After his marriage to Khadijah, the Prophet Muhammad became very reflective. He used to retire to a cave on Mount Hira and spend his time in meditation and seclusion. He sometimes spent many nights in this cave and on one of these occasions had an extraordinary experience. One night, in the year 610 A.D., he was lying, wrapped in a mantle, when the Angel Gabriel visited him. Four times the Angel embraced him tightly and said: “Read.” Each time the Prophet replied: “What shall I read?” Then the Angel replied:
Read, in the name of thy Lord who created, Created man from a clot of blood. Recite, for thy Lord is most Beneficent; Who taught by the pen, Taught man what he knew not.
Prophet Muhammad was forty years old at the time of this first revelation which marks the beginning of his prophethood. These five verses of the first revelation are part of Surah al-Alaq, the 96th Chapter of the Holy Quran. The night of the first revelation occurred towards the end of the month of Ramadhan and was later named lailatul Qadr or the Night of Power.
When the vision in the cave vanished, the Prophet awoke full of fear. He realized that a big responsibility was being given to him which he was not sure he could carry out. He hurried back to his home and narrated the incident to his wife Khadijah, saying,
“Weak man that I am, how can I carry the responsibility which God proposes to put on my shoulders?”
Khadijah replied at once:
“God is witness, He has not sent you this Word that you should fail and prove unworthy and that He should then give you up. How can God do such a thing, while you are kind and considerate to your relations, help the poor and the forlorn and bear their burdens? You are restoring the virtues that had disappeared from our country. You treat guests with honour and help those who are in distress. Can you be subjected by God to any trial?”
Having said this, Khadijah took the Prophet to her cousin, Waraqa bin Naufal, who was a Christian hermit. When Waraqa heard the account, he said:
“The angel who descended on Moses, I am sure, has descended on you. Your people will oppose you and will turn you out. I wish that I was alive at that time and could help you”
Although the first revelation marked the beginning of the prophetic career of Muhammad, it did not contain any special instructions for him. Such instructions started to come down in subsequent revelations. A second revelation followed soon and more clearly defined the Prophet’s mission.
O thou covered in a mantle
Arise and deliver thy warning
And your Lord do extol
And your garments do purify
And all uncleanliness do thou shun
And give not just to gain more
And for thy Lord’s cause, be patient
The above verses belong to Surah al Muddathir, the 74th Chapter of the Holy Quran.
Another night soon, after this, the Prophet was given further commands to intensify his worship. In this third revelation he was clearly told that a great responsibility was indeed being placed on his shoulder:
O thou wrapped in a mantle
Pray at night except for a small portion —
Half of it or a little less or a little more —
And recite the Quran a good recital
Verily, We will cast upon thee a mighty Word……
And remember the name of thy Lord and devote thyself to
Him very devoutly
The Lord of the East and the West
There is none worthy of worship except Him
So take Him for thy Guardian (73:2-10)
At first the Prophet reported his visions and revelations to a few close relatives and friends. A number of these believed in him and embraced the new religion. The very first person to accept Islam was, of course, his wife Khadijah. Then came Ali, his cousin, and Abu Bakr, his childhood friend. These were followed by Uthman, Abdur Rahman, Zayd, al Zubayr, and Talha. Zayd was Prophet Muhammad’s freed slave and adopted son.
Then, as commanded, the Prophet took his preaching to his own clan. One day he climbed on top of Mount Sana, in Mecca, and called out:
“O people of Quraysh!
O people of Quraysh!”
Hearing his call, the people of Quraysh gathered around him and asked what the matter was. The Prophet said:
“If I told you that there was an army behind this hill, would you believe me?”
They all replied:
“Indeed, for we trust you, and we have never known you to tell a lie.”
The Prophet then said:
“Know then that I am a Warner and I warn you of a severe punishment. O Banu Abdul Muttalib! O Banu Abd Manaf! O Banu Zuhra! O Banu Taym! O Banu Makhzum! O Banu Asad! God has commanded me to warn my nearest kinsmen, that I can guarantee to you no good on the earth or in heaven unless you witness that there is none worthy of worship except God.”
Hearing this, the Prophet’s uncle, Abu Lahab, got up and said:
“Perish thou this very day! was it for this that thou assembled us here?”
Not discouraged at this cruel and harsh reception from his own kinsfolk, the Holy Prophet took his preaching to the people of Mecca at large. He spoke to them around the Ka’ba and he talked to them in the streets of Mecca. His message to the people in each case was very simple:
“God is One. There is none worthy of worship except Him. He has no associate. He is the sole Creator of the Universe. God is Unseen and All Powerful and to portray Him with figures and statues is not right. Muhammad is God’s Messenger just like Abraham, Moses and Jesus…”
In short, the Holy Prophet asked the people to give up idol worship, return to the worship of One God and be kind and charitable to the poor.
The Meccans, however, rejected the Prophet’s message and displayed considerable hostility to him and his followers. The Meccans did not like to be told that the religion of their forefathers was absurd. Mecca, moreover, enjoyed a certain status in Arabia due to the Ka’ba and the annual pilgrimage. The Meccans saw in Islam a real threat to their own social and political power and did their utmost to oppose this new religion.
The chief among these opponents were Omar bin Hisham (known among the Muslims as Abu Jahal, the father of ignorance), Abu Lahab the Prophet’s uncle, Abu Sufyan, the leading man of the House of Umayyah, and Uqbah bin Mueet, also of the House of Umayyah.
While the nobility of Mecca turned a deaf ear to the Prophet’s call, the poor and the oppressed were strongly attracted to his teaching. Slaves, young men and hapless women collected around the Prophet. These people saw that Islam recognized the rights of the poor; the slaves and the women and they saw a new hope for themselves in this religion.
The acceptance of the Prophet’s teachings by the poor made the chiefs of Mecca all the more angry and vengeful. The Meccans were a class conscious society and the chiefs of Mecca could not even think that the poor could have the same rights as themselves. The Quraysh, therefore, started to ill-treat the Prophet and his followers. The brunt of their wrath fell upon the converted slaves and the poor people of the lower classes who had no patron or protector. These helpless people were abused, persecuted and tortured but rarely did anyone renounce his religion. Bilal, a negro slave, was made to lie on hot sand, and stones were put on his chest. Yasir, a poor man, was tortured till he died, and his wife, Sumayyah, was murdered by Abu Jahal. Many a slave were rescued from persecution by the rich and influential Abu Bakr who would buy them and set them free.
The Prophet himself was under the protection of his uncle .Abu Talib. This, however, did not stop his opponents to maltreat him when ever they got an opportunity. On one occasion the Holy Prophet was saying his Prayer at the Ka’ba when a person, on the instigation of Abu Jahal, brought the innards of a camel and dumped them on his back. The Prophet was in the state of prostration at the moment and could not lift himself up due to the heavy weight. One of his daughters eventually came to his help and pushed the burden aside. Similarly, in the streets of Mecca the Prophet was a perpetual target of fun and mockery. He, however, remained steadfast in his mission to convey the message of God to the people and to warn them of the Day of Judgment, when they will all be held accountable for their deeds.
When oppression in Mecca reached its extreme, the Prophet advised his followers to seek refuge in a foreign land. As a result, in the fifth year of the Prophet’s mission, a small party of Muslims, consisting of eleven men and four women, set out for Abyssinia. The Kingdom of Abyssinia was ruled at the time by a Christian king named Negus (Najashi) who was well known for his justice.
When the Quraysh learned of this emigration, they sent a delegation to the King with the request to expel the Muslims from his Kingdom. They told the King that the Muslims had started a new religion in opposition to their ancestral faith as well as to Christianity. The King summoned the Muslims to his court and demanded an explanation. Ja’far bin Abu Talib spoke on behalf of the Muslims:
“O King, we were an ignorant people, given to idolatry. We did not make good our obligations to our relations, and ill treated our neighbours. The strong among us thrived at the expense of the weak. Then, at last, God raised a Prophet for our reformation. He called us to worship One God and exhorted us to give up idolatry. He enjoined us to speak the truth, to make good our trusts and to be good to our neighbours. He taught us to avoid bloodshed and forbade all indecent things. So we believed in him, followed him and acted upon his teachings. Thereupon our people turned against us and subjected us to tortures. When their cruelties exceeded all bounds, we came to your country seeking asylum”
After this Ja’far recited a passage from Surah Maryam which showed Negus the great respect and reverence Muslims had for the Prophet Jesus.
Negus was greatly impressed by the morals and ideals of the Muslims and allowed them to stay in his land as long as they wished. The Quraysh delegation had to return to Mecca unsuccessfully.
These early emigrants to Abyssinia did not stay in that country for long. On hearing the rumour that relations between the Muslims and the Quraysh had improved, the emigrants returned to Mecca within a few months only to find the persecution worse than ever before.
In the fifth year of his call, the Holy Prophet experienced a spiritual event known as al-Miraj or the Ascent. In this vision he saw the Angel Gabriel take him to the heavens. There he met a number of earlier prophets in the seven levels of the heaven and eventually found himself in the presence of God. It was in this vision that the five Daily Prayers were enjoined upon his followers. The Tradition of the Holy Prophet gives detailed accounts of how the number of Daily Prayers was reduced from fifty to five.
In the meantime, the Quraysh redoubled their persecution of Muslims. The Prophet again advised his followers to take refuge in Abyssinia. The emigrants this time numbered 101, including 18 women. This second group of emigrants stayed in Abyssinia until the Prophet’s emigration to Yathrib.
At the rapid success of Islam, the Quraysh became frightened. They went to Abu Talib and offered to give all sorts of riches to the Prophet Muhammad on the condition that he give up his mission. Abu Talib called the Prophet and told him about the wishes of the Quraysh. On hearing this, the Holy Prophet replied:
“O my uncle, if they were to place the sun on my right hand and the moon on my left, I will not give up preaching the truth of One God. I must go on doing so until I die.”
In the sixth year of the Prophet’s call, Hamzah and Omar bin Khattab accepted Islam. Both men were brave and highly influential in the Meccan society and their conversion brought great moral and physical support to the Muslim community.
Seeing the influence of the Prophet spreading everywhere, the Quraysh took punitive measures against the Hashemite branch of the tribe. In the 7th year of the mission, the Quraysh proclaimed a total boycott of the Hashemite who were forced to retire into the secluded quarter of the city. During this period the Hashemite were cut off from supplies of corn and other foodstuff. Also, no one would trade with them or talk to them during this period. Not all the Hashemite were Muslims but the entire clan endured this difficult situation for the sake of their Muslim kinsfolk. This state of affairs lasted for nearly three years.
Finally, five decent members of the enemy revolted against this terrible situation and the boycott was lifted. After the lifting of the boycott, there was a temporary relaxation of hostilities against the Muslims. Exaggerated reports of this temporary improvement in the situation reached Abyssinia, whereupon many of the Muslim emigrants returned to Mecca including the Prophet’s daughter, Ruqayyah, and her husband, Uthman.
In the year 619 AD, not long after the lifting of the boycott, the Prophet suffered two great personal losses. The Prophet was fifty years old when both his wife and his uncle, Abu Talib, passed away one after the other. Khadijah had been married to the Prophet for twenty five years and gave him moral support through the most critical period of his life. Abu Talib, though he never accepted Islam, continued to give his protection and affection to the Prophet against the great opposition of the Quraysh. The Prophet Muhammad was highly grieved at the loss of both these persons and the year of their deaths is known in Islamic history as the “the Year of the Sorrow”.
When life became very difficult in Mecca and people would not listen to him, the Prophet decided to go to Ta’if and preach to the people there. Zayd, his freed slave and adopted son, accompanied the Prophet on this journey. Ta’if was a small town about sixty miles south east of Mecca and, like it, was inhabited by idol worshipers. The Holy Prophet stayed in Ta’if for a few days and preached to its chiefs without any success. The chiefs of Ta’if set vagabonds and street boys at the Prophet who pelted him with stones and drove him out of the city. Both Zayd and the Prophet were wounded. The Prophet was grieved and dejected at this treatment when an angel appeared and asked him if he wished his persecutors to be destroyed. The Prophet replied, “No. I hope one day their children will accept Islam and worship the One God”
On his way back from Ta’if, the Prophet rested in a vineyard which belonged to two Meccans. They were his persecutors at Mecca but on this occasion they were sympathetic and sent him a tray-full of grapes carried by a Christian slave, named Addas. The Prophet asked the slave where he was from, and Addas replied, “Ninevah.” Upon this the Holy Prophet said, “Ninevah, the home of Jonah son of Mathew, who was a prophet like me.” The Prophet also told Addas about his own mission and teachings. Addas felt as if he was in the presence of an Israelite Prophet and immediately embraced Islam.
During the season of a pilgrimage, the Prophet met a group of six men from Yathrib. He explained to them his mission and asked for their help in spreading his message in their home town. On their return to Yathrib, these people spread the news that a prophet had risen among the Meccans.
During the next pilgrimage season, in the year 621 A.D., a group of twelve faithful followers came from Yathrib. The Prophet met these people at a place called Aqabah, where they all took an oath at the Prophet’s hands, never to worship anything except God. This is known as the First Pledge of Aqabah.
In the year 621 A.D., the eleventh year of the Prophet’s call, he experienced another spiritual event. The Prophet at the time was staying with his cousin, Hind, the daughter of his uncle Abu Talib. She was also known as Umm Hani.
In a spiritual vision during the night, the Holy Prophet was transported from the Sacred Mosque in Mecca to the Prophet Solomon’s Temple at Jerusalem which was known to the Muslims as the Distant Mosque.
This vision, although purely spiritual, was so vivid and realistic in its nature that the Holy Prophet could easily describe the city of Jerusalem and the Distant Mosque to the amazement of the disbelievers.
In the following year, 622 A.D., some seventy three people came from Yathrib, at the time of the pilgrimage to Mecca. These people secretly met the Prophet in the valley of Aqabah and offered an oath of allegiance to him. These new converts to Islam pledged to help and protect him if the need ever arose. They also extended him an invitation to come to Yathrib.