The Shrouded One
I mentioned that I learned that the Quran revelation from God stopped for a period of time after the first five verses of Surah Al-Alaq in my MSQP Field Notes (FN) #1. This actually was news to me. I was under the impression that once revelation began it was continuous, without fail. But it appears that after the first verses of Al-Alaq there was a period of time that no revelation came to the Prophet. What must of that felt like?
When revelation did start again, it occurred in dramatic fashion. Angel Gabriel appeared in the broad day while the Prophet was walking about. He sat on a throne between Heaven and Earth. Upon seeing this the Prophet returned home and covered himself up with a cloth or blanket. Then Allah addressed him.
Once this revelation initiated, it would never cease for the next twenty-three years. The floodgates of monumental historical and radical spiritual revolution were unleashed on humanity, yet from where these verses picked up, they themselves are humble and pocked with ridicule of the man that would carry the message.
What is interesting is that from this point there is disagreement as to which chapter came next. The order seems to be a bit convoluted (read here about revelation order, or tanzil) where there was revelation of portions of three chapters followed by a break. Muadudi suggests that the “Muslim Umma unanimously agree” that the earliest revelation to Prophet “consisted of the first five verses of Surah Al-Alaq.” Clarifying his opinion that “what is established by authentic traditions it that the after this first revelation, no revelation came down to the Prophet for quite some time. Then, when it was resumed, it started with these verses of Surah Al-Mudathir.”
- Verses start by describing the Prophet as one who “lies enwrapped”, needing goading to “arise and warn” and “proclaim the greatness of your Lord.”
- Transition towards the physical appearance of one who does this rising and warning as being someone who “keep garments pure” and “avoid filth”;
- Then a list of qualities in character required to carry out this mission- “Be Just” and have patience; that’s all this revelation consisted of.
- Allah is calling the Prophet out of his solitude, away from soul searching and toward a mission. This was Divine Intervention.
- The primary duty identified was that you have to proclaim God’s greatness- Allahu Akbar, the Arabic saying for “God is Great!”
- The verse about “pure garments” has an interesting explanation, Maududi says that pure garments are a reflection of a pure spirit, “…for the purity of the body and the garments and the purity of the spirit are interlinked and interdependent.”
- Also I found this explanation of the instruction Allah gives to the Prophet insightful to this particular set of revealed verses- “The demand of the unique mission that you have to perform now is that your life should be pure in every respect and you should carry out the duty of reforming your people sincerely irrespective of any gain.”
- Asad elaborates on the “purity of garments” by stating that “a pure spirit and an unpure body with impure garments cannot live together.” This is why EVERY HADITH and FIQH book begins with the injunctions and instructions on taharat (purity), which distinguishes between purity and impurity and gives minute details about the methods and means of obtaining purity.
- Basically, the focus on this idea of purity of garments in both Asad and Maududi can be summed up as the lesson that “what you wear introduces to others your tastes and temperament,” so what would this look like for one who is calling people to Allah?
The above image is from www.stuckincustoms.com, a website featuring the adventures and photography of the very talented Mr. Trey Ratcliff. He puts these images out there into the world under a copyleft and I have been amazed by his photography, as well as incredibly inspired. This particular picture spoke to me in regards to the content of this set of revealed verses regarding the “calling out of solitude and internal searching” that the Prophet was engaged in during this time of his life. I always imagined this solitude to be in a place such as this, high up in the mountains away from direct worldly engagement and interaction.