Up There in the Mountain Part 1
Part 1: Preparing for Revelation
Little is reported about how Muhammad lived after his marriage, up to the time when he started to receive divine revelations. It is certain, however, that his marriage was a very happy one. Moreover, his marriage provided him with a comfortable life.
Although there is no direct reference to the type of work Muhammad did in this period, it is reasonable to assume that he continued to manage his wife’s business. Since the work was mainly done through the caravan trade, the work itself was not very demanding.
None of the old biographers of the Prophet mentioned that he traveled on Khadijah’s trade missions after their marriage, but, most probably, he spared her the need to attend to the business herself.
He might have selected the men to travel on her behalf and supervised the preparations of the shipment before the caravan set off and the sale of the imported goods when it came back.
Nor are there detailed reports on Muhammad’s social activity in Makkah. It is known that the Arabs of Makkah had their meeting places round the Ka`bah where they spent some time in the morning and the afternoon in a pleasant atmosphere.
Although Muhammad had a likeable personality and everyone seemed to enjoy his company, he did not appear to care much for such gatherings, most probably because the chatting would inevitably have turned to the worship of idols and promiscuous pursuits.
These were normal topics of conversation, unless something more serious imposed itself on such Meetings. But neither topic interested Muhammad. He had disliked idols since childhood. Moreover, he was protected by God against indulging in wanton pleasures.
Indeed there was clearly a wide intellectual gap between Muhammad and the people of Makkah. This gap continued to increase as the years went by. It did not deprive him, however, of enjoying his people’s respect for his honest, serious and amiable character. (Ibn Hisham)
It was probably because of this gap that Muhammad began to take himself away from Makkah for a period of total seclusion. In the month of Ramadan, each year, he went to a mountain called Hira’, which was only a few miles away, but offered him complete seclusion.
Up there in the mountain there was a little cave where Muhammad stayed for several days at a time. When his supply of food and drink was exhausted he would go back home for a fresh supply and come back for another few days.
When the month was over, he went back home, starting with a visit to the Kabah, where he did tawaf, walking around the Kabah seven times before he went home to his wife.
In the Cave
To get to the cave, Muhammad had to climb right to the top of the mountain and descend a short distance down the other side. The cave is a small one with an entrance that is wide enough to admit one person comfortable, but does not easily accommodate two people standing to pray.
The entrance narrows at the top and is just about two meters high. Although the ground of the cave is flat, the ceiling slopes down as you go inside until it becomes very low towards the end, where there is a little opining which ensures good ventilation.
There is not much space in the cave altogether. It has just about enough room to accommodate one person to sit, stand or sleep.
What is worth mentioning is that if one stands to offer prayers at the entrance of the cave and looks through the opining at its end, one can see the Ka`bah on the far horizon. Just before the entrance there are two great rocks shielding the cave and giving the place an air of complete isolation.
Alongside it, the great rocks form a little open space looking over an almost vertical side of the mountain. Only mountaineering experts with full equipment can attempt to climb that side. That little space next to the cave must have given Muhammad all that he needed to be absorbed in contemplating human life nearby and the universal expanse all around him.
Muhammad spent his days and nights in contemplation and worship. He addressed his worship to the Creator of the universe. He did not follow any particular method of worship because he was not aware of any, but he realized that the beliefs of his people were absurd.
In those days of seclusion, Muhammad found comfort which lasted him through the rest of the year. He realized that there is a force of truth beyond this world which must have power and control over the whole universe.
The world around him could not have come into being by coincidence. But how that truth manifested itself, he could not tell. (Duwaydar)
It is easy to read too much into Muhammad’s period of seclusion and his contemplation. Modern authors and biographers in particular have tried to show him trying to find a way out of the total darkness that enshrouded his people. This may bring us very close to saying that Muhammad was in search of an idea or a belief.
This is true only in as much as it means that Muhammad rejected all beliefs which were known to him and were practiced in Makkan society. He certainly did not aspire to the role that was later assigned to him.
Preparing for Revelation
Addressing the Prophet, God says in the Qur’an: [You had not entertained any hope that Scriptures would be given you, but this was an act of grace by Your Lord.] (Al-Qasas 28:86)
Nevertheless, this regular period of seclusion helped to prepare Muhammad for receiving God’s revelations.
There were other aspects of preparation. It was necessary that Muhammad should understand and realize that the unique relationship which was soon to be established between him and the Angel Gabriel is both real and truthful.
He was soon to realize that every dream in his sleep was soon to come true exactly. When he was alone, he might see a light or hear a sound, someone invisible might address him by his name.
Yet these matters did not worry him much. When he felt such worry, he told his wife Khadijah, expressing his fears to her. She would reassure him and say that God would not allow anything evil to happen to him.
“By God,” she said, “you are faithful to your trust, kind to your kinsfolk and you always tell the truth.”
She, however, went to her cousin, Waraqah ibn Nawfal, the old Christian scholar, asking him about what Muhammad saw and heard. He also reassured her and sent Muhammad word telling him to be reassured.
*By Adil Salahi
This article is taken from Adil Salahi’s biography of the Prophet, “Muhammad: Man and Prophet”, published by the Islamic Foundation, Leicester, UK, in 1995. It is republished here with slight editorial changes.
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