The First Revelation

وَبَرَكَاتُهُ اللهِ وَرَحْمَةُ عَلَيْكُمْ السَّلاَمُ

And now we finally come to the famous story of the first revelation.

Many signs pre-dated the prophethood that showed that something big was about to take place. We already know of the prophet’s lineage and how his ancestors began making changes in Arabia of increasing importance, such as Hashim ibn Abd Manaaf’s institution of the Rihlat al-Shitaa'i wa as-Saif and Abdul Muttalib’s involvement in the events of the year of the Elephant. But as well as that, we notice the symbolism of the prophet’s involvement in the rebuilding of the Kahbah; its structure was torn down and rebuilt on the foundations of Ibrahim (AS), and Muhammad (SAW) was the one to be chosen to decide the fate of the black stone and so he was the one to unite all of the sub-tribes and save them from bloodshed. Now this was a clear symbol of the events of the prophethood, how Muhammad (SAW) was going to be the one to redefine and re-establish the religion of Ibrahim (AS) – which until then no-one has upheld – and thus unite and exalt all of the tribes of Arabia.

And so now we move on to the events of the first revelation, as narrated by Aisha (RA). Before the revelation began, the prophet had begun secluding himself away in the cave of Hira atop the mountain that is now called Jabil An-Noor (mountain of light), in order to worship and become close to Allah. Now before the incident of the first revelation, many signs began appearing to the prophet that things were about to change and that something big was to take place. One of these was that is that he began to dream about what would happen the next day, and every time these dreams would come true and the events that took place the next day would be exactly as he had envisioned them. And this took place for 6 months exactly until the first revelation. Now as well as this, the prophet said, ‘Before revelation came to me I began to hear rocks and stones greet me in my path, and there was a particular rock that always gave salaam to me and I recognize that rock even to this day.’ And so these signs were a premonition for the prophet and a mental preparation of the events that were to come, the first of which was the revelation of Surah Alaq.

The revelation took place on a Monday on Laylat Al-Qadr, and at this point the prophet was 38 years old. He had been sitting in the cave of Hira meditating when the angel Jibrael descended upon him and said, ‘Iqra,’ which could mean ‘read’ or ‘recite from memory’. Now the terrified Muhammad (SAW) took this to mean read, but he was illiterate and anyway, there was nothing there for him to read from and so he said, ‘I cannot read.’ At this, Jibrael squeezed the prophet so tight that later he would say, ‘I lost all energy,’ after which the angel released him and once again demanded, ‘Iqra.’ And once again the prophet said he could not read, and this repeated until Jibrael had squeezed him 3 times after which he revealed the first 5 ayat of Surah Alaq.

Now what was the reason for these squeezes? Some scholars say that it was to indicate to the prophet that what he was experiencing was real and not a dream or figment of his imagination. Others say that Jibrael is warning Muhammad (SAW) that he was about to be inspired with a heavy message – and indeed it was physically painful to receive revelation. And some say it was to indicate the three significant trails that he was going to face: The boycott where the Muslims had 2.5 years of nothing to eat, the Hijra where the prophet had to leave his hometown of Mecca, and the battle of Uhud where he was left bleeding from his head with very few companions to help him. But of course, Allah is the only one who truly knows why the squeezes occurred.

So what were the ayats revealed?

1.   اقْرَأْ بِاسْمِ رَبِّكَ الَّذِي خَلَقَRecite in the name of your lord, the one who created.                   

2.   خَلَقَ الْإِنْسَانَ مِنْ عَلَقٍ Created man from a clinging substance.                                      

3.   اقْرَأْ وَرَبُّكَ الْأَكْرَمُRead! And your lord in the most generous,                                           

4.   الَّذِي عَلَّمَ بِالْقَلَمِThe one who taught man by the pen,                                                   

5.   عَلَّمَ الْإِنْسَانَ مَا لَمْ يَعْلَمْTaught man what he did not know.                                        


Let’s look at these: Now as we mentioned iqra has the meaning of both read from paper and recite from memory, and initially the prophet believed that Jibrael meant for him to read. However, as the first ayat shows us he actually was telling Muhammad (SAW) to recite directly from Allah, the creator of everything. Now the second ayat specifies Allah’s mercy to the human race, as he was the one who created it and brought man from ‘a clinging substance’, i.e. a foetus, into a human being. The third ayat repeats the command iqra, the meaning of which some scholars argue is that this time Allah is telling us to read the works of man and gain worldly knowledge, while the first iqra was to indicate the gain of spiritual knowledge from the Quran. This is supported by the fact that the first time we are told to read ‘in the name of your lord’, while the second time Allah tells us how he taught man ‘what he did not know’ and ‘by the pen’. Now as we know, Allah taught Idris (AS) how to write, and in fact all knowledge about and from this world still originates from the blessings of Allah. And so we are ordered to search out this knowledge and learn from it, as in doing so we still participate in the worship of Allah and we can further understand the mercies bestowed upon us.

Getting back to the story, Aisha (RA) narrates that after this revelation the prophet ran all the way back to Khadija (RA) terrified, and told her, ‘Cover me up cover me up.’ Now Jibrael had come to the prophet in his massive form, with his wings covering the horizon, and so Muhammad (SAW) had been understandably shaken and needing the comfort of his wife. Eventually when he calmed down, he told Khadija the entire story and said, ‘I am scared for myself,’ to which she replied, ‘Know by Allah, He would never humiliate you or cause you harm. You are good to your kin, and take on the burden of others, and give money to those who have little, and are hospitable to your guests, and do all kinds of good.’

After consoling the prophet Khadija took him to Waraqa ibn Nawfal – who as we remember was one of the 4 Hunafaa and was at this point an old, wise man – and asked his opinion on the matter. Now, as he was educated and had studied the other religions, Waraqa recognised what had happened and said, ‘By God, this is the same angel that came to Musa. How I wish I was a young man so when your nation ridicules, persecutes, and expels you I can be there to help.’

When Waraqa said ‘expel’ the prophet could not keep quiet and exclaimed, ‘My nation will expel me?!’ Of course the first two were bad enough but the prophet could not believe that his own people would kick him out.

To this Wariqa replied, "Yes, never has any prophet been sent except that these things have happened to him.’ And so Waraqa was the first (or one of the first) man to accept Islam, and he was also the first to die in it as he passed away a short while after. And such was the story of the very first revelation, and how the pre-ordained prophethood finally descended upon Muhammad (SAW) to make him the last, universal Messenger of Allah.


Dr.Yasir Qadhi’s Seerah of The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) 010