Like many religious figures, the life of Muhammad is littered with incredible events and miraculous happenings. Some of the amazing events are said to have taken place before he was born, such as a glow that shone out of his father’s forehead and the dreams Muhammad’s mother had about her son becoming a prophet. Other extraordinary things happened when Muhammad was a child and still others when he was an adult. Based on the Quran alone, there are numerous remarkable events to choose from, but here are four amazing moments in the life of Muhammad.
The Night of Decree
The Night of Decree, or Laylat-ul-Qadr, is the night when the angel Gabriel first appeared to Muhammad in the Cave of Hira. Muhammad was in the habit of seeking solitude in the rocky mountains around Mecca and spending his time meditating in the caves there. He would spend several days in his secluded retreat before returning to his wife, Khadija.
During one of Muhammad’s retreats on Mount Hira, Gabriel appeared to Muhammad. Gabriel apparently seized Muhammad and ordered, “Iqra! ” Iqra in Arabic can mean either “read” or “recite,” and Muhammad, interpreting Gabriel’s command as “read,” explained that he was illiterate. Gabriel seized Muhammad twice more, and twice more Muhammad insisted he was unable to follow the angel’s commands. Finally, Gabriel grasped Muhammad with overwhelming force and said “Recite in the name of your Lord who created. He created man from a clot. Read and your Lord is the most honorable who teaches by the pen. He taught man what he did not know.” These five verses, Quran 96:1-5, were the first verses of the Holy Quran revealed to Muhammad.
This initial revelation overwhelmed Muhammad, and he fled Mount Hira in terror. As he descended the mountain, he heard the angel crying “Muhammad, you are the Messenger of God, and I am Gabriel.” When Muhammad sought comfort with Khadija after his experience with Gabriel, Khadija and her Christian uncle, Waraqa, helped Muhammad accept that he had been visited by Gabriel, also called the Angel of Revelation. The words that Gabriel recited to Muhammad were sacred, and as the revelation was transmitted orally, the verses came to be known as al-Quran, “The Recitation.”
The Conquest of Mecca
Following persecution in Mecca, Muhammad led the small Muslim community to Medina where they stayed for eight years. In 628 A.D., Muhammad led a group of Muslims from Medina to Mecca as part of a pilgrimage. When they reached the outskirts of Mecca, Muhammad set a message to the Meccans saying that the Muslims were coming as part of a pilgrimage, not an invasion. The Meccans refused to allow the Muslims to enter the city but agreed that in following years, the Meccans would leave the city so that the Muslims could complete their pilgrimage. After two short years, the treaty collapsed and Muhammad led his Muslim army to attack Mecca.
The conquest of Mecca is described as being bloodless, despite the Meccan’s attempted defense. The Muslims entered the city victoriously, and Muhammad returned to the Ka’ba, the space in the center of the city that was sacred to both Muslims and the local Arab tribes. He ordered the Arab idols destroyed and rededicated the space to Allah, as Muslims believe that the Ka’ba was originally built by Abraham.
Arab tribes that had allied with the Meccans against the Muslims attempted to recapture Mecca later, but they were unsuccessful. After repeated attempts by the various Arab tribes’ to reconquer Mecca, the Muslims revoked the Arab’s previously protected right to make pilgrimages to the Ka’ba and claimed that only Muslims could visit the shrine.
The Night Journey
The Night Journey, also called Isra, was a journey Muhammad took from Mecca in modern day Saudi Arabia to Jerusalem in a single night. The journey took place roughly 10 years after Muhammad had originally received the first revelations that would become the Quran and shortly after Muhammad’s first wife, Khadija, died.
One night when Muhammad was sleeping by the Ka’ba , an angel appeared and cut out Muhammad’s heart. The angel purified Muhammad’s heart by placing it in a bowl filled with pure faith and then put Muhammad’s heart back in Muhammad’s chest. When this purification was complete, a white animal known to Muslims as al-Buraq appeared, and Gabriel told Muhammad to mount the animal. Al-Buraq was able to travel immense distances with a single leap, and she took Muhammad to Jerusalem and what is now the Al-Aqsa Mosque. There, Muhammad met a group of Allah’s previous prophets and led them in prayer.
Muslims believe that Muhammad’s journey to the Al-Aqsa Mosque was Allah’s way of uniting Mecca and Jerusalem. Islam was born in Arabia, but the prophets that came before Muhammad were closely tied to Israel and Jerusalem. By taking Muhammad to Jerusalem, Allah clearly linked Islam with the religions and prophets that came before it.
While Muhammad was still in Jerusalem, he traveled to what is now the Dome of the Rock and ascended into the lowest heaven with the angel Gabriel. It was here that Muhammad met Adam, the first man, who spoke of his faith in Muhammad’s prophethood. Gabriel and Muhammad then entered the second heaven where Muhammad met the prophet John the Baptist. Muslim traditions simply refer to John as the Prophet John.
It was in this second heaven that Muhammad also met Jesus, in Islam known as the Messenger of God, Prophet Jesus and Jesus, son of Mary. Gabriel then took Muhammad to the third heaven where he met Joseph, one of the 12 sons of Israel. In the fourth, fifth and sixth heavens, Muhammad met Idris who is commonly identified with the Christian Enoch, Moses’s brother Aaron and Moses himself, respectively. In the seventh heaven, the highest of all heavens, Muhammad met Abraham and was shown the al Bayt al-Mamoor, a house where 70,000 angels worship Allah each day.
Finally, Gabriel took Muhammad past the uppermost boundary of the seventh heaven and into the realm that contained Paradise and the Throne of Allah. It was here that Muhammad stood in the presence of Allah and was ordered to make sure that Muslims prayed five times a day. Muhammad then descended back through the heavens and spoke once more with Moses before returning to earth. There, Muhammad remounted al-Buraq and returned to Mecca where he told his followers of his miraculous journey.
Muhammad’s life was filled with extraordinary happenings. From his birth to his final sermon, the incredible events of his life are remembered by Muslims everywhere. Some events are celebrated and remembered by holidays or pilgrimages, but the miraculous revelation of the Quran is remembered every time a faithful Muslim reads or recites the same words Gabriel once spoke.