Wahi – Divine Inspirations and Revelations
Describing the phases and forms of revelation experience
The Quran teaches that Allah ﷻ communicated with all His prophets and messengers in one of the following: “And it is not given to mortal man that God should speak to him otherwise than through sudden inspiration (wahi), or [by a voice, as it were,] from behind a veil (hijab), or by sending a messenger (angel) to reveal, by His leave, whatever He wills [to reveal]: for, verily, He is exalted, wise.”
Allah ﷻ communicated with Prophet Muhammad ﷺ in all three ways as mentioned in the verse:
1. Sudden divine inspiration (wahi) - Through sudden inspiration (wahi) i.e. knowledge inspired in to his heart through the medium of dreams or when he would be awake. At times when awake it was so intense to the point that he fell unconscious or his body would sweat even on a very cold day.
2. Veil (hijab) - From behind a veil (hijab) i.e. his direct conversation with Allah ﷻ like Prophet Musa (alaihi salaam) (Moses) did. This would take place in his dreams as well as in person during his Miraj (heavenly ascension) experience. It would also take place during mediation state in tahajjud (late night prayer) or even during the day.
3. Messenger (angel) - By sending his angel who appeared sometimes in original form like Archangel Jibraeel (alaihi salaam) (Gabriel) appeared to him in the Cave of Hira (Ghare Hira) or sometimes angels would appear in the form of a man, like one of the Prophet's companions.
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ experienced the entire period of divine inspiration and revelation in different forms till this process was completed. The phases in which he received divine communication took place mainly through different means as mentioned earlier (wahi, hijab & angels). The process was calm and quite in the beginning then became intense when he officially started preaching and gradually the intensity became easy on him due to his ability to handle. The messages and communication that he received from Allah ﷻ mainly consists of two parts: the first is what he explained in his own words found in hadith literature and the second, the most important, are the direct divine speech of Allah ﷻ which consists of what we call the Holy Quran.
Types of Revelation Experiences
Based on what I have learned, to help understand better I am dividing the revelation experiences in to three types explaining the states/forms of his experience which express their intensity and how with time the revelation process became easy on him. Initial experience of divine inspiration began in the form of dreams which continued throughout his prophethood. Later the experience culminated in to auditory sounds which he interpreted according to his God gifted prophetic wisdom. Additionally he also experienced receiving communication through angels who appeared sometimes in human form and other times in their original form.
1. Divine Inspiration & Revelation through Dreams
The process of revelation in Islam started first with dreams. At first the Prophet ﷺ used to observe dreams and then they would become true in his state of being awake. Before sending Jibraeel (alaihi salaam) (Gabriel), Allah ﷻ was preparing the prophet, mentally and spiritually through the medium of Al Mubashshiraat (true and good dreams) as narrated by Aisha (radiAllahu anha): "The commencement of the Divine Inspiration to Allah’s Messenger was in the form of good righteous (true) dreams (al-mubashiraat) in his sleep. He never had a dream but that it came true like bright day light. He used to go in seclusion in (the cave of) Hira where he used to worship (Allah) continuously for many (days and) nights. He used to take with him the food for that (stay) and then come back to (his wife) Khadija to take more food for another period, till suddenly the Truth (the Quran) descended upon him while he was in the cave of Hira….” This hadith informs us that dreams were part of the divine inspiration process and it was only limited to this form till the Prophet ﷺ received the first official revelation of Quran, Surah Al Alaq (chapter 96 - The Germ Cell) from Archangel Jibraeel (a.s) (Gabriel).
2. Divine Inspiration & Revelation through Spiritual Auditory Impressions & Angels
Al-Harith bin Hisham asked the Prophet (ﷺ): '"How does the Revelation come to you?'" The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: "At times it comes to me like the ringing of a bell and that is most severe for me and when it is over I retain that (what I had received in the form of wahi), and at times an Angel in the form of a human being comes to me (and speaks) and I retain whatever he speaks." Aishah said: "I saw the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) while the Revelation was descending upon him on an extremely cold day. Then it ceased and his forehead was flooded with sweat." This hadith informs us that the other two sources of revelation after dreams, are supernatural auditory impressions that he experienced in the form of "ringing of a bell" which made him experience sweat even "on an extremely cold day" at times. Such difficult experiences would also cause Prophet's companions to sometimes cover him with a blanket as did Umar (r.a), recorded in another hadith: "And Umar screened him and it was (usual) with Umar that when the revelation descended upon him (the Prophet), he provided him shade (with the help of a piece of cloth)…So when the revelation began to descend upon him Umar wrapped him (the Holy Prophet) with cloth..." It was through such impressions he would receive as a message that he would interpret using his prophetic wisdom and communicate as teachings to his followers. Other times he would hear a direct communication of divine speech through the medium of an angel appearing as a man or in their original form as he witnessed Angel Jibraeel at Cave of Hira: “he had six-hundred wings which filled the horizon.” Angel Jibraeel Gabriel (a.s) also appeared in the form of a companion named Dihya Al Kalbi (r.a) as witnessed by Umm Salamah (r.a), prophet's wife and recorded in Bukhari.
Muhammad Ibn Khaldun's Comments on Prophet's Experience At Ghar e Hira (Cave of Hira)
Pertaining to the stage of hearing spiritual auditory impressions (ringing bell sounds), the 14th century historian, philosopher and father of sociology, Muhammad Ibn Khaldun (CE 1332 – 1406) explains as being an intense activity, difficult enough to cause him sometimes unconscious states which caused the the Prophet's opponents to allege that he was under influence of satanic (shayateen) powers. Pertaining to this state of unconsciousness, Ibn Khaldun says that these were experiences to release his soul from physical perceptions (5 physical senses) and become fully connected with the supernatural, the spiritual-angelic realm where he would be able to gain direct access and receive the divine messages in the form of clear speech from the angels. Such as his first encounter with Archangel in cave of hira where the Prophet received the first set of Surah 96 verses: "'Read!' I answered, 'I cannot read....' Then he (Gabriel) seized me again and pressed me to himself until all strength went out of me..." As per Ibn Khaldun the choking feeling were initial phases that prepared him to be in direct contact with higher spiritual-angelic realm. Gradual habituation to the process of revelation brought some relief, compared to reactions such as becoming unconscious, sweating on a cold day or require covering with a blanket. It is for this reason of gradual easiness that earliest surahs and verses of the Quran such as Al-Asr (Chapter 103), Al-Ikhlaas (Chapter 112) are shorter than those revealed ten years after, in Madinah such as Baqara (Chapter 2) and Al Imran (Chapter 3). One may compare the tradition about how the Al Taubah (chapter 9) was revealed, during the expedition to Tabuk. The whole of this (long surah), or most of it, was easily revealed to the Prophet ﷺ while he was riding his camel.
 Al Quran 42:51
 Sahih Bukhari Vol. 1, Book 1, Hadith 3
 Sahih Muslim Book 30, Hadith 5765
 Jami Tirmidhi Vol. 1, Book 46, Hadith 3634
 Sahih Muslim Book 7, Hadith 2658
 Jami at-Tirmidhi Vol. 5, Book 44, Hadith 3278
 Sahih al-Bukhari 4980