Part 6b

Prophecy Icon

January 16, 2020


This world with all the created things in it has a certain order and solid construction. It shows nexuses between causes and things caused, combinations of some parts of creation with others, and transformations of some existent things into others, in a pattern that is both remarkable and endless.

Beginning with the world of the body and sensual perception, and therein first with the world of the visible elements, (one notices) how these elements are arranged gradually and continually in an ascending order, from earth to water, (from water) to air, and (from air) to fire. Each one of the elements is prepared to be transformed into the next higher or lower one, and sometimes is transformed.

The higher one is always finer than the one preceding it. Eventually, the world of the spheres is reached. They are finer than anything else. They are in layers which are interconnected, in a shape which the senses are able to perceive only through the existence of motions.

These motions provide some people with knowledge of the measurements and positions of the spheres, and also with knowledge of the existence of the essences beyond, the influence of which is noticeable in the spheres through the fact (that they have motion). One should then look at the world of creation.

It started out from the minerals and progressed, in an ingenious, gradual manner, to plants and animals. The last stage 269 of minerals is connected with the first stage of plants, such asherbs and seedless plants. The last stage of plants, such as palms and vines, is connected with the first stage of animals, such as snails and shellfish which have only the power of touch.

The word “connection” with regard to these created things means that the last stage of each group is fully prepared to become the first stage of the next group.

The animal world then widens, its species become numerous, and, in a gradual process of creation, it finally leads to man, who is able to think and to reflect.

The higher stage of man is reached from the world of the monkeys, in which both sagacity and perception are found, but which has not reached the stage of actual reflection and thinking. At this point we come to the first stage of man after (the world of monkeys).

This is as far as our (physical) observation extends. Now, in 270 the various worlds we find manifold influences. In the world of sensual perception there are certain influences of the motions of the spheres and the elements. In the world of creation there are certain influences of the motions of growth and perception. All this is evidence of the fact that there is something that exercises an influence and is different from the bodi(ly substances). This is something spiritual.

It is connected with the created things, because the various worlds must be connected in their existence. This spiritual thing is the soul, which has perception and causes motion. Above the soul there must exist something else that gives the soul the power of perception and motion, and that is also connected with it.

Its essence should be pure perception and absolute intellection. This is the world of the angels. The soul, consequently, must be prepared to exchange humanity for angelicality, in order actually to become part of the angelic species at certain times in the flash of a moment.

This happens after the spiritual essence of the soul has become perfect in actuality, as we shall mention later on. (The soul) is connected with the stage next to it, as are all the orders of the existentia, as we have mentioned before. It is connected both upward and downward. Downward, it is connected with the body.

Through (the body, the soul) acquires the sense perceptions by which it is prepared for actual intellection. 271 Upward, it is connected with the stage of the angels.

There, it acquires scientific and supernatural perceptions, for knowledge of the things that come into being exists timelessly in the intellections of (the angels). This is in consequence of the well-constructed order of existence mentioned above, which requires that the essences and powers of (the world of existence) be connected with one another.

The human soul cannot be seen, but its influence is evident in the body. It is as if all (the body’s) parts, in combination or separately, were organs of the soul and its powers. The powers of action are touching with the hand, walking with the foot, speaking with the tongue, and the total combined motion with the body.

The powers of sensual perception are graded and ascend to the highest power, that is, the power of thinking, for which there exists the term “rational power.”

Thus, the powers of external sense perception, with the organs of vision, hearing, and all the other (organs), lead up to inward (perception). The first (inward sense) is the “common sense,” 272 that is, the power that simultaneously perceives all objects of sensual perception, whether they belong to hearing, seeing, touching, or anything else.

In this respect, it differs from the power of external sense perception, as the objects of sensual perception do not all crowd upon external sense perception at one and the same time.

The common sense transfers (the perceptions) to the imagination, which is the power that pictures an object of sensual perception in the soul, as it is, abstracted from all external matter. The organ for the activity of these two powers (common sense and imagination) is the first cavity of the brain. The front part of that cavity isfor the common sense, and the back part for the imagination.

Imagination leads up to the estimative power 273 and the power of memory.

The estimative power serves for perceiving (abstract) ideas that refer to individualities, such as the hostility of Zayd, the friendship of ‘Amr, the compassion of the father, or the savagery of the wolf.

The power of memory serves as a repository for all objects of perception, whether they are imagined or not. It is like a storehouse that preserves them for the time when they are needed.

The organ for the activity of these two powers is the back cavity of the brain. The front part of that cavity is for the estimative power, and the back for the power of memory. All these powers then lead up to the power of thinking. Its organ is the middle cavity of the brain. It is the power that causes reflection to be set in motion and leads toward intellection. The soul is constantly moved by it, as the result of its constitutional desire to (think).

It wants to be free from the grip of power 274 and the human kind of preparedness. It wants to proceed to active intellection by assimilating itself to the highest spiritual group (that of the angels), and to get into the first order of the spiritualia by perceiving them without the help of bodily organs.

Therefore, the soul is constantly moving in that direction. It exchanges all humanity and human spirituality for angelicality of the highest stage, without the help of any acquired faculty but by virtue of a primary natural disposition that God has placed in it.

As far as this (process) is concerned, human souls are of three kinds. One is by nature too weak to arrive at spiritual perception. Therefore, it is satisfied to move downwards toward the perceptions of the senses and imagination and the formation of ideas with the help of the power of memory and the estimative power, according to limited rules and a special order.

In this manner, people acquire perceptive and apperceptive 275 knowledge, which is the product of thinking in the body. All this is (the result of the power of) imagination and limited in extent, since from the way it starts it can reach the primary (intelligibilia) but cannot go beyond them.

Also, if they are corrupt, everything beyond them is also corrupt. 276 This, as a rule, is the extent of human corporeal perception. It is the goal of the perceptions of scholars. It is in it that scholars are firmly grounded.

A (second) kind (of soul), through thinking, moves in the direction of spiritual intellection and (a type of) perception that does not need the organs of the body, because of its innate preparedness for it. The perceptions of this kind of soul extend beyond the primary (intelligibilia) to which primary human perception is restricted, and cover the ground of inward observations, which are all intuitive 2 77

They are unlimited as to their beginning and their end. They are the perceptions of saints, of men of mystical learning and divine knowledge. The blessed obtain them after death, in Purgatory (barzakh). 278

A (third) kind (of soul) is by nature suited to exchange humanity altogether, both corporeal and spiritual humanity, for angelicality of the highest stage, so that it may actually become an angel in the flash of a moment, glimpse the highest group within their own stage, and listen to essential speech 279 and divine address during that moment. (Individuals possessing this kind of soul) are prophets.

God implanted and formed in them the natural ability to slough off humanity in that moment which is the state of revelation. God freed them from the lets and hindrances of the body, by which they were afflicted as human beings.

He did this by means of ‘ismah (immunity from sin and error, infallibility) and straightforwardness, which He implanted in them and which gave them that particular outlook, and by means of a desire for divine worship which He centered in them and which converges from allsides toward that goal. They thus move toward the (angelic) stage, sloughing off humanity at will, by virtue of their natural constitution, and not with the help of any acquired faculty or craft.

(The prophets) move in that direction, slough off their humanity, and, once among the highest group (of angels), learn all that may there be learned. They then bring what they have learned back down to the level of the powers of human perception, as this is the way in which it can be transmitted to human beings.

At times, this may happen in the form of a noise the prophet hears. It is like indistinct words from which he derives the idea conveyed to him. As soon as the noise has stopped, he retains and understands (the idea). At other times, the angel who conveys (the message) to the prophet appears to him in the form of a man who talks to him, and the prophet comprehends what he says. Learning the message from the angel, reverting to the level of human perception, and understanding the message conveyed to him - all this appears to take place in one moment, or rather, in a flash.

It does not take place in time, but everything happens simultaneously. Therefore, it appears to happen very quickly. For this reason, it is called wahy (“revelation”), because the root why has the meaning “to hasten.” 280

Thorough scholars believe the first (degree), the state of noise, is that of prophets who are not sent as messengers. The second degree, the state when an angel appears in the form of a man who addresses the prophet, is that of prophets who are sent as messengers.

Therefore, it is more perfect than the first (degree). This is the meaning of the tradition in which the Prophet explained revelation, in reply to a question by alHarith b. Hisham. 281 Asked how the revelation came to him, Muhammad replied, “At times, it comes to me like the ringing of a bell.

This affects me most. When it leaves me, I have retained what was said. At other times, the angel appears to me in the form of a man. He talks to me, and I retain the things he says.” The first (case) affected him more, being the first attempt to advance from potential to actual contact (with the supernatural).

Thus, it was somewhat difficult. When the Prophet returned, in this case, to the level of human perceptions, all he retained was auditory (impressions). All others were difficult. When the revelation was repeated and the messages became numerous, contact (with the supernatural) became easy. When the Prophet returned to the level of human perceptions, now all his senses-and especially the clearest sense, that of vision-conveyed (the revelation).

The use of the perfect tense “I have retained” in the first case, and of the present tense “I retain” in the second, is a meaningful stylistic distinction. In both cases, the words that were spoken (during the revelation) came in a disguise. In the first case, they appeared in the form of “noise,” which, according to accepted usage, is something different from speech.

Muhammad indicated that understanding and comprehension followed immediately upon it after it had stopped. He properly used the perfect tense, which is suitable (to signify) what has ended or stopped, in order to indicate comprehension at the moment he perceived that (the noise) had ended and stopped. 282 In the second case, the angel appeared in the form of a man who addressed the Prophet and spoke to him.

Comprehension (in this case) ran parallel with speech. Therefore, Muhammad properly used the present tense, which of necessity expresses renewed (repeated) activity.

The state of revelation presents difficulties and pains throughout. This has been indicated in the Qur’an= 283 “We shall lay upon you a heavy message.”

A’ishah said= “There was some anxiety in connection with the revelation, with which he had to struggle.” She said= “The revelation would come to him on very cold days. Nevertheless, when it left him,there was sweat on his forehead.”

This is the reason for his well-known remoteness (from sensual perception) and the choking (feeling) when in that condition, of which the Prophet used to speak. The reason, as we have established, is that revelation means leaving one’s humanity, in order to attain angelic perceptions and to hear the speech of the soul. 284 This causes pain, since it means that an essence leaves its own essence and exchanges its own stage for the ultimate stage (of the angels).

This is the meaning of the choking feeling which Muhammad referred to in connection with the beginning of revelation in his statement= “And he (Gabriel) choked me until it became too much for me; then he released me. Then he said, ‘Read,’ and I replied, ‘I cannot read.’ 285

He did this a second and a third time, as the tradition tells.

Gradual habituation to (the process of revelation) brings some relief, as compared to how it was before. It is for this reason that the earliest passages, surahs, and verses of the Qur’an, revealed to Muhammad in Mecca, are briefer than those revealed to him in Medina.

One may compare the tradition about how the ninth surah (Surat al-Bara’ah) was revealed, during the expedition to Tabuk. The whole of this (long surah), or most of it, was revealed to Muhammad while he was riding his camel. 286

Before this, when he was in Mecca, part of one of the shortest surahs in the latter part of the Qur’an 287 was revealed on one occasion, and the rest on another occasion. Also, one of the last revelations received in Medina was the “Verse of the Religion,” 288 which is very long.

Before this, in Mecca, the verses revealed were short, like those of the surahs ar-Rahman, adh-Dhariyat, al-Muddaththir, ad-Duha, and al-`Alaq,289 and similar surahs. This may serve as criterion for distinguishing the Meccan surahs and verses from the Medinese.

God leads to that which is correct. This is the quintessence of prophecy. Soothsaying (kahanah) is also one of the particular qualities of the human soul. This is as follows.

The human soul is prepared to exchange its humanity for the spirituality that lies above (humanity).

Human beings have an intimation of that (exchange) in prophets who are by nature fitted to achieve it. It has been established that they neither need acquired qualities for that (exchange), nor are they dependent on any help from perceptions, notions (tasawwur), bodily activities, be they speech or motion, or anything else.

It is (with them) a natural change from humanity to angelicality in the flash of a moment.

If this is so and if such preparedness exists in human nature, logical classification requires that there must be another kind of human beings, as inferior to the first kind as anything that has something perfect as its opposite, must be inferior to that (perfect) opposite.

Independence from all help in (achieving contact with the supernatural) is the opposite of dependence on help in connection with it. They are two very different things.

Now, the classification of the world of existence requires that there must be a kind of human beings fitted by nature for the process of thinking voluntarily under the impulse of their rational power, whenever that power has a desire for it.

But the rational power is not by nature capable of (the process of supernatural perception).

Thus, when its weakness prevents (the rational power) from (contact with the supernatural), it is natural for (the rational power) to get involved with particulars, either of sensual perception or of the imagination, such as transparent bodies, animal bones, speech in rhymed prose, or whatever bird or animal may present itself.

A person whose rational power is thus engaged) attempts to retain such sensual orimaginary perceptions, since he depends on their help in attaining the supernatural perception he desires. They give him a sort of assistance.The power which in (such persons) constitutes the starting point of supernatural perception is soothsaying. The souls of such persons are inferior by nature and unable to attain perfection.

Therefore, they have a better perception of particulars than of universals. They get involved with the former and neglect the latter.

Therefore, the power of imagination is 290 most strongly developed in those persons, because it is the organ of the particulars. (The particulars) completely pervade (the power of the imagination),291 both in the sleeping and the waking state.

They are ever ready and present in it. The power of imagination brings (the particulars) to the attention of (those persons) and serves as a mirror in which they are seen constantly.

The soothsayer is not able to achieve perfection in his perception of the intelligibilia, because the revelation he receives is inspired by devils. The highest state this type of person can reach is to achieve disregard for the senses, with the help of rhymed prose and the use of words of an identical structure at the end of successive cola, 292 and (thereby) to attain an imperfect contact of the sort described (with supernatural things).

From that motion and the foreign support that accompanies it, his heart receives some inspiration to express itself in words. The soothsayer, thus, often speaks the truth and agrees with reality.

Often, however, what he says are falsehoods, because he supplements his deficiency with something foreign to, different from, and incompatible with, his perceptive essence. Thus, truth and falsehood are umbled together in him, and he is not trustworthy. He often takes refuge in guesses and hypotheses, because, in his self-deception, he desires to have (supernatural) perception and is willing to cheat those who ask him (for information).

Men who use such rhymed prose are distinguished by the name of soothsayers (kahin, pl. kuhhan). They rank highest among their kind. Muhammad said, regarding something of the sort, “This belongs to the rhymed prose of the soothsayers.” 293

The use of the genitive construction (“rhymed prose of”) indicates that Muhammad considered rhymed prose a distinctive (mark of the soothsayer). He also questioned Ibn Sayyad, 294 in order to find out about him, and he asked him how that thing came to him. Ibn Sayyid replied= “It comes to me in the form of both truth and falsehood.”

Whereupon Muhammad said, “You are confused with regard to the matter.” He meant that prophecy is characterized by truthfulness and can in no way be affected by falsehood.

For prophecy is a direct and independent contact of the essence of the prophet with the most high group (the angels). Because of his weakness, the soothsayer depends on the help of foreign notions (tasawwur).

These foreign notions enter into his perception and mingle with the perception toward which he aspires.

He thus becomes confused by them. So it is that falsehood makes its way to his (door). It is, therefore, impossible (for his activity) to be prophecy.

We have stated that the highest rank of soothsaying is the state in which rhymed prose is used, because the support derived from rhymed prose is lighter than any other support, such as that derived from vision or hearing. Such light support (as is given by the use of rhymed prose) points to nearness of contact and perception and to a certain freedom from weakness.

Some people assume that soothsaying of this type stopped with the time of prophecy, as the result of the stoning of the devils with meteors, in view of the prophetic mission, which occurred in order to keep them away from heavenly information, as is mentioned in the Qur’in, 295 The soothsayers had received heavenly information from the devils, and now, from the day on which the devils were stoned, soothsaying ceased to exist. There is no proof for this contention.

Soothsayers obtain knowledge from their own souls as well as from the devils, aswe have established. Furthermore, the verse of the Qur’an shows only that the devils were kept away from one particular kind of heavenly information, namely, that connected with the (prophetic) mission.

They were not kept from other information. Also, soothsaying stopped only in view of the existence of prophecy. It may afterwards have returned to its former state.

This would seem to be an obvious (fact), because all such (supernatural) perceptions are in abeyance at the time of prophecy, just as stars and lamps lose their brilliance beside the sun.

Prophecy is the greatest light, in whose presence every other light is obscured or disappears.

Some philosophers think:

  1. That soothsaying exists only in view of prophecy, and then stops

This happens at each occurrence of prophecy.

  1. That the existence of prophecy needs a particular constellation that makes it necessary

The perfection of that constellation coincides with the perfection of the particular prophecy to which the constellation has reference. As long as the constellation is imperfect, it requires the existence of some imperfect related element. This is the meaning of “soothsayer”.

The perfect state of the constellation is preceded by an imperfect one, which requires the existence of one or more soothsayers. When the constellation reaches perfection, the prophet’s existence reaches perfection. The constellations that point to the existence of a(n inferior) element such as soothsaying have passed by, and soothsaying ceases to exist. 297

This theory is based upon the assumption that any part of a constellation must exercise part of the influence that the constellation (in its perfect state) would exercise. This assumption is not fully acceptable.

It may be that a particular constellation exercises its influence only when it has taken on its proper form. If some aspects are missing, it may exercise no influence whatever, not even, as they say, a restricted influence.

Soothsayers who are a prophet’s contemporaries are aware of the prophet’s truthfulness and the significance of his miracle, since they derive some intuitive 298 experience from prophecy, such as every human being derives from sleep.

Intellectual awareness of this relationship is stronger in the soothsayer than in the sleeper. What prevents soothsayers from acknowledging the truthfulness of the prophet, and causes them to deny (him), is simply their misguided desire to be prophets themselves.

This leads them to spiteful opposition. This happened to:

  • Umayyah b. Abi s-Salt, who desired to be a prophet
  • Ibn Sayyid, Musaylimah, and others 299

When faith gains the upper hand and they stop aspiring to become prophets themselves, they make the most faithful of believers. This happened to Tulayhah al-Asadi and Qarib b. al-Aswad. 300 The actions of these two men in the Muslim conquest show that they were faithful believers.


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