The Life & Character of the Seal of the Prophets(saw) – Part 5

No Comments | April 2011

Continued serialisation of the English rendering of Hadhrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad(ra)’s outstanding biography, ‘Seerat Khatamun Nabiyyin’, on the life and character of the Holy Prophet Muhammad(saw). This section features the extraordinary encounter between the Holy Prophet(saw) and the Angel Gabriel in the Cave Hira, and the Christian saint who would help prove the truthfulness of the Prophet(saw).

Translated from the Urdu by Ayyaz Mahmood Khan


Chapter IV

Commencement of Prophethood

The Sun Rises

The light of dawn was about to manifest itself upon the eastern horizon and the sun that was to illuminate the whole world was about to rise. The Holy Prophet(saw) would regularly retreat to the Cave of Hira, and would engage himself in the worship of God in a manner of his own. The commencement of true dreams had begun and the Holy Prophet(saw) spent six months in this very state.1

The Holy Prophet(saw) had reached the age of forty; his disposition had attained maturity for prophethood and apostleship. Among the last ten days of the blessed month of Ramadan; it was Monday. As per custom, the Holy Prophet(saw) was in the Cave of Hira, and was engaged in the worship of God, when suddenly an unfamiliar being appeared before him. This divine messenger who was Gabriel(as), the angel of God, addressed the Holy Prophet(saw) and said,“read”, in other words, ‘speak’ or ‘convey to the people’.2 The Holy Prophet(saw) responded, “I cannot read”, meaning, ‘I cannot bear this responsibility’.3 When the angel heard this reply he took hold of the Holy Prophet(saw) and tightly pressed him against his breast and after releasing him said, “read” but the response of the Holy Prophet(saw) remained the same. The angel took hold of him again and firmly squeezed him and after releasing him said, “read” but the same hesitation remained. Upon this, the divine messenger took hold of the Holy Prophet(saw) a third time and gripped him very tightly so much so that by embracing the Holy Prophet(saw) in such a manner he would leave a lasting impression upon his heart. Having confirmed that the disposition of the Holy Prophet(saw) was now ready to accept this message, he released the Holy Prophet(saw) and said:

“Read (i.e pronounce or convey) thou in the name4 of thy Lord Who created, created man from a clot of blood. Aye! Read! And thy Lord is Most Generous; Who taught man by the pen, taught man what he knew not5.”6

After this dialogue, the angel disappeared, but the Holy Prophet(saw) was left in a state of deep anxiety and restlessness. His heart was pounding, for only God knew what this matter was and what was about to take place. In this state, the Holy Prophet(saw) hurriedly left the Cave of Hira, returned home, and said to Khadijah(ra), “Cover me with a cloth! Cover me with a cloth!” When Hadhrat Khadijah(ra) witnessed the state of her beloved husband, she became worried and quickly covered the Holy Prophet(saw) with a blanket. When he was somewhat calmed and his anxiety had lessened, the Holy Prophet(saw) related the entire event to Hadhrat Khadijah(ra) and in the end said, “I fear for myself”, but Khadijah(ra), who was well acquainted with the nature of the Holy Prophet(saw), said:

“Nay, nay, such can never happen, rather glad tidings be to you. By God, Allah shall never disgrace you. You treat your kith and kin with love. You are truthful, and assist others in discharging their responsibilities, and have gathered within yourself lost virtues. You are hospitable, and a helper to others in the way of truth.”7

Jabal Al-Nur, “The Mountain of Light”, also known as “Mount Faran”, hosts the Hira Cave

Hadhrat Khadijah(ra) took the Holy Prophet(saw) to her cousin Waraqah bin Nawfal, who had abandoned polytheism and become a follower of the Christian religion. He was somewhat acquainted with the scriptures of past prophets. He was now old and had lost his eyesight as well. When Hadhrat Khadijah(ra) reached there with the Holy Prophet(saw), she said, “Brother! Would you please listen to your nephew?” He said, “Yes, what is the matter?” The Holy Prophet(saw) related the entire occurrence. When Waraqah heard the whole account, he said, “This is the same angel who brought revelation to Moses(as). O would that I had strength. Would that I remain alive until your people banish you from your homeland.” The Holy Prophet(saw) inquired in amazement, “Shall my people banish me?” “Yes,” responded Waraqah, “no prophet came with whom his people did not harbour enmity but if I remain alive until that time, I shall assist you to the utmost of my ability.” However, Waraqah could not witness that time, as he passed away shortly afterwards.8


After this, the decent of revelation came to a temporary halt10 and remained as such for some time, (the approximation of which according to a narration related by Ibni ‘Abbas has been mentioned as 40 days).11 This period in time is known as the ‘time of Fatrah’. It was as if the illumination of the sun of apostleship was seen and then disappeared. A droplet of water had fallen upon the parched lips of the Holy Prophet(saw) and then the clouds dispersed. The Holy Prophet(saw) spent these days in a state of grave anxiety and restlessness. Day and night, whilst sitting and standing, the same thought preoccupied him – “God alone knows what this affair is and what is to happen hereafter. What significance does the appearance of this unfamiliar and invisible messenger hold? Is this message and salutation truly from God, or is it a hidden reflection of my own soul?” These questions greatly perplexed the Holy Prophet(saw). It is mentioned in the Hadith that during these days the Prophet(saw) experienced such anxiety, that many times he would climb to the top of a mountain and contemplate dropping himself, thus putting an end to his life. Upon every such instance, an angel of God would say, “Look here Muhammad, withhold yourself, verily you are the Messenger of Allah.” Upon hearing this voice, the Holy Prophet(saw) would restrain himself, but whenever such a state of unease and restlessness would overtake him, he would again consider ending his life.12

The abovementioned Hadith should not be taken literally. The actual purport may have been that the Holy Prophet(saw) was under the apprehension that the viewing of that invisible angel might be a reflection of his own thoughts, or might be a trial from God. Thus, the Holy Prophet(saw) intended to humble his own soul and by overcoming and overpowering it, was as if for the sake of Allah, to slay it completely. In this case, to throw oneself from a mountain would be comprehended as a metaphor. Whatever the meaning may be, for the Holy Prophet(saw), these days were days of trepidation. One day, in this very state of anguish, the Holy Prophet(saw) was returning home from the Cave of Hira when suddenly he heard a voice, as if someone was addressing him. The Holy Prophet(saw) looked forward and behind, right and left; he looked in every direction but could not see anything. Ultimately, the Holy Prophet(saw) looked up and saw the very same angel he had encountered in the Cave of Hira. He saw him sitting upon a magnificent chair which extended between the heaven and the earth. When the Holy Prophet(saw) witnessed this vision, he was frightened and quickly returned home dismayed. He once again said to Hadhrat Khadijah(ra), “Place a mantle over me!” Khadijah(ra) hurriedly covered him with a mantle and the Holy Prophet(saw) lay down. As soon as the Prophet(saw) lay down, he heard a majestic voice:

“O thou that hast wrapped thyself with thy mantle! Arise and wake others at the name of God. And thy Lord do thou magnify. And thy heart do thou purify. And abstain from all forms of polytheism.”

After this, the constant descent of revelation began.13

Commencement of Preaching

Now that the disposition of the Holy Prophet(saw) had settled and calmed, he began to invite people to the unity of God, the Most High, and propagated teachings against polytheism. In the beginning, the Holy Prophet(saw) did not preach his mission openly; rather, he began this process very cautiously and kept his teachings confined to his close circle of friends.14

The Message of Islam

Although the true place for the elaboration of the doctrinal frame-work brought by the Holy Prophet(saw) shall come later, at this point it seems necessary to include a brief outline of Islam. This is so that our readers may become aware of the mission of the Holy Prophet(saw) and Islam’s principle injunctions. Thus, it should be clarified that the name of the religion presented by the Holy Prophet(saw) is ‘Islam’, which means complete submission to God, and this is the true essence of the teachings brought by the Holy Prophet(saw). The first and foremost principle of the religion is the unity of God, the Exalted. In other words, the Creator and Lord of this world is the One God, Who in His being and attributes is alone and unassociated. He has existed from time immemorial and shall remain forever. He is the Creator and Sustainer of all that is in the earth and in the heaven. For this reason, none save Him is worthy of worship and all deities fashioned by people, aside God, are fictitious and vain. This is the first and most fundamental principle which the Holy Prophet(saw) presented before the people of Makkah.

The second principle presented by the Holy Prophet(saw) was that Allah the Exalted created this world for a particular purpose and that people should recognise Him and then adorn themselves with His attributes, thus creating a life of eternal advancement. For this purpose, He has divided human life into two parts. One is the life of this world which is the Darul-‘Amal15, and the other is the life of the hereafter which is the Darul-Jaza’,16 and death is the separating boundary between these two lives.

The third principle which the Holy Prophet(saw) presented was that Allah the Exalted raises messengers and prophets for the guidance of this world, who acquire divine knowledge from God and thus administer the guidance of man. Such prophets have appeared in every nation, country, and era, and among them, the Holy Prophet(saw) is but one messenger of God. These are the three fundamental laws which were the basis of the initial mission of the Holy Prophet(saw). However, as time passed, various other principles followed by their derivative institutions of law, and further elaboration continued, until the teachings brought by the Holy Prophet(saw) attained perfection in the form of the Holy Qur’an. The Holy Prophet(saw) was the chief of the peoples of ancient and modern times – the seal of the prophets, and was the one to bring the last and perfect law.

The First Muslim

When the Holy Prophet(saw) began the propagation of his mission, the first to believe was Hadhrat Khadijah(ra) who did not hesitate, even for a moment. There is contention among historians in reference to who the first convert among the men was after Hadhrat Khadijah(ra). Some name Hadhrat Abu Bakr ‘Abdullah bin Abi Quhafah(ra), while others say Hadhrat ‘Ali(ra), whose age at that time was only ten years. Others assert that the freed slave of the Holy Prophet(saw), Hadhrat Zaid bin Harithah(ra), was the first one to embrace Islam. However, to us, this argument is useless. Hadhrat ‘Ali(ra) and Hadhrat Zaid bin Harithah(ra) were among the household members of the Holy Prophet(saw) and lived with him as his own children. They were to follow whatever was said by the Holy Prophet(saw), as a matter of routine, no verbal declaration was necessary. Thus, their names need not be included. Among the rest, Hadhrat Abu Bakr(ra) is unanimously accepted as the first and foremost in his acceptance of Islam. Therefore, with regards to Hadhrat Abu Bakr(ra), Hassan bin Thabit Al-Ansari(ra) the court poet of the Holy Prophet(saw), says:

“Whenever a compassionate reminiscence of any of your noble brethren rises in your heart, remember your brother Abu Bakr(ra) as well, on account of his virtues are worthy of remembrance. After the Holy Prophet(saw), he was the most righteous and most just of all men, and the greatest of those who fulfilled their responsibilities. Indeed, it was Abu Bakr(ra) who was the second individual with the Holy Prophet(saw in the Cave of Thawr, who had effaced himself in the obedience of the Prophet(saw). Whatever task he would undertake, he would make it beautiful, and he was the first of all people to believe in the Messenger.”17

Due to his nobility and abilities, Hadhrat Abu Bakr(ra) was greatly honoured and respected by the Quraish, and in Islam he acquired a status which no other companion attained. Hadhrat Abu Bakr(ra) did not doubt the claim of the Holy Prophet(saw) for even a moment, rather, he accepted him instantaneously. Then he devoted his entire interest, his entire life and wealth, in the service of the religion brought by the Holy Prophet(saw). Among his companions, the Holy Prophet(saw) held Abu Bakr(ra) most dear to himself. After the demise of the Holy Prophet(saw) he became his first Caliph. During the time of his Caliphate, he furnished evidence of his unparalleled ability. With regards to Hadhrat Abu Bakr(ra), a renowned European orientalist, Sprenger, writes:

“The faith of Abu Bakr is, in my opinion, the greatest guarantee of the sincerity of Mohammad in the beginning of his career…”18

Sir William Muir is also in complete agreement with his view.19

Continues in the next edition


1. Sharhul-‘Allamatiz-Zarqani ‘alal-Mawahibil-Ladunniyyah, by Muhammad bin ‘Abdul-Baqi Az-Zarqani, Vol.1, p.386, Babu Mab‘athin-Nabisa, Darul-Kutubil-‘Ilmiyyah, Beirut, Lebanon, First Edition (1996)

2. The word “Qara” also means to convey a message, as is said: in other words, ‘Convey my greetings to him’. Refer to Aqrabul-Mawarid, Vol.4, p.296, under the word “Qara’a” (Author)

3. This response was similar to that given by Hadhrat Moses(as) namely: ‘I am not capable of prophethood; this task should be assigned to someone else’, but who is more aware of the one who is capable of prophethood than Allah Himself? (Author)

4. In this case, according to syntax structure, the word “ism” is the object of  “iqra”. In light of the rules of Arabic grammatical syntax, in some instances the letter  is added additionally to the object of. Refer to Aqrabul-Mawarid, Vol.4, p.296, under the word (Author)

5. In other words the time has now come when, through the pen, innovative sciences should be taught to mankind. (Author)

6. * Sahih Al-Bukhari, Kitabu Bad’il-Wahy, Babu Minhu, Hadith No. 3

* Al-‘Alaq (96:2-6)

7. Sahih Al-Bukhari, Kitabu Bad’il-Wahy, Babu Minhu, Hadith No. 3

8. Sahih Al-Bukhari, Kitabu Bad’il- Wahi, Babu Minhu, Hadith No. 3

9. An interval in revelation

10. Sahih Al-Bukhari, Kitabu Bad’il-Wahy, Babu Minhu,Hadith No. 3

11. Sharhul-‘Allamatiz-Zarqani ‘alal-Mawahibil-Ladunniyyah, By Muhammad bin ‘Abdul-Baqi Az-Zarqani, Vol.1, p.441, Babu Maratibil- Wahy, Darul-Kutubil-‘Ilmiyyah, Beirut, Lebanon, First Edition (1996)

12. Sahih Al-Bukhari, Kitabu Bad’il-Wahy, Babu Minhu, Hadith No. 4

13. * Al-Muddaththir (74:2-6)

* Sahih Al-Bukhari, Kitabut-Tafsir Suratul-Muddaththir, Babun Wa Rabbaka Fakabbir, Hadith No. 4924

* Sahih Al-Bukhari, Kitabu Bad’il-Wahy, Babu Minhu, Hadith No. 4

14. * Sharhul-‘Allamatiz-Zarqani ‘alal-Mawahibil-Ladunniyyah, By Muhammad bin ‘Abdul-Baqi Az-Zarqani, Vol.1, p.461, Bābul-Ijhari bi Da‘watihi, Darul-Kutubil-‘Ilmiyyah, Beirut, Lebanon, First Edition (1996)

* Tarikhut-Tabari, By Abu Ja‘far Muhammad bin Al-Jarir Tabari, Vol.2, p.221, Babu Dhikril-Khabari ‘amma kana min Amrin-Nabisa ‘inda Ibtida’illahi Ta‘ala, Darul-Fikr, Beirut, Lebanon, Second Edition (2002)

15. The World of Deeds

16. The World of Recompense

17. Tarikhut-Tabari, By Abu Ja‘far Muhammad bin Al-Jarir Tabari, Vol.2, p.226, Babu Dhikril-Khabari ‘amma kana min Amrin-Nabisa ‘inda Ibtida’illahi Ta‘ala, Darul-Fikr, Beirut, Lebanon, Second Edition (2002)

18. The Life of Mohammad, Aloys Sprenger, p.171 (1851 Edition)

19. Life of ‘Mahomet’, By Sir William Muir, p.58 (footnote 1), Reprint of the 1894 Ed., Published by Voice of India New Delhi

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