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7.10: The Quran

  • Page ID
    72249
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    Learning Objective

    • Discuss the origins of the first Muslim converts

    Key Points

    • Muhammad first received revelations in 609 CE in a cave on Mount Hira, near Mecca.
    • Muslims regard the Quran as the most important miracle of Muhammad, the proof of his prophethood, and the culmination of a series of divine messages revealed by the angel Gabriel from 609–632 CE.
    • The key themes of the early Quranic verses included the responsibility of man towards his creator; the resurrection of the dead, God’s final judgment followed by vivid descriptions of the tortures in Hell and pleasures in Paradise; and the signs of God in all aspects of life. Religious duties included belief in God, asking for forgiveness of sins, offering frequent prayers, assisting others particularly those in need, rejecting cheating and the love of wealth, being chaste, and not killing newborn girls.
    • Muhammad’s immediate family were the first to believe he was a prophet, followed by three main groups of early converts to Islam: younger brothers and sons of great merchants, people who had fallen out of the first rank in their tribe or failed to attain it, and unprotected foreigners.
    • Muslims believe the Quran to be both the unaltered and the final revelation of God. Religious concepts and practices include the five pillars of Islam, which are obligatory acts of worship, and following Islamic law, which touches on virtually every aspect of life and society, from banking and welfare to the status of women and the environment.

    Terms

    Quran

    Literally meaning “the recitation,” it is the central religious text of Islam, which Muslims believe to be a revelation from God.

    Five Pillars of Islam

    Five basic acts in Islam, considered mandatory by believers and are the foundation of Muslim life.

    Khadijah

    The first wife of Muhammad.

    Muhammad’s First Revelations

    When he was nearly 40, Muhammad began spending many hours alone in prayer and speculating over the aspects of creation. He was concerned with the “ignorance of divine guidance” (Jahiliyyah), social unrest, injustice, widespread discrimination (particularly against women), fighting among tribes, and abuse of tribal authorities prevalent in pre-Islamic Arabia. The moral degeneration of his fellow people, and his own quest for a true religion, further lent fuel to this, with the result that he began to withdraw periodically to a cave called Mount Hira, three miles north of Mecca, for contemplation and reflection. During this period Muhammad began to have dreams replete with spiritual significance that were fulfilled according to their true import; this was the commencement of his divine revelation. Islamic tradition holds that during one of his visits to Mount Hira in the year 609 CE, the angel Gabriel appeared to him and commanded Muhammad to recite verses that would later be included in the Quran. Upon receiving his first revelations, Muhammad was deeply distressed. When he returned home, he was consoled and reassured by Khadijah and her Christian cousin. Muhammad feared that others would dismiss his claims as evidence of him being possessed. On the other hand, Shi’a tradition maintains that Muhammad was neither surprised nor frightened at the appearance of Gabriel, but rather welcomed him as if he was expected.

    image
    The cave Hira in the mountain Jabal al-Nour where, according to Muslim belief, Muhammad received his first revelation from the angel Gabriel.

    The initial revelation was followed by a pause of three years (a period known as fatra) during which Muhammad felt depressed and further gave himself to prayers and spiritual practices. When the revelations resumed, he was reassured and began preaching.

    The Quran

    image
    Quran Al-Qurʾn ا. Arabic calligraphy for “Quran.”

    Muslims believe that the Quran was verbally revealed from God to Muhammad through the angel Gabriel gradually over a period of approximately 23 years, beginning on 22 December 609 CE, when Muhammad was 40, and concluding in 632 CE, the year of his death. At the beginning of these revelations, Muhammad was confident that he could distinguish his own thoughts from the messages. Sahih al-Bukhari narrates Muhammad describing the revelations as, “Sometimes it is (revealed) like the ringing of a bell,” and Aisha reported, “I saw the Prophet being inspired Divinely on a very cold day and noticed the sweat dropping from his forehead (as the Inspiration was over).”

    Muhammad’s first revelation, according to the Quran, was accompanied by a vision. The agent of revelation is mentioned as the “one mighty in power,” the one who “grew clear to view when he was on the uppermost horizon. Then he drew nigh and came down till he was (distant) two bows’ length or even nearer.” The Islamic studies scholar Welch states in the Encyclopaedia of Islam that he believes the graphic descriptions of Muhammad’s condition at these moments may be regarded as genuine, because he was severely disturbed after these revelations. According to Welch, these seizures would have been seen by those around him as evidence for the superhuman origin of Muhammad’s inspirations. However, Muhammad’s critics accused him of being a possessed man, a soothsayer or a magician, since his experiences were similar to those claimed by such figures well known in ancient Arabia. Welch additionally states that it remains uncertain whether these experiences occurred before or after Muhammad’s initial claim of prophethood.

    The Quran describes Muhammad as “ummi,” which is traditionally interpreted as “illiterate,” but the meaning is more complex. Medieval commentators such as Al-Tabari maintained that the term induced two meanings: firstly, the inability to read or write in general, and secondly, the inexperience or ignorance of books or scriptures. However, priority was given to the first meaning. Muhammad’s illiteracy was taken as a sign of the genuineness of his prophethood. For example, according to Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, if Muhammad had mastered writing and reading he possibly would have been suspected of having studied the books of the ancestors. Some scholars such as Watt prefer the second meaning.

    According to the Quran, one of the main roles of Muhammad is to warn the unbelievers of their punishment at the end of the world. The Quran does not explicitly refer to Judgment Day, but provided examples from the history of extinct communities and warns Muhammad’s contemporaries of similar calamities. Muhammad did not only warn those who rejected God’s revelation, but also dispensed good news for those who abandoned evil, listening to the divine words and serving God. Muhammad’s mission also involves preaching monotheism; the Quran commands Muhammad to proclaim and praise the name of his Lord and instructs him not to worship idols or associate other deities with God.

    image
    A depiction of Muhammad receiving his first revelation from the angel Gabriel. Muslims regard the Quran as the most important miracle of Muhammad, the proof of his prophethood, and the culmination of a series of divine messages revealed by the angel Gabriel from 609–632 CE. (From the manuscript Jami’ al-tawarikh by Rashid-al-Din Hamadani, 1307, Ilkhanate period)

    The key themes of the early Quranic verses included the responsibility of man towards his creator; the resurrection of the dead, God’s final judgment followed by vivid descriptions of the tortures in Hell and pleasures in Paradise; and the signs of God in all aspects of life. Religious duties required of the believers at this time were few: belief in God, asking for forgiveness of sins, offering frequent prayers, assisting others, particularly those in need, rejecting cheating and the love of wealth (considered to be significant in the commercial life of Mecca), being chaste, and not killing newborn girls.

    Rise of Islam in Mecca

    According to Muslim tradition, Muhammad’s wife Khadija was the first to believe he was a prophet. She was followed by Muhammad’s ten-year-old cousin Ali ibn Abi Talib, close friend Abu Bakr, and adopted son Zaid. Around 613, Muhammad began to preach to the public. Most Meccans ignored and mocked him, but he did begin to gain followers. There were three main groups of early converts to Islam: younger brothers and sons of great merchants; people who had fallen out of the first rank in their tribe or failed to attain it; and the weak, mostly unprotected foreigners.

    Basic Tenets and Practices of Islam

    Islam is a monotheistic and Abrahamic religion articulated by the Quran, which is considered by its adherents to be the verbatim word of God (Allah), and, for the vast majority of adherents, by the teachings and normative example (called the sunnah, composed of accounts called hadith) of Muhammad. An adherent of Islam is called a Muslim. Muslims believe that God is one and incomparable and that the purpose of existence is to worship God. Nearly all Muslims consider Muhammad to be the last prophet of God.

    Muslims also believe that Islam is the complete and universal version of a primordial faith that was revealed many times before through prophets including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. Muslims believe the Quran to be both the unaltered and the final revelation of God. Religious concepts and practices include the Five Pillars of Islam and following Islamic law, which touches on virtually every aspect of life and society, from banking and welfare to the status of women and the environment.

    The Five Pillars of Islam are five basic acts in Islam; they are considered mandatory by believers and are the foundation of Muslim life. They are summarized in the famous hadith of Gabriel. The Five Pillars are:

    1. Shahada (faith): there is only one God (Allah), and Muhammad is God’s messenger. It is a set statement normally recited in Arabic: lā ʾilāha ʾillā-llāhu muḥammadun rasūlu-llāh (لَا إِلٰهَ إِلَّا الله مُحَمَّدٌ رَسُولُ الله) “There is no god but God (and) Muhammad is the messenger of God.”
    2. Salat (prayer): consists of five daily prayers, the names referring to the prayer times: Fajr (dawn), Dhuhr (noon), ʿAṣr (afternoon), Maghrib (evening), and ʿIshāʾ (night). All of these prayers are recited while facing in the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca, and are accompanied by a series of set positions including bowing with hands on knees, standing, prostrating, and sitting in a special position.
    3. Zakāt (charity): the practice of charitable giving based on accumulated wealth. It is the personal responsibility of each Muslim to ease the economic hardship of others and to strive towards eliminating inequality. Zakāt consists of spending a portion of one’s wealth for the benefit of the poor or needy, like debtors or travelers.
    4. Sawm (fasting): three types of fasting are recognized by the Quran: ritual fasting, fasting as compensation for repentance, and ascetic fasting. Ritual fasting is an obligatory act during the month of Ramadan. The fast is meant to allow Muslims to seek nearness to and look for forgiveness from God, to express their gratitude to and dependence on him, to atone for their past sins, and to remind them of the needy.
    5. Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca): every able-bodied Muslim is obliged to make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in his or her life. The main rituals of the Hajj include walking seven times around the Kaaba, termed Tawaf; touching the Black Stone, termed Istilam; traveling seven times between Mount Safa and Mount Marwah, termed Sa’yee; and symbolically stoning the Devil in Mina, termed Ramee.
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