Climbing Mount Hira

The Prophet and His Message : “Force when necessary, love all the time.”

(Naguib Mahfooz)

photo-thumbOn a hot July afternoon in 1991, I climbed Mount Hira. Compared to towering Himalayas of Pakistan, Hira is no giant, but the climb was made hard by my pilgrim’s sandals and the intense heat. It is a barren, forbidding mountain, a place to go to if you want to be alone. After about an hour’s climb I reached the hidden cave: cave of Hira. I had probably traced the footsteps of the prophet who used to climb this mountain to seek solace in the womb of the cave. This is where he walked, the last of the prophets, the orphan, the perfect being, the savior of all worlds, known and unknown. The experience was elating and terrifying: it is not easy to walk the path of the prophets. When you reach the cave, you have to stoop low to enter; there is place only for one person in there. Entering the cave is like leaving the world behind, like entering a parallel universe. I prayed there, two rakkat’s of naf’l. And then it struck me: I have probably rested my forehead at the very spot where the prophet might have, fourteen hundred years ago. This is where it all began, fourteen hundred years ago. A man entered the cave as a deeply troubled, introspective forty-year old, and came out as the savior of the universe. Quite a transformation.
In that cave one evening, the Muslim historians inform us, Angel Gibreel, God’s messenger to the prophets, revealed himself to Muhammad. The prophet was terrified, for the angel’s stature covered the entire universe, North, South, the East and the West. And then Gibreel said the most profound words in human history. He said: Iqra, read! “I am unlettered and cannot read” the prophet replied. Gibreel said again: Iqra bisme rabbe kalla zi khalaq, Read in the name of your God, who created you! The prophet repeated the verses, which became the first installment of a revelation that would last for twenty three years and would eventually become the Qur’an. We know this story, for it is included in all our records. But there is another part of it that we mention in our histories, but then chose to forget.
When the prophet left the cave that evening, he was shocked. He had seen and experienced something unbelievable; he had been given a burden that the “mountains had refused to carry.” So when the prophet reached his home, he was shaking. It was Khadija-tul-Kubra, his wife, who reassured him, who covered him in a blanket, consoled him and gave him her seal of acceptance, she said la takhaf, don’t be afraid. This is the story, for when the prophet of God was unsure of his mission and terrified of having faced the unthinkable, the kind words of Khadija restored his confidence in himself: she was the first convert to Islam. Let us not forget that. It was also Khadija’s wealth that enabled the prophet to focus more on the inner turmoil instead of wasting his energies on the day-to-day struggles of existence. Let us not forget that either.
The Saudis, who discourage pilgrims from climbing Mount Hira, will have you believe that the only true Islam is the one sanctioned by their King and their Mullahs. Don’t believe that either, for in Islam there is no room for absolute kings, nor is there any place for self-appointed interpreters of the tradition. The Saudis will also have you believe that women need to be secluded, hidden, and silenced, and that men have a right to have four wives as long as they can provide for them. The Saudis will have you believe all these things because through the accident of time and space, they have somehow ended up with the custodianship of the holiest places of Islam, which gives their assertions greater legitimacy. But find me a justification for hereditary kingship in the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the prophet, and I will probably hear them out.
So what was Muhammad’s message? What’s the essence of it? Where to look for it? What was he sent for as last of the prophets? The Qur’an tells us that Muhammad was sent as a gift to the world as Rehmatul-lil-Aalameen, as blessing to all the worlds. This means that for all practical purposes his example is the one that every Muslim must cherish and emulate. His main message was to remind the world of one basic truth: La ilaha illallah he Muamad ar rasulallah, there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet. These are the two basic conditions for becoming a Muslim: There is but one God and that Muhammad is his prophet. A belief in God is inextricably liked with a belief in Muhaammad’s prophethood, and hence by extension the more prophet-like a Muslim is the better Muslim he or she becomes. Foregrounding the prophet serves an important function: it makes the relationship of humans and God, a relationship of love and not fear, for Muhammad, after all, is God’s Mehboob, His beloved. The Sufis understood this, and their branch of Islam is full of love, the Saudis have eliminated this from their tradition, hence the harshness of their world-view. I will say Muhammad’s message was love: Love of humankind.

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