In the Cave of Hira’
When Prophet Muhammad [pbuh] was nearly forty, he had been wont to pass long hours in retirement meditating and speculating over all aspects of creation around him. This meditative temperament helped to widen the mental gap between him and his compatriots. He used to provide himself with Sawiq (barley porridge) and water and then directly head for the hills and ravines in the neighborhood of Makkah. One of these in particular was his favorite resort — a cave named Hira’, in the Mount An-Nour. It was only two miles from Makkah, a small cave 4 yards long and 1.75 yard wide. He would always go there and invite wayfarers to share him his modest provision. He used to devote most of his time, and Ramadan in particular, to worship and meditation on the universe around him. His heart was restless about the moral evils and idolatry that were rampant among his people; he was as yet helpless because no definite course, or specific approach had been available for him to follow and rectify the ill practices around him. This solitude attended with this sort of contemplative approach must be understood in its Divine perspective. It was a preliminary stage to the period of grave responsibilities that he was to shoulder very soon. [Rahmat Al-lil’alameen 1/47; Ibn Hisham 1/235,236; Fi Zilal Al-Qur’an 29/166]
Privacy and detachment from the impurities of life were two indispensable prerequisites for the Prophet’s soul to come into close communion with the Unseen Power that lies behind all aspects of existence in this infinite universe. It was a rich period of privacy which lasted for three years and ushered in a new era, of indissoluble contact with that Power. [Fi Zilal Al-Qur’an 29/166,167]
Gabriel brings down the Revelation
When he was forty, the age of complete perfection at which Prophets were always ordered to disclose their Message, signs of his Prophethood started to appear and twinkle on the horizons of life; they were the true visions he used to experience for six months. The period of Prophethood was 23 years; so the period of these six months of true visions constituted an integral part of the forty-six parts of Prophethood. In Ramadan, in his third year of solitude in the cave of Hira’, Allâh’s Will desired His mercy to flow on earth and Muhammad [pbuh] was honored with Prophet hood, and the light of Revelation burst upon him with some verses of the Noble Qur’ân. [Fath Al-Bari 1/27]
As for the exact date, careful investigation into circumstantial evidence and relevant clues point directly to Monday, 21st. Ramadan at night, i.e. August, 10, 610 A.D. with Prophet Muhammad [pbuh] exactly 40 years, 6 months and 12 days of age, i.e. 39 Gregorian years, 3 months and 22 days. [There is some contrast between scholars about the fixed day on which the Revelation started, but I have written here what seems to be the correct one. For detail please see Sahih Muslim, Musnad Ahmed, Rahmat Al-lil’alameen, Al-Hakim, and Al-Baihaqi, etc.]
‘Aishah, the veracious, gave the following narration of that most significant event that brought the Divine light which would dispel the darkness of disbelief and ignorance. It led life down a new course and brought about the most serious amendment to the line of the history of mankind:
Forerunners of the Revelation assumed the form of true visions that would strikingly come true all the time. After that, solitude became dear to him and he would go to the cave, Hira’, to engage in Tahannuth (devotion) there for a certain number of nights before returning to his family, and then he would return for provisions for a similar stay. At length, unexpectedly, the Truth (the angel) came to him and said, “Recite.” “I cannot recite,” he (Muhammad [pbuh]) said. The Prophet [pbuh] described: “Then he took me and squeezed me vehemently and then let me go and repeated the order ‘Recite.’ ‘I cannot recite’ said I, and once again he squeezed me and let me till I was exhausted. Then he said: ‘Recite.’ I said ‘I cannot recite.’ He squeezed me for a third time and then let me go and said:
“Read! In the Name of your Lord, Who has created (all that exists), has created man from a clot (a piece of thick coagulated blood). Read! and your Lord is the Most Generous.’” [Surah Iqra 96:1-3]
The Prophet [pbuh] repeated these verses. He was trembling with fear. At this stage, he came back to his wife Khadijah, and said, “Cover me, … cover me.” They covered him until he restored security. He apprised Khadijah of the incident of the cave and added that he was horrified. His wife tried to soothe him and reassured him saying, “Allâh will never disgrace you. You unite uterine relations; you bear the burden of the weak; you help the poor and the needy, you entertain the guests and endure hardships in the path of truthfulness.”
She set out with the Prophet [pbuh] to her cousin Waraqa bin Nawfal bin Asad bin ‘Abd Al-‘Uzza, who had embraced Christianity in the pre-Islamic period, and used to write the Bible in Hebrew. He was a blind old man. Khadijah said: “My cousin! Listen to your nephew!” Waraqa said: “O my nephew! What did you see?” The Messenger of Allâh [pbuh] told him what had happened to him. Waraqa replied: “This is ‘Namus’ i.e. (the angel who is entrusted with Divine Secrets) that Allâh sent to Moses. I wish I were younger. I wish I could live up to the time when your people would turn you out.” Muhammad [pbuh] asked: “Will they drive me out?” Waraqa answered in the affirmative and said: “Anyone who came with something similar to what you have brought was treated with hostility; and if I should be alive till that day, then I would support you strongly.” A few days later Waraqa died and the revelation also subsided. [Bukhari 1/2,3]
At-Tabari and Ibn Hisham reported that the Messenger of Allâh [pbuh] left the cave of Hira’ after being surprised by the Revelation, but later on, returned to the cave and continued his solitude. Afterwards, he came back to Makkah. At-Tabari reported on this incident, saying:
After mentioning the coming of the Revelation, the Messenger of Allâh [pbuh] said: “I have never abhorred anyone more than a poet or a mad man. I can not stand looking at either of them. I will never tell anyone of Quraish of my Revelation. I will climb a mountain and throw myself down and die. That will relieve me. I went to do that but halfway up the mountain, I heard a voice from the sky saying ‘O Muhammad! You are the Messenger of Allâh [pbuh] and I am Gabriel.’ I looked upwards and saw Gabriel in the form of a man putting his legs on the horizon. He said: ‘O Muhammad You are the Messenger of Allâh [pbuh] and I am Gabriel.’ I stopped and looked at him. His sight distracted my attention from what I had intended to do. I stood in my place transfixed. I tried to shift my eyes away from him. He was in every direction I looked at. I stopped in my place without any movement until Khadijah sent someone to look for me. He went down to Makkah and came back while I was standing in the same place. Gabriel then left, and I went back home. I found Khadijah at home, so I sat very close to her. She asked: ‘Father of Al-Qasim! Where have you been? I sent someone to look for you. He went to Makkah and returned to me.’ I told her of what I had seen. She replied: ‘It is a propitious sign, O my husband. Pull yourself together, I swear by Allâh that you are a Messenger for this nation.’ Then she stood up and went to Waraqa and informed him. Waraqa said: ‘I swear by Allâh that he has received the same Namus, i.e. angel that was sent to Moses. He is the Prophet of this nation. Tell him to be patient.’ She came back to him and told him of Waraqa’s words. When the Messenger of Allâh [pbuh] finished his solitary stay and went down to Makkah, he went to Waraqa, who told him: ‘You are the Prophet of this nation. I swear by Allâh that you have received the same angel that was sent to Moses.’” [At-Tabari 2/207; Ibn Hisham 1/237,238]
Interruption of Revelation
Ibn Sa‘d reported on the authority of Ibn ‘Abbas that the Revelation paused for a few days.[Fath Al-Bari 1/27,12/360] After careful study, this seems to be the most possible. To say that it lasted for three and a half years, as some scholars allege, is not correct, but here there is no room to go into more details.
Meanwhile, the Prophet [pbuh], was caught in a sort of depression coupled with astonishment and perplexity. Al-Bukhari reported:
The Divine inspiration paused for a while and the Prophet [pbuh] became so sad, as we have heard, that he intended several times to throw himself from the tops of high mountains, and every time he went up the top of a mountain in order to throw himself down, Gabriel would appear before him and say: “O Muhammad! You are indeed Allâh’s Messenger in truth,” whereupon his heart would become quiet and he would calm down and return home. Whenever the period of the coming of the Revelation used to become long, he would do as before, but Gabriel would appear again before him and say to him what he had said before. [Bukhari 2/340]
Once more, Gabriel brings Allâh’s Revelation
Ibn Hajar said: ‘That (the pause of Allâh’s revelation for a few days) was to relieve the Messenger of Allâh [pbuh] of the fear he experienced and to make him long for the Revelation. When the shades of puzzle receded, the flags of truth were raised, the Messenger of Allâh [pbuh] knew for sure that he had become the Messenger of the Great Lord. He was also certain that what had come to him was no more than the ambassador of inspiration. His waiting and longing for the coming of the revelation constituted a good reason for his steadfastness and self-possession on the arrival of Allâh’s inspiration, Al-Bukhari reported on the authority of Jabir bin ‘Abdullah that he had heard the Messenger of Allâh [pbuh] speak about the period of pause as follows:
“While I was walking, I heard a voice from the sky. I looked up, and surely enough, it was the same angel who had visited me in the cave of Hira’. He was sitting on a chair between the earth and the sky. I was very afraid of him and knelt on the ground. I went home saying: ‘Cover me …, Cover me …’. Allâh revealed to me the verses:
‘O you (Muhammad [pbuh]) enveloped (in garments)! Arise and warn! And your Lord (Allâh) magnify! And your garments purify! And keep away from Ar-Rujz (the idols)!’” [Al-Qur’an 74:1-5]
After that the revelation started coming strongly, frequently and regularly. [Bukhari, The Book of Tafseer, 2/733]
Some details pertinent to the successive stages of Revelation
Before we go into the details of the period of communicating the Message and Prophethood, we would like to get acquainted with the stages of the Revelation which constituted the main source of the Message and the subject-matter of the Call. Ibn Al-Qayyim, mentioning the stages of the Revelation, said:
The First: The period of true vision. It was the starting point of the Revelation to the Messenger of Allâh [pbuh].
The Second: What the angel invisibly cast in the Prophet’s mind and heart. The Messenger of Allâh [pbuh] said: “The Noble Spirit revealed to me ‘No soul will perish until it exhausts its due course, so fear Allâh and gently request Him. Never get so impatient to the verge of disobedience of Allâh. What Allâh has can never be acquired but through obedience to Him.’”
The Third: The angel used to visit the Messenger of Allâh [pbuh] in the form of a human being and would speak to him directly. This would enable him to fully understand what the angel said. The angel was sometimes seen in this form by the Prophet’s Companions.
The Fourth: The angel came to him like the toll of a bell and this was the most difficult form because the angel used to seize him tightly and sweat would stream from his forehead even on the coldest day. If the Prophet [pbuh] was on his camel, the camel would not withstand the weight, so it would immediately kneel down on the ground. Once the Messenger of Allâh [pbuh] had such a revelation when he was sitting and his thigh was on Zaid’s, Zaid felt the pressure had almost injured his thigh.
The Fifth: The Prophet [pbuh] saw the angel in his actual form. The angel would reveal to him what Allâh had ordered him to reveal. This, as mentioned in (Qur’ân), in Sûrah An-Najm (Chapter 53 – The Star), happened twice.
The Sixth: What Allâh Himself revealed to him in heaven i.e. when he ascended to heaven and received Allâh’s behest of Salât (prayer).
The Seventh: Allâh’s Words to His Messenger [pbuh] at first hand without the mediation of an angel. It was a privilege granted to Moses (Pbuh) and clearly attested in the Qur’ân, as it is attested to our Prophet [pbuh] in the Sûrah Al-Isrâ’ (Chapter 17 – The Journey by Night) of the Noble Qur’ân.
Some religious scholars added a controversial eighth stage in which they state that Allâh spoke to the Prophet [pbuh] directly without a curtain in between. This issue remains however unconfirmed. [Za’d Al-Ma’ad 1/18]
Proclaiming Allâh, the All-High; and the Immediate Constituents
The first Revelation sent to the Prophet [pbuh] implied several injunctions, simple in form but highly effective and of serious far-reaching ramifications. The angel communicated to him a manifest Message saying:
“O you (Muhammad [pbuh]) enveloped (in garments)! Arise and warn! And your Lord (Allâh) magnify! And your garments purify! And keep away from Ar-Rujz (the idols). And give not a thing in order to have more (or consider not your deeds of Allâh’s obedience as a favour to Allâh). And be patient for the sake of your Lord (i.e. perform your duty to Allâh)!” [Surah Muddathir 74:1-7]
For convenience and ease of understanding, we are going to segment the Message into its immediate constituents:
1. The ultimate objective of warning is to make sure that no one breaching the pleasures of Allâh in the whole universe is ignorant of the serious consequences that his behaviour entails, and to create a sort of unprecedented shock within his mind and heart.
2. ‘Magnifying the Lord’ dictates explicitly that the only pride allowed to nourish on the earth is exclusively Allâh’s to the exclusion of all the others’.
3. ‘Cleansing the garments and shunning all aspects of abomination’ point directly to the indispensable need to render both the exterior and interior exceptionally chaste and pure, in addition to the prerequisite of sanctifying the soul and establishing it highly immune against the different sorts of impurities and the various kinds of pollutants. Only through this avenue can the soul of the Prophet [pbuh] reach an ideal status and become eligible to enjoy the shady mercy of Allâh and His protection, security, guidance and ever-shining light; and will consequently set the highest example to the human community, attract the sound hearts and inspire awe and reverence in the stray ones in such a manner that all the world, in agreement or disagreement, will head for it and take it as the rock-bed in all facets of their welfare.
4. The Prophet [pbuh] must not regard his strife in the way of Allâh as a deed of grace that entitles him to a great reward. On the contrary, he has to exert himself to the utmost, dedicate his whole efforts and be ready to offer all sacrifices in a spirit of self-forgetfulness enveloped by an ever-present awareness of Allâh, without the least sense of pride in his deeds or sacrifices.
5. The last verse of the Qur’ân revealed to the Prophet [pbuh] alludes to the hostile attitude of the obdurate disbelievers, who will jeer at him and his followers. They are expected to disparage him and step up their malice to the point of scheming against his life and lives of all the believers around him. In this case he has got to be patient and is supposed to persevere and display the highest degree of stamina for the sole purpose of attaining the pleasure of Allâh.
These were the basic preliminaries that the Prophet [pbuh] had to observe, very simple injunctions in appearance, greatly fascinating in their calm rhythm, but highly effective in practice. They constituted the trigger that aroused a far-ranging tempest in all the corners of the world.
The verses comprise the constituents of the new call and propagation of the new faith. A warning logically implies that there are malpractices with painful consequences to be sustained by the perpetrators, and since the present life is not necessarily the only room to bring people to account for their misdeeds or some of them, then the warning would necessarily imply calling people to account on another day, i.e. the Day of Resurrection, and this per se suggests the existence of a life other than this one we are living. All the verses of the Noble Qur’ân call people to testify explicitly to the Oneness of Allâh, to delegate all their affairs to Allâh, the All-High, and to subordinate the desires of the self and the desires of Allâh’s servants to the attainment of His Pleasures.
The constituents of the call to Islam could, briefly speaking, go as follows:
1. Testimony to the Oneness of Allâh.
2. Belief in the Hereafter.
3. Sanctifying one’s soul and elevating it high above evils and abominations that conduce to terrible consequences, besides this, there is the dire need for virtues and perfect manners coupled with habituating oneself to righteous deeds.
4. Committing one’s all affairs to Allâh, the All-High.
5. All the foregoing should run as a natural corollary to unwavering belief in Muhammad’s Message, and abidance by his noble leadership and righteous guidance.
The verses have been prefaced, in the voice of the Most High, by a heavenly call mandating the Prophet [pbuh] to undertake this daunting responsibility (calling people unto Allâh). The verses meant to extract him forcibly out of his sleep, divest him of his mantle and detach him from the warmth and quiet of life, and then drive him down a new course attended with countless hardships, and requiring a great deal of strife in the way of Allâh:
“O you (Muhammad [pbuh]) enveloped (in garments)! Arise and warn.” [Surah Muddathir 74:1-2]
Suggesting that to live to oneself is quite easy, but it has been decided that you have to shoulder this heavy burden; consequently sleep, comfort, or warm bed are items decreed to be alien in your lexicon of life. O Muhammad, arise quickly for the strife and toil awaiting you; no time is there for sleep and such amenities; grave responsibilities have been Divinely determined to fall to your lot, and drive you into the turmoil of life to develop a new sort of precarious affinity with the conscience of people and the reality of life.
The Prophet [pbuh] managed quite successfully to rise to his feet and measure up to the new task, he went ahead in a spirit of complete selflessness, relentlessly striving and never abating in carrying the burden of the great Trust, the burden of enlightening mankind, and the heavy weight of the new faith and strife for over twenty years, nothing distracting his attention from the awesome commission. May Allâh reward him, for us and all humanity, the best ending. The following research at hand gives an account in miniature of his long strive and uninterrupted struggle he made after receiving the ministry of Messengership. [Fi Zilal Al-Qur’an 29/168-171,182]
[Source: “Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum” by Saifur Rahman al-Mubarakpuri]
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