How divine revelations are sent to humankind is very clearly elucidated in the Qur’an, and is in stark contrast to the idea of “inspiration.” It begins with the powerful and very physical “sending down,” which is only through the archangel Jibreel (Gabriel), who is also described as “shadeed al-quwa,” meaning “possessing very strong/great powers.” The human recipient of the revelation is always and only a prophet, chosen by Allah, who has certain recognizable characteristics which set him apart from most others.
The prophet must undergo a period of purification in preparation for the huge, physical event of receiving the message. During that period, he separates himself from his community in some way. Then communication is established between the prophet and the archangel Jibreel, during which time the message is given to the prophet, all at once, as was the case with prophet Moosa (Moses), or over time, as was the case with prophet Mohammad. During the period of “prophecy,” which is often the remainder of the prophet’s life, Jibreel supports the prophet with communications from Allah, to assist him in his task, which is usually described as “warning” and “giving good news” to his community regarding the Hereafter and the consequences of their actions. The difference between prophet Mohammad and the previous prophets is that his “community” is designated as not only the Quraish he lived among, but all people.
The “communications” between Jibreel and a prophet are referred to in the Qur’an using the term “yuHa” and Jibreel sometimes referred to as “waHee” which is usually translated as “inspiration” and Jibreel then would be “giver of inspiration,” although that term hasn’t been used. Jibreel himself is referred to in the Qur’an as “al-Ruhh” which is usually translated as “spirit” or sometimes “inspiration.” The word “Spirit” can be used for “al-Ruhh,” but the word “inspiration” eliminates the sense of the archangel Jibreel being an actual being in the same sense that we are actual beings, although vastly different, so that usage is totally inappropriate. The use of “inspiration” to convey the meaning of “yuHa” is also problematic. The word “yuHa” can refer to any transfer of an idea or words to another, often to his heart or mind, through possibly non-verbal means, and is even used to describe satan’s influence on a person, or the influence of one person on another. In that sense it could be “inspiration,” but as a form of communication. Its specific usage also determines the implied meaning, so one must bear in mind the possible misconceptions that could occur with the English word, as with any word in translation.
“Inspiration” as a loosely defined method of bringing “holy books” to mankind implies that divine revelation occurs in a way comparable to the “inspiration” of artists, poets, performers, musicians and composers, inventors, statesmen, theorists, bloggers, people making pronouncements of any kind, comedians, interior decorators, suicide bombers, dancers, palmists and in short virtually anyone who does anything s/he was “inspired” to do. “Inspiration” is an internal “feeling” on the part of a person, which s/he then attributes to whatever s/he wants, be it God or a goddess, the ever-amorphous “from above,” or another person or, perhaps, a dog. So it can never refer to the archangel Jibreel, and does not also encompass the “sending down” of revelations. Only the sense of “spirit” as the root of “inspiration” can possibly give a sense of the method of communication between Jibreel and the prophet.
The Qur’an itself is frequently described as being “sent down” through a physical event of unimaginable power, as are the other books or revelations from Allah.
Surat Al-Nahl (The Bee) 16:2
يُنَزِّلُ الْمَلَائِكَةَ بِالرُّوحِ مِنْ أَمْرِهِ عَلَىٰ مَن يَشَاءُ مِنْ عِبَادِهِ أَنْ أَنذِرُوا أَنَّهُ لَا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا أَنَا فَاتَّقُونِ
He sends down the angels with the Spirit (Jibreel) by His command upon whom He wishes of His servants, saying: “Give the warning that there is no god but I, so fear Me.”
Surat Ghafir 40:15
Raised high above all ranks, the Lord of the Throne: by his command He sends the Spirit to any of His servants He wills that he may warn of the Day of Summoning― (15)
سُوۡرَةُ المؤمن / غَافر
رَفِيعُ ٱلدَّرَجَـٰتِ ذُو ٱلۡعَرۡشِ يُلۡقِى ٱلرُّوحَ مِنۡ أَمۡرِهِۦ عَلَىٰ مَن يَشَآءُ مِنۡ عِبَادِهِۦ لِيُنذِرَ يَوۡمَ ٱلتَّلَاقِ (١٥)
رَفِيعُ الدَّرَجَاتِ ذُو الْعَرْشِ يُلْقِي الرُّوحَ مِنْ أَمْرِهِ عَلَىٰ مَن يَشَاءُ مِنْ عِبَادِهِ لِيُنذِرَ يَوْمَ التَّلَاقِ
As we said, there are specific protocols for tanzeel or “sending down” a book or revelation from Allah. To give the sense of the physicality of the event, read the well-known Sura, Surat Al-Qadr, relating how the Qur’an was sent.
Surat Al-Qadr (97:1)
For we have sent it down in the Night of Decree (or empowerment).
إِنَّا أَنزَلْنَاهُ فِي لَيْلَةِ الْقَدْرِ
And do you realize what is the Night of Decree?
وَمَا أَدْرَاكَ مَا لَيْلَةُ الْقَدْرِ
The Night of Decree is better than one thousand months.
لَيْلَةُ الْقَدْرِ خَيْرٌ مِّنْ أَلْفِ شَهْرٍ
The angels and the Spirit come down in it with the permission of their Lord to carry out every matter.
تَنَزَّلُ الْمَلَائِكَةُ وَالرُّوحُ فِيهَا بِإِذْنِ رَبِّهِم مِّن كُلِّ أَمْرٍ
It is filled with peace until the break of dawn.
سَلَامٌ هِيَ حَتَّىٰ مَطْلَعِ الْفَجْرِ
Reading the Sura above in its entirety tells us something of the sheer physicality of the “sending down” event. It occurs on a special night, the archangel Jibreel is accompanied by angels, the night is unusual in that it is full of peace, which also means security. Nothing interferes with the moment, the sacredness, of this event. It is then a protected night, connecting the Almighty Allah and His words with the prophet who represents humankind, and this connection is through a powerful delegation of angels and Jibreel. Note that it is sent down in a “night,” the time when our attention is turned from our daily life and its issues to the whole cosmos and its greater meanings, and a sense of the glory and majesty of its Creator.
The prophet’s role was always fraught with danger and usually very unpopular. Note the term “holy Spirit” which is a literal translation of “Ruhh al-qudus”, and which refers only to the archangel Jibreel. The expression “Holy Spirit” may have derived from this reference to Jibreel, and later “theologians” turned this into the blasphemous doctrine which falsely claims the “Holy Spirit” is “part” of God the Almighty. Is God to them divisible? But that’s another subject. Suffice it to say that this is total blasphemy.
Surat Al-Baqara 2:87
And We gave Moses the Book, and after him We sent the messengers. And We gave Aissa (Jesus), son of Maryam, the clear proofs, and We supported him with the holy Spirit. Is it that every time a messenger comes to you with what your souls do not desire, you become arrogant? Some of them you deny, and some of them you kill. (87)
وَلَقَدۡ ءَاتَيۡنَا مُوسَى ٱلۡكِتَـٰبَ وَقَفَّيۡنَا مِنۢ بَعۡدِهِۦ بِٱلرُّسُلِۖ وَءَاتَيۡنَا عِيسَى ٱبۡنَ مَرۡيَمَ ٱلۡبَيِّنَـٰتِ وَأَيَّدۡنَـٰهُ بِرُوحِ ٱلۡقُدُسِۗ أَفَكُلَّمَا جَآءَكُمۡ رَسُولُۢ بِمَا لَا تَہۡوَىٰٓ أَنفُسُكُمُ ٱسۡتَكۡبَرۡتُمۡ فَفَرِيقً۬ا كَذَّبۡتُمۡ وَفَرِيقً۬ا تَقۡتُلُونَ (٨٧)
The fact that some of the prophets were killed by their own communities is mentioned elsewhere in the Qur’an, as is the fact that all of them were ridiculed as well and accused of lying or trying to destroy their communities.
One of these communities, Bani Isra’eel or “the descendants of Yaqub (Jacob, who was also called Israel),” and perhaps others as well, even castigated the archangel Jibreel and asked the message to be sent by someone else! They blamed Jibreel for what they didn’t like in the message Allah sent them, and said he was their enemy. So Allah condemned them, and confirmed that Jibreel is the only messenger who delivers the revelations of the Almighty to the prophets.
Surat Al-Baqara (2:97-8)
قُلْ مَن كَانَ عَدُوًّا لِّجِبْرِيلَ فَإِنَّهُ نَزَّلَهُ عَلَىٰ قَلْبِكَ بِإِذْنِ اللَّهِ مُصَدِّقًا لِّمَا بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ وَهُدًى وَبُشْرَىٰ لِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ
Say: “Whoever is an enemy to Jibreel, then know that he has sent it down into your heart with the authority of Allah, authenticating that which is before it, and a guide and good news for the believers.” (97)
مَن كَانَ عَدُوًّا لِّلَّهِ وَمَلَائِكَتِهِ وَرُسُلِهِ وَجِبْرِيلَ وَمِيكَالَ فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ عَدُوٌّ لِّلْكَافِرِينَ
Say: “Whoever is an enemy to Allah and His angels, and His messengers, and Jibreel, and Mikaeel (Michael, one of the archangels), then so Allah is the enemy to the disbelievers.” (98)
People in prophet Mohammad’s community were also unclear as to the idea of Jibreel as a Spirit, and the way divine revelations were sent.
وَيَسْأَلُونَكَ عَنِ الرُّوحِ قُلِ الرُّوحُ مِنْ أَمْرِ رَبِّي وَمَا أُوتِيتُم مِّنَ الْعِلْمِ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا
And they ask you about the Spirit (Jibreel). Say: “The Spirit is from the command of my Lord, and you are not given any knowledge but a little.”
Surat al-Isra’ 17:105
And it is with the truth that We have sent it down, and with the truth it came down. And We have not sent you except as a bearer of good news and a warner.
وَبِالْحَقِّ أَنزَلْنَاهُ وَبِالْحَقِّ نَزَلَ وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَاكَ إِلَّا مُبَشِّرًا وَنَذِيرًا
Surat al-Isra’ 17:106
And a Qur’an that We have divided (into parts), so that you may read it to the people over time; and We have brought it down physically (could also imply over time).
وَقُرْآنًا فَرَقْنَاهُ لِتَقْرَأَهُ عَلَى النَّاسِ عَلَىٰ مُكْثٍ وَنَزَّلْنَاهُ تَنزِيلًا
Surat al-Isra’ 17:107
Say: “Believe in it or do not believe in it — those who have been given the knowledge before it, when it is recited to them, they fall to their chins prostrating.”
قُلْ آمِنُوا بِهِ أَوْ لَا تُؤْمِنُوا إِنَّ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْعِلْمَ مِن قَبْلِهِ إِذَا يُتْلَىٰ عَلَيْهِمْ يَخِرُّونَ لِلْأَذْقَانِ سُجَّدًا
These ayat from Surat Al-Isra’ (17) show that the revelations are truth and sent down “in truth,” which also means in reality (not simply “coming to the mind” of a prophet, but being sent with the protocols delineated above). Even in those days people tended to think and assert that prophet Mohammad “wrote” the Qur’an, an idea totally refuted and condemned by the Qur’an in many ayat, and a false idea and misconception that the word “inspiration” tends to support.
Once one follows through with this erroneous expression, it leads to a denigration of the divine revelation itself in the mind of the person holding this idea, because it then becomes less clear and unequivocal that this message is in fact undeniably from the Almighty. After all, anyone can be “inspired!” And who knows what that means?? But knowing the specific protocols and physical reality of “sending down” supports and authenticates the sacred text, and hence we can be sure of our clear understanding that this book, in this case the Qur’an, is only from Allah, and can be taken as truth.
So it is the natural consequence that upon hearing and understanding this Book, “those who know” fall to the ground in prostration, a physical expression of their recognition of truth.
Because if one really understands the import of this fact that here is the truth, one will surely be moved to surrender oneself to the One who sent this Qur’an, overwhelmed with the enormity of it, and of the overwhelming and fulfilling presence of the Almighty, Al-Rahman, Allah.