Solitude in Hira cave in Jabal Al-Nur (Mountain of Light)

Last updated: 4 October 2017 From the section Biography of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)

Meditation like the Hanifs/Hunafas

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was troubled by the idol worship. He didn't find this to be religiously fulfilling. By now various influences of both Christianity and Judaism had filtered into Makkah and other areas of Arabia from outside. So some of the tribes at the edges of Arabia had adopted Zoroasterianism, Christianity and Judaism as their religion. But this wasn't the case in the heart of Arabia, though there were few people who were secretly after the truth and some of them became Christians. These were called the 'Hanifs' or 'Hunafas'. They were inclined to a type of monotheism (belief in one God). They didn't worship the idols or believe in them. But they did not necessarily speak out against them either.

It was common tradition among the Hanif to go and meditate in the cave. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) also practised this, though there's no account of how he did this.

When Muhammad (pbuh) was nearly 40 he was accustomed to passing long hours in seclusion meditating and speculating over all aspects of creation around him. This meditative temperament helped to widen the mental gap between him and his compatriots.

Ghar Hira (Hira cave)

Muhammad (pbuh) used to provide himself with saweeq (barley porridge) and water and then directly head for the hills and ravines in the neighbourhood of Makkah. One of these in particular was his favourite resort - a cave named Hira, on the mountain named Jabal Al-Nūr (Mountain of Light) in the Hejaz region of present day Saudi Arabia. It located only 2.5 miles (4 km) north east from the Al-Ka'bah (House of Allah) in Makkah.

Hira cave (Ghar Hira in Arabic) is small, only 3.6m (12 ft) long and 1.5m (5ft) wide, located below the back side near the summit of this rocky mountain. It's 270 m (890 ft) above the 640 m (2,100 ft) tall mountain and takes 600 steps to reach it (it's the equivalent to climbing a 90-story building). Every year millions of Muslims climb up to the Hira cave to see the place where Prophet Muhammad received the first revelation of the Qur'an. But there is no religious obligation behind it nor is there any act of worship in it. People visit it because of its historical importance and out of curiosity and to feel the personal pleasure and spirituality.

The mountain is barely 640 meters (2,100 feet) tall, but climbing it is extremely strenuous and takes almost 2 hours for a healthy individual to make it to the peak.

Ghar Hira is a small cave with less than 4 meters in length and a width of a little more than 1.5 meters. It is only vast enough for 5 people to sit.

Saudi Gazette

The Prophet (pbuh) would always go there and would feed any poor people from his modest provision. He used to devote a number of days and nights in solitude, especially in Ramadhan, to worship and meditation on the universe around him.

His heart was restless about the moral evils and idolatry that were rampant among his people. However, he was helpless because he had not been guided to any definite course of action to follow and clear away the ill practices existing around him.

Seclusion coupled with this sort of reflective approach must be understood in its Divine perspective. It was a preliminary stage to the period of grave responsibilities that he was to shoulder very soon.

Privacy and separation from the impurities of worldly life were two indispensable prerequisites for him to meet what Allah had in store for him, preparing him to carry the great trust, to change the face of the earth, and alter the course of history. It was an intense period of privacy which lasted for 3 years prior to the beginning of his mission, entering a new era of lasting contact with the Unseen that Allah would permit him to witness.

The Sealed Nectar

  • First encounter of Angel Jibrail and 40-year-old Muhammad circa 609/610 CE

    During one of his customary retreats in the cave of Hira circa 609/610 CE, during the last 10 days of the month of Ramadhan, the Angel Jibrail (Gabriel) (Alahi wa salaam, May Allah send prayers and peace upon him, usually shortened to AS) appeared before the perplexed 40-year-old Muhammad (pbuh) and said to him "Iqra!" (Read or Recite - the word Iqra has an ambiguous meaning). Muhammad (pbuh) replied that he couldn't read/recite since he was neither a reciter of poetry nor could he read. Then Jibrail (AS) squeezed him tightly so much so that the Prophet (pbuh) lost all his energy and felt he was going to black out. Jibrail then released him and repeated the order "Iqra" again. Muhammad (pbuh) again replied "I cannot recite". Jibrail (AS) squeezed him again and let him go until he thought he wouldn't survive. Again he said "Iqra" and the Prophet replied "I cannot recite". So Jibrail squeezed him for a third time and then let him go.

    Some scholars have interpreted the act of squeezing to indicate to Muhammad (pbuh) that he was not dreaming. It's real. It's normal action for human being to pinch themselves to check whether they are dreaming or seeing something for real. So by physically squeezing him, Jibrail was letting Muhammad (pbuh) know that it was really occuring and he was not hallucinating.

    Others have interpreted the squeezing as Jibrail letting Muhammad (pbuh) know that he'll be inspired by this heavy message. It was going to be physically painful. He was going to be tasked with the heaviest load.

    Either way, this was the beginning of a phenomenon that would take place for next 23 years until he died.

    First Qur'anic verses

    Iqra has two meanings in the Arabic language:

    1. To read from a piece of paper
    2. To recite from memory

    The word Qur'an, which means 'recitation, also comes from the word iqra. This is befitting since Muslims read the Qur'an and also recite it from memory.

    So when Jibrail said iqra, most Islamic scholars believe that Muhammad took it to mean to read from paper. So he told Jibrail that he didn't know how to read. He was unlettered and not taught how to read and write. But Jibrail was referring to recite.

    After instructing Muhammad (pbuh) and squeezing him for the third time, the angelic presence then instructed him to recite with him the words that are now recorded as the fist 5 ayahs (verses) of the 96th Surah (Chapter) of the Qur'an, Al-Alaq (The Clot).

    Surah Al-Alaq

    Iqra bismi rabbikalla dhi khalaq. Khalaqal insana min alaq. Iqra wa rabbukal akram. Alladhi 'allama bil qalam. 'Allamal insana malam ya'lam.

    Surah 96 Al-Alaq (The Clot), ayat 1 - 5

    "Recite (or read) in the name of your Lord who created -
    Created man from a clinging substance.
    Recite, and your Lord is the most Generous -
    Who taught by the pen -
    Taught man that which he knew not."

    The first verses let Muhammad (pbuh) know that his recitation will be in the name of Allah or by Allah. That is, his recitation will come directly from Allah, he does not need to recite anything by himself. It is Allah who created everything first, then man, and he Muhammad (pbuh) will be the communicator.

    The word alaq is usually translated as embryo, referring to man in all stages of creation.

    Iqra is mentioned twice in the verse. There are various reasons for this duality. It reminds Muhammad (pbuh) that his job is to recite and keep on reciting. He needs to spread the message continuously. The first iqra refers to religious knowledge and the second is for knowledge of this world. Here, Allah is encouraging men to learn the knowledge that came from Allah and learn the knowledge that came from men - but realise that the man's knowledge also came from Allah since Allah 'taught man that which he knew not'.

    But this command is for the Muslim ummah and not Muhammad since he was illiterate. This revelation came to a backward nation that could not read or write. In all of Makkah there were only a handful of people, possibly 5 - 6, who could read and write. The Arabs did not even have a developed script at the time. It was more like hieroglyphics. In this era of jahiliyya (ignorance), Allah is telling the people to go and increase their horizon of knowledge. Within 200 years the Muslim would become the bastion of human civilisations and the most powerful people on earth. Muslims and non-Muslims from all over the world came to Islamic lands to study medicine, science, law, engineering, etc., and took it back to their country.

    But the primary point of the iqra verses was to indicate that a revelation was coming directly from Allah to men.

    One of the knowledge we take for granted, and it’s such an amazing feat, and that is writing. Allah mentions writing in this [iqra] verse. The whole concept of writing is a miracle...

    Our Prophet (pbuh) said the first person to ever to write with a pen was [Prophet] Idris. Allah taught the Prophet Idris how to write. And if Allah had not taught Idris how to write, we would never have learnt how to write. All knowledge of this world goes back to Allah.

    Allah taught [Prophet] Adam how to speak. If Allah did not teach Adam how to speak, we’d be like the animals grunting and groaning. Allah taught [Prophet] Nuh how to build the ship. Allah taught [Prophet] Dawud how to build armour or to make the armour malleable.

    Allah taught so many prophets so many different things. And from these knowledges all other human knowledge comes forth. And this is why whatever discover we come across, it has nothing to do with us. Allah gave us the kudrat [strength, blessings], intelligence, everything we need to do this.

    Sheikh Yasir Qadhi

    Laylat al-Qadr (Shab-e-Qadr) - the Night of Power

    The Prophet (pbuh) is believed to have received this first revelation on Laylat al-Qadr (Night of Power), also known as Shab-e-Qadr. The exact date is not revealed in the Qur'an. It is said to fall on one of the odd nights of the last ten days of Ramadhan i.e. 21st, 23rd, 25th, 27th or 29th. The day of the first revelation was a Monday. Monday was also the day that Muhammad (pbuh) was born.

    Surah Al-Qadr

    Innaa anzalnaahu fi Laylatil Qadr. Wa maa adraaka maa Laylatul Qadr. Laylatul Qadri khayrum min alfi shahr. Tanazzalul malaaikatu war ruuhu fiyhaa bi idhni rabbihim min kulli amr. Salaamun hiya hattaa matla’il fajr.

    Surah 97 Al-Qadr (The Power), ayat 1 - 5

    "Indeed, We sent the Qur'an down during the Night of Decree.
    And what can make you know what is the Night of Decree?
    The Night of Decree is better than a thousand months.
    The angels and the Spirit descend therein by permission of their Lord for every matter.
    Peace it is until the emergence of dawn."

    The Qur'an states that Laylat al-Qadr is "better" than thousand months, which is equivalent to 83 years and 4 months. A Muslim who prays for the whole night during this Night, will deserve blessings and reward for the period as if he or she had been praying for 83 years and 4 months consecutively. Since the Night of Power is better than one thousand months no one can actually measure the extent as to how much better it is.

    Verily this month has come to you; and therein is a night which is better than a thousand Months. Whosoever is deprived of it, is deprived of all good; and none is deprived of its good except a totally unfortunate person.

    Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), Ibn Majah

    During last ten days of Ramadhan Muslims intensify their prayers (namaz) and recitation of Qur'an (tilawat) to earn greater blessing from Allah Almighty. Laylat al-Qadr is the holiest night of the year and a time to commemorate the arrival of the final guidance for humans.

    Some Ahadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) indicate that the fate of every believer for the coming year is decreed on this night. That is why the Du`as (supplications) for this night ask for special favours in the decree for the year. Believers are encouraged to stay awake the entire night, and pray for blessings and forgiveness.

    Whosoever stands up (in prayer) at the Night of Power out of faith and hopeful of reward, all his past sins will be forgiven.

    Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), Targhib

    It is also a special blessing exclusive to ummah (nation) of the Prophet (pbuh) only as none of Allah's previous prophets were blessed with such privilege for their followers.

    Laylatul Qadr has been bestowed by Allah to my Ummah (People). It was not given to any people before this.

    Prophet Muhammad (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam), Dur-Mansoor

  • Muhammad (pbuh) 'scared for himself' after initial experience

    Trembling with fear, Muhammad (pbuh) ran back to his house and to wife Khadijah (rah). His heart was palpitating. He said to Khadijah 'cover me up, cover me up' (i.e. cover him with a blanket). Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was terrified and anxious, which naturally led to his body becoming cold. This shows his humanity and that the revelation was unexpected for him. His message was not pre-meditated. The experience of this first revelation shakes and stuns him. There's no grand story or myth surrounding the revelation. He simply runs home to his family.

    When he recovers his composure, Muhammad (pbuh) told Khadijah what happened. This shows how close he was to his wife, that he chose to tell her first and not his uncle Abu Talib, his cousins, or others.

    Muhammad (pbuh) said he was 'scared for himself'. This phrase led to a lot of controversies for Muslim scholars later on. There are over 12 interpretations of this statement. But it's commonly believed that Muhammad (pbuh) was either trying to say he was scared of dying when Jibrail was squeezing him so tight, or that he's scared of seeing vision that normal people, sane people, don't see. That is, he was hallucinating or worse still losing his sanity.

    Khadijah calms, consoles and reassures her husband

    Seeing her husband in such a disturbed state, Khadijah consoles and calms Muhammad (pbuh) and reassures him that he is a very balanced person. She famously responded by reminding him of his good nature. After all, the couple were married for over 15 years so she was fully aware of how good a man he was.

    Summarising the character of the Prophet (pbuh), Khadijah told him that he was good to his family, he took on burden of other people, gave money to the poor, hospitable to guests and did all types of good. Allah would never do anything to cause him harm. There had to be some explanation to his experience.

    Allah will never disgrace you. You unite relations of the womb, bear the burden of the weak, help the poor and the needy, you entertain the guests and endure hardships in the path of truthfulness.

    Khadijah soothes and reassures a frightened Muhammad (pbuh)

    Khadijah's words came from her own purity of heart. Without any knowledge of Qur'an or hadith, Khadijah communicated the beautiful rule that when you do good, Allah will do good to you. Simple rule. If you are righteous you will be blessed. This gave great courage to Muhammad (pbuh).

    Christian slave Addas the first to be visited by Khadijah, allegedly

    According to one book, Khadijah immediately went to Addas, a Christian slave of one of the uncles of Muhammad. It was the same Addas who offered the grapes to the Prophet (pbuh) during the incident of Ta'if and later accepted Islam.

    Addas was believed to be the only pure Christian living in Makkah at the time. He was not a convert like the others. He was from Nineveh (located on the outskirts of Mosul in modern-day northern Iraq) and had lived in Rome or Roman land. He ended up as slave in Makkah. When Khadijah narrated the story, Addas expressed shock that the Angel of Allah had come to Muhammad (pbuh). So Khadijah sensed this act was related similar to Judaism and Christianity.

    Waraqah bin Nawfal, Khadijah's cousin, confirms prophethood

    Khadijah suggests to Muhammad (pbuh) that they go to visit her elder paternal cousin Waraqah bin Nawfal bin Asad bin Abdul-Uzza, a Christian Ebionites priest who has detailed knowledge of the Gospels and Old Testament. Waraqah, an old blind man on the verge of death, was 1 of the 4 people in Makkah who had rejected idolatry in the days of Jahiliyya. He was eldest surviving member. He travelled throughout the lands and adopted some type of religion, which according to Bukhari, allowed Waraqah to write in Hebrew and he became a Christian. But the Christians of that time were writing in Assyriac or Greek. This led to some scholars to believe that Waraqah embraced a type of Judeo-Christianity. He wasn't a pure Jew or pure Christian as we understand it today. Waraqah was a monotheist (believer in one God) who believed in all the Prophets of Allah and knew of their scriptures. He was not openly practising any faith.

    Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) narrated his experience to Waraqah who became enthusiastic and agitated. Waraqah tells Muhammad (pbuh) his experience resembles that of Musa (Moses, peace be upon him). He had been visited by 'Namus', the same Keeper of Secrets, the holiest of holiest angels that came to Musa (pbuh). He suggests that Muhammad (pbuh) has been chosen as a messenger by God and warns him that the people will ridicule him, persecute him, and ultimately expel him like they did to the prophets before him.

    This is the 'Namus' [the angel who is entrusted with Divine Secrets] that Allah sent to Moses. I wish I were younger. I wish I could live up to the time when your people would turn you out.

    Anyone who came with something similar to what you have brought was treated with hostility, and if I should be alive till that day, then I would support you strongly.

    Waraqah affirms that the people will try to drive him out just like they did to Musa before him

    Interestingly, Waraqah did not mention Jesus (Isa in Islam) but Musa instead (peace be upon them). Coincidentally, Muhammad's life played out similar to Musa then Jesus, in that they were both prophets who had to fight physical battles and govern their people. While Jesus's life story was that of a pacifist.

    When Waraqa mentions ridicule and persecution, Muhammad (pbuh) did not respond. But when he mentioned that Muhammad (pbuh) will be kicked out of his own land, that's when Muhammad (pbuh) expressed his disbelief. After all, it was the land of his ancestors. The thought of him not living here was unthinkable. Waraqah responded by informing him that never has any prophet been sent who has not been ridiculed, persecuted and expelled by his own people.

    Sadly, Waraqah did not live long and died shortly after. But according to a narration by Prophet Muhammad, he saw Waraqah wearing white robe and blessed with Gardens of Jannah (Paradise), which indicates that Waraqah died a Muslim and is likely to be one of the earliest converts.

    For her part, Khadijah didn't abandon Muhammad (pbuh). She was the first to believe in him and became the first person to convert to Islam.

  • After iqra was revealed, Muhammad (pbuh) did not see Jibrail for many days, possibly 40. He walked in the valleys and mountains of Makkah, including Hira cave, on numerous occasions wanting to see the angel again but he didn't appear. Muhammad (pbuh) was left confused. He thought may be he was hallucinating.

    Some scholars have suggested that Muhammad (pbuh) needed this time off to recover from the shock of the first encounter. He needed to re-energise and collect his thoughts. Feel enthused on his search for the angel.

    Then, when one occasion when Muhammad (pbuh) came down the mountain and was walking, he heard someone call out his name. He looked around and saw nobody. Eventually he looked up and saw the same angel who had visited him in the cave of Hira (i.e. Jibrail). He was sitting on a khursi (throne) between the earth and the sky. Even though Muhammad (pbuh) wanted to see Jibrail, it was too much for him. He began trembling with fear and began to palpitate. He rushed back to Khadijah again, asking her to cover him. That's when the Second Revelation came: ayahs (verses) 1 - 7 of the 74th Surah, Al-Muddaththir (The Cloaked One).

    Surah Al-Muddaththir, ayat 1-7

    Yaa 'ayyuhaa al- muddaththir. Qum fa- andhir. Qum fa- andhir. Wa- thiyaab -ka fa- t.ahhir. Wa- ar- rujz fa- uhjur. Wa- laa tamnun tastakthir. Wa- li- rabb -ka fa- is bir.

    Surah 74 Al-Muddaththir (The Cloaked One), ayat 1 - 7

    "O you who covers himself [with a garment],
    Arise and warn
    And your Lord glorify
    And your clothing purify
    And uncleanliness avoid
    And do not confer favor to acquire more
    But for your Lord be patient."

    The instruction was clear: Leave your life of comfort and stand up and be active. Go and spread the message. Warn the people and glorify your Lord. While asking others to be pure, make sure you yourself are pure.

    The message in the Second Revelation were very clear:

    • Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was tasked with warning his people against the punishment of Allah (SWT) if they did not revert from their tyranny, deviation, and worship of other than Allah and associating others with Him, His Attributes, His Rights, and His Actions.
    • Revere Allah alone, without partners.
    • Purification of garments and body since nobody should stand before Allah in a filthy state. This purification also involves abstaining from repulsive deeds and behaviours, including associating partners with Allah.
    • Stay away from causes that earn Allah's wrath. Abide in obedience and refrain from acts of disobedience.
    • Not to behave kindly to people merely for reward from them or some portion of benefit in this life.
    • Expect harm from his people when religious separation begins, when he is calling them to Allah alone and warning them against His punishment and force.

    So, they say, with Iqra Muhammad (pbuh) became a 'nabi' and with Qum fa- andhir he became a 'rasool'.

    Sheikh Yasir Qadhi

  • Revelation accelerated and continued after the first Verses of Surah 74 Al-Muddaththir (The Cloaked One). The Verses and parts of surahs (chapters) revealed at this time were short with wonderful strong pauses and fascinating rhythms in full harmony. The central topic running through them focused on purifying the soul, and preventing the Muslims from falling prey to the deceptive glamour of life. The early Verses used to give a highly accurate account of Hell and the Garden (Paradise), leading the believers down a new course opposed to the ill practices widespread amongst their compatriots.

    Further revelations come over the remaining 13 years of the Prophet's life in Makkah and 10 years in Madinah - a total of 23 years until his death in 632.

    By the time of his death, the revelations are comprised of 114 Surahs of unequal length which are classified either as Makkan or Madinan depending upon their place and time of revelation. The last of these is Surah is At-Taubah (The Repentance), now numbered the 9th. But the last words of the revelation are said to be in the third ayah of Surah 5, Al Ma'idah (The Table Spread).

    Surah Al-Maidah ayat 3

    Al yawma akmaltu lakum dinakam wa atmamtu alaikam ni'mati wa raditu' lakumul islama dinan.

    Surah 5 Al-Ma'idah (The Table Spread), ayat 3

    "This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favor upon you and have approved for you Islam as religion. "

    Surah 1 Al-Fatiha (The Opener) was the first complete chapter to be revealed and Surah 114 An-Nas (The Mankind) was the last.

    Compilation of the Qur'an

    The Qur'an was precisely memorised, recited and exactly written down by Prophet Muhammad's companions, called Sahabahs (may Allah be pleased with them), after each revelation was dictated by the Prophet himself. It was the Sahabahs who had compiled the Qur'an as the Qur'an did not exist in book form until the Prophet had passed away in 632.

Learning resources

Glossary of terms

To read or to recite
Ayah / Ayat