June 1996: Page 1, 2, 3, 4

Muharram 1417

Volume 12 No 6

In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

Submitters Perspective

Monthly Bulletin of the International Community of Submitters Published by Masjid Tucson


A short commentary of Muslim scholars’ claim of illiteracy for Muhammad
vs. evidence from the Quran to the contrary and 8th century historian
Ibn Ishaq’s record of the prophet’s written communications

It has been part of the Muslim’s belief, based on traditions, that Prophet Muhammad was illiterate. God says in verse 29:51 that the Quran itself is the only miracle of the prophet. By alleging illiteracy for him, traditional Muslims were trying to make the claim even “more miraculous,” for a book of such literary quality was sent down through an illiterate man. This is despite the many assertions in the Quran to the contrary. The first Quranic revelation that came down to Muhammad is, “Read! In the name of your Lord who creates....” (96:1) It is clear that this is also a commandment. To all of us, including the prophet, God stresses the importance of literacy in the very first revelation. Furthermore, the second revelation is “The Pen” which indicates again the importance of written communication. This makes the importance of literacy even more compelling. If indeed Muhammad was an illiterate man when the Quran was first revealed to him, how could he not make himself learn to read and write during the twenty some years of his mission? Perhaps a more poignant question should be, “How dare he not

to obey his Lord’s clear commandment to read and write?” Being a messenger of God, of course he would not dare disobeying his Lord.

A still more transparent picture emerges from the interesting incident described in Quran 25:4-5. In this verse, Muhammad’s opponents who rejected the divine source of the Quran accused him of fabricating narrations. “Tales from the past that he wrote down; they were dictated to him day and night,” or so they alleged. This is a clear Quranic evidence that Prophet Muhammad was a literate man. Not only was Muhammad accused of writing down what he heard, one cannot dictate to an illiterate person. Some have argued that this is not a solid proof, since the statement came from shady characters, in this case from Muhammad’s enemies. But this argument is in itself weak. We may have a good reason to suspect the material content of the allegation (namely that Muhammad fabricated the Quran). However, there is no good reason to doubt the peripheral issue mentioned, i.e. Muhammad’s writing

and his friends’ dictation to him, since they had no reason to lie on this issue. On the other hand, it sheds light of confirmation on the importance of reading and writing in God’s eyes, and the prophet’s adherence to it.

It was also a well known historical fact that Muhammad was a successful merchant before his call as a messenger prophet. As a matter of necessity, he obviously knew how to count. During his time, the numeral system as we know it today was not in use. The numerals that we use today, known as the Arabic numeral system, were invented after Islam. Historically, letters were used to represent numbers before the numeral system was invented. This is true in all Semitic languages such as Arabic and Hebrew, and other languages as well. For example, the Roman numerals came from the Roman alphabets. Therefore, since Muhammad knew how to count numbers as a merchant, he should also know how to read and write a transaction. This is a reasonable enough argument.

Continued on page 2

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