One of the disbelievers’ most frequent contentions was that if God had truly had a message for them he would have sent an Angel. To this, the Qur’an replied: If the angels walked at their ease upon earth, verily We had sent down upon them an angel messenger. The descent of Gabriel from time to time did not make him a Messenger in the Qur’anic sense of the term. For that, it was necessary to be stationed upon earth amongst the people to whom the message was to be unfolded.
The Revelation also said: They who place not their hopes in meeting Us say: Why are the angels not sent down unto us? Or why see we not our Lord? Verily they are proud with pride in themselves and arrogant with great arrogance. The day they behold the angels, on that day there will be no good tidings for the evil-doers, and they will say: A barrier that bars! That is, they will call, but in vain, for the barrier to be put back between Heaven and earth. That will be the end when the direct contact with Heaven will cause the earthly conditions of time and space to be obliterated and the earth itself to disintegrate. The day men shall be like scattered moths, and the mountains float like tufts of wool. And a day that shall turn the hair of children grey. This end is continually heralded throughout the Qur’an. It is the Hour, which is near at hand – the heavens and the earth are pregnant with it:’ Its moment has not yet come, and when the scriptures speak of it as near it must be remembered that verily a day in the sight of thy Lord is as a thousand years of what ye counts But the period of the message is none the less an anticipation of the Hour.
This is according to the nature of things, not of earthly things in themselves, but in a wider context. For if there is a Divine intervention to establish a new religion there is necessarily a passage through the barrier between Heaven and earth, not so great an opening as would transform earthly conditions but enough to make the time of the Prophet’s mission altogether exceptional, as had been the times of Jesus and Moses and Abraham and Noah. The Qur’an says of the Night of Worth, Laylat al-Qadr, the night when Gabriel came to Muhammad in the cave on Mount Hira’: The Night of Worth is better than a thousand months. In it the angels descend, and the Spirit? And something of that peerlessness necessarily overflowed into the whole period of the intercourse between the Prophet and the Archangel. To anticipate the Hour is to anticipate the Judgement: and the Qur’an had recently declared itself to be al-Furqan: the Criterion. The same must apply to every revealed Scripture for a Revelation is a presence of the Eternal in the ephemeral, and that otherworldly presence precipitates something of a final judgment.
This meant that in many cases, quite independently of what the Prophet himself might prophesy, the ultimate destinies of Paradise or Hell became clearly apparent. Hidden depths of good and evil were summoned to the surface. The presence of the Messenger was also bound to work a parallel effect, for the attractive power of his guidance measured out the full perversity of those who resisted it, while drawing those who accepted it into the very orbit of his own perfection.
It was immediately understood that the Revelation should cause the good to excel themselves. But it was not only distressing but also perplexing to many of the believers that some of those whom they had always looked on as not bad should suddenly become unquestionably evil. The Qur’an tells them that they must expect this, for its verses increase the opposition of its worst opponents. Verily We have given them in this Qur’an ample reason to take heed, yet it doth but increases them in aversion. We give them cause to fear, yet it doth but increases them in monstrous outrage.
No one had been previously aware of the fundamental nature of Abu Lahab; and, to take another example, ‘Abd ar-Rahman ibn ‘Awf had even been something of a friend of the chief of Jumah, Umayyah ibn Khalaf. The Qur’an offers an exalted parallel in telling how Noah complained to God that his message only served to widen the gap between himself and the majority of his people and to lead them yet further astray.’