An Account of the First Revelation to the Prophet

Niall Christie

Muhammad ibn Isma‘il al-Bukhari, from Sahih (Correct [Hadith])

After the death of Muhammad, the Muslims were left to decide how they were best to practice Islam without the Prophet’s guidance. Within about a century scholars had begun compiling stories of the sayings and actions of the Prophet and his Companions known as hadithwhich are still used alongside the Qur’an to elaborate on Islamic theological beliefs, ritual practices, and legal teachings. These reports are also known collectively as the Sunna. Scholars also began developing practices that would allow them to establish the authenticity of any given hadith, including assessing the chains of transmitters by whom these stories were passed down, in order to help ensure that Muslim beliefs and practices were as correct as possible.

Muhammad ibn Isma‘il al-Bukhari (810-870) was a scholar of hadith from Bukhara in modern-day Uzbekistan. His compendium, known as the Sahih is one of the two most highly-regarded collections of hadith among Sunni Muslims.[1] The other, also known by the title Sahih, is by a Persian scholar named Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj (btw. 817 and 821-875).

The following account is drawn from Al-Bukhari’s Sahih, and is one of a number of versions that we have of the story of the first revelation to the Prophet, which are drawn from a range of biographies and hadith collections. As indicated at the beginning, this version was originally narrated by one of the Prophet’s wives, ‘A’isha (d. 678). The translation has been edited for clarity and consistency.

Al-Bukhari on the First Revelation

Yahya ibn Bukayr told us that al-Layth told us, on the authority of ‘Uqayl, [who spoke] on the authority of Ibn Shihab, [who spoke] on the authority of ‘Urwa ibn al-Zubayr, [who spoke] on the authority of ‘A’isha (the mother of the faithful believers), who said: The commencement of the Divine Inspiration to Allah’s Messenger (may God bless him and grant him salvation) was in the form of good dreams which came true like bright daylight, and then the love of seclusion was bestowed upon him. He used to go in seclusion in the cave of Hira’[2] where he used to worship (Allah alone) continuously for many days before his desire to see his family. He used to take with him the journey food for the stay and then come back to (his wife) Khadija to take his food likewise again till suddenly the Truth descended upon him while he was in the cave of Hira’. The angel[3] came to him and asked him to read. The Prophet (may God bless him and grant him salvation) replied, “I do not know how to read.” The Prophet (may God bless him and grant him salvation) added, “The angel caught me (forcefully) and pressed me so hard that I could not bear it any more. He then released me and again asked me to read and I replied, ‘I do not know how to read.’ Thereupon he caught me again and pressed me a second time till I could not bear it any more. He then released me and again asked me to read but again I replied, ‘I do not know how to read (or what shall I read)?’ Thereupon he caught me for the third time and pressed me, and then released me and said, ‘Read in the name of your Lord, who has created (all that exists), created man from a clot. Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous.’” (Qur’an 96: 1-3).[4] Then Allah’s Messenger (may God bless him and grant him salvation) returned with the Inspiration and with his heart beating severely. Then he went to Khadija bint Khuwaylid and said, “Cover me! Cover me!” They covered him till his fear was over and after that he told her everything that had happened and said, “I fear that something may happen to me.” Khadija replied, “Never! By Allah, Allah will never disgrace you. You keep good relations with your kith and kin, help the poor and the destitute, serve your guests generously and assist the deserving calamity-afflicted ones.” Khadija then accompanied him to her cousin Waraqa ibn Nawfal ibn Asad ibn ‘Abd al-‘Uzza, who, during the pre-Islamic period, became a Christian and used to write the writing with Hebrew letters. He would write from the Gospel in Hebrew as much as Allah wished him to write. He was an old man and had lost his eyesight. Khadija said to Waraqa, “Listen to the story of your nephew, O my cousin!” Waraqa asked, “O my nephew! What have you seen?” Allah’s Messenger (may God bless him and grant him salvation) described whatever he had seen. Waraqa said, “This is the same one who keeps the secrets (angel Gabriel) whom Allah had sent to Moses. I wish I were young and could live up to the time when your people would turn you out.” Allah’s Messenger (may God bless him and grant him salvation) asked, “Will they drive me out?” Waraqa replied in the affirmative and said, “Anyone (man) who came with something similar to what you have brought was treated with hostility; and if I should remain alive till the day when you will be turned out then I would support you strongly.” But after a few days Waraqa died and the Divine Inspiration was also paused for a while.

Questions for Consideration

  1. What image of the Prophet do you get from this account? What values are being taught?
  2. Why might it be important that the Prophet was not able to read?
  3. What roles do Khadija and Waraqa play in the narrative?


  1. Followers of the majority form of Islam, roughly 85% of the Muslims in the world.
  2. Mt. Hira’, at the time a mountain on the outskirts of Mecca, though the city has now grown around it.
  3. Gabriel.
  4. The view of most Muslims is that on this occasion the first five verses of Sura 96 of the Qur’an were revealed to the Prophet.


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The Ancient and Medieval World Copyright © by Niall Christie is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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