The disbelievers claimed that only a
human taught the Prophet r,
and that the revelations he r brought were only tales
of the ancients. (And
indeed We know that they say, “It is only a human being who teaches him.”)1
They forgot in their
stubborn resistance to faith and vain pretexts for disbelief that the Prophet r
was illiterate; he r
never read or wrote a single word in his life.
The Prophet r stayed among his people
for forty years, quite a long time indeed. During this time he r
never said that he was divinely inspired by anything or brought up words of his
“If Allah had so willed, I would not have recited it to you nor would He have
made it known to you. Verily, I have stayed among you a lifetime before this.
Have you then no sense?”)2
Words were conveyed to him from Heaven:3
who disbelieve say, “This (Qur’an) is nothing but a lie that he has invented,
and others have helped him in it.” In fact, they have produced an unjust wrong
and a lie. And they say, “Legends of the ancients, which he got written down
and they are dictated to him (read or recited to him) morning and evening.” Say,
“It has been sent down by Him Who knows the secret in the heavens and the
earth. Truly, He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”)4
The Qur’an, the Word of God, is not only inimitable in the
profundity of its contents and message, but also in the grandeur of its
diction, the variety of its imagery and the splendor of its word painting. Its
literary form and style surpasses the powers of man and defies imitation. The
Qur’an itself testifies that its author is God Himself. Everything proves it –
its style, its contents, its constant conformity with past, present, and future
events – and its transcendent character that never shows a trace of a
particular man, of any one society or epoch in history or any specific region
of the globe. It is not a passing event in history; it is unchangeable and
eternally present for the admiring contemplation of all men. It is the truth;
the truth that proves itself, and while it appeals to reason it transcends
reason and thus shows its Divine origin.5
It is impossible that it is the creation of a man, let alone an
illiterate. The Stories of the Prophets, narrated in the Qur’an – from Adam r
to ‘Isa (Jesus r)
– could not have been read by Prophet Muhammad r in the Old or New
Testaments, as he r
could not read in the first place:
did you (O Muhammad) read any book before it (this Qur’an), nor did you write
any book (whatsoever) with your right hand. In that case, indeed, the followers
of falsehood might have doubted.)6
The disbelievers insisted on describing these true stories as
mere tales or legends in order to strip them of their power of advising,
reforming, and instructing. They went further in their attacks by claiming that
since Muhammad r
was an illiterate, he had them written down and recited to him morning and
evening in order to memorize them: (They say, “Legends of
the ancients, which he got written down and they are dictated to him (read or
recited to him) morning and evening.”)7 And they were
answered: if this is so with the realities of the past, what about the future
events and the secrets the revelations unfold: (Say, “It has been
sent down by Him Who knows the secret of the heavens and the earth.”)8 Certainly, it has been dictated to him by
the All-Knower Who knows everything that is on earth and in heaven.
This sign of illiteracy, in fact, testifies to the prophethood
of Muhammad r.
Allah kept him illiterate to eliminate any suspicion about the source of the
revelations he r
would receive and to be the One Who taught him all knowledge.
From Allah U
man obtains all knowledge, all secrets of this existence, this life, this soul.
The Prophet’s knowledge was only from there, only heavenly; from the one single
source that is unrivalled by anything else.9
The Divine Education of the Prophet r
started with the first divinely inspired word spoken to him, “Read.”
Lady ‘Aishah (may Allah be pleased with her) said10:
The first of the Divine
Revelations that the Messenger of Allah r received were good dreams. Any dream he r saw came true, as clear as daylight.
Then seclusion was
endeared to him. He r used to retire to Hira’ Cave and engage
in Tahannuth (worship) for a certain number of nights before returning
to his family to replenish his supplies for the same purpose.
He r would return to his wife Khadijah and
replenish his provisions for a similar period. He r continued so until the truth came to him while
in Hira’ Cave.
The Angel (Gabriel u) came to him and said, “Read!”
said, “I am not a reader (i.e. I do
not know how to read).”
narrated, “So the Angel took me and powerfully embraced me until I was
exhausted, then released me and said, ‘Read!’ I said, ‘I am not a reader.’ He took me and
powerfully embraced me for a second time until I was exhausted, then released
me and said, ‘Read!’
I said, ‘I am not a reader.’ He took me and powerfully embraced me for
the third time, then released me and said: (Read
in the Name of your Lord Who created. He created man from a clot. Read, and
your Lord is the Most Generous, Who has taught by the pen. He has taught man
that which he knew not. )11”
Right from the very first moment of blessed contact with
Heaven, and before taking the first step along the way of the Message that he r
was chosen to deliver, Muhammad r was instructed to read
in the Name of Allah; that is, to seek to have the power to read by mentioning
the Name of the Lord: (Read
in the name of your Lord),
starting with the Divine Attribute of creation and initiation (...your
Lord Who created.)
The Revelation then speaks in particular of the creation of man
and his origin: a coagulated drop of blood that sticks to the womb. That little
origin of simple composition that reflects the Grace and Mercy of the Creator
more than it reflects His Power. It is out of the Grace of Allah U
that He has elevated this blood clot to the rank of man, who can be taught and
who can learn.
There also emerges the truth of man being taught by his
Creator. The pen has always been the most prevalent learning tool and has
always had the most far-reaching bearing on the life of man. This fact was not
as clear at the time of revelation as it is now. But Allah is the All-knower of
the value of the pen. Hence this reference to the pen
at the beginning of His Final Message to humanity, in the first Surah of the
Noble Qur’an; even though the Messenger r charged with the
conveyance of this Message could not write by the pen.
Had the Qur’an been his own composition,
he r would not have
stressed this truth in the very first moment. But it is certainly a Revelation
and the Message is Divine.12
Translated meanings of An-Nahl 16: 103.
Translated meanings of Yunus 10: 16.
3 Sheikh Muhammad Mitwaly
Ash-Sha‘rawy, The Messenger of Allah, Muhammad.
Translated meanings of Al-Furqan 25: 4-6.
5 Athar Husain, The Message
Translated meanings of Al-‘Ankabut 29: 48.
Translated meanings of Al-Furqan 25: 5.
Translated meanings of Al-Furqan 25: 6.
9 Sayyid Qutb, In the Shade of the Qur’an, interpretation of
Surat Al-Alaq [96: 3-4], thirty-sixth edition, Dar Al-Shorouk.
10 Sahih Al-Bukhary, Book of Bid’
Al-Wahy (The Beginning of the Divine Revelation), Hadith no. 3; similar versions
of the Hadith are also reported by Al-Bukhary (4572, 6467), Muslim (231), and
Translated meanings of Al-‘Alaq 96: 1-5.
12 Adapted from Sayyid Qutb, In the Shade of the Qur’an, interpretation of
Surat Al-Alaq [96: 1-5], thirty-sixth edition, Dar Al-Shorouk.