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EXEGESIS OF THE QURAN AND THE
The following account of this branch of Muslim theology, technically called 'Ilm-i-Usul, may be introduced by a few remarks on the nature of inspiration according to Islám, though that is not strictly speaking a portion of this study.
There are two terms used to express different degrees of inspiration, Wahí and Ilhám. Wahí is the term applied to the inspiration of the Qurán, and implies that the very words are the words of God. It is divided into Wahí Záhir (external inspiration), and Wahí Bátin (internal inspiration). The whole book was prepared in heaven. Muhammad, instructed by Gabriel, is simply the medium through which the revelation of Wahí Záhir reaches man. The Wahí Qurán, i.e., the highest form of inspiration, always came to the ear of the Prophet through the instrumentality of Gabriel. In Muhammadan theology, this is the special work of Gabriel. Thus in the Traditions it is related that he appeared to Adam twelve times, to Enoch four, to Noah fifty, to Abraham forty-two, to Moses four hundred, to Jesus ten times, to Muhammad twenty-four thousand times.
Ilham means the inspiration given to a saint or to a prophet when he, though rightly guided, delivers the subject matter out of his own mind, and is not a mere machine to reproduce the messages of Gabriel. There is a lower form of Wahí Záhir, which is called Ishárat-ul-Malak (literally,
sign of the Angel.") This expresses what Muhammad meant when he said: “The Holy Ghost has entered into my heart.” In other words, he received the inspiration through
Gabriel, but not by word of mouth. This form of inspiration is higher than that possessed by saints, and is usually applied to the inspiration of the Traditions. This is denied by some, who say that except when delivering the Qurán Muhammad spoke by Ilhám and not by Wahí. The practical belief is, however, that the Traditions were Wahí inspiration, and thus they come to be as authoritative as the Qurán. Sharastani speaks of “the signs (sayings) of the Prophet which have the marks of Wahí.”This opinion is said by some Muslim theologians to be supported by the first verse of the fifty-third Súra, entitled the Star, the Star when it setteth ; your companion Muhammad erreth not, nor is he led astray, neither doth he speak of his own will. It is none other than a revelation which hath been revealed to him.” In any case the inspiration of Muhammad is something quite different from the Christian idea of inspiration, which is to Musalmáns a very imperfect mode of transmitting a revelation of God's will.
That there should be a human as well as a divine side to inspiration is an idea not only foreign, but absolutely repugnant to Muhammadans. The Qurán is not a book of principles. It is a book of directions. The Qurán describes the revelation given to Mošes thus :-“We wrote for him upon the tables a monition concerning every matter and said: * Receive them thyself with steadfastness, and command thy people to receive them for the observance of its most goodly precepts.' (Súra vii. 142). It is such an inspiration as this the Qurán claims for itself. Muhammad's idea was that it should be a complete and final code of directions in every matter for all mankind. It is not the word of a prophet enlightened by God. It proceeds immediately from God, and the word 'say' or 'speak' precedes, or is understood to precede, every sentence. This to a Muslim is the highest form of inspiration ; this alone stamps a book as divine. It is acknowledged that the Injil—the Gospel was given by Jesus ; but as that, too, according to Muslim belief, was brought down from heaven by the angel Gabriel during the month of Ramazán, it is now asserted that it has been lost, and that the four Gospels of the New Testament are simply Traditions collected by the writers whose names they bear. Their value is, therefore, that of the second foundation of the Islámic system.
1. Dabistán, p. 214.
The question next arises as to the exact way in which Gabriel made known his message to Muhammad. The Mudárij-un-Nabuwat, a standard theological work, gives some details on this point. Though the Qurán is all of God, both as to matter and form, yet it was not all made known to the Prophet in one and the same manner. The following are some of the modes :
1. It is recorded on the authority of 'Ayesha, one of Muhammad's wives, that a brightness like the brightness of the morning came upon the Prophet. According to some commentators this brightness remained six months. In some mysterious way Gabriel, through this brightness or vision, made known the will of God.
2. Gabriel appeared in the form of Dahiah, one of the Companions of the Prophet, renowned for his beauty and gracefulness. A learned dispute has arisen with regard to the abode of the soul of Gabriel when he assumed the bodily form of Dahiah. At times, the angelic nature of Gabriel overcame Muhammad, who was then translated to the world of angels. This always happened when the revelation was one of bad news, such as denunciations or predictions of woe. At other times, when the message brought by Gabriel was one of consolation and comfort, the human nature of the Prophet overcame the angelic nature of the angel, who, in such case, having assumed a human form, proceeded to deliver the message.
1. pp. 508-510.
3. The Prophet heard at times the noise of the tinkling of a bell. To him alone was known the meaning of the sound. He alone could distinguish in, and through it, the words which Gabriel wished him to understand. The effect of this mode of Wahí was more marvellous than that of any of the other ways. When his ear caught the sound his whole frame became agitated. On the coldest day, the perspiration, like beads of silver, would roll down his face. The glorious brightness of his countenance gave place to a ghastly hue, whilst the way in which he bent down his head showed the intensity of the emotion through which he was passing. If riding, the camel on which he sat would fall to the ground. The Prophet one day, when reclining with his head in the lap of Zeid, heard the well known sound: Zeid, too, knew that something unusual was happening, for so heavy became the head of Muhammad that it was with the greatest difficulty he could support the weight.
4. At the time of the Mi'ráj, or night ascent into heaven, God spoke to the Prophet without the intervention of an angel. It is a disputed point whether the face of the Lord was veiled or not.
5. God sometimes appeared in a dream, and placing his hands on the Prophet's shoulders made known his will.
6. Twice, angels having each six hundred wings, appeared and brought the message from God.
7. Gabriel, though not appearing in bodily form, so in- . spired the heart of the Prophet that the words he uttered under its influence were the words of God. This is technically called Ilka, and is by some supposed to be the degree of inspiration to which the Traditions belong.
Above all, the Prophet was not allowed to remain in any error ; if, by any chance, he had made a wrong deduction from any previous revelation, another was always sent to rectify it. This idea has been worked up to a science of abrogation, according to which some verses of the Qurán abrogate others. Muhammad found it necessary to shift
his stand-point more than once, and thus it became necessary to annul earlier portions of his revelation."
Thus in various ways was the revelation made known to Muhammad. At first there seems to have been a season of doubt (Ante p. 3), the dread lest after all it might be a mockery. But as years rolled on confidence in himself and in his mission came. At times, too, there is a joyousness in his utterances as he swears by heaven and earth, by God and man; but more often the visions were weird and terrible. Tradition says :-"He roared like a camel, the sound as of bells well-nigh rent his heart in pieces.". Some strange power moved him, his fear was uncontrollable. For twenty years or more the revelations came, a direction on things of heaven and of earth, to the Prophet as the spiritual guide of all men, to the Warrior-Chief, as the founder of political unity among the Arab tribes.
A Muhammadan student, after passing through a course of instruction in grammar, rhetoric, logic, law, and dogmatics, at length reaches the stage when he is permitted to enter upon the study of “'Ilm-i-usúl,” or the exegesis of the Qurán, and the inspired sayings of the Prophet. This done, he can henceforth read the approved commentaries in order to learn what the Fathers of Islám have to say. This science in one way fits him to be a commentator, for the work of a Muslim divine now is, not to bring things
new and old” out of the sacred book, but to hand down to others the things old. There is no indwelling spirit in the Church of Islám which can reveal to the devout mind new views of truth, or lead the pious scholar on to deeper and more profound knowledge.
The greatest proficient in theology is the man who can repeat the Qurán by heart, who knows also and can reproduce at will what the early commentators have said, who can remember, and quote in the most apposite manner, the Pro
1. " It. (the Qurán) is simply an instruction for all mankind.” (Súra xii. 104).