Monday, November 02, 2015

Muhammad - A new apostle - A word from Gabriel

This is a continuation of a multi-post article. You can read the first post here and the previous post here. This is also part of a larger series called "The Koran from a Christian perspective." You can find other posts in this series here.
It was 610 CE during the month of Ramadan, which was a traditional month of retreat, and Muhammad was alone in a nearby cave. It was here that Muhammad claimed to have had his first encounter with the angel  Gabriel.
"This first Revelation occurred as follows. The Archangel Gabriel came to Muhammad in the cave and commanded him to 'Read'. Muhammad replied 'I cannot read.' At this the Archangel took Muhammad in his arms and pressed him to him until it was almost too much to bear. He then released him and said again 'Read.' 'I cannot', replied Muhammad, at which the Archangel embraced him again. For the third time the Archangel commanded Muhammad to read, but still he said he could not and was again embraced. On releasing him this time, however, the Archangel Gabriel said: “Read: … Muhammad repeated these verses, just as the Archangel had said them. When the Archangel was sure Muhammad knew them by heart, he we away." (Leila Azzam & Aisha Gouverneur, The Life of the Prophet Muhammad)
It is unclear why Muhammad could not read the words shown to him by Gabriel. Some say he was illiterate and the Koran gives reason to believe that the words shown to Muhammad were actual written in Arabic.

 Muhammad was shaken and not sure what had happened to him. He feared that perhaps he had been visited by a Jinn (like a daemon). He went home to his wife trembling and distraught.
"In a state of confusion he returned home to Khadijah. When his wife saw him she became very worried as he began to shiver, as though in a fever. He asked her to wrap him in blankets, which she did. After a while he recovered sufficiently to tell her what had happened at Hira" (Leila Azzam & Aisha Gouverneur, The Life of the Prophet Muhammad)
Muhammad's wife, Khadijah, believed that he has seen a vision form God and proclaimed, "Truly I swear by Allah who has my soul in His hands, that you will be our people's Prophet.' Muhammad (pbuh), the Messenger of Allah." (Leila Azzam & Aisha Gouverneur, The Life of the Prophet Muhammad) She was quicker to believe in the vision than Muhammad himself was.

Over the next twenty three years, Muhammad would receive other revelations from Gabriel, all which were eventually recorded and written down in Koran. He described the nature of these revelations as such.
"Sometimes it cometh unto me like the reverberations of a bell, and that is the hardest upon me; the reverberations abate when I am aware of their message. And sometimes the Angel taketh the form of a man and speaketh unto me, and I am aware of what he saith." (Muhammad, his life based on the earliest sources, Chapter 15, The First Revelations)
There are several things of interest in this story of Muhammad's revelations, especially when compered to similar revelations and spiritual encounters in the Jewish and Christian scriptures. First is the oppressive nature of some of the revelations: the angel pressing Muhammad until he feared he could not breath and the reverberation of the bell oppressing his flesh. I can find no similar encounter is the scriptures. Secondly is the focus on memorization. These revelations were given to Muhammad and he was expected to memorize the words so that he could recite them back to his people word-for-word. No other occasion can I remember where a prophet was required to memorize the message but to simply relay the message to those to whom it was intended. lastly was the mixture of fear and uncertainty as to the origin of the revelation. Was it from God? Was the cave haunted? Was it from a Jinn? The only other instance of this I can find in the scriptures is relayed to us by Job's "friend" Eliphaz the Temanite,
"Now a word was brought to me stealthily, and my ear received a whisper of it. Amid disquieting thoughts from the visions of the night, when deep sleep falls on men, dread came upon me, and trembling, and made all my bones shake. Then a spirit passed by my face; the hair of my flesh bristled up. It stood still, but I could not discern its appearance; a form was before my eyes; there was silence, then I heard a voice." (Job 4:12-16)
We know from the end of the story that Eliphaz did not speak rightly concerning the Lord as Job had, bringing his "revelation" into question. For these reasons it was right for Muhammad to have questioned his revelation and for us to also continue to question from whom Muhammad had received his revelations.

More to come...
David Robison

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