Chapter II: The Revelation (Wahy) an Its Immediate Aftermath
The Recipient of the Mantle of Messengerhood, The Warner and Exhorter
The first revelation (Wahy) in the cave of Hira, in the vicinity of Makkah, marked the beginning of Islam. The instrument of (Wahy) continued to be the primary source of guidance he received over the next twenty-three years.
"It is not in man's power that Allah should converse (directly) with him except by means of Revelation (Wahy)
Or from behind a veil,
Or by His permission, He sends a Messenger (Angel Gabriel) to reveal what He will:
For He is supremely wise." (Qur'an 42:51)
The (Wahy) took many forms. The Prophet reported, "Revelation sometimes comes like the sound of a bell; that is the most painful way. When it ceases, I have remembered what was said. Sometimes it is an angel who talks to me like a human, and I remember what he says."
The words he heard during that first revelation in the cave have been immortalized in the Qur'an.
"Iqra' (Recite) in the name of your Lord (The Nourisher and Sustainer),
Who has created (all things)
He has created humankind from a clot (fetus)
Recite! And your Lord is the most generous
Who has taught (mankind) by the pen
He taught humankind what he knew not" (Qur'an 96:1-4).
It is clear that for the Prophet the Wahy was an awe-inspiring experience. He felt physically crushed by it and was emotionally overpowered by the weight and majesty of the message as it sank into his psyche.
The words that Khadijah used to reassure Muhammad (S) when he went home after the first revelation, obviously shaken by the experience, are particularly insightful. When Muhammad (S) cried out in anguish, "'Woe, have I become a poet or am I possessed?" Khadijah answered, "'Allah will never disgrace you thus. You keep good relations with your kith and kin, help the poor and the destitute, serve your guests generously and assist those afflicted by calamity."
With this first revelation in 610 CE, at forty years of age, the second phase in Muhammad's (S) life began; a phase of private preaching of Islam. Along with this discreet spread of Islam came hardship, and continuing self-doubt and need for reassurance.
Muhammad's (S) doubts about the nature of what was happening to him must have been exacerbated during a long period (six months to two years called fatrah or break) without any revelation. In addition there must have been a sense of absolute loneliness. Any individual who sets out with a vision that truly is unique will be predictably lonely in the beginning. It is the very uniqueness of the mission, which makes one lonely. Frequently, the individual is the victim of derision, sarcasm, and jest. Most charismatic leaders have had to go through this phase of loneliness, uncertainty and sometimes depression.
Approximately six months after the initial revelation came the following exhortation to pray and a warning of the profound and difficult nature of the message he was to receive.
"O thou enfolded in thy mantle
Keep awake in the night, but for a portion of it- a half of it or less
Or a little more than that; and intone the Qur'an in measured tone
We shall charge thee with a weighty message". (Qur'an 73:1-5)
Khadijah had instantly accepted the divine nature of the revelation. A small number of Quraysh followed suit surreptitiously. The most influential among those who accepted Islam early on was Abu Bakr. He was typical in many ways of those who tended to accept Islam. He was serious-minded, thoughtful, and given to introspection-someone who had already been searching for the truth. Some of the others who accepted Islam were from the group mentioned earlier called the Hanifs.
Muhammad (S) also started praying using physical postures quite different from the prevalent Qurayshi methods. Initially the prayers were offered in the privacy of homes or in secluded spots. Once one of Muhammad's (S) uncles accidentally stumbled upon Ali who was in the act of prayer. Somewhat puzzled at the unfamiliar activity, he wondered what was going on, to which Ali ibn Abu Talib replied that he had been taught by Muhammad (S) to pray according to the rituals of Ibrahim (as), a figure who was well known to the Arabs. The tendency in Islam toward finding commonalties with Judaism and Christianity through their shared Abrahamic (Ibrahimi) tradition was present from the very beginning. As mentioned earlier, Christians and Jews are referred to in the Qur'an by the phrase, Ahl al-Kitab (the people of the book) which gives them a special and higher status than the followers of other religions.
Excitement and Self Doubt
It seems Muhammad's (S) overwhelming sense of these first three years after the revelation is of awe at the majesty of the revelation, a great sense of excitement, but also of torturous self-doubt. The Qur'an alludes to this and consoles Muhammad (S) in the poignant Surat ad- Duha (The Glorious Morning Light),
"By the glorious morning light, And by the night when it is still,
Thy Lord has not forsaken thee, nor is he displeased.
Verily the end will be better for thee than the present.
And soon will thy Lord give thee that which will please thee.
Did he not find thee an orphan and give thee shelter.
And found thee wandering (lost) and give thee guidance.
And found thee destitute (in need) and made thee independent." (Qur'an 93: 1-8)
The hope and promise of a future as glorious as the morning light after a dark night suffuses and illuminates both this and the following surah," The Broadening" in which the Qur'an reminds Muhammad (S) that,
"There is ease after each difficulty, Indeed ease after each difficulty." (Qur'an 94: 5-6)
The first three years after the initial revelation were ending. The early doubts had finally melted away. There was a small but dedicated group of believers and the time appeared to be ripe for taking the message to the public.
"Therefore expound openly what thou art commanded... And turn away from those who join false gods with Allah." (Qur'an 15: 94)
There was also the order to spread the message to one's close relatives.
"And admonish you nearest kinsmen." (Qur'an 26: 214)
And hence these trepidations of the first few years came to an end and the next phase of his life started, which was marked by a more open style of invitation to Islam and a concomitant and predictable increase in hostility and resistance from his opponents. It is both fascinating and revealing that even the individual who would later be rated as the most influential man in human history had these initial periods of doubt and uncertainty about his mission. It was the reassurance from the Qur'an and the confidence and support of his wife Khadijah , and his close companions which provided him the support he needed-surely a lesson for us lesser mortals!