Muhammad the Messenger
By Hafeez Diwan and Sally Mallam
Muhammad had developed a refined integrated understanding, an intuitive capacity to connect to what has been referred to throughout our religious history as God/Truth/Knowledge/Love. As a result of this, far from what we think of as a vocation or choice, Muhammad understood the duty and function of his life. Jesus, Muhammad and other prophets – many of whom are referred to in the Qur’an – along with Islamic Sufi teachers who would come after Muhammad, are examples of human beings who reached a permanent stage where they were able to maintain existence in two worlds. They were “in the world but not of the world” (The Prophet).
He would spend time in contemplation first at home and then he began going to a cave in Mount Hira, accompanied by his young cousin Ali and his adopted son, Zaid. Tradition states that one day, when he was about forty years old, Muhammad was alone and asleep in the cave on Mount Hira’ when he saw before him “like the brightness of the dawn” an angel who commanded that he recite … Muhammad said that he could not do so.
“Then he took me and squeezed me vehemently and then let me go and repeated the order ‘Recite.’ ‘I cannot recite’ said I, and once again he squeezed me and let me go till I was exhausted. Then he said, ‘Recite.’ I said, ‘I cannot recite.’ He squeezed me for a third time and then let me go and said:
‘Recite in the name of your lord who created –
From an embryo created the human.
Recite your lord is all-giving
Who taught by the pen
Taught the human what he did not know before
The human being is a tyrant
He thinks his possessions make him secure
To your lord is the return of everything’” (Qur’an: 96:1-8)
Muhammad was terrified and unable to understand what had happened to him. Had he gone mad or become one of the Kahins, the ecstatic poets whom he despised? What had happened? He staggered down the mountain and sought Khadija, crying, “Wrap me up! Wrap me up!” Khadija covered him in a cloak and held him and when he was calmer, questioned him. He told her what he had experienced and that he feared he had gone mad, but Khadija had no doubt that his revelation was authentic, “This cannot be my dear, God would not treat you thus. You are known to be truthful and a bearer of the burdens of others. You give to the poor, you feed guests, you work against injustice,” writes I. Ishaq in The Life of Muhammad (translated by A. Guillaume pg.106).
A second revelation (The Quran, 74) came to Muhammad the following morning, instructing him as follows (as translated by M. Jebara):
Oh you who are covered up, shivering with fear
Get up and go out to proclaim the message of self-deliverance
Empower people to rebuild themselves inspired by the Cosmic Mentor
But bring clarity to yourself before you try to change others!
Cast off the constellation of obstacles weighing you down!
Help others out of sincerity without expecting any personal benefit!
Trust in your Cosmic Mentor and persevere through the difficult process ahead!
(A more traditional translation of these verses is as follows, from MAS Abdel Haleem:
You, wrapped in your cloak
Arise and give warning!
Proclaim the greatness of your Lord; cleanse yourself;
keep away from all filth (alternatively, idolatory);
do not weaken, feeling overwhelmed (or do not give, hoping only to receive);
be steadfast in your Lord’s cause.)
But Muhammad was inconsolable, so Khadija took him to the only person she could think might be able to verify the nature of what had happened, her cousin Waraqa. Waraqa, an Ebionite Christian, had been one of the founding four Hanifs. He recognized Muhammad’s experience for what it was: “If this be true, Khadija, there has come to him the great divinity who came to Moses aforetime, and lo, he is the Prophet of this people,” says Karen Armstrong in Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time. Waraqa told Muhammad that he would be persecuted and that he should “see his life as one of deliberate preparation rather than random fate.” He pointed out that “all the brokenness in his past had actually prepared him to unleash his potential as a world changer.”
Some scholars doubt that Muhammad would have been the successful businessman he was, had he been unable to read and write the correspondence and documentation relating to his own business. He may have been able to read both Arabic and the Aramaic in common use by the Jewish community at the time. They suggest that the epithet the Qur’an uses for Muhammad: “an-nabi al-ummi” traditionally meaning “the unlettered Prophet,” might instead mean “The Prophet for the unlettered,” in other words, for the people without a holy book. “We did not give [the Arabs] any previous books to study, nor sent them any previous Warners before you.” (The Qur’an 34:44).
The revelations that Muhammad received were conveyed to others in words remote from his world: he was not known to have composed any poetry and had no special rhetorical gifts. From the first revelation, the Suras (chapters) of the Qur’an would deal with matters of belief, law, politics, ritual, spirituality and personal conduct, cosmology, and economics in what Karen Armstrong describes as an “entirely new literary form.” The Qur’an itself states, “If you are in doubt of what We have revealed to Our messenger, then produce one chapter like it. Call upon all your helpers, besides God, if you are truthful.” (The Qur’an 2.23) No one was able to do this.
The Revelations and the Qur’an
Barnaby Rogerson writes in The Prophet Muhammad: A Biography, “Medieval Islam considered the Qur’an to be a document that had existed throughout all eternity, graven like the tablets of Moses by the hand of God. They saw Muhammad as little more than God’s scribe and even considered the classical Arabic of the Qur’an to be created by God and the eternal language of heaven. This concept, although it might have been relevant in its own time, is no longer so useful. It is more enlightening to see the illiterate Prophet grappling in an attempt to place the sacred revelations within a human language, with all its limitations. It was a task into which he poured all his energy and abilities. It will be remembered that Muhammad testified, ‘Never once did I receive a revelation without thinking my soul had been torn away from me.’ It is also clear that he constantly strove towards ultimate perfection in this task of recitation. Perhaps he knew he had succeeded when the recitations no longer sounded within him as clear as a bell, but he could hear them as if they were dictated by an angel standing ‘at a distance of two bows – or even closer.’”
Idries Shah in The Sufis says, “For the Sufis of the classical period, the Koran is the encoded document which contains Sufi teachings. Theologians tend to assume that it is capable of interpretation only in a conventionally religious way; historians are inclined to look for earlier literary or religious sources; others for evidence of contemporary events reflected in its pages. For the Sufi, the Koran is a document with numerous levels of transmission, each one of which has a meaning in accordance with the capacity for understanding of the reader. It is this attitude toward the book which made possible the understanding between people who were of nominally Christian, pagan or Jewish backgrounds—a feeling which the orthodox could not understand. The Koran in one sense is therefore a document of psychological importance. Chapter 112 of the Koran is an excellent example of this synthesizing capacity of the book. This is one of the shortest chapters, and it may be translated thus: Say, O messenger, to the people: ‘He, Allah, is Unity! Allah the Eternal. Fathering nobody, and not himself engendered—And absolutely nothing is like him!’”
A more modern understanding of a revelation might be that at such times Muhammad and other prophets experienced a higher state of consciousness that enabled them to intuitively understand aspects of an alternate Reality. This Reality is “beyond words.” “I cannot recite” might actually mean that the experience is impossible to put into words.
Thus in himself Muhammad developed a refined integrated understanding, an intuitive capacity to connect to what has been referred to throughout our religious history as God/Truth/Knowledge/Love. As a result of this, far from what we think of as a vocation or choice, Muhammad understood the duty and function of his life. Jesus, Muhammad and other prophets – many of whom are referred to in the Qur’an – along with Islamic Sufi teachers who would come after Muhammad, are examples of human beings who reached a permanent stage where they were able to maintain existence in two worlds. In the words of Mohammad, they were “in the world but not of the world.”
Quran Fragments Found in Britain Are Dated to the Birth of Islam
Dan Bilefsky, New York Times
The fragments appeared to be part of what could be the world’s oldest copy of the Quran, and researchers say it may have been transcribed by a contemporary of the Prophet Muhammad.
The Pre-Islamic World
The Life of Muhammad
Muhammad the Unifier
Judaism and Christianity in the Qur’an
The Community of Believers