Hawzah News Agency (Qom, Iran) – Those who wish to measure all things according to material standards—using only empirical perception and thus confining the verities of the unseen within the limited framework of the senses have explained divine revelation in various ways, all of which, in our opinion, are utterly false. We address below some of these attempts at explaining revelation.
One group of writers regard the Prophets as geniuses and suppose revelation to be the product of their meditations, the results of their own inward mental activity. According to this opinion, the reality of the ‘faithful spirit’ is nothing other than the purified spirit and soul of these geniuses, and the 'revealed' scriptures are likewise nothing but the formal expression of the sublime ideas that crystallized in the minds of these geniuses.
This kind of explanation of revelation is a sign of the incapacity of modern empirical science, which relies exclusively upon material methods of verification. An important problem for this perspective is that it directly contradicts what the Prophets of God themselves actually say; for they have always declared that what they had brought to mankind was nothing but divine revelation; thus, a necessary corollary of the empirical explanation of revelation is that all Prophets are liars—a proposition which is completely at odds with their noble stature and with what history tells us regarding the sincerity and rectitude of their character.
Another group of writers, with the same motive as the group addressed above, consider revelation to be the consummation of the spiritual states of the Prophets. According to this view, the Prophet, because of the strength of his faith in God, and as a result of his intense devotions, attains a degree of realization whereby a series of profound truths are attained in his innermost being; he then imagines that these truths have been cast into his heart from the unseen, whereas in reality their source and origin are but his own soul. The adherents of this view claim that they do not doubt the sincerity of the Prophets, and they are certain that the Prophets really have witnessed these truths, as a result of their spiritual disciplines; but they will dispute the source of these truths.
Whilst the Prophets claim that these truths are cast unto them from without, from an objective dimension in the unseen world, the proponents of this argument hold that the source of these truths is exclusively within the souls of the Prophets.
This viewpoint is not something new, it is just an expression of one of the ideas held about revelation in the pre-Islamic [period of] Jahiliyya ('ignorance'), an expression clothed in modern garb, however. The import of this perspective is that revelation is the outcome of the meditative reflections of the Prophets, their intense introspection, the frequency of their worship, their modes of contemplation upon God, their continuous meditation on ways of reforming humanity. Certain truths are suddenly perceived in embodied forms before them, truths which they believe have been bestowed upon them from the unseen. Such a view of revelation is at one with that of the Arabs of the Jahiliyya period who said, ‘Muddled dreams’ (Sura al-Anbiya, XXI: 5.)
In other verses, the Quran strongly refutes this view, saying that when the Prophets claim to have seen the angel of revelation, they spoke truthfully, neither their hearts nor their sights erred:
The heart falsified not what it saw…
His sight never swerved, nor did it err. (Sura al-Najm, LIII, 11, 17)
In other words, the Prophet truly beheld the angel of revelation, both with his outward and his inward perception.
Ayatollah Jafar Sobhani, Doctrines of Shii Islam, A Compendium of Imami Beliefs and Practices, Translated and Edited by Reza Shah-Kazemi, published by I.B.Tauris Publishers, London • New York 2003.