Allah(s)’s name I begin with, the utmost Kind, the ever Merciful.
This Hadith supposed to be in the first part of this article, however I skipped it inadvertently. No comment for it, only left for believers with intellect (Aql) to ponder upon.
Narrated by Yazid ibn Abdullah “We were at Mirbad. A man with dishevelled hair and holding a piece of red skin in his hand came. We said: You appear to be a bedouin. He said: Yes.We said: Give us this piece of skin in your hand. He then gave it to us and we read it. It contained the text: “FromMuhammad,Apostle of Allah (peacebe upon him), to Banu Zuhayr ibnUqaysh. If you bear witness that there is no god but Allah, and that Muhammad is the Apostle of Allah, offer prayer, pay zakat, pay the fifth from the booty, and the portion of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his special portion (safi),you will be under by the protection ofAllah and His Apostle.”We then asked: Who WROTE this document for you? He replied: The Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him” Sunan of Abu-Dawood Hadith 2993
Now we continue…
- QUR’AN (AL-FURQAN) TESTIFY PROPHET (S) IS LITERATE AND REFUTE THOSE WHO ACCUSED HIM OF ‘ILLITERACY’ (SURATUL JUMA’A)
Allah the Most Exalted, told us (chapter 62 verse 2): “He it is Who sent among the ‘Ummi(yyin)’ ones a Messenger (Muhammad SAW) from among themselves, RECITING to them His Verses, purifying them, and TEACHING them the Book and Al-Hikmah” This single verse nail it all, it testify prophet (SAW) can read and he even RECITED some verses to ‘Ummiyun’ i.e. Arabs. Somebody who is illiterate can never be referred in this verse. At the same times it uses the word ‘UMMIY’ in plural ‘UMMIYYIN’ to refer to Arabs and Quraish from whom prophet (SAW) is raised. If the “illiterates” is used in the verse above; then, the question is; were the Arabs in general or Quraysh in particular from whom Allah raised a prophet, were they altogether unable to read and write? This is impossible and NOWHERE Allah say they are. Furthermore numerous Ahadith assert there were very many scribes who wrote down Muhammad’s ‘revelations’ as well as to the narrations that Umar, Abu Bakr, Uthman and many others – excepting Muhammad, of course – were able to read and write.
But using the word “gentile” gave the true meaning and conforms to the Al-Furqan, in the sense that they were not familiar with the Torah. Likewise the holy prophet (SAW) has never been taught by anybody the Torah nor has he been a reader of Torah before Qur’an revelation which the Jews might confront him that he copied to forge his own Qur’an. Allah the exalted told us: “And thus did We reveal to you an inspired book by Our command. You did not know (Arabic: ma kunta) what the Book was (Arabic: ma-lkitabu), nor the faith (Arabic: la imaanu), but We made it a light, guiding thereby whom We please of Our servants; and most surely you show the way to the right path”
Another meaning of ‘Ummiy’ in classic Arabic as used by some exegetes here is ‘mother’ of cities. And many translators like ‘Shakir Translation’ and ‘Arberry Translation’ used it as ‘inhabitant of makka’ that is mother of cities ‘Ummiy’. Once again, those using the word ‘ummiy, to mean illiterate in the above verse, they are erroneously implying that Allah, the Exalted raised a messenger only among those that are illiterate. This would clearly amount to a nonsensical rendition of the verse.
1.1 DEFINITION OF THE ARABIC WORD ‘UMMIY’(أمي): Those who ascribed ‘Illiteracy’ to our noble prophet (SAW) always rely on verse where he is referred as ‘Ummiy’. Despite the other numerous places where the word is clarified and used in glorious Qur’an, they still obstinately say prophet (SAW) is illiterate. The word due to multiplicity of its meanings, different exegetes use appropriate meanings which conform which Quran and authentic, however some stick to ‘Illiteracy’ so as to conform to their reported misconception that he cannot read and write.
The Classic Arabic term ‘Ummiy’ refers to a ‘gentile’ or someone who is not familiar with the Law of Prophet Musa (AS). It also means ‘mother’ both literal and figurative. Then it means ‘illiterate’. This is well explained in the monumental work of Edward Lanes Lexicon. (Which is masterpiece Classic Arabic-English work).The ignorance of the Law of Musa (AS) is not a condition exclusive to those who are not of the Jewish tradition. The Quran even refers to some of those from the Children of Israel as ‘Ummi’ implying their general ignorance of their own scriptures, in Baqara verse 78: “And there are among them ‘ummi(yuna)’, who know not the Book ,but (see therein their own) desires, and they do nothing but guess” When one apply ‘Illiteracy’ to the above ‘Ummiy’ then the verse make no sense; as not all of Children of Israel are illiterate. The ‘Arberry translation’ of the above verse goes thus: “And some there are of them that are common folk not knowing the Book, but only fancies
1.1.1 “Gentile” as meaning of ‘ummiy’ is primary in all classical Arabic lexicons while ‘illiterate’ was believed to be used after revelation since it is reasonable to deduct “illiterate” as the opposite of “those who can read.” This in turn may well be coming from “those who read the book,” or “those who received the book,” or “the people of the book” (ahl al-Kitab), which is precisely the opposite of “the gentiles”. In fact, if we study the Quran carefully where this word is found, its usage has always been in the context of “the people of the scripture” versus “the gentiles” (see for example 3:20 , 3:75 , 62:2, 2:78 ) It is interesting that in his book ‘The Life of Messenger of God’ the 8th century historian Ibn Ishaq also recorded a written communication between Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and one of his contemporaries. Ibn Ishaq wrote one of the earliest chronicles of Islam (he was born in Medina some 85 years after the Hijra), and his book predates all hadith collections by at least a century.
This definition (as Gentile) is also proven clearly in the below verses, in the sense that BOTH Muhammad (SAW) and his followers were totally ignorant of previous revelations prior to the Al Quran:
Chapter 11:49 “Such are some of the stories of the Unseen which We have revealed unto thee: before this neither thou nor thy People knew them. So persevere patiently: for the End is for those who are righteous.”
Chapter 12:3 “We do relate unto thee the most beautiful of stories in that We reveal to thee this (portion of the) Qur’an: before this thou too wast among those who knew it not.”
Chapter 42:52 “And thus have We by Our command sent inspiration to thee: thou knowest not (before) what was Revelation and what was Faith; but We have made the (Qur’an) a Light wherewith We guide such of Our servants as We will; and verily thou dost guide (men) to the Straight Way”
The noun “gentile” is generally applied to an individual who is ignorant of the Scriptures. In the English dictionary the synonym for “gentile” is “pagan” and in Classic Arabic “gentile” means ‘ummiy’. Historically, the term gentile was used by the governing Romans for the non-Romans (foreigners); it was adopted by the Jews specifically for the Christians and the non-Jews; in turn the Christians used it for the Pagans and the non-Christians. In the Qur’an the term al- Ummiyyiina (plural of Ummi), is generally translated as “the Unlettered folks”. In his commentary to the Qur’anic Verse 62:2, Abdullah Yusuf Ali writes: “The Unlettered: as applied to a people, it refers to the Arabs, in comparison with the People of the Book…”Likewise, Sheikh Abubakar Gumi in his Hausa translation (footnote 1. Page 851). he says: (I am sorry to those who are ‘illiterate’ in Hausa),
“Larabawa su ne mabiya al’adu, watau UMMIYUN daga UMMU, watau uwa, watau kamar yadda uwaye suka haife su basu da wani LITTAFI da suke bi, sai al’adunsu da hukunce hukuncen shaihunansu.”
However, The Saudi Arabia Saheeh International translation and their paid Indian translator Mohsen Khan they all went contrary to majority Sunni translators and obstinately translate this verse with ‘unlettered’ i.e illiterate.
1.2 A’ARAF, CHAPTER 7 VERSE 157.
This verse refrred prophet Muhammad (SAW) as ‘Nabiyul Ummiy’. We already, dissected the word ‘ummiy’ in subsection 1.1 and 1.1.1. So I will just reproduce different Sunni translations below translating it according to weather they believe prophet (SAW) is illiterate or NOT: Some just leave it in its Arabic (transliterate it) so as to avoid possible quagmire. (NB: this include non-Muslim translators)
- Shakir Translation: “Those who follow the Messenger-Prophet, the Ummi, whom they find written down with them in the Taurat and the Injeel
- Sahih Internationall Saudi Arabia: “Those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered prophet, whom they find written in what they have of the Torah and the Gospel,…”
- Arberry translation: “those who follow the Messenger, ‘the Prophet of the common folk, whom they find written down with them in the Torah and the Gospel,…”
- Saudi Arabian Translator (Mohsen Khan):“Those who follow the Messenger, the Prophet who can neither read nor write (i.e.Muhammad SAW) whom they find written with them in the Taurat (Torah)…
- Rashad Khalifa: “(4) follow the messenger, the gentile prophet (Muhammad), whom they find written in their Torah and Gospel.* He exhorts them to be righteous, enjoins them from evil, allows for them all good food, and prohibits that which is bad, and unloads the burdens and the shackles imposed upon them. Those who believe in him, respect him, support him, and follow the light that came with him are the successful ones.
- Abdullahi Yusuf Ali: “Those who follow the messenger, the unlettered Prophet, whom they find mentioned in their own (scriptures),- in the law and the Gospel;- for he commands them what is just and forbids them what is evil; he allows them as lawful what is good (and pure) and prohibits them from what is bad (and impure); He releases them from their heavy burdens and from the yokes that are upon them. So it is those who believe in him, honour him, help him, and follow the light which is sent down with him,- it is they who will prosper.””
- Pickthall: Those who follow the messenger, the Prophet who can neither read nor write, whom they will find described in the Torah and the Gospel (which are) with them. He will enjoin on them that which is right and forbid them that which is wrong. He will make lawful for them all good things and prohibit for them only the foul; and he will relieve them of their burden and the fetters that they used to wear. Then those who believe in him, and honour him, and help him, and follow the light which is sent down with him: they are the successful
- Ibn Kathir Dimasqh: Those who follow the Messenger, the Prophet who can neither read nor write whom they find written of with them in the Tawrah and the Injil,
- Harun Yahya: “Those who follow the apostle, the unlettered Prophet, whom they find mentioned in their own (scriptures),- in the law and the Gospel;- for he commands them what is just and forbids them what is evil; he allows them as lawful what is good (and pure) and prohibits them from what is bad (and impure); He releases them from their heavy burdens and from the yokes that are upon them.So it is those who believe in him, honour him, help him, and follow the light which is sent down with him,- it is they who will prosper.”
- Abubakar Gumi (Hausa): Wadanda suke suna bin Manzo, Annabi, Ummiyi wanda suke samunsa a rubuce a wurinsu, a cikin Attaura da Injila; yana umarninsu da alheri…..
1.3 ANKABUT CHAPTER 29 VERSE 48.
Another verse which is used as proof of ‘Illiteracy’ is Ankabut (29:48) where Allah, the Exalted says “And thou (O Muhammad) wast not a reader of any scripture BEFORE it, nor didst thou write it with thy right hand, for then might those have doubted, who follow falsehood” However this verse never says prophet is illiterate, when studied carefully, it’s affirming his divine literacy. Allah is talking about Qur’an being truly from Himself (the Exalted). Had Muhammad (SAW) been exposed to scripture of the past, they (people of the book and associates) would have accused him of copying their book and forged his own called “Qur’an”! It implies that Muhammad (SAW) was ignorant of previous revelations (As I have shown with verses 11:49, 12:13 and 43: 52 above). Therefore he could neither recite nor transcribe the Quran – BEFORE the ‘revelations’. This obviously implies that he could have written the Quran with his right hand since if he were illiterate, this verse would not make any sense at all and would be irrelevant and redundant. Moreover, Allah (the Exalted) says “BEFORE” revelations… then who have the verse that say he can’t read AFTER revelations? Of course none… only Banu Umayya-made hadith and late scholars says so.
Moreover, if prophet (SAW) could not read or write, Allah will never tell him that he did not write this or that? It would be obvious that he did not! And this is folly which goes directly contrary to Allah’s attribute. This would be like saying to a person with no legs: “You did not walk back home yesterday”! Naturally he did not! Similarly, telling an illiterate person “you did not write” would be meaningless. But we can tell anyone who can read and write, “You did not write so and so.”
- FISRT REVELATION AND THE ARABIC PHRASE ‘MA ANA BI QARI’IN’
The very first revelation, subsequent and annunciation of prophet hood of Muhammad (SAW) start with ‘READ’ and PEN’ (the only function of pen is to WRITE), this is due to extreme significance of reading andwriting in Islam. All hadith scholars and history books recorded that angel Jibreel came to prophet (SAW) and asked him to ‘READ” at three instances. The (widely believed) response of noble prophet (SAW) have been the Arabic phrase ‘Ma ana bi qari’in’; which literary means ‘I am not a reader’ or ‘I will not read’. However some Sunni historians and exegetes translate it as ‘I cannot read’. The authentic response of the holy prophet (SAW) was ‘Ma iqra?’ i.e What should I read? And even some Sunni scholars like Ibn Jarir Tabari and Ibn Sa’ad, agreed to this ‘Ma Iqra’; however I will address, the interpretation of ‘I cannot read’ (which though widely believed) has been dismissed already by many scholars including Sunnis due to its offensive implication. If ‘I cannot read’ is taken as appropriate or correct, then this will imply that the noble Prophet (SAW) was displaying his incompetence, helplessness and constraint in front of Jibreel. As if he were saying, “How can I read when I do not know how to read?” This is entirely incorrect because prophet (SAW) was genius and brilliant since childhood before the annunciation of prophet hood, there is no way he can give unintelligible answers. ‘What is the wisdom therein in Jibreel asking him to READ if he knows he cannot read?’ This poignant question has remained unanswered for centuries and up to today, by those ascribing illiteracy to prophet (SAW).
Prophet (SAW) can NEVER say he cannot read or did not have the ability to read, because this would imply that that Jibril was teaching him how to read, (Since we believe Jibril do read). The offensive implicit implication here is that the knowledge of Jibril is greater and surpasses that of the noble Prophet (SAW), since he can read and Prophet (SAW) cannot (Astagfirullah). The Glorious Qur’an indicates that if the knowledge of all angels was put together, it would not be able to match the knowledge of any single prophet. An interesting thing here is almost all Sunni historical books confirmed our prophet (SAW) have read the verses before Jibril depart. I will cite only 2 reference here a person can research more.
- Abdul Salam Harun, Sirat Ibn Hisham page 36 (full details in ref no 11):<Read! In the name of your lord, Who has created (all that exists), has created man from a clot (a piece of thick coagulated blood). Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous, Who has taught (the writing), by the pen, has taught man that which he knew not.> (Al-Alaq: 1-5)(Then Prophet SAW said): So I READ, and he left me…….
- …’Read!’ I said, ‘What (then) shall I read?’ He said,
- Muhammad H Husain, Life of Muhammad page (full details in ref no 12)
“What shall I read?” fearful that this time the strangling would be stronger. The angel replied, “Read in the name of your Lord, the Creator, Who created man of a clot of blood. Read! Your Lord is most gracious. It is He who taught man by the pen that which he does not know? [Qur’an, 96:1-5.], Muhammad RECITED THESE VERSES, repeating them after the angel who withdrew after they were permanently carved upon his memory.
None of the above excerpts suggest that our prophet (SAW) do not read. A believer with sound intellect (Aql) must ponder what those ascribing ‘illiteracy’ to him want achieve. No wonder, they help the unbelievers in finding flaws for attacking the personality of our noble prophet (SAW) as they also do with pedophilia, terrorism, and Satanic verses which they found in those books.
I will close this subsection with an incisive and intellectual analysis by a respected Sunni-Hanafi contemporary Scholar Muhammad Imdad Pirzada (Who is Pakistani): After exposing this ‘illiteracy’ myth, he says: (Ref: Culled from the Sheikh Pirzada lecture at Leeds Makkah Masjid (UK) in 2006)
“This entire issue is an intellectual one. Through everyday examples I am attempting to make it easier for the readers to grasp the issue. Consider the situation where there is an illiterate person standing before me who cannot read nor write and I ask him to read. If I am aware that he cannot read then by asking him to do so, I am actually insulting him since he will not be able to read and will be embarrassed in front of the audience. On the other hand, if I am unaware of the fact that he cannot read then by asking him to do so, I am actually insulting myself since I am asking a person to do something that he does not have the ability to do. In the same manner, if Jibril (AS) was aware that the noble Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) could not read, then–(Astagfirullah) – he is insulting the noble Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). Conversely, if Jibril (AS) is not aware that the noble Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) cannot read, then – (Astagfirullah) – he is insulting himself”
It’s inevitable that when you ask someone to read while you know he can’t read you are mocking him. No amount of lexicographic stratagem or linguistic maneuver can change this.
Bottom of Form
- RAWING DEMARCATION LINE BETWEEN ‘UNSCHOOLED’ AND ‘UNLETTERD’
Our noble prophet (SAW) was ‘unschooled’ NOT ‘unlettered’ (which is synonym of ‘illiterate) as some historians wrote. He neither attend any school of whatever nature nor tutored by any teacher of whatsoever nature plus neither he had acquainted himself with any written work….This fact is often used to also prove prophet’s purported illiteracy but a deeper look reveal otherwise. He was divinely taught to read and write by Allah the Most Exalted, hence need no any human input. Who dare teach a teacher of all teachers? Who dare teachers the most superior of all creations on earth and heaven? Who dare teach the infallible whose name is conjoined with that of Allah, the Most Exalted? Of course NO such person or creature have existed and will never exist.
- THINGS TO PONDER FOR THOSE SEEKING THE TRUTH.
- Allah the Most Exalted, told us He taught him divinely (4:113). Is there any literacy more than the one taught by Allah? How come will Allah send him to us, live for decades, fought wars, went expeditions run successful businesses, taught his companions and explain Quran to them; but despite all theses, a fabrication say he was illiterate. How laughable is this?
- On innumerable occasions throughout his life prophet Mohammed (SAW) encouraged his companions and Muslim in general to learn to read and write and teach others the same so as to spread knowledge throughout the world. How is it that a man who led by example never learnt to read and write himself? A hadith was even reported that prophet (SAW) is enjoining us to seek for knowledge even as far as China (or farthest) place. How sensible is this prophet couldn’t read and write, but commanding us to go as far as China to learn?
- The Quran was transmitted to us through the prophet Mohammed’s own lips over a period of 23 years. Is it conceivable that the man who was in contact with God’s words and who was careful to have them written down and copied never bothered to learn to read what he was having written?
- The prophet Mohammed (SAW) was reported to be a skilful tradesman, having done some successful enterprises for his first wife Khadija (AS). Any person who knows history is aware that numbers as we know them weren’t developed until decades after the prophet’s death. All trade was done with letters having numeric values, for instance (A=1, B=2, G=3, D=4, H=5, etc..). How could the prophet be a successful trader without knowing the letters?.
FINAL NOTE: All praise be to Allah, The Most Exalted who gave me the knowledge, intellect and insight to conceive this intellectual exposition and even be actualized. All web references used are true and correct ass accessed midday 4th February 2016. I am not affiliated to them and nor liable for any alteration, commission or omission. This article will be available in PDF and DOC format by February 6th. (it’s more detailed and contains more analogy, and images}. Whoever need it can contact the email herewith.
All peace and blessings of Allah be upon Muhammad and his purified Family.
- Glorious Quran.
- Sahih International, Quran English, Jeedah, Saudi Arabia.
- Abubakar M. Gumi. (1979). Quran Translation, (Hausa).
- Abd-al-Hamid Siddiqu,i (translation). Sahih Muslim. (2009)
- M. Mohsen Khan, (translation) Sahih Bukhari. (2009).
- Ahmad Hassan (Partial Trans) Sunan Abu Dawood,
- Ibn Sa’ad, ‘Book of major classes’ Vol II English by S.M Haq, Pakistan.
- Alfred Guillaume (trans) The Life of Muhammad, Ibn Ishaq IbnYasir. Oxfor, UK.
- Yusuf Islam (1995), The life of the last Prophet, Darussalam, Riyadh Saudi Arabia
- Wifered Madelung,(1997), The Succession to Muhammad, Cambridge University Press.
- Abdul Salam Harun, Sirat Ibn Hisham (Abridged) Al-Falah Foundation, Cairo Egypt.
- Muhammad Haykal, (1964) The Life of Muhammad, University of Chicago Press.
- Edward W Lanes, (1968), Arabic-English Lexicon. Lebanon Volume 1.
- Syed Abdullatif, (1964) Was the prophet of Islam Unlettered? Hyderabad, India
- G. Parwez, Lughaat Al Qur’an. Dictionary of Qur’an
- Quran Inspector, Accessed 4th February 2016. <www.submission.org>
- Quranic Arabic Corpus, Accessed 4th February 2016. <www.corpus.quran.com>
- Centre for Muslim-Jewish Engagement, Accessed 4th February 2016. <www.usc.edu.org/cmje>
By Ammar Abdulhamid.
Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria