Dr. Peter Riddell delivered a lecture on Revelation in Islam during a CIU course. Here, Riddell presents the themes of revelation within Islam: general and special revelation.  


  Here starts the auto-generated transcription of Dr. Peter Riddell’s Lecture: Revelation in Islam


Welcome back to understanding the Quran. We’re moving now onto a new topic, the topic of revelation, which we will address in 2 parts. Now, of course, revelation is a theme which is very widely portrayed in popular literature and and in the in the arts, both in terms of the fine arts and in terms of, more popular sorts of, expressions. Hollywood revelation, these pictures are termed, but these are very fin familiar scenes in the west. The question of revelation occurs, in 2 specific ways in the Christian context.


We tend to court talk about, general and special revelation, a distinction between the 2 in the Christian context, and that applies no less in the case of Islam as well as we shall see. So in this lecture, we are going to deal with general revelation And general revelation, as we are aware, is something which, is available to all as is indicated in the Luzun covenant statement of 1974, which said we recognize that all men have some knowledge of God through his general revelation in nature. Of course, we know what he’s talking about, the kinds of spectacular evidences of God’s handiwork in the natural world around. And indeed, this topic of general revelation intersects quite extensively with the previous topic that we talked about of creation. Through creation, God gives general revelation and makes it available to the whole world, to all people of all races, in all locations, and of all creeds.


So how does general revelation work in the case of Islam? How do we see evidence of general revelation in the case of Islam? Well, again, let’s go on a journey through the Islamic materials and hear what the Quran the Quran and other documents have to say. Now the Islamic textual materials include references which reveal an appreciation of general general revelation, and this is, of course, not surprising. In the Quran in surah 30 beginning in verse 20, we read among his signs, among the signs of Allah, is this that he created you from dust and then behold ye men scattered.


And among his signs is this that he created for you mates from among yourselves that you may dwell in tranquility with them, and he has put love and mercy between your hearts. Verily in that are signs for those who reflect. Now that particular surah goes on in subsequent verses, and I will let you read that yourselves. Unpacking a Quranic perspective of general revelation, that surah is quite significant, but there are many other surahs that make reference to the concept of general revelation. In surah 6 verse 99, we read the statement, It is he who sendeth down rain from the skies.


With it, we produce vegetation of all kinds. From some, we produce green crops out of which we produce grain heaped up at harvest. Behold, in these things, there are signs for people who believe. This concept of signs is very central to the Islamic concept of general revelation. In Surah 17 verse 12, we read, we have made the night and the day as 2 of our signs.


The sign of the night have we obscured while the sign of the day we have made to enlighten you that he may seek bounty from your lord and that you may know the number and count of the years. All things have we explained in detail. Remember the importance of that word signs, ayat. Surah 2, the longest surah in the Quran in verse 100 and 64 makes this statement. Behold in the creation of the heavens and the earth, in the alternation of the night and the day, in the sailing of the ships through the ocean for the profit of mankind, in the rain which Allah sends down from the skies, and the life which he gives there with to an earth that is dead, in the beasts of all kinds that he scatters through the earth, in the change of the winds and the clouds which they trail like their slaves between the sky and the earth, here indeed are signs for a people that are wise.


Further on this issue of signs verse 22 of surah 30, And of his signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth as well as the difference of your language and languages and colors. In these, there are signs for people of knowledge. Now we can look beyond the Quran and find evidence of an awareness of general revelation in other, elements of literature in the Hadith collections. Consider this Hadith account from, the collection by Muslim book 2 number 0494. Even our best reported that he spent a night at the house of the apostle of Allah.


The apostle of Allah got up for prayer in the latter part of the night. He went out and looked towards the sky and then recited this verse of Ali Imran surah 3 verse 190. Behold, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of night and day there are indeed signs for men of understanding. So that gives a context to that particular Quran verse and it shows how the Hadith explains the Quran. In this case, this Hadith explains the context for Mohammed expressing that verse.


Continuing on, Mohammed, the he then returned to his house, used the toothpick, performed the ablution, and then got up and offered the prayer. He then lay down on the bed and again got up and went out and looked towards the sky and recited the verse mentioned above, then returned, used the toothpick, performed ablution, and again offered the prayer. Ask yourself the question, is this an exposition of natural theology? How does this help us link creation and salvation? How does this compare with Romans 120?


For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and godhead so that they are without excuse. Remember, the purpose of these materials of this course understanding of the Quran is not simply to understand the Quran, but it’s to equip us as Christians to respond and to engage with with Muslims. On this question of revelation, general revelation at the moment, how does that intersect with a biblical understanding of this theme? Are you able to draw on the Bible to respond to Islamic perspectives here? Now remember the distinction between general revelation and special revelation.


The fact that the words of the Quran might refer to aspects of general revelation, that fact does not necessarily mean that the Quran itself is the word of God or is special revelation. There are references to general revelation in diverse texts, both sacred and secular. That doesn’t make those texts necessarily special revelation. Consider, for example, the Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita, which at chapter 15 has this statement by Krishna by the Lord Krishna who says that light which is residing in the sun and which illumines the whole world and that which is in the moon and in the fire, know that light to be mine. Krishna is one of the gods of Hinduism.


So there’s a similar theme there of the light illuminating the whole world in the moon and in the fire pointing towards the divine. Now that’s found in Hindu texts. It’s found in Muslim texts, but it doesn’t mean that the texts themselves are necessarily special revelation. And it’s to the issue of special revelation that we will turn our attention in the next part of this lecture. Consider the discussion thus far of general revelation and Islam.


Do you feel that the Quranic articulation of general revelation agrees in all respects with that in the bible? We’re continuing on with our lecture topic of revelation. In the first segment of this lecture, we considered the question of general revelation in Islam. And I wanna now move on to the second key part of any discussion discussion about revelation that is special revelation. Now, again, I encourage you to be referring to the Moodle page, which contains a set of writings by both Muslim and Christian writers on this particular topic, writings drawn from both classical and modern Muslim writers, and Christians responding on the Islamic claims of general and special revelation.


Now the idea of revelation in general and and, the Arabic term that is most commonly used, the the key Arabic term is the word. It’s the Arabic word for revelation. And in the Islamic context, it refers to the revelations and inspirations of God to his prophets for all humankind. Now the key element of Wahi, according to Muslim belief, is the Quran. In Islam, Quran is considered a Wahi given to Mohammed.


In other words, the Islamic claim is that the Quran is special revelation. Why does revelation take place? Well, we learn from Surah 6 verse 19 that this Quran has been revealed to me, that’s Mohammed speaking, that I should warn you by it and all whom it shall reach. In other words, the Islamic understanding of special special revelation is of something which serves as a warning. How does this compare with the purpose of special revelation in the bible?


One of your readings in on the middle page is the book by Atman von Denfer, and he gives various names for the Quran. Alternative names, terms such as the criterion, the the things sent down, the reminder, scripture, plus terms of reference such as light, guidance, mercy, glorious, blessed, announcer, and warner. They reflect one of the various aspects of the revealed word of of Allah, he says. Note how some of the names for the Quran overlap with the names for Allah. What about in the case of the Bible?


What alternative names do we have in Chris the Christian tradition for the Bible? This concept of special revelation in Islam crosses over between Quran and Hadith. We’re reminded by the great classical scholar, Al Ghazali, who still wields a huge influence in modern Islam, that God has but one word which differs only in the mode of its expression. On occasions, God indicates his word by the Quran, on others by words in another style not publicly recited and called the prophetic tradition. Both are mediated by the prophet.


Now that’s quite a remarkable claim. So Ghazali is saying that in Islam, special revelation, the special devices revealed by god for furthering his purposes in this world are the Quran and the Hadith. The Hadith forms part special revelation. Another classical scholar has a slightly different angle on this this relationship. Jalaludina Suyuti, one of the authors of the tafsir or Jalalayn that we considered in an earlier lecture, writes, the revealed speech of Allah is of 2 kinds.


Suyuti says that in the sunnah, Gabriel rephrased god’s words, but in the Quran, he reproduced it verbatim, but it still reveals speech. So Quran and Hadith are both special revelation. Consider both of those statements closely. Are they saying the same thing? Now how did this special revelation take place according to Islamic belief?


Well, there are 2 stages in the revelation of a Quran according to. He says, first, the preserved tablet, the the the tablet in heaven that contains all of god’s speech was excerpted. Some was taken from the preserved tablet to the lowest of the heavens on the laylatul Qadr, which is a night during the month of the fasting month of Ramadan. And the second stage is when that excerpt was taken from the heavens to earth. Initially, on that same night, the laylatul Qadr, and then gradually during Mohammed’s 23 year ministry.


So in other words, the teaching is that the Quran, which is part of that heavenly tablet of God’s speech, was taken in 2 stages, from heaven to the lowest of the heavens down to earth for Mohammed during his ministry. That’s how special revelation came about in the Islamic view. We’re going to revisit something which we touched on in an earlier lecture, the issue of prophetic inspiration. In the following account, in the summary account taken from Bukhary, we see the description of prophetic inspiration. How does it compare with descriptions of prophetic inspiration in the bible?


According to the account in Bukhari, which we saw earlier, there are various stages of this prophetic inspiration, the process of revelation. So and Mohammed would experience these. There would be dreams like bright daylight. Then he would have this love of seclusion. Then an angel appeared asking him to read.


Then the angel squeezed Mohammed very hard. The angel released Mohammed. The angel squeezed Mohammed again. The angel released Mohammed. The angel squeezed Muhammad again, and the angel finally released him saying, Read in the name of your lord.


Now that is the process according to Islamic belief that special revelation came about. How does that compare with the special revelation of the Bible for Christians? There are other references in the hadith to Mohammed’s experiences in Bukhari, Abu Dawood and Tirmidi. There are references to experiences like the ringing of a bell, an angel appears in the form of a man and talks to Mohammed, Revelation appeared while he was using a toothpick. While receiving revelation, Mohammed sent for Zayd, his scribe, who transcribed his account of events as they were happening.


In other words, Mohammed was sufficiently conscious and aware. Now this whole question of special revelation, the those special excerpts from the heavenly tablet that Muslims believe were sent down to prophets, the last one being Mohammed, relates to to a distinction that’s drawn by some Muslims between a messenger and a prophet. We read this in Zamakhshari commenting on Surah 43 verses 2 to 4. He writes, a messenger is one of the prophets to whom together with the verification miracle, the book is sent down. A prophet on the other hand who is not a messenger is one to whom no book is sent down, but who was commanded only to restrain people on the basis of the earlier revealed law.


In interacting with Muslims, you will encounter this distinction between a prophet and a messenger, so be prepared for it. Now Zara Shari argues that certain sections of the Quran are ambiguous. He says that ambiguity forces believers to engage in meditation, reflection, inference on the verses. So he says that the special revelation of the of the Quran as he sees it is deliberately ambiguous in parts because it forces believers to engage in meditation. Ambiguity represents a test to determine the strong and the weak in faith, he says.


Scholarly resolving of ambiguity produces the noble science. That’s an advantage, she says. And believers engagement with ambiguous verses with associated charges provides greater insight into harmony within the Quran intended by god and greater conviction and certitude. So the special revelation of the Quran as Muslims believe it to be involves deliberate ambiguity. Does the Bible include deliberate ambiguity?


The same Zamashadi insists that the expression that god speaks from behind the veil is a simile. God speaks from behind a veil is a simile. Why might this be? Zai Shadi in commenting on surah 75 verses 16 to 19 gives further angles, further perspectives on the process of Mohammed receiving this believed special revelation. As the messenger of God received the revelation with immediate understanding, he attempted to snatch the recitation away from Gabriel and did not have patience until the latter had finished it.


For he wanted to commit the revelation to memory quickly, and he feared that some of it might slip away from him. What do you think of that statement? The image of Mohammed believed to be a prophet, snatching the revelation away from the revealer. Further on this issue of the Quran being special revelation in the Islamic view, we get a comment from Baydawi, the classical comment commentator, who says that the only relationship between the Quran and poetry is that both are written in the Arabic language. Many commentators are quite active in, distinguishing between the Quran and poetry, poetry produced by people.


Why do you think they may be committed to that line of argument? We return again to the classical, scholar, Al Ghazali. He makes a comment, little by little, prophecy will penetrate into whoever recites the Quran, except that direct divine revelation will not be granted to him. It’s important to understand that the Muslim belief in the Quran as being special revelation is seen as a final act of special revelation. That kind of special revelation, Muslims believe, does not happen after Mohammed.


Mohammed was the last the Quran was the last act of special revelation. I’d like you to turn to the Moodle page now and stop the recording and look at the reading taken from Said Kotb, his commentary on surah 96. Now remember that surah 96 is the surah which Muslims believe contain the first and earliest revelations to Mohammed. Read what Saeed Qutb has to say in commenting commenting on that surah. So let’s revisit this question.


Does Islam have special revelation? Well, the Islamic claim of the Quran as special revelation given to Mohammed is quite clear. Clearly, Muslims claim that it is special revelation, sayid Qutb in his commentary on surah 96, which you’ve just read, says God has honored the species of his creation by choosing one of its numbers to be the recipient of his divine light and the guardian of his wisdom. Now that is clearly a claim for special revelation. And the Quran itself describes its purpose as to warn.


We saw this in an earlier verse. And, again, we see in in in verse 19 of surah 6, and this Quran hath been revealed to me that I should warn you by it and all whom it shall reach. As Christians, do we accept that that’s the purpose of special revelation? Special revelation, the special revelation of the bible is specifically designed to warn. Further, the whole question of the Quran being linked with the Hadith, the special revelation raises questions.


Remember the statement by Gaza by Ghazali, the great classical scholar. He said, god has but one word which differs only in the mode of its expression. On occasions, God indicates his word by the Quran, on others by words in another style not publicly recited and called the prophetic tradition. Both are mediated by the prophet. Does that linkage with the Hadith undermine the claims of the Quran for special revelation?


The Hadith, which is incredibly voluminous and which has great inconsistency in its accounts from one area to the other. Further, one must ask questions as a Christian about the method of revelation of the Quran, the issue of Mohammed being squeezed and pressed and subjected to physical pain and distress. Is that how special revelation comes about? Furthermore, within the Quran, seen as special revelation by Muslims, there is a fundamental incompatibility. The Quran says that Jesus was not crucified, and he did not die.


Christianity says the opposite. They can’t both be right. Can they both be special revelations?