Muhammad’s First Revelation
Renowned compilers of authentic traditions of Islam agree on the following account of the first revelations received by the Prophet.
Muhammad would seclude himself in the cave of Mount Hira and worship three days and nights. He would, whenever he wished, return to his family at Mecca and then go back again, taking with him the necessities of life. Thus he continued to return to Khadijah from time to time until one day the revelation came down to him and the Angel Gabriel (Jibreel) appeared to him and said: “Read!” But as Muhammad was illiterate, having never received any instruction in reading or writing, he said to the angel: “I am not a reader.” The angel took hold of him and squeezed him as much as he could bear, and then said again: “Read!” The Prophet said: “I am not a reader.” The Angel again seized the Prophet and squeezed him and said: “Read! In the Name of your Lord, Who has created (all that exists), has created man from something that clings. Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous, Who has taught (the writing) by the pen, has taught man that which he knew not. Surah 96: 1-5
Early Years of Prophet hood
Muhammad Speaks with Khadijah and Waraqa
Then the Prophet repeated the words with a trembling heart. He returned to Khadijah from Mount Hira and said: “Wrap me up! Wrap me up!” She wrapped him in a garment until his fear was dispelled. He told Khadijah what had occurred and that he was becoming either a soothsayer or one smitten with madness. She replied: “Allah forbid! He will surely not let such a thing happen, for you speak the truth, you are faithful in trust, you bear the afflictions of the people, you spend in good works what you gain in trade, you are hospitable and you assist your fellow men. Have you seen anything terrible?”
Muhammad replied: ‘Yes,” and told her what he had seen. Whereupon, Khadijah said: “Rejoice, 0 dear husband and be cheerful. He in Whose hands stands Khadijah’s life bears witness to the truth of this fact, that you will be the prophet to this people.” Then she arose and went to her cousin Waraqa Ibn Naufal, who was old and blind and who knew the Scriptures of the Jews and the Christians, and is stated to have translated them into Arabic.
When she told him of what she had heard, he cried out: “Holy! Holy! Verily, this is the Namus (The Holy Spirit) who came to Moses. He will be the prophet of his people. Tell him this and bid him be brave of heart.”
When the two men met subsequently in the street, the blind old student of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures spoke of his faith and trust: “I swear by Him in Whose hand Waraqa’s life is, Allah has chosen you to be the prophet of this people. They will call you a liar, they will persecute you, they will banish you, they will fight against you. Oh, that I could live to those days. I would fight for these.” And he kissed him on his forehead.
Muhammad Begins Preaching
The first vision was followed by a considerable period, during which Muhammad suffered much mental depression. The angel spoke to the grieved heart of hope and trust and of the bright future when he would see the people of the earth crowding into the one true faith. His destiny was unfolded to him when, wrapped in profound meditation, melancholy and sad, he felt himself called by a voice from heaven to arise and preach. 0 you (Muhammad) enveloped (in grments)! Arise and warn! And your Lord (Allah) magnify! Surah 74: 1-3
He arose and engaged himself in the work to which he was called. Khadijah was the first to accept his mission. She was to believe in the revelations, to abandon the idolatry of her people and to join him in purity of heart and in offering up prayers to Allah the Almighty.
Muhammad Speaks with Abu Talib
At the beginning of his mission, Muhammad – hereinafter called the Prophet – opened his soul only to those who were attached to him and tried to free them from the gross practices of their forefathers. After Khadijah, his cousin Ali was the next companion. The Prophet used often to go into the desert around Mecca with his wife and young cousin that they might together offer their heart-felt thanks to the Lord of all nations for His manifold blessings. Once they were surprised by Abu Talib, the father of Ali.
He said to the Prophet: “0 son of my brother, what is this religion you are following?” “It is the religion of Allah of His Angels, of His Messengers and of our ancestor Abraham,” answered the Prophet. “Allah has sent me to His servants, to direct them towards the truth, and you, 0 my uncle, are the most worthy of all. It is meet that I should thus call upon you and it is meet that you should accept the truth and help in spreading it.”
Abu Talib replied: “Son of my brother, I cannot abjure the religion of my fathers; but by the Supreme Lord, while I am alive, none shall dare to injure you.” Then turning towards Ali, the venerable chief asked what religion was his. Ali answered: “0 father, “I believe in Allah and His Prophet and go with him.” Abu Talib replied: “Well my son, he will not call you to anything except what is good, therefore you are free to go with him.”
Muhammad’s First Three Years
After Ali, Muhammad’s adopted son Zaid became a convert to the new faith. He was followed by Abu Bakr, a leading member of the Quraish tribe and an honest, wealthy merchant who enjoyed great consideration among his compatriots. He was but two years younger than the Prophet. His adoption of the new faith was of great moral effect. Soon after, five notables presented themselves before the Prophet and accepted Islam. Several converts also came from lower classes of the Arabs to adopt the new religion.
For three weary long years, the Prophet labored very quietly to deliver his people from the worship of idols. Polytheism was deeply rooted among the people. It offered attractions which the new faith in its purity did not possess. The Quraish had personal material interests in the old worship, and their prestige was dependent upon its maintenance. The Prophet had to contend with the idolatrous worship of its followers and to oppose the ruling oligarchy which governed its destinies.
Muhammad’s First Address to the Public
After three years of constant but quiet struggle, only thirty followers were secured. An important change now occurred in the relations of the Prophet with the citizens of Mecca. His compatriots had begun to doubt his sanity, thinking him crazy or possessed by an evil spirit. Hitherto he had preached quietly and unobtrusively. He now decided to appeal publicly to the Meccans, requesting them to abandon their idolatry.
For this he arranged a gathering on a neighboring hill and there spoke to them of their folly in the sight of Allah in worshiping pieces of stone which they called their gods. He invited them to abandon their old impious worship and adopt the faith of love, truth, and purity. He warned them of the fate that had overtaken past races who had not heeded the preaching of former prophets. But the gathering departed without listening to the warning given them by the Prophet.
Muhammad Attempts to Address Foreigners
Having thus failed to induce his fellow citizens to listen to him, he turned his attention to the strangers arriving in the city on commerce or pilgrimage. But the Quraish made attempts to frustrate his efforts. They hastened themselves to meet the strangers first on the different routes, to warn them against holding any communication with the Prophet, whom they represented as a dangerous magician. When the pilgrims or traders returned to their homes, they carried with them the news of the advent of the bold preacher who was inviting the Arabs loudly – at the risk of his own life – to abandon the worship of their dear idols.
Some Persecutions Faced by the Believers
Now the Prophet and his followers became subject to some persecution and indignity. The hostile Quraish prevented the Prophet from offering his prayers at the Sacred House of the Kaba; they pursued him wherever he went; they covered him and his disciples with dirt and filth when engaged in their devotions; they scattered thorns in the places which he frequented for devotion and meditation. Amidst all these trials the Prophet did not waver. He was full of confidence in his mission, even when on several occasions he was put in imminent danger of losing his life.