The Reality of Inspiration: Its Importance for the Human Race
The substance of man at the moment of its creation is a simple monad, devoid of knowledge of the worlds subject to the Creator, worlds whose infinite number is only known to him, as the Qur'an says: "Only thy Lord knoweth the number of his armies."
Man arrives at this knowledge by the aid of his perceptions; each of his senses is given him that he may comprehend the world of created things, and by the term "world" we understand the different species of creatures. The first sense revealed to man is touch, by means of which he perceives a certain group of qualities---heat, cold, moist, dry. The sense of touch does not perceive colors and forms, which are for it as though they did not exist. Next comes the sense of sight, which makes him acquainted with colors and forms; that is to say, with that which occupies the highest rank in the world of sensation. The sense of hearing succeeds, and then the senses of smell and taste.
When the human being can elevate himself above the world of sense, toward the age of seven, he receives the faculty of discrimination; he enters then upon a new phase of existence and can experience, thanks to this faculty, impressions, superior to those of the senses, which do not occur in the sphere of sensation.
He then passes to another phase and receives reason, by which he discerns things necessary, possible, and impossible; in a word, all the notions which he could not combine in the former stages of his existence. But beyond reason and at a higher level by a new faculty of vision is bestowed upon him, by which he perceives invisible things, the secrets of the future and other concepts as inaccessible to reason as the concepts of reason are inaccessible to mere discrimination and what is perceived by discrimination to the senses. Just as the man possessed only of discrimination rejects and denies the notions acquired by reason, so do certain rationalists reject and deny the notion of inspiration. It is a proof of their profound ignorance; for, instead of argument, they merely deny inspiration as a sphere unknown and possessing no real existence. In the same way, a man blind from birth, who knows neither by experience nor by information what colors and forms are, neither knows nor understands them when some one speaks of them to him for the first time.
God, wishing to render intelligible to men the idea of inspiration, has given them a kind of glimpse of it in sleep. In fact, man perceives while asleep the things of the invisible world either clearly manifest or under the veil of allegory to be subsequently lifted by divination. If, however, one was to say to a person who had never himself experienced these dreams that, in a state of lethargy resembling death and during the complete suspension of sight, hearing, and all the senses, a man can see the things of the invisible world, this person would exclaim, and seek to prove the impossibility of these visions by some such argument as the following: "The sensitive faculties are the causes of perception. Now, if one can perceive certain things when one is in full possession of these faculties, how much more is their perception impossible when these faculties are suspended."
The falsity of such an argument is shown by evidence and experience. For in the same way as reason constitutes a particular phase of existence in which intellectual concepts are perceived which are hidden from the senses, similarly, inspiration is a special state in which the inner eye discovers, revealed by a celestial light, mysteries out of the reach of reason. The doubts which are raised regarding inspiration relate (1) to its possibility, (2) to its real and actual existence, (3) to its manifestation in this or that person.
To prove the possibility of inspiration is to prove that it belongs to a category of branches of knowledge which can not be attained by reason. It is the same with medical science and astronomy. He who studies them is obliged to recognize that they are derived solely from the revelation and special grace of God. Some astronomical phenomena only occur once in a thousand years; how then can we know them by experience?
We may say the same of inspiration, which is one of the branches of intuitional knowledge. Further, the perception of things which are beyond the attainment of reason is only one of the features peculiar to inspiration, which possesses a great number of others. The characteristic which we have mentioned is only, as it were, a drop of water in the ocean, and we have mentioned it because people experience what is analogous to it in dreams and in the sciences of medicine and astronomy. These branches of knowledge belong to the domain of prophetic miracles, and reason can not attain to them.
As to the other characteristics of inspiration, they are only revealed to adepts in Sufism and in a state of ecstatic transport. The little that we know of the nature of inspiration we owe to the kind of likeness to it which we find in sleep; without that we should be incapable of comprehending it, and consequently of believing in it, for conviction results from comprehension. The process of initiation into Sufism exhibits this likeness to inspiration from the first. There is in it a kind of ecstasy proportioned to the condition of the person initiated, and a degree of certitude and conviction which can not be attained by reason. This single fact is sufficient to make us believe in inspiration.
We now come to deal with doubts relative to the inspiration of a particular prophet. We shall not arrive at certitude on this point except by ascertaining, either by ocular evidence or by reliable tradition the facts relating to that prophet. When we have ascertained the real nature of inspiration and proceed to the serious study of the Qur'an and the traditions, we shall then know certainly that Mohammed is the greatest of prophets. After that we should fortify our conviction by verifying the truth of his preaching and the salutary effect which it has upon the soul. We should verify in experience the truth of sentences such as the following: "He who makes his conduct accord with his knowledge receives from God more knowledge"; or this, "God delivers to the oppressor him who favors injustice"; or again, "Whosoever when rising in the morning has only one anxiety (to please God), God will preserve him from all anxiety in this world and the next."
When we have verified these sayings in experience thousands of times, we shall be in possession of a certitude on which doubt can obtain no hold. Such is the path we must traverse in order to realize the truth of inspiration. It is not a question of finding out whether a rod has been changed into a serpent, or whether the moon has been split in two. If we regard miracles in isolation, without their countless attendant circumstances, we shall be liable to confound them with magic and falsehood, or to regard them as a means of leading men astray, as it is written, "God misleads and directs as he chooses" (Qur'an, xxxv. 9); we shall find ourselves involved in all the difficulties which the question of miracles raises. If, for instance, we believe that eloquence of style is a proof of inspiration, it is possible that an eloquent style composed with this object may inspire us with a false belief in the inspiration of him who wields it. The supernatural should be only one of the constituents which go to form our belief, without our placing too much reliance on this or that detail. We should rather resemble a person who, learning a fact from a group of people, can not point to this or that particular man as his informant, and who, not distinguishing between them, can not explain precisely how his conviction regarding the fact has been formed.
Such are the characteristics of scientific certitude. As to the transport which permits men to see the truth and, so to speak, to handle it, it is only known to the Sufis. What I have just said regarding the true nature of inspiration is sufficient for the aim which I have proposed to myself. I may return to the subject later, if necessary. I pass now to the causes of the decay of faith and show the means of bringing back those who have erred and of preserving them from the dangers which threaten them. To those who doubt because they are tinctured with the doctrine of the Ta'limites, my treatise entitled, The Just Balance, affords a sufficient guide; therefore it is unnecessary to return to the subject here.
As to the vain theories of the Ibahat, I have grouped them in seven classes, and explained them in the work entitled, Alchemy of Happiness. For those whose faith has been undermined by philosophy, so far that they deny the reality of inspiration, we have proved the truth and necessity of it, seeking our proofs in the hidden properties of medicines and of the heavenly bodies. It is for them that we have written this treatise, and the reason for our seeking for proofs in the sciences of medicine and of astronomy is because these sciences belong to the domain of philosophy. All those branches of knowledge which our opponents boast of---astronomy, medicine, physics, and divination-provide us with arguments in favor of the Prophet.
As to those who, professing a lip-faith in the Prophet, adulterate religion with philosophy, they really deny inspiration, since in their view the Prophet is only a sage whom a superior destiny has appointed as guide to men, and this view belies the true nature of inspiration. To believe in the Prophet is to admit that there is above intelligence a sphere in which are revealed to the inner vision truths beyond the grasp of intelligence, just as things seen are not apprehended by the sense of hearing, nor things understood by that of touch. If our opponent denies the existence of such a higher region, we can prove to him, not only its possibility, but its actuality. If, on the contrary, he admits its existence, he recognizes at the same time that there are in that sphere things which reason can not grasp; nay, which reason rejects as false and absurd. Suppose, for instance, that the fact of dreams occurring in sleep were not so common and notorious as it is, our wise men would not fail to repudiate the assertion that the secrets of the invisible world can be revealed while the senses are, so to speak, suspended.
Again, if it were to be said to one of them, "Is it possible that there is in the world a thing as small as a grain, which being carried into a city can destroy it and afterward destroy itself so that nothing remains either of the city or of itself?" "Certainly," he would exclaim, "it is impossible and ridiculous." Such, however, is the effect of fire, which would certainly be disputed by one who had not witnessed it with his own eyes. Now, the refusal to believe in the mysteries of the other life is of the same kind. As to the fourth cause of the spread of unbelief---the decay of faith owing to the bad example set by learned men---there are three ways of checking it.
(1) One can answer thus: "The learned man whom you accuse of disobeying the divine law knows that he disobeys, as you do when you drink wine or exact usury or allow yourself in evil-speaking, lying, and slander. You know your sin and yield to it, not through ignorance, but because you are mastered by concupiscence. The same is the case with the learned man. How many believe in doctors who do not abstain from fruit and cold water when strictly forbidden them by a doctor! That does not prove that those things are not dangerous, or that their faith in the doctor was not solidly established. Similar errors on the part of learned men are to be imputed solely to their weakness."
(2) Or again, one may say to a simple and ignorant man: "The learned man reckons upon his knowledge as a viaticum for the next life. He believes that his knowledge will save him and plead in his favor, and that his intellectual superiority will entitle him to indulgence; lastly, that if his knowledge increases his responsibility, it may also entitle him to a higher degree of consideration. All that is possible; and even if the learned man has neglected practice, he can at any rate produce proofs of his knowledge. But you, poor, witless one, if, like him, you neglect practice, destitute as you are of knowledge, you will perish without anything to plead in your favor."
(3) Or one may answer, and this reason is the true one: "The truly learned man only sins through carelessness, and does not remain in a state of impenitence. For real knowledge shows sin to be a deadly poison, and the other world to be superior to this. Convinced of this truth, man ought not to exchange the precious for the vile. But the knowledge of which we speak is not derived from sources accessible to human diligence, and that is why progress in mere worldly knowledge renders the sinner more hardened in his revolt against God."
True knowledge, on the contrary, inspires in him who is initiate in it more fear and more reverence, and raises a barrier of defense between him and sin. He may slip and stumble, it is true, as is inevitable with one encompassed by human infirmity, but these slips and stumbles will not weaken his faith. The true Moslem succumbs occasionally to temptation, but he repents and will not persevere obstinately in the path of error.
I pray God the Omnipotent to place us in the ranks of his chosen, among the number of those whom he directs in the path of safety, in whom he inspires fervor lest they forget him; whom he cleanses from all defilement, that nothing may remain in them except himself; yea, of those whom he indwells completely, that they may adore none beside him.