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Scaling the Mountain of Light to the Cave of Hira

(Last updated 11 December 2013…)

The difficult climb

Every year thousands of pilgrims make the difficult climb up the Mountain of Light to the Cave of Hira where the Archangel Gabriel delivered to Prophet Mohammad the first revelations of the Qur'an.

Every year thousands of pilgrims make the difficult climb up the Mountain of Light to the Cave of Hira where the Archangel Gabriel delivered to Prophet Mohammad the first revelations of the Qur’an.

As a dinner guest at the home of Dr. Safi and Eman Kaskas, I mentioned that I was interested in someday visiting the Cave of Hira, about 3 miles north of Mecca, a place known by Muslims as the place where the Prophet Mohammad received his first revelation of the holy Qur’an from God as delivered by the angel Gabriel (Jibril in Arabic).

Another dinner guest, renowned Saudi poet and writer Nimah Nawwab, immediately phoned a friend, and early the next morning found Dr. Safi, Eman, Nimah, Hisham, the muadhan (‘caller to prayer”) Shafik Zubir from our local neighborhood mosque and me in an SUV bound for Jabal al Nour (the Mountain of Light).

The Cave of Hira is a cave just below the back side of the peak of the mountain. It is about 3 miles (4.9 km) northeast of the holy city of Mecca, in Saudi Arabia. The cave itself is about 12 feet (3.7 m) in length and just over 5 feet (1.60 m) in width. One must climb 890 feet to the summit. That’s like climbing the stairs of a 90-story building—no small task for the older members of our adventurous troupe. I needed help and direction getting up much of the way and especially a lesson in contortion in order to squeeze through some of the smaller 8 to 10-inch crevices between the rocks surrounding the cave.

At 65 I found my legs and knees weaker. It was a difficult, difficult climb, but I was blessed to be able to complete it with the help of two men—one from Pakistan and the other from Kashmir.

The first revelations of the Qur’an

The oldest surviving biography of Prophet Muhammad is that of Ibn Hisham (833 CE), which is a freely edited version of Ibn Ishaq’s (ca. 704 – 767 CE). In this biography, Ibn Hisham tells us that before the revelation of the Qur’an Muhammad used to retreat for a month every year in a mountain called Hira in Mecca.

When the prophet would finish his seclusion he would return to circumbulate the Ka‘bah seven times before heading home.

One year, corresponding to 610 CE, the Prophet had retreated to Hira in the month of Ramadhan when he was visited by the Archangel Gabriel who read to him the first verses of the Qur’an to be revealed. According to Ibn Hisham, Gabriel appeared to Mohammad in his sleep, carrying a book. He commanded him to “read.” Mohammad refused the order twice before finally asking what he was supposed to read. Gabriel replied with following verses of the Qur’an: “Read in the name of your Lord who created, He created man from a clot. Read and your Lord is the most honorable who teaches by the pen, He taught man what he did not know” (Qur’an 96: 1-5). Mohammad then recited the verses in his sleep. When he woke up, he felt as if the words had been engraved on his heart. On his way down from the mountain, the Prophet heard a voice from heaven saying: “O Mohammad! You are the messenger of God, and I am Gabriel.”

Sam, Safi and Eman Kaskas on their way up the Mountain of Light.

Sam, Safi and Eman Kaskas begin the arduous trek up the Mountain of Light to the Cave of Hira. (Photo / Nimah Nawwab)

Another perspective of the event

Imam Muhammad Al Bukhari (810-870 CE), whose compilation of sayings and deeds of the Prophet Mohammad is highly regarded by Sunni Muslims, gives a slightly different account: The commencement of the divine inspiration to the Messenger of God was in the form of “good dreams which came true like bright day light.” It is then said that the prophet was endowed with a love of seclusion.

He would go to the Cave of Hira where he would worship God alone–continuously for many days before he would desire to see his family. He used to take with him a provision of food for the stay and then come back to his wife Khadija to take food for another stay, until suddenly the Truth descended upon him while he was in the Cave of Hira.

According to Al Bukhari,  Mohammad related, “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.’ So 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.’ So he caught me for the third time and pressed me, and then released me and said: ‘Read in the name of your Lord who created. He created man from a clot. Read and your Lord is most honorable who teaches by the pen. He taught man what he did not know” (Qur’an 96:1-5).

Al Bukhari says Mohammad  returned greatly inspired “with his heart beating fast.” Then he went to his wife Khadija and said: “Cover me! Cover me!” They covered him with a cloth until his fear subsided. The prophet then told her everything that had happened, saying, “I fear that something may happen to me.”

Khadija replied: “Never! God will never disgrace you. You keep good relations with your family, carry the weak, help the poor, serve your guests generously, and assist those afflicted by calamity.”

Although the overwhelming majority of scholars believe the verses of chapter 96 above are the first to have been revealed, some others have disagreed. For instance, in his famous exegesis of the Qur’an, At Tabari quotes some who insist that the first verses of chapter 74 were the first to be revealed.

However, in addition to his citation of those who argue that it was the verses of chapter 96, Al Bukhari also quotes a number of transmitters of prophetic sayings who claim that those verses of chapter 74 were revealed first: [The Messenger of God] said: “I went to stay in Hira. After finishing my stay, and while I was coming down, I was called upon. I looked right, left, in front, and behind, but could not see anyone. But when I raised my head I saw something. I then came to Kadhija and said: ‘Cover me, and pour cold water on me!’”He said: ‘They covered me and poured cold water on me.” He said: “Then the following verses were revealed: ‘O you who are clothed! Arise and warn! And your Lord do magnify’” (Qur’an 74:1-3).

In Al Bukhari’s renowned exegetical work, Al Qurtubi he adds another two opinions–one of which claims that chapter 1, known as Al Fatiha, was the first to be revealed, and the other claims it was verse 6.151.

Prophet Mohammad’s mountain retreat

Muadhan Shafik Zubir and Sam inside the Cave of Hira.

Muadhan Shafik Zubir and Sam inside the Cave of Hira–once a place of sanctuary and meditation for the Prophet Mohammad.

Despite the conflicting accounts and the impossibility of finding out the exact details of the first revelation of the Qur’an, Muslim scholars and historians have not disputed the fact that the Prophet used to retreat to the Cave of Hira near the summit of the Mountain of Light for worship, and the overwhelming majority agree that it was during one of those seclusions that the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed.

The books of Prophetic sayings also mention at least two instances after the revelation of the Qur’an in which the Prophet “climbed up to Hira.” In one instance he was with a group of his companions when the mountain shook.

Prophets found solace in caves

Many prophets from the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) fled into a desert wilderness or hid in caves for safety or respite–seeking peace, emotional healing and protection while being alone with God.

Moses, Ezekiel, John the Baptist, Jesus, the Apostle John and many others found times in their lives where the road of life became so narrow that there was simply only room for God and them alone.

Indeed, obeying God is often difficult business, especially when you are confronted by an enemy that seeks to undo you emotionally and spiritually. In such times one embraces solitude in a desert or cave to be in solitude with the Almighty.

One reads in the Old Testament that “Ahab told (Queen) Jezebel everything (God’s prophet) Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the (queen’s false) prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them” (1 Kings 19:2). Further it is said that Elijah “was afraid and ran for his life.”  It is said that Elijah was directed by the Archangel Gabriel to get up and eat a cake of bread that lay by the prophet’s head and to drink water. Later, Gabriel “came back a second time and touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” So he got up and ate and drank.

Strengthened by that food, Elijah traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God” (1 Kings 19:8). There, exhausted and trembling in fear and depression, Elijah hid in a cave until the “still, small voice” of God said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” God eventually relieved the prophet of his horrid depression; strengthening him and giving him hope for the future.

The prophet David, likewise, cried out to God from the cave of Adullam when he was fleeing King Saul. One of his cries for help is mentioned in the Old Testament Book of Psalms and is entitled “A Psalm From a Cave” (Psalm 57). He wrote:

“Have mercy on me, my God,
have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge.
I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings
until the disaster has passed.
I cry out to God Most High, to God, who vindicates me.
He sends from heaven and saves me,
rebuking those who hotly pursue me—
God sends forth his love and his faithfulness.
I am in the midst of lions;
I am forced to dwell among ravenous beasts—
men whose teeth are spears and arrows,
whose tongues are sharp swords.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
let your glory be over all the earth.
They spread a net for my feet—
I was bowed down in distress.
They dug a pit in my path—
but they have fallen into it themselves.
My heart, O God, is steadfast,
my heart is steadfast;
I will sing and make music.
Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre!
I will awaken the dawn.
I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;
I will sing of you among the peoples.
For great is your love, reaching to the heavens;
your faithfulness reaches to the skies.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
let your glory be over all the earth.”

It was in what today is known as the “Cave of the Apocalypse” that the Apostle John received God’s “Great Revelation.” It describes end-time events, beginning with the words, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to make known to his servants the things which must shortly come to pass: and signified, sending by his angel to his servant John… The things which must shortly come… and again it is said, ‘The time is at hand…'” (Revelation 1:1-3). The Revelation describes end-time apocalyptic events that will come to pass shortly before Jesus’ prophesied return. (Both Christians and Muslims believe in the imminent return of Jesus the Messiah.)

Sami Yusuf sings about the Cave of Hira

Muslims over the centuries continued to climb to the top of this high desert Mountain of Light to visit the cave where the Qur’an was first revealed.During Ramadan and during the holy days of the annual Hajj, as many as five thousand pilgrims per day make the climb to the Cave of Hira. We are fortunate on our journey as our trail is not crowded. Once we have made the steep climb to the cave we find time there alone to think about life and the significant event that took place in this mountaintop grotto. Our thoughts are filled with praise and prayer for our families, friends and the world today. There is so much human need, misunderstanding, distrust, conflict, greed and war. “How, God,” we ask, “can we make a difference?”

Below, contemporary Muslim singer Sami Yusuf echoes our thoughts about the Cave of Hira and the first revelations of the Qur’an which began there. Take a few minutes to listen to Yusuf’s inspiring song and be encouraged!

Sources: National Geographic,, The Hajj School,


December 5, 2013 - Posted by | Mecca, The Quran, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. I am so happy that you visited the Cave of Hira along with friends Mr. Sam. I planned several times to go there but until now I have not been there.

    Comment by abdullah rahman | December 5, 2013 | Reply

    • We will try to organize another trip!

      Comment by Sam Shropshire | December 7, 2013 | Reply

  2. Thank you, Abdullah. Looking forward to seeing you soon.

    Comment by Sam Shropshire | December 5, 2013 | Reply

  3. What a challenging and fascinating experience, Sam. You are certainly finding the Moslem way! Im guessing they are discovering the Christian Way through your life. Light, Life Nd Love. Mardy

    Comment by Mardy Burgess | December 6, 2013 | Reply

  4. Sam,Sounds like an exhilarating (and exhausting) experience.  How did Safi and Eman do?  I don’t see either

    Comment by | December 8, 2013 | Reply

    • David, I have inserted a photo of Safi, Eman. We all made it to the top of the mountain. I think I had the most difficulty. I might want you to examine my knees when you arrive here next month!

      Comment by Sam Shropshire | December 8, 2013 | Reply

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