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Early Revelations

Among the Quraish there had always been a few men in every generation who would periodically retreat to a quiet place for the purpose of meditation, away from the distractions of everyday life. Muhammad was one of these men. He would devote a certain number of days each year to the worship of Allah. He would take provisions with him and retreat to a cave on Mount Hira, spend several days in devotion, and then return to his family.

It was when he was forty years old, towards the end of the month of Ramadan, that he was first visited by the angel Jibril in his mountainside retreat. The angel approached him in the form of a man and told him to read. But Muhammad had had no formal education so he replied that he could not read. The angel then squeezed him in a tight embrace and repeated the command to read. Again Muhammad replied that he could not read and again the angel hugged him tightly. For a third time the angel repeated the command to read, saying:

Read in the name of thy Lord who created!
He createth man from a clot of blood.
Read; and thy Lord is the Most Bountiful,
He who hath taught by the pen,
Taught man what he knew not.
(al Qur'an 96:1-5)

This time Muhammad repeated the words after the angel, and the angel left, but the words had been burned into Muhammad's heart and he could not forget them. He was overcome with fear and awe after the visit from the angel, and he hastened down the mountainside to his home. Still shivering with fear, he shouted to Khadija , to cover him. She threw a cloak over him as he lay on his couch, and there he remained until his shaking had subsided. He then told her what had happened to him in the cave.

Khadija went to her cousin Waraqah, an aged man who was a scholar of the Christian scriptures. Upon hearing the story, he declared that Muhammad was indeed the prophet of the Arab people whose coming had been foretold. Khadija conveyed his message to Muhammad , who, feeling reassured that he was not possessed by an evil spirit, returned to the mountain to complete his devotions. Upon his return to Makkah he met Waraqah at the Ka'bah, and the old man repeated his declaration, also predicting that Muhammad would be called a liar, would be ill-treated, would be cast out, and would have war waged against him.

The angel's command to read was the first part of the Quran to be revealed. It was followed soon after by a second revelation, which reassured Muhammad that he was not a madman but rather was chosen by Allah (al-Qur'an 68:1-4). Then there was a long period with no further revelations, until Muhammad began to fear that he had done something wrong to make Allah abandon him. At the end of this long silence, he again received reassurance from Allah that he would not be forsaken, and commanding him to proclaim the grace of Allah (al-Qur'an 93). It was at this point that he began to share his experiences not only with Khadija , but also with other close family members and friends.

One day Jibril appeared to Muhammad again. The angel struck his heel into the hillside where they were standing and a spring of water gushed out of the ground where his heel had touched. He taught Muhammad how to do the ablution to cleanse himself before prayer, and he taught him the postures and manner of praying. When the angel had left him, Muhammad hurried home to Khadija and they prayed together.

After Khadija , the first people to embrace Islam were the Prophet's nephew Ali , his adopted son Zaid , and his good friend Abu Bakr . Abu Bakr , who was well known and respected in Makkah, was instrumental in bringing several others into the fold of Islam, but it was a very small, private and select group. As Muhammad continued to receive revelations, however, he was commanded by Allah to expand his teachings to a much larger but not always friendly audience.

Insha-Allah, in future issues of Iqra we will see how the Prophet accomplished this.


Published: August 2002

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Last modified 08/12/05 09:25 AM - Iqra - ISSN #1062-2756