The Birth of Islam in Western Scholars Viewpoints (1)

The Birth of Islam in Western Scholars Viewpoints (1)

When Muhammad was 40 years old, he was commanded by Almighty Allah, through His angel, Gabriel, to declare His Oneness to the idolaters and polytheists of the whole world, and to deliver the message of peace to an embattled humanity. In response to this command of Heaven, Muhammad launched the momentous program called Islam which was to change the destiny of mankind forever.

Before the Call came to him to declare the Unity of the Creator, Muhammad was in the habit of spending much time in meditation and reflection. To be free from interference and extraneous distractions, he frequently went to a mountain cave called Hira, three miles in the north-east of Makkah, and spent the long summer days there. He was in Hira when one day the Archangel Gabriel appeared before him, and brought to him the tidings that God had chosen him to be His Last Messenger to this world, and had imposed upon him the duty of leading mankind out of the welter of sin, error and ignorance into the light of Guidance, Truth and Knowledge. Gabriel then bade Muhammad to "read" the following verses:

"Read in the name of thy lord and cherisher who created: Created man out of a clot of congealed blood. Read! And thy lord is most bountiful, He who taught the use of pen; Taught man that which he knew not".

These five verses were the earliest revelation, and they came to Muhammad on the "Night of Power" or the "Blessed Night" in the month of Ramadan (the ninth month of the Islamic calendar) of the 40th year of the Elephant. They are at the beginning of the 96th chapter of The Quran. The name of the chapter is Iqraa (Read) or ‘Alaq (the Clot of Congealed Blood).

The Night of Power or the Blessed Night occurs, according to tradition, during the last ten days of the month of Ramadan, and could be the 21st or 23rd or25th or 27th of the month.

In their respective accounts of the reception by Muhammad of the First Revelation, the Sunni and the Shia Muslims are not in agreement. According to the Sunni tradition, the appearance of Gabriel surprised Muhammad, and when the former ordered him to read, he said, "I cannot read." This happened thrice, and each time when Muhammad declared his inability to read, the angel pressed him hard to his bosom. Eventually, he was able to repeat the five verses whereupon the angel released him and disappeared.

When Archangel Gabriel disappeared, Muhammad, who was now "ordained" the Messenger of Allah, descended from the cliffs of Hira, and repaired to his home in a state of great trepidation. He was shivering with cold, and when he entered his house, he asked his wife, Khadija, to cover him with a blanket which she did. When he had sufficiently recovered from the shock, he recounted to her the story of his strange encounter with Archangel Gabriel in the cave of Hira.

The traditional Sunni account of this incident is given in an article written by Shaykh Ahmad Zaki Hammad, Ph.D., captioned Be Hopeful,(1) as follows:

"The Prophet (pbuh) in the early stages in Mecca, feared that the revelation experience was an evil touch preying upon him, playing with him mentally, upsetting his tranquility and peace of mind. He was afraid that one of the jinn had touched him. He expressed this to Khadija. His fear increased to the point that – and please don't be surprised by an authentic report in Bukhari – the Prophet (pbuh) preferred to take his own life rather than to be touched by evil, to be tampered with, corrupted, or polluted."

But according to the accounts of the Shia Muslims, Muhammad Mustafa, far from being surprised or frightened by the appearance of Gabriel, welcomed him as if he had been expecting him. Gabriel brought the tidings that Allah had chosen him to be His Last Messenger to Mankind, and congratulated him on being selected to become the recipient of the greatest of all honors for a mortal in this world.

Muhammad had no hesitation in accepting the mission of prophethood nor he had any difficulty in repeating the verses of the First Revelation. He read them or repeated them effortlessly, spontaneously. Gabriel, in fact, was no stranger to him, and he also knew that his own raison was to carry out the mission imposed upon him by God as His Messenger. He was "mission-oriented" even before Gabriel’s visit. Gabriel only gave him the signal to begin.

The Shia Muslims also say that one thing that Gabriel didn't have to do, was to apply physical pressure on Muhammad to read. If he did, it would truly be a bizarre mode of imparting to Muhammad the ability to read – by squeezing him or choking him. They further maintain that Muhammad Mustafa did not contemplate suicide at any time in his life, not even in its most desolate moments; and that it never occurred to him that he could ever be touched by "evil" or that he could be "corrupted" or "polluted."

Nevertheless, Muhammad felt alarm at the magnitude of the task ahead of him. He realized that in the execution of his duty, he would be confronted by the massive, formidable and determined opposition of the pagans of the whole world. The state of his anxiety was almost palpable. He was, therefore, in a somber frame of mind as he left the cave to return home. And he did ask Khadija to drape him in a blanket as he sat down to recapitulate the events in Hira to her.

When Khadija heard the story that Muhammad told her, she comforted him and reassured him by saying: "O son of my uncle, be of good cheer. Allah has chosen you to be His messenger. You are always kind to your neighbors, helpful to your kinsfolk, generous to the orphans, the widows and the poor, and friendly to the strangers. Allah will never forsake you."

It is possible that Muhammad was momentarily overweighed by the thought of his accountability to Allah in carrying the enormous burden of his new responsibilities, but when he heard Khadija's soothing words, he immediately felt the tensions within him decompressing. She reassured him and convinced him that with God's Hand on his shoulder, he would rise equal to his duties and would overcome all obstacles.

After a brief interval, Gabriel appeared once again before Muhammad when the latter was in the cave of Hira, and presented to him the second Revelation which reads as follows:

"O Thou wrapped up (in a mantle)! Arise and deliver thy warning! And thy lord do thou magnify". (2)

The commandment from Heaven to "arise and warn" was the signal to Muhammad (the wrapped up in a blanket) to begin his work. Gabriel expounded to him his new duties the foremost of which was to destroy the worship of false gods, and to plant the banner of Tauheed – the doctrine of the Unity of the Creator – in the world; and he had to invite mankind to the True Faith – Islam. Islam means to surrender to Allah, and to acknowledge Muhammad as His slave and His messenger.

That evening Muhammad returned home conscious and conscientious of his new duty that he had to preach Islam, and that he had to begin from his own home – by preaching it to his wife.

Muhammad told Khadija about the second visit of Gabriel, and the duty imposed upon him by Allah to invite her to Islam. For Khadija, the antecedents and the moral integrity of her husband were an incontrovertible attestation that he was a divine messenger, and she readily accepted Islam. In fact, between her and Islam, an "ideological affinity" had pre-existed. Therefore, when Muhammad Mustafa presented Islam to her, she at once "recognized" it, and rosily embraced it. She believed that the Creator was One, and that Muhammad was His messenger, and she declared:

I bear witness that there is no god but Allah; and I bear witness that Muhammad is His slave and His Messenger.

Muhammad, the new messenger of God, had won his first convert - Khadija – his wife. She was the first one, the very first to affirm her faith in Tauheed (Oneness of the Creator), and she was the very first to acknowledge Muhammad as God's messenger to all mankind. She was the first Muslim.

Muhammad "introduced" Islam to Khadija. He explained to her its meaning, and he initiated her into it.

The honor to be the first individual in the whole world to bear witness to God's unity and to acknowledge Muhammad's prophethood, belongs to Khadija for all time.

F. E. Peters

She (Khadija) was the first to accept the truth of his (Muhammad's) revelation, the premier Muslim after the Prophet himself. She encouraged and supported Muhammad during the first difficult years of his public preaching, and during the twenty-five years of their marriage he took no other wife. Theirs was, by any reasonable standard of judgment, a love match as well as a corporate partnership. As noted before, Ali ibn Abi Talib, was living at this time with his foster-parents, Muhammad and Khadija. The two sons of Muhammad and Khadija – Qasim and Abdullah had died in their infancy. After their death, they had adopted Ali as their son. Ali was five years old when he came into their house, and he was ten years old when Muhammad was ordained messenger of God. Muhammad and Khadija brought him up and educated him. In the years to come, he showed himself a most splendid "product" of the upbringing and education that Muhammad and Khadija gave him. (3)

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1. published in the monthly magazine, Islamic Horizons, of the Islamic Society of North America, Plainfield, Indiana, May-June 1987

2. The Quran 74:1,2,3

3. Allah's Commonwealth, New York.