Was Muhammad Illiterate?

Thanks to Smple Trth for collecting and sharing this article in QRAC


The verse 7:157 states that Muhammad was a gentile:

“So you shall believe in God and His messenger, the gentile (ummy) prophet.”

The Arabic word “ummy” describes people who are not Jewish or Christian. The meaning of this word, which occurs six times in the Quran, has been changed to ” one who can neither read nor write”. This deliberate manipulation by Muslim scholars has become widely accepted as the true meaning of the word. For example Yusuf Ali, in his translation, follows this pattern: “… So believe in God and His Apostle, the unlettered Prophet,…”. Marmaduke Pickthall’s translation also reflects the same manipulation: “… So believe in Allah and His messenger, the prophet who can neither read nor write,..”.

The Quran explains the true meaning of “ummy”

Let’s examine the true meaning of “ummy” in the Quran. Anyone can easily understand that “ummy” does not mean an illiterate person by reflecting on the verse 3:20 below:

“And say to those who received the scripture, as well as those who did not receive any scripture (ummyyeen)…”

In this verse the word “ummy” describes Meccan idol worshipers. It is obvious that “ummy” does not mean illiterate because it has been used as the antonym of the people of the scripture. If the verse was ” … And say to those literate and illiterate”, then their above translation of “ummy” would be correct. According to the verse 3:20 the people of Arab peninsula were two main groups:

1. The people of the scripture, i.e., Jews and Christians.

2. Gentiles, who were neither Jewish nor Christian.

If the people who were neither Jews nor Christians were called “ummyyeen” (3:20; 3:75), then the meaning of “ummy” is very clear. As a matter of fact, the verse 3:75 clearly explains its meaning as gentile.

Mecca was the cultural center of the Arabs in the 7th century. Poetry competitions were being held there. It is a historical fact that Meccans were not familiar with the Bible, thus they were gentiles. So the verse 62:2 describes Meccan people by the word “ummyyeen”:

“He is the One who sent to the gentiles (ummyyeen) a messenger from among them, to recite to them His revelations, purify them, and teach them the scripture and wisdom. Before this, they had gone far astray.” (62:2)

The Quran does not classify the people of Arab peninsula as the literate and the illiterate, as Muslim scholars claim. The Quran classifies the people as people of the book (Jews & Christians) and gentiles. The second classification is the correct one, and the Quran supports it.

The disbelievers claimed that Muhammad was quoting verses from the Old and New Testaments (25:5; 68:15). The verse below refutes their accusation and gives the answer:

“You did not read any previous scriptures, nor did you write them with your hand. In that case, the objectors would have had reason to harbor doubts.” (29:48)

This verse tells us that Muhammad did not read nor write previous scriptures. The word “min qablihi = previous” proves that Muhammad read and wrote the final scripture.

Muhammad was a literate gentile (ummy)

After this examination on the true meaning of the word “ummy”, here are the reasons and proofs for the fact that Muhammad was a literate gentile:

ˆ To magnify the miraculous aspect of the Quran, religious people thought that the story of illiteracy would be alluring.

ˆ The producer of the illiteracy story found it easy to change the meaning of “ummy”, which in the entire Quran, consistently means “gentile” (2:78; 3:20; 3:75; 62:2).

ˆ The Arabs of the 7th century were using letters as numbers. This alphabetical numbering system is called “Abjed”. The merchants of those days had to know the letters of the alphabet to record their account. If Muhammad was a successful international merchant, then he most probably knew this numbering system. The Arabs stopped using the “Abjed” system in the 9th century when they took “Arabic numbers” from India.

ˆ The Quran’s spelling is unique. The mathematical miracle of the Quran, which proves that Quran is the word of God, confirms the unique spelling of the Quranic words. The different spellings of some words are not the personal preference of the scribes. For example, the words “salat”, “zakat”, “hayat” are written with “waw” instead of “alif”. In verse 3:96 the name of Mecca is spelled as “Bacca”. The word “bastatan” is written with “seen” throughout the Quran, except in 7:69 where it is written with “saad”.

ˆ If you write the first verse of the first revelation with Basmalah, you will conclude that Muhammad was literate. We know that Basmalah has 19 letters, the first revelation i.e., 96:1-5 consists of 76 (19×4) letters, this first chronological chapter consists of 19 verses and is placed first of the last 19 chapters and has 285 (19×15) letters. (The code 19 will be mentioned in the next questions). This information explains the different spelling of the word “bism” in the beginning of the Basmalah and in the first verse of chapter 96. You decide; is it reasonable for an illiterate to dictate two different spellings of the same word which is pronounced the same?

ˆ Traditional history books accept that Muhammad dictated the Quran and controlled its recording. Even if we accept that Muhammad did not know how to read or write before revelation of the Quran, we can not claim that he preserved his illiteracy during 23 years while he was dictating the Quran.

ˆ The first revelation was “Read,” and the first five verses of that revelation encourage reading and writing (96:1-5). The second revelation was “The pen and writing” (68:1).

Now, let’s ask our questions:

a) As you can see in verse 3:20 and 3:75, the Quran uses the word “ummy” as the antonym of the “ehlil kitab = people of the book”. Do you believe that Quran classifies people as literate and illiterate?

b) The Quran describes Meccan people with the word “ummyyeen = gentiles” (62:2). According to your claim, all Meccan people must have been illiterate. According to your holy books, who was writing poems in Mecca? Who was reading the poems hanging on the walls of the Kaba?

c) Which numbering system were the Arabs using in the 7th century? Did those who were making calculations with those numbers know how to read and write?

d) Is the unique spelling in the Quran the result of errors and personal opinions? How do you explain the different spelling of “bism” of the Basmalah and the first verse of chapter 96?

e) Does God command an illiterate man to “read”? Could Muhammad read after Gabriel’s instruction ? Does this story not contradict your claim that Muhammad died an illiterate?

f) Let us accept that Muhammad was illiterate before the revelation of the Quran. Why did he insist on staying illiterate for 23 years after the first revelation: “Read !”? Did he not obey his Lord’s command? Did he receive another command forbidding him from reading and writing?

g) Was it so difficult for Muhammad to learn to read and write? If a person still does not learn to read and write after 23 years of careful dictation of a book, what do you think about such a person? Is he stupid or a liar?

h) Was Muhammad encouraging his followers to read and write? If so, why did he exclude himself? How do you explain this strange attitude and verse 2:44?

i) How can an illiterate man insure the accuracy of a scribe?

j) You are trying to imitate Muhammad from his eating to his attire, from his beard to his toothbrush; why do you not imitate his illiteracy? Why do you not follow his sunnah?

k) You are the people who disagree on almost every subject; but you agree on the story of the illiteracy of Muhammad. How could you manage this agreement?

Questioning the Quranist Vision

I was recently asked whether it was really necessary for Quranism to be recognised as a valid form of Islam (from the Quranist Vision on Quranists.net). It is great to have people interested and taking the time to think about these things and question everything! I applaud this attitude. Please keep the questions coming! Thanks for sending in this question.

“Salaam Alaykum Asfora Safarina. There is something awkward sounding (to me) in this paragraph:

“Our secondary vision is to have Quranism recognised as a legitimate form of Islam. At present, Quranism is seen as either heretical or worse still, totally irrelevant to Islamic discourse. ”

Is it necessary, truthfully, that one be “recognized” as a “form” of something, outside of the knowledge one already has about his/her beliefs? Does it matter, in *truth,* what others think of you or anyone else, if what you do is honest and sincere, and harming no one? Why would you seek validation (because it *sounds* like that is the “vision”) from people who would be so far removed from your belief system as to accuse you of being heretical–because you follow the Qur’an (solely)? Is it not also, in some way, taking steps forward on that slippery slope of establishing a ‘sect’, simply by hoping/wishing/envisaging that someone or group or entity outside legitimizes what you believe? Does it make you (or anyone for that matter) stronger in your belief/faith by gaining their “acceptance.”? “

My response: Walaikum salam – for me it makes no difference whether ppl accept my beliefs as heretical or not. Alhamdulillah I don’t live in a country ruled by man made “Shariah” law. I believe everyone should have the same privilege or should I say the same RIGHT. I believe if there are ppl who are living in fear that they must say they believe something out of force / oppression in order to spare their lives, then this is tantamount the to situation that Firawn had with his people. See 7:123 and 10:83. The prophetic example of Musa shows that he was sent to abolish this practice. I believe we were given those examples in the Quran for a reason – to learn, to acknowledge and understand and then put the wisdom into action, not to let such valuable guidance fall by the wayside. If, from the work we are doing at Quranists.net we can encourage people, whatever their approach is, to have respect for other people’s beliefs and interpretations and to discourage fundmentalist or extremist views, and promote a more quranic attitude of pluralisticism, acceptance and tolerance, then I would consider it a contribution to the betterment of society, inshaaAllah.

Prophetic example from Quran

“But deliberate neglect or, as with some of the “modernists,” complete denial of the Sunnah is nothing but open contravention of the Holy Book.” [1] – Shah Shahidullah Faridi

From the traditionalist perspective, following the sunnah of the Prophet is an integral part of the faith and is commanded by the Quran itself. The charge levelled against quranists is of latent apostasy by way of rejecting Muhammad’s sunnah and authority via the renouncing of hadith literature. Rejecting the hadith is to reject the Prophetic sunnah is to reject the Quran is to reject Islam. This type of equivocation is achieved subtly and through levels of reasoning.

It is interesting that the quran never once mentions “sunnah of the Prophet”, but uses the word sunnah in many other instances. Perhaps even more interestingly, 33/38, 33/62, 35/43, 40/85 and 48/23 all refer to “Allah’s sunnah”. The argument for following the “sunnah of the Prophet” thus becomes a non-issue for quranists, given there is no explicit reference endorsing it as a valid source of guidance. That being said, no one claiming to be muslim, quranist or otherwise, would suggest rejecting the example of the Prophet as acceptable. The objection to the traditionalist position is the insistence that the example of the Prophet can only be found via hadith and one who rejects it has in turn rejected the Quran. The reality is the opposite: the only thing containing the example of the Prophet is the quran itself.

The Messenger was “uswatun hasanatun”

33/21 Certainly has been for you in the Messenger of Allah an excellent pattern/example [uswatun hasanatun] for anyone whose hope is in Allah and the Last Day and remembers Allah often.

If the Messenger was “uswatun hasanatun”, how do we witness this excellence and imitate accordingly?

The use of extra-quranic sources to demonstrate the Prophetic example is not exclusive to traditionalists. Some “hadith reformists” such as Dr. Ahmad Shafaat, attempt to use hadith which do not contradict quran to determine the Prophetic example.[2] The use of hadith is to get a more focussed and arguably more contextualised account of the Prophetic way. At variance to this method, the late scholar Fazlur Rahman, suggested the Prophetic example could be followed via the lasting community practises found within Islamic culture.[3] He argued that community conventions are far more resistant to change, compared to reports and narrations, and thus provide a reasonably reliable account of the Prophetic way.

The contention of the quranists is that the Prophetic example can actually be determined from within the quran itself, rendering all outside sources unnecessary. The Prophet was only given the quran and was bound by its teachings just like everyone else. His example is in fact enacting of quran. The following are verses from the quran which demonstrate the behaviour and characteristics of the Prophet:

He believed in God (9/61), was aware of Him (33/1) and God was sufficient for him (8/64). He would enjoin the good, forbid the evil and remove burdens from people (7/157). He forbid associating partners with God (3/80). He fought in the path of God with others and did not lose heart and was patient (3/146). He never embezzled or tricked anyone (3/161). He practised judgement and discretion regarding what should be known to who for the good of people (4/83). He judged with the revelation (5/44). He did not speak of things he knew nothing of (46/9). He both urged people to fight in the way of God (8/65) and showed compassion to those at his mercy (8/70). He trusted and forgave believers (9/61). He struggled against ingrates and hypocrites (9/73). He did not seek forgiveness for those who associated partners with God after guidance became clear for them (9/113). Would sujud and cry for God (19/58). He was close to the believers (33/6). He elucidated and gently compared the benefits of this world and the hereafter to those close to him (33/28-29). He gave good news and warned (33/45). Distributed blessings of God to those who were needy and did not allow hoarding of wealth amongst the rich (59/7). Accepted people’s allegiances based on their word (60/12). He taught The Book (62/2). Feared God, did not act against people unjustly and awaited full disclosure of an affair before acting (65/1).

It is clear from the above verses, and no doubt others that are equally applicable to the Prophet, that his example is found in quran. This refutes the claim that hadith literature is the keeper of the Prophetic example. Not only that, the quranist position goes even further and makes the example of all the Prophets relevant to the muslim, unlike the traditionalists who’s “prophetic sunnah” focusses almost solely on Muhammad.

Ibrahim was “uswatun hasanatun”

60/4 There has already been for you an excellent pattern/example [uswatun hasanatun] in Ibrahim and those with him […]

The quran uses the exact same phrase to describe the Messenger and Ibrahim. There are no hadith with a chain of transmission going back to Ibrahim, which means that traditionalists are left with the quran to uncover his example. It is interesting then, that the quran is sufficient as a source for Ibrahim’s example but not for Muhammad’s. Some of the actions and qualities of Ibrahim are evident in the following verses:

He had certainty in God (6/75) and sought assurances from Him (2/260). He would ask from God for good things for others (2/126) and argued for compassion for others (11/74). He enjoined his loved ones to die as muslims (2/132). Sought refuge in God from associating partners with Him (14/35). He challenged even his own kin regarding shirk and falsehood (6/74). He was truthful/sincere (19/41). He was kind, compassionate (9/114). He was a good host and welcoming (11/69). He challenged falsehood through parables and understood people’s limitations (2/258). He did not divide the deen (42/13). He stood up to his community for truth (43/26). He reflected on all signs of God to be closer to Him (6/76). Used reason and logic to guide people to truth (21/51-73). He sought forgiveness from God (60/5). Sought counsel from those who would be affected by his own actions (37/102).

Thus, “uswatun hasanatun” has been expanded by studying the actions of Ibrahim. Further to this, the quran contains examples of many other Prophets. The insistence of traditionalists that Muhammad was the greatest Prophet has no origin in quran. In fact, the complete opposite is evident through verses like 2/136 and 4/152 which tells us that the believer makes no distinction between them.

We make no distinction between any of them

4/152 But they who believe in Allah and His messengers and do not discriminate between any of them – to those He is going to give their rewards. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful.

Since there is no distinction between the Prophets, all their respective examples must be worthy of imitation, just like Muhammad and Ibrahim. The following are a sample of verses speaking of actions of some of the other Prophets of God:

Musa stood up to tyranny in the form of Firawn (7/103). He suspected people were insincere in their word, and sought assurances explicitly from them (2/246). He acknowledged his own act as evil when realization came to him (28/15) and recognised deviant people who can distort your morals (28/18). He fulfilled his obligations (28/29) and was determined in pursuit of goodness (18/60). He sought knowledge and development (18/66). He acknowledged his own forgetfulness and limitations (18/66). Aaron strengthened his brother by sharing the burden (20/31-32), he warned people of tests (20/90), feared causing division and acting without authority (20/94) and was eloquent in speech (28/34).

Idris was patient (21/85), Nuh continued on the right path despite ridicule (11/38), Hud asked people for no reward when inviting people to truth (11/51), Yacub was wary of the harms of jealousy and warned Yusuf of it (12/5). He also detected lies but dealt with them with patience (12/18). Yusuf refused temptations in favour of honour (12/23) and preferred isolation to sin (12/33). Even in incarceration he would give good counsel to companions (12/40-41). He was trustworthy and responsible (12/55). Shu’ayb was just (26/181-183). Dawud would praise God (27/15) and Sulaiman verified testimonies (27/27). Zachariya cried to God in secret (19/3) and cared for people who would come after him (19/5). Jesus was good to his mother (19/32) and sought helpers in the path of God (3/52).

The quran provides a comprehensive account of the actions of the Prophets, giving us a deep pool to draw upright examples from. The above verses, in tandem with every other verse that instructs us to righteousness, are the basis of how we become moral beings. Thus, the claim that the hadith literature is required to access the Prophetic example is not valid. The quran is the only source required. Through studying the quran it is evident that what made the Prophets special was how closely they were able to follow the revelation. Thus, obeying and implementing quran is the means to following their footsteps and being closer to God.

17/89 And We have certainly explained for mankind in this Qur’an from every example [mathalin], but refused most of mankind except in disbelief.

[1] http://www.central-mosque.com/sunnah/antihadfal.htm
[2] http://www.islamicperspectives.com/SingleNarrator.htm
[3] http://fazlur-rahman.livejournal.com/2412.html

About Quranists.net This section explains who we are as an association. Since there are numerous misunderstandings that we are a sect, we will attempt to correct that with the articles below. Who are Quranists? Please read below:

1. Quranists and the term ‘Quranists’ by Farouk A. Peru

2. An Analysis of Quranist Fundamentalism by Farouk A. Peru

3. Quranism: The Metaphor of the House by Farouk A. Peru

4. Quranists: Between Reading and Interpretation by Farouk A. Peru

5. Submitters and Quranists by Asfora

6. Quranism is not a Sect ! Here is Why by Farouk A. Peru

7. Justifying the Quranism / Quranist labels by Asfora

8. Quranism and Traditionalism: Not Mutually Exclusive! by Farouk A. Peru

9. Who are the Real Sectarians? by Farouk A. Peru

10. A Quranist’s Response to the term “Hadith Rejector” by Asfora

11. “Quran Alone-ism” and Quranism by Asfora

12. Multiple Paths to Salvation by Darcus

13. The Deceptive “Just Muslim” Label by Farouk A. Peru

14. Who is a Kaafir? by Kashif Shahzada


A summation of the messenger’s sunna

Josh asked a great question on QD today. Bascally he asked for a list of the messengers actions in the Quran. I have no such list myself but the first verse which hit me was 21/107:

And We have not sent you, except as a mercy to the worlds (21/107)

The ‘you’ here isnt limited to Muhammad either but works for all readers who have achieved this status. Be that as it say, it does seem to be the summation of who Muhammad was.