In The Cave Of Hira’:
When Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله علیه وسلم) 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 neighbourhood 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.
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.
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’, Allaah’s Will desired His mercy to flow on earth and Muhammad (صلى الله علیه وسلم) was honoured with Prophethood, and the light of Revelation burst upon him with some verses of the Noble Qur’aan.
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 (صلى الله علیه وسلم) exactly 40 years, 6 months and 12 days of age, i.e. 39 Gregorian years, 3 months and 22 days.
‘Aa’ishah, 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 sal-Allaahu 'alayhe wa sallam) said. The Prophet (صلى الله علیه وسلم) 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.’” [96:1-3]
The Prophet (صلى الله علیه وسلم) repeated these verses. He was trembling with fear. At this stage, he came back to his wife Khadeejah, and said, “Cover me, ... cover me.” They covered him until he restored security. He apprised Khadeejah of the incident of the cave and added that he was horrified. His wife tried to soothe him and reassured him saying, “Allaah 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 (صلى الله علیه وسلم) to her cousin Waraqa bin Nawfal bin Asad bin ‘Abd Al-‘Uzza, who had embraced Christianity in the pre-Islaamic period, and used to write the Bible in Hebrew. He was a blind old man. Khadeejah said: “My cousin! Listen to your nephew!” Waraqa said: “O my nephew! What did you see?” The Messenger of Allaah (صلى الله علیه وسلم) told him what had happened to him. Waraqa replied: “This is ‘Namus’ i.e. (the angel who is entrusted with Divine Secrets) that Allaah 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 (صلى الله علیه وسلم) 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.
At-Tabaree and Ibn Hisham reported that the Messenger of Allaah (صلى الله علیه وسلم) 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-Tabaree reported on this incident, saying:
After mentioning the coming of the Revelation, the Messenger of Allaah (صلى الله علیه وسلم) 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 Quraysh 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 Allaah (صلى الله علیه وسلم) 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 Allaah (صلى الله علیه وسلم) 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 Khadeejah 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 Khadeejah 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 Allaah that you are a Messenger for this nation.’ Then she stood up and went to Waraqa and informed him. Waraqa said: ‘I swear by Allaah 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 Allaah (صلى الله علیه وسلم) 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 Allaah that you have received the same angel that was sent to Moses.’”
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 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 (صلى الله علیه وسلم), was caught in a sort of depression coupled with astonishment and perplexity. Al-Bukhaaree reported:
The Divine inspiration paused for a while and the Prophet (صلى الله علیه وسلم) 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 Allaah’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.
Once, Gabriel Brings Allah's Revelation:
Ibn Hajr said: ‘That (the pause of Allaah’s revelation for a few days) was to relieve the Messenger of Allaah (صلى الله علیه وسلم) 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 Allaah (صلى الله علیه وسلم) 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 Allaah’s inspiration, Al-Bukhaaree reported on the authority of Jaabir bin ‘Abdullaah that he had heard the Messenger of Allaah (صلى الله علیه وسلم) 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....’ Allaah revealed to me the verses:
’O you [Muhammad (صلى الله علیه وسلم)] enveloped (in garments)! Arise and warn! And your Lord (Allaah) magnify! And your garments purify! And keep away from Ar-Rujz (the idols)!’” [74:1-5]
After that the revelation started coming strongly, frequently and regularly.
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 Men of Allaah (صلى الله علیه وسلم).
- The Second: What the angel invisibly cast in the Prophet’s mind and heart. The Messenger of Allaah† (صلى الله علیه وسلم) said: “The Noble Spirit revealed to me ‘No soul will perish until it exhausts its due course, so fear Allaah and gently request Him. Never get so impatient to the verge of disobedience of Allaah. What Allaah has can never be acquired but through obedience to Him.’”
- The Third: The angel used to visit the Messenger of Allaah (صلى الله علیه وسلم) 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 (صلى الله علیه وسلم) was on his camel, the camel would not withstand the weight, so it would immediately kneel down on the ground. Once the Messenger of Allaah (صلى الله علیه وسلم) 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 (صلى الله علیه وسلم) saw the angel in his actual form. The angel would reveal to him what Allaah had ordered him to reveal. This, as mentioned in (Qur’aan), in Soorah An-Najm (Chapter 53 - The Star), happened twice.
- The Sixth: What Allaah Himself revealed to him in heaven i.e. when he ascended to heaven and received Allaah’s behest of Salaat (prayer).
- The Seventh: Allaah’s Words to His Messenger (صلى الله علیه وسلم) at first hand without the mediation of an angel. It was a privilege granted to Moses (عليه السلام) and clearly attested in the Qur’aan, as it is attested to our Prophet (صلى الله علیه وسلم) in the Soorah Al-Israa’ (Chapter 17 - The Journey by Night) of the Noble Qur’aan.
Some religious scholars added a controversial eighth stage in which they state that Allaah spoke to the Prophet (صلى الله علیه وسلم) directly without a curtain in between. This issue remains however unconfirmed.