Trouble in the beginning

Muhammad and the angel Jibreel

By the star when it plunges, your comrade is not astray, neither errs, nor speaks he out of caprice.
This is naught but a revelation revealed...

From Sura 53 of the Qu

The prophet Muhammad was born in Makkah (Mecca) in Saudi Arabia in c 570 CE*. A deeply spiritual individual, his first experience of a visitation from the angel Jibreel (Gabriel) occurred in childhood.

Muhammad often withdrew to a cave on Mt Hira to meditate. It was here that in 610 CE, in a blaze of light, the angel returned to him. “Recite!” Jibreel commanded. And from that moment on, he began to understand that he wasn’t crazy, that the words that he was moved to speak were messages from Allah, revelations that came to be recorded in the Qu’ran (Arabic, ‘recitations’), the Muslim holy scripture.

Illuminated Quran

There are very few images of the prophet, because of the Islamic prohibition on depicting human and animal forms. In an illustration from a 16th century Turkish manuscript (above left), the artist honours this by ensuring that Muhammad is veiled; he also shows the prophet surrounded by the flame of his ‘holiness’, an image perhaps of the intensity of Muhammad’s belief and his devotion to what he perceived as his divinely-appointed mission.

It was partly in reaction to the existing religion in Makkah, each of whose several gods and goddesses had an image in the Kaaba—the local shrine—that the prohibition against figurative art arose. The pre-Islamic population of Arabia was on the whole illiterate, a situation which was transformed through the spread of the message of the Qu’ran. This new ‘religion of the book’ also led to a creative explosion in such arts as calligraphy and architecture, as well as developments in science and learning.

*CE, Common Era. Used in place of AD, Anno Domini, which is Latin for ‘[in the] year of [Our] Lord’ , or AH, Anno Hegirae, ‘year of the Hijra’, referring to the date in the Islamic calendar. CE dates correspond to AD dates, and BCE, ‘before the Common Era’, is used in place of BC, ‘before Christ’. 1 AH corresponds roughly to 622 CE.
City of the Prophet