True Nature of Divine Revelations

· Ahmadiyyat: True Islam

Source / Courtesy: Muslim Sunrise, Winter 2011 volume

By Zia H Shah MD

Christopher Hitchens has been called one of the four horsemen of neo-Atheism.  In a very well attended and televised debate in Mexico in 2009, regarding evolution and religion, he along with Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett represented atheism against theist debaters.  In a friendly tone he suggested, “I do not know about you, but if I know someone in a public bus, who is hearing voices, I will quickly move away from him.”[i]  This was a convenient trick of bait and switch!  He described a schizophrenic and then implied a Prophet.  There is only a superficial resemblance between them and there exists a clear distinction between the two, as will become apparent from the reading of this article.

Common sense understanding of sleep is that it is a period of inactivity of brain.  But, since 1953, when dreaming or REM sleep was discovered, we know that it is very far from the truth.  In REM sleep human brain is as active as in the awake state, if not more; just the activity is of a different kind.

REM sleep in adult humans typically occupies 20–25% of total sleep, about 90–120 minutes of a night’s sleep. During a normal night of sleep, humans usually experience about four or five periods of REM sleep; they are quite short at the beginning of the night and longer towards the end.   Many of the muscles are normally paralyzed during this sleep so that the subjects do not act out their dreams and cause injury to themselves or their bed partners.  The phenomenon of REM sleep and its association with dreaming was discovered by Eugene Aserinsky and Nathaniel Kleitman with assistance from William C. Dement, a medical student at the time, in 1952 during their tenures at the University of Chicago.  Numerous studies have suggested that REM and NREM sleep are important for consolidation of different kinds of memories and learning.  NREM sleep has different stages and the deeper stages are called slow wave sleep, which are more restorative.

This is distribution of normal sleep between NREM and REM sleep in a normal subject.[ii]


The three states of human existence, wakefulness, NREM and REM sleep have different physiological features, some of which are exclusive to them.  Sometimes, in health or disease, features of one state can intrude into another.  This gives us insight into the physical aspects of revelation, while awake.  Revelation should be thought of as intrusion of dreaming of REM state into the state of full wakefulness.

A commonly known manifestation of intrusion of one state into another that most of the perceptive adult population has witnessed or at least heard about is sleep walking, which is intrusion of some features of awake state into NREM sleep.  Sleepwalkers arise from the slow wave sleep stage in a state of low consciousness and perform activities that are usually performed during a state of full consciousness. These activities can be as benign as sitting up in bed, walking to the bathroom, and cleaning, or as hazardous as cooking, driving, violent gestures, grabbing at hallucinated objects, or even homicide.[iii]

In a fashion, similar to sleep walking, intrusion of dreaming without its accompaniment lack of total awareness, in the awake state, should be considered as a model for revelation.

Description of revelation by the Messiah of this age: Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani

Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s description of revelation, suggests intrusion of REM sleep like state during wakefulness. He says:

The physicians have prescribed some natural means for sleep but I have observed that when Allah wants to reveal something to me, He suddenly brings a state of drowsiness and sleepiness in the midst of perfect wakefulness. He takes me away from a physical to a spiritual realm and after He has revealed something, he bestows full consciousness that the recipient of revelation has a chance to assimilate the revelation. He gives drowsiness again and wakefulness again to memorize, at times these cycles can up to 50 times and these are special influences from God. Such revelations are not the same as normal sleep and the physicians do not understand the details of this.[iv]

This very insightful and instructive description was mentioned in 1900, more than 5 decades before the discovery of REM sleep in 1950s.  With better understanding of REM sleep, this excerpt highlights for us the physical nature of true revelations.  Of course, the supernatural aspect of revelation will always evade human reductionism, as God is Subtle and Imperceptible, but as the Infinite meets the finite, the end result is observable and understandable by the human mind and appropriate mixing of REM sleep and awakefulness, perhaps, serves as the best model or metaphor for human understanding.

The continuum of intuition to true dreams to prophetic revelations

Every one of us has had our creative moments of a good idea and original intuitions.  Some of us would have been recipients of true dreams also.  The Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him said, “True dreams are one of the forty-six parts of Prophethood.”[v] Additionally, true dreams are not limited to pious persons only; anyone can be recipient of true dreams.  Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad notes that the blessings of Al Rahman God are general and for all. He writes in his book, Nature of Revelation, “God All Mighty has with a few exceptions granted all men with eyes, nose and ears and blessed them with sense of smell and other senses and has not been miserly towards any nation. Likewise, Allah has not excluded any people or nation from the blessings of the basic seed of the spiritual faculties. Just like you see that the sunlight reaches every place and no place whether clean or dirty is exempted from it. Same is the law for the light of the spiritual sun and it shines in all places regardless of the spiritual station. However, it is true that this spiritual light loves a heart that is clean, pure and true.”[vi] In other words, dreams, even the true ones, are a shared feature among all humans. There are, however, differences in true dreams of the ordinary and the pious, in terms of frequency, subject matter and clarity.  This is examined by me in an article available on Google-knol, Al Aleem: The Bestower of true Dreams.[vii]

Today, people have a lot of misunderstandings about revelations because of false prophets and con artists.  An evangelical broadcaster whose end-of-the-world prophecy earlier this year stirred a global media frenzy has now vanished from the public eye and airwaves ahead of his recalibrated doomsday date, set for Friday, October 21, 2011.

Days after the apocalypse he originally predicted for May 21, 2011 conspicuously failed to materialize, Harold Camping emerged from a brief seclusion to say he had merely miscalculated by five months, and he pronounced a new Judgment Day, October 21.

The following month, the now 90-year-old former civil engineer was said by his California-based Christian radio network to have suffered a stroke that left him hospitalized.

He has largely dropped out of sight since then, and his daily radio program, “Open Forum,” broadcast on more than 60 U.S. stations, has been canceled.[viii] He was only one of the examples, in recent times, of false prophets who have created bad name for revelations.

Hallucinations versus genuine revelations

Hallucinations of a malfunctioning brain or a schizophrenic need to be distinguished from the revelations of a saint or a prophet or a true dream of a scientist.  The immediate and obvious difference between a mad person and a saint or a prophet is that the former is a failure, while the later is a high achiever.  Here, I will quote a Christian, a historian and a politician, who served as Foreign Minister of France also briefly, Alphonse de Lamartine, as he highlights the achievements of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, “If greatness of purpose, smallness of means, and outstanding results are the three criteria of human genius, who could dare to compare any great man in modern history with Muhammad?”[ix]  Additionally, I add a few references to establish the unprecedented accomplishments of the Holy Prophet Muhammad.[x] [xi] [xii]  We believe, Jesus, may peace be on him, to be a true prophet also and the devotion and the dedication of his disciples, later to be called apostles, is a testament to the truth of his revelations and his great achievements through his followers.  So, whereas, a schizophrenic has rambling ideas and is a failure, a true prophet is the wisest of the wise and the best among the high achievers.  A movie titled A Beautiful Mind, about Nobel Laureate John Nash, shows his life story.[xiii] [xiv]  The movie shows his struggle with his hallucinations until he masters them and is cured of his illness.  After decades of suffering, he becomes able to dissociate hallucinations from his normal life experiences.  For a more detailed understanding of this issue, of distinguishing hallucinations from the blessings of revelations, go to my Google-knol titled, Al Aleem God: The Bestower of true Dreams![xv]

Sleep, memory and learning

We are learning while we are sleeping — an unconscious form of memory that is still not well understood, according to a recent study by Michigan State University researchers. The findings are highlighted in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

“We speculate that we may be investigating a separate form of memory, distinct from traditional memory systems,” said Kimberly Fenn, assistant professor of psychology and lead researcher on the project. “There is substantial evidence that during sleep, your brain is processing information without your awareness and this ability may contribute to memory in a waking state.”  In the study of more than 250 people, Fenn and Zach Hambrick, associate professor of psychology, suggest people derive vastly different effects from this “sleep memory” ability, with some memories improving dramatically and others not at all.[xvi]

If you see a student dozing in the library or a co-worker catching 40 winks in her cubicle, don’t roll your eyes. New research from the University of California, Berkeley, shows that an hour’s nap can dramatically boost and restore your brain power. Indeed, the findings suggest that a biphasic sleep schedule not only refreshes the mind, but can make you smarter.  Conversely, the more hours we spend awake, the more sluggish our minds become, according to the findings. The results support previous data from the same research team that pulling an all-nighter — a common practice at college during midterms and finals — decreases the ability to cram in new facts by nearly 40 percent, due to a shutdown of brain regions during sleep deprivation.  “Sleep not only rights the wrong of prolonged wakefulness but, at a neuro-cognitive level, it moves you beyond where you were before you took a nap,” said Matthew Walker, an assistant professor of psychology at UC Berkeley and the lead investigator of these studies.[xvii]

In some Youtube and ForaTV videos Matthew Walker has nicely described the recent associations between sleep and learning.[xviii] [xix]

Science revealed

In 1865 a German chemist, Friedrich August Kekule, was struggling to solve a problem in chemistry that had baffled all researchers. One night Kekule had a dream in which he saw a snake with its tail held in its mouth. This dream instantly put him on the right track leading to the solution of the perplexing question. Thus was unraveled the secret of the molecular behavior in certain organic compounds, a discovery which created a revolution in the understanding of organic chemistry. He interpreted this dream to mean that in the benzene molecule, carbon atoms bond together to form a ring structure. This knowledge gave birth to the huge and highly developed field of synthetic organic chemistry producing a vast new range of synthetic materials. The contemporary pharmaceutical industry has become growingly dependent on synthetic drugs. Mankind is indeed indebted to that one dream through which Kekule resolved that problem.

Elias Howe was the first person to mechanize the process of sewing. He too received the answer to a problem that had frustrated him for a long time through a dream. In his dream he saw himself surrounded by savages, who threatened to kill him unless he designed a sewing machine. Being unable to respond he was tied to a tree and the savages started to attack him with arrows and spears. It surprised him to see eyelets on their spearheads. On waking from this dream, he immediately realized the solution, which led him to invent the prototype of the sewing machine that was to dramatically revolutionize the sewing industry. Through his dream he understood that he should consider placing the eye of the needle in its point.  It was this idea which helped him resolve a seemingly impossible task. It is difficult to visualize the sorry state in which man would find himself today without the blessing of this dream. What a revolution was created indeed by this revelation!

How can we distinguish a dream arising purely from subconscious mind versus a revelation? It will have to be based on the judgment as to whether the subconscious could host the information revealed in the dream or not. If the information is altogether new and novel and there is no reason to believe that a certain person’s subconscious possessed that knowledge then the most reasonable explanation is to give credit to All Knowing Allah for that particular piece of information.  More specifically, human mind has no ability to know the future with any degree of certainty.  We, humans can only conjecture about the future but only the Omniscient knows the precise details![xx] Here, let me also suggest some additional food for thought for the critic, who would insist that revelation is no more than ideas of subconscious mind.  It is reported with good evidence that the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, and the Messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahamd Qadiani, also had a few revelations in foreign languages also that they had no knowledge of.  Go figure!


In the Holy Quran, Allah tells the Holy Prophet Muhammad to announce, “Say, ‘I am only a man like yourselves; but I have received the revelation that your God is only One God. So let him who hopes to meet his Lord do good deeds, and let him join no one in the worship of his Lord.’” (Al Quran 18:111) This verse describes the distinction between the Holy Prophet Muhammad and ordinary people.  However, the religion has been completed in the revelation of the Holy Quran and there cannot be any new Shariah or law bearing prophets. Likewise, to be a non-law bearing prophet is also a very tall order.  But, as mentioned before the door of true dreams is open and if we look for effective tools, we can develop not only in the domains of intuitions and unconscious learning but also true dreams.  This article is meant to only ignite a spark and sow a seed!  The journey is long but not tiring. It is rather very enjoyable, like a visit to a popular and beautiful destination.  It is time to take the trip; “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” according to the Prophet Confucius.

[iv] Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani. Malfoozat, volume: I/V page 303.

[v] Book of Hadith, Bukhari and Muslim.

[vi] Promised Messiahas. Haqiqat-ul-Wahi, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 22, pp. 26.

[xx] Al Quran 72:26-28.


Comments RSS
  1. Afzal

    Jazakumullah for this Dr Shah. I had been meaning to have an issue clarified and I don’t know if this may be the right place to do so.

    In his book ‘The Need for the Imam’ ( Massih Mawood (a.s) says on page 28:

    “It is recorded in the Bible that once four hundred prophets experienced a satanic inspiration and prophesied the victory of a king, having been fooled by a lying spirit.27 But the king was killed in disgrace in the same battle, and his army suffered a great defeat. But there was one Prophet who had received a revelation through Gabriel, and had predicted beforehand that the king would be killed, dogs would eat his
    corpse and it would be a great defeat. This prophecy came to pass, but the prediction of four hundred prophets turned out to be wrong.”
    27 1Kings 22:6,23 [Publishers]

    Contrasting this with extracts from the book ‘Khilafat and Mujaddidiyyat’ ( we find Hadhrat Khalifatul Massih III saying on page 34:

    “The Promised Messiah (peace be upon him) has said that there used to be simultaneously 400 prophets in the Ummat of Hazrat Musa (peace be upon him) for the regeneration of their religion. Ummati Muhammadiyya is an Ummat of great latitudes, and it is to spread all over the world, hence, in it
    there should be thousands in comparison of hundreds. Therefore they are all Khulafa.
    And regarding Khulafaa, he said, Kamaa has come for resemblance in Kamastakhlafalladheena Min Qablihim. It means, as there had been in Ummati Mooswiya 400 prophets at one and the same time, likewise there would be Khulafaai Muhammad far more than 400 who would be serving the religion, and as they have to regenerate the religion,
    therefore, they would be Mujaddid also.”

    On one hand we find Hadhrat Massih Mawood (a.s) talking about 400 ‘prophets’ having been fooled by a lying spirit and on another hand we find Hadhrat Khalifatul Massih III referring to these 400 ‘prophets’ as having been mentioned by Hadhrat Massih Mawood (a.s) to have been in the Ummat of Hazrat Musa (a.s) for the regeneration of their religion.

    These extracts seem to be in need of reconciliation for me, perhaps with further extracts that could make everything fall in good place inshallah.

    Perhaps could you help me on this.


  2. Anisa

    Jazakomullaho Khaira Kaceeran kaceerah. It is a faith strengthening article. God Bless you abundantly.Amen

    The question raised by brother Afazal Saheb is interesting. Although I think I have some clue… well maybe……..not sure if it is right, I would eagerly be waiting for your response.

  3. Zia H. Shah

    Like there are heroes and villains always in any society, true and false prophets co-exist, and perhaps there were both kinds during the biblical age. Additionally, a true prophet can misinterpret his revelation, we know it from the study of the Holy Quran in case of the prophet Yunus and in the life of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, we have an example in the case of Treaty of Hudaibiyya.

    Our righteous actions and genuine submission to the will of God, can gradually improve our thinking, our intuitions and perhaps our dreams and revelations as well.

  4. Anisa

    Thank you very much for your answer.

    A true Prophet sometime may misinterpret a revelation as per the examples we know.
    But it is a fact that a true Prophet can NEVER receive a satanic revelation.
    Then is it a co incidence that the same number of true and false Prophets existed in the Sharia of Moses pbuh?

  5. Zia H. Shah

    Criteria to distinguish true from false revelations

    The Messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani writes in his book, The Need for the Imam:

    It is the Divine Law that in this world everything valuable and precious is accompanied by adulterations. Look! there are pearls that are recovered from rivers and then there are cheap pearls which people make artificially and sell. Now the trade of genuine pearls cannot be stopped just because there are imitation pearls also, for the jewellers whom God Almighty has endowed with insight, recognize at a single glance the genuine pearl from the fake one. Hence, the jeweller of the pearls of revelation is the Imam of the age. By keeping his company, a person can readily distinguish between the real and the artificial. O mystics! O victims of this alchemy! tread this path with care and remember that true revelation, which is purely from God Almighty, is accompanied by the following signs:

    1. It is experienced in a state when the fire of anguish melts a man’s heart and it flows towards God Almighty like limpid water. This is what the Hadith refers to, which states that the Holy Quran was revealed in a state of pathos, so you should recite it with a feeling of anguish.
    2. True revelation is accompanied by a quality of pleasure and ecstasy; it bestows conviction for an unknown reason, and it penetrates the heart like a nail of steel and its wording is eloquent and free from error.
    3. True revelation has a certain grandeur and loftiness about it; it hits the heart hard, and it descends upon it with might and with an awesome voice. On the contrary, false revelation is marked by a faint voice like that of thieves, eunuchs and females, for Satan is a thief, a eunuch and a woman.
    4. True revelation carries in it the effect of Divine powers. And it is essential that it should contain prophecies that come to be fulfilled.
    5. True revelation continues to make a person more and more pious with each passing day, and cleanses his inner impurities and filth, and enhances his moral condition.
    6. True revelation is testified by all the inner faculties of a man, which are illumined by a new and divine light. He finds a change in himself, his earlier life suffers death and a new life begins, and he becomes a medium of compassion for mankind at large.
    7. True revelation does not end with a single revelation, for God’s voice has continuity. He is most Kind. He speaks to whosoever He blesses with His attention, and answers his questions. His supplications are answered at the same place and in the same instant, though at times there comes a break.
    8. The recipient of true revelation is never a coward and is not afraid to confront an opponent who himself claims to receive revelations, no matter how hostile he may be. He knows that God is with him and that He will cause his opponent to suffer a disgraceful defeat.
    9. True revelation is a means for understanding spiritual verities and sciences, for God does not wish to keep the recipient of His revelation ignorant and devoid of knowledge.
    10. True revelation is also accompanied by many other blessings. One who has converse with God is granted honour and awe inspiring prestige by heaven.
    The present age is so flawed that most of the philosophically disposed persons, naturalists, and the followers of Brahmu faith deny revelation of this kind.

  6. Zia H. Shah

    One genuine prophet and 400 false prophets

    1 Kings 22 from the New International Version (NIV):

    1 For three years there was no war between Aram and Israel. 2 But in the third year Jehoshaphat king of Judah went down to see the king of Israel. 3 The king of Israel had said to his officials, “Don’t you know that Ramoth Gilead belongs to us and yet we are doing nothing to retake it from the king of Aram?”

    4 So he asked Jehoshaphat, “Will you go with me to fight against Ramoth Gilead?”

    Jehoshaphat replied to the king of Israel, “I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses.” 5 But Jehoshaphat also said to the king of Israel, “First seek the counsel of the LORD.”

    6 So the king of Israel brought together the prophets—about four hundred men—and asked them, “Shall I go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or shall I refrain?”

    “Go,” they answered, “for the Lord will give it into the king’s hand.”

    7 But Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there no longer a prophet of the LORD here whom we can inquire of?”

    8 The king of Israel answered Jehoshaphat, “There is still one prophet through whom we can inquire of the LORD, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah.”

    “The king should not say such a thing,” Jehoshaphat replied.

    9 So the king of Israel called one of his officials and said, “Bring Micaiah son of Imlah at once.”

    10 Dressed in their royal robes, the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat king of Judah were sitting on their thrones at the threshing floor by the entrance of the gate of Samaria, with all the prophets prophesying before them. 11 Now Zedekiah son of Kenaanah had made iron horns and he declared, “This is what the LORD says: ‘With these you will gore the Arameans until they are destroyed.’”

    12 All the other prophets were prophesying the same thing. “Attack Ramoth Gilead and be victorious,” they said, “for the LORD will give it into the king’s hand.”

    13 The messenger who had gone to summon Micaiah said to him, “Look, the other prophets without exception are predicting success for the king. Let your word agree with theirs, and speak favorably.”

    14 But Micaiah said, “As surely as the LORD lives, I can tell him only what the LORD tells me.”

    15 When he arrived, the king asked him, “Micaiah, shall we go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or not?”

    “Attack and be victorious,” he answered, “for the LORD will give it into the king’s hand.”

    16 The king said to him, “How many times must I make you swear to tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the LORD?”

    17 Then Micaiah answered, “I saw all Israel scattered on the hills like sheep without a shepherd, and the LORD said, ‘These people have no master. Let each one go home in peace.’”

    18 The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “Didn’t I tell you that he never prophesies anything good about me, but only bad?”

    19 Micaiah continued, “Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne with all the multitudes of heaven standing around him on his right and on his left. 20 And the LORD said, ‘Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?’

    “One suggested this, and another that. 21 Finally, a spirit came forward, stood before the LORD and said, ‘I will entice him.’

    22 “‘By what means?’ the LORD asked.

    “‘I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouths of all his prophets,’ he said.

    “‘You will succeed in enticing him,’ said the LORD. ‘Go and do it.’

    23 “So now the LORD has put a deceiving spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours. The LORD has decreed disaster for you.”

    24 Then Zedekiah son of Kenaanah went up and slapped Micaiah in the face. “Which way did the spirit from[a] the LORD go when he went from me to speak to you?” he asked.

    25 Micaiah replied, “You will find out on the day you go to hide in an inner room.”

    26 The king of Israel then ordered, “Take Micaiah and send him back to Amon the ruler of the city and to Joash the king’s son 27 and say, ‘This is what the king says: Put this fellow in prison and give him nothing but bread and water until I return safely.’”

    28 Micaiah declared, “If you ever return safely, the LORD has not spoken through me.” Then he added, “Mark my words, all you people!”

    There is a question asked in the above comments about mention of 1King 22 in the writing of the Messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani. I have quoted the chapter here to show that it is fairly easy passage. There was one true prophet and 400 false ones and the king chose to side with the 400 false ones.

    As regards the mention of 400 prophets at a time in Jewish people in the writing of the Third Khalifa, I cannot comment on it until I understand or learn, which writing of the Messiah he is referring to as there is no specific reference in the book of the third Khalifa about this. Additionally, the number of 400 is not central to the argument in the book Khilafat and Mujaddadiyyat. I suggest that here we should focus on the crux of the argument, which is that as there were a lot of prophets in Judaism there will be a lot of Mujaddids among Muslims.

  7. Afzal

    Jazakallah for this explanation Dr Shah. I had in fact gone to read the biblical verses too before seeing your post. I had the impression that Hadhrat Khalifatul Massih III was referring to the same 400 prophets mentioned by what I quoted from Hadhrat Massih Mawood (a.s), but if they were false prophets, perhaps was he referring to another group of 400 prophets. Do you think so?

    Another point is that if they were ‘fooled’ by a ‘lying spirit’, it would mean that they proclaimed what they thought was right and what was revealed to them, believing that the revelation was from God while it was not. Could we then consider them at fault or to purposely lie if they expressed what they thought was right?

    In any case, could there be more issues we may want to disentangle from this?


  8. Afzal

    In Essence of Islam Volume 3 ( on page 150, we do find Hadhrat Massih Mawood (a.s) saying:

    “In support of the Torah sometimes as many as four
    hundred Prophets were sent at one and the same time; as testified by the Bible.”

    Here, clearly the four hundred Prophets mentioned by Hadhrat Massih Mawood (a.s) were sent ‘in support of the Torah’ and hence were not false.

    This makes Hadhrat Khalifatul Massih III clearly correct in his statement from the quote I mentioned in a previous comment.

    If in one case four hundred false prophets were being mentioned and in another case four hundred true ones were being mentioned, it could be interesting to find where else the Bible has testified concerning four hundred (true) prophets having been sent, as mentioned in the above extract.

    Perhaps could we find such a reference?


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