[Excerpts, with occasional modest edits, from The Real Muḥammad: In the Eyes of Ibn Isḥāq, copyright 2013, TEI Publishing House. All quotations from the Sīrat Rasūl Allāh (“Life of the Messenger of Allāh”) are from the translation by Alfred Guillaume (Oxford University Press), copyright 1955. These stories are faithfully passed along from the most ancient, extant and authoritative biography of Muḥammad. All Muslims are called to imitate Muḥammad in their daily lives, and Muslim scholars know that Ibn Isḥāq is the best source for the historical Muḥammad, despite concern for various hon-historical material. The question is this: Can Muḥammad satisfy the Muslim thirst for freedom? How many people, of their own volition, would follow Muḥammad if they were free to choose otherwise? The same question is freely received by Muslims who would question Christians who follow Jesus as the Son of God]

Muḥammad’s Calling

John C. Rankin

Ibn Isḥāq concludes Part I with Muḥammad’s calling from Allāh: “When Muhammad the apostle of God [Allāh] reached the age of forty, God [Allāh] sent him in compassion to mankind, ‘as an evangelist to all men.’ ” A universal mission is in place.

Muḥammad “love[d] solitude so that he liked nothing better than to be alone.” “Allah willed to bestow His grace upon him and endow him with prophethood, [and when he] would go forth for his affair and journey far afield until he reached the glens of Mecca and the beds of its valleys where no house was in sight; and not a stone or tree that he passed by but would say, ‘Peace unto thee, O apostle of Allah.’ And the apostle would turn to his right and left and look behind and he would see naught but trees and stones.”

These words come to us from the inner witness of Muḥammad, for by definition of the context, there are no eye-witnesses or ear-witnesses; and as well, this is the nature of the coming down of the whole Qur’ān – through Jibrīl and only to Muḥammad’s inner person. In one such time of his solitude:

“When it was the night on which God [Allāh] honoured him with his mission and showed mercy on His servants thereby, Gabriel [Jibrīl] brought him the command of God [Allāh]. ‘He came to me,’ said the apostle of God [Allāh], ‘while I was asleep, with a coverlet of brocade whereon was some writing, and said, “Read!” I said, “What shall I read?” He pressed me with it so tightly that I thought it was death; then he let me go and said, “Read!” I said, “What shall I read?” He pressed me with it again so that I thought it was death; then he let me go and said, “Read!” I said, “What shall I read?” He pressed me with it a third time so that I thought it was death and said “Read! ” I said, “What then shall I read?” – and this I said only to deliver myself from him, lest he should do the same thing again.’

” ‘He said: “Read in the name of the Lord who created, Who created man of blood coagulated. Read! Thy Lord is the most beneficent, Who taught by the pen, Taught that which they knew not unto men. So I read it, and he departed from me. And I awoke from my sleep, and it was as though these words were written on my heart.” ‘ ”

While Ibn Isḥāq paints a picture of a wealth of pre-confirmation to Muḥammad’s calling, Muḥammad himself is reticent at the outset with the dream. The image is one of the mighty angel Jibrīl grasping Muḥammad and pressing deathly hard against his very breath, putting him into a corner apart from which he has no option but to yield.

“ ‘Now none of God’s [Allāh’s] creatures was more hateful to me than an (ecstatic) poet or a man possessed: I could not even look at them. I thought, Woe is me poet or possessed – Never shall Quraysh say this of me! I will go to the top of the mountain and throw myself down that I may kill myself and gain rest. So I went forth to do so and then when I was midway on the mountain, I heard a voice from heaven saying, “O Muhammad! thou art the apostle of God [Allāh] and I am Gabriel [Jibrīl].” I raised my head towards heaven to see (who was speaking), and lo, Gabriel [Jibrīl] in the form of a man with feet astride the horizon, saying, “O Muhammad! thou are the apostle of God [Allāh] and I am Gabriel [Jibrīl].” I stood gazing at him, moving neither forward nor backward; then I began to turn my face away from him, but towards whatever region of the sky I looked, I saw him as before. And I continued standing there, neither advancing nor turning back, until Khadīja sent her messengers in search of me and they gained the high ground above Mecca and returned to her while I was standing in the same place; then he [Jibrīl] parted from me and I from him, returning to my family.’ ”

In the face of his reported uncertainties, Khadīja says to him, “Rejoice, O son of my uncle, and be of good heart. Verily, by Him in whose hand is Khadīja’s soul, I have hope that thou wilt be the prophet of the people,” and later reinforces him with the belief about Jibrīl, “O son of my uncle, rejoice and be of good heart, by God [Allāh] he is an angel and not a satan.” Her cousin, Waraqa b. Naufal, upon hearing the story, declares that Muḥammad is the prophet of Allāh, and he will be opposed and called a liar.

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