The Reality of Revelation & Religious Experience | Part 5

These are transcripts of lessons on “Reality of Revelation and Religious Experience” delivered by Shaykh Haider Hobbollah once a week in 2021.

Lesson 5 – May 15th, 2021

In this lesson we will begin discussing the views of the mystics regarding revelation. The fact of the matter is that their understanding of revelation is very complex and we can only explain it briefly here by giving an overall description of it.

The most important thing to understand regarding the view of the mystics is that they believe revelation is a phenomenon that can only be truly comprehended beyond the intellect, such that it cannot be explained or perceived clearly with the intellect, and by extension it is very difficult to explain it in any language. For this reason, the language of the mystics on revelation – or generally in other subjects as well – is often symbolic.

Secondly, the main source of knowledge for the mystics is their own personal mystical experiences and their knowledge of revelation is not an exception to this. True knowledge is an existential connection of the heart and soul with reality, which a mystic refers to as knowledge by presence,  and what Sayyid Ḥayder Āmulī (d. 1385) refers to it as al-‘ilm al-irthī, as opposed to al-‘ilm al-iktisābī.

Thirdly, mystical experiences themselves have two aspects: one is spiritual and one is epistemic. This is a key dichotomy that distinguishes some aspects of Christian mysticism with Islamic mysticism, as the former focus more on the former aspect. In Islamic mysticism, mystical experiences are not just experiences emerging from the purification of the soul and self-annihilation, rather they have truth value as well.

A Note on the Perfect Man and Mystical Sainthood

For the mystics, humans play a key role in the realm of existence, and the idea of the Perfect Man (al-insān al-kāmil) is crucial. The first scholar to have used this term – not the concept- was Ibn al-‘Arabī and it is closely tied with the concept of wilāyah which is very different from the idea of Wilāyah as understood in theology and jurisprudence.

When mystics talk about the Perfect Man, they are not talking about a mere righteous person, nor a historical event, or even a jurisprudential matter, rather it is an entity that plays a crucial role in how the cosmos works. The basis of their understanding is their claim that the linguistic meaning of walī is closeness and a walī is someone who is close to Allah (swt). When they speak about the different ranks of saints (awliyā’), they are referring to the different degrees of closeness each has to Allah (swt). The closest person existentially to Allah is the Perfect Man and has the greatest wilāyah.

Furthermore, since wilāyah is a gradational concept, the highest stage of this wilāyah is called fanā’ fīllah (annihilation in Allah), and it is here when a person becomes the Perfect Man. However, the mystics will say annihilation does not mean non-existence, rather it means the person has become heedless of his ‘self’, ‘humanness’, and the multiplicity of this realm. They are not able to see anything except Allah (swt). They exist and are seeing, but they see Allah (swt) in everything as Allah (swt) manifests Himself in everything.1

The Muhammadan Reality

Allah is the ultimate and absolute Walī, rather his Wilāyah is His very essence as there is no notion of distance between Him and existence. He has complete authority, power, and domination over existence. A mystic will say that most theologians and the laity think Allah controls the universe through mediums like angels, however for mystics and as well as Sadrian philosophers, the relation of Allah with creation is one where Allah is present everywhere, He is in everything, but not mixed with them, and He is outside of everything, but not with separation. This may sound contradictory, but this is one of the deepest ideas in mysticism and this is what mystics claim to have perceived.

The question now is, does anyone other than Allah also have absolute wilāyah? For mystics, when a person reaches the stage of the Perfect Man, the wilāyah they attain is not conventional, rather it is very real. Immediately after Allah, the next degree of existence is called the Muhammadan Reality which is the medium (wāṣiṭah) between Allah and the rest of the realms: the realms of matter, similitude, and the intellects. The Muhammadan Reality is the first emanation and manifestation of Allah. Note that the Muhammadan Reality is a reference for a degree of existence, not the person of Prophet Muhammad (p), even though the final Prophet (p) was at this degree of existence.

This Muhammadan Reality exists with Allah pre-eternally. However, if Prophet Muhammad (p) only came 14 centuries ago, and he reached the highest stage of the Muhammadan Reality, then what does it mean for the Muhammadan Reality to be pre-eternal? The mystics will say, Prophet Muhammad (p) was indeed the first creation and there are narrations that speak about how Allah (swt) created the light of the Prophet (p), from which he created the rest of creation. What we see in the human form of Prophet Muhammad (p) 14 centuries ago is the worldly human existence of the Prophet (p).

In the same vein, when Shi’i mystics say that the Prophet (p) and the 12 Imams are all one light, they don’t mean this metaphorically, rather they truly mean it and it is only in this material worldly realm that we see this light in its multiplicity and human form. It is based on this view that they interpret the verse of Mubāhalah in the way that they do, or the narrations on ashbāh, anwār, etc.2 If some scholars say these narrations are difficult to explain and interpret, the mystics will say these are not problematic at all, rather they are describing the very reality they speak of.

The Prophet and the Imams who are at the degree of the Muhamamd Reality are essentially mediums of grace (wāṣiṭah al-fayḍ), they are the medium through which God continues to bless and grace creation, and creation of all of us is dependent on the Muhammadan Reality. It is through this lens that they also interpret narrations that say if there was no ḥujjah the earth would collapse and destroy all its inhabitants.


With this overall description of how mystics understand Allah and His relation with creation and as well as the Muhammadan Reality, where does Prophethood fit in all this? What does Prophethood even mean here, let alone revelation? The concept of Prophethood and wilāyah is in fact one of the discussions for which mystics were accused of disbelief and were excommunicated. How the mystics explained Prophethood was by saying itis the apparent aspect of wilāyah and wilāyah is the bāṭin of Prophethood. Mullā Ṣadrā says, the Sharī‘ah is the apparent and Prophethood is its bāṭin, while Prophethood is the apparent and wilāyah is its bāṭin. Sayyid Ḥaydar Āmulī says the message (riṣāla) is the skin, its kernel is Prophethood, and its oil is wilāyah.

The verse of Prophet Ibrahim (p) where he is made an Imam is a crucial verse for the mystics because it shows Imamate is a higher station than Prophethood. Of course, the mystics and saints do not say they themselves are higher than Prophets, because the Prophets are all saints, they are all awliyā’. However, the dimension of wilāyah of the Prophets (p) is greater than the dimension of Prophethood of the Prophets (p) – this is what the mystics affirm.

Points of Similarities Between a Nabī and a Walī:

  • A Nabī and Walī both perceive supra-rational and divine realities – through presence.
  • Their knowledge is not through a medium or by acquirement (ḥuṣūlī).
  • They can perform supernatural acts, like miracles or karāmāt.

Points of Differences:

  • Legislative nubūwwah is finished, there is no new legislation. Even if the greatest walī were to come afterward, there would still not be any new legislation. All that is being said is that a Walī has the ability to perceive realities and become aware of them. Interestingly, the Shī’a get accused of this when it comes to the discussion of the Prophet and Imams (a), and they also generally respond in the same way. Wilāyah is a relationship with Allah (swt) and al-Ḥaqq, therefore it will never end, whereas nubūwwah is a relationship with creation and it can end.
  • The earth will never be void of a Walī – whether he is apparent or in occultation. Whereas it can be empty of a Prophet.
  • The status of a Walī is above a Nabī or a Rasūl. The wilāyah aspect of a Nabī is greater and of more importance than the aspect of their nubūwwah.
  • The status of wilāyah can be attained by both men and women, whereas nubūwwah is restricted to men. They have mentioned many examples of the former as well such as Lady Maryam (s) and Lady Fāṭima (s)

In the next lesson, we will expound on revelation and where it is located in this overall understanding of the mystics. If Prophet (p) had reached the Muhammadan Reality, then how does Gabriel bring revelation to the Prophet (p) given the angels are all under the Prophet? We will explain this and then mention a few observations that are applicable to both the Sadrian philosophers and as well as the mystics.


  1. For more details on this subject, please read: Mystical Sainthood and the Perfect Man – Al-Wilāyah al-‘Irfānīyyah wa al-Insān al-Kāmil.
  2. For a sample of some of these narrations, see the first 5 chapters of the Book of Belief and Disbelief of volume 2 of Uṣūl al-Kāfī.