Rape in the Cave of Hira: Speculations on the Origin of Islam
by A. Human Being (October 2016)
Muhammad’s encounter in the Cave of Hira is exceptional in Islam, because it is in this experience that Muhammad first received revelation from Allah, through the intermediary of the Archangel Gabriel. This encounter, therefore, is understood as the pivotal human event of Allah communicating the Islamic message to all mankind through the agency of Muhammad. It is the origin of Islam, and as such it is unambiguously and unquestionably, the singular most important event in human history.
From the perspective of comparative folklore or religion, however, Muhammad’s encounter in the Cave of Hira is understood as a legend, which is to say that it is commonly understood by scholars outside strict Islamic communities as being a type of make-believe, a type of magical fantasy. It is understood as a fantasy imbued with powerful communal meaning, for within the narrative’s community, conviction of the ontological truth of this narrative’s central premise often defines whether a person either is, or is not, a “believer.” The apostasy laws in 23 Muslim nations — 8 of which demand execution for people who leave Islam — are a testament to how this narrative is magnified in intensity by volatile religious emotion.[i] Thus, amongst most of the narrative’s “believers,” Muhammad’s encounter in the Cave of Hira is experienced as being a magical story that is absolutely beyond question, a premise backed up in 8 countries by the death penalty.
It is a conundrum, then, for a skeptic or scholar to attempt a discussion between members within and without the Islamic community about Muhammad’s encounter in the Cave of Hira when many modern Islamic governments murder people who express disbelief of the communal fantasy.
Our paradox is a magical legend that has for far too long been interpreted as inviolable literal truth and, out of deference or fear, remains largely unexamined and “off limits” to scrutiny.
Yet here we are.
Reading the story without supernatural agencies
Let’s begin our examination of Muhammad’s encounter in the Cave of Hira by stating the obvious assertion that speculations on the encounter that involve literal angels and Creator Gods are not part of this examination . . . as angels and Creator Gods do not leave any verifiable evidence.
Rather, we must assume, until such time as angels and Creator Gods are discovered, they are either the stuff of dream, fantasy, or an intentional narrative device. Let us then, without recourse to supernatural explanations, explore this most pivotal event in the origin of Islam by examining its occurrence in primary texts as we would any less emotionally charged narrative.
What are the textual sources for Muhammad’s experience in the cave?
The Islamic textual sources for this event are:
1. Quran: 96, The Blood Clot (or The Leech): 1–5.
2. Quran: 53, The Star: 4–9.
3. Sunnah: Hadith: An almost identical quote is used in three hadiths. They are:
a. Bukhari: Book 1: Volume 1, Revelation: Hadith 3,
b. Bukhari: Book 9: Volume 87, Interpretation of Dreams: Hadith 111, and
c. Muslim: Book 1, The Book of Faith: Hadith 301.
4. Sunnah: Ibn Ishaq: The Life of Muhammad.
We begin with the two narratives from the Quran, starting with 96, The Blood Clot, which, according to Islamic belief, records the first lines Allah commanded Muhammad to write.
Quran: 96: The Blood Clot (or The Leech): 1–5 (a Meccan chapter)
“Read in the name of your Lord Who created man from a clot of blood. Read because your Lord is the most Bountiful, who taught the use of the pen, and taught man what he did not know.”
After these first five verses and until the end of the chapter (96:6–19) the narrative seemingly digresses into a rant about how disobedient man is and how Allah will punish him for not obeying. The chapter’s imagery focuses on a man prostrating on the ground in submission while praying (96:10, 19) and on Allah, addressing himself in the plural as “We,” seizing a man by the hair on the front of his head (96:15–18). Allah then states that only by the man prostrating on all fours in submission will he escape Allah giving the man to the “guards of hell” (96:18).
The chapter focuses on Allah’s physical abuse of the man, and submission as the only means of escape from it. The first five lines of this chapter are famous for being interpreted as Gabriel’s first words to Muhammad. However, what if the remaining lines (96:6–19) are not a digression — Allah waxing poetic on physical abuse — but relate specifically to Muhammad’s encounter in the Cave of Hira? What then are we to make of this abuse-threatening “We” that grabs a rebellious man by the hair on the front of his head and demands complete submission on all fours?
Quran: 53: The Star: 4–9 (a Meccan chapter)
“The Quran is not bogus, but is inspiration sent down to Muhammad, who was taught by one terrible in Power, with Wisdom, for he appeared impressively in the highest part of the horizon, then approached closer, to the distance of two bows or even nearer.”
After a protestation that Muhammad’s message is not the work of a conman, this chapter describes an exterior scene of magical fantasy that presents a striking contrast to the violent language of The Blood Clot. These are the lines above, which Muslims interpret as describing Muhammad’s first encounter with the angel Gabriel. The chapter then enters into a long rant on the central theme of the Quran, “us vs. them”: generally speaking, “they” don’t believe Muhammad, “they” worship female gods, “they” will be punished, while only those who fall down on the ground in prostration to Allah will escape punishment, “us.”
When reading this chapter, one is reminded of Queen Gertrude’s line in Hamlet, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks,” because this chapter reiterates that Muhammad’s message is not counterfeit, but is, in fact, from Allah in no less than nine lines. (Quran: 53: 2–5, 10–11, 13, 17–18.)[ii]
Returning to the comparison and contrast between this description and the one in The Blood Clot, especially if we take the entire chapter of The Blood Clot to be associated with Muhammad’s encounter in the Cave of Hira, then it is fair to say that these two chapters describe a very different event. The description at the beginning of The Star is an imaginative visionary experience, while the descriptions in The Blood Clot are of a violent physical assault. Nevertheless, both chapters indulge in lavish descriptions of punishment, while presenting submission on all fours as the only means of escaping abuse. Both chapters conclude with this emotionally charged motif and image. It is possible that these two chapters describe two different experiences, one physical, the other, either visionary or contrived. However, if these two chapters are meant to describe the same encounter, then why do these two descriptions of that encounter present such a striking contrast to each other?
Consider, for a moment, Muhammad’s audience when he delivered his sales piece, The Star, which is a piece of deliberative rhetoric, stylistically a short jeremiad, and an unctuous sales pitch for conversions in this early part of his career. Obviously, this audience had encountered “bad press” of Muhammad being a fraud. It’s mentioned in many chapters of the Quran, many hadiths, and Ibn Ishaq’s The Life of Muhammad.[iii] Rather than skirt the issue, he confronted the objection directly at least nine times, while presenting a powerful, familiar, and appealing image of a supernatural being that he encountered. Then, he went into his routine “us vs. them” trope, focusing on the pain he wanted non-buyers to feel, and finished with an image of an ideal buyer prostrate on all fours in abject submission.
In short, when compared to the description in The Blood Clot above and Aisha’s testimony below, the description of “one terrible in Power, with Wisdom, for he appeared impressively in the highest part of the horizon, then approached closer, to the distance of two bows or even nearer” in The Star comes across like a contrived invention, like a sales pitch targeting Meccan monotheists and Quraysh prospects familiar with similarly abstract visions of angels found in the written and oral traditions of both Arabian Jews and the medieval Christian Church of the East whose geographical range stretched from the Mediterranean to China.
Regardless of whether or not this chapter was a contrived sales pitch targeting Meccan monotheists in the early part of Muhammad’s career as a prophet . . . narratively, The Star is disconnected from the The Blood Clot, as described above, and Aisha’s account, described immediately below. For example, it describes an exterior scene, not an interior scene. It describes a visitor who comes close to Muhammad, but does not specifically engage him in either physical contact or verbal demands. These are important distinctions, especially the later, as this description of violent physical abuse inextricably linked to Muhammad’s submission is the defining characteristic of Muhammad’s encounter in the Cave of Hira, his conversion, call to prophethood, the birth of Islam, and the meaning of Islamic submission.
Because of the shocking obviousness of what Aisha’s account describes to one not committed to a supernatural evasion of a traumatic event, it is worth mentioning upfront that two of Islam’s most important scholars, hadith authors Muhammad al-Bukhari and Ibn Taymiyyah (Muslim), both vouch for the credibility of Aisha’s account, as does Muhammad’s biographer Ibn Ishaq, who borrowed from Aisha’s testimony in his composite narrative.
The descriptions of the encounter in these three hadiths are virtually identical because both Bukhari and Ibn Taymiyyah (Muslim) copied from an earlier transcription of Aisha’s testimony.
Aisha’s testimony as recorded in the three Hadiths:
- Bukhari: Book 1: Volume 1: Revelation: Hadith 3
- Bukhari: Book 9: Volume 87: Interpretation of Dreams: Hadith 111
- Muslim: Book 1: The Book of Faith: Hadith 301
“The angel came to Muhammad in the Cave of Hira and told him to read. ‘I don’t know how,’ Muhammad answered.
Muhammad then said, ‘The angel forcefully grabbed me and then pressed me so hard that I could not bear it. Then he released me and asked me to read. Again, I replied, ‘I do not know how.’ At which point he grabbed me again and pressed me a second time until I could not bear it. Then he released me and asked me to read, Again, I replied, ‘I do not know how.’ At which point, he grabbed me a third time and pressed me a third time until I could not bear it, saying, ‘Read in the name of your Lord Who created man from a clot of blood. Read because your Lord is the most Bountiful.’
The angel’s final declaration is from Quran: 96: The Blood Clot: 1–3, mentioned above. If the full chapter of the Quran reads like unremitting abuse, perhaps, like the hadiths’ description of Muhammad’s encounter in the Cave of Hira, it is a description of male rape.
All three hadiths recount that Muhammad was traumatized when he left the cave. “The muscles in his neck and shoulders twitched in terror,” Bukhari relates in his second account of the incident. “Cover me! Cover me!” he commands his first wife, Khadija, after leaving the cave and returning home (in all three accounts.) “What is wrong with me?”, “What has happened to me?”, and with the suggestion of suicide, “I fear that something will happen to me?” Muhammad says, with some variation, in these accounts.[iv] Khadija’s response seems to be fear of public disgrace. “Allah would never disgrace you,” “It can’t be. Allah would never humiliate you,” she is recounted as saying.[v] Aware of his suicidal inclinations, she took him to her cousin Waraka, an Ebonite Christian priest, who told Muhammad that the visitor he encountered in the Cave of Hira was . . . the angel Gabriel![vi] This is a very important point, the Angel Gabriel’s inclusion in the narrative begins with Waraka allaying Muhammad’s suicidal fears after his traumatic experience. Logically then, in order to get closer to the original encounter in the Cave of Hira, we should re-read Aisha’s account replacing the word “angel” with “visitor”: “The visitor came to Muhammad in the Cave of Hira and told him to read. . . . The visitor forcefully grabbed me and then pressed me so hard that I could not bear it.” The visitor does this three times.
Again, if we are to read these texts as modern skeptics or scholars, we must not include in our interpretation of them supernatural agencies such as angels and Creator Gods. Rather, we must assume, until such time as angels and Creator Gods are discovered, that they are either the stuff of dream, fantasy, or an intentional narrative device. Waraka appears to invoke Gabriel into the narrative of Muhammad’s memory as a type of healing agent, a salve to treat a traumatic memory. “What happened to you in the cave, did not happen quite as you remember it,” he seems, in effect, to be saying. While Muhammad soon thereafter invokes Gabriel into his personal narrative as confirmation of his new special relationship with . . . the Creator of the Universe!
In modern psychology, this type of grandiose delusion is common to schizophrenia, a form of psychosis. Other symptoms include hearing voices, suicidal thoughts, the belief that thoughts are inserted into one’s mind, hallucinations, and catatonia. Significantly, Muhammad exhibited all of these symptoms in his early prophetic career.[vii] Soon after the traumatic event, Muhammad made several attempts at suicide, climbing mountains with the intent of throwing himself from high places.[viii] Similar or identical psychotic symptoms may also result from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) due to trauma, or may occur in a pronounced way when a person with psychosis has his weak grasp of reality exacerbated by trauma and its recurrent echoes in PTSD. Coorosh, writing in the article “A psychopathological profile of the prophet Mohammad” makes a strong claim for Muhammad having schizophrenia.[ix]
There is no way to ascertain which of Muhammad’s magical claims were the expression of psychotic symptoms and which were the rhetorical contrivance of leveraging a supernatural authority for the benefit of his followers. One thinks of his vision of angels fighting at the Battle of Badr in the third chapter of the Quran, “Allah sent down three thousand of the angels to help you fight.” (3:124) It is a trope that he used repeatedly to rouse his jihadists for war. (3:13, 3:123–5.) Perhaps Muhammad’s psychotic symptoms were:
1. the result of psychosis,
2. exacerbated by sexualized trauma,
3. then increasingly were used publically for secondary gains,
4. until eventually the “routine” was used quite deliberately and strategically for personal political ambitions.
Which brings us to the final textual source of Muhammad’s encounter in the Cave of Hira within the writing of Ibn Ishaq, Muhammad’s first biographer. His The Life of Muhammad represents the popular understanding of that critical supernatural event in the cave. The scholar edited together the above accounts in the Quran and Hadith into one singular story, as coherent he could contrive. It exists for us today as an artifact of how Muslims have absorbed the story for more than 1000 years . . . without awareness of the texts suggestiveness or further critical inquiry, as stated in my introduction, either out of deference or fear.
Ibn Ishaq’s The Life of Muhammad
When it was the night on which God honoured him with his mission and showed mercy on His servants thereby, Gabriel brought him the command of God. ‘He came to me,’ said the apostle of God, ‘while I was asleep, with a coverlet of brocade whereon was some writing, and said, “Read!” I said, “What shall I read?” He pressed me with it so tightly that I thought it was death; then he let me go and said, “Read!” I said, “What shall I read?” He pressed me with it again so that I thought it was death; then he let me go and said “Read!” I said, “What shall I read?” He pressed me with it a third time so that I thought it was death and said “Read!” I said, “What then shall I read?”—and this I said only to deliver myself from him, lest he should do the same to me again. He said: “Read in the name of thy Lord who created, Who created man of blood coagulated. Read! Thy Lord is the most beneficent, Who taught by the pen, Taught that which they knew not unto men.”
So I read it, and he departed from me. And I awoke from my sleep, and it was as though these words were written on my heart.[x]
Ibn Ishaq’s biography of Muhammad centers his narrative around Aisha’s account as recorded in the above three hadiths, thus emphasizing their authority in his mind. Aisha describes Muhammad as being “pressed.” most likely a veiled description of male rape. Although this assertion may be protested, Aisha’s meaning was not lost on Ibn Ishaq whose added details to the scene are both deflective and telling.
In Ibn Ishaq’s rendering — like Dorothy’s adventure in Oz — it was all a dream! The encounter happened in the cave at “night,” “while I was asleep,” pressed in a bed quilt of brocade. These are Ibn Ishaq’s avoidant and deflective inventions.
The mention of sleep and the description of the bed quilt of brocade are, on the one hand, deflective, evasive, and avoidant; one final thrashing attempt to construct a counter-narrative . . . and on the other hand, they are sexualized poetic inferences; submission — in veiled language — to a deeper narrative truth.
Ibn Ishaq describes Muhammad as narrating, “He came to me while I was asleep, carrying a bed quilt of brocade that had some writing on it and demanded, ‘Read!’” (Italics, mine.) The mention of sleep and the description of the bed quilt of brocade are ambivalent additions, which may be read as sexualized poetic inferences that Ibn Ishaq added perhaps in discomfort at the thought of what it meant for Muhammad to be pressed three times “so tightly that I thought it was death.”[xi] Rather than delete or diminish the event, the dual nature of Ibn Ishaq’s ambivalent response supports the assertion that early textual sources depicting the encounter in the Cave of Hira are a description of male rape.
Intending to turn the piecemeal fragments above into one coherent narrative, Ibn Ishaq felt compelled to include the brief description in the Quran’s 53rd chapter into his hodgepodge chronology. Thus, he writes that the angel Gabriel introduces himself to Muhammad after a failed suicide attempt on the way down the mountain, before going home, talking with Khadija, meeting with Waraka, and Waraka’s dramatic assertion that the visitor in the cave was indeed the angel Gabriel. In Ibn Ishaq’s hands, Gabriel introduces himself to Muhammad directly, then later, and with less drama, is confirmed by Waraka. This reduced Waraka’s importance, which certainly followed the political requirements of the early Islamic meta-narrative. Islamic historians and scholars needed to counter the embarrassment that Waraka, the man who confirmed Muhammad’s prophetic calling, never converted to Islam. This obvious embarrassment is quite probably why Waraka is also described as being blind in all three of the hadiths mentioned above.
Early textual sources of Muhammad’s encounter in the Cave of Hira
Narrative account of the encounter in the Cave of Hira
Does the narrative describe trauma?
Muhammad’s account in Quran 96: The Blood Clot
The four verses in isolation do not suggest trauma.
The chapter as a whole suggests a man’s intense physical abuse by Allah.
Muhammad’s account in Quran 53: The Star
The six verses in isolation do not suggest trauma. It is worth noting that this narrative, which describes the visitor outside the cave is disconnected from the other accounts describing this event. (Later, Ibn Ishaq makes an unconvincing attempt to edit the narratives together.)
Taken as a whole, the chapter describes submission as the only way to escape being traumatized by Allah on a vast cosmological scale.
Aisha’s account in three hadiths:
· Bukhari: Book 1: Volume 1: Hadith 3
· Bukhari: Book 9: Volume 87: Hadith 111
· Muslim: Book 1: Hadith 301
These are quite probably veiled descriptions of male rape.
Ibn Ishaq’s composite narrative in The Life of Muhammad
This is quite probably an ambivalent description of male rape.
Tracing the path of this narrative
- The story began in Muhammad’s primary experience, recorded only in the symptomatic echoes of his traumatized body and mind: physical spasms, suicidal behavior, and fear of physical exposure and a need to cover his body.
- Muhammad told a story of trauma to Khadija.
- Muhammad retold this story of trauma to Khadija’s cousin Waraka, a priest and storyteller, whose job requirement, therefore, is to offer narratives of metaphysical consolation to others.
- Waraka repeated back to Muhammad an altered version of the story that Mohammad told him. This new story has magical elements that both reframe the traumatic experience from a negative to a positive event, and elevate Muhammad’s status within the religious worldview that Waraka was committed to as an Arabian monotheist.
- Muhammad told a brief fragmentary version of the event to his early followers. (It is five lines.) He avoided speaking directly of personally experiencing any trauma, but his all too brief account immediately mutates into a passionate rant describing Allah’s violent physical abuse of “man.” It is recorded in Quran: 96. Does this account relate to memory, dream, fantasy, or is it an intentional narrative device?
- Muhammad told another brief fragmentary version of the event to his early followers. (It is six lines.) It contradicts the first fragment and Aisha’s later account in that it lacks any description of the cave, describing instead an exterior scene and a visitor who does not specifically engage Muhammad in either physical contact or verbal demands. It is recorded in Quran: 53. Does it relate to memory, dream, fantasy, or is it an intentional narrative device?
- Much later, Muhammad told his second wife Aisha a personalized composite version of the encounter. It is not a repetition of Waraka’s narrative, but a description of how Muhammad integrated that and previous stories into a new story, one that redefined his personhood, initiated his prophetic career, and shaped Islam as a religion unique for its worship of a supernatural visitor by abject submission on all fours.
- Early scholars recorded Aisha’s story.
- Muhammad al-Bukhari and Ibn Taymiyyah committed Aisha’s story to their hadiths. (They are Bukhari: Book 1: Volume 1: Hadith 3, Bukhari: Book 9: Volume 87: Hadith 111, and Muslim: Book 1: Hadith 301.)
- Ibn Ishaq invented a composite narrative from the above sources in The Life of Muhammad.
When we review the early sources of the narrative of Muhammad’s encounter in the Cave of Hira, it become’s apparent to any reader who lives beyond the grip of volatile religious emotion, who enjoys a life of freedom beyond deference to tradition or fear of punishment, that the Quran’s chapter 53, which pleads nine desperate times that it is not fraudulent . . . probably is. Baring the existence of angels and Creator Gods, the description of Muhammad’s visitor reads as an intentional narrative device aimed at selling submission on all fours to a Quraysh audience. By contrast, the account in the three hadiths describes Aisha’s recollection of Muhammad’s composite story in which he created a narrative that he could live with, a narrative that would not compel him to throw himself from high places in the way that he contemplated when in the grip of his own internal narrative immediately after his encounter in the cave.
Further, the story that Muhammad told Aisha, reads like the account of a man who has accepted, or who has chosen to accept, a composite fiction as a way of reconciling his traumatic experience in the Cave of Hira. It also reads like a dissociated, deflective, and avoidant narrative . . . a narrative that can’t quite describe what exactly was pressed and where. It’s narrative ambivalence fluctuates between truth and shame, reading like the non-verbal communication in a Child Protective Services office where a therapist gives a victim of abuse a cloth doll and asks to be shown with the doll the unspeakable indignities that cannot be described within the frailty of language. “The angel forcefully grabbed me and then pressed me so hard that I could not bear it,” is as close as Muhammad could get to telling the truth of his rape experience. As such, this composite narrative is a compromise between fact and fiction, between an unpleasant and unutterable truth and the fairytale escapist narrative that Waraka had provided. It is an amalgam of the most deeply personal biographical self-discovery, as far as Muhammad could bear it, and that pressing reality of what had pressed him, and how and where it had pressed him, over and over, until he could not bear it.
As a body, the early accounts of Muhammad’s encounter in the cave of Hira represent a sequence of avoidance, deflection, and vulnerable disclosure. It is like a game of Chinese whispers overlaid upon a traumatic event. What a moment of vulnerable disclosure it must have been when Muhammad described the encounter to Aisha as faithfully as he could bear it. That she related the event to scribes as faithfully as she could bear it, and that they recorded it, as faithfully as they could bear it, is a testament of the limits of tolerance in Islam. It is a testament of the limit to which Muhammad, Aisha, the scribes, and the modern Islamic community could and can tolerate honesty: 1.) self-reflective honesty, 2.) honesty reflecting the fetish that Muhammad’s personhood had and has become, and 3.) honesty reflecting the ambivalence and violence within the tradition annunciated in that regrettable incident within the Cave of Hira.
Afghanistan, Brunei, Mauritania, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Also, “Which countries still outlaw apostasy and blasphemy?”, Pew Research Center, United States, July 29, 2014. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/07/29/which-countries-still-outlaw-apostasy-and-blasphemy/.
[ii] Ham. 3: 2: 179.
[iii] The Quran describes many Meccans as saying of Muhammad’s stories, “These are nothing more than the tales of the ancients,” (6:25.) It also records his histrionic reaction that such “slander” is a “calamity . . . transgressing beyond bounds, mired in sin, violent and cruel” and his threat that, “soon We shall brand the animal who says such things on the center of his face!” (68:10–16.) It’s difficult to imagine Muhammad not screaming at the top of his lungs while delivering much of the Quran. Examples of incidents where the Meccans call him a fraud are also found in 3:110, 5:75, 13:43, and 53:2 among others.
[iv] Sources in order: Bukhari: Book 9: Volume 87: Hadith 111, Muslim: Book 1: Hadith 301, and Bukhari: Book 1: Volume 1: Hadith 3.
[v] In order, both of Bukhari’s quotes are identical. The quote from Ibn Taymiyyah (Muslim) is slightly different.
[vi] Actually, Waraka doesn’t call the angel Gabriel by name in any of the three accounts. Bukhari calls him the one who keeps the secrets in the book 1 account and Namus (apparently, a name associated with an angel Gabriel that visited Moses in pre-Islamic Arabian myths) in book 9. Ibn Taymiyyah (Muslim) also refers to the visitor as Namus.
[vii] Examples: hearing voices (Bukhari: Book 1, above), suicidal thoughts (Bukhari: Book 9, above), the belief that thought’s are inserted into one’s mind (the entire Quran), hallucinations (Bukhari: Book 1, Volume 1: Hadith 2, Bukhari: Book 9, above, Quran: 3:123–5, 8:48), and catatonia (all three hadiths mentioned above).
[viii] Bukhari: Book 9: Volume 87: Hadith 111 and Ibn Ishaq who writes, “I will go to the top of the mountain and throw myself down that I may kill myself and gain rest.” Ibn Ishaq. The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ibn Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah. Trans. Alfred Guillaume. Oxford University Press, 1955. p. 106.
[ix] Coorosh. “A psychopathological profile of the prophet Mohammad” Europe News. http://en.europenews.dk/A-psychopathological-profile-of-the-prophet-Mohammad-Part-1-of-5-78166.html. Accessed Sept. 15, 2016. This is an excellent article.
[x] Ishaq, p. 106.
[xi] Ishaq, p. 106. The first quote is my paraphrasing drawn from Guillaume’s translation. Guillaume uses the word “coverlet” which I replace with “bed quilt” which I find less obscure.
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