Islam — The Religion of Humanity
5. Divine Revelation
The second fundamental principle of faith in the Islamic religion is belief in the Divine revelation, not only a belief in the truth of the revealed Word of God as found in the Holy Quran, but a belief in the truth of Divine revelation in all ages and to all nations of the earth. Divine revelation is the basis of all revealed religions, but the principle is accepted subject to various limitations. Some religions consider revelation to have been granted to mankind only once; others look upon it as limited to a particular people; while still others close the door of revelation after a certain time. With the advent of Islam, we find the same breadth of view introduced into the conception of the Divine revelation as in the conception of the Divine Being.
According to the Holy Quran, revelation in its lower forms, in the form of inspiration or that of dreams and visions, is the universal experience of humanity. Similarly, in its highest form, that of Divinely-revealed scriptures and laws, it is not limited to one particular man or to one particular nation, but has been granted to each and every nation. Without the assistance of revelation from God, no people could have ever attained the communion with God, and hence it was necessary that Almighty God, Who, being the Lord of the whole world, supplied all men with their physical necessities, should also have brought to them His spiritual blessings. Thus the idea of revelation in Islam is as broad as humanity itself, and a Muslim is required to believe, not in the Quran alone, but in all the Books of God, granted to all the nations of the world.
Belief in the Prophets
As the revelation of a Book of God must be communicated through a man, faith in the messenger is a natural sequence, and is mentioned in the Quran along with faith in the revealed books. The prophet is not only the bearer of the Divine message, but he also shows how that message is to be interpreted in practical life; and therefore he is the model to be followed. It is his example that inspires a living faith in the hearts of his followers and brings about a real transformation in their lives. Hence there is a deeper significance underlying faith in the prophets. As stated earlier (see Section 2), a belief in all the prophets of the world is an essential principle of the religion of Islam. The Holy Quran has plainly said that prophets appeared in all nations and that it has not named all of them, which in fact was unnecessary. Therefore, a Muslim may accept the great luminaries of old venerated by any other nation as having brought it light and guidance, as the prophets of that nation.
Perfection of Revelation
According to the teachings of Islam, revelation is not only universal but also progressive, attaining perfection in the last of the Prophets, the Holy Prophet Muhammad. A revelation was granted to each nation according to its requirements, and in each age in accordance with the capacity of the people of that age. And as the human brain became more and more developed, more and yet more light was cast by revelation on matters such as the existence and attributes of God, the nature of revelation from Him, the requital of good and evil, the life after death, and so on. The Quran, the final revealed scripture, shed complete light on all the essentials of religion, made manifest what had hitherto remained, of necessity, obscure, and brought religion to perfection.
Besides this, the Quran points out that the teachings of earlier scriptures had undergone alterations, and therefore only a revelation from God could separate the pure Divine teaching from the mass of error which had grown around it. This the Quran did, and hence it is called a “guardian” over the earlier scriptures. It also claims to be a judge, deciding the differences between them. All religions were from God, but even their basic doctrines had come to differ from one another to such an extent that it had become simply unthinkable that they could have proceeded from the same Divine source; till the Quran pointed out the common ground, namely, the Unity of God, and the universality of revelation.
Continuance of lower forms of revelation
Islam not only makes Divine revelation the universal experience of humanity, but also considers its door as standing open for all time. Though revelation was made perfect and prophethood came to a close in the person of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, God still speaks to His elect among the Muslims. Revelation in its lower forms — in the form of true dreams, visions and inspiration — is common to both prophets and those who are not prophets. It is only authoritative revelation, the form of revelation peculiar to prophets, that has ceased after the Holy Prophet Muhammad. Thus he is reported to have said: “Nothing remains of prophethood except mubashshirat”; and being asked what was meant by mubashshirat, he replied, “True visions”. We are told in another of his Sayings:
“Among the nations before you, there used to be persons who were spoken to by God though they were not prophets; if there is such a one among my people, it is Umar.”
This shows that, though there are to be no prophets after the Holy Prophet Muhammad, religion and religious laws having been made perfect at his advent, Divine revelation is still a fact and a true Muslim can have access to it. It is through His word that real conviction comes to the heart that God exists, and it is through the elect who receive His revelation that a vital faith in God is restored.
There is also another aspect of the Islamic belief in Divine revelation in which it differs from some other religions of the world. It refuses to acknowledge the incarnation of the Divine Being. That the highest aim of religion is communion with God is a fact universally recognized. According to the Holy Quran, this communion is not attained by God assuming a human shape in the sense of incarnation, but by man rising gradually towards God by spiritual progress and the purification of his life from all sensual desires and low motives. The perfect one who reveals the face of God to the world is not the Divine Being in human form, but the human being whose person has become a manifestation of the Divine attributes by his own personality having been consumed in the fire of love for God. His example serves as incentive and is a model for others to follow. He shows by his example how a mortal can attain to communion with God. Hence the broad principle of Islam that no one is precluded from being fed from the source of Divine revelation, and that anyone can attain it by following the Holy Word of God as revealed in the Holy Quran.