French Orientlist, Paret: The Suspicion that Prophet Muhammad was not Illiterate
paret claimed that prophet muhammad (peace be upon him) was not illiterate. he argued that the verse in the noble qur ’ an that can be translated as, “and of the population of the book is he who, in case you put in his custody a hundred- weight, (literally: a kantar) will pay it back to you; and of them is he who, if you put in his custody one dinar, will not pay it back to you, except as long as you are upright over him. (or: over it) that (is) so because they said, “there is no way over us as to the common folk.” (i.e., the illiterates or the gentiles) and they say lies against allah, and they know (that).” (aal `imran :75) this does not refer to the ‘ illiterate ’ because the word ‘ ummi ’ or its plural ‘ ummeen ’ means the pagans. and, it is difficult to know with certainty that it is the prophet (peace be upon him) who is being referred to by these words.
he then mentioned some opinions of other orientalists and commented on them. he indicated that paul mentioned that the above mentioned word means the one who cannot read or write but he disagreed on the basis that none of the arabic, hebrew, or aramaic words in this respect means illiteracy. he cited the verse that can be translated as follows, “and among them are illiterates (who) do not know the book except (only) fancies, and decidedly they do (nothing) except surmise” (al-baqarah:78) as proof for his assumption.
allah the almighty wanted the prophet (peace be upon him) to be illiterate so as not to give the unbelievers of quraysh the opportunity to question his prophethood, especially that his main miracle is the written text of the noble qur ’ an. almighty allah says what can be translated as, “and in no way did you recite any book before (this), nor did you pen it with your right (hand); then the wrongdoers (literally: the doers) would indeed suspect it.” (al-`ankabut: 48)
questioning the illiteracy of the prophet (peace be upon him) is an attempt to efface facts and fabricate events. this is clear in the attempt of many orientalists to prove that the prophet (peace be upon him) was not illiterate despite the fact that it is a well-known fact that could not have been fabricated. they tried to twist the texts to prove something that these texts do not indicate either explicitly or implicitly. orientalists often resort unashamedly to blatant lies in order to mislead and confuse people.
they use the al-hudaibiyah treaty to prove their point. the part they use is reported by al-bukhari and reads as follows:
narrated al-bara ibn- ‘ azib: “when the prophet (peace be upon him) intended to perform umrah in the month of dhul-qada, the people of makkah did not let him enter makkah until he had settled the matter with them by promising to stay there for three days only. when the document of the treaty was written, the following was mentioned: ‘ these are the terms on which muhammad, allah ’ s prophet agreed (to make peace). ’ they said, “we will not agree to this, for if we believed that you are allah ’ s prophet we would not prevent you, but you are muhammad ibn-abdullah.” the prophet said, “i am allah ’ s prophet and also muhammad ibn-abdullah.” then he said to ali, “rub out (the words) ‘ allah ’ s prophet ’”, but ali said, “no, by allah, i will never rub out your name.” so, allah ’ s prophet took the document and it was written, ‘ this is what muhammad ibn-abdullah has agreed upon: no weapons will be brought into makkah except in these cases.” (1)
they claim that here the prophet (peace be upon him) wrote with his own hand and so they say, this proves that he knew how to read and write. this is one of their strongest allegations.
we can refute this allegation as follows:
we do not agree that it is explicitly written in the above narration that the prophet (peace be upon him) wrote himself. there are two possibilities: the prophet (peace be upon him) did the writing himself or ali (may allah be pleased with him)wrote it and because of this the prophet (peace be upon him) was referred to figuratively as the writer because he issued the order. this resembles the order the prophet (peace be upon him) issued for the phrase ‘ muhammad, the prophet of allah ’ to be engraved in his ring. the narration says, ‘ he (the prophet) engraved his ring ’ but this is just a figurative use of the word.
the other point is that three narrators narrated the above hadith: al-miswar ibn-makhrama, marwan ibn-al-hakam, and al-bara ibn- ‘ azib. they all mentioned the prophet ’ s (peace be upon him) order to ali (ay allah be pleased with him) to write. in the narration of al-bara ibn- ‘ azib, the narrators did not narrate the whole story but chose some snapshots from here or there. this resulted in confusion and lack of clarity. the issue is that when ali (may allah be pleased with him) refused to rub out the prophet ’ s (peace be upon him) name, the prophet (peace be upon him) asked him to show him the phrase and then he (peace be upon him) rubbed it out himself and then ali (may allah be pleased with him) continued writing.
the prophet (peace be upon him) asking ali (may allah be pleased with him) to show him the phrase is a clear indication that the prophet (peace be upon him) was unable to locate it himself. this entails that he could not read and if so, how could he write in the first place?
another point is that if the pagan negotiator saw the prophet (peace be upon him) writing a word, he would have narrated that and used it to attack the reliability of the prophet (peace be upon him).
for the third point, let us assume that the prophet (peace be upon him) knew how to read or write his own name in full, does that mean he was literate? absolutely not. imam zahabi wrote, “ the prophet (peace be upon him) must have learnt how to read and write his name in full, especially that he was so intelligent. he saw it written many times by his writers. therefore, even if he knew how to do that, this does not mean he was not illiterate.” many illiterate people know how to recognize and write their own names but they cannot do more that that.
finally, was it not strange that the people of makkah, who lived with the prophet (peace be upon him) for years, never discovered he was lying to them regarding his literacy? is this something that can be hidden from all the people for years? i think not.
1-part of an authentic hadith. sahih bukhari, book 49 “peacemaking”, number 863.