The first Ramadan began with a man climbing a rocky mountain and retreating into a tiny cave. He sat there, alone, for a month of fasting, meditation, reflection, and prayer, as he had many times before. He was trying to distil the mysteries of the universe, compassion, and the knowledge of God.
Somewhere during the last ten days of that month, the angel Gabriel — the same angel that visited Mary in the Gospels — appeared to this man in his cave and had an exchange with him that would change his life, revolutionise his society and affect the world forever. It was also an exchange that gives us profound lessons about the nature of our physicality, and the connection between our bodies and divine inspiration — lessons that have resonated through every Ramadan since.
When the angel Gabriel (Jibreel in Arabic) first spoke to Muhammad, he ordered him to “Recite!” Muhammad, understandably terrified at the sudden appearance of a supernatural being, replied he neither knew how to recite nor what to recite, which indeed was true. While public oral poetry was very popular and highly prized during his time, he, an illiterate man, was not known to have ever come up with as much as a single line of verse in his life.