16 – Worship

In accordance with these last two words he now began to speak about the Angel and the Revelations tho those who, after his wife, were the nearest and dearest to him. As yet he had no demands to make upon them, except that they should not divulge his secret. But this situation did not last long: Gabriel came to him one day on the high ground above Mecca, and struck with his heel the turf of the hillside, whereupon a spring gushed forth from it. Then he performed the ritual ablution to show the Prophet how to purify himself for worship, and the Prophet followed his example. Then he showed him the postures and movements of the prayer, the standing, the inclining, the prostrating and the sitting, with the repeated magnification, that is, the words Allahu akbar, God is Most Great, and the final greeting as-Salamu ‘alaykumPeace be upon you, and again the Prophet followed his example. Then the Angel left him, and the Prophet returned to his house, and taught Khadijah all that he had learned, and they prayed together.

The religion was now established on the basis of the ritual purification and prayer; and after Khadijah the first to embrace it were ‘Ali and Zayd and the Prophet’s friend Abu Bakr of the clan of Taym. ‘Ali was only ten years old, and Zayd had as yet no influence in Mecca, but Abu Bakr was liked and respected, for he was a man of wide knowledge, easy manners and an agreeable presence. Many would come to consult him about this or that, and he now began to confide in all those whom he felt he could trust, urging the to follow the Prophet. Many responses to the call were a man of Zuhrah, ‘Abdu ‘Amr, the son of ‘Awf, a distant kinsman of the Prophet’s mother, and Abu ‘Ubaydah the son of al-Jarrah of the Bani l-Harith.[1]

In connection with the first of these, ‘Abdu ‘Amr, a precedent of importance was established. Amongst the most striking features of the Revelation were the two Divine Names ar-Rahmãn and ar-Rahîm. The word rahîm, an intensive form of rãhim, merciful, was current in the sense of very merciful or boundlessly merciful. The still more intensive rahmãn, for lack of any concept to fit it, had fallen into disuse. The Revelation revived it in accordance with the new religion’s basic need to dwell on the heights of Transcendence. Being stronger even than ar-Rahîm (the All-Merciful), the name ar-Rahmãn refers to the very essence or root of Mercy, that is, to the Infinite Beneficence or Goodness of God, and the Qur’an expressly makes it an equivalent of Allah: Invoke God (Allah) or invoke the Infinitely Good (ar-Rahmãn), whiehever ye invoke, His are the names most Beautiful.[2] This name of Goodness was very dear to the Prophet, and since the name ‘Abdu ‘Amr, the slave of ‘Amr, was too pagan, he changed the new believer’s name to ‘Abd ar-Rahman, the slave of the Infinitely Good. Nor was the sone of ‘Awf the only man whose name he changed to ‘Abd ar-Rahman.

Some of the earliest responses were promoted initially by motives which could not be ascribed to any human attempt to persuade. Abu Bakr had long been known throughout Mecca for his ability to interpret dreams; and one morning he had an unexpected visit from Khalid, the son of a powerful Shamsite, Sa’id ibn al-‘As. The young man’s face still showed signs of having been recently aghast at some terrifying experience; and he hastened to explain that during the night he had had a dream which he knew must be significant through what it meant he did not understand. Coud Abu Bakr tell him the meaning of it? He had dreamed that he was standing at the edge of a great pit in which was a raging fire so vast that he could see no end to it. Then his father came, and tried to push him into it; and as they were struggling on the brink, at the moment of his greatest terror, he felt round his waist the firm clasp of two hands which held him back despite all his father’s efforts. Looking round, he saw that his savior was al-Amin, Muhammad the son of ‘Abd Allah, and at that moment he awoke. “I wish thee joy,” said Abu Bakr. “This man who saved thee is the Messenger of God, so follow him -nay, follow him thou shalt, and shalt enter through him into Islam which shall safeguard thee against falling into the fire.” Khalid went straight to the Prophet, and having told him of his dream he asked him what his message was, and what he should do. The Prophet instructed him, and Khalid entered Islam, keeping it a secret from his family.[3]

It was about the same time that another man of ‘Abdu Shams, a merchant on his way home from Syria, was awoken one night by a voice crying in the desert: “Sleepers, awake, for verily Ahmad hath come forth in Mecca.”[4] The merchant was ‘Uthman, son of the Umayyad ‘Affan, and grandson, through his mother, one of ‘Abd al-Muttalib’s daughters, Umm Hakim al-Bayda’, the Prophet’s aunt. The words sank into his heart, though he did not understand what was meant by “coming forth”, nor did he recognize that the superlative Ahmad “most glorified” stood for Muhammad, “glorified”. But before reaching Mecca he was overtaken by a man of Taym named Talhah, a cousin of Abu Bakr; and Talhah had passed through Bostra, where he had been asked by a monk if Ahmad had yet appeared amongst the people of the Sanctuary. “Who is Ahmad?” said Talhah. “The son of ‘Abd al-Muttalib’s son ‘Abd Allah,” answered the monk. “This is his month, in which he shall come forth; and he is the past of the prophets.” Talhah repeated these words to ‘Uthman, who told him of his own experience, and on their return Talhah suggested that they should go to his cousin Abu Bakr, who was known to be the closest friend of the man now uppermost in the minds. So they went to Abu Bakr, and when they told him what they had heard he took them at once to the Prophet so that they could repeat to him the words of the monk and the words of the desert voice. Having done this, they made their professions of faith.

A fourth conversion, no less remarkable than these in the way it took place, was that of ‘Abd Allah ibn Mas’ud, a young confederate of Zuhrah. Telling of it himself, he said: “I was at that time a youth just grown into manhood, and I was pasturing the flocks of ‘Uqbah ibn Abi Mu’ayt, when one day the Prophet and Abu Bakr passed by. The Prophet asked me if I had any milk to give them to drink. I replied that the flocks were not mine but entrusted to my care and I could not give them to drink. The Prophet said: ‘Hast thou a young ewe that no ram hath ever leaped?’ I said I had, and brought her to them. Having tethered her, the Prophet put his hand to her udder and prayed, whereupon the udder swelled with milk, and Abu Bakr brought a boulder which was hollowed like a cup. The Prophet milked her into it, and we all drank. Then he said to the udder: ‘Dry’, and it dried.”[5] A few days later ‘Abd Allah went to the Prophet and entered Islam. Nor was it long before he had learned from him seventy surahs[6] by heart, being exceptionally gifted in that way; and he soon became one of the best and most authoritative reciters of the Qur’an.

The Prophet had been distressed by the period of silence from Heaven; yet his soul still shrank from receiving the tremendous impact of the Divine Word, which itself affirmed in a not yet revealed verse: If We sent down this Qur’an upon a mountain, thou wouldst see it prostrate in humility, rent asunder through fear of God.[7] The impulse which had prompted him to cry out “cover me, cover me” still came to him at times; and one night when he was lying wrapped in his cloak there broke in upon his seclusion a Divine Command more stern and urgent than any he had yet received, bidding him warn men of the Day of Judgement: O thou who art wrapped in thy cloak, arise and warn! Thy Lord magnify! Thy raiment purify! Defilement shun! … For when the trumpet shall be blown, that shall be a day of anguish, not of ease, for disbelievers.[8] Another night soon after this, he was aroused by further commands telling him of the intensity of worship expected from him and his followers, and fully confirming his apprehensions of a great burden of responsibility that was to be laid upon him: O thou who art wrapped in thy raiment, keep vigil all the night save a little, half the night or lessen than half a little, or add to it, and with care and clarity chant the Qur’an. Verily We shall load thee with a word of heavy weight.[9] In the same passage was also the command: And invoke in remembrance the name of thy Lord, and devote thyself unto Him with an utter devotion. Lord of the east and of the west -no god but He. Him therefore take, on Him place thy reliance.[10] There came also other Revelations, more gentle in tone, which confirmed and increased the reassurances already given to the Prophet; and on one occasion, visible to him alone, as was normally the case, the Angel said to him: “Give unto Khadijah greetings of Peace from her Lord.” So he said to her: “O Khadijah, here is Gabriel who greeteth thee with Peace from thy Lord.” And when Khadijah could find words to speak, she answered: “God is Peace, and from Him is peace, and on Gabriel be Peace!”[11]

The first adherents of the new religion took the commands addressed to the Prophet as applying to themselves, so like him they would keep long vigils. As to the ritual prayer, they were now careful not only to perform the ablution in preparation for it but also to make sure that their garments were free from all defilement; and they were quick to learn by heart all that had been revealed of the Qur’an, so that they might chant it as part of their worship. The Revelations now began to come more copiously. They were immediately transmitted by the Prophet to those who were with him, then passed from mouth to mouth, memorized and recited -a long and rapidly increasing litany which told of the ephemeral nature of all earthly things, of death and of the certainty of the Resurrection and the Last Judgement, followed by Hell or Paradise. But above it all it told of the Glory of God, or His Indivisible Oneness, His Truth, Wisdom, Goodness, Mercy, Bounty and Power; and by extension it continually referred to His signs, the marvels of nature, and to their harmonious working together which testified so eloquently to the Oneness of their Sole Originator. Harmony is the imprint of Oneness upon multiplicity, and the Qur’an draws attention to that harmony as a theme for man’s meditation.

When uninhibited by the presence of hostile disbelievers, the believers greeted each other with the words given to the Prophet by Gabriel as the greeting of the people of Paradise, “Peace be upon you!”, to which the answer is “And on you be Peace!”, the plural being used to include the two guardian Angels of the person greeted. The revealed verses of consecration and of thanksgiving also played an increasingly significant part in their lives and their outlook. The Qur’an insists on the need for gratitude, and the sacrament of thanksgiving is to say Praise be to God the Lord of the worlds, whereas that of consecration or dedication is to say In the Name of God, the Infinitely Good, the All-Merciful. This was the first verse of every surah[12] of the Qur’an, and following the example of the Prophet they used it to inaugurate every Qur’anic recital, and by extension every other rite, and by further extension every act or initiative. The new religion admitted of nothing profane.

[1] See genealogical tree
[2] Qur’an 17 : 110. In what follows, the Names of Mercy will sometimes be rendered “the Good, the Merciful” for sake of having a single word as in Arabic, and relying on the definite article to denote the Absolute. The same practice is also followed with other Divine Names.
[3] I.S. IV/1, 68
[4] I.S. III/1, 37
[5] I.S. III/1, 107
[6] The Qur’an consists of 114 surahs (chapters), of unequal length. The longest surah has 285 verses, the shortest only three.
[7] Qur’an 59 : 21. The sudden change from first to third person We … God, is frequent in the Qur’an.
[8] Qur’an 74 : 1 – 10
[9] Qur’an 73 : 1 – 5
[10] Qur’an 73 : 8 – 9
[11] I.H. 156
[12] Only one surah, 9 begins without the mention of the Names of Mercy, but that had not yet been revealed.

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