POINT|COUNTERPOINT: On Prophetic Revelation and “Subjectivity”

In Islam, philosophy, psychology on March 26, 2009 at 7:29 pm

God does not communicate directly with human beings, but He sends His messages to selected persons called prophets who then preach God’s word to the masses. This is the cornerstone of our faith, the point on which the whole institution of religion rests.

This post has been inspired by a little discussion of intellect vs prophetic revelation on Umer Toor’s blog. Umer’s original post was a little conversation between Umer and Master Agha, wherein Umer asks how the Platonic philosophers had approached the concept of God, to which Master Agha replies that: “revelation is essential to understand such questions” since intellect is imperfect.

The first comment on this post was made by Awais Aftab.

Awais Aftab: “Revelation believers always go on about how intellect is ‘imperfect’, but what can be more imperfect than revelation, which is a highly subjective experience of a person [‘Prophet’] passed on by word of mouth and subsequently written and then believed in by a person centuries later who has had no experience even minutely close to that a revelation. And while 2 + 2 = 4 for every man of intellect, every Prophet puts forth his own revelation, dividing the world in different religions. And yet it is logic which is imperfect.”

A number of misconceptions are apparent in this response. Following is my attempt at counterargument.

Rhodora Online:

1. “every Prophet puts forth his own revelation, dividing the world in different religions“. A misconception. There is a systematic difference in the message revealed by Prophets Ibrahim, Moses, Jesus and Mohammad, at the one hand, and the personal wisdom and insights shared by someone like the Bhuddha who didn’t claim he was a prophet but may have been made into one by his devotees later on.

If one is mistakenly including such man-proclaimed ‘prophets’ with the God-sent ones, then indeed the world has a rich tapestry of religions! Otherwise, the message of all true Prophets was the same: There is no god but ALLAH so its only HIM worthy of worship.

“Different religions” were created by scholars long after the original revelations in the earlier Books from Allah had been lost. [To read an illuminating article regarding one relevant example, click here.] An illusion of ‘difference’ may also be created because of i) differences in procedural aspects of living for which God indeed changed guidelines in different prophets’ times (refer: Quran) and ii) differences in tertiary matters with  imprecise guidance in Quran or Hadith, where scholars  conclude differently.

3. “by word of mouth…” As if our prophets were born in the age after the Gutenberg pressEven so, not only the revelations recited by the last Prophet Mohammad (Salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) were instantly inscribed and memorized by his followers, but also his own sayings and doings were meticulously recorded since he was in the best position to interpret the revelations through his exposition and behavior.

2. “yet it is logic which is imperfect” If one cares to read the Quran with an open mind (by which I mean not rigidly insisting upon inflexible preconceived  notions) and peruses the brilliant scholarly expositions of the basic ideology of Quran, one will find enough logic to satisfy one.

Just like atheists find logic enough in their perspective of the world.

A word on logic:

I am a postgraduate in psychology. When we encounter ‘paranoid’ patients we always observe PERFECT logic in their explanations of why they are so convinced that they are being persecuted – tight, irrefutably perfect logic. You cannot win an argument with a paranoid.

Logic is a tool that derives conclusions from a set of premises. We are not arguing logic here, we are arguing PREMISES. So there’s logic in MY view of the world  and there’s a logic in YOUR (Darwin and all) view of the world. The ‘this premise’ or ‘that premise’ is ultimately a CHOICE [la ikraha fi-deen]: a SUBJECTIVE choice.

Why must this choice be subjective? The idea of an objective choice assumes that i) it is possible for us to somehow perceive this world in a totally direct, completely factual fashion [read below on this point], and that ii) all the facts that are needed to make this objective choice must be completely available for consideration.

You cannot solve your math equation unless the requisite givens are there.

On the other hand, do you realistically believe that all that there is to be discovered about this world will be discovered to ultimately PROVE without holes which view was the really PERFECTLY logical one and which premise the perfectly valid one? Even if it could, we will be dead much before;  surely we cannot wait…

4. “a highly subjective experience”: We perceive the sunflower in yellow color. And yet the bees of this world perceive the same sunflower in blue (by which I mean something akin to ultraviolet light). So can you please tell me WHICH is the OBJECTIVE way of perceiving the sunflower? A highly subjective experience for both parties (humans and bees :-), if you ask me!

Carole Tarvis is a PhD in social psychology; Carol Wade took the same degree in cognitive psychology. In a textbook penned by them they write:

Because sensation is a subjective experience, our ideas about reality must be affected by our sensory abilities and limitations. That is, things appear to us as they do not only because of their nature but also because of ours. If the entire human race were totally deaf, we might still talk about pressure waves, but we would have no concept of sound. (p. 200, Psychology, 4th ed., Harper Collins).

If the entire human race was totally deaf, and one person, as a result of a unique blessing from God, had explained to us the concept of sound… Credibility in such cases cannot be decided through the state-of-the-art science because that is always limited by the human limitations of the researchers and the status of the technology they have been able to develop till that point. It is decided by an examination of the proclaimer’s character, his motivation and motives, and the arguments he extends in support of his claims.

May God accept my humble effort.

Awais’ response provoked further illuminating arguments from others. Read them all here.


  1. Jazakallah. This is really a good effort at explaining the Truth of Qoran, and that view must originate from the tradition.

    Fortunately at this late hour, by which I mean the 20th century, with Heaven’s grace, a unique school of thought emanated from the West called “Perennial Philosophy” which sought to explain the truth of Unity from the perspective of sacred tradition. This school, to which belong Frithjof Schuon, Rene guenon, T. Burchardt, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, explains that all religions like you have said have one root, that Transcendent religions express a same set of truths, indistinguishable. (One must read for a scholarly interpretation of this subject “The Transcendent Unity of Religions,” by Frithjof Schuon”.)

    Point # 3 & 4 force us to look into other and better ways for the purpose of decoding revelation. My question to you is: How do we experience the truth of Prophetic Revelation? Can we? What is the reality of Tariqah? Especially if seen in the light of the quote you provided.

    I have been enlightened!

    Humble regards.

  2. Regarding your query about prophetic revelation, a great and lucid exposition is to be found in Abul Ala Maududi’s Islami Nizam-e-Zindagi aur uske Bunyadi Tasawuraat [The Islamic System of Life and it’s Basic Concepts], in my opinion. I’m not in a position to comment on Tariqat as I am not much well-versed in it.

  3. Thanks for the reference! I hope it helps.

  4. a unique piece of work (:

  5. So many boring posts within this subject, this has easily been
    the best I’ve read up to now, thanks mate!

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