For the last month now I’ve nose-dived into Islam, the religion you introduced to the people of Arabia. It’s been a wild ride man, maybe not as much as your legendary Night Journey into Heaven, but wild all the same.
It’s a little after 1 P.M. now, and I’ve only been awake for an hour. Last night was Laylat al-Qadr–the Night of Power–and I know why it bears that name. The story goes that one night during Ramadan, as you meditated on the mountain in the Cave of Hira, that Gabriel manifested in the darkness, squeezed the breath from your lungs, and commanded you to recite the first words of the Qur’an. You were so full of awe and terror, and you couldn’t recite. Gabriel squeezed you three times until you felt the threat of death and finally, you recited. It was like you were reborn as the last breath of your old life was taken from your body and the breath of revelation took its place.
You ran from that cave scared out of your mind. Everywhere you looked, you saw Gabriel. The die was cast. Your mission was set. Your life would never be the same as you became the “Slave of Allah.” I remember how you ran home from the mountain and collapsed in the lap of your wife, Khadijah. You told her to cover you, cover you, because you were so consumed with terror.
How innocently, how removed we recount that story today. If we only knew the anguish of your Night of Power, when the very grip of Allah constricted your life.
I think, at last, I understand.
This has been a rough week for me, my friend. Last Sunday I had an experience of my own. I felt like it was too much, that I had to let it go. At least I had the choice. You didn’t. I know you lost sleep for a long time after your night in the cave because I have lost sleep this week as well. I know that not a moment escaped you in the coming days when Gabriel’s face didn’t haunt you. Your heart pounded with fear. Sweat dripped from your face as you relived those moments over and over. The first words of the Qur’an replayed in your head and through it all, you felt the tendrils of madness slipping around your mind.
I get it, brother. I understand.
If not for medication, I couldn’t sleep this week. What I saw at the river, what I felt and understood, won’t leave me alone. I have a history with night terrors and horrible dreams and this week was a bitter reminder. Last night, as I read the Qur’an and moved the beads through my fingertips, I dozed and drifted into sleep. Nightmares ripped me away each time. In every episode, I dreamt of a huge net and snare taking me toward death, as if capturing my soul. I screamed and woke, running from the couch. Panic and fear wouldn’t let me go. I eventually went to bed and slept next to my wife, but nightmares observe no borders. There, the same dream robbed of sleep twice. I left the room, exhausted and shaken, and sat on the couch unsure of my fate.
How much longer would this last? Why was this happening? How do I escape? Not only was I arrested in my thoughts during the day, but now I am haunted at night. My wife came out of the room and gave me some medicine to help me sleep. I still dreamt, but this time I didn’t run out of bed fearing for my life.
What did you do for peace, Muhammad? Did Khadijah have a secret elixir?
As I finish the last few days of this month, I just want to let you know that despite all the media around who you were, what kind of man you may have been, that at this level…I know you. We know the cave. We know the terror of something larger than ourselves that we cannot contain. We know fear. We know the unbearable weight of sublime knowledge. When you accepted your mission as a Messenger, you understood Islam–submission to God.
I have yet to submit to Sunday, August 21st, 2011…but at least now, through the example of folks like you and the many others who took that first step into their destiny, I know how.
Peace be unto you, brother.