From Merchant to Messenger

The Prophet Muhammad's struggle for legitimacy as revealed in the Koran

Muhammad’s Introduction to Christianity

From Merchant to MessengerBefore he found his true calling at the age of forty or thereabouts, Muhammad accompanied or led trading caravans as far north as Damascus. He was twelve when he accompanied his uncle on a trip to Syria. On the way, their caravan passed by a Christian monastery near present-day Basra where a Christian monk by the name of Bahira would invite the merchants to stay overnight. Later in the evening, he would invite the young Muhammad to sit with the men and join the conversation or just listen. Remember, this was pre-Islam and after the collapse of most of the Roman Empire. It was a time when people of every faith could get together without fear and talk about their gods, goddesses, and religious beliefs.

The future Prophet Muhammad would return to this monastery many times during his extensive travels throughout the Middle East. In fact, in a rare moment of what could pass as fondness for members of another religion, here is what Allah had to say about the monks and priests Muhammad invariably met during his travels.

5:82 You shall find the most hostile people to the believers to be the Jews and the polytheists; and you shall find the closest in affection to the believers those who say: “We are Christians.” For among them are priests and monks, and they are not arrogant.

5:83 And when they hear what was revealed to the Messenger, you will see their eyes overflow with tears on account of the truth they recognize. They say: “Our Lord, we believe, so write us down among the witnesses.”

5:84 “And why should we not believe in Allah and in what has come to us of the truth, when we are eager that our Lord will let us enter along with the righteous people?”

Allah would change His mind about monks, lumping them with the Jews whom He excoriates at every opportunity.

9:34 O believers, many of the rabbis and monks devour the property of the people unjustly and bar others from the Path of Allah. Those who hoard gold and silver and do not spend them in Allah’s Path, announce to them a very painful punishment.

The same goes for monasticism, which He does not approve on how its practice in Revelation 5:27, without explaining what Christians, who choose that way of life, are doing wrong.

57:26 We have also sent forth Noah and Abraham and assigned Prophethood and the Book to their progeny. Some of them are well-guided and many of them are sinners.

57:27 Then, We sent forth in their wake Our Messengers and followed up with Jesus, son of Mary, and We gave him the Gospel and We instilled in the hearts of those who followed him compassion and mercy. As for the monasticism which they invented, for We did not prescribe it for them, seeking thereby to please Allah, they did not observe it properly; so We rewarded those of them who believed, but many of them are sinful.

Nonetheless, Allah stopped some monasteries from being demolished.

22:40 Those who were driven out of their homes unjustly, merely for their saying: “Our Lord is Allah.” Had Allah not repelled some people by others, surely monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques, wherein the name of Allah is mentioned frequently, would have been demolished. Indeed, Allah will support whoever supports Him. Allah is surely Strong and Mighty.

22:41 Those who, if We establish them firmly in the land, will perform the prayer, give the alms, command the good and prohibit evil. To Allah belongs the outcome of all affairs.

Some of these monks and priests, who may have converted to Islam and since died, have already been rewarded with Paradise.

5:85 Allah rewarded them for what they said with Gardens beneath which rivers flow, dwelling therein forever. Such is the reward of the righteous.

Not all priests and monks were receptive to the message, obviously.

5:86 But those who disbelieved and denounce Our Revelations, such are the denizens of Hell.

It was not only during his travels that Muhammad the merchant would have become acquainted with stories from the Bible. Before he made Islam the only acceptable religion, Christianity was well established on the Arabian Peninsula thanks, in part, to the pioneering efforts of Bartholomew, one of the original apostles.


Probably the most influential Christian of all time is an Arab. We are indebted to Aisha for the story of her husband's first encounter with the angel Gabriel and how a Christian by the name of Waraqa, a cousin of Khadija, his first wife, convinced Muhammad not to be afraid that the apparition was indeed an angel sent by God to speak with him on His behalf.

Narrated Aisha:

The commencement of the Divine Inspiration to Allah's Apostle was in the form of good dreams which came true like bright day light, and then the love of seclusion was bestowed upon him.

He used to go in seclusion in the cave of Hira 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 like-wise again till suddenly the Truth descended upon him while he was in the cave of Hira. The angel came to him and asked him to read.

The Prophet replied, "I do not know how to read."

The Prophet 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) has created man from a clot. Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous.' (96:1, 96:2, 96:3)

Then Allah's Apostle returned with the Inspiration and with his heart beating severely. Then he went to Khadija bint Khuwailid 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 bin Naufal bin Asad bin Abdul 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[29] 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 Apostle 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 Apostle 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.

Bukhari 1.3

The first revelation to interrupt the pause:

Narrated Jabir bin Abdullah Al-Ansari while talking about the period of pause in revelation reporting the speech of the Prophet "While I was walking, all of a sudden I heard a voice from the sky. I looked up and saw the same angel who had visited me at the cave of Hira' sitting on a chair between the sky and the earth. I got afraid of him and came back home and said, 'Wrap me (in blankets).' And then Allah revealed the following Holy Verses (of Quran): 'O you (i.e. Muhammad)! wrapped up in garments!' Arise and warn (the people against Allah's Punishment), ...up to 'and desert the idols.' (74.1-5) After this the revelation started coming strongly, frequently and regularly."

Bukhari 1.3

The revelations referenced in the above hadith:

74:1 O enrobed one (Muhammad),

74:2 Arise and warn.

74:3 Glorify your Lord,

74:4 And purify your garments,

74:5 And abandon abomination.

There was another Christian, an apostate, whose name goes unmentioned but who claimed to have written revelations on Muhammad’s behalf and was disgraced for his trouble.

Narrated Anas:

There was a Christian who embraced Islam and read Surat-al-Baqara and Al-Imran, and he used to write (the revelations) for the Prophet. Later on he returned to Christianity again and he used to say: "Muhammad knows nothing but what I have written for him."

Then Allah caused him to die, and the people buried him, but in the morning they saw that the earth had thrown his body out.

They said, "This is the act of Muhammad and his companions."

They dug the grave of our companion and took his body out of it because he had run away from them. They again dug the grave deeply for him, but in the morning they again saw that the earth had thrown his body out.

They said, "This is an act of Muhammad and his companions."

They dug the grave of our companion and threw his body outside it, for he had run away from them. They dug the grave for him as deep as they could, but in the morning they again saw that the earth had thrown his body out. So they believed that what had befallen him was not done by human beings and had to leave him thrown (on the ground).

Bukhari 56.814

Muhammad may have simply consulted with this anonymous Christian, as suggested by Allah.

16:43 We have sent forth, before you, none but men to whom We have revealed. So ask those who have knowledge (the Christians and Jews have knowledge of their scriptures) if you do not know.

16:44 [We sent them] with clear proofs and scriptures. And We revealed to you the Reminder, so that you may make clear to mankind what has been revealed to them, and that, perchance, they may reflect.


[29] In another authenticated hadith of Bukhari, Waraqa read the Gospels in Arabic.

Narrated Aisha:

The Prophet returned to Khadija while his heart was beating rapidly. She took him to Waraqa bin Naufal who was a Christian convert and used to read the Gospels in Arabic. Waraqa asked (the Prophet), "What do you see?"

When he told him, Waraqa said, "That is the same angel whom Allah sent to the Prophet) Moses. Should I live till you receive the Divine Message, I will support you strongly."

Bukhari 55.605