What do we know about Islam and its origins? What does Al-Quran teach us about Islam's beginnings, and what it came to offer the world at large? What do we understand about the Prophet Muhammed(pbuh) and what sort of person he was? We know that the Prophet(pbuh) was the medium through which Islam was propagated to the world. But how? How did he receive the revelation and how did he go about spreading the Universal Message of Islam? And why also, did he say that Islam started in a mystery and shall end in a mystery?
Through the ages there were many who tried to start new religions and stamp their authority down on history. Many tried to coerce people into believing in them and their doctrines by bribing the masses with whatever they had at their disposal, and also, by means of wars that caused the destruction of countless societies. Some even brutally usurped the lands from indigenous peoples, calling them savages, and went on to convert these "savages" with horrifying consequences. History has enough, perhaps more than enough, data on the modus operandi of these "Giants Among Men" and how they came to their respective ends.
But why was Muhammed(pbuh) so successful? What made him succeed where others miserably failed? Why did he manage to influence, not only Arabia and the Arabs, but Egypt, Persia (which is today known as Iran) as well as Syria, The Byzantyne Empire (Rome) and even as far afield as Spain and Russia?
Let us look into that cave on Mount Tuhr, in Mecca, where Muhammed(pbuh)spent countless nights meditating about his existence. It was on one such night, the 17 Ramadan (the Islamic Lunar Month) that it all began.
We see that this cave (called the Cave of Hira) is not very big. In fact, those who has visited Mecca and have seen this recess will testify that it can scarcely accommodate more than two people. So what was Muhammed(pbuh) doing alone in that cave at night? What was he doing away from his comfortable home and his lovely wife, Khadija, who had made him in charge of all her affairs and businesses? Didn't he realize that Mecca during that particular period was not a very safe place to move around alone at night? History tells us that, Arabia with all its many tribes and diverse population of Jews, Christians, Coptics, as well Zorastrians and Pagans, not to mention the Bedouins, who prided themselves on their prowess of hijacking any sort of caravan travelling unsuspectingly through the desert, made Arabia a very hostile place indeed.
But be that as it may, we find Muhammed(pbuh) sitting alone, in the cave, on a blanket of ox skin that Khadija had aquired for him on one of her shopping outings, and we try to piece together the events of what took place on that auspicious night.
He was sitting with his eyes closed, facing the entrance, as he gently breathed in the night air that was somewhat cold compared to the usually warm breeze of Mecca. It was well after dark and the mountain was bathed in a mysterious glow from a full moon that was traversing the heavens in a slow, majestic motion.
The little makeshift lamp next to him was throwing eerie shadows on the uneven walls and his back felt a little sore from the position he was sitting in. He wondered what Khadija was doing, and what she had meant when she had asked him, earlier that day, whether he was going to the cave again, and, if he was coming home that night.
Muhammed(pbuh) sighed and nodded to himself. Shame! Khadija was truly a remarkable person, he acknowledged. She was unlike any other woman he had ever encountered!
He shifted his position on the floor and sighed once again. Yes! She was not the usual, hen-pecking, nagging, and ever-complaining female he had come to know in Mecca. Not that he had had relationships with other women, but from his business dealings with them he was glad Khadija was not like them.
He thought of the time she had proposed to him and he smiled. Who would have suspected that Khadija, being fifteen years his senior, and a very wealthy woman at that, could go over to such action.(He had been 25 and she 40). Nevertheless, he had not looked back once during his fifteen years of marriage to her. People had always admired his exceptionally good looks and some women had even made suggestions to him. But he was not interested. In fact, he couldn't bring himself to strike up a relationship with any strange women for that matter, be it serious or platonic. He didn't know why! Even as a youngster, when he had been invited to come and party with his peers, he had never participated. And when asked why he never attended, he would simply say that he had fallen asleep.
Khadija trusted him. She knew that if he said that he had to do something, she could be rest assured that he he would not do the opposite. She had also long since learnt that Muhammed(pbuh) was no ordinary man. If he gave his word he never broke it. If he accepted anything in trust he would not abuse that trust. People came to know him as reliable and he was given the name of Al-Ameen(The Trustworthy). No one she knew in Mecca spoke out against the evils of abusing women and the burying alive of the female offspring(For fear of bringing bad luck to the household), as he did. No one questioned the power of the idols and what they could do for the community. Especially al-Lat and Al-Uzza, whom he fiercely criticized. Sometimes she feared for his safety.
Muhammed(pbuh) stood up and stretched his arms above his head. He felt stiff and he thought to himself that he would spend a few more minutes meditating and then turn in for the night. The Arabs and their senseless lives played a lot on his mind tonight.
Suddenly there was a mighty blue flash. Muhammed(pbuh) froze.
A figure appeared out of nowhere, and Muhammed(pbuh) was so shocked that he could only stare dumbfound at the "Figure." To this day everyone knows who the "Figure" was, but not what he looked like.
It was the Archangel Gabriel!
Muhammed's(pbuh) mouth opened but no words came out. He could only stare.
"O, Muhammed(pbuh)! Read!"
Muhammed(pbuh) kept on staring dumbfounded.
"O,Muhammed(pbuh)!" The figure said in a loud booming voice a second time, "Read!" And still Muhammed(pbuh) couldn't say or do anything.
It was then that Gabriel folded his arms around Muhammed(pbuh) in such an overwhelming embrace that a sudden burst of words escaped Muhammed's lips: "Read! In the Name of Your Lord Who Creates! Read! And Your Lord is He who has taught man the use of the pen!"
And so unfolded the greatest mystery of the world; the greatest mystery of all time; the mystery of Islam!