Revelation is a sort of sublime knowledge of the realities of the world, their values and the higher goals of human life. This knowledge is unambiguous, direct and clear.
It is a special Divine gift bestowed on a pure and holy man. Revelation is not an ordinary kind of consciousness or perception obtained through senses, observation or experiment.
Nor is it a kind of mental awareness based on previous mental data or previously acquired knowledge manifesting itself consequent on the creative efforts of a human mind. It is also different from intuition and mystic illumination. It is pure and decisive knowledge, a transcendental cognition and a Divine gift.
Some effects of revelation
(a) Inner Arousal: Revelation creates an arousal in the soul of the prophet and stirs up his entire existence. It awakens his dormant faculties and powers and directs them towards the performance of his mission. With his contact with the eternal
source of revelation, he is infused with a new spirit and zeal.
(b) Clear insight: As a result of revelation a prophet’s mind is endowed with clear insight and breadth of vision as if it had been connected with a gushing and pure fountain–head of knowledge. His mind is filled with pure and fruitful ideas.
The Qur’an describes revelation as light, insight, illustration, wisdom, cure, mercy, proof and a source of life and knowledge. Obviously this light and insight first of all should be enlightening the heart of the prophet himself on whom revelation descends.
As a prophet’s ideas are inspired by Divine– revelation, they are polluted neither by myths and misconceptions nor by his own self–interest or personal whims. As the Qur’an says, “he does not speak out of his own desires. (What he says) is only a revelation revealed to him “. (Quran, 53:3).
Because of his clear insight and purity of thought a prophet attains infallibility. His missionary ideas are immune from every kind of mistake or slip.
(c) Fruitful formation of thinking processes: Revelation guides people and shows them the right way. It brings their inner talents into full bloom, and develops their higher human sentiments and inclinations. It gives a useful turn to their way of thinking and, in the light of the new awakening, leads them to all that is good and pleasant.
After dealing with the misconceptions, false beliefs, wrong practices and other pitfalls that may develop in a society, and emphasizing the need of the prophets, Imam Ali (AS) in the first sermon of his, given in the Nahj al–Balaghah, explains as under the purpose for which the prophets are raised:
“Allah sent His prophets to people. He sent His prophets one after another so that people might comply with the compact of their nature (might not allow the light of their innate disposition towards worshipping Allah and following what is right to be extinguished). He sent the prophets to remind people of His favors to them and to convey to them the truth so that they could have no excuse”.
“He sent the prophets to people to stir up the hidden treasures of their soul and to apprise them of their abundant and useful potentialities”.
(d) Forming a Just Society: Lastly revelation is the bearer of the great message of the prophets in regard to bringing about a change in society. In fact, revelation has a social mission, viz. the reconstruction of society, establishment of a just system and reorganization of a nation.
The historically recognized Divine messages have played an immense role in this field. Now we study the universal message of Islam, which is the most important of all these messages.
Revelation: a motive force of the Prophetic Movements
There is no doubt that every prophet started his mission at the most opportune time, when injustice, wrong conceptions, undue discrimination, dissensions and neglect of duties were rampant.
This situation demanded the beginning of a reformatory movement to dispel darkness and to illuminate the atmosphere with the light of virtue and truth. But in all cases the actual campaign for changing the intellectual and social conditions started only at the behest of Divine revelation.
It is true that Musa from his youth was feeling extremely perturbed and upset by the humiliation and the bondage of his people. He was conscious that power and wealth were concentrated in the hands of one party and the other was suffering poverty, slavery, pain and torture. But still he had no plans to take any action or to carry out any reforms.
Even when he killed a person from the enemy camp during an encounter with him, he escaped from the city in great bewilderment, as he felt that his life was in danger.
But years later when he was raised to prophethood and Divine revelation asked him to take action, he returned to the same city, went straight to Pharaoh, the powerful and dangerous enemy of his and his folk and asked him to liberate the children of Israel and stop torturing them. Only then the things began to move.
Until the age of forty, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) lived among an ignorant people whose way of life was unmanly and very unfair. His pure and clear mind perceived the moral perversion of society and felt distressed. As for himself, he never reconciled to the environment, and every now and then made efforts even to prevent aggression and patch up differences.
But he took no steps to preach social reform or to launch a campaign for that purpose. The breakthrough was made only when he received his first revelation in a cave on the hill of Hira. That was the event that heralded the Islamic Movement.
Therefore it may be said that revelation is the main pillar and the foundation stone of the mission of the prophets.
The following sources are used to prepare the above article.
1. Dr. M. H. Behishti, Dr. M. J. Bahonar, Philosophy of Islam, Islamic Seminary Publications (1984)