Religious Concepts

Revelation, Inspiration, Vision and Dream Part III

Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), the Promised Messiah and Imam Mahdi

The Promised Messiah (as) wrote over 80 books in Arabic, Urdu, and Persian. Excerpts of his collected works have been translated into English and organised by topic. The Review of Religions is pleased to present these excerpts as part of a monthly feature. Here the Promised Messiah (as) discusses the difference between revelation, one’s thoughts and psychic phenomena.

This is the third part of a multi-part series.

Extracts from The Essence of Islam – Vol. II. pp.55-66

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.

The Distinction between Creation and Command

It may be asked from whom and wherefrom proceed the good and bad designs that arise in one’s mind as the result of reflection and observation? The answer is that such thoughts are the creation of Allah and not His command. There is a difference between creation and command. By creation is meant that God Almighty produces something through physical means and attributes it to Himself because He is the Cause of causes. Command is that which proceeds directly from God Almighty without the intervention of any means. Revelation, which descends from God, proceeds from the world of command and not from the world of creation. 

Thoughts that arise in peoples’ minds in consequence of observation and reflection all proceed from the world of creation in which the divine power operates behind the veil of means. God has created men in the world of means equipped with diverse types of powers and faculties and has invested them with the characteristic that when they employ their reflection in a good or bad matter their minds alight upon appropriate plans. As it is part of the law of nature that when a person opens his eyes he can see something and when he directs his ear towards sound he can hear something; in the same way when he reflects on the way of success in a good or bad design, some plan arises in his mind. A good man by reflecting upon good designs, thinks of good things, and a thief, by reflecting upon the various ways of robbery, invents a plan to commit robbery. Just as a man can think of deep and devious evil designs, in the same way when he uses his faculty in a good way, he can think of good designs. As his bad thoughts, however deep and effective they may be, cannot be held to be revelation, in the same way his thoughts which he deems to be good are not revelation. In short, whatever good thoughts occur to good people and whatever bad thoughts or designs arise in the minds of thieves and robbers and murderers and adulterers and forgers as the result of reflection and observation are all the result of the exercise of natural qualities, and because God is the Cause of causes, they are called the creation of God and not His command. They are the natural qualities of man as in the case of some vegetables; the quality of purgation or the quality of constipation and other qualities are natural to them. As God has invested other things with different types of qualities, He has invested man’s power of reflection with the quality that it helps man whenever he requires its help in a good or bad design. A poet who seeks to lampoon anyone finds his mind working in that direction and he is able to produce such poetry. Another poet seeks to praise the same person and commendatory verses come to his mind. This kind of good or bad thought is not the mirror of the divine will and cannot be called His word. God’s holy word is the word which is far above human faculties and is full of perfection and power and holiness. The very first condition of its manifestation is that human faculties should be entirely suspended and rendered useless. There should be neither reflection nor observation and the person concerned should be dead like a corpse. All means should be cut off and God Almighty, Whose being alone is actual and real, should cause His word to descend upon the heart of someone by His special design. 

It should be understood that as the light of the sun comes only from heaven and cannot be produced inside the eye, in the same way the light of revelation descends from God and by His design and does not arise from inside a person. As God truly exists and sees, hears, knows and speaks, His word should descend from Him and should not be the product of man’s mind. From our minds arise the same thoughts, good or bad, which dwell within us according to our nature, but God’s limitless knowledge and boundless wisdom cannot dwell in our hearts. What greater denial of God could there be than for a man to think that all the divine treasures of knowledge and wisdom and hidden mysteries are present in our hearts and surge up in them. This would mean that we ourselves are God and that there is no Being outside of us Who is Self-Existing and possesses divine attributes, Who should be called God. For if God truly exists and His unlimited knowledge is special to Him, of which our hearts cannot be the measure, then utterly wrong and senseless would be the observation that God’s limitless knowledge fills our hearts and all the treasuries of His wisdom dwell therein as if God’s knowledge is limited to that which is contained in our hearts. This would amount to a claim of Godhead itself, but is it possible that the heart of man should comprehend all the excellencies of the Divine? Is it permissible that a particle should become the sun? Certainly not. 

We have already stated that the characteristics of the Divine, like His knowledge of the unseen and His comprehension of wisdom and other natural signs, cannot be manifested by man. God’s word should be characterised by God’s Greatness, God’s power, God’s blessing, God’s wisdom and God’s peerlessness. All these characteristics are found in the Holy Qur’an, the proof of which we shall set forth at its proper place. 

If those of Brahmu Samaj still persist in denying the existence of revelation, which comprehends the unseen and other proofs of power, they should study the Holy Qur’an with full attention, so that they should come to know that in this holy word surges a whole ocean of matters that are unseen and manifestations of power which are beyond the strength of man. If they should be unable, through lack of insight, to discover these Qur’anic excellencies themselves, they should read this book of ours with attention so that they might discover as a sample some of the treasures of hidden matters and powerful mysteries of which the Holy Qur’an is full. 

They should also know that as proof of the existence of divine revelation that descends from God and comprehends hidden matters, there is another way that is open and that is that God Almighty always creates from among the Muslims, who base themselves upon the true faith, such people who receive revelation from God and disclose such hidden matters the disclosure of which is not within the power of anyone except of God, the One, without associate. God Almighty bestows this holy revelation only on those of the faithful who truly believe in the Holy Qur’an as the word of God and act upon it with full sincerity and who believe in Muhammad, the chosen one (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) as the true and perfect Prophet, who is better and higher and more exalted than all the prophets and is Khatam-ul-Rusul, and accept him as their guide. Such revelation is not vouchsafed to the Jews and Christians and Aryas and Brahmus, but has always been vouchsafed to the perfect followers of the Holy Qur’an and is now vouchsafed to them and will continue to be vouchsafed to them. Though the prophetic revelation has been cut off as no longer needed, the revelation that is vouchsafed to the sincere servants of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) will never be cut off. This revelation is a grand proof of the revelation which is special to messengership and humiliates every opponent of Islam. As this blessed revelation with all its blessing and honour and greatness and glory is vouchsafed only to those honourable servants who are included among the Muslims and are the servants of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him), the followers of all other sects are deprived of this perfect light which carries the good news of nearness to God and of acceptance by Him and of His pleasure. Thus this holy revelation not only proves its own existence, but also proves that the Muslims alone are the people who are acceptable to God and who base themselves on the true faith, that all other people worship falsehood and are misguided and are under the wrath of God. Ignorant people will say all sorts of things on hearing this and will shake their heads in denial or will ridicule me like foolish and wicked persons. They should know, however, that denial and ridicule are not the way of those who possess nobility and are seekers after truth, but are the way of those wicked people who have nothing to do with God and truth. 

There are thousands of things in the world which possess qualities that cannot be understood by reason and are known only by experience. It is, therefore, the way of the wise that when some quality of a thing is manifested repeatedly by experience they no longer doubt its existence. He who persists in denial after repeated experience is an absolute fool. For instance, rhubarb is a cathartic and a magnet has the power of attraction and though there is no reason why they should possess these qualities, yet when repeated experience manifests that they have these qualities every reasonable person has to admit that rhubarb is a cathartic and a magnet has the power to attract. If anyone should deny this on the ground that there is no reason for it, such a one would be condemned as mad or insane. So we submit to the Brahmus and other opponents that whatever we have stated concerning revelation, namely, that it is even now the experience of perfect individuals among the Muslims and is confined to them and is not to be found in any others, is not without proof, but can be demonstrated to every seeker through test and experience like thousands of other truths which are being discovered by these means. If anyone should be truly a seeker after truth, we undertake to demonstrate this to him provided he should make a sincere promise in writing that, in case of proof, he would accept Islam and should then turn to us with sincerity and in good faith.

فَاِنۡ تَوَلَّوۡا فَاِنَّ اللّٰهَ عَلِيْمٌۢ بِالۡمُفۡسِدِيْنَ [1]

Revelation and Psychic Phenomena

Some people put forward the objection that there are many groups like astrologers, soothsayers, physicians, and palmists, who claim to reveal the unseen. Sometimes they foretell things, some of which come to pass, and that more recently some people have been able to reveal hidden matters through mesmerism. Then how could the revealing of the unseen be conclusive proof of the divine origin of revelation? 

The answer is that all these groups speak from conjecture, guesswork, and indeed from superstition; they possess no certain knowledge nor do they claim to have certain knowledge. Their so-called prophecies are based upon signs and doubtful indications which have no relationship with certainty and which are not above suspicion and error. Very often, their predictions are proved baseless and false, on account of which those predictions lack all honour and acceptance and helpfulness and success. Those who indulge in those predictions are generally poverty-stricken and unfortunate, are held in no honour, and are cowardly, mean, unsuccessful and without any merit. They cannot convert the unseen to come into accord with their predictions and in their own circumstances they exhibit the signs of divine wrath and they possess no blessing or honour or help from the Divine. But the prophets and auliya’ do not merely disclose the unseen like the astrologers, but with the grace and mercy of God, which always accompany them, they make such prophecies in which the lights of acceptance and honour shine like the sun and which consist of the good news of honour and divine help, and not that of misfortune and adversity.

Consider the prophecies of the Holy Qur’an and you will find that they are not like the predictions of the astrologers or others but are full of majesty and glory. All those prophecies are characterised by declaring the honour of the recipients and the disgrace of their enemies, their glory and the humiliation of their enemies, their success and the failure of their enemies, their victory and the defeat of their enemies, and their prosperity and the ruin of their enemies. Can any astrologer or soothsayer or mesmeriser put forth such prophecies? Certainly not. Always to proclaim one’s own good, and the decline of the opponent and to refute whatever the opponent says and to promise the fulfilment of that which is in one’s favour, can only be from God and cannot be the doing of man. 

—Barahin-e-Ahmadiyya, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 1, pp. 232-242, footnote 11

Man’s Knowledge of the Universe is Defective

Though man has been trying strenuously for thousands of years to discover God’s powers through natural sciences and mathematics, yet his knowledge is so defective that he can only be described as hopeless and unsuccessful in his search. Hundreds of hidden mysteries are disclosed to those to whom visions and revelation are vouchsafed and they are borne witness to by thousands of the righteous; but the philosophers continue to deny them. The philosophers base all thinking and reflection on the brain, but those who have experience of visions have discovered through their spiritual experiences that the fountainhead of reason and understanding is the heart. For thirty-five years, I have observed that revelation which is the source of spiritual understanding and of the knowledge of the unseen descends upon the heart. Very often a voice strikes the heart with force, as a bucket is thrown with force into a well full of water, and that water of the heart surges up like a closed blossom and arriving near the brain blooms like a flower and gives birth to words which are words of the Divine. These spiritual experiences establish that the brain is not concerned with knowledge and true understanding. It is true that if the brain is healthy and suffers from no defect it is benefited by the secret knowledge possessed by the heart, and as the brain is the centre of the nervous system it is like a machine which can pump up water from the well. The heart is the well which is the fountainhead of hidden knowledge. This is a secret that has been discovered by men of truth through true visions and I myself have experience of it. 

—Chashma-e-Ma‘rifat, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 23, pp. 282-283

I have been honoured with divine converse for nearly eleven years and I know well that revelation descends from heaven. If one were to illustrate revelation by reference to some worldly object one could perhaps compare it with the telegraph which itself discloses every change that occurs in it. My experience is that at the time of descent of revelation, which is vouchsafed to me as the revelation of the auliya’, I feel that I am under the control of an external force that is very effective. Sometimes this control is so strong and envelops me so forcefully in its light that I find myself drawn to it compulsively and no faculty of mine can stand up to it. In this condition, I hear clear and bright words. I sometimes see angels and observe the power and awe of truth. The words that are conveyed to me often comprehend matters that are unseen and there is such extraordinary control and seizure which is proof of the existence of God Almighty. To deny this would amount to murdering a self-evident truth. 

—Barakat-ud-Du‘a, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 6, p. 26

I call God to witness that it is the truth that revelation falls upon the heart from heaven as rays of the sun fall upon a wall. It is my daily experience that when the word of God is about to descend on me then in the first stage, I feel a sort of helplessness and experience a change and, though my senses are in a manner working, I find that a powerful force has taken my whole being in its grip and I feel that all the arteries of my being are in the control of that force and all that is mine is no longer mine but belongs to it. When I am in that condition, first of all, God Almighty presents those of my thoughts to me on which He intends to cast a ray of His words. Those thoughts come before me one after the other in a strange guise, and it so happens that when a thought passes through my mind – for instance, whether a certain person will recover from his illness or not – then suddenly a divine phrase falls like a ray and often with its falling the whole of my body is shaken. Then this is succeeded by another thought and as soon as it appears a piece of revelation falls upon it like an archer shooting an arrow on every quarry that appears before him. Just at that time, it is felt that this chain of thoughts is generated by our natural capacity and that the words that fall upon it descend from above.

Although poets and thinkers, etc., also receive suggestions on reflection, there is no relationship between revelation and such suggestion, for that suggestion is a consequence of thinking and reflection and is received within the limits of humanness in the full possession of one’s senses. But revelation is received when the recipient comes under the full control of God Almighty with all his being, and his own senses and reflection do not intervene in any way. It appears as if one’s tongue is not one’s own and is being used by some other strong power. This should make clear the distinction between natural capacity and that which descends from heaven. 

—Barakat-ud-Du‘a, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 6, pp. 22-23, footnote

[1] ‘But if they turn away, then remember that Allah knows the mischief-makers well.’– The Holy Qur’an, 3:64.