From Merchant to Messenger
Night Vigil contains all twenty verses of surah 73, The Enwrapped. Surah 73 is mostly about a night with the Prophet waiting for, and receiving revelations, including a revelation that he may not have been alone waiting for Gabriel to appear with the latest batch of instructions from Heaven.
Surah 73, like most surahs, no matter the length, cannot be read in isolation. As I mention in the introduction to Pain, Pleasure and Prejudice you have to read the entire Koran to get an idea of what Allah has to say on a given subject, and then read it again, at least once more, to make sure you actually understood much of what was revealed no matter how farfetched.
For surahs like The Enwrapped, it is not so much about understanding the topic under discussion, as who is doing the revealing, who he is talking to, who is he talking about and why.
In the Name of Allah,
the Compassionate, the Merciful
73:1 O enwrapped one (that is Muhammad, who used to be ‘wrapped up’ when revelation was imparted to him by the Angel Gabriel),
73:2 Keep vigil throughout the night, except for a little while;
73:3 Half of it, or a little less;
73:4 Or add a little thereto and chant the Qur’an loudly.
73:5 Indeed, We shall deliver unto you a weighty discourse.
73:6 Surely, the early hours of the night are more onerous and more amenable to straight talk.
73:7 You have during the day a long-drawn business.
73:8 Remember the name of your Lord and devote yourself fully to Him.
The “Him” in “Take Him as your Guardian” in the following revelation is Allah, assuming Gabriel is doing the talking.
73:9 He is the Lord of the East and the West; there is no god but He, so take Him as your guardian.
73:10 And bear up with what they say, and forsake them graciously.
The Prophet can “forsake them graciously” because those rich people who will not believe what the Prophet preaches will get what is coming to them from Allah.
73:11 And let Me deal with those who deny and live in luxury; and give them a little respite.
73:12 We have indeed shackles and a blazing Fire;
73:13 And food upon which they choke and painful punishment.
73:14 On the Day when the earth and the mountains shall tremble, and the mountain shall turn into heaps of sand.
Gabriel, when he delivers Allah’s revelations to the Prophet Muhammad, is, of course, reading from a script; a script provided by Allah which the angel has obviously memorized.
It has to be the most thorough of scripts, for everywhere in the Koran, Gabriel repeats, word for word, what Allah will say to those who will appear before him on Judgement Day.
In The Enwrapped, Allah will remind those who live in luxury and snubbed His latest, greatest and last Messenger what He did to Pharaoh for doing more or less the same thing to Moses and what He will do to them, followed by the ubiquitous reminder of the awful “Day” which will usher in Judgement Day
73:15 We have sent unto you a Messenger (the Prophet Muhammad), bearing witness against you, just as We had sent unto Pharaoh a Messenger.
73:16 Then Pharaoh disobeyed the Messenger; so we seized him with terrible force.
73:17 So, how will you guard, if you disbelieve, against a Day which will make the children white with fear?
73:18 The heavens shall be rent asunder thereby. His Promise is a thing accomplished.
73:19 This is truly a reminder; so that he who wishes may follow unto his Lord a path.
Revelation 73:20, which concludes The Enwrapped is, in my opinion, not only the most important revelation in surah 73 but one of Allah’s more significant admissions. Allah, for the first and only time, tells us that the Prophet may not have been alone; that other mortals, “a group of followers”, waited with His Messenger for Gabriel to bring down His latest instructions for mankind.
Except for perhaps Aisha, and she did not see much (see What Aisha Saw at the end of this section), none of these “followers” has ever come forward and claimed to have been with the Prophet during any meeting with the angel Gabriel.
Another surprise when you read verse 73:20, a somewhat lengthy, mishmash of a revelations is that there may have been some confusion as to how much time the Prophet was expected to wait for Gabriel to appear, a misunderstanding for which His Prophet is forgiven i.e. “He has absolved you”.
73:20 Your Lord knows that you keep vigil a little less than two-thirds of the night and a half or a third thereof, together with a group of your followers. Allah determines the measure of the night and the day; He knows that you will not keep it all, and so He has absolved you. Read, then, what you can of the Qur’an. He knows that there will be, among you, sick people and others who journey in the land, seeking part of Allah’s Bounty, and still others who fight for the Cause of Allah. Recite, then, what you can of it, perform the prayer, give the alms and lend Allah a fair loan*. Whatever good you forward for your soul’s sake, you shall find it with Allah growing into greater good and a greater wage. Seek Allah’s forgiveness; Allah is indeed All-Forgiving, All-Merciful.
* Fakhry, in a footnote, explains that this expression means “spend money in His way.” There are at least five revelations about giving Allah a fair loan and these verses are often used in fundraising campaigns. Example from a fundraising letter:
“I am writing to you on behalf of Canberra Islamic Centre (CIC) Executive Committee in the holy month of Ramadan to seek your financial support and prayer for ongoing Islamic project in our National Capital … Your donation is an investment in the path of Islam that will benefit to the Muslim generations in Canberra/Australia. As mentioned in the Holy Qur'an (64.17) ‘If you lend Allah a fair loan, He will multiply it for you and forgive you. Allah is All Grateful, All Clement.’”
What Aisha Saw and Why She Was Struck
The following hadith is from The Book of Prayers (Kitab Al-Salat)' of Sahih Muslim; it begins with a typical introduction with the narrator identifying himself, and if it is hearsay, as most are, who he heard it from, followed by some atypical comments from his audience (no quotation marks were in the original translation and I have chosen not to add any):
Muhammad b. Qais said (to the people):
Should I not narrate to you (a hadith of the Holy Prophet) on my authority and on the authority of my mother? We thought that he meant the mother who had given him birth. He (Muhammad b. Qais) then reported that it was 'A'isha who had narrated this: Should I not narrate to you about myself and about the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him)?
We said: Yes.
From Aisha, we learn that it all started when she joined her husband for an intimate moment, after which, thinking she is asleep God's Messenger leaves her side.
She said: When it was my turn for Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) to spend the night with me, he turned his side, put on his mantle and took off his shoes and placed them near his feet, and spread the corner of his shawl on his bed and then lay down till he thought that I had gone to sleep. He took hold of his mantle slowly and put on the shoes slowly, and opened the door and went out and then closed it lightly.
Aisha is not asleep and decides to follow the Prophet outside where she observes God's Messenger doing hand gestures, after which they both return to the house, Aisha rushing ahead of her husband and hopping into bed hoping he is none the wiser.
I covered my head, put on my veil and tightened my waist wrapper, and then went out following his steps till he reached Baqi'. He stood there and he stood for a long time. He then lifted his hands three times, and then returned and I also returned. He hastened his steps and I also hastened my steps. He ran and I too ran. He came (to the house) and I also came (to the house). I, however, preceded him and I entered (the house), and as I lay down in the bed, he (the Holy Prophet) entered the (house), and said:
The Prophet is no fool, he notices she is out of breath and asks the obvious question; and she better tell him the truth because if she does not, Allah will tell on her.
Why is it, O 'A'isha, that you are out of breath?
I said: There is nothing. He said: Tell me or the Subtle and the Aware would inform me.
Aisha tells whatever she tells God's Messenger, swearing it is the truth, and this is when her husband strikes her.
I said: Messenger of Allah, may my father and mother be ransom for you, and then I told him (the whole story).
He said: Was it the darkness (of your shadow) that I saw in front of me?
I said: Yes.
He struck me on the chest which caused me pain, and then said: Did you think that Allah and His Apostle would deal unjustly with you?
She said: Whatsoever the people conceal, Allah will know it.
At this point, the Prophet feels compel to explain to an obviously skeptical young woman why she did not observe him and the angel Gabriel in animated conversation; one of the reason being that she was not appropriately dressed.
He said: Gabriel came to me when you saw me. He called me and he concealed it from you. I responded to his call, but I too concealed it from you (for he did not come to you), as you were not fully dressed. I thought that you had gone to sleep, and I did not like to awaken you, fearing that you may be frightened.
The hadith ends with the Prophet, on Gabriel's order, instructing his wife to go to a graveyard, where he will join her later, and pray for the dead as penance for having spied on her husband.
He (Gabriel) said: Your Lord has commanded you to go to the inhabitants of Baqi' (to those lying in the graves) and beg pardon for them. I said: Messenger of Allah, how should I pray for them (How should I beg forgiveness for them)? He said: Say, Peace be upon the inhabitants of this city (graveyard) from among the Believers and the Muslims, and may Allah have mercy on those who have gone ahead of us, and those who come later on, and we shall, God willing, join you.