The Prophet of Islam (S.A.W) – His Biography … [III]
He (S.A.W) was forty years old, and it was the fifth consecutive year since his annual retreats, when one night towards the end of the month of Ramadan, an angel came to visit him (S.A.W), and announced that God had chosen him as His messenger to all mankind. The angel taught him (S.A.W) the mode of ablutions, the way of worshiping God and the conduct of prayer. He communicated to him the following Divine message:
With the name of God, the Most Merciful, the All-Merciful.Read:
with the name of thy Lord Who created,Created man from what clings,
Read: and thy Lord is the Most Bounteous,Who taught by the pen, Taught man what he knew not. (Quran 96:1-5)
Deeply affected, he (S.A.W) returned home and related to his wife what had happened, expressing his fears that it might have been something diabolic or the action of evil spirits. She consoled him, saying that he (S.A.W) had always been a man of charity and generosity, helping the poor, the orphans, the widows and the needy, and assured him that God would protect him (S.A.W) against all evil.
Then came a pause in revelation, extending over three years. The Prophet (S.A.W) must have felt at first a shock, then a calm, an ardent desire, and after a period of waiting, a growing impatience or nostalgia. The news of the first vision had spread and at the pause the skeptics in the city had begun to mock at him (S.A.W) and cut bitter jokes. They went so far as to say that God had forsaken him (S.A.W).
During the three years of waiting. the Prophet (S.A.W) had given himself up more and more to prayers and to spiritual practices. The revelations were then resumed and God assured him (S.A.W) that He had not at all forsaken him: on the contrary it was He Who had guided him (S.A.W) to the right path: therefore he should take care of the orphans and the destitute, and proclaim the bounty of God on him (cf. Q. 93:3-11). This was in reality an order to preach. Another revelation directed him (S.A.W) to warn people against evil practices, to exhort them to worship none but the One God, and to abandon everything that would displease God (Q. 74:2-7). Yet another revelation commanded him (S.A.W) to warn his own near relatives (Q. 26:214); and: “Proclaim openly that which thou art commanded, and withdraw from the Associators (idolaters). Lo! we defend thee from the scoffers” (15:94-5). According to Ibn Ishaq, the first revelation (n. 17) had come to the Prophet (S.A.W) during his sleep, evidently to reduce the shock. Later revelations came in full wakefulness.
The Prophet (S.A.W) began by preaching his mission secretly first among his intimate friends, then among the members of his own tribe and thereafter publicly in the city and suburbs. He insisted on the belief in One Transcendent God, in Resurrection and the Last Judgment. He invited men to charity and beneficence. He took necessary steps to preserve through writing the revelations he was receiving, and ordered his adherents also to learn them by heart. This continued all through his life, since the Quran was not revealed all at once, but in fragments as occasions arose.
The number of his adherents increased gradually, but with the denunciation of paganism, the opposition also grew intense on the part of those who were firmly attached to their ancestral beliefs. This opposition degenerated in the course of time into physical torture of the Prophet (S.A.W) and of those who had embraced his religion. These were stretched on burning sands, cauterized with red hot iron and imprisoned with chains on their feet. Some of them died of the effects of torture, but none would renounce his religion. In despair, the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W) advised his companions to quit their native town and take refuge abroad, in Abyssinia, “where governs a just ruler, in whose realm nobody is oppressed” (Ibn Hisham). Dozens of Muslims profited by his advice, though not all. These secret flights led to further persecution of those who remained behind.
The Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W) [was instructed to call this] religion “Islam,” i.e. submission to the will of God. Its distinctive features are two:
A harmonious equilibrium between the temporal and the spiritual (the body and the soul), permitting a full enjoyment of all the good that God has created, (Quran 7:32), enjoining at the same time on everybody duties towards God, such as worship, fasting, charity, etc. Islam was to be the religion of the masses and not merely of the elect.
A universality of the call – all the believers becoming brothers and equals without any distinction of class or race or tongue. The only superiority which it recognizes is a personal one, based on the greater fear of God and greater piety (Quran 49:13).
By DR. MUHAMMAD HAMIDULLAH R.A