By the time these ayat [first five ayat of Surat-ul-‘Alaq] were revealed to him, the Prophet, ṣalla-llāhu ‘alayhi wa ālihi wa sallam, had already been regularly spending days, weeks, and months in meditation in a cave in order to penetrate the layers of his nafs, thereby following the path of all those before him who followed the dictum, “He who knows himself knows his Lord.” The path towards the knowledge of lordship, of sustainership, is by way of the recognition of what is closest to us, which is all the different selves, or aspects of ourselves.
Like other seekers before and after him, he went to solitary places for his periods of reflection. For the true seeker, this is not escapism, but a direct, positive attempt to find out where he comes from by reflecting upon what is closest to him, that is, his own self. Finally, he may reach a point of neutrality in which hardly any more of that self is left and it has been recognized in all its aspects by the seeker. He will have seen every angle of the so-called personality.
When this has been seen, the seeker moves on single-pointedly to blacking out, symbolized by the Black Stone of the Ka‘bah. He moves toward a state of no attributes, reaching, as the Sufis say, close to the suns of essence, moving away from the stars of attributes. First, he quietens his actions. Next, he moves into a subtler realm of attributes, and from there he crosses the boundary of essence. From that point on, one is traversing another realm. This process is not directly discernable or describable; another set of rules begins to apply. It is a no-man’s land where no one can help anybody else, except by discussing its outer boundaries. It is an experiential state that everyone interprets differently. It is like an event which causes a great shock and which everybody tries to describe in a different language. It is a taste, a higher taste; it is a great opening. It is the explosive germination of the heart.
This opening is, of course, devastating as we see from what happened to Sayyidna Musa, ‘alayhi-s-salām. It is a shattering experience; it is not simply another experience of life, but rather of another realm. We can only go so far in understanding knowledge and information regarding our realm of consciousness which is in fact an aspect of a higher consciousness. It is like the story of a person who lives under water. He has a good consciousness of what is under water and he understands what goes on there. He may also have had quite a lot of glimpses of what is above water. But it is a different experience to actually be above water. No matter how much he may be prepared for it, it still is a shock, and when this occurred to the Prophet, ṣalla-llāhu ‘alayhi wa ālihi wa sallam, he was in such a state of shock that some people even said he had gone mad.
By Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri from the book “Beams of Illumination from the Divine Revelation – A Commentary on the Last Section of the Qur’an”