What the Koran Says, Part 1

The Quran

Muhammad the “Reciter”

Here is the story of Muhammad’s call to be God’s Messenger, ostensibly through the angel Gabriel (whom Muhammad confuses with the Holy Spirit), as elaborated upon in the Hadith (the record of testimonies of eyewitnesses of Muhammad, as to what he said and did):

“Ramadan was the traditional month of retreat, and it was one night towards the end of Ramadan, in his fortieth year, when he was alone in the cave (Mount Hira near Makkah), that there came to him an Angel in the form of a man. the Angel said to him:   ‘Recite!’ and he said:  “I am not a reciter,” whereupon, as he himself told it, ‘the Angel took me and [over]whelmed me in his embrace until he had reached the limit of mine endurance.  Then he released me and said:    “Recite!”  I said:  “I am not a reciter,” and again he took me and [over]whelmed me in his embrace, and again when he reached the limit of mine endurance he released me and said:  “recite!” and again I said “I am not a reciter.”  Then a third time he [over]whelmed me as before, then released me and said:

“‘Recite in the name of thy Lord who created!  He created man from a clot of blood. recite; and thy Lord is the Most bountiful, He who hath taught by the pen, taught man what he knew not’ (Quran Alaq :96).

“He recited these words after the Angel, who thereupon left him; and he said, ‘It was as though the words were written on my heart.’  But he feared that this might mean he had become a jinn-inspired poet or a man possessed. So he fled from the cave, and when he was half-way down the slope of the mountain he heard a voice above him saying:  ‘O Muhammad thou art the Messenger of GOD, and I am Gabriel (Angel Jibrail).’  The Prophet stood gazing at the Angel; then he turned away from him, but whichever way he looked the Angel was always there, astride the horizon, whether it was to the north, to the south, to the east or to the west.”

[Sources: http://www.sufiway.net/ar_RASULALLAH.html and Muhammad:  His Life Based on the Earliest Sources, by Martin Lings, pp. 43-44.]

Muhammad, then, was meditating in a cave, where he was badgered into submission by a spirit-being.  Muhammad resisted becoming a “reciter,” known in his culture as one who had a familiar spirit, i.e., one who became a medium.  The English versions typically render “recite” as “read” (but Muhammad was illiterate), which obscures the true import.  That Muhammad was indeed a “reciter” seems clear in the following passages:

  • [2.129] Our Lord, send among them a Messenger from them who shall recite to them Your verses and teach them the Book and wisdom, and purify them; You are the Mighty, the Wise.’
  • [2.151] As We have sent among you a Messenger (Prophet Muhammad) from yourselves, to recite to you Our verses and to purify you, who will teach you the Book and Wisdom, and teach you that of which you have no knowledge.
  • [53.4] Indeed it is not except a Revelation which is revealed,
    [53.5] taught by One who is stern in power.
    [53.6] Of might, he (Gabriel) stood firm
    [53.7] while he was in the highest horizon;
    [53.8] then he drew near, and became close
    [53.9] he was but two bows’ length or even nearer,
    [53.10] so (Allah) revealed to His worshiper (Gabriel) that which he revealed (to Prophet Muhammad).
    [53.11] His heart did not lie of what he saw.
  • [73.1] O you (Prophet Muhammad) wrapped,
    [73.2] rise (to pray) the night except a little;
    [73.3] half the night, or a little less
    [73.4] or a little more; and with recitation, recite the Koran.
    [73.5] We are about to cast upon you a weighty word.
    [73.6] Indeed, the first part of night is heavier tread, and more upright in speech.
  • [96.1] Read [recite] (Prophet Muhammad) in the Name of your Lord who created,
    [96.2] created the human from a (blood) clot.
    [96.3] Read! Your Lord is the Most Generous,
    [96.4] who taught by the pen,
    [96.5] taught the human what he did not know.

© 2010 Paul A. Hughes


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