There are many events that are important in the history of Islam. The most significant, however, is the one that set everything in motion and led to the founding of a major world religion over 1400 years ago. In order to understand Islam, one must reflect on the events that have defined this faith, its community, and its history. The story of the initial revelations are told to young Muslim children throughout the world and is a constant source of inspiration for the Muslim community. The focus of this post, part of a series on important events in the history of Islam, is the first revelation of the Qur’an to the Prophet Muhammad.
The Prophet Muhammad–before receiving that first revelation and many more over the course of 22 years–was in the habit of meditating in a cave called Hira in the outskirts of Mecca. He would take provisions for a number of days and return only when he had finished them. In the cave of Hira, the Prophet would reflect on his society and its problems, which included a lack of concern for the less fortunate like orphans, ill treatment of women, an increase in decadent behavior, and a concern with wealth that led to cheating and abuses. The Prophet would spend his time looking for signs to alleviate the problems that he believed were destroying his society and its core values.
In the month of Ramadan in 610 CE, the Prophet Muhammad was meditating as usual in Hira when he was visited by the Archangel Gabriel, or Jibril as he is known in Arabic. According to sources, Gabriel seized him and squeezed the Prophet to the point that he thought he was going to die, and issued a command. He said, “Iqraa’ (Read!).” The Prophet Muhammad was illiterate and responded that he could not read. Two more times, Gabriel repeated the command and the Prophet responded with the same answer. Then, Gabriel revealed the first verses of the Qur’an to the Prophet:
Read in the name of your Lord who created -created man from a clot. Read: for your Lord is Most Bountiful, who teaches by the pen, teaches man that which he knew not. (Chapter 96, verses 1-5)
After this encounter, the Prophet ran from the cave. Muslim sources say that the experience was so overwhelming that whenever he would look back behind him, he would see Gabriel completely covering the horizon. Interestingly, the person that the Prophet ran to for comfort was his wife Khadijah. When he reached home, he told her repeatedly to cover him. He then told her what had happened in the cave. She replied by saying that his vision was true and that she did not believe that with his character God would humiliate him:
Never! By God, God will never disgrace you. You keep good relations with your relatives, help the poor, serve your guests generously, and assist those hit with calamities. (Saheeh Al-Bukhari)
Khadijah then took the Prophet to her cousin Waraqa, a biblical scholar. After hearing the account, he told Muhammad that he had the signs of prophecy and had joined the long line of prophets sent by God to call society to monotheism and to leading righteous lives.
This night, the Night of Power, or Laylatul Qadr in Arabic, for Muslims is a very significant night. No one knows exactly what night the Night of Power falls, but it has been determined to be in the last ten days of Ramadan. Muslims, therefore, will spend the last ten days in increased worship and recitation of the Qur’an, hoping that they will be doing these activities on the Night of Power.
The first revelations represent for Muslims the beginning of the final message sent to humanity and established Muhammad as the seal of the prophets. It is for this reason that its story is often related and is considered to be the most important event in the history of Islam.
What is your reaction when your hear the story of the first revelations? What are other important events in the history of Islam? What are the revelation stories in other faith traditions? Why are they considered significant? Please share your comments below.