Towards Understanding the Mechanics of Revelation
Preliminary observation: There are numerous methods one may adopt to understand the Qur’an. The commentators of the Qur’an unanimously agree that the foremost appropriate method to interpret the Qur’an is by the Qur’an itself. This is known in Qur’anic terminology as ‘Tafseerul Qur’an bil Qur’an’.(Commentary of the Qur’an via Qur’anic text). In the study of revelation, this methodology is confirmation of the consistency located within the Qur’an.
Section 1: Study of Revelation
The Qur’anic definition for revelation is derived from the following verse:
وَمَا كَانَ لِبَشَرٍ أَن يُكَلِّمَهُ ٱللَّهُ إِلاَّ وَحْياً أَوْ مِن وَرَآءِ حِجَابٍ أَوْ يُرْسِلَ رَسُولاً فَيُوحِيَ بِإِذْنِهِ مَا يَشَآءُ إِنَّهُ عَلِيٌّ حَكِيمٌ
“It is not given to any human being that Allah should speak to him unless (it be) by Inspiration, or from behind a veil, or (that) He sends a Messenger to reveal what He wills by His Leave. Verily, He is Most High, Most Wise.
This verse clearly indicates that Allah Ta Aala communicates with his Prophets in 3 ways:-
- Inspiration (Wahy)
- Behind a Veil
- Via the Mediation of a sent Messenger (Jibreel)
Inspiration: – Refers to revelation unto the heart through “Wahyul Qalb” (inspiration unto the heart). In this form of communication between Allah Ta Aala and His Prophets, NO words are spoken. Allah Ta Aala inspires his Prophets and strengthens their resolve by placing “Ilmul Yaqeen” (Definite Knowledge) directly into the heart of that Prophet to ensure that His Messenger is free from doubt.
This method of revelation is apparent in the narrative of Prophet Abraham u and his son Ishmael u
“And when (Abraham’s son) reached (the age of serious) work with him, he said, ‘O my son! I see thee in a dream, that I must sacrifice thee…”
Behind a veil: – In this form of communication, words are exchanged, but only a voice is heard. Allah U remains veiled. A prime example of this is located in the story of Moosa u
“I have chosen thee (Moosa). Listen then, to the inspiration.” 
Via the Mediation of a sent Messenger:- in this form of communication Allah Y reveals his message unto the Angel (Jibreel u) who then brings down that message Prophets.
In order to understand this third category in the subject of revelation, it will be incomplete until we ask ourselves a very important question:
How does Allah communicate with His Angels???
He engages them with direct speech as seen in the following verse of the Qur’an:
“And when your Lord said unto the angels: Lo! I am about to place a viceroy in the earth, they said: Will You place therein one who will do harm therein and will shed blood, while we, hymn Your praise and sanctify You? He said: Surely I know that which ye know not.” 
The above verse fulfills the necessary requirements for a dialogue. Allah U speaks. His words are heard by the Angels (In whatever way it is conveyed) who not only listen, but also understand. Thereafter they respond to Allah Almighty.
Giving a more descriptive view on the exchanges by Allah Y and His Angels, Hadhrath Nawaas bin Sam’aan t explains that Rasoolullah r has stated: “When Allah wishes to reveal something He speaks the revelation. The Heavens begin to tremble from the fear of Allah. When the dwellers of the Heavens hear this, they fall in prostration to Allah and fall unconscious. The first to raise his head is Jibreel.” 
Thereafter Jibreel u takes the message to the rest of the angels or to the Messengers of Allah. The above verse and hadith shows that the Angels hear the message and command of Allah and have the ability to respond.
In what form or feature did Jibreel u come to the Prophet r?
Careful analysis of the verses and hadith in relation to the subject of revelation prove that Jibreel u came to the Prophet in 3 forms.
- In his true angelic form.
- In the form of a human being.
- There is no need for any required reference for this as it is logical.
The Messenger of Allah U said: ‘I saw Jibreel while he had six hundred wings and a colorful array of pearls and rubies falling from the feathers of his wings.”
In the form of a human being:
Describing his experience at the time of revelation, Sayyidah Ayeshah t narrates;
“Al-Harith bin Hisham asked Allah’s Apostle “O Allah’s Apostle! How is the Divine Inspiration revealed to you?” Allah’s Apostle replied, “Sometimes it is (revealed) like the ringing of a bell, this form of Inspiration is the hardest of all and then this state passes off after I have grasped what is inspired. Sometimes the Angel comes in the form of a man and talks to me and I grasp whatever he says.” ‘Aisha added: Verily I saw the Prophet being inspired divinely on a very cold day and noticed the sweat dropping from his forehead (as the Inspiration was over). 
Point of interest: there are numerous ahaadeeth which explain that Jibreel u came to the Prophet r in the form of a man. It is also recorded that Jibreel would sometimes take on the form of a very prominent sahabi (companion), Hadhrath Dihyah Al-Kalbi. 
Education & Publications Department
Islamic Lifestyle Solutions
 Surah Shoora, 42:51
 Surah Saaffaat, 37:102
 Surah Taahaa 9:11-14 for more detail.
 Surah Baqarah, 2:30
 Tabrani, Bayhaqi, Baghawi,Asbahani, Ibn Jareer Tabri, Ibn Khuzaymah, Ibn Katheer (from various chains)
 Tafseer Ibn Kathir
 Sahih Bukhari, Book of Revelation, Hadith no.2
 Siyaru A’laamin Nubala with reference to Ibn Sa’d.