The issue of Muhammad's illiteracy

The very first word in the first revelation received by Prophet Muhammad was "Read" (96:1) and included the words, "The One who taught by the pen" (96:4). The second Sura revealed was Sura 68 which is called "The Pen". The only function of the pen is to write.

Muslim scholars of the first two centuries after the revelation of the Quran could not understand the Quran's challenge to "produce one Sura of its like" (
2:23). They had no idea about the Quran's mathematical code (19) and how the challenge in 2:23 is connected to the miraculous mathematical composition of the Book. They were also aware that many renowned writers did compose works which were comparable to the Quran from a linguistic point of view. Across time, some scholars did claim the ability to produce a literary work comparable to the Quran. One such claim was made by the well known Egyptian Writer Taha Hussein.

Moreover, the early followers of Muhammad were constantly being harassed by the Christians and Jews who demanded: If Muhammad was a genuine Prophet from God, where are his miracles? All our Prophets came with miracles!
The fabrication of the illiteracy of Muhammad was thus a convenient ploy to ascribe to Muhammad a personal miracle. That way, they figured that it would be possible to answer the Christians and Jews, for now Muhammad too would be able to have claim to personal miracles just like the Prophets of the Children of Israel. His miracle would be that he was illiterate, yet came up with such a profound Book.

The Quranic word on which they based the claim of Muhammad's illiteracy was the word "ummi". They claimed that this Quranic word, which is spoken about Muhammad in the Quran, means illiterate! However, contrary to their claims, the use of this word in the Quran consistently denotes the meaning of "gentile," or one who has never received a scripture [see 2:78, 3:20, 3:75, 62:2). The word "ummi" is never used in the Quran to mean "illiterate."
For the Quranic definition of the word "ummi" please see the following page:
The word "ummi" in the Quran

The following pieces of evidence all confirm that Prophet Muhammad was not illiterate.

Quranic evidence

1- Prophet Muhammad was a successful merchant. The Muslim scholars who fabricated the illiteracy lie forgot that there were no numbers in use during the Prophet's time; the letters of the alphabet were used as numbers at that time.
As a merchant dealing with numbers every day, the Prophet had to know the alphabet. The Quran tells us that Muhammad wrote down the Quran. In 25:2 we read how Muhammad's rejectors at the time said:

And they said, "Tales of the previous ones which he wrote down; they were dictated to him morning and evening." 25:5

The rejecters of Muhammad were from the tribe of Quraysh in Mecca from which Muhammad himself came. They knew Muhammad from birth, he was not a stranger. The question here is: Would they accuse Muhammad of writing anything down himself if he could not read and write? Equally, would it be possible to "dictate" to someone who cannot write?

2- Those who claim that Prophet Muhammad was illiterate refer to the following verse:

You did not recite, nor write with your right hand, any Book before it. Otherwise the falsifiers would have had doubts. 29:48

They interpret the words "nor write with your right hand" to claim that Muhammad could not read or write. However, these words do not refer to the writing of the Quran, they clearly state that Muhammad never recited nor wrote down any Scriptures before the Quran. The subject is clearly the writing down of previous Scriptures and not the writing of the Quran. How could have Muhammad written any previous Scriptures when he had no knowledge of any previous Scripture?

You (Muhammad) did not know what is the Scripture, or what is faith.

The words in 42:52 also confirm that the correct meaning of "ummi" in 7:157-158 is someone who had no knowledge of the Scripture. This is exactly what 42:52 tells us; before receiving the Quran, Muhammad did not have knowledge of any Scripture.

The first command given to Muhammad was to "Read". The question is: Would Muhammad be asked to read if he could not read?
The hadith writers conveniently fabricated a hadith to counter act this argument. According to the named hadith, Muhammad replied to Gabriel "I cannot read"! So Gabriel commanded him once more to "Read", and once again Muhammad gave the same reply, then the rest of the Sura was given to him.
This hadith portrays Gabriel as one who proceeded to command someone, who cannot read, to read, then insisted on his request when Muhammad kept insisting that he could not read! At the end of this curious exchange the matter was still unresolved and Muhammad was still unable to read (according to the hadith), how then did he receive the rest of the revelation?

The hadith advocates say that he did not need to be able to read to receive the revelation! If that is so, then why did Gabriel ask him to read in the first place?
Whichever way we look at it, the concept of this hadith is totally absurd to say the least.

4- Further to the command in 96:1 to "Read", the command continues to Muhammad in 96:3-4 as follows:

Read and your Lord is the Most Generous. The One who taught by the pen.

How can Muhammad be taught by the PEN if he cannot write?

All the above evidence clearly confirms that Muhammad was not illiterate.
When Muhammad died, he left the complete Quran written down with his own hand in the chronological order of revelation, along with specific instructions as to where to place every verse. The divine instructions recorded by the Prophet were designed to put the Quran together into the final format intended for God's Final Scripture to the world (75:17).

5- In the following verse we also have further indication that Muhammad could read:
We will make you (Muhammad) read then you will not forget. 87:6

Needless to say, the words "make you read" are self indicative.


Hadith reference:

The genuine believers are always satisfied with the Quranic evidence. Quranic evidence is the only absolute truth. On the other hand, the hadith has been shown to contain numerous contradictions and inconsistencies; it cannot be relied on to provide absolute evidence for any matter. Sadly, many who will not accept anything against what the hadith tells them, will reject and ignore all the Quranic evidence shown above and will always find ways to argue against it and manipulate the Quranic words shown to them!

For that reason, and for the benefit of the hadith followers, we would like to present a selection of hadith which all state that Muhammad was able to read and write. We hope that, if the Quranic evidence is not sufficient for those who follow hadith, the hadith selection below may make them stop and think about this matter.

Bukhari (Sahih Bukhari)

1- Narrated Anas bin Malik: Once
the prophet wrote a letter or had an idea of writing a letter. The prophet was told that they (rulers) would not read letters unless they were sealed. So the prophet got a silver ring made with "Muhammad Allah's Apostle" engraved on it. As if I were just observing its white glitter in the hand of the prophet. (Volume 1, Book 3, Hadith Number 065)

2- Narrated 'Ubaidullah bin 'Abdullah: Ibn 'Abbas said, "When the ailment of the prophet became worse,
he said, 'Bring for me (writing) paper and I will write for you a statement after which you will not go astray.' But 'Umar said, 'The prophet is seriously ill, and we have got Allah's Book with us and that is sufficient for us.' But the companions of the prophet differed about this and there was a hue and cry. On that the prophet said to them, 'Go away (and leave me alone). It is not right that you should quarrel in front of me." Ibn 'Abbas came out saying, "It was most unfortunate (a great disaster) that Allah's Apostle was prevented from writing that statement for them because of their disagreement and noise. (Note: It is apparent from this Hadith that Ibn 'Abbes had witnessed the event and came out saying this statement. The truth is not so, for Ibn 'Abbas used to say this statement on narrating the Hadith and he had not witnessed the event personally. (Bukhari, Volume 001, Book 003, Hadith Number 114)

3- Narrated Ibn 'Abbas: When Allah's Apostle was on his death-bed and in the house there were some people among whom was 'Umar bin Al-Khattab, the prophet said,
"Come, let me write for you a statement after which you will not go astray." 'Umar said, "The prophet is seriously ill and you have the Qur'an; so the Book of Allah is enough for us." The people present in the house differed and quarrelled. Some said "Go near so that the prophet may write for you a statement after which you will not go astray," while the others said as Umar said. When they caused a hue and cry before the prophet, Allah's Apostle said, "Go away!" Narrated 'Ubaidullah: Ibn 'Abbas used to say, "It was very unfortunate that Allah's Apostle was prevented from writing that statement for them because of their disagreement and noise." (Volume 7, Book 70, Hadith Number 573)

Muslim (Sahih Muslim)

1- Abu Laila 'Abdullah b. 'Abd al-Rahman b. Sahl reported that the elderly persons of (the tribe) had informed Sahl b. Abu Hathma that 'Abdullah b. Sahl and Muhayyisa went out to Khaibar under some distress which had afflicted them. Muhayyisa came and informed that Abdutlah b. Sahl had been killed, and (his dead body) had been thrown in a well or in a ditch. He came to the Jews and said: By Allah, it is you who have killed him. They said: By Allah, we have not killed him. He then came to his people, and made mention of that to them. Then came he and his brother Huwayyisa, and he was older than he, and 'Abd al-Rahman b. Sahl. Then Muhayyisa went to speak, and it was he who had accompanied ('Abdullah) to Khaibar, whereupon Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) said to Muhayyisa: Observe greatness of the great (he meant the seniority of age). Then Huwayyisa spoke and then Muhayyisa also spoke. Thereupon Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: They should either pay blood-wit for your companion, or be prepared for war.
Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) wrote about it to them (to the Jews). They wrote: Verily, by Allah, we have not killed him. Thereupon Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) said to Huwayyisa and Muhayyisa and Abd al-Rahman: Are you prepared to take oath in order to entitle yourselves for the blood-wit of your companion? They said: No. He (the Holy prophet) said: Then the Jews will take oath (of their innocence). They said: They are not Muslims. Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him), however, himself paid the blood-wit to them and sent to them one hundred camels until they entered into their houses, Sahl said: One red she-camel among them kicked me. (Muslim, Book 16, Hadith 4126)

2- It has been narrated on the authority of Anas that
the prophet of Allah (may peace be upon him) wrote to Chosroes (King of Persia), Caesar (Emperor of Rome), Negus (King of Abyssinia) and every (other) despot inviting them to Allah, the Exalted. And this Negus was not the one for whom the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) had said the funeral prayers. (Muslim, Book 19, Hadith 4382)

Dawud (Sunan Abu Dawud)

1- Narrated Umar ibn al-Khattab: Sa'id said: Umar ibn al-Khattab said: Blood-money is meant for the clan of the slain, and she will not inherit from the blood-money of her husband. Ad-Dahhak ibn Sufyan said:
The Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) wrote to me that I should give a share to the wife of Ashyam ad-Dubabi from the blood-money of her husband. So Umar withdrew his opinion. Ahmad ibn Salih said: AbdurRazzaq transmitted this tradition to us from Ma'mar, from az-Zuhri on the authority of Sa'id. In this version he said: The prophet (peace_be_upon_him) made him governor over the bedouins. (Book 18, Hadith 2921)

2- Narrated Mujja'ah ibn Mirarah al-Yamani: Mujja'ah went to the prophet (peace_be_upon_him) asking him for the blood-money of his brother whom Banu Sadus from Banu Dhuhl had killed. The prophet (peace_be_upon_him) said: Had I appointed blood-money for a polytheist, I should have appointed it for your brother. But I shall give you compensation for him.
So the prophet (peace_be_upon_him) wrote (a document) for him that he should be given a hundred camels which were to be acquired from the fifth taken from the polytheists of Banu Dhuhl. So he took a part of them, for Banu Dhuhl embraced Islam. He then asked AbuBakr for them later on, and brought to him the document of the prophet (peace_be_upon_him). So AbuBakr wrote for him that he should be given one thousand two hundred sa's from the sadaqah of al-Yamamah; four thousand (sa's) of wheat, four thousand (sa's) of barley, and four thousand (sa's) of dates. The text of the document written by the prophet (peace_be_upon_him) for Mujja'ah was as follows: "In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. This document is from Muhammad, the prophet, to Mujja'ah ibn Mirarah of Banu Sulma. I have given him one hundred camels from the first fifth acquired from the polytheist of Banu Dhuhl as a compensation for his brother." (Book 19, Hadith 2984)

3- Narrated 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: "From Muhammad, Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him), to Banu Zuhayr ibn Uqaysh. 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 of Allah and His Apostle." We then asked:
Who wrote this document for you? He replied: The Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him). (Book 19, Hadith 2993)

4- Narrated Amir ibn Shahr: When the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) appeared as a prophet, Hamdan said to me: Will you go to this man and negotiate for us (with him)? If you accept something, we shall accept it, and if you disapprove of something, we shall disapprove of it. I said: Yes. So I proceeded until I came to the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him). I liked his motive and my people embraced Islam.
The Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) wrote the document for Umayr Dhu Marran. He also sent Malik ibn Murarah ar-Rahawi to all the (people of) Yemen. So Akk Dhu Khaywan embraced Islam. Akk was told: Go to the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him), and obtain his protection for your town and property. He therefore came (to him) and the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) wrote a document for him: "In the name of Allah, Most Beneficent, Most Merciful. From Muhammad, the Apostle of Allah, to Akk Dhu Khaywan. If he is true his land, property and slave, he has the security and the protection of Allah, and Muhammad, the Apostle of Allah. Written by Khalid ibn Sa'id ibn al-'As." (Book 19, Hadith 3021)

5- Narrated Muslim ibn al-Harith ibn Muslim at-Tamimi: A similar tradition (to No. 5061) has been transmitted by Muslim ibn al-Harith ibn Muslim at-Tamimi on the authority of his father from the prophet (peace_be_upon_him) through a different chain of narrators, up to "protection from it". But this version says: "before speaking to anyone". In this version Ali ibn Sahl said that his father told him. Ali and Ibn al-Musaffa said: The Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) sent us on an expedition. When we reached the place of attack, I galloped my horse and outstripped my companions, and the people of that locality received me with a great noise. I said to them: Say "There is no god but Allah," and you will be protected. They said this. My companions blamed me, saying: You deprived us of the booty. When we came to the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him), they told him what I had done. So he called me, appreciating what I had done, and said: Allah has recorded for you so and so (a reward) for every man of them. AbdurRahman said: I forgot the reward.
The Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) then said: I shall write a will for you after me. He did this and stamped it, and gave it to me, saying....He then mentioned the rest of the tradition to the same effect. Ibn al-Musaffa said: I heard al-Harith ibn Muslim ibn al-Harith at-Tamimi transmitting it from his father. (Book 41, Hadith 5062)

6- Narrated Abdullah ibn Abbas:
The prophet (peace_be_upon_him) wrote a letter to Heraclius: "From Muhammad, the Apostle of Allah, to Hiraql (Heraclius), Chief of the Byzantines. Peace be to those who follow the guidance." Ibn Yahya reported on the authority of Ibn Abbas that AbuSufyan said to him: We then came to see Hiraql (Heraclius) who seated us before him. He then called for the letter from the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him). Its contents were: "In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful, from Muhammad the Apostle of Allah, to Hiraql, chief of Byzantines. Peace be to those who follow the guidance. To proceed." (Book 41, Hadith 5117)