96: The Clot (Al-Aqat)


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Surah 96, The Clot: Introduction

"The Clot" (Al-Alaq) was the first surah that Muhammad (I'll just call him "Mo") claimed to receive from Allah. Mo was about 40 years old at the time (ca. 610 CE).

Here's the story from the Hadith (Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith - 6.478), as told by Aisha, who twelve years later became Mo's favorite wife. (Since Aisha was only nine years old when her marriage to the 52-year-old Mo was consummated, she wouldn't have yet been born when this story supposedly took place.)

While Mo was sleepting in the cave of Hira, an angel appeared to him in a dream and told him to read. Mo replied that he didn't know how to read. Then the angel forced him hard to the ground, so hard he could hardly stand it.

The commencement (of the Divine Inspiration) to Allah's Apostle was in the form of true dreams in his sleep, for he never had a dream but it turned out to be true and clear as the bright daylight. Then he began to like seclusions, so he used to go in seclusion in the cave of Hira where ... one day he received the Guidance while he was in the cave of Hira.

An Angel came to him and asked him to read. Allah's Apostle replied, "I do not know how to read." The Prophet added, "Then the Angel held me (forcibly) and pressed me so hard that I felt distressed."

The angel released him and again told him to read. And Mo again told him that he didn't know how to read.

Then he released me and again asked me to read, and I replied, 'I do not know how to read.' Thereupon he held me again and pressed me for the second time till I felt distressed. He then released me and asked me to read, but again I replied, 'I do not know how to read.'

So the angel knocked him down a third time, pressing him so hard he could hardly stand it.

Thereupon he held me for the third time and pressed me till I got distressed, and then he released me and said, 'Read, in the Name of your Lord Who has created (all that exists), has created man out of a clot, Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous. Who has taught (the writing) by the pen, has taught man that which he knew not.'

And the words in bold became the first five verses in the Quran. (96:1-5)

Read: In the name of thy Lord Who createth,
Createth man from a clot.Read:
And thy Lord is the Most Bounteous,
Who teacheth by the pen,
Teacheth man that which he knew not.

When Mo woke up from his dream, he was afraid he was either a poet or possessed. (He hoped he was possessed, though, because he really hated poets.) He was so upset that he decided to commit suicide by throwing himself off a cliff. (Ibn Ishaq, 106-7)

And I awoke from my sleep, and it was as though these words were written on my heart. (Now none of God's creatures was more hateful to me than an (ecstatic) poet or a man possessed: I could not even look at them. I thought, Woe is me, poet or possessed ... I will go to the top of the mountain and throw myself down that I may kill myself and gain rest.

So he went off to do that, but while he was climbing the mountain he heard a voice from the sky saying, "O Muhammad! Thou art the apostle of God and I am Gabriel."

So I went forth to do so and then when I was midway on the mountain, I heard a voice from heaven saying, "O Muhammad! thou art the apostle of God and I am Gabriel."

When he looked up he saw the angel Gabriel with one foot on each horizon. And no matter what direction Mo looked, there was Gabriel standing in front of him, with a foot on each horizon.

I raised my head towards heaven to see (who was speaking), and Lo, Gabriel in the form of a man with feet astride the horizon ... then I began to turn my face away from him, but towards whatever region of the sky I looked, I saw him as before.

After the vision, Mo returned to Mecca, but he still wasn't sure whether the horizon-straddling sky guy was Gabriel or a satan. Luckily, Khadija (Mo's first wife) knew how to find out.

She told him that the next time Gabe comes to visit, he should sit by her left thigh. So the next time he saw Gabe he sat by her left thigh. Then she asked Mo if he could see him. He said that he could.

Next Khadija told Mo to turn around and sit on her right thigh. He did that, and she asked him, "Can you see him?" He said, "Yes, I can still see him."

Then she told him to sit on her lap. When he did that, she asked if he could still see him. And, once again, Mo said, "Yes."

Finally, Khadija threw off her veil and "disclosed her form" while Mo was sitting in her lap, and said, "Can you still see him?" This time Mo said, "No."

From this test, Khadija knew for sure that Mo's imaginary friend was an angel and not a a satan.

She [Khadija] said to the apostle of God, '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, 'Then 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 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 whil 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 God he is an angel and not a satan.'

Now those of you who have been corrupted by Western influences may not understand this test. So let me explain it to you.

You see, if Mo's friend was a satan, he wouldn't mind hanging around when a woman took off her veil and started messing around with a man. In fact, he'd enjoy it. But not an angel. The sight of an unveiled woman would be so disgusting to an angel, that he'd be forced to leave -- which is what Mo's friend did. Therefore, Mo's mysterious imaginary friend must be an angel. QED.

So now we know for sure that the Quran (or at least the first five verses) was revealed by an angel and not a satan.

And yet, strangely, for all of Allah, Gabriel, and Mo's shenanigans, there's not much in this surah.

Here's a summary:

Humans were created from a clot.

Thy Lord ... createth man from a clot. 96:1-2

If you deny Allah, he'll grab you by the forelock and throw you in hell.

If he denieth (Allah's guidance) ... We will seize him by the forelock - The lying, sinful forelock - [and] We will call the guards of hell. 96:13-18

(Note: The "forelock" that Allah refers to here is not what you think it is. It is, according to Muslim scholars, the prefrontal cortex. Allah will grab you by your lying, sinful prefrontal lobe and throw your ass into hell. You can read all about it here. It's just one of the many scientific miracles of the Quran.)

That's it. That's all Allah had to say in Surah 96.

Maybe he'll do better in his next revelation.