Solitude in Hira cave in Mount An-Nur

When Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was nearly 40 he was accustomed to passing long hours in seclusion 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 Saweeq (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 favourite resort - a cave named Hira’, on the mountain named Jabal Al-Nūr (Mountain of Light) in the Hejaz region of present day Saudi Arabia. It was only 2.5 miles (4 km) from the Al-Ka'bah (House of Allah) in Makkah.

Hira cave is small, only 3.6m (12 ft) long and 1.5m (5ft) wide. It's 270 m (890 ft) above the mountain and takes 600 steps to reach it. At present, during Hajj you can get upto 5,000 Muslims a day climbing up to the Hira cave to see the place where Prophet Muhammad received the first revelation of the Qur'an.

The Prophet (pbuh) would always go there and would feed any poor people from 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. 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 3 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.

The Sealed Nectar

How the Noble Qur'an was revealed

In 610 Angel Jibrail brings first Revelation and first Qur'anic verses to 40-year-old Muhammad (pbuh)

During one of his customary retreats in the cave of Hira in the year 610, the Angel Jibrail (Gabriel) (Alahi wa salaam, May Allah send prayers and peace upon him, usually shortened to AS) appeared before the perplexed 40-year-old Muhammad (pbuh) and said to him "Iqra!" (Read or Recite - the word Iqra’ has an ambiguous meaning). The Prophet (pbuh) replied that he couldn't recite or did not know what to recite. Then Jibrail (AS) squeezed him tightly and let him go and repeated the order "Iqra" again. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) again replied "I cannot recite". Jibrail (AS) squeezed him again and let him go until he was exhausted. Again he said "Iqra" and the Prophet replied "I cannot recite". So Jibrail squeezed him for a third time and then let him go.

The angelic presence then instructed him to recite with him the words that are now recorded as the fist 5 Ayahs (verses) of the 96th Surah (Chapter) of the Qur’an, Al-Alaq (The Clot).

Surah Al-Alaq

Iqra bismi rabbikalla dhi khalaq. Khalaqal insana min alaq. Iqra wa rabbukal akram. Alladhi 'allama bil qalam. 'Allamal insana malam ya’lam.

Surah 96 Al-Alaq (The Clot), ayat 1-5

"Proclaim! (or read!) in the name of thy Lord and Cherisher, Who created- Created man, out of a (mere) clot of congealed blood: Proclaim! And thy Lord is Most Bountiful,- He Who taught (the use of) the pen,- Taught man that which he knew not."

The Prophet (pbuh) repeated these verses, trembling with fear. These five verses are the first revelation received by the Prophet and the first of the Qur'anic verses.

When he was 40, 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 6 months. The period of Prophethood was 23 years, so this six-month period full of true visions constituted an integral part of the 46 parts of Prophethood.

The Sealed Nectar

Laylat al-Qadr (Shab-e-Qadr) - the Night of Power

The Prophet (pbuh) is believed to have received this first revelation on Laylat al-Qadr (Night of Power), also known as Shab-e-Qadr.

The exact date is not revealed in the Qur'an. It is said to fall on one of the odd nights of the last ten days of Ramadhan i.e. 21st, 23rd, 25th, 27th or 29th.

Surah Al-Qadr

Innaa anzalnaahu fi Laylatil Qadr. Wa maa adraaka maa Laylatul Qadr. Laylatul Qadri khayrum min alfi shahr. Tanazzalul malaaikatu war ruuhu fiyhaa bi idhni rabbihim min kulli amr. Salaamun hiya hattaa matla’il fajr.

Surah 97 Al-Qadr (Night of Destiny)

"Indeed We sent it [the Noble Qur'an] down on the Night of Power. What will convey to you what the Night of Power is? Better is the Night of Power than a thousand months. In that Night the angels and the Spirit descend by the permission of their Lord for every errand. Peace it is, until the break of dawn."

The Qur'an states that Laylat al-Qadr is "better" than thousand months, which is equivalent to 83 years and 4 months. A Muslim who prays for the whole night during this Night, will deserve blessings and reward for the period as if he or she had been praying for 83 years and 4 months consecutively. Since the Night of Power is better than one thousand months no one can actually measure the extent as to how much better it is.

Verily this month has come to you; and therein is a night which is better than a thousand Months. Whosoever is deprived of it, is deprived of all good; and none is deprived of its good except a totally unfortunate person.

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), Ibn Majah

During last ten days of Ramadhan Muslims intensify their prayers (namaz) and recitation of Qur'an (tilawat) to earn greater blessing from Allah Almighty. Laylat al-Qadr is the holiest night of the year and a time to commemorate the arrival of the final guidance for humans.

Some Ahadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) indicate that the fate of every believer for the coming year is decreed on this night. That is why the Du`as (supplications) for this night ask for special favours in the decree for the year. Believers are encouraged to stay awake the entire night, and pray for blessings and forgiveness.

Whosoever stands up (in prayer) at the Night of Power out of faith and hopeful of reward, all his past sins will be forgiven.

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), Targhib

It is also a special blessing exclusive to ummah (nation) of the Prophet (pbuh) only as none of Allah's previous prophets were blessed with such privilege for their followers.

Laylatul Qadr has been bestowed by Allah to my Ummah (People). It was not given to any people before this.

Prophet Muhammad (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam), Dur-Mansoor

Khadijah (RAH) supports him and becomes first Muslim

The experience of this first revelation shakes the Prophet (pbuh) and stuns him. He hurries to his wife Khadijah (rah) and asks her to cover him with a blanket. When he recovers his composure, he relates to her the story of his experience. He is concerned that he may be hallucinating or loosing his mind. She assures him that he is a very balanced person and that his experience must have some super natural explanation.

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.

Khadijah soothes and reassures a frightened Muhammad (pbuh)

Waraqah bin Nawfal, Khadijah's Christian priest cousin, confirms prophethood

Khadijah (rah) suggests that they go to visit her (paternal) cousin Waraqah bin Nawfal bin Asad bin Abdul-Uzza, a Christian Ebionites priest who has detailed knowledge of the Gospels and Old Testament. Waraqah, an old blind man and a monotheist (believer in one God), 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.

Waraqah tells the Prophet (pbuh) his experience resembles that of Moses (pbuh) and the other prophets (peace be upon them). He suggests that Muhammad (pbuh) has been chosen as a messenger by God. He warns him that the people would oppose him as they opposed the prophets before him.

This is the 'Namus' (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.

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.

Waraqah affirms that the people will try to drive him out just like they did to other prophets before him

A few days later Waraqah died and the Revelation also subsided.

Second revelation provides Prophet with a purpose

An interval of few days passes after the first revelation. The Prophet is wrapped up in a blanket, feeling despondent and afraid of having been removed by Allah from his mission.

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 int he 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...".

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) recalls the events leading upto the second revelation, Sahih Bukhari (The Book of Tafsir 2/733)

It was then the Prophet received the second revelation - Ayahs (verses) 1-7 of the 74th Surah, Al-Muddaththir (The One Wrapped).

Surah Al-Muddaththir, ayat 1-7

Yaa 'ayyuhaa al- muddaththir. Qum fa- andhir. Qum fa- andhir. Wa- thiyaab -ka fa- t.ahhir. Wa- ar- rujz fa- uhjur. Wa- laa tamnun tastakthir. Wa- li- rabb -ka fa- is bir.

Surah 74 Al-Muddaththir (The One Enveloped), ayat 1-7

"O you wrapped up (in your cloak), Arise and deliver the warning. And proclaim the glory of your Lord. And purify and cleanse your garments. And shun all idolatry and filth. And do no favors, expecting gain in return. And for the sake of your Lord, be patient and constant."

The message in the second revelation were very clear:

  • Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was tasked with warning his people against the punishment of Allah (SWT) 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.
  • Revere Allah alone, without partners.
  • Purification of garments and body since nobody should stand before Allah in a filthy state. This purification also involves abstaining from repulsive deeds and behaviours, including associating partners with Allah.
  • Stay away from causes that earn Allah's wrath. Abide in obedience and refrain from acts of disobedience.
  • Not to behave kindly to people merely for reward from them or some portion of benefit in this life.
  • Expect harm from his people when religious separation begins, when he is calling them to Allah alone and warning them against His punishment and force.

The Early Converts

The Prophet naturally initiated his sacred mission right from home and then moved to the people closely associated with him. He called unto Islam whomsoever he thought would attest to the truth which had come from his Lord. In fact, a host of people who nursed not the least seed of doubt as regards the Prophet (pbuh), immediately responded and readily embraced the true faith.

His wife Khadijah (rah) was the first to believe that he was a prophet. She thus became the first Muslim after the Qur'an was revealed, and given the honorary title of "Umm al-Momineen", the Mother of believers.

Khadijah (rah) was soon followed by the Prophet's 10-year-old cousin Ali bin Abi Talib (RA), who had been living with him since his early childhood, close friend Abu Bakr As-Siddique (RA), and freed slave and adopted son Zaid bin Harithah bin Sharahil Al-Kalbi (RA). They all professed Islam on the very first day of the call.

Others belonging to various clans of Quraish who were close to the Prophet (pbuh) also professed their belief in Islam. According to Ibn Hisham, an early biographer on the Prophet's life, there were more than 40 people who became Muslim early on.

Abu Bakr (RA), from the very first day he embraced Islam, proved to be an energetic and most zealous activist. He was wealthy, obliging, mild and upright. People used to frequent his house and draw close to him for his knowledge, friendship, pleasant company and business. He invited to Islam whomever he had confidence in. Through his personal efforts a good number of people converted to Islam, such as Uthman bin Affan Al-Umawi, Az-Zubair bin Awwam Al-Asadi, Abdur-Rahman bin Awf, Sa'd bin Abi Waqqas Az-Zuhri and Talhah bin Ubaidullah At-Taimy. These 8 men constituted the forerunners and more specifically the front line of the new faith in Arabia.

The Sealed Nectar

The Prophet used to meet and teach the new converts the religion in privacy, because the call to Islam was still running on an individual and secret basis.

Qur'an revealed in stages over 23 years

Revelation accelerated and continued after the first Verses of "O you wrapped in garments". The Verses and parts of Surahs (chapters) revealed at this time were short with wonderful strong pauses and fascinating rhythms in full harmony. The central topic running through them focused on purifying the soul, and preventing the Muslims from falling prey to the deceptive glamour of life. The early Verses used to give a highly accurate account of Hell and the Garden (Paradise), leading the believers down a new course opposed to the ill practices widespread amongst their compatriots.

Further revelations come over the remaining 13 years of the Prophet’s life in Makkah and 10 years in Madina - a total of twenty-three years until his death in 632.

By the time of his death, the revelations are comprised of 114 Surahs of unequal length which are classified either as Makkan or Madinan depending upon their place and time of revelation. The last of these is Surah is At-Taubah (The Repentance), now numbered the 9th. But the last words of the revelation are said to be in the third Ayah of Surah 5, Al Ma’idah (The Table Spread).

Surah Al-Maidah ayat 3

Al yawma akmaltu lakum dinakam wa atmamtu alaikam ni'mati wa raditu' lakumul islama dinan.

Surah 5 Al-Maidah (The Table Spread), ayat 3

"Today I have completed for you your religion, fulfilled upon you My favors, and approved for you Al Islam as your religion."

Surah Al-Fatiha (The Opening Chapter) was the first complete chapter to be revealed and Surah An-Nas (Mankind) was the last.

Compilation of the Qur'an

The Qur'an was precisely memorised, recited and exactly written down by Prophet Muhammad's companions, called Sahabas (may Allah be pleased with them), after each revelation was dictated by the Prophet himself.

It was the Sahabas who had compiled the Qur'an as the Qur'an did not exist in book form until the Prophet had passed away in 632.

Public preaching

It is well-known that Makkah was the centre for the Arabs, and housed the idols of Al-Ka'bah. It was the duty of the Makkans to protect and guard the idols and stone graven images which were worshipped by the Arabs, therefore to bring reform in a place considered the den of idolatry was a massive task. Working in such an atmosphere no doubt requires unshakable will, determination and sensitivity, that is why the call unto Islam assumed a low-key, clandestine form so that the Makkans should not be enraged by the unexpected surprise.

For three underground years of activism (post the Revelation), a group of believers emerged stamped by a spirit of brotherhood and cooperation with one definite objective in their mind: spreading and deeply establishing the call unto Islam. For full three years Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had been content to teach within a rather narrow circle and on an individual basis, but its news soon leaked out and assumed a public interest all over Makkah. The time had come to preach the faith of Allah (SWT) openly. The angel Jibrail (AS) had brought him down a further Revelation of Allah's Will to confront his people, invalidate their falsehood and crush down their idolatrous practices.

The devils did not bring it down. It is not meet for them, nor is it in their power, Lo! verily they are banished from the hearing. Therefore invoke not with Allah another god, lest thou be one of the doomed. And warn thy tribe of near kindred, And lower thy wing (in kindness) unto those believers who follow thee. And if they (thy kinsfolk) disobey thee, say: Lo! I am innocent of what they do. And put thy trust in the Mighty, the Merciful.

Surah 26 Ash-Shu'araa , ayat 210-217

Around 613, three years into the Revelation, Prophet Muhammad began his public preaching. Most Makkans ignored him and mocked him, while a few others became his followers.

Makkan leaders growing concern over the 'new' religion

In the beginning, the Makkan leaders did not care much about Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and took no heed of his teachings. At first, they thought that the Prophet (pbuh) was merely a religious philosophist like Omaiyah bin Abi As-Salt, Quss bin Sa‘idah, ‘Amr bin Nufail and their ilk who used to philosophize on godship and religious obligations.

But as the number of followers increased, he became perceived as a threat to the local tribes and the rulers of the city, whose wealth rested upon the Ka'bah, the focal point of Makkan religious life, which Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) threatened to overthrow.

The polytheists (believers in more than one God) of Quraish began to watch Prophet Muhammad’s movements closely and anxiously for fear of spreading his Call and producing a change in the prevalent mentality.

Prophet Muhammad’s denunciation of the Makkan traditional religion was especially offensive to his own tribe, the Quraish, as they were the guardians of the Ka'bah. The powerful merchants tried to convince the Prophet (pbuh) to abandon his preaching by offering him admission into the inner circle of merchants, and establishing his position therein by an advantageous marriage. However, he refused.

Abu Jahl - Father of Ignorance

Abu Jahl, a cousin of Prophet Muhammad, was one of the prominent Makkan pagan Quraish leaders who was at the forefront of hostility against the Prophet (pbuh) and persecution of new converts.

He was born Amr ibn Hishām and was a member of the Banu Makhzum clan of the Quraish. Initially he was known as Abū l-Hakam (Father of Wisdom) meaning he was considered a wise man amongst the Quraish - however, his venom towards the Muslim and hatred for Islam earned him the name Abū Jahl meaning Father (Abu) of Ignorance (Jahl).

Torture of new converts

When a Muslim convert was discovered among the hierarch of a tribe, Abu Jahl would reprimand the convert and humiliate them in front of his fellow tribesmen so that the convert would lose their respect. Businessmen were ordered not to engage in business with traders who had converted thereby preventing the traders from selling their products and causing them to become poor.

Some of the physically weaker converts were unable to endure their prolonged punishment and reverted back to paganism. However, this was only under compulsion. Those who remained undetected would offer their prayers in secret, but there were many who did not have the privilege of privacy and their grief at not being able to offer their prayers was considerable.

Abu Jahl's harshest prey were the freed slaves whom he looked down upon with contempt. In his eyes they were the least important on the social scale. The slaves would suffer brutal beatings followed by food and water deprivation. But perhaps the most severe punishment was that of being pinned down upon the scorching hot sands of Makkah, left to endure the blistering heat of the sun.

One such slave was Sumayyah bint Khayyat who had a spear stabbed in her genitals.

Apart from insults, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was protected from physical harm as he belonged to the powerful and imminent Banu Hashim clan.

Ironically, Abu Jahl had a son, Ikrimah ibn Abu Jahl, who later converted to Islam. Just like his father, Ikrimah was initially very hostile towards the Prophet (pbuh), but after the Prophet's conquest of Makkah where he forgave those people who had intended to kill him, this merciful act had melted the heart of Ikrimah and he decided to become a Muslim.

Sumayyah bint Khabbab - the first Muslim shaheed

Sumayyah bint Khabbab was the wife of Yasir ibn Amir and the mother of Ammar ibn Yasir, three well known figures of their time and one of the early converts to Islam.

Sumayyah was a old and frail slave of Abu Jahl. After her conversion she, her husband Yasir and son Ammar were treated with same brutality typical of Abu Jahl. They were beaten black-and-blue for days and left to die in the hot sun. Abu Jahl continued the torture with his spear and stabbed it into Sumayyah's private part when she refused to give up her faith. She became the first martyr of Islam.

After Sumayyah they tortured and slaughtered her husband Yasir. Seeing both his parents massacred front of his eyes, and unable to bear his own torture a broken Ammar was forced to give up Islam upon the torturer's command. However, even during his forced conversion back to paganism, in his heart he still believed in Allah and the Prophet.

Ammar went back to being a Muslim and became a sahabi (companion of the Prophet) and a muhajirun (emigrant who migrated to Madinah during hijrah).

Bilal ibn Rabah - first muezzin

Another person to be tortured for his conversion was Bilal ibn Rabah (RA). Born in Makkah, sometime between 578 and 582, Bilal (RA) was an Ethiopian slave of Umayyah ibn Khalaf. He was known as "Bilal al-Habashi" or "Bilal the one from Ethiopia".

Upon his conversion, he was heavily tortured by his master Umayyah. In the bright light of day, Bilal (RA) was staked to the ground and beaten. Then heavy rocks were piled on his chest, to crush his body. All that could be heard by those who went near was Bilal’s deep, strong voice saying “One God, One God.”

Moved by his voice, and his cry of “One God, One God,” Abu Bakr (RA) haggled with Umayyah until he was able to buy Bilal and set him free.

As a free man, Bilal (RA) became a close and dear friend to both Abu Bakr (RA) and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). He helped to build the first mosque in Madinah. When the time came that the Muslim’s were searching for a way to call the faithful to prayer, Bilal (RA) came into his own. The believers decided they did not want a flag, or a bell, or a rattle, or a drum, or a trumpet, but a beautiful human voice.

Abu Bakr (RA) became excited. “Then there is only one voice we could use for our first call to prayer,” he said, and explained how he had found Bilal and set him free. And so it was that Bilal (RA) became the first muezzin, the first to call people to prayer in Madinah. And when the Muslims returned to Makkah, he was the first to call from the top of the Ka'bah.

Bilal (RA) was the first black muslim. He died sometime between 638 to 642, when he was just over sixty years old.

Today the call to prayer is still as it was in Bilal’s time, just a beautiful human voice calling people to worship.

Learning resources

Glossary of terms

Tilawat
Reading the Qur'an
Tajweed
Elocution, proper pronounciation of text as well as reading at moderate speed
 
Muezzin
Person who does the adhan (call to prayer)
Qiblah
Direction of Kaa'ba in Makkah
Khutbah
Public sermon/preaching in Islam carried out at the dhuhr (noon) congregation on friday (Jumuah) prayers and during the two Eid festivals
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