of no value.
Islam has always produced people of this rank and station. It is Islam alone in which God comes close to a servant and talks to him. He speaks inside him and makes his heart His throne and draws him towards heaven and bestows upon him all the bounties that have been bestowed upon those who have gone before. It is a pity that the blind world does not appreciate how near a person can approach to God. They do not step forward themselves and when someone steps forward he is either dubbed a Kaafir [infidel] or is deified and is put in the place of God.4
Revelation Provides Comfort in Distress
It is idle to assert that revelation has no reality and is a vain thing, the harm of which is greater than its benefit. Such an assertion is made only by a person who has never tasted this pure wine and does not desire to have true faith. Such a one is happy with his habits and customs and never seeks to find out to what degree he believes in the Almighty God and how far his understanding extends, and what should he do so that his inner weaknesses are removed and a living change takes place in his morals, actions, and designs. He is not eager to cultivate that love which should make his journey to the other world easy and whereby he should develop the inner quality of making spiritual progress.
Everyone can understand that this heedless life is ever pulling a person downward, with his relationship with wife and children and with the burden of honour and good repute, which are all like heavy stones pressing him downwards. He is in need of a high power, which, by bestowing true sight and true vision upon him, should make him eager to behold the perfect beauty of God Almighty. That high power is Divine revelation that provides comfort in distress. It enables a person to take his stand joyously and comfortably under mountains of misfortunes. That Imperceptible Being, Who confounds the reason and wisdom of all philosophers, manifests Himself only through revelation. He comforts the hearts of seekers and bestows contentment upon them and revives the half-dead ones by saying: I am present. It is true that the Holy Qur’an contains all the guidance, but when the Qur’an leads a person to the fountain of guidance, the first indication of it is that he begins to experience converse with the Divine, whereby a revealing understanding of high degree and a visible blessing and light is created and that cognition begins to be acquired which cannot be achieved by blind following or through intellectual theories, for they are all limited, full of doubts, defective, and incomplete. We need to extend our cognition directly: for the greater our cognition the greater will be our eagerness. With a defective cognition, we cannot expect perfect eagerness. It is a matter of surprise how unintelligent those people are who do not consider themselves in need of that perfect means of approaching the truth upon which spiritual life depends.
It should be remembered that spiritual knowledge and spiritual understanding can be acquired only through revelation and visions, and until we achieve that standard of light our humanness cannot acquire any true understanding or true perfection…
Revelation is a Means of Salvation
We have been created for a great purpose, which is the true understanding of God; on that understanding depends our salvation. It delivers us from every impure and doubtful way and leads us to the edge of a pure and clear river. It can be acquired only through Divine revelation. When, being delivered entirely from our ego, we dive deep with an eager heart into an unattainable Being, our humanness, having appeared in the court of Godhead, returns with some signs and lights from that world. Thus that which the worldly ones look upon with contempt is the only thing which brings a long-separated one in an instant to his Beloved and bestows comfort upon the lovers of the Divine. It relieves a person suddenly of all types of egoistic limitations; until that true light descends upon the heart, it is not possible that the heart should be illumined. The imperfection of human reason and the limitations of current knowledge bear witness to the need of revelation.5
OBJECTION. The belief that God sends down His word from heaven is utterly wrong for the law of nature does not confirm it, nor do we ever hear a voice coming down from above. Revelation is the name given to those thoughts which arise in the minds of wise people by the use of reflection and observation, and that is all.
ANSWER: A truth which is well established and has been observed with their own eyes by numberless men of understanding, and the proof of which can be found in every age by a seeker after truth, suffers no harm by the denial of a person who is bereft of spiritual insight. If the thinking or defective knowledge of a person whose heart is wrapped up in coverings fails to confirm it, the truth cannot be considered as being outside the law of nature. For instance, if a person who is unaware of the power of attraction of a magnet and has never seen a magnet, were to claim that a magnet is only a piece of stone and that he has never witnessed any such power of attraction in any stone, and therefore it is wrong to assert that a magnet has such a power for this is contrary to the law of nature. Then, would his assertion cast doubt on the well-established quality of a magnet? Certainly not. All that his assertion would prove would be that he is stupid and ignorant who considers his own lack of knowledge as proof of non-existence of a reality and does not accept the evidence of thousands of people who have experience of it.
It is not possible to hold that every law of nature should be capable of being tested by every individual. God Almighty has created the human species with great diversity in their overt and covert faculties. For instance, some people possess very good sight, others are weak sighted and some are altogether blind. Those who are weak sighted, when they find that those with good sight have perceived a thing from afar—for instance, they have sighted the crescent which they themselves are unable to see—they do not deny it and think that their denial would only expose their weakness. The blind, of course, have nothing to say in such a matter. In the same way, those who possess no sense of smell believe those serious and truthful people who speak of good smell and ill smell. They do not doubt them for they know that so many people do not tell lies and must be speaking the truth, and that without doubt their own sense of smell is lacking and that is why they are unable to experience any smell.
Men also differ in respect of their covert capacities. The capacities of some are of a low degree and are covered up by veils. Some have from ancient times possessed high and clear souls and have been the recipients of Divine revelation. For the former to deny the personal characteristics of the latter would be the same as if a blind one, or one with weak sight, were to deny the observations of one with excellent sight, or as if a person lacking the sense of smell should deny the experiences of one with a sense of smell.
Then to convince a person who denies the existence of revelation, there are ways like the ways of convincing a person who denies the observations of the overt senses. For instance, if one who is congenitally bereft of the sense of smell should deny the existence of good and foul smell, and should assert that those who claim such a sense are liars or are mistaken, he can be persuaded to admit his mistake in the following manner. He should be asked to select a few pieces of clothing and should rub some with perfume and leave others untouched and thus test the sense of smell of a normal person, so that by repeated experiences he would be convinced of the existence of this sense of smell and that there are to be found people who can distinguish between that which is fragrant and that which has no smell. In the same way, the existence of revelation can be proved to the satisfaction of a seeker after truth through repeated experiments. When hidden matters and secret mysteries which cannot be discovered through the experience of reason alone, are disclosed to a recipient of revelation, and a revealed book is found to contain wonders which are not to be discovered in any other book, a seeker after truth realises that Divine revelation is an established truth. If such a person possesses a pure soul, he himself, by treading on the right path can, to the extent of the illumination of his heart, have experience of Divine revelation like the Auliya’, whereby he acquires a certain knowledge of the revelation vouchsafed to the Messengers of God. For a seeker after truth who would sincerely express a desire to accept Islam, I am prepared to provide this means of satisfaction.
Fine Thought is not to be confused with Revelation
To imagine that the fine points that are disclosed to people through reflection and observation are revelation, and that revelation is nothing more than this, is an error due to ignorance. Were it true that human thinking constituted Divine revelation then man also could have discovered the unseen by the use of his reflection and observation. It is obvious, that however wise a person may be he cannot disclose anything hidden by merely reflecting on the matter. Nor can he exhibit any sign of Divine power. His speech indicates no sign of God’s Power and, however much he might reflect, he cannot discover the unseen which is beyond his reason and observation and his other senses. Nor is his speech or composition of such a high degree that no one can compete with him. Thus, there are enough reasons for a wise person to conclude that whatever a man might think in consequence of his own reflection, or observation, cannot be the Word of God. Had it been the Word of God, a person would have had access to all that is unseen and would have been able to expound those matters the exposition of which depends upon Divine power, inasmuch as it is necessary that the Work of God and the Word of God should disclose Divine manifestations.
1. Brahin-e-Ahmadiyya, Part V, Ruhani Khaza’in, Vol. 21, p. 137 (Eng. Translation, Essence of Islam, Vol 2, pp.45-46).
2. Purani Tehrirain, Ruhani Khaza’in, Vol. 2, p. 20 (Eng. Translation, Essence of Islam, Vol 2, p.46)
3. Holy Qura’n, Surah Al-Baqarah, Verse 254.
4. Islami Usul ki Philosophy, Ruhani Khaza’in, Vol. 10, pp. 437-441 (Eng. Translation, Essence of Islam, Vol 2, pp.47-50).
5. Izala-e-Auham, Ruhani Khaza’in, Vol. 3, pp. 326-329 (Eng. Translation, Essence of Islam, Vol 2, pp.50-52).
6. If any one should doubt my word, let him come to me with sincerity. Allah has the power to do what I say and He is the Helper in every matter.