In between the period of time when the Prophet Muhammad(P) received his first Revelation during the Night of Power (laylat al-qadr) and when he finally received the second Revelation, the Prophet(P) showed signs of being distressed and disturbed by this period of silence from the Heavens. This period of time is known as the Fatrah, The Intermission, or also called as fatrat al-wahee. Ibn Ishaq has a section in his Seerat an-Nabawiyyah regarding it under the heading Fatrat al-Wahee wa Nuzool Surat ad-Duhaa (“The Intermission in Revelation and the Revelation of Surat ad-Duhaa”), which is in itself, self-explanatory.
The missionaries, of course, take great delight in their pseudo-analysis of these signs of distress and taking advantage of it, as per the record found in the Prophet’s (P) biographies. Their aim is to show, as one particular missionary himself admitted, that:
- Muhammad experienced a demonic visitation and it damaged his mental health. Satan or one of his demons appeared to Muhammad. This horrible experience terrorized him, depressed him, and caused him to attempt suicide. It made him mentally ill. However Satan protected his investment.
The aforementioned missionary then proceeded to quote from Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah1 in order to justify his claim. Our purpose now is to examine the words of this bigoted missionary and see whether the claims that the Prophet(P) was “mentally ill” or that he was “demonically-influenced” during al-Fatrah stands to the scrutiny, or is merely the rantings of one who claims to be “inspired” by the Holy Spirit but is in reality is consumed by the un-holy Devil. To do so, we will need to look at the description of the Fatrah as per the recorded account by the Muslim scholars as well as analysing its significance from a religious standpoint.
Description of The Prophet’s Experiences
Our sources for the description of the Prophet’s(P) experiences during the Fatrah come from the authentic traditions of the Sunnah.
[T]he Prophet became so sad as we have heard that he intended several times to throw himself from the tops of high mountains and every time he went up the top of a mountain in order to throw himself down, Gabriel would appear before him and say, “O Muhammad! You are indeed Allah’s Apostle in truth” whereupon his heart would become quiet and he would calm down and would return home. And whenever the period of the coming of the inspiration used to become long, he would do as before, but when he used to reach the top of a mountain, Gabriel would appear before him and say to him what he had said before.2
So we note that for some time after the disappearence of the Angel Gabriel, the Prophet(P) had some serious misgivings about the genuineness of his extraordinary experiences. It was indeed the wisdom and the attention of the Prophet’s wife Khadijah(R) that was truly instrumental in calming the Prophet(P) down. Sir William Muir wrote that
It is strongly corroborative of Muhammad’s sincerity that the earliest converts to Islam were not only of upright character, but his own bosom friends and people of his household who, intimately acquainted with his private life, could not fail otherwise to have detected those discrepencies which ever more or less exist between the professions of the hypocritical deceiver abroad and his actions at home. The faithful Khadijah is already known to the reader as sharer in her husband’s searching of heart and probably the first convert to his creed.3
The consolation of Khadijah(R) is in fact another evidence for the genuineness of the Prophet’s(P) sincerity, and as Muir notes, Khadijah(R) was part of his(P) household and hence she “…could not fail otherwise to have detected those discrepencies which ever more or less exist between the professions of the hypocritical deceiver abroad and his actions at home.”
Regarding the duration of the Fatrah, Abdullah Yusuf Ali informs us that:
…the duration cannot be exactly ascertained, as there was no external history connected with it. The usual estimate puts it at about six months, but it may have been a year or two years.4
We also read with regard to the date of The Intermission, that:
…Bukhari and Muslim, Ibn Sa’d and al-Maqrizi all seem to support the view that it actually took place not long after the first Divine revelation at Hira. Ibn Hisham, however, implies a different view by stating that after the first five verses of Surah al-`Alaq, Divine revelation continued for some time. The inference is that a number of surahs were actually revealed before the intermission.5
As we can see, there is no unaminity between scholars as to the duration of Fatrah of the Prophet(P). But it is most certainly reasonable to maintain that it was in fact short, lasting only a matter of days or a few months and not exceeding six at the most6. This is supported by the traditions recorded by Bukhari and Muslim quoted above and this is supported by Ibn Sa’d in his account, as follows:
After the revelation came to him (Muhammad) at Hira, he waited for some days in which he did not see Gabriel. He then grieved tremendously and so great was his grief that he frequented Thubayr and Hira (two mountains overlooking Mecca) with the intention of throwing himself down from their peaks. One day, as he was wandering amongst these mountains, he heard a voice from heaven. The Messenger of God stopped, greatly shaken by the voice. Then he looked up, and it was Gabriel sitting on a throne between the ground and the sky, ‘O Muhammad! Thou art the Messenger of God and I am Gabriel’.7
We also see that the Prophet(P) was distressed because the Angel Gabriel did not visit him for some time, and not because of the consequences of the earlier visit by “Satan or one of his demons”, as per the missionary postulation. Hence, it is obvious how the missionary has dubiously fabricated the evidence in order to suit his personal vendetta that:
- “Satan or one of his demons appeared to…”
The Religious Signifance of the Fatrah
No doubt that the religious significance of the Fatrah is that it marks the transition from Nubuwwah (Prophethood) to a state of Risalah (Apostleship) for the Prophet(P). This is collaborated when we are informed that
Concerning the religious significance of the intermission it is reasonable, as far as the textual evidence goes, to suppose that the intermission did perhaps mark a transition from Nubuwwah (Prophethood), which does not incorporate an obligation to convey any message to others, and Risalah (Apostleship) which does incorporate such an obligation.8
Indeed, it is known that Surat ad-Duhaa, as we had mentioned earlier, was revealed just immediately after the end of the Fatrah:
- By the morning hours
And by the night when it becomes still
Your Lord has not forsaken you, nor is He displeased with you.
And surely, the Hereafter will be better for you than the Former
And soon will your Lord give you that you may be
Did He not find you an orphan, and sheltered (you)?
And found you astray, and guided (you aright)?
And found you poor, and enriched (you)?
Therefore, the orphan oppress not,
And the begger repulse not,
And the bounty of your Lord, proclaim! (Qur’an 93:1-11)
This surah was revealed as a direct answer to the doubts and anguish of Muhammad(P) when Gabriel ceased to visit him abruptly after the opening visit on Hira’. As Haykal notes regarding the above surah:
Oh, what divine majesty, what pace of mind, what joy of heart ad exaltation to the soul! Muhammad’s fears dissolved and his dread was dissipated. He was overjoyed with this fresh evidence of his Lord’s blessings and fell down in worship to God and praise of Him. There was no more reason to fear, as Khadijah had done, that God was displeased with him, and there was no cause for his dread. God has now taken him under His protection and removed from him every doubt and fear. Henceforth there was to be no thought of suicide but only of a life dedicated to calling men unto God and unto God alone.9
Hence it is clear that the Prophet(P) was reassured by God Almighty himself just after the end of the Fatrah and the missionary postulations about “suicidical notions” of the Prophet(P) has got nothing to do with Satan, the accursed. On the contrary, the aftermath of the experience when encountering the Divine Closeness is similar with the experiences of the Biblical prophets, as we shall see in the following section.
What About the Biblical Prophets?
The missionary claims that the Prophet’s(P) encounter with Gabriel was not the same as the experiences of the Prophets mentioned in his Bible. However, Karen Armstrong tells us, in contrast to the missionary assertion, that:
In about the year 610 an Arab merchant of the thriving city of Mecca in the Hijaz, who had never read the Bible and probably never heard of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, had an experience that was uncannily similar to theirs.10
So now we would proceed in comparing the Prophet’s encounter with the Angel Gabriel with that of the above-mentioned Biblical prophets by Ms. Armstrong. In addition, we would like to add the Biblical prophet Daniel to the list as well. The following list serves to illustrate the respective prophets’ experiences:
Biblical Prophet Summary:
According to Isaiah, he encountered God seated on a throne, accompanied by two seraphs (Isaiah 6:1-2). Isaiah exhibited signs of fear and thought that his doom was coming, when he heard the seraphs’ voices (Isaiah 6: 4-5). He was reassured and comforted by one of the seraphs (Isaiah 6:6-7) and informed by God of his mission (Isaiah 6:8)
According to Jeremiah, God told him to speak on his behalf to his people (Jeremiah 1:4-5). Jeremiah replied that he was just a child (Jeremiah 1:6). God reassured Jeremiah and “touched” his mouth to give him authority on His behalf (Jeremiah 1:7-9)
According to Ezekiel, he encountered a startling vision of “a windstorm coming from the north bringing a great cloud, a fiery light inside it lit up all around it” accompanied by unknown creatures (Ezekiel 1:4-24). Ezekiel saw a man on a throne and encountered a likeness of God’s Glory (Ezekiel 1: 25-28), and he fell on his face and heard a voice speaking (Ezekiel 1:28)
According to Daniel, he encountered the Angel Gabriel, who came near where he stood, and he was frightened and fell on his face (Daniel 8: 16-17). After the experience of this encounter, Daniel was overcome with sickness for several days (beginning of Daniel 8: 27) but he was appalled by his vision and did not understand it (end of Daniel 8: 27)
We do know that the first thing that the Prophet Muhammad(P) was instructed to do by Gabriel was to “Read!” That this experience of the first Revelation, so uncannily similar to the Biblical prophets mentioned who were issued a similar command, is itself proof that the experience is by itself in total accordance with the Semitic tradition of Divine Revelation. In light of this, we wonder whether Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel or Daniel were “Satan’s investment”, as per the charge of this obviously callous missionary rabidity towards the Prophet Muhammad(P).
What About Paul (Saul) of Tarsus?
The missionary gave great emphasis on the experience of Paul of Tarsus and comparing it with the Fatrah. Our original position regarding Paul, namely that he was a double-faced hypocrite, a liar who twisted the verses of the Old Testament in his writings, and a plagiariser of the Jewish Talmud, has been ipso facto established without a shadow of doubt. Since it is clear that Paul has no authority in Islam, the missionary emphasis on the Pauline “experience” of Revelation is deemed null and void from our perspective on the matter.
We note that the missionary had resorted to nothing but perjury in order to put forward his claims. At best, the missionary claim is merely a devious attempt at highly-speculative misinterpretations and mendacious assumptions, with the utter disregard to the deeper significance of the Fatrah as a testament to the Prophet’s(P) transition from Nubuwwah (Prophethood) to Risalah (Apostleship).
And only God knows best!
- A. Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah (Oxford University Press, 1978) [⤺]
- Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 9, number 111, trans. by M. Khan (Kitab Bhavan, New Delhi) [⤺]
- William Muir, The Life of Muhammad, p. 55 [⤺]
- Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur’an: Text, Translation and Commentary (Kitab Bhavan, New Delhi, 1996), p. 1632 [⤺]
- Zakaria Bashier, The Meccan Crucible (FOSIS, 1978), p. 103 [⤺]
- ibid., p. 102 [⤺]
- Ibn Sa’d, At-Tabaqat al-Kubra, Vol. I, p. 196 [⤺]
- Zakaria Bashier, op. cit. [⤺]
- M. H. Haykal, The Life of Muhammad (North American Trust Publication, 1976), p. 80 [⤺]
- Karen Armstrong, A History of God (Ballantine Books, 1993) p. 132 [⤺]