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Books Section > Muhammad the Prophet by Maulana Muhammad Ali > Chapter 3: The Divine Call
The Divine Call:
"Read in the name of thy Lord Who creates - Creates man from a clot, Read and thy Lord is Most Generous, Who taught by the pen, Taught man what he knew not" (96: 1-5).
Shortly before he reached the age of forty, Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, began to immerse himself more frequently in solitary meditation. Retiring to the cave of Hira, he would give himself up to Divine contemplation for days. Meanwhile, he received many visions, which came to fulfilment to the very letter.
While thus absorbed in Divine worship in the Hira, the angel Gabriel appeared before him one night, in the month of Ramadan - it was the 609th year of the Christian era - and told him to read out. "I do not know how to read," was the Holy Prophet's reply. Then the angel hugged him close to his bosom and asked him again to read. Three times the angel repeated the request to read, as many times the Holy Prophet pleaded his inability to do so. Then the angel recited the verses quoted above. And so did the Holy Prophet. This was the first day when the heavy responsibility of prophethood was placed on his shoulders. The right path in the quest of which he had been so long engaged was at last revealed to him. The light for which he had been eagerly searching came to him. It was, however, made known to him at the same time that the stupendous charge of human reformation was to rest on his shoulders. Weak as man is by nature, he is apt to feel the weight even of an ordinary responsibility. Reformation of mankind is the heaviest task that can be placed on human shoulders. Moses was commissioned for the reformation of a single nation; yet he found it too much for him single-handed and cried for Divine help: "Give to me a helper!" The Holy Prophet Muhammad was charged with the regeneration of the whole of mankind, sunk into the lowest depths of degradation. Yet his strong heart did not give way for a single moment to the slightest wavering, notwithstanding the almost crushing weight of the responsibility. He shouldered it all by himself, relying solely upon the help of God. He asked for no assistant. But Divine inspiration is an extraordinary phenomenon and beyond average human experience. It necessitates absolute detachment from one's environment. At the time of this experience, the entire corporeal frame of the recipient is possessed with Divine Power. Even when the Holy Prophet grew used to the experience, his body would perspire profusely and become very weighty. One of his companions reports that on one such occasion, the Holy Prophet's thigh happened to be on his knee. It became so heavy that he feared that his knee would be crushed. The first experience of inspiration told all the more heavily on his body and caused him to tremble.
Shivering, he went home; his hands and feet grew cold and he asked Khadijah to wrap him up. After a short while when the shaking, with its inevitable accompaniment of a feeling of fear, disappeared, he related the whole experience to his wife. On hearing his account, she encouraged him with the inspiring words that God would never desert him and that he would succeed in his mission. She spoke of his many virtues, his treatment of his kith and kin, his helping the poor, the helpless, the orphan and the widow, his hospitality and his vindication of right under the most trying circumstances. "How - she assured him - was it possible that one possessed of so many virtues should ever come to grief?"
Waraqah ibn Naufal was Khadijah's cousin. Wearying of idolatry, he was on the look-out for a true religion and had at length embraced Christianity. Khadijah was well aware of her kinsman's mental anguish for lack of a religion that would carry conviction to a heart yearning after truth. Probably she had heard him talk of the appearance of the Promised Prophet, the Comforter whose advent had been foretold by Jesus. As soon as she found the Holy Prophet Muhammad called to that office, she took him to her cousin out of sympathy for the latter, who had lost his eyesight and was unable to move, aged as he was. No sooner did Waraqah hear what inspiration the Holy Prophet had received and how, than he spontaneously exclaimed: "This is the very angel God sent down to Moses!" - referring obviously to the prophecy by Moses. Then he said: "Would that I might be alive when thou art exiled by thy people!" The Holy Prophet asked him in surprise if he would be thus treated by his kith and kin. "Yes," replied Waraqah. "This is the treatment meted out to every prophet." Soon, thereafter, Waraqah passed away. For this very confirmation on his part, of the truth of the Holy Prophet's mission he is regarded as one of the companions of the Prophet.
Temporary Cessation of
After the first revelation in the cave of Hira, Gabriel did not visit the Holy Prophet for some time. This is known as the period of fatrat al-wary or the cessation of revelation. There is a great divergence of opinion as to the duration of this period. Some say it was two or three years long. But the version of Ibn Abbas, that it lasted but for a short time, is more reliable and is corroborated by historical evidence. The story that during this period the Prophet would go out to the tops of mountains with the intention of hurling himself headlong is sheer nonsense. According to the established criteria of the authenticity of reports this is not reliable, for Zuhri from whom the report has come down, belonged to a later generation, and a report to be reliable must be traced right back to some of the Prophet's companions. Hence, little weight can be attached to it. Moreover, the idea that the Prophet was thinking of committing suicide is utterly incompatible with the ideas which ruled uppermost in his heart. From his early age his heart had been glowing with the desire for human reformation. Now that the very mission was entrusted to him, is it conceivable that he should have thought of suicide? If the Prophet was observed doing anything unusual, it was only the bare fact that he would retire to the mountains oftener than before; but we must not jump to the preposterous conclusion, unwarranted by evidence, that he went there to commit suicide. He used to go to the mountains long before he received the revelation. Having a meditative turn of mind, he would seek the solitude of mountains, a retreat best suited for calm uninterrupted contemplation. But there is no reason whatever to suppose that he went to the mountains in order to commit suicide. If he roamed about in a state of greater perplexity than before, and this is the utmost that may be alleged, the reason is not far to seek. The Divine Light, which he had been so eagerly seeking, disappeared as soon as it had flashed upon his mind. This made him all the more restless. All the more did his heart long to hear once again the word of God. It was in search of what was so dear to his heart that he would go out to the mountains. It was done with no idea of suicide. Every incident of his subsequent as well as his previous life belies the conjecture. In the face of the most disappointing circumstances, his faith in Divine help never wavered for one moment, nor did he ever yield by a hair's breadth to the most overwhelming difficulties.
At length, there came an end to the period of cessation. To the Prophet the period looked unusually long; for it was a period of separation from One he loved with all his heart. It is in this sense that the period has been spoken of by some as having been prolonged. As a matter of fact, the cessation of revelation was based on Divine providence. The pressure attendant upon it had already told upon the Prophet's physique. His body might not stand a rapid repetition. The interval, therefore, was necessary for the sake of his physical health. Even after a lapse of time, which could in no case exceed six months, the revelation was accompanied with the same feeling, though not in the same intensity. Again he asked Khadijah, now less awe-stricken than before, to wrap him up. This was the first time he was required to set about his mission in right earnest: "O thou who wrappest thyself up! Arise and warn. [The Quran, 74:1-2.]" With this command began another stage in the life of the Prophet - that of announcing the word of God and delivering His message to all.
The foremost to profess faith in the truth ["And the foremost are the foremost - these are drawn nigh (to Allah)" (Quran, 56:10-11).] of the Holy Prophet's mission was his wife Khadijah. Never for a moment did she entertain the slightest doubt as to the truth of his claim to prophethood. In moments of depression, she proved a never-failing source of solace to him. Fifteen years before when she did not yet stand to him in the relation of a wife, she had discerned in him noble qualities which had deeply impressed her. And this early impression had grown deeper and deeper the more she came to know of him, through their greater intimacy as wife and husband. When the Holy Prophet received Divine inspiration for the first time and was in a state of perplexity as to how he should accomplish the mighty task of reformation set before him, this virtuous lady consoled him with the genuine testimony of her own heart. A man of the Holy Prophet's lofty character and broad sympathies, she observed, could not possibly come to grief. With intimate knowledge of his innermost thoughts, she felt convinced that he alone was the right person to have received the Divine summons for human reformation. Khadijah was thus the first as well as the most earnest believer in the mission of the Holy Prophet.
Next to Khadijah comes Waraqah on the list of early believers. He passed away during the cessation period, before the Prophet was called upon to preach his religion, and was thus deprived of the opportunity formally to declare his faith. Nevertheless, he had borne testimony, at the interview already referred to, arranged by Khadijah between him and the Holy Prophet, to the fact that the latter was undoubtedly the Promised Prophet. This is enough to entitle him to a place in the list of believers.
Then follows Abu Bakr, a Makkan notable. He was held in high esteem for his soundness of judgment and commanded great respect among his compatriots. Long before the Holy Prophet received the Call, Abu Bakr had been on intimate terms with him. His faith in the righteousness of the Holy Prophet was as implicit as that of Khadijah. Like hers, his faith never wavered for a minute. No sooner did he hear of the Holy Prophet Muhammad's claim to prophethood, than he made an open profession that he was indeed a Prophet of God. He comes at the top of the list of male believers.
Ali, the son of the Holy Prophet's uncle, Abu Talib, was also one of the earliest believers. He knew the Holy Prophet very intimately, for he had been brought up under his loving care. Knowing that the Holy Prophet's veracity was unquestionable, he did not hesitate for a moment to accept him.
Zaid ibn Harith was a liberated slave of the Holy Prophet. His deep attachment to his master has already been touched upon. He gave preference to the company of the Holy Prophet to that of his kith and kin, refusing to accompany his father back to his home. He was also one of the earliest believers.
These people were on most intimate terms with the Holy Prophet and had the greatest access to his private life, and they had also the most implicit belief in the sincerity of his claim to the prophetical office. Not one of them entertained the slightest doubt as to the genuineness of his mission. They had known him to be truthful, Al-Amin, throughout his life so far. Never during the long period of forty years, before the Call came to him had they heard the Holy Prophet tell a lie. Thus, it was inconceivable to them that he should have fabricated a lie in laying claim to prophethood. Surely they could not look upon him as an impostor. Being his associates from his early days, they had the opportunity for thorough insight into the innermost traits of his character. The more a person knew of the Holy Prophet, the more he was enamoured of him, and the more forward he was to accept his claim. This aspect of his character constrains even critics like Muir and Sprenger to admit that Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be on him, was quite sincere in his claim. He had full confidence in the Divine character of his revelations. If there were even the shadow of hypocrisy in the claim, the first to suspect and reject him would have been those so intimately connected with him. Yet they were the foremost to accept him as a true Prophet.
As soon as Abu Bakr embraced Islam, he set about preaching the truth to others. So deep-rooted was his faith in the righteousness of the Holy Prophet's claim! At a very early period, men of eminent position such as Uthman, Zubair, Abd al-Rahman, Sa'd and Talhah, who subsequently figured prominently not only in the history of Islam but also in world history; accepted Islam through his earnest missionary zeal. Of those belonging to a humbler status, Bilal, Yasir, his wife Sumayyah and his son Amman also joined the faithful at this early period. Abd Allah ibn Masud and Khabbab were also among the early converts and so was Arqam, whose house was made the centre of the Holy Prophet's missionary activities, about the fourth year after the Call. Within the first three years as many as forty persons accepted the faith. This fact belies the conjecture that the Cessation period extended over three years. For if that conjecture were true, the commencement of the propagation of the faith would have to be relegated to the fourth year whereas the historical fact stands that Islam had won quite a considerable following by that time. It was this steady growth of Islam that alarmed the Makkans and aroused them to bitter opposition. For this reason the Holy Prophet had to betake himself to a quarter removed from the hostile atmosphere to carry on his mission more peacefully. Arqam's house was selected for the purpose.
The number of Muslims continued to grow, and the conversion of some prominent men from among the Quraish added to the strength of the small brotherhood. Of these, the most noteworthy was Hamzah, the Holy Prophet's uncle and foster brother. He was a man of martial spirit and fond of sport. On account of his high morals he enjoyed great esteem and regard among his compatriots. He cherished special love for the Holy Prophet. His conversion came about in the following manner. One day, Abu Jahl was as usual persecuting the Holy Prophet when Hamzah's handmaid appeared on the scene and was shocked to see the cruel treatment. Hamzah had been out on a hunting trip. On his return home, the maid related the incident to him. He was already impressed with the character of his nephew. Now that he heard how pitilessly he was being subjected to all manner of ill-treatment, he was deeply moved. He thought it unchivalrous in the extreme not to stand by a righteous man such as the Holy Prophet was. So he made up his mind to throw in his lot on the side of Truth and defend it with might and main. Straightaway he made for the Ka'bah where Abu Jahl and his partisans were holding a meeting to wage a campaign against Islam, and announced his acceptance of Islam.
The second great man to prove a tower of strength to Islam was 'Umar. A man of fiery temper, he was bitter in his opposition to Islam. He made up his mind one day to put the Holy Prophet, the root-cause of the new movement, to the sword and thus put an end to the whole trouble. With this intent he took up his sword and made for the Holy Prophet's house. As yet he did not know that his own sister, Fatimah, and her husband Said, had both joined the faith. On his way, a Muslim happened to meet him and, noticing that he was out for mischief, asked him where he was going. "To kill Muhammad," replied 'Umar. The Muslim told him he had better set his own house in order first and then think of killing the Holy Prophet, for his sister and cousin had both embraced Islam. On hearing of the conversion of his own relations, he was much enraged. He took his way towards their house first to settle accounts with them. It so happened that Khabbab was reciting a passage from the Quran to them when 'Umar entered their house. Out of fear they concealed the sheets on which the passage was written. But 'Umar had ample proof of their conversion. He had overheard them recite the Quran. No sooner did he step into the house than he shouted at them saying he had come to know of their apostasy and, taking hold of S a `id, began to belabour him. His sister, trying to save her husband from his wrath, interposed; but she too received injuries and was besmeared with blood. At length, she broke out in a defiant tone: "Do what you will. We have professed Islam." This bold front on the part of his sister in spite of maltreatment had an immensely pacifying effect on 'Umar. Forthwith he ceased beating them and asked for the sheets of the Quran to be shown to him. His sister, fearing lest he should offer any insult to the Holy Book, felt reluctant; but on his assurance that he would no more hurt their religious susceptibilities, she handed over the sheets, which contained the chapter entitled Ta-ha. This is how it opens: "O man! We have not revealed the Quran to thee that thou mayest be unsuccessful. Nay, it is a reminder to him who fears. A revelation from Him Who created the earth and the high heavens." As he listened, he could no longer resist the force of the truth of the Quran. It made him think of the foolishness of hostility and opposition to what was so beautiful and noble. Khabbab who had out of fear kept concealed all this time, was not slow to seize upon the psychological moment. Coming out, he began preaching to him. The mighty `Umar could not withstand the spiritual gravitation of Islam. Enquiring of Khabbab as to the whereabouts of the Holy Prophet, he went straight off to Arqam's house which, sheltered, at that moment, the Holy Prophet with forty of his companions, male as well as female. 'Umar knocked at the door, from which one of. the inmates peeped to see who it was. Seeing 'Umar with his sword hanging about his neck, he was filled with fear, suspecting he was there on a foul errand. The Holy Prophet, however, told him to open the door and let him in. On his appearance, the Holy Prophet had hardly addressed a word to him before he proclaimed: "O Messenger of Allah! I declare faith in Allah and His Prophet." This filled the whole of the Muslim congregation with intense joy, and all proclaimed aloud the glory of Allah till the surrounding hills resounded to their shouts of Allah-u-Akbar (Allah is Great).
'Umar's conversion proved a tower of strength to the young Muslim brotherhood, too tender yet to face the storm of opposition. It was in the sixth year of the Holy Prophet's mission that these two important additions. Hamzah and 'Umar were made. So far, the Muslims had not ventured to come out into the open. They had confined their religious activities to the four walls of Arqam's house. Now that 'Umar had declared his adherence to Islam, they felt strong enough to come out and say their prayers publicly in the sacred house of Ka'bah. In the meantime many from the humbler class had also joined. Those coming from higher families would sometimes manage to escape the persecutions of the opponents; but the poor slave converts were in a very helpless and miserable plight. They were ruthlessly put to all manner of tortures, with nobody to protect them from the wrath of their masters. One of the virtues that constitute the sublimity of Abu Bakr's character was that he freely spent his wealth in purchasing these persecuted slaves from their cruel masters and set them free. Bilal, Amir, Lubainah, Zunnirah, Nahdiyah, and Umm Ubais were some of those who owed their freedom to Abu Bakr's generosity.
It is a striking feature of the early spread of Islam that it was limited mostly to the common hewer of wood and drawer of water. The aristocracy for the most part turned a deaf ear to the message. An incident narrated in the Quran throws light on the Divine purpose why the upper classes were deprived of the blessings of Islam in the days of its infancy. The Holy Prophet was one day busy preaching to some of the Quraish nobility when a poor blind man, Ibn Umm Maktum by name, made his appearance. Not knowing that the Holy Prophet was busy, he put him a few questions, expecting thereby to attract attention. The Holy Prophet, occupied as he was with important talk, naturally did not like interruption. He did not scold him nor did he utter a word of displeasure, but a shadow of disapproval passed over his forehead. But the Almighty God Who wanted him to attain to the highest pinnacle of morals as well as manners did not let this incident pass unnoticed. Forthwith came the warning through Divine revelation: "He frowned and turned away, because the blind man came to him. [The Quran, 80:1, 2.]" It went on to say that it was just possible that that very blind man might benefit by his preaching; for the Quran was a code of life whereby humble people could be raised to the greatest heights. The advancement of the cause of Islam was bound up with the poor and the weak who, in their struggle to uphold the cause of Islam, would themselves be glorified. And as a matter of fact this was the underlying Divine purpose why the light of Islam was hailed mostly by the weaker element of the inhabitants of Makkah. They were intended to serve as a concrete illustration of how ordinary people, supported by the Divine hand, can accomplish what is beyond the power of the most mighty. And we know it for certain, in the light of history, that not only did Islam enable the same class of the weak and the despised to wield the sceptre of royal authority, but at the same time raised them to the highest plane of morality and made them torch bearers of learning, art, science and philosophy at a time when the world was enshrouded in the darkness of ignorance. Can there be a greater testimony to the uplifting force of Islamic teachings?
Revelation was not a Voice from
The incident of the blind man, however insignificant, throws a flood of light on another problem of great moment. It furnishes data to determine the much-disputed nature of the Divine revelation of which the Holy Prophet was the recipient. Was it a voice from within his own heart, or was it a message received from an external source? The revelation made in consequence of his inattention to the blind man bears testimony to the fact that it could not possibly be the outcome of the inner workings of the Holy Prophet's own mind. It consists of a Divine admonition reproaching him for his ignoring the blind man. Nobody can afford to have his faults brought to public notice if he can avoid it, however penitent he might feel within himself. The Holy Prophet, notwithstanding the magnanimity of his heart, could have no special need to give general publicity to an omission on his part, however immaterial. This shows that it was some external source from which the revelation came - the Divine Being Himself. Cheerful submission to the supreme will of God was the key-note of his life. In addition to establishing conclusively the external source of revelation, the incident speaks volumes for the Holy Prophet's entire self-effacement in submission to the will of God.
This page was printed from the 'Official Website of the Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha'at-e-Islam Lahore (Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement for the Propagation of Islam)'
located at http://aaiil.org or http://www.aaiil.org