In the Cave of Hira
When Prophet Muhammad (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was nearly forty, he was accustomed to passing long hours in seclusion, meditating and reflecting over all aspects of creation around him. This meditative temperament served to widen the mental gap between him and his compatriots. He used to provide himself with Saweeq (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 retreat — a cave named Hira’, in the Mount An-Noor. It was only two miles from Makkah, a small cave four arm-length long and 1.75 arm-length wide. He would always go there and feed any poor people who came to him. He used to devote most of his time, and Ramadan in particular, to worship and meditate on the universe around him. His heart was restless about the moral evils and idolatry that were widespread among his people. However, he was helpless because he had not been guided to any definite course of action to follow and clear away the ill practices existing around him. Seclusion coupled with this sort of reflective 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.
Privacy and separation from the impurities of worldly life were two indispensable prerequisites for him to meet what Allah had in store for him, preparing him to carry the great trust, to change the face of the earth, and alter the course of history. It was an intense period of privacy which lasted for three years prior to the beginning of his mission, entering a new era of lasting contact with the Unseen that Allah would permit him to witness.
Jibreel Brings Down the Revelation
When he was forty, the peak of one’s life — and it is said that this is the age when Prophets were always ordered to disclose their Message — signs of his Prophethood began appearing on the horizons of his life. Among these signs were that stones in Makkah would greet him with salutations of peace (Salam). He would not have a dream except that it would become reality, as clear as dawn: this lasted for a period of six months. The period of Prophethood was 23 years, so this six-month period full 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’, Allah’s Will desired His mercy to flow on earth and Muhammad (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was honored with Prophethood, and the light of Revelation burst upon him with some Verses of the Noble Qur’an.
As for the exact date, careful investigation into circumstantial and relevant evidence allows us to fix it to Monday, Ramadan 21 at night, i.e., August, 10, 610 C.E. with Prophet Muhammad (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) exactly 40 lunar years, 6 months and 12 days of age, i.e., 39 Gregorian years, 3 months and 22 days.
`Aishah (May Allah be pleased with him) gave the following narration of that most significant event that brought the Divine light which would drive out the darkness of disbelief and ignorance. It led life down a new course and brought about the most serious reforms in the history of humanity:
The first initiation of revelation for Allah’s Messenger (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) assumed the form of true dreams that would strikingly come true all the time. After that, seclusion became dear to him and he would go to the cave of 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 came to him while in the cave. The angel came to him and said, “Recite.’’ ‘I cannot recite,’’ he (Muhammad (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)) said. The Prophet described: “Then he took me and embraced me tightly and then let me go and repeated the order, `Recite.’ ‘I cannot recite,’ said I; and once again he squeezed me and let go me until 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.’ [96:1-3]
The Prophet repeated these Verses, trembling with fear. After this, he came back to his wife Khadijah (May Allah be Pleased with her), and said, “Cover me, cover me.’’ They covered him until he regained composure and felt at ease. He informed Khadijah (May Allah be Pleased with her) of the incident of the cave and added that he was frightened. His wife tried to soothe him and reassured him saying, “Allah will never disgrace you. You unite relations of the womb, bear the burden of the weak, help the poor and the needy, you entertain the guests and endure hardships in the path of truthfulness.”
She set out with the Prophet to her cousin Waraqah bin Nawfal bin Asad bin `Abdul-`Uzza, who had embraced Christianity in the pre-Islamic period, and used to write the Hebrew Scriptures and he would write from the Injeel in Hebrew what Allah willed for him to write. He was an old blind man. Khadijah(May Allah be Pleased with her) said, “My cousin! Listen to your nephew!’’ Waraqah said, “O my nephew! What did you see?’’ Allah’s Messenger (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) told him what happened to him. Waraqah replied, “This is the ‘Namus’, i.e., (the angel who is entrusted with Divine Secrets) that Allah 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 (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) asked, “Will they drive me out?’’ Waraqah 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 Waraqah died and the Revelation also subsided.
Interruption of Revelation
Ibn Sa`d reported on the authority of Ibn `Abbas that the Revelation paused for a few days, after careful study, this seems to be the most authentic version. To say that it lasted for three and or two and a half years, as is commonly understood, is not correct, but there is no room to go into more details at this juncture.
Meanwhile, the Prophet was caught in a mixture of emotions: despondency coupled with astonishment and bewilderment.
In the Book of Dreams, Al-Bukhari recorded that the Divine inspiration paused for a while and the Prophet became so sad, as we have heard, that he intended several times to throw himself from the tops of high mountains.
Every time he went up the top of a mountain in order to throw himself down, Jibreel would appear before him and say: “O Muhammad! You are indeed Allah’s Messenger (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) in truth,’’ whereupon his heart would become tranquil and he would calm down and return home.
Whenever the interval between the Revelation became prolonged, he would do as before, but Jibreel would appear again before him and repeat his words as before.
Once more, Jibreel Brings Allah’s Revelation
Ibn Hajar said: `That (the pause of Allah’s Revelation for a few days) was to relieve the Messenger (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) of the fear he experienced and to make him long for the Revelation.’’ When the bewilderment diminished, the flags of truth were raised, Allah’s Messenger (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) knew for certain 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 Revelation was a major contributing factor for his steadfastness and self-possession on the advent of Allah’s inspiration. Al-Bukhari reported on the authority of Jabir bin `Abdullah that he had heard Allah’s Messenger (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) speak about the period of pause as follows:
“While I was walking, I heard a voice from the sky. I looked up, and lo, 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…’ Allah revealed to me the Verses:
‘O you (Muhammad (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)) enveloped (in garments)!Arise and warn! And your Lord (Allah) magnify! And your garments purify! And keep away from ArRujz (the idols)!’’’ [74:1-5]
After that the Revelation started coming with greater intensity, frequently and regularly.
Also in the Sahih : “I stayed at Hira’ for a month. When my stay ended I descended to hear a call when I reached the interior of the valley.’’ Then he mentioned something similar to what has been mentioned in the preceding portion. Meaning that he descended after the completion of the month of Ramadan, and it clarifies that the pause between revelations was merely ten days, because another Ramadan did not pass after the first Revelation.
The Messengership was postponed to the extent of the delay in Revelation, and it began with these Verses, which carry two categories of clear responsibilities:
- Conveying and Warning: This was the first of his duties as Allah says:
``Arise and warn!’’ [74:2]
Meaning that he was to warn the people against the punishment of Allah if they did not revert from their tyranny, deviation, and worship of other than Allah and associating others with Him, His Attributes, His Rights, and His Actions.
- Adhering to the Commands of Allah Himself: This was the other duty, as Allah says:
``And your Lord (Allah) magnify!’’ [74:3] Meaning revere Him alone, without partners.
``And your garments purify!’’ [74:4]
The apparent objective of this is that he should purify his garments and body, since one who stands before Allah to praise His Greatness does not do so in a filthy state.
Yet if it is this kind of purification that is desired, then purification from the filth of associating partners with Allah, and repulsive deeds and behavior is more worthy of being the desired objective.
``And keep away from Ar-Rujz (the idols)!’’ [74:5]
Meaning stay away from the causes that earn Allah’s wrath, by abiding in obedience and refraining from acts of disobedience.
``And give not a thing in order to have more.’’ [74:6]
Meaning do not behave kindly to people merely for reward from them or some portion of benefit in this life.
As for the last Verse, it indicates the harms to expect from his people when religious separation begins, when he is calling them to Allah alone and warning them against His punishment and force. He says:
``And be patient for the sake of your Lord.’’ [74:7]
These Verses begin with the exalted call commissioning the Prophet with this mighty command, taking him from his sleep and comfort, to struggle and continue under hardship:
``O you enveloped in garments! Arise and warn.’’ [74:1-2]
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 of the invitation. 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 Allah’s Messenger (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him).
- The Second: What the angel invisibly cast in the Prophet’s mind and heart, without being seen. Allah’s Messenger (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “The Noble Spirit revealed to me, `No soul will perish until it exhausts its due course, so fear Allah and gently request Him. Never get impatient to the point of disobedience of Allah. What is with Allah can never be acquired except through obedience to Him.’”
- The Third: The angel used to visit Allah’s Messenger (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) 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 firmly and sweat would stream from his forehead even on the coldest day. If the Prophet was on his camel, the camel would not withstand the weight, so it would immediately kneel down on the ground. Once the Prophet had such a revelation when he was sitting and his thigh was on Zaid’s thigh, Zaid felt such intense pressure as if he had almost injured his thigh.
- The Fifth: The Prophet saw the angel in his actual form. The angel would reveal to him what Allah had ordered him to reveal. This, as mentioned in (the Qur’an) Surat An-Najm (Chapter 53 — The Star), happened twice.
- The Sixth: What Allah Himself revealed to him in heaven, i.e., when he ascended to heaven and received Allah’s Order for Salat (prayer).
- The Seventh: Allah’s Words to His Messenger (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) first hand without the mediation of an angel. It was a privilege granted to Moses and clearly attested in the Qur’an, as it is attested to our Prophet in Surat Al`-Isra’ (Chapter 17 — The Journey by Night) of the Noble Qur’an.
Some religious scholars added a controversial eighth stage in which they state that Allah spoke to the Prophet directly without a curtain in between.’’ This is the end of what he said, with some revision on the first and eighth point. The truth is that the last point is not confirmed.