Muhammad was now approaching his fortieth year. The debasement of his people pressed heavily on him and the dim and imperfect shadows of Judaism and Christianity excited doubts without satisfying them; and his soul was perplexed with uncertainty as to what was the true religion. Thus burdened, he frequently retired to seek relief in meditation amongst the solitary valleys and rocks near Mecca. His favourite place was a cave at the foot of mount Hira, a lofty conical hill two or three miles north of Mecca. Here, he would retire for days at a time and his faithful wife would sometimes accompany him. Muhammad’s divine commission was not accepted at Mecca but he received encouragement from Khadijah and Waraqa but fresh inspiration ceases and he contemplates suicide.
We may suppose that Muhammad was led by degrees to believe that Allah had called him to preach reformation to his countrymen. Yet his lack of early success caused him periods of sometimes doubting and sometimes believing. Muhammad at these times suffered grievous mental distractions. But one day when he was seated or wandering amidst the peaks of Hira suddenly an apparition rose before him and it was here that he believed he received his commission. It was a period when anxious yearnings after religious truth were springing up within him; and his mind, was brooding over the gross superstition and abject worldliness of the inhabitants of Mecca. In the whole of the Quran there are only eighteen Suras which can with any likelihood be assigned to this period of his life.
The earliest chapters of the Quran are generally composed, each, of a single short piece delivered all at once, and the period of their appearance is therefore, more easily assigned than that of the later Suras, which are made up of fragments delivered on various occasions. The later Suras grow gradually longer but in the Quran the Suras have been arranged in an order precisely the reverse of this, the longest being generally placed first and the shortest last. Hence, it is that the casual reader of the Quran, by perusing it in this inverted order, forms no correct conception of the origin and development of Muhammad’s system.
Muhammad makes little impression on his fellow citizens
Apart from some of Muhammad’s relatives and friends who listened with reverence to his admonitions and sought to follow his injunctions he made little impression. The kind and generous Abu Talib, smiled at the enthusiasm of his nephew; Abu Lahab, another uncle, mocked and insulted him; Abu Jahl and his companions sneered; the main body of the Qurraish were indifferent.
The more susceptible amongst the citizens listened, perhaps at first with attention but when pressed to practical and decisive steps, they would answer: ‘It is well for Jews and Christians to follow the purer faith thou speakest of, we know, they have had prophets bringing them a message of the will of God. Let us be content with the light, our Maker hath given unto us, and remain as we are. If a, prophet had been sent unto us, we, should no doubt have followed his directions, and been as devout and spiritual in our worship as the Jews and Christians.’ Muhammad felt the force of such a reply.
Mental depression and grounds of reassurance
While absorbed by reflections on his lack of impact but yet what he believed to be inspiration Muhammad at times suffered grievous mental distractions. To this period may be attributed the Suras in which, after deep depression, he sought to reassure his soul by remembering the past favours of the Almighty. For example:
“Thy Lord hath not removed from thee, neither hath He been displeased. And verily the future shall be better unto thee than the past. Thy Lord shall shortly dispense unto thee a gift, and thou shalt be satisfied. What! Did He not find thee an orphan, and give thee a home? And found thee astray and directed thee?” (Ad-Duha 93:3-11 c/f Ash-Sharh 94)
Despite such consolations, his distress was sometimes insupportable, and he repeatedly meditated suicide considering the possibility of casting himself headlong from one of the cliffs. An invisible influence appeared to hold him back was it divine or might it be diabolical?
Belief in the divine mission revived with bright thoughts of a united people abjuring their gross idolatry, would rise before him. Thus acknowledged as their Prophet, why should he not be also their leader and their chief? Faith and piety should yet reign throughout Arabia; and the sword should be bared to compel men to enter the kingdom of God.
Muhammad’s commission to ‘Recite in the name of God’
He was seated or wandering amidst the peaks of Hira when suddenly an apparition rose before him. The heavenly visitor whose form had long flitted vaguely before his imagination, stood there close beside him in a vision. It was no other than Gabriel, the Messenger of God, who now appeared in the sky, and approaching within ‘ two bows length’ of Muhammad, brought the following sura: “Recite in the name of the Lord who created, Created man from nought but congealed blood; Recite! For thy Lord is beneficent. It is He who hath taught (to record revelation) with the pen; Hath taught man that which he knoweth not.” (Al-Alaq 96:1-5)
Thus Muhammad by whatever deceptive process forged the name of God and became so scrupulous lest there should be in this inspiration even the appearance of human influence so that every sentence of the Quran is prefaced by the divine command, ‘Speak’ or ’ Say’ which if not expressed must always be understood: “Say: He is God alone: God the Eternal! ………………….. He begetteth not, and He is not begotten, And there is not any like unto Him.”( At-Tauhid 112) The divine commission soon took entire and undivided possession of his soul; and, however coloured by the events and inducements of the day, or mingled with apparently incongruous motives and desires, retained a paramount influence until the hour of his death.
The commission slighted by the people of Mecca
The divine commission was unheeded at Mecca. Scorn and abuse gathered thicker than ever around him. He was taunted as being a poet carried away by wild fancy; as a magician or a soothsayer issuing rhapsodies resembling in style those possessed by genii and demons. Grieved and dispirited, he fell back upon his commission. Was the revelation a warrant and command to publish his message, even to a stiff-necked and rebellious people, or a simple attestation for himself and his disciples that the doctrine was true? Engrossed and wearied by these doubts and difficulties, the Prophet stretched himself on his carpet, and wrapping his garments about him, fell into a trance or vision. The Angel was at hand, and Muhammad was aroused from despondency to energy and action by this animating message: “Oh thou that are covered! Arise and preach! And magnify the Lord; And purify thy clothes; And depart from uncleanness. And show not thy favours in the hope of self-aggrandisement; And wait patiently for thy Lord.” (Al-Mudadaththir 74: 1-7)
Vindictive abuse by his opponents
Those who read Sura 74 further will find the matters that arose about the third or fourth year of his prophetical life. The person so vehemently condemned in this sura is supposed to have been Walid, the honoured chief of Mecca, who was the first to raise his pickaxe on the rebuilding the Ka’aba. The heart of Muhammad was vindictive and spoke in severe and crushing terms against his adversaries. It was in the same way he cursed Abu Lahab his own uncle, and the father-in-law of two of his daughters, on account of his contemptuous bearing: ”Damned be Abu Lahab’s hands! And let himself be damned! ………… He shall be cast into the fire of flame, and his wife also laden with fuel, about her neck shall be a rope of palm-fibre. (Al-Masad 111) The story of his wife is that she had thrown into Muhammad’s path a bundle of thorns and would therefore be appropriately punished. The damnation applied to Abu Lahab was because he was summoned to an assembly by Muhammad to hear his prophetic message exclaimed’ Let him be damned! is this all he hath called us together for?’
Miraculous fabrication in the Traditional statements
Whatever facts have been preserved by tradition of Khadijah’s recollections, are greatly distorted by miraculous associations cast around them. It must be remembered that this period, preceded the time when Muhammad began the prophetical office and stood forth prominently to public notice. Then his system had been fully matured, and the idea of inspiration formed, but before that time he could not have been the object of much observation. Khadijah must have been almost the only witness of his mental struggles; Ali was but a boy; and it is doubtful how far Zaid and Abu Bakr were yet on sufficiently intimate terms with him to be made the confidants of his most secret thoughts.
The Traditional account of Muhammad’s ecstatic periods of inspiration
At the moment of inspiration, anxiety pressed upon the Prophet, and his countenance was troubled. He fell to the ground like one intoxicated or overcome by sleep; and in the coldest day his forehead would be bedewed with large drops of perspiration. Even his she-camel, if Muhammad, chanced to become inspired while he rode upon her, would be affected by a wild excitement, sitting down and rising up, now planting her legs rigidly, then throwing them about as if they would be parted from her. To outward appearance inspiration descended unexpectedly, and without any previous warning even to the Prophet.
‘Abd al Rahman relates that on the return from Hodeiba (A.H. 6), he suddenly saw the people urging on their camels; and everyone was enquiring of the cause for this action. They replied inspiration hath descended on the Prophet. So he too urged on his camel, and reached Muhammad, who, seeing that a sufficient number of people had gathered around him began to recite the 40th Sura.
Muhammad’s own account of his inspiration
When questioned on the subject Muhammad replied: ‘Inspiration descendeth upon me in one of two ways; sometimes Gabriel cometh and communicateth the Revelation unto me, as one man unto another, and this is easy; at other times it affecteth me like the ringing of a bell, penetrating my very heart, and rending me as it were in pieces; and this it is which grievously afflicteth me.’ In the later period of his life Muhammad referring to his grey hairs said that they were withered because of the effect produced upon him by the terrific suras. (The ‘terrific Suras as specified in the numerous traditions are ‘Sura Hud, and its sisters’ : the sisters’ are variously given as Suras 11, 21, 56, 69, 77, 78, 81, or 101 – all revealed at Mecca, and some of them very early.)
While Abu Bakr and Omar sat in the mosque, at Medina, Muhammad suddenly came upon them from the door of one of his wives’ houses (which opened into the mosque). Stroking and lifting up his beard, and looking at it there were many more white hairs than his head. Abu Bakr said: ‘Ah thou, for who I would sacrifice father and mother, white hairs are hastening upon thee!’ The Prophet, raising his beard with his hand gazed at it ‘Yes,’ said Muhammad, ‘Hud’ (Sura 11) ‘and its sisters have hastened my white hairs.’- ‘And what,’ asked Abu Bakr ‘are its sisters ?’ ‘The Inevitable (Sura 56), and the Striking (Sura 101).’
Islamic view of devils and genii
Tradition has represented Muhammad as at one time under serious apprehensions lest the beginnings of inspiration were in reality the promptings of evil spirits or genii who had taken possession of him. Traditional views regarding the genii are founded upon traditions traced up to the time of Muhammad himself. Before the mission of the Prophet, the devils and genii had access to the outskirts of heaven, and by assiduous eaves-dropping had secured some of the secrets of the upper world, which they communicated to soothsayers and diviners upon the earth. But on the advent of Muhammad they were driven from the skies, and, whenever they dared to approach, flaming bolts were hurled at them, appearing to mankind like falling stars. Such a belief in the existence and history of the genii, childish as it may appear, is clearly developed in the Quran and throws a mysterious light upon the inner recesses of the Prophet’s mind.
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Copyright © 2011 “Message 4 Muslims” All rights rerserved