𝐇𝐨𝐰 𝐃𝐢𝐝 𝐏𝐫𝐨𝐩𝐡𝐞𝐭 𝐌𝐮𝐡𝐚𝐦𝐦𝐞𝐝 𝐖𝐫𝐢𝐭𝐞 𝐋𝐞𝐭𝐭𝐞𝐫𝐬 𝐓𝐨 𝐊𝐢𝐧𝐠𝐬 𝐓𝐨 𝐀𝐜𝐜𝐞𝐩𝐭 𝐈𝐬𝐥𝐚𝐦, 𝐈𝐟 𝐇𝐞 𝐖𝐚𝐬 𝐈𝐥𝐥𝐢𝐭𝐞𝐫𝐚𝐭𝐞?
Mohamad Mostafa Nassar
𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐍𝐨𝐛𝐥𝐞 𝐏𝐫𝐨𝐩𝐡𝐞𝐭 𝐨𝐟 𝐈𝐬𝐥𝐚𝐦, 𝐰𝐚𝐬 𝐍𝐎𝐓 𝐈𝐋𝐋𝐈𝐓𝐄𝐑𝐀𝐓𝐄:
Ummi does not indicate that the Prophet Muhammad may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him was illiterate, but that he had no knowledge of the scripture before it had come to him.
Taking into consideration of the context of the Qur’anic verses, the Arabic word Ummi means illiterate- in a sense that the person doesn’t have any knowledge of the divine Scripture.
It is not that he doesn’t know reading and writing, as is popularly believed, the verse below confirms the same:
“And there are among them unlettered people (أُمِّيُّونَ) who have no real knowledge of the Scriptures, knowing only their own wishful thinking and following only conjecture.”
-( Al-Qur’an 2:78)
Let us ponder over some historical facts as below:
Prophet Muhammad may the peace and blessings of Allah ta’ala be upon him, was hired by Khadija, a wealthy Quraish lady as her business manager. So, one could fairly assume that she must have hired the most qualified person – literate up to the standard – knows reading writing, and to calculate, so that he could run her business smoothly.
He developed his business acumen from his frequent business trips abroad with his beloved uncle Abu Talib – mostly to Abyssinia and Syria. Abu Talib was educated, and a great poet too. Dewan – E- Abu Talib published from Saudi Arabia is a collection of thousands of his poetry.
Abu Talib was rich and a community leader. So, it is quite obvious that he must have given his children proper education, and of course to his nephew Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) too, who was raised in his household; educating children makes the community leader more dignified in the society. Ali bin Abu Talib was educated and famous for his outstanding scholarship.
First revelation, and the first commandment in the Qur’an is said to be IQRA- meaning read- educate yourself. So, it is not rationale that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) preached others to read, while he himself chose to remain illiterate.
Hence meaning of ‘Ummi’ taken as ‘unlettered’ is not a correct choice; correct translation would be the one who is not enlightened with any Scriptural knowledge, which is further confirmed in the verse 2:78, below:
“And there are among them UMMIYUNA (أُمِّيُّونَ) who have no real knowledge of the scripture, [following] only wishful beliefs and depending on nothing but conjecture.”
-( Al Qur’an 2:78)
The word ‘ummi’ has been used in the Quran in a number of verses. The following verse is one example:
“Those who follow the Messenger, the Unlettered (ummi) Prophet, whom they find mentioned in the Torah and the Gospel in their possession. He directs them to righteousness, and deters them from evil, and allows for them all good things, and prohibits for them wickedness, and unloads the burdens and the shackles that are upon them. Those who believe in him, and respect him, and support him, and follow the light that came down with him— these are the successful.” -(Al Qur’an 7:157)
Many translations of the Qur’an have wrongly translated the word ‘ummi’ as illiterate. With a quick analysis of various Qur’anic verses where the word ‘ummi’ is used, it can be verified that this word does not mean illiterate. The correct meaning is gentile or someone who has not received a Scripture.
Let us read the following verse:
Say to those who were given the Scripture, as well as the ‘ummiyoon’, “Have you submitted?”-(Al Qur’an 3:20)
In this verse, Allah commanded Muhammad to invite those who received a Scripture (the Jews and Christians) as well as the ummiyoon (plural of ummi) to submit to Allah.
If we use the wrong interpretation used by Muslims interpreters today of the word ‘ummi’ of the one who cannot read or write, we will have the following translation:
“Proclaim to those who received a Scripture as well as those who cannot read or write to submit”
It is clear that this is an inaccurate translation for the following reasons:
- The opposite of ‘those who received a Scripture’ is ‘those who did not receive a Scripture’ and not those who cannot read or write!
- If we assume that the word ‘ummi’ means illiterate, then is Allah commanding Prophet Muhammad to call to submission those who received a Scripture and only the illiterate among the rest? Once again, this is very irrational and does not make any sense.
Also, let us read:
“It is He who sent among the unlettered a messenger from themselves; reciting His revelations to them, and purifying them, and teaching them the Scripture and wisdom; although they were in obvious error before that.” -(Al Qur’an 62:2)
Once again, if we assume that the word ‘ummi’ means illiterate then that would mean that Allah has in fact sent Muhammad only to those who cannot read or write!
It is quite obvious that Allah would send a messenger with a Scripture to all who did not receive a Scripture, and not only to those who cannot read and write!
Indeed, Prophet Muhammad was sent to those who never received a messenger before him as confirmed in the following words:
“Or do they say, “He fabricated it”? Rather, it is the truth from your Lord so that you would warn a people to whom no warner has come before you so that they may be guided.”
-(Al Qur’an 32:3)
Now let us read the following verses where we are given more conclusive evidence that the word ‘ummi’ does not mean illiterate:
“And among them are ‘ummiyoon’ who do not know the Scripture except through hearsay, they are merely guessing.
Therefore, woe to those who write the Scripture with their own hands, then say, “This is from Allah” in order to purchase a cheap gain. Therefore, woe to them for what their hands have written, and woe to them for what they have gained.”-(Al Qur’an 2:78-79)
- The word ‘ummiyoon’ is immediately followed by the words ‘who do not know the Scripture’, which confirms the definition of the word ‘ummi’ as, and it is exactly as the words say: The one who never received a messenger and thus does not know the Scripture.
- In verse 79 Allah warns the ‘ummiyoon’ not to write distorted versions of the Scripture ‘with their own hands’. How can these ‘ummiyoon’ write distorted versions if they cannot read or write? Once again, this gives us confirmation that ‘ummiyoon’ does not mean illiterate. It means gentiles who have not received any Scripture.
To conclude, the correct meaning of the word ‘ummi’ in the Quran is a gentile; one who has not received a Scripture.
We can also conclude the question you have all been asking. Was our Prophet Muhammad may the peace and blessings of Allah Exalted He be upon him unable to read or write, or illiterate in a general sense?
Of course not, as we have read and understood from above. Ummi does not indicate that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was illiterate, but that he had no knowledge of the scripture before it had come to him.
This misinterpretation of the term ‘ummi’ is a means of propaganda by those who misinterpreted them such as so-called scholars and non-believers in order to insult the Prophet Muhammad may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him and lower his status in the eyes of the world.
However, Allah has chosen His messenger as a mercy for mankind. The mercy for mankind was not illiterate. The Qur’an is the truth, and the truth is clear. May Allah guide us in His straight path.
Allah knows Best.