The Fatrah

The Fatrah : Inter­mis­sion of the Prophet Muhammad

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 AllahA. Guil­laume, The Life of Muham­mad : A Trans­la­tion of Ibn Ishaq’s Sir­at Rasul Allah (Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1978) 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.Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol­ume 9, num­ber 111, trans. by M. Khan (Kitab Bha­van, New Delhi)

So we note that for some time after the dis­ap­pear­ance 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 :

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 dis­crep­an­cies 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 a shar­er in her hus­band’s search­ing of heart and prob­a­bly the first con­vert to his creed.William Muir, The Life of Muham­mad, p. 55

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 dis­crep­an­cies 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.Abdul­lah Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur’an : Text, Trans­la­tion and Com­men­tary (Kitab Bha­van, New Del­hi, 1996), p. 1632

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.Zakaria Bashier, The Mec­can Cru­cible (FOSIS, 1978), p. 103

As we can see, there is no una­nim­i­ty 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 mostibid., p. 102.

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’.Ibn Sa’d, At-Tabaqat al-Kubra, Vol. I, p. 196

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 Prophet(P).

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 col­lab­o­rates 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.Zakaria Bashier, op. cit.

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
    well-pleased.
    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.M. H. Haykal, The Life of Muham­mad (North Amer­i­can Trust Pub­li­ca­tion, 1976), p. 80

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 sui­ci­dal 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 to 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.Karen Arm­strong, A His­to­ry of God (Bal­lan­tine Books, 1993) p. 132

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 :

Isa­iah

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)

Jere­mi­ah

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 an author­i­ty on His behalf (Jere­mi­ah 1:7 – 9

Ezekiel

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)

Daniel

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 of Tar­sus, 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.

Con­clu­sion

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 ! The Fatrah: Intermission of the Prophet Muhammad 1Endmark

Cite this arti­cle as : Mohd Elfie Nieshaem Juferi, The Fatrah : Inter­mis­sion of the Prophet Muham­mad,” in Bis­mi­ka Allahu­ma, Sep­tem­ber 20, 2005, last accessed May 27, 2024, https://​bis​mikaal​lahu​ma​.org/​m​u​h​a​m​m​a​d​/​f​a​t​r​a​h​-​i​n​t​e​r​m​i​s​s​i​o​n​-​p​r​o​p​h​e​t​-​m​u​h​a​m​m​ad/

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