/ , , , , , , , , / On the physical experiences of the Prophet (PBUH) at the time of revelation

On the physical experiences of the Prophet (PBUH) at the time of revelation

Awe-stricken by the fact the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) remains unparalleled in his achievements in all the fields of human interest or in the words of Michael H. Hart ‘the only man in history who was supremely successful on both the religious and secular levels, the Rivals of the Truth did not find any other way but to somehow neglect the rational rule given in their own book Ye shall know them by their fruits and to turn their focus to what the Prophet (PBUH) experienced at the time of revelation in a bid to create confusions exaggerating the simple things.

The lies and myths we shall try to put off today are;

1- Some evil spirit or the devil himself visited him.

2- The Prophet suffered from epilepsy.

All these ideas are said to be based on the narrations giving the accounts of the physical experiences Prophet (PBUH) had at the time of revelation. So firstly we shall discuss those narrations in detail and then comment on the above mentioned baseless assertions.

Prophet’s (PBUH) physical experiences at the time of revelation:

The physical conditions the Prophet (PBUH) underwent at the time of revelation were not always the same and the reason is that the modes of revelations also varied from time to time. Sometimes the Angel appeared in his original form, sometimes like a man et cetera et cetera.

In a Hadith 'Aisha (RA) says; ‘Verily I saw the Prophet being inspired Divinely on a very cold day and noticed the Sweat dropping from his forehead.’ (Sahih Bukhari, Hadith 2)

According to another narration; ‘The Prophet's face was red and he kept on breathing heavily for a while and then he was relieved …’ (Sahih Bukhari, Hadith 4602)

Why the Prophet (PBUH) had such experiences?

What was the reason for all this? To understand consider the following;

1- Allah says in the Qur'an;

“We are going to send down to you a weighty discourse.” (Qur'an 73:5)

‘The Qur'an has been called a weighty Word also for the reason that acting on its commands, demonstrating its teaching practically, extending its invitation in the face of the whole world, and bringing about a revolution in the entire system of belief and thought, morals and manners, civilization and social life, according to it, is indeed the weightiest task any human being ever has been charged with: It has been called a weighty Word also because bearing the burden of its revelation was a difficult and heavy duty.’ (Tafhim al-Qur'an)

2- Experience of revelation was obviously Prophet’s interaction with the angelic, superhuman domain and all the physical affects were only due to this extra-ordinary communication. Ibn Khaldun, a classical philosopher historian explains the point in detail. Discussing the phenomenon of inspiration various types of human beings who have supernatural perception either through natural disposition or through exercise he writes;

“A (third) kind (of soul) is by nature suited to exchange humanity altogether, both corporeal and spiritual humanity, for angelicality of the highest stage, so that it may actually become an angel in the flash of a moment, glimpse the highest group within their own stage, and listen to essential speech and divine address during that moment. (Individuals possessing this kind of soul) are prophets. God implanted and formed in them the natural ability to slough off humanity in that moment which is the state of revelation.”

And then discussing the verse; ‘We are going to send down to you a weighty discourse’ and the narrations about the tough physical conditions that the Prophet (PBUH) had to face at the time of revelation he continues;

“The reason, as we have established, is that revelation means leaving one's humanity, in order to attain angelic perceptions and to hear the speech of the soul. This causes pain, since it means that an essence leaves its own essence and exchanges its own stage for the ultimate stage (of the angels). This is the meaning of the choking feeling which Muhammad referred to in connection with the beginning of revelation in his statement: "And he (Gabriel) choked me until it became too much for me; then he released me. Then he said, 'Read,' and I replied, 'I cannot read.' He did this a second and a third time, as the tradition tells.” (Muqaddimah Book 1, Chapter 6. Translated by Franz Rosenthal)

Different modes of Revelation and the Prophet’s physical experiences:

Having known that the tough physical conditions that Prophet (PBUH) had to undergo were a result of his interaction with a super-human world let us see some of the Ahadith about different modes of revelation (i.e. contact with the super-human angelic world) and the various conditions corresponding to those modes. Here we shall discuss two of them only which will be enough to prove that the physical experiences varied with modes of revelation.

1- Ringing of the bells:

In Sahih Bukhari we have the statement of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) describing the phenomenon of revelation;

"Sometimes it is like the ringing of a bell, this form of Inspiration is the hardest of all and then this state passes ' off after I have retained what is inspired.” (Sahih Bukhari, Hadith 2)

What is the significance of relating revelation to the idea of ringing of a bell? This is not mentioned in any Hadith but some scholars have given quite plausible explanations.

Shaykh Anwar Shah Kashmiri has quoted from Shaykh Ibn Arabi the most subtle explanation;

‘He states that the simile has been used in two respects;

a- Firstly it pertains to the continuity of the sound,

b- And secondly in so far as it is difficult to ascertain the direction of the sound of a bell continuously ringing as it appears to be coming from all directions, His words are heard from all directions.

The exact perception of this state is not possible without actual observation but the Holy Prophet (PBUH) used the simile of ringing bells to bring it as near to the common understanding as possible,’ (An Approach to Qur’anic Sciences p.40 cf. Faidh Al-Bari 1/19-20)

Karen Armstrong makes a valid point when she says; “Revelation cannot be described in a simple manner.” (Muhammad Prophet of Our Time, p.49 pub. Harper Press 2006)

About this manner of revelation the Prophet (PBUH) said; “It is the hardest of all”. This was owing to the fact that there was no direct and common way of interaction but rather a super-human one. This is what made it the hardest of all the forms of revelation.

2- Angel coming in the human form:

Same Hadith also mentions, “Sometimes the Angel comes in the form of a man and talks to me and I retain whatever he says.”

In another Hadith about this form of revelation it is mentioned, the Prophet (PBUH) said;

“And this form is the easiest for me.” (Al-Ittiqan 1/50 cf. Sahih Abu Awana)

3- Analysis and Conclusion:

Comparison of these two forms of revelation supports the earlier explanation about the nature of revelation that physical concomitants of revelation were due to the communication with another –superhuman- world. The more unnatural the contact more extreme were the concomitants. If the angel came in the human form it was not an extraordinary burden on the Holy Prophet (PBUH). But if only the voice of the angel or directly the words of Allah were heard it was an extraordinary state and Holy Prophet (PBUH) had great burden upon him and faced trouble to grasp what was told.

Was the Prophet (PBUH) deceived by Satan regarding revelation?

Some of the master liars allege that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was possessed / deceived by devil. Nothing can be far from truth than this!

Let me briefly respond to common baseless assertions;

1- Accusation by the wife of Abu Lahb:

Some refers to a narration from Sahih Bukhari in which the words of the wife of Abu Lahb are given that she said when Prophet (PBUH) was sick and could not offer late night prayers; “O Muhammad! I think that your Satan has forsaken you, for I have not seen him with you for two or three nights!".

But this proves nothing. She was infidel and stubborn rejecter of truth. Qur’an Surah 111 testifies to this. If allegation of disbelievers proves something than what would these people say about Jesus (PBUH) who was also accused of being possessed by Beelzebub and the ‘prince of demons’ (See Mark 3:22).

2- Satan can disguise as angel:

Some use a passage from Bible to assert that Satan can disguise as an angel (2 Corinthians 11:13-15)

Firstly even if Satan can actually disguise as an angel it does not mean that no angel can ever come by himself. If only because it is possible, the same was true in case of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) than what prove do Christians have Paul was not deceived by Satan in his so-called vision on the road to Damascus?

Following account as recorded in Sirat Ibn Hisham also belies the claim of the liars.

[Khadija] said to the apostle of Allah, 'O son of my uncle, are you able to tell me about your visitant, when he comes to you?' He replied that he could, and she asked him to tell her when he came. So when Gabriel came to him, as he was wont, the apostle said to Khadija, 'This is Gabriel who has just come to me.' 'Get up, O son of my uncle,' she said, 'and sit by my left thigh'. The apostle did so, and she said, 'Can you see him?' 'Yes.' he said. She said, ‘the turn round and sit on my right thigh.' He did so, and she said, 'Can you see him?' When he said that he could she asked him to move and sit on my right ' He did so, and she said, 'Can you see him? When he said that he could, she asked him to move and sit in her lap. When he had done this she again asked if he could see him, and when he said yes, she disclosed her form and cast aside her veil while the apostle was sitting in her lap. Then she said, 'Can you see him?' And he replied, ‘No.’ She said, 'O son of my uncle, rejoice and be of good heart, by Allah he is an angel and not a Satan.' (Sirat Ibn Hisham p.94. Translated by Guillaume)

3- Bell, the instrument of Devil:

Some refer to the Ahadith which say that “Bell is the instrument of Devil” and relating to the Ahadith in which Prophet (PBUH) said that at the time of revelation he listens to voice like ringing of the bell, they argue that it means the experience of revelation had Satan’s rule in it.

This is over simplification! We have in detail discussed the narration about revelation and sound like ringing of the bell. The very fact that Prophet (PBUH) termed the voice he heard LIKE the voice of ringing bells. The word ‘LIKE’ is significant which proves the absurdity of the parallel drawn between different Ahadith. Ringing of the bells is by no means so novel a phenomenon that Prophet (PBUH) would fail to describe it with certainty instead of making it just an object of simile.

Do the physical concomitants of revelation prove the charge of epilepsy?

Some of the orientalists and Christian missionaries say that physical concomitants of revelation show that the Prophet (PBUH) suffered from epilepsy and all his experience of revelation was merely the result of that disease. I reproduce here the words of a certain orientalist who realized that such allegation were absolutely. W. Montgomery Watt writes;

‘Opponents of Islam have often asserted that Muhammad had epilepsy, and therefore his religious experiences had no validity. As a matter of fact, the symptoms described are not identical with those of epilepsy, since the disease leads of physical and metal degeneration, whereas Muhammad was in the fullest possession of his faculties to the very end. But even if the allegation were true, the argument would be completely unsound and based on mere ignorance and prejudice; such physical concomitants neither validate nor invalidate religious experience.’ (Muhammad at Mecca p.57 pub. Oxford 1953)

A parallel from the Biblical narratives:

We will often find Christians referring to above discussed Ahadith and then comparing it with Biblical accounts of prophets and holy men having visions etc. Some especially like to ‘contrast’ it with the vision of Paul on the road to Damascus. My response to this way of looking at things is two fold;

1- In case of Biblical prophets we do not have detailed accounts. Even the most exhaustive details about some prophet in the Bible do not make more than just a fraction of the treasure of narrations about the life details of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). So only because something is not mentioned does not prove that it never happened. To argue such a thing will be a logical fallacy, known as argument from ignorance (argumentum ad ignorantiam).

2- But you see, even in the Biblical narratives we have something to put Christians to shame. Here I quote a passage from the Book of Daniel;

“And I Daniel alone saw the vision: for the men that were with me saw not the vision; but a great quaking fell upon them, so that they fled to hide themselves. (8) Therefore I was left alone, and saw this great vision, and there remained no strength in me: for my comeliness was turned in me into corruption, and I retained no strength. (9) Yet heard I the voice of his words: and when I heard the voice of his words, then was I in a deep sleep on my face, and my face toward the ground. (10) And, behold, an hand touched me, which set me upon my knees and upon the palms of my hands. (11) And he said unto me, O Daniel, a man greatly beloved, understand the words that I speak unto thee, and stand upright: for unto thee am I now sent. And when he had spoken this word unto me, I stood trembling. (12) Then said he unto me, Fear not, Daniel: for from the first day that thou didst set thine heart to understand, and to chasten thyself before thy God, thy words were heard, and I am come for thy words. (13) But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days: but, lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me; and I remained there with the kings of Persia. (14) Now I am come to make thee understand what shall befall thy people in the latter days: for yet the vision is for many days. (15) And when he had spoken such words unto me, I set my face toward the ground, and I became dumb. (16) And, behold, one like the similitude of the sons of men touched my lips: then I opened my mouth, and spake, and said unto him that stood before me, O my lord, by the vision my sorrows are turned upon me, and I have retained no strength. (17) For how can the servant of this my lord talk with this my lord? for as for me, straightway there remained no strength in me, neither is there breath left in me.” (Daniel 10: 7-17)

The underlined words show the similarity between what Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) experienced and what happened to the Biblical prophets. Will Christians doubt Daniel’s prophethood too or just resort to double standards?

Testimony of a Christian scholar:

In his commentary to the words, ‘and when he had spoken this word unto me, I stood trembling’ (Dan. 10:11) John Gill writes;

‘he got up and stood upon his feet, as the angel had bid him, but trembling and tottering, not yet recovered from his fainting fit; like a man that has been ill, and got upon his legs again, trembles and totters as he goes or stands: …the appearance of such a divine messenger had such an effect upon him, as we find such appearances used to have on good men.’ (ONLINE SOURCE)


1- The physical concomitants of revelation were due to extra-ordinary nature of the experience in which the Prophet (PBUH) had to interact with a different world.

2- The severity of physical experiences varied with the form of revelation. More extraordinary the forms of revelation, more tough were the concomitants.

3- Prophet (PBUH) used metaphorical language to describe the phenomenon as it as ‘revelation cannot be described in simple words.’

4- All the arguments about considering the supernatural agent coming to the Prophet (PBUH) are unfounded and raise tough questions for Christians on similar accounts.

5- In the Book of Daniel, we find a parallel between what the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) experienced and what happened to Biblical prophets when they had visions from God.

6- Christian scholars agree that supernatural experiences cause such affects on holy men.

Final word:

To conclude I quote Thomas Carlyle from one of his lectures concerning Western view of the person of Holy Prophet (PBUH);

“The lies, which well-meaning zeal has heaped round this man, are disgraceful to ourselves only.” (Heroes and Hero Worship, Lecture II, The Hero as Prophet, Friday May 8th, 1840)


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    1. Methods of ‘Wahy' on Rasulullah (Sallallâhu Alaihi Wasallam)

      Hadhrat Aisha (RA) narrates that one day a Sahâbi, Hadhrat Hârith bin Hisham (RA) asked Rasulullah (Sallallâhu Alaihi Wasallam), how Wahy comes to him, Rasulullah (Sallallâhu Alaihi Wasallam) replied: "Sometimes it comes like ringing of a bell and this type of Wahy is toughest for me, and when this process ends, I remember whate­ver has been said. And sometime an angel comes to me in the form of a man". (Sahih Bukhari)

      Salsalat-ul-Jaras (صلصلة الجرس )

      It literally means the ringing of a bell. Rasulullah (Sallallâhu Alaihi Wasallam) compared this with the ringing of a bell. It was not because of the fact that it exactly resembled the ringing of bell, then, why was this comparison made? Great Ulema have given different explanations viz.,

      i) To know the exact nature of ‘Wahy' is impossible for any body, its actual nature was only experienced by Rasulullah (Sallallâhu Alaihi Wasallam). There were no words to explain its exact nature, that is why Rasulullah (Sallallâhu Alaihi Wasallam) explained it with most appropriate words from the sensual world and he (Sallallâhu Alaihi Wasallam) found it appropriate to compare it with the ringing of a bell.

      ii) Some Ulema believe that it was the sound of the wings of the angels that produced the sound like that of a ringing bell. (Uloom -Ul-Qur'ân)

      iii) Imâm-ul-Asr Hadhrat Allâmah Anwar Shah Kashmiri (RA) while quoting Ibn Arabi (RA) says that it was compared to the ringing of a bell, not because its sound resembled with it, but because it resembled the ringing bell in continuity and secondly as it is difficult to localise the direction of the sound of a ringing bell, so was it difficult to localise the direction of ‘Wahy'. Since, it is the word of Allâh, Who has no single direction, so is His word without any particular direction. (Faidhul Bâri)

      Rasulullah (Sallallâhu Alaihi Wasallam) said that this type of Wahy was toughest for him and it was relatively easy for him when the angel used to come with ‘Wahy' in the form of a man. Hadhrat Aisha (RA) nar­rates: "I have witnessed descent of Wahy on Rasulullah (Sallallâhu Alaihi Wasallam) during very cold days of winter, after the completion of Wahy I used to see lot of sweating on the blessed forehead of Rasulullah (Sallallâhu Alaihi Wasallam)." (Sahih Bukhari)

      In other tradition it is mentioned that Rasulullah (Sallallâhu Alaihi Wasallam) used to turn pale, ashen grey in colour during descent of Wahy.

      It is reported that once Rasulullah (Sallallâhu Alaihi Wasallam), placed his blessed head on the thigh of Hadhrat Zayd bin Thâbit (RA) and descent of ‘Wahy' started during that very time, Hadhrat Zayd (RA) felt so much weight on his thigh that he thought it was going to crack.

      Hadhrat Umar (RA) says that when ‘Wahy" used to come to Rasulullah (Sallallâhu Alaihi Wasallam), there used to be sounds like those of buzzing of bees around his blessed face. This should not be confused with the earlier Hadith where ‘Wahy' has been compared with ringing of a bell, later (ringing of a bell) was experienced by Rasulullah (Sallallâhu Alaihi Wasallam) and former i.e., buzzing of bees was experienced by the listeners around, hence no confusion