Traces of his mental turmoil are seen abundantly in his physical nature. We read of his exhaustion after the inspiration comes, and of “the terrific Suras” that took their toll of his vitality afterwards. The mission imposed upon him was no light burden, and demanded of him strength both of body and mind. The successive stages by which he became convinced of his divine call are only detailed in the histories with the concurrence of the supernatural; he sees material visions and dreams fervent dreams. With the ecstacy of Heaven about him, according to legend, he holds converse with the angel Gabriel, arch-messenger of God, and the divine injunctions must be translated into mental enthusiasms before the true evolution of Mahomet’s mind can be dimly conceived.
When he was forty he sought solitude more constantly than formerly. There were deeps in his own nature of which he was only now becoming aware. A restlessness of mind beset him, and continually he retired to a cave at the base of Mount Hira, where he could meditate undisturbed. This mountain, hallowed for ever by the followers of Islam, is now called somewhat ironically, considering its natural barrenness, Jebel Nur, the mountain of Light. Mahomet was of a nervous temperament, the nature that suffers more intensely through its imaginative foresight than in actual experience. He was of those who see keenly and feel towards their beliefs. His faith in God produced none of that self-abnegating rapture to be found in the devotions of many early Christians; it was a personal passion, sweeping up his whole nature within its folds, and rousing the enfolded not to meditation but to instant action.
Through all the legendary accounts there beats that excitement that tells of a mind wrought to the highest pitch, afire with visions, alive with desire. Then, when his fervour attained its zenith, Gabriel came to him in sleep with a silken cloth in his hand covered with writing and said to Mahomet:
“I cannot read.”
Then the angel wrapped the cloth about him and once more commanded, “Read!”
Again came the answer, “I cannot read,” and again the angel covered him, still repeating, “Read!”
Then his mouth was opened and he read the first sura of the Kuran: “Recite thou in the name of thy Lord who created thee,” and when he awoke it seemed to him that these words were graven upon his heart.
Mahomet went immediately up into the mountain, and there Gabriel appeared to him waking and said:
“Thou art God’s Prophet, and I am Gabriel.”