Muslims believe that God has spoken to His creation from the beginning of time. Not only is He believed to have communicated to the Prophets Moses and Muhammad, but also to prophets such as Noah, Abraham, Zechariah, and Jesus. God is also said to speak to the angels and even Iblis (Satan).
The Qur'an describes three forms of communication of God with human beings: 'It is not granted to any mortal that God should speak to him except through revelation or from behind a veil, or by sending a messenger to reveal by His command what He will: He is exalted and wise.'12 The first form, through revelation, involves communication directly from God to the recipient. In this case, the recipient understands this communication without hearing any sound or having any contact with a messenger (that is, an angel).
The above verse describes the second form of communication as being 'from behind a veil', and refers to a scenario in which God speaks to some- one directly using words, but the hearer does not see Him. One of the best examples for this is that of revelation to Moses. The Qur'an tells us that
Moses asked God to reveal or show Himself to Moses, to which God replies: 'You will never see Me, but look at that mountain: if it remains standing firm, you will see Me.'13 But, of course, neither the mountain nor Moses could stand firm.
Several Muslim scholars believe that the third form, 'through a messenger', Is the surest and clearest form of revelation. It is also the method by which Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad on the whole received the Qur'an. This method involves a messenger- believed to be the angel Gabriel -who brings the Word of God to a prophet. Gabriel is believed to have transmitted the revelation in a form the Prophet could understand - in the Arabic language.14 This is reiterated through Qur'anic verses such as: 'We [God] have sent it down as an Arabic Qur'an so that you [people] may understand.'15 More generally, the Qur'an states that: 'We [God] have never sent a messenger who did not use his people's own language to make things clear for them.'16
The idea that the Qur'an was transmitted in its linguistic form is also supported by certain Qur'anic concepts and terms. For example, the Qur'an states that it is inscribed on a 'Preserved Tablet' (al-lawh al-mahfuz) in the heavens.17 Muslim theologians hold that the revelation proceeded from God in the first instance to this Tablet, and from there the angel Gabriel brought it to the Prophet. It is worth noting that the Qur'an uses the word nazala descend), and its derivatives, such as tanzil (something sent down), to descnbe the Qur'anic revelation. The implication of words 'descending' or being 'sent down' is important to understand, and is not fully conveyed by the English word 'revelation'. These Qur'anic terms and concepts form an integral part of the Muslim belief that the words of the Qur'an were 'sent down' verbatim from God to the Prophet Muhammad.
Prophet Muhammad's experience of revelation
Muslim accounts of the first event of revelation for the Prophet Muhammad tell us that he encountered the angel Gabriel while on a retreat to Hira (a cave near Mecca), when he was 40 years old. Prior to this, it is believed that Muhammad had begun to have a series of vivid dreams and premo- nitions. On the…