Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge & Truth
|Mirza Tahir Ahmad|
N THE END, we turn to the issue of non-prophetic revelation. It is hard to entertain the idea that the phenomenon of non-prophetic revelation should also come to an end with the ending of prophethood. Continuity of Divine revelation is indispensable for supporting a profound unshakeable belief in God which cannot be attained with the help of rational investigation alone. Hence, revelation must always play a major role in strengthening belief in the existence of an Omniscient, Omnipotent God.
Revelation is not confined solely to the office of prophethood. It is simply a means of communion between God and man. It is a universally shared experience; to deny it is to deny the testimony of millions of people from all ages, all over the world.
It is mostly bestowed upon such servants of God as have attuned themselves to His will with unreserved dedication. Those who do not believe in God, or only believe in Him impersonally with just a vague notion of His existence, are least likely to be blessed with the honour of revelation. The same applies to the excessively sinful people, entirely given up to the vain pursuits of material gains and worldly pleasures. Yet even such as they are not altogether denied an occasional glimpse of His Grace. None can stop God from bestowing true dreams, visions and verbal revelations, whenever and to whomsoever He pleases.
Revelations are not always indicative of the piety of the person who receives them. They work sometimes as a reminder to humankind at large that God does exist and that He is free to communicate with whomsoever He pleases. Such sample communication is not a prerogative of any particular religion or country or age. It is common to all. Had it not been so, the very faith in the existence of God and the institution of revelation would have faded out of existence. Specimen revelations are like odd, unexpected showers in the midst of a desert, creating life-supporting oases in the vast deathly expanse of a sandy wilderness.
Some non-believers however, dismiss this universal testimony as mere psychic illusion. Of course, psychic illusions cannot be ruled out, but the evidence of Divine revelation is so distinctly different from ordinary psychic ravings that one should not be confused with the other. The difference is as wide and clear as that between life and death or between light and darkness. However, it is also true that the evidence of genuine revelation becomes rarer to find as we move away from the age of a prophet. The growing influence of materialism acts upon the people as a poison which pollutes their minds and corrodes the purity of their hearts. Faith in Divine revelation dissipates by the same proportion. An ice-age of scepticism eventually sets in and an era of spiritual death begins. All that survives is falsehood and deception. Hypocrisy infiltrates and desecrates religions. Most believers are merely so-called; their way of life gives a lie to their faith. Truth practically vanishes from all spheres of human occupation. Doubt, even disbelief, begin to encroach upon the territories of faith. Godliness beats retreat. Yet the communion between God and man never ceases altogether. Revelation continues to resuscitate faith. As for those who glow with His love, even amidst total darkness, God reveals Himself to them with unmatched brilliance. The sample sprinkling of revelation upon an age of doubt and ignorance is not to be compared with the expression of love from God to His devoted servants. This is the consistent message of the Holy Quran. It clearly promises the believer the blessings of Divine revelation unceasingly at all ages. It admonishes the Holy Prophetsa to proclaim:
Say, I am but a man like yourselves, only I am recipient of revelation which admonishes that your God is only One God. Hence whoever among you desires to meet his Lord (as I have) then he too should perform righteous deeds and may not join partners in the worship of his Lord.1
The expression desires to meet is evidently linked to the preceding mention of revelation. But the decision concerning anyone’s worthiness in this regard always lies with God and not with man.
The same promise of revelation is vouched even more clearly in other verses to all such believers as remain steadfast in their loyalty to God at times of trials:
Verily those who proclaim that God is our Lord and then hold fast (to this claim), angels descend upon them incessantly saying ‘Do not fear nor grieve; but rejoice in the Paradise you were promised.
We remain your friends in this life and in the life to come…’2
These verses leave no room for doubt on the issue of continuity of revelation. The Quran further states:
When My servants ask thee about Me, tell them, I am close, I do answer the call of the caller when he seeks Me. So they too should respond to Me…3
ERE the promise of revelation is widened to include all servants of God who sincerely seek Him and submissively respond to His Call. This is a universal promise, not confined to any particular age or people.
Islam, in short, is a religion of eternal hope which does not relegate communion with God only to the past. His interest in human affairs as a Benign Mentor shall never cease. He is accessible when sought for and responds when prayed to. He is Eternal, none of His attributes will ever die.
Man shall always stand in need of Divine revelation. After the institution of prophethood, it is revelation which keeps the lamp of faith alight above all other means of rational and philosophical investigation. Through revelation, man is reassured of the existence of a Living God. He bestows such signs of nearness to Him as are not only subjective in their nature but are also objectively verifiable. Revelation builds faith on solid belief, dismissing all wavering doubts. The greatest tragedy of contemporary Islam is for it to fall under the ominous spell of medieval clergy and modern intellectuals. To the medievalists goes the lion’s share of the kill but the great thinkers like ‘Allamah Iqbal and theologians like Maudoodi are not far behind in vying for the leftovers. Iqbal as an able disciple of Nietzsche, forever does away with the need of Divine guidance. Maudoodi, a cross-breed of Pauline and Bahai wedlock, does away with prophethood lest its denial should make it a precursor to the curse of God. So between these two stalwarts nothing is left of prophethood or revelation leaving Islam emptied of all hope. The real import of their philosophy could not be summed up better than in the following words of Faiz Ahmad Faiz, one of the greatest Urdu poets of modern times:
Alien dust has obscured every footprint.
Extinguish the lamps and take away the goblets and pitchers of wine.
Shut your sleepless doors and lock them up.
None will come! No one will ever come!!4
LAS prophecy and revelation, the very soul and spirit of every living religion are thus expunged from the body of Islam. A zombie-like existence is all that is left into the bargain. An exasperating, meaningless semblance of life! Why can they not read the message writ large on the wall of history?
Remove revelation altogether from religious experience, and faith would be reduced to myths and legends. Do away with Divine revelation, and the spiritual life would forthwith lose its meaning, and religion its purpose.
Revelation enlightens belief, illuminates the soul and blows the breath of life into faith. In the pitch darkness of materialism, when despondency is compounded by atheism, it is revelation which sheds the light that turns despair into hope and the night of disbelief into a day of belief. What the sun is to the day, a prophet is to religion. What stars are to a moonless night, revelation is to the obscurities of faithlessness!
Bring to an end prophethood, block the passage of revelation, and call it a Doomsday! Nothing will remain but stark death!
- Translation of 18:111 by the author.
- Translation of 41:31–32 by the author.
- Translation of 2:187 by the author.
- FAIZ AHMED FAIZ, Nuskhah Hai Wafa, from poem ‘Tanhai’.