It is only a human being who teaches you
The disbelievers claimed that only a human taught the Prophet (pbuh), and that the revelations he (pbuh) brought were only tales of the ancients.
Indeed, We (Allah) know that they say, “It is only a human being who teaches him.
(An-Nahl 16: 103)
They forgot in their stubborn resistance to faith and vain pretexts for disbelief that the Prophet (pbuh) was illiterate; he (pbuh) never read or wrote a single word in his life.
The Prophet (pbuh) lived among his people for long forty years, during which he (pbuh) never said that he was divinely inspired by anything or brought up words of his own.
Say (O Muhammad), “If Allah had so willed, I would not have recited it (the Qur’an) 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?
(Yunus 10: 16)
Indeed, words were conveyed to him from Heaven:3
Those 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
(Al-Furqan 25: 4-6)
The Qur’an 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.2
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 (pbuh) to ‘Isa (Jesus (pbuh)) could not have been read by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in the Old or New Testaments, as he (pbuh) could not read in the first place:
Neither 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
(Al-‘Ankabut 29: 48)
The insistence of the disbelievers on describing these true stories as mere tales or legends arose from the desire to strip them of their power of advising, reforming, and instructing. They went further in their attacks by claiming that since Muhammad (pbuh) 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
(Al-Furqan 25: 5)
And they were answered: if this is so with the realities of the past, what about the future events and the secrets that the revelations unfold:
Say, “It has been sent down by Him Who knows the secret of the heavens and the earth
(Al-Furqan 25: 6)
They leave no doubt that the source of the Qur’an is the All-Knower Who knows everything that is on the earth and in the heaven.
In fact, this sign of illiteracy testifies to the prophethood of Muhammad (pbuh). Allah kept him illiterate to eliminate any suspicion about the source of the revelations he (pbuh) would receive and to be the One Who taught him all knowledge.
From Allah Almighty the human 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.3
The Divine Education of the Prophet (pbuh) started with the first divinely inspired word spoken to him, “Read.” Lady ‘Aishah (may Allah be pleased with her) said4:
The first of the Divine Revelations that the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) received were good dreams. Any dream he (pbuh) saw came true, as clear as daylight.
Then seclusion became endeared to him. He (pbuh) 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 (pbuh) would return to his wife Khadijah and replenish his provisions for a similar period. He (pbuh) continued so until Angel Gabriel came to him while in Hira’ Cave.
The Angel (Gabriel u) came to him and said, “Read!”
He (pbuh) said, “I am not a reader (i.e. I do not know how to read).”
He (pbuh) 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. ”
(Al-‘Alaq 96: 1-5)
Right from the very first moment of blessed contact with Heaven and before taking the first step on the way of the Message that he (pbuh) was chosen to deliver, Muhammad (pbuh) 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 the human and his origin: a coagulated drop of blood that sticks to the womb. That little origin of simple composition reflects more about the Grace and Mercy of our Creator than it does about His Power. It is out of the Grace of Allah Almighty that He has elevated this blood clot to the rank of man and woman, who can be taught and who can learn.
There also emerges the truth of humans being taught by their Creator. The pen has always been the most prevalent learning tool and had the most far-reaching bearing on human life. 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 (pbuh) charged with the conveyance of this Message could not write by the pen.
Had the Qur’an been his own composition, he (pbuh) would not have stressed this truth in the very first moment. But it is certainly a Revelation and the Message is Divine. 4
- Sheikh Muhammad Mitwaly Ash-Sha‘rawy, The Messenger of Allah, Muhammad.
- Athar Husain, The Message of Qur’an.
- Sayyid Qutb, In the Shade of the Qur’an, interpretation of Surat Al-Alaq [96: 3-4], thirty-sixth edition, Dar Al-Shorouk.
- 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 Ahmad (24768).
- 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.