In his fortieth year, Prophet Muhammad was an established businessman living in Makkah with his young family.
Searching for Answers to Eternal Questions
He was known as an honest and fair man; and they lived a relatively quiet life. However, he continued to search for answers to eternal questions.
The same sort of questions we ask ourselves today: Why am I here? What is my purpose in life?
In order to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and remove himself from some unsavoury practices and lifestyles, Prophet Muhammad sought quiet and peace in the caves beyond Makkah.
Finding Comfort in Spiritual Retreat
In retrospect, we know that this time of reflection and meditation was preparation for the great responsibility that was about to be thrust upon him.
Prophet Muhammad spent his regular spiritual retreats in the cave known as Hira, just a couple of miles outside Makkah.
He would take meagre provisions and water; and he would spend several days, or weeks, at a time contemplating the world around him.
His heart was heavy due to the social ills that dominated Makkan society; the abuse and neglect of women, idolatry, and the unfair balance between the wealthy and those living in poverty.
Prophet Muhammad felt that he should do something to rectify this social disaster, but was unable to decide how to begin.
When we reflect on the spiritual retreat of Prophet Muhammad, it invokes images of looking at the night sky; watching the clouds, or the rain, seeing the changes in the landscape and asking himself questions about his world.
Prophet Abraham also looked to the sky to make sense of the world he lived in. While in the cave, Prophet Muhammad was practicing the religion of Abraham, a pure monotheism that existed before Judaism and Christianity. It called on its adherents to recognize the Oneness of God and shun all idolatrous practices.
Prophet Muhammad, who, at this stage had not been granted prophethood lived by these moral and ethical standards; he found himself contemplating life, something that is common among people around the age of forty.
He faced his own mortality and was driven to seek meaning in his life wondering how he could make his small world a better place.
At some point, during these days of seclusion Prophet Muhammad realized that his dreams were prophetic; that what he dreamed later took place.
Then on a fateful night in Ramadan, in the year 610 CE, alone in the cave, Prophet Muhammad underwent a very compelling and confusing ordeal.
His beloved wife Aisha narrates the experience as it was told to her by Prophet Muhammad.
“The angel (Gabriel) came to him and asked him to read. The Prophet (peace be upon him) replied:
I do not know how to read. (Read the full hadith here)
Muhammad, fled down the mountain terrified and a voice called after him.
“Oh Muhammad, you are the messenger of God, and I am the angel Gabriel.”
This was the first revelation of what was to become the Quran.
At the time, however, Prophet Muhammad was confused and exhilarated, scared and apprehensive. He returned home as quickly as possible, trembling and calling for his wife Khadijah to ‘cover me’.
The angel Gabriel visited him several more times and over a period of some months. And gradually, as his mission was revealed, the angel Gabriel told Muhammad (peace be upon him) to begin proclaiming God’s message.
This experience changed Prophet Muhammad’s spirituality; from searching for knowledge about the natural wonders of the universe, he now was on a quest to become closer to God.
He sought to consolidate his relationship with God, while at the same time, calling his friends and family to worship One God. The relationship between Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his Lord was based on absolute and sincere faith, love, obedience, and surrender.
From the beginning of his mission, Prophet Muhammad understood how important it was to forge a lasting relationship with the Creator. In his search for spiritual comfort, he discovered that the path to spiritual fulfillment was through worship.
Not the worship that he saw in Makkah, which was a mishmash of Arab paganism, with sprinklings of Christianity, and Jewish practices. True worship required pleasing the One God, in all aspects of life.
Prophet Muhammad encouraged his fledgling band of followers to reach out and establish their own relationships with God.
And when My slaves ask you (O Muhammad), I am indeed near (to them by My Knowledge). I respond to the invocations of the supplicant when he calls on Me (without any mediator or intercessor). Let them obey Me and believe in Me, so that they may be led a right. (Quran 2:186)
As part of His enduring love, God gave us His beloved Messenger, Prophet Muhammad. He sent a man who would lead us on the path to eternal bliss.
Prophet Muhammad continued his spiritual journey; learning the mysteries of the universe and guiding the believers along on their own spiritual journeys. He taught us how to love the Creator and how to love His creation.
Indeed, in the Messenger of God you have an excellent example for anyone whose hope is in God and the Last Day and (who) remembers God often. (Quran 33:21)
Prophet Muhammad’s spiritual journey, that now included specific lessons from God and the angel Gabriel, empowered him to guide the believers. He was able to bring them out of the darkness and into the light. He taught them about their Lord and His Names and Attributes.
Particularly at the beginning of his mission, Prophet Muhammad focused on the deep and profound joy involved in understanding God’s purpose for humankind.
The Muslim nation grew out of Prophet Muhammad’s spiritual journey.
It is He who has sent among the unlettered a Messenger from themselves reciting to them His verses and purifying them and teaching them the Book and wisdom – although they were before in clear error. (Quran 62:2)