the moment had to come. it was in the month of ramadan, in the year 610 ce when muhammad was 40 years old, spending the month in themountain of hira', as had been his habit for several years.
suddenly, muhammad has a most fascinating experience, an account of which is given by his future wife aishah:
the first aspect of revelation to god's messenger was that his dreams came true. whatever vision he might have had in his sleep would occur as he had seen.
then, he began to enjoy seclusion. he used to retreat alone into the cave of hira', where he would spend several days in devotion before going back to his family.
he used to take some food with him, and when he came back he would take a fresh supply for another period. he continued to do so until he received the truth while in the cave of hira'.
the angel came to him and said: "read". he replied: "i am not a reader." the prophet says: "he held me and pressed hard until i was exhausted, then he released me and said: "read", and i replied: "i am not a reader." so he held me and pressed me hard a second time until i was exhausted, then he released me and said: "read". i replied: "i am not a reader." he then held me and pressed hard for a third time. then he said: "read, in the name of your lord who created. it is he who created man from clots of blood. read! your lord is the most bounteous, who has taught the use of the pen. he has taught man what he did not know.'"
the prophet returned home to khadijah, trembling, and said: "wrap me! wrap me!" they wrapped him and his fear subsided. he turned to khadijah and exclaimed: "what has happened to me?" he related to her what happened and said: "i fear for myself." and khadijah replied: "you have nothing to fear; be calm and relax. god will not let you suffer humiliation, because you are kind to your relatives, you speak the truth, you assist anyone in need, you are hospitable to your guest and you help in every just cause."
then she took him to waraqah ibn nawfal, her paternal cousin who was a christian convert and a scholar with good knowledge of arabic, hebrew and the bible. he had lost his eyesight, as he had grown very old.
khadijah said to waraqah: "cousin, would you like to hear what your nephew has to say?" [waraqah was not, in fact, the prophet's uncle. khadijah's reference to muhammad as his nephew was in accordance with the standards of politeness which prevailed in arabia at the time.]
waraqah said: "well, nephew, what have you seen?" the prophet related to him what he saw. when he had finished, waraqah said: "it is the same revelation as was sent down to moses. i wish i was a young man so that i might be alive when your people turn you away from this city."
the prophet exclaimed: "would they turn me away?" waraqah answered: "yes! no man has ever preached a message like yours and was not met with enmity. if i live till that day, i will certainly give you all my support." but waraqah died soon after that.
this hadith is related in both of the two most authentic collections of the prophet's traditions prepared by al-bukhari and muslim, and also related by imam ahmad in his collection.
at-tabari also relates the following hadith, on the authority of `abdullah ibn al-zubayr:
the prophet said: "while i was asleep he came to me carrying a case of a very rich material in which there was a book. he said: "read". i replied: "i am not a reader." he pressed me so hard that i felt that i was about to die. then he released me and said, 'read'. i asked: 'what shall i read?' (i said this only out of fear that he might repeat what he had done to me before.) he said: 'read: in the name of your lord who created. it is he who created man from clots of blood. read! your lord is the most bounteous, who has taught the use of the pen. he has taught man what he did not know.' i read it. he stopped. then he left me and went away. i woke up feeling that it was actually written in my heart."
the prophet went on to say: "no man was ever more loathsome to me than poets or deranged persons. i could not bear even looking at either.
i thought: 'the man [meaning himself] is undoubtedly a poet or deranged. this shall not be said about me amongst the quraish. let me climb higher up the mountain and throw myself down and get rid of it all.
i went to carry out this intention. when i was halfway up the mountain, i heard a voice coming from the heavens saying: 'muhammad, you are the messenger of god and i am gabriel.' i raised my head up to the sky and i saw gabriel in the image of a man with his feet next to one another up on the horizon.
he said again: 'muhammad, you are the messenger of god and i am gabriel.' i stood in my place looking up at him; he distracted me from my intention. i was standing there unable to move.
i tried to turn my face away from him and to look up at the sky, but wherever i looked i saw him in front of me. i stood still, moving neither forward nor backward.
khadijah sent her messengers looking for me and i remained standing in my place all the while until they went back to her. he then left me and i went back to my family." (at-tabari)