Saturday, January 01, 2000

Where It Began (Continued)

. . . . .

One night in the ninth month of the Arabian calendar in the year 610, this man’s life changed. Out from the dark, in the cave, he heard a voice, an angel that spoke to him and demanded that he “read!” The voice startled the man, and the command confused him, since he did not know how to read. In fact, he told the presence exactly this. But it didn’t matter. They were words that he had never heard spoken before, not even by the great Arab poets—words again that demanded that he “read” but this time in the “name of his Lord” who created him and all people, a Lord who was neither of stone or wood, but the unseen God of Abraham and the heavens and the earth.

The man descended quickly down the rocky slope of the mountain. Nearly overwhelmed by fright, he thought that he had gone mad. He rushed home to his wife of fifteen years, his dear Khadija bint Khuwaylid. Visibly shaken by the awesome experience, he asked her to comfort him, to cover him, to soothe him, which she did immediately. She placed over his body a mantle and then waited for him to calm down, until he was able to tell her what had frightened him so much. She listened closely as he eventually recounted the event—the voice, “read!” and “his Lord who created.” She smiled and almost wept, as she reassured him. She said that nothing evil had come to him, that he was not possessed at all. She later told him more: that God, the very one this voice spoke about, would never cause him harm. It was a special call that others before him had once received, the elect of humanity, like Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. The man tried to rest and understand what had happened to him that night.

Though he didn’t realize it at the time, this call would not go away, nor the words. More would come, words of amazing power and eloquence. They would alter the way he and his people lived. In fact, soon the entire Arabian peninsula and the region of the world known as the “cradle of civilization” would change. A new dawn would break, a religious movement would shortly sweep the region. The whole world eventually would hear of this man’s message about one God, the purpose of life, and the nearing of Ultimate Judgment.

It started with him and his wife. But there would come a day in which more than a billion people of all languages and colors all over the globe would love and revere him more than any human being. They would strive to do as he did, live the way he lived, worship the way he worshipped, and speak the words he spoke.

Muhammad ibn Abdullah, the Prophet of Islam, the Messenger of God, or Abu’l-Qasim: This is how he is known. The time between his call and his triumph, however, would be one of great struggle that would test him and his band of followers. He would be ridiculed, betrayed, accused, injured, and nearly assassinated. He would be slandered, called a soothsayer, sorcerer, and madman. He would be boycotted and stalked. He would be driven away. His food would be poisoned. And he would bleed from stones thrown at him. Some of his followers would be tortured in public. Some killed. Others would flee. All of this took place in a 23-year period that became one of the greatest chapters in religious history.