Surah 74:1-5: Interpretation of the Muhammad’s second revelation

Ezekiel's vision

The second revelation of Muhammad is very short, just like the first. It occurs after Muhammad has a Merkabah vision outdoors (likely after he’d returned to the Cave of Hira to finish out his period of vision-dream-seeking). You can see more about how I untangle the chronology of this sequence of events here.

Here are the relevant ahadith:

Yahyah reported:

I asked Abu Salama what was revealed first from the Qur’an. He said: “O, the shrouded one.” I said: Or “Recite.” [Meaning Surah 96.] Jabir said: I am narrating to you what was narrated to us by the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ). He said: I stayed in Hira’ for one month and when my stay was completed, I come down and went into the heart of the valley. Somebody called me aloud. I looked in front of me, behind me, on the right of my side and on my left, but I did not see any body. I was again called and I looked about but saw nothing. I was called again and raised my head, and there on the Throne in the open atmosphere he, i. e. Gabriel (peace be upon him) was sitting. I began to tremble on account of fear. I came to Khadija and said: Wrap me up. They wrapped me up and threw water on me and Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, sent down this: you who are shrouded! arise and deliver warning, your Lord magnify, your clothes cleanse.”

Sahih Muslim 161d

You can see the discomfort of the narrators with this hadith because the interpolation “Gabriel” was added into the Arabic text, not just in translation. Early educated Islamic scholars would know perfectly well that a throne doesn’t fit angelic imagery, but they needed the figure to be an angel, regardless. This is such a theologically troubling vision that its details are purged from another telling of it:

Narrated Yahya bin Abi Kathir

I asked Aba Salama bin ‘Abdur-Rahman about the first Sura revealed of the Qur’an. He replied “O you, wrapped-up (i.e. Al Muddaththir).” I said, “They say it was, ‘Read, in the Name of your Lord Who created,’ (i.e. Surat Al-‘Alaq (the Clot).” On that, Abu Salama said, “I asked Jabir bin ‘Abdullah about that, saying the same as you have said, whereupon he said, ‘I will not tell you except what Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) had told us. Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, “I was in seclusion in the cave of Hira’, and after I completed the limited period of my seclusion. I came down (from the cave) and heard a voice calling me. I looked to my right, but saw nothing. Then I looked up and saw something. So I went to Khadija (the Prophet’s wife) and told her to wrap me up and pour cold water on me. So they wrapped me up and poured cold water on me.” Then, ‘O you, (Muhammad) wrapped up! Arise and warn,’ (Surat Al Muddaththir) was revealed.”

Bukhari 6:60:444

This is a clear reference to a Merkabah vision, not an angelic visitation. I’ve already written about this event about here.

At this point, Muhammad still hasn’t decided who he’s being visited by or what kind of visitations it is. When he gets home, this is the revelation that he has:

  1. O you who wraps himself!
  2. Stand up and warn,
  3. And your Lord magnify,*
  4. And your garments purify,
  5. And avoid filth.

Again, this is very short, and it’s also extremely generic. Muhammad is getting a call to warn–but of what? He doesn’t know. There really isn’t anything to unpack here–the Power has Muhammad’s attention, and he wants to keep it.

Shortly after this, he will actually meet Waraqah and have a longer discussion with him. This will convince him that his Lord is Allah and that he is being contacted by an angel.

Author: Marya Harb