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Waḥy (Arabic: وحي‎, IPA: [waħj]; also spelled wahi) is the Arabic word for revelation. In Islamic belief, revelations are God's Word delivered by his chosen individuals – known as Messenger prophets – to mankind.[1] In Islam, the Quran is considered a wahy given to the Islamic prophet, Muhammad. The word awha (أوحى awḥá) occurs in a number of shades of meaning in the Quran, each of them indicating the main underlying idea of directing or guiding someone or something. For example, "And inspired in each heaven its command," (Fussilat-12). "And your lord inspired to the bee," (An Nahl-68). "And we inspired to the mother of Mosses," (Al Qasas-7). Islamic scholars say that there is a clear difference between these kind of "wahy "and "wahy" to the Messenger Prophet. The prophets were very much conscious about revelations and they firmly believed that the revelations were true and came from the Almighty God. The word "wahy" (revelation) is derived from awha.


In Islamic tradition, the 42:51 verse of the Quran serves as the basis of understanding for wahy. It says "It is not fitting for a man that Allah should speak to him except by inspiration, or from behind a veil, or by the sending of a messenger to reveal, with Allah's permission, what Allah wills". Based on this, Islamic scholars have described three ways in which God's revelation can reach His chosen individuals, especially prophets.[2] An inspired message – not a word but an idea – can enter the heart of the chosen individuals either in the state of consciousness or in dream.[3] The second mode, it is said, is the word heard by the person spoken to, like, from behind a veil.[3] In the third mode, the revelation is sent from God through archangels like Gabriel and is delivered to the prophets. It is the highest form of revelation, and Muslims believe the whole Quran was revealed in this mode.[2][3]


According to Islamic scholar Muhammad Shafi Usmani, God has created three media through which humans receive knowledge: men’s senses, the faculty of reason, and the divine revelation; and it is the third one that addresses the liturgical and eschatological issues, answers the questions regarding God's purpose behind creating mankind, and acts as a guidance for the mankind as to choosing the correct way.[4] In Islamic belief, the sequence of divine revelation came to an end with Muhammad.[4]

Mode of descentEdit

As regard to revelation received by Muhammad, Muslim sources mention various modes in which they believe revelation came to him. Muslim scholar Muhammad Shafi Usmani has summarized five modes of descent. The common mode was that Muhammad would hear sound like "the ringing of a bell" after which he found the message committed to his memory. Sometimes, the arch angel would come in human shape, most often of Dahya al-Kalbi. In two cases, Gabriel appeared in his real form. Once, on the night of Miraj, Muhammad is believed to have had a direct conversation with God. In the fifth mode, Gabriel would let the revelation enter into Muhammad’s heart.[4][page needed]

Scholarly views on whether Muhammad was sincereEdit

A number of Western historians have addressed the question of whether Muhammad was sincere when he reported receiving revelations. Around a hundred years ago, Thomas Carlyle in his lectures, "On Heroes", vigorously defended Muhammad arguing that one can only accuse him of insincerity if one fails to understand Islam and its worldwide success.[5]:232 Carlyle's view has been increasingly influential ever since and contemporary historians tend to say that as far as can be ascertained Muhammad did believe that he was hearing the word of God.[6]

William Montgomery Watt argues that only Muhammad's sincerity can explain his "readiness to endure hardship and persecution during the Meccan period when from a secular point of view there was no prospect of success".[5]:232 "To carry on in the face of persecution and hostility would have been impossible for him unless he was fully persuaded that God had sent him".[5]:17

William Montgomery Watt presents the following possibilities for the sources of Qur'an:[6]:31

Sometimes he [Muhammad] may have heard the words being spoken to him, but for most part he seems simply to have "found them in his heart". Whatever the precise "manner of revelation"-and several different 'manners' were listed by Muslim scholars- the important point is that the message was not the product of Muhammad's conscious mind. He believed he could easily distinguish between his own thinking and these revelations. His sincerity in this belief must be accepted by the modern historian, for this alone makes credible the development of a great religion. The further question, however, whether the messages came from Muhammad's unconscious, or the collective unconscious functioning in him, or from some divine source, is beyond the competence of the historian.

According to historian Welch,

The really powerful factor in Muhammad's life and the essential clue to his extraordinary success was his unshakable belief from beginning to end that he had been called by God. A conviction such as this, which, once firmly established, does not admit of the slightest doubt, exercises an incalculable influence on others. The certainty with which he came forward as the executor of God's will gave his words and ordinances an authority that proved finally compelling.[7]


Critics see the reliance of Quran on various pre-existing sources as evidence for a human origin

Critics point to pre-existing sources to argue against the traditional narrative. One scholar claims that one-third of the Quran has pre-Islamic Christian origins.[8] Aside from the Bible,the Quran has narratives that are similar to Apocryphal and legendary sources, like the Protoevangelium of James[9], Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew[10], and several infancy gospels.[11] Some narratives are also similar to the ones found in Jewish Midrash Tanhuma legends, like the narrative of Cain learning to bury the body of Abel in Surah 5:31.[12][13] Surah 21, which tells of Abraham destroying the idols, after which he is delivered by God from being thrown into the fire, is a legend found in the Midrash Rabbah.[14]


  1. ^ Juan E. Campo, ed. (2009). Encyclopedia of Islam. Facts On File. p. 589. ISBN 978-0-8160-5454-1. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  2. ^ a b Muhammad Shafi Usmani, Maariful Quran, see commentary on 42:51
  3. ^ a b c Ali, Muhammad (1936). The Religion of Islam. Lahore. p. 70.
  4. ^ a b c "Introduction" (PDF). Maariful Quran.
  5. ^ a b c Watt, W. Montgomery (1961). Muhammad Prophet and Statesman. Oxford University Press.
  6. ^ a b Watt, W. Montgomery (1977). "Muhammad". In P. M. Holt, Ann K. S. Lambton, Bernard Lewis (eds.) (eds.). The Cambridge History of Islam. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 30–56. doi:10.1017/CHOL9780521219464.004. ISBN 978-1-139-05502-4. Retrieved 2019-03-31.CS1 maint: uses editors parameter (link)
  7. ^ Encyclopedia of Islam, Muhammad
  8. ^ G. Luling asserts that a third of the Quran is of pre-Islamic Christian origins, see Uber den Urkoran, Erlangen, 1993, 1st Ed., 1973, p. 1.
  9. ^ Leirvik 2010, pp. 33–34.
  10. ^ Leirvik 2010, pp. 33–34.
  11. ^ Leirvik 2010, p. 33.
  12. ^ Samuel A. Berman, Midrash Tanhuma-Yelammedenu (KTAV Publishing house, 1996) 31-32
  13. ^ Gerald Friedlander, Pirḳe de-R. Eliezer, (The Bloch Publishing Company, 1916) 156
  14. ^ Rabbi H. Freedman and Maurice Simon, Midrash Rabbah: Translated into English with Notes, Glossary, and Indices: Volume 1 - Rabba Genesis (Stephen Austin and Sons, LTD 1939) 310-311. (accessed 5/31/2016)

Further readingEdit

  • Tamer, Georges, Revelation, in Muhammad in History, Thought, and Culture: An Encyclopedia of the Prophet of God (2 vols.), Edited by C. Fitzpatrick and A. Walker, Santa Barbara, ABC-CLIO, 2014, Vol. II, pp. 524–527. ISBN 1610691776.
  • M. M. Azami (2003). The History of the Qur'anic Text from Revelation to Compilation: A Comparative Study with the Old and New Testaments. UK Islamic Academy. ISBN 978-1872531656.
  • 1000 Qudsi Hadiths: An Encyclopedia of Divine Sayings; New York: Arabic Virtual Translation Center; (2012) ISBN 978-1-4700-2994-4

External linksEdit