The specific and general levels of guidance; they are ten levels:
The first level:Allah speaking directly to his conscious slave without an intermediary. This is the highest of levels, such as when Allah spoke directly to Musa bin `Imran (may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him and our Prophet). Allah Almighty said:
“And to Musa, Allah spoke directly.”[Al-Nisa’ 4:164]
The second level:The revelation, which is exclusively for the prophets. Allah Almighty said:
“Indeed, We have revealed to you, as We revealed to Nuh and the prophets after him.”[Al-Nisa’ 4:163]
“And it is not for any human being that Allah should speak to him except by revelation, or from behind a partition, or that He sends a messenger to reveal what He wills by His permission. Indeed, He is Most High and Wise.”[Al-Shura 42:51]
Thus He made revelation in this latter verse from among the categories of speaking, and in the former verse made it a subcategory of speaking, which is by both considerations; for it is a subcategory of the exclusive speaking which is without an intermediary, and a category of the general speaking which is to deliver the meaning through multiple ways. The linguistic meaning of revelation is to inform quickly yet quietly.
The third level:Allah sending the angelic messenger (Jibril) to the human messenger (the prophet). This angelic messenger may appear to the human messenger in human form, seeing him and conversing with him; or he may appear in his true original form upon which he was created; or he may enter the body of the human and reveal the message, then detach himself. All three occurred with our Prophet (peace be upon him).
These three aforementioned levels are exclusively for the prophets; no one else can attain them.
The fourth level:The level of Tahdith (being spoken to). It is a level after the level of exclusive revelation, and before the level of the Siddiqun (steadfast affirmers of truth), as it was for `Umar bin Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him), as the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “In the nations before you were those who used to be spoken to. If there was to be one in this nation it would be `Umar bin Khattab.” [Bukhari (3469)]
The Muhaddath (one who is spoken to) is he who gets spoken to within himself, in his heart, and then events unfold as he was told they would.
Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah said, “The Siddiq is more complete than the Muhaddath, because of the completeness of his Siddiqiyyah.”
The fifth level:The level of receiving understanding. Allah Almighty said:“And [mention] Dawud and Sulayman, when they gave judgment in the case of the field in which the sheep of certain people had pastured at night, and We were witness to their judgment. And We made Sulayman to understand [the case], and to each of them We gave right judgment and knowledge.” [Al-Anbiya’ 21:78-79]
Allah mentioned these two noble prophets and praised them with having qualities of knowledge and judgment, and specified Sulayman with having understanding in this particular case.
Also, `Ali bin Abi Talib was asked if the Messenger of Allah specified them with anything apart from others. He replied, “No, by He who splits the grain of corn and creates the soul. However, we have the ability of understanding, which Allah may endow a person with to understand His Book…” [Bukhari (3047)]
So understanding is a blessing from Allah that He bestows upon His servant and a light that He casts into his heart, by which he realizes and comprehends what others do not comprehend and realize, understanding from the text [of the Qur’an] what others do not understand, although they are at the same level as others in having memorized it and understanding its basic meaning. So receiving understanding from Allah and His Messenger is the symbol of Siddiqiyyah and prism of Prophetic mandate, wherein the ranks of the scholars vary such that a thousand can be counted in one.
The sixth level:The level of general clarification. It is for the truth to be clear and distinct from falsehood through its proofs, evidences and signs, such that it becomes witnessed by the heart like the eyes witness things they see. This level is Allah’s evidence upon His creation by which He does not punish nor misguide anyone except after it has reached them.
It is attained by two things: Ayat (verses) that are recited and heard, and Ayat (signs) that are seen and witnessed.
The seventh level:The level of exclusive clarification. It is the clarification that necessitates exclusive guidance, which is clarification that is accompanied by divine help, guidance and selection, and preventing the means of betrayal from the heart, such that guidance never parts him.
The eighth level:The level of being made to hear. Allah Almighty said:
“Had Allah known any good in them, He would have made them hear. And if He had made them hear, they would still have turned away, while refusing.”[Al-Anfal 8:23]
This kind of hearing is more exclusive than the hearing by which proof and conveyance [of the message] is established, for that was already attained by them and by which the evidence was established against them. However, that was the hearing of the ears, while this is the hearing of the hearts.
The ninth level:The level of receiving inspiration. Allah Almighty said:
“And by the soul and He who proportioned it; and inspired it [with discernment of] its wickedness and its righteousness.”[Al-Shams 91:7-8]
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said to Husayn bin Mundhir al-Khuza`i when he embraced Islam, “Say: O Allah inspire in me guidance, and save me from the evil of my soul.” [Ahmad (19940)]
This inspiration is general for the believers according to the level of their Iman, for Allah has inspired guidance in every believer which enabled him to acquire Iman.
The tenth level:The level of the true dream, which is one of the parts of prophethood, as has been authentically narrated that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “The true dream is one of the forty-six parts of prophethood.” [Bukhari (6989)]
Regarding the reason for this particular number mentioned, it has been said that the first stage of the revelation [to the Prophet] was the true dream, which lasted for half a year. Then it moved on to revelation in a wakeful conscious state for a period of twenty-three years, from the time he was sent as a messenger until he passed away (may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him). So the ratio for the period of the revelation in the dream state from that [total period of revelation] is one to forty-six.
[Abridged from Madarij al-Salikin, Ibn al-Qayyim (1/37-50)]