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The Prophet's Experience of Revelation


روي أن رجلا سأل رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم فقال: يا رسول الله كيف يأتيك الوحي؟ فقال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: يأتي الملك أحيانا في مثل صلصلة الجرس وهو أشده علي فيفصم عني وقد وعيت عنه ما قال وأحيانا يتمثل لي الملك رجلا فيكلمني فأعي ما يقول وهو أهونه علي.

قالت عائشة رضي الله عنها: ولقد رأيته ينزل عليه الوحي في اليوم الشديد البرد فيفصم عنه وإن جبينه ليتفصد عرقا.

وقال عبادة بن الصامت: كان نبي الله صلى الله عليه وسلم إذا نزل عليه الوحي كرب لذلك وتربد وجهه. وقال أيضا: إذا أنزل عليه الوحي نكس رأسه ونكس أصحابه رؤوسهم فلما أتلي عنه رفع رأسه.

It is narrated that a man asked the Prophet (pbuh): 'Prophet of God, how does revelation come to you?1' The Prophet replied: 'Sometimes the angel comes to me with a sound like that of the ringing of bells2. This form of revelation is the hardest upon me3. Then the angel departs from me, while I have memorized everything that he has said. At other times, the angel appears and talks to me in the form of a man and I memorize every thing that he says. This form of revelation is easiest upon me.

Ayesha (ra) says: I have seen the Prophet, while revelation came to him on an abnormally cold day and then as the angel departed from him, his forehead was pouring with perspiration.

`Ubadah ibn Samit (ra) says: 'When revelations came down upon the Prophet (pbuh), he appeared to be in discomfort because of it and the complexion of his face altered4.' Ubada ibn Samit has also said: 'When revelations came down upon the Prophet (pbuh), he lowered his head and all those sitting in his company would also lower their heads5. Then when the revelation would stop, he [i.e., the Prophet] would raise his head again.'

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General Notes:

  1. An ordinary person living with a prophet of God - who receives God's revelations through His angels - can be naturally inquisitive about the prophet's experience of revelation. The question is not one of skepticism, but one of natural inquiry.

  2. The experience of revelation of a prophet of God is completely alien for ordinary human beings. The Prophet (pbuh) has thus explained it by drawing a comparison with one of the known experiences of man.

  3. Being related to the internal experiences of the Prophet (pbuh), it is impossible for ordinary human beings to fully understand why a particular form of revelation is harder upon the Prophet as compared to another form of revelation.

  4. The Arabic word "تربد" is generally used for fading of the color.

  5. That is, if revelation was sent upon the Prophet (pbuh), while he were sitting in the company of his companions, he would cut himself off from all participation in the group and lower his head, concentrating fully on the message that was being revealed to him. Observing the apparent disassociation of the Prophet (pbuh), all the companions sitting in the gathering would also observe silence and lower their heads, which was indicative of their reverence and respect for the revelation being sent down.

Notes on the Text of the Narrative

This narrative or a part of it, with minor variations, has been reported in Maalik's Mu'watta (narrative no. 475) Bukhariy (narrative no. 2 and 3043), Muslim (narrative no. 2333, 2334 and 2335), Ibn Hibban (narrative no. 38), Tirmidhi (narrative no. 3634), Nassaiy (narrative no. 933 and 934), Nassaiy's Sunan Al-Kubraa (narrative no. 1005, 1006, 7979 and 11128), Ahmad ibn Hanbal (narrative no. 7071, 24354, 25291, 25342, 25698, 26241 and 26243), Bayhaqiy (narrative no. 13120), Musnad Al-Humaydiy (narrative no. 256). The preferred text is the one reported in Bukhariy, narrative no. 2, except where otherwise specified.

In some narratives, as in Bukhariy narrative no. 2, the person, who asked this question is named as Haaris ibn Hishaam.

The sentence, "يأتي الملك أحيانا في مثل صلصلة الجرس" (i.e. 'the angel comes to me with a sound like that of the ringing of bells') is reported in Bukhariy's narrative no. 3043. In Bukhariy's narrative no. 2, the corresponding sentence has been rendered as "يأتيني مثل صلصلة الجرس" (i.e., 'It/He would come to me with a sound like that of the ringing of bells').

In some narratives, as in Nassaiy narrative no. 933, the words "يتمثل لي الملك رجلا فيكلمني" (i.e., 'the angel appears and talks to me in the form of a man') have been rendered as "يأتيني في مثل صورة الفتى فينبذه إلي" (He would come to me in the form of a young man, then he would transmit it to me'). While in Bayhaqiy's narrative no. 13120, the word "فيكلمني" (i.e., 'then he talks to me') is rendered as "فيعلمني" (i.e., 'then he teaches me').

In some narratives, as in Ahmad ibn Hanbal's narrative no. 7071, the Prophet's answer to the question is reported as: "اسمع صلاصل ثم أسكت عند ذلك فما من مرة يوحى إلى الا ظننت ان نفسي تفيض" (i.e., 'I hear ringing like sounds, hearing which I stop talking [and become attentive]. Each time a message is revealed to me I feel as if my soul is flowing out').

The sentence "وهو أهونه علي" (i.e., 'This form of revelation is easiest upon me') is reported in Musnad Al-Humaydiy, narrative no. 256.

The part "وقال عبادة بن الصامت: كان نبي... كرب لذلك وتربد وجهه" is reported in Muslim, narrative no. 2334.

The part "إذا أنزل... أتلي عنه رفع رأسه" is reported in Muslim, narrative no. 2335.

(This write-up is prepared by the Hadith Cell of Javed Ahmad Ghamidi)

Last Updated on Sunday, 12 December 2010 19:40