Where did Muhammad’s first revelation occur? Everything we need to know about prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and the cave of Hira…

  • The Retreat of the Prophet to the Cave of Hira before the Mission

As the advent of Prophethood drew near, the Messenger to be -upon him blessings and peace- often found himself delving into the depths of contemplation, in seclusion, distant from the public eye. At times he would set out from his home and leave Mecca far behind him, to seek the haven of places silent. Many a time on the way, he would hear the outlying stones and the trees on the path greet him with the words, ‘peace be upon you Messenger of Allah’. In hope of making out the owner of the voices, he would look around, but see only trees and stones.[1]

Later, the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- is reported to have said, “I remember there being a certain stone in Mecca that used to greet me before the arrival of my Prophethood. I could identify its place even today.” (Muslim, Fadâil, 2)

Confirming this are the words of Ali –Allah be well-pleased with him-:

“The Messenger of Allah and I were going to a certain place in Mecca once, during our years in the town. As we were passing by trees and stones, I could hear them salute him with the exact words, as-Salâmu alayka yâ Rasûlallah.” (Tirmidhî, Manâqıb, 6/3626)

Muhammad -upon him blessings and peace- had made a habit of regularly retreating to the Cave of Hira[2] in Ramadan for well nigh the entire month, taking even greater care to feed the poor and disadvantaged. Circumambulating the Kaabah each time he returned home from the Cave had also become routine.[3]

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The Prophet to be -upon him blessings and peace- always despised his tribe’s worshipping of idols, perpetually distancing himself from the practice. His worship in seclusion consisted of contemplating the creation of the skies and earth, like his grandfather Ibrahim –upon him peace- and gazing at the Kaabah from the overlooking Cave.[4]

Muhammad -upon him blessings and peace- used to take with him to the Cave small supplies of food and drinks, returning to Khadijah -Allah be well-pleased with her- once they finished to refill, only to once again go back to the Cave.[5] On occasion, he would also take Khadijah –Allah be well-pleased with her- with him.[6]

Contemplating in seclusion in the Cave of Hira, the Light of Being -upon him blessings and peace- would frequently see lights and hear voices, which led him to fear that the experiences could be premonitions related to soothsaying and sorcery. Concerned, he would voice his anxiety to Khadijah -Allah be well-pleased with her-, saying:

“I am afraid, Khadijah, of being a soothsayer, when by the Almighty there is nothing I hate more than soothsaying and idols!” But Khadijah –Allah be well-pleased with her- would only have words of consolation:

“Do not say that, cousin.[7] Allah would never make you a soothsayer.” (Ibn Saad, I, 195)

The period of seclusion before the mission was a preparatory stage for the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-, like a seed pushing forth from beneath the soil. The exact nature of this preliminary period of preparation, however, will forever remain a secret to us. But it was there that the seeds of faith were laid and the fire of eternal bliss was ignited; and the Revelation of the Quran, the guidance for all humanity, first started.

On the face of it, the retreat of the Blessed Prophet to the Cave was prompted by the general misguidance of the people and his inexpressible grief over the injustices committed by the corrupt Meccans; yet in reality the withdrawal was simply a preparation of the heart of the Noble Messenger -upon him blessings and peace- towards immaculate purification whereupon the Holy Quran could be flawlessly communicated to the perception of entire mankind. This was virtually an instance of a spiritual spark stirred by the grounding of a high voltage of electricity, an intimate secret between the Almighty and His Beloved, in a secluded cave remote from prying eyes. Just as raw iron becomes steel through an inner propensity, the time at Hira was for the flourishing of the Prophet’s -upon him blessings and peace- predisposition to become the recipient of Divine Revelation and assume a burden too heavy for ordinary human beings to carry. It is inconceivable to even imagine a conscience that would not shatter to pieces in trying to grasp this secret or a human language that could perfectly express its gist.

Understood from the retreat and seclusion of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- at the Cave of Hira and many an itikaf he regularly performed during the later years of his life, is the fact that no matter how great a deed one may perform, spiritual perfection will forever remain out of reach short of retreating to seclusion to call the self into account and contemplate the flow of Divine Power vibrant throughout the universe. This is a minimum requirement for all Muslims. As for those set to become guides for the rest, they need to spare even more time for contemplation and reflecting on the self.

From the first verse to the very last, the Sacred Quran trains one in the art of contemplation, instilling servanthood to the Lord at the center of all thought. Only then does faith become an intrinsic identity, prompting one to seek the pleasure of the Almighty at all times and places. And with the manifestations, through wisdom, of the flow of Divine Splendor and Power in the heart, the servant gradually gains greater proximity to the Lord, attaining the ultimate aim.

Among the most vital aspects for a Believer is muhabbetullah,[8] the love of Allah, glory unto Him. After faith, the most important catalyst for gaining Divine Love is through constant contemplation of His blessings and grace, deliberating over His Majesty and Power and then incessantly remembering and invoking Him with the heart and tongue.[9] To realize these states in the truest sense of the word can be achieved only through protecting the heart from the pomp and concern of the world by retreating to seclusion.

One thing needs to be brought to attention here, that is to say, what is intended by khalwat or retreating to seclusion here is not fleeing all together from the community and taking up permanent residence in caves, mountains or remote dwellings. Such a move would run counter to the practice of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- and his Companions.

One only needs to be reminded of the words of the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- himself:

“A Muslim who lives in the community and endures the torment that comes with it is of greater virtue that he who stays remote from them and their distress.” (Tirmidhi, Qiyamat, 55)

Many activities of the Noble Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-, from shepherding to taking active part in the Fijar Battles and the Hilf’ul-Fudul guild, his business endeavors, and his assistance in the rebuilding of the Kaabah, testify to his lively presence in society even before his advent as prophet. A part of all the virtuous activities of his society, the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- equally made sure to stay away from their vices, never crossing paths with them.

The essence of retreating into seclusion is to improve one’s condition. To become cured, medicine must be taken on time at the right amount. Taken excessively, it is sure to procure harm instead of remedy.[10]

Source: Osman Nuri Topbaş, The Prophet Muhammed Mustafa the Elect, Erkam Publications

[1] Ibn Saad, I, 157.

[2] Hira is the name of a cave in the mountain, known as the Jabal’un-Nur, or the Mountain of Light, where the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- received his first ever Revelation. Situated to the northeast of Mecca at a distance of approximately five kilometers, the Cave of Hira occupies an important place in the life of the Noble Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-. The Cave, a few meters below the peak of the mountain, in fact consists of a tunnel-like passage wedged amid slabs of rock naturally piled upon one another. The Kaabah stands in clear vision through the entrance of the Cave. Only as high as one can stand, the width of the Cave barely allows one to lie down; though overlooking the surrounding areas, including the Kaabah, it provides an ideal hideaway for contemplation. Before the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-, the Hanifs of Mecca too made most of the opportunity for contemplation provided by the Cave, one of whom was Abdulmuttalib, the Prophet’s -upon him blessings and peace- very own grandfather, who having firm belief in Allah, glory unto Him, and the Hereafter as the abode of reward and punishment, would escape to the Cave and commit himself to worship. (Fuat Günel, DİA, “Hira” entry, XVIII, 121-122)

[3] Ibn Hishâm, I, 253-254.

[4] Aynî, I, 61; XXIV, 128.

[5] Muslim, Iman, 252.

[6] Ibn Hishâm, I, 254.

[7] Colloquial terms like cousin or nephew are commonly used by Arabs to address one another. They do not necessarily imply a blood relation.

[8] Pleading the Almighty for His Love in his prayers, the Blessed Prophet would pray:

اَللّهُمَّ اِنِّى اَسْأَلُكَ حُبَّكَ وَحُبَّ مَنْ يُحِبُّكَ وَالْعَمَلَ الَّذِى يُبَلِّغُنِى حُبَّكَ.

اَللَّهُمَّ اجْعَلْ حُبَّكَ اَحَبَّ اِلَىَّ مِنْ نَفْسِى وَاَهْلِى وَمِنَ الْمَاءِ الْبَارِدِ.

“Allah! I ask you for Your Love, the love of those whom You love and the deeds that will lead to Your Love! Allah! Make Your Love dearer to me than myself, my family, my possessions and even cold water!” (Tirmidhi, Daawat, 72)

[9] In interpreting the ayah, يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اذْكُرُوا اللهَ ذِكْرًا كَثِيرًا “Believers…Remember Allah plentifully” (al-Ahzâb, 41) Ibn Abbas –Allah be well-pleased with him- has stated:

“For each compulsory deed Allah, glory unto Him, has decreed His servants, He has imposed a limit, exempting at the same time those with legitimate excuses. From this, however, His remembrance (dhikr) is excluded, for which Allah, glory unto Him, has not designated a specified limit. Neither will he accept the excuses of those who abandon His remembrance, apart from those who have lost their sanity. He has commanded each and everyone to be in a constant state of remembrance.” (Tabarî, XXII, 22; Qurtubî, XIV, 197)

[10] Bûtî, p. 79-82.