When Prophet Muhammad (S) was around 40 years old, his state of discontent with the affairs around him continued to grow. The lifestyle of the Quraish did not allure him and neither was he impressed by their worship of idols. He thought that there must be something deeper to life, and he was in search of the answers when the incident at the Cave of Hira eventually took place.
Before the revelation of the Quran, the Prophet (PBUH) started seeing signs around him. Allah made him see good dreams as well, and they came true. Eventually, he felt the urge to go to the Cave of Hira.
The Cave of Hira is situated on Mount Hira, which is near Makkah. The Prophet (PBUH) went and began to spend an extended period at this cave. He meditated and thought about life and the world and the people around him. He would withdraw to the cave for long hours and engage in his own method of prayer, seeking answers.
The Prophet (PBUH) would stay at the cave for a few nights and then return to his family for provisions, then go back to the Cave of Hira once again. He would continue and devote himself to worship, and then go back for provisions, then return again. This process continued for a while.
“Iqra” – In the Cave of Hira
Once when Prophet Muhammad (S) was in the cave, Angel Jibrail came to him and proclaimed, “Iqra!” meaning, “Read!” The Prophet (PBUH) told the angel that he was not a reader.
Angel Jibrail then took hold of the Messenger (PBUH) and squeezed him until he couldn’t take any more. Then, he released him and once again told him: “Read!” The Prophet (PBUH) once again answered that he was not a reader.
Angel Jibrail took hold of him a second time and squeezed him for a while, till he again couldn’t take more. Once again, he released him and told him, “Read!” The Prophet (PBUH) replied for the third time that he was not a reader.
The angel then strongly squeezed him for a third time until he couldn’t take it anymore. Then, he released Muhammad (S) and recited the first five verses of Surah ‘Alaq.
Recite 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.
Muhammad (S) leaves the Cave of Hira, goes to Khadija (r.a.)
The events that transpired in the cave shocked Prophet Muhammad (S). After the conclusion of the first revelation, he immediately descended from the mountain and raced back to his house. He came to his wife, Khadija (r.a.), and asked her to cover him. He remained covered until his fear had gone away.
The Prophet (PBUH) then told his wife about what happened at the Cave of Hira. He told her that the events that took place scared him. However, Khadija (r.a.) soothed him by saying that his Lord would never disgrace him. She supported him and told him that he upholds ties of kinship, is truthful, helps the needy, serves guests, and helps troubled people. As a result, she said that the Lord would never shame him.
Khadija (r.a.) then proposed that they go to her cousin, a learned man by the name of Waraqah bin Naufal.
From the Cave of Hira to Waraqah ibn Naufal
Khadija (r.a.)’s paternal uncle’s son, Waraqah, was a pious Christian man. He became a Christian during the period of the jahiliyyah, and he was learned in matters of religion. He knew Arabic script and the Gospel well. However, he was an old man and had become blind.
Khadija (r.a.) asked him to listen to what Prophet Muhammad (S) had to say. Waraqah patiently listened to his recollection of the incident that took place at the Cave of Hira.
After the Prophet (PBUH) completed the story, Waraqah proclaimed that the being that he encountered in the Cave of Hira was the same Angel Jibrail who had come to Prophet Musa (a.s.). He then wished that he was young enough to live till the time when his own people would drive him out of his land.
The Prophet (PBUH) asked him if that was indeed true. Waraqah stated that no man had ever come with a revelation like this who avoided persecution. He said that if he were alive when these incidents would take place, he would whole-heartedly support him.
However, Waraqah was not a young man. He was in the latter stages of his life, and a short while after the incident at the Cave of Hira, he breathed his last. This saddened the Prophet (PBUH).
Revelation ceases for a while
After all this happened, for reasons that Allah knows best, He stopped sending revelations to Prophet Muhammad (S). Perhaps it was to allow him some time to ponder upon what was to come. The Prophet (PBUH), in the meantime, was sad that the revelations didn’t continue.
According to some versions of the Seerah, Muhammad (S) returned to the Cave of Hira after a brief hiatus and continued to pray in solitude. There are also some conflicting reports about the period between the first and second revelation. However, eventually, the revelation from Allah resumed.
The resumption of revelation
The Prophet (PBUH) described in a Hadith (Sahih al-Bukhari) how revelation resumed. He said that he was walking one time, and he heard a voice in the sky. When he looked up, he said that he saw the same angel that had come to him in the Cave of Hira. He was sitting on an enormous chair between the heavens and the earth.
According to some versions of the Hadith, the Prophet (PBUH) said that he began to turn his face away from Angel Jibrail. However, no matter where he looked, he continued to see the angel all around him.
The Prophet (PBUH) once again was scared and went home and asked to be covered with blankets. He had come full circle from the events at the Cave of Hira. Then, Allah sent down the second revelation.
There are some differences regarding which verses were in the second revelation. Various reports suggest that it was the first few verses of either Surah al-Qalam, al-Muddaththir, or ad-Dhuha. Imam Bukhari believed it was Surah al-Muddaththir. Either way, revelation continued, and the rest is history.