Ismaili History 307 - Beginning of Ministry
Always tormented by and concerned with the sinful and blasphemic pursuits of his native fellows, Muhammad kept pondering over the reforms of their ethnic beliefs and savage character. Even when his people were steeped in vices and immoralities of the worst type, he was straight with pure and stainless soul. His soul could not be satisfied with its milieu. Thomas Carlyle writes, 'From of old, a thousand thoughts, in his pilgrimings and wanderings, had been in this man: What am I? What is this unfathomable thing I live in, which men name universe? What is life; what is death? What am I to believe? What am I to do? The grim rocks of Mount Hira, of Mount Sinai, the stern solitudes answered not. The great heavens rolling silent overhead, with its blue-glancing stars, answered not. There was no answer. The man's own soul and what of God's inspiration dwelled there, had to answer' (Ibid. pp. 63-4). It was indeed the spiritual self of Muhammad that solved all the problems which his thinking and inquisitive soul put to him. He had prepared his soul by years of exercises, introspection, and communion to give the answer.
For years after his marriage, Muhammad would frequently take a provision of dates and oatmeal for food and retire for days into a cave he had found at the top of a cone-shaped mountain, called Hira, some three miles from Mecca. He used to spend night after night in that solitary cave far away from all the worldly turmoils. Here he eagerly pondered and contemplated in long and lonely vigils to search after One and Only God. His periods of loneliness became more frequent and his vigils lengthened. He prayed ardently, opening his whole heart to his Creator Whom his soul longed to meet. He became so fully absorbed in the ecstacy of his devotions that he would remain for days in the mountain cavern. Often his beloved wife brought him food. This went on for a considerable length of time, till at last, in his fortieth year, a great unseen was revealed to him. The light of God was fully reflected in Muhammad. He had reached the stage of self-elevation when duality becomes non-existent and only One remains.
The earliest sources relate that the moon on that day of the eve of Ramdan enwrapped Hira. The birds were still in their nests and not a sound or movement disturbed this heavy quiet. It was though as everything were pegged to its place and nothing existed save the heavens and the earth. Tonight, a few roaming shepherds had seen Muhammad go there. Now there was no one else, only the sky and the earth and the crescent moon between them, rising sometimes aloft and sinking to the edge of the horizon. Stricken with panic Muhammad came home from Hira on that morning, strangely troubled, his great eyes dilated in wonder. 'Cover me up, Khadija, cover me up!' he said in feverish agitation. After a while, he became calmer and spoke thus, 'A strange vision appeared to me in the cave of Hira tonight. The vision said, `I am the angel Gabriel, sent by God.' Then he asked me to read. `I am unlettered', I said. Upon this he clasped me to his bosom and held me firmly. Then he let me go and asked me to read. I gave the same answer. He clasped me once again, and asked once again to read. And embracing me the third time, he chanted, `Read! in the name of thy Lord, Who created; He created man from a clot. Read! full of magnificence is thy Lord Who made the pen the vehicle of knowledge and taught man what he knew not.' Suddenly the words came alive to me; my limbs were all atremble.' Khadija was sorely worried at first, but soon regained her composure and comforted him. 'Fear not, my noble one', she said, 'but rejoice. God will not forsake you in this affair nor expose you to shame. For you are good and kind and truthful. You are hospitable to the passing stranger, you aid and comfort the poor and the lowly, and support the virtuous in righteous deeds.'
Waraqa bin Naufal was Khadija's cousin. Wearying of idolatry he was on the look-out for a true faith and had at length embraced Christianity. Probably she had heard him talk of the appearance of the Promised Prophet, the Comforter whose advent had been foretold by Jesus. As soon as she found Muhammad called to that office, she took him to her cousin, out of sympathy, of course, for the latter who had lost his eyesight and was unable to move. No sooner did Waraqa hear what inspiration Muhammad had received and how, than he spontaneously exclaimed: 'This is the very angel Gabriel that God sent down to Moses.' Hence, the foremost to profess faith in the truth of Muhammad's mission was his wife Khadija.
Edith Holland writes in 'The Story of Mohammed' (London, 1914, p. 18) that, 'It was in the desert that Abraham, journeying by the guidance of the stars, came to the knowledge of all-powerful God, far above the vain idols of man's imaginings. Moses, during his long sojourn in the wilderness, never doubted the near presence of a mighty God, a sure help in time of trouble. In later years the Prophet of Arabia, wandering among the barren hills of his native lands, saw in the wonders of nature sure signs of the greatness of the Creator, and there came upon him the conviction that 'God is One, the Eternal', that there is none like unto Him.'
We must pause here for a while to focus a key point that no formal prayers had been instituted then, no month of fasting was ordained then. The law of Islam itself had not been promulgated. The Islamic Shariah was not yet enforced. But Muhammad had reached to that lofty stage of spiritual evolution that his soul had acquired eternal bliss. His soul had realized the Truth for itself. When the evolution of his spirituality had reached a high stage by self-abnegation and self-surrender, he was chosen by God to be His messenger to His people with the message of Islam. He was commissioned to set the best example to humanity.