Some Muslims regard the latter two spellings as insulting, but these spellings were used more commonly in the previous century when the romanized spellings were not quite standardized.


There is a small but growing number of scholars of Islam — mostly non-Muslim Western scholars — who question the existence of Muhammad as a historical person. However, in November 2008, a Muslim academic made headlines because he also came to the conclusion that Muhammad probably never existed. For the further subsections of this entry, and for the vast majority of articles on this website, we discuss matters based on the Muslim sources as they exist, working on the assumption that they are more or less historical, but we want readers to be aware that there are scholars who have substantial reasons to question not only finer details but the very foundation of Islam on historical grounds.

Here are some links to articles on this matter:

David Wood discusses some of the consequences of this for the approach Muslims take in debating Christians, see this blog entry.


Muslim scholars placed Muhammad's birth around 570 A.D., although there were some disagreements over the actual date. Muhammad claimed that he was borned on a Monday (
Muslim 6.2603, Muslim 6.2606). Many Muslim scholars, including ibn Ishaq, Abdul Malik, ibn Jarir, ibn Khaldun, etc, were said to put the birthdate at Monday, 12th Rabiul-Awwal in the Year of the Elephant, perhaps to coincide with a claimed death-date for Muhammad, 12th Rabiul-Awal. If the Year of the Elephant was 52 B.H., then this day corresponds to 11th Apr 572 A.D. +/- one day), Rabiul-Awwal is the 3rd month in the Muslim calendar. Another date given was the 9th of Rabiul-Awwal; yet another was the 17th of Rabiul-Awwal.

The death-date of Muhammad was also disputed. 12th Rabiul-Awwal 11 A.H. corresponds to 6th Jun 632 A.D., but Muhammad was said to die on a Monday. Ibn Jarir favored the date of 1st of Rabiul-Awwal, while ibn Hajar favored the 2nd of Rabiul-Awwal.

Genealogy of Muhammad

The following hadith tells us:
Ma`n Ibn `Isa al-Ashja`i al-Qazzaz (silk-merchant) informed us; he said : Mu`awiyah Ibn Salih informed us on the authority of Yahya Ibn Jabir who had seen some Companions of the Prophet and said : The people of Banu Fuhayrah came to the Prophet and said to him : You belong to us. He replied : Verily, (the archangel) Gabriel has informed me that I belong to Mudar. (Ibn Sa`d, "Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir", Vol. I, p. 4)
Thus, Muhammad's genealogy was not common knowledge. In fact, the people of Banu Fuhayrah did not know that Muhammad was a descendent of Mudar. It was Muhammad who claimed that Gabriel told him that he was descended from Mudar. This may form the basis of some hadiths:
Narrated Kulaib:

I was told by the Rabiba (i.e. daughter of the wife of the Prophet) who, I think, was Zainab, that the Prophet (forbade the utensils (of wine called) Ad-Dubba, Al-Hantam, Al-Muqaiyar and Al-Muzaffat. I said to her, 'Tell me as to which tribe the Prophet belonged; was he from the tribe of Mudar?'' She replied, "He belonged to the tribe of Mudar and was from the offspring of An-Nadr bin Kinana. " (Sahih Bukhari 4.698)

Most Muslim historians traced Muhammad through one `Adnan, a descendent of Ishmael. Here we display the geneology also given in Hughes' Dictionary of Islam and from two others found on the web: Reference 1 and Reference 2. The variant spellings are collated together.

[Note: This does not mean we believe this genealogy to be true, it is just the most common one. See also The Illustrated Guide to the Tribe to Quraish and Sam Shamoun's article Ishmael is not the Father of Muhammad.]

 Hughes' DOI, p. 217 Reference 1 Reference 2
 Muzar / Mudar
 Luwaiy / La`ayy
 `Abdul Manaf
 Abdul Muttalib
number of generations222322

The twenty-two or twenty-three generations between `Adnan and Muhammad are pretty much agreed upon by the Muslim historians. Between `Adnan and Ishmael, however, it is less uncertain. Some say there are forty generations, while some other say only four.

Reference 2 gives the lineage between `Adnan and Ishmael as `Adnan - Adad - Zayd - Yaqdud - Al-Muqawwan - Al-Yasa' - Nabt - Qaidar (Kedar) - (Ismail) Ishmael - (Ibrahim) Abrahim - Tarih - Nahur (Nahor) - Sharukh - Ar'u - Farigh - 'Abir - Shalikh - Arfikhishd - Sam (Shem) - Nuh (Noah) - Lamak - Mutawshilkh - Kanukh - Burrah - Mihlayil - Kaynum - Anuus - Shees (Seth) - Adam.

On the mother's side, reference 2 gives Muhammad - Aminah - Wahab - Abd Manaf - Zuhrah - Kilab, same as the Kilab in Muhammad's side.

Reference 2 gives its source from Ibn Al Jawzy via Abi Muhammad Ibn Al Samarqandi via 'Ali Ibn 'Ubayd of Kufa, a companion of Tha'lib Muhammad ibn Abdullah.

If there were only four generations between Adnan and Ishmael, then there must be about 24-25 generations between Muhammad and Abraham spanning about 2500 years. This makes for an average of about one hundred years between generations, which is a bit far-fetched (It is possible if this gap is true for some generations, like Abraham and Ishmael, but very far-fetched if it were to occur regularly. We know that the generations near to Muhammad are pretty normal, not so stretched out, so this makes the other inter-generational gaps even wider). On the other hand, using the data from reference 2, we get about 32-33 generations between Abraham and Muhammad, giving us an average inter-generational gap of about seventy-five years. This is still unbelievably high.

It should be said that perhaps, we are faced with incomplete data in that some generations were omitted from this list (the situation can also be seen in Matthew's genealogy of Jesus where some names were omitted). It could be the same with Muslim genealogical data. On the other hand, if the hadith that there are only four generations between Adnan and Ishmael is literal, then we are faced with a problem. If the hadith is true, then Muslim genealogy is most likely false (it is difficult to imagine so many one hundred years between generations). If the hadith is false, then we have to re-evaluate the accuracy of hadith reports.

Children of Muhammad

All of Muhammad's sons died in infancy (al-Qasim and 'Abdu'llah from his first wife Khadija, Ibrahim from his concubine Mary, the Copt). His daughters from Khadija were: Zainab (married 'Abu'l-'As bnu'r-Rabi'; died A.H. 8), Ruqaiyah (married 'Utbah ibn Abu Lahab, by whom she was divorced; she afterwards married 'Uthman, the third Khalifa), Umm Kulthum (became, after the death of Ruqaiyah, the second wife of 'Uthman; she died a year or two before Muhammad), and Fatimah (married Ali ibn Abi Talib). Of them, only Fatimah had children and only Fatimah was still alive at the death of Muhammad. She died about six months after Muhammad.

Regarding the descendents of Muhammad, see SAYYID.

Early Life

Records of the early life of Muhammad was scanty. Muhammad was said to be born of Aminah and Abdullah about 570 A.D. into the Quraysh tribe. The Quraysh were an influential tribe in Mecca, being the custodians of the Ka'aba, but Muhammad's family was poor.

Tradition asserts that Muhammad's father died a couple of weeks before he was born and his mother died when he was six. Some pious traditions say that before Muhammad was born, when she went to the well to draw water, the water will rise for her in honor of Muhammad. Some traditions also say that Muhammad was born circumcised, that a great light appeared and his mother could see ash-Shaam.

Aminah was unable to breastfeed him, so he was raised by Halima the nurse, and some traditions say that her land became fertile and her lambs strong and rich in milk and her family became rich, and her breast became full of milk which was dry before that. [Unfortunately, if that were true, the irony is that that blessing missed his widowed mother.]

Some traditions assert that two angels came to Muhammad and cut his chest and washed his heart with water from the well of Zamzam. Halimah reportedly became scared and send Muhammad back to his mother. Later, before the supposed night journey to paradise, his chest was once again washed with water from Zamzam by Gabriel (Sahih Bukhari 1.345) [Qn: Why was there a need to wash? Was there anything unclean before the washing?]

Some traditions assert that before his ministry, the stones used to salute him, the tree will turn its shade to his side and the cloud will give him shade from the heat of the sun, and was supposed to have been witnessed by Bahirah. Muslim traditions claimed that Bahirah confirmed that Muhammad was the expected prophet when his uncle took him in a trip to ash-Shaam.

After Aminah's death when he was six, he was taken care of by his grandfather, `Abdul Muttalib. After `Abdul Muttalib's death when Muhammad was eight years old, his uncle, Abu Talib, became his guardian. Abu Talib used to take Muhammad on his mercantile trips to as far as Syria. At the deathbed of Abu Talib, Muhammad urged his uncle to confessed Allah, even though deathbed confession is not acceptable in Islam. Abu Talib died a pagan. See Abu Talib for more details.

Idolatry, sin of Muhammad

[Guillaume said:] The only authentic story of Muhammad's early years is contained in an unpublished manuscript of his biographer Ibn Ishaq. It reads as follows:

I was told that the apostle of Allah said, as he was talking about Zayd son of 'Amr son of Nufayl, 'He was the first to upbraid me for idolatry and forbade me to worship idols. I had come from al-Ta'if along with Zayd son of Haritha when we passed Zayd son of 'Amr who was in the highland of Mecca. Quraysh had made a public example of him for abandoning his religion, so that he went out from their midst. I sat down with him. I had a bag containing meat which we had sacrificed to our idols -- Zayd b. Haritha was carrying it -- and I offered it to Zayd b. 'Amir -- I was but a lad at the time -- and I said, "Eat some of this food, my uncle." He replied, "Surely it is part of those sacrifices of theirs which they offer to their idols?" When I said that it was, he said, "Nephew mine, if you were to ask the daughters of 'Abd al-Muttalib they would tell you that I never eat of these sacrifices, and I have no desire to do so." Then he upbraided me for idolatory and spoke disparagingly of those who worship idols and sacrifice to them, and said, "They are worthless: they can neither harm nor profit anyone," or words to that effect.' The apostle added, 'After that I never knowingly stroked one of their idols nor did I sacrifice to them until God honoured me with his apostleship. (A. Guillaume, Islam, pp. 26-27; emphasis mine)

Furthermore we find:

We have been told that the Apostle of God once mentioned al-Uzza saying, "I have offered a white sheep to al-'Uzza, while I was a follower of the religion of my people." (Hisham Ibn Al-Kalbi, The Book of Idols (Kitab al-Asnam), pp. 17-18)

According to these traditions at some time before Muhammad started preaching his message of Islam, he was an idolater. Most Muslims, however, deny that Muhammad had ever committed idolatry. But as Guillaume noted: the early Muslim scholars, being pious believers, really had no reason to create such stories, nor to pass down such traditions, if there is no truth in these reports. Given that the unity of Allah was a rallying cry of early Muslims (as well as today), and Muhammad's stern admonition to his followers to uphold tawhid, it is inconceivable that any Muslim will pass down such stories if it were untrue.

See also the comprehensive articles Muhammad and Idolatry and Was Muhammad a Prophet From His Infancy?

The Qur'an also says that Muhamamd was found in wandering and guided to truth (ad-Duha 93:6-8). This verse must clearly raise some theological questions about Muhammad's claims, especially in the hadiths. For example, Muhammad claimed to the be Seal of the Prophets even before Adam was fully created. How is it then that Muhammad was wandering (and therefore not in truth)? At the same time, the fact that Muhammad was wandering and had to be led to the truth must also mean that he was not sinless throughout, contrary to many Muslim claims.

In another place, the Qur'an asked Muhammad why he banned what was lawful, Surah 66:1

His hiding of revelation concerning Zaid's wife can be found in al-Ahzab 33:37, although this episode was a little self-serving. See Zaid for more details.

Forgiveness of Muhammad's past and future sins is mentioned in al-Fath 48:2. He was told to ask for forgiveness of his sins in Muhammad 47:19.


Muhammad later entered the services of a widow called Khadija. After a successful mercantile trip to Syria, Khadija proposed to Muhammad, and he accepted the marriage proposal. Muhammad was 25 while Khadija was 40 [Women are to lose this privilege of proposing marriage when Islam came]. At the age of 40, Muhammad claimed that he was receiving revelations from the angel Gabriel. Khadija was the first to believe in him. Muhammad remained faithful to her as long as she lived. After she died, Muhammad began taking other wives. In the span of 10 years, Muhammad had as many as 15 wives, and an untold number of concubines.

Death of Muhammad

Muhammad died in Jun 632 A.D., at the age of 63, after being poisoned by a Jewess.

"If he should die or be slain, will you then turn back on your heels?" (refers to the incident in which) Abdallah Ibn Qami'a al-Harithi threw a rock at Allah's Messenger that broke four of his front teeth and gashed his face. Mus'ab Ibn Umair, who was the standard-bearer defended (Muhammad). So Ibn Qami'a killed (Mus'ab), assuming that he killed the Prophet. Then, as it is reported, he said "I killed Muhammad." Someone cried out, "Behold, Muhammad has been killed," and the people turned on their heels. Then the Messenger cried out, "Come to me, servants of Allah," Thirty of his followers joined him and protected him until they scattered the unbelievers. Some hypocrites said, "Had he been a prophet, he would not have been killed." Anas Ibn Nadr, the uncle of Anas Ibn Malak, said, "O, people, if Muhammad is slain, Muhammad's Lord is alive, and dies not; what shall you do if you live after him? So fight for what he fought for," and added "O Allah, I acquit myself of what they say and exonerate myself from it." He then clasped his sword firmly and fought till he was killed, and the verse was revealed.

When Khaybar was conquered, and the people felt secure, Zainab Bint al-Harith, Salam Ibn Mishkam's wife, went about asking which part of the lamb was Muhammad's favorite to eat. People told her, "It is the front leg, for it is the best part and the farthest from harm." So she took a lamb, slaughtered it, and cut it up. Then she took a deadly poison that kills instantly and poisoned the lamb, putting more poison in the leg and shoulder. When the sun set, Muhammad led the people in the evening prayer. When he finished he wanted to go, but she was sitting at his feet. He asked her, and she said, "O Abu al-Qasim, here is a gift I have for you." Muhammad ordered some of his friends to take it from her, and it was put before him in the presence of his friends, among whom was Bishr Ibn al-Bara' Ibn Ma'rur. Muhammad said, "Come near and be seated." Muhammad took the leg and ate, too. When Muhammad had swallowed his bite, Bishr swallowed his, and the rest of the people ate of it. Muhammad said, "Raise your hands; this leg and this shoulder tell me they are poisoned." Bishr said, "By the One who honored you, I found the same in my morsel, but nothing kept me from spitting it out except that I would spoil the pleasure of your food. When you ate that which was in your mouth, I did not desire my own soul more than yours, and wished that you had not swallowed it." (One opinion has it that) Bishr died then and there. A part of the lamb was thrown to a dog, and the dog died. Another opinion says that (Bishr's) color turned black and his pain lasted two years, after which he died. It was also said that Muhammad took a bite of the lamb, chewed it, and spit it out, whereas Bihr swallowed his morsel. Then Muhammad sent for this Jewess and asked her, "Have you poisoned this lamb?" She said, "You have acquired certain powers with which you judge those who are not loyal to you. You killed my father, my uncle and my brother. . . So I said, "If he is a king, then I would be relieving us of him, and if he is a prophet, he will be able to perceive.'" It was said that he pardoned her, while others say he commanded her to be put to death and crucified. When Muhammad fell ill just before his death, he said to Aisha, "Aisha, I still feel the effect of the poisoned food I ate; this is the time of my demise by that poison." When Bishr's sister entered his room during the time of his last sickness, he said to her, "This is the time of my demise by the meal I ate with your brother in Khaybar." (Abdallah Abd Al-Fadi, Is The Koran Infallible, pp. 378-381, quoting Al-Baidawi).

"Hazrat Ibn Abbas said, 'After the death of the Holy Prophet, Hazrat Abu Bakr came out and saw Hazrat Umar speaking to the people. 'Sit down O Umar', Hazrat Abu Bakr said and added, Anyone of you worshipping the Holy Prophet should mind that he has died; but one who would worship Allah should keep in mind that Allah is living and will never die. Verily Allah the Sublime has observed': Muhammad is no more than an Apostle: many were the Apostles that passed away before him. If he died or were slain, will ye then turn back on your heels? If any did turn back on his heels, not the least harm will he do so to Allah; but Allah will swiftly reward those who serve him with gratitude. (Âl 'Imran 3:144)" (from Hayatus Sahabah, Kandhlawi, vol. 2, p. 357)

The article "The Death of Muhammad" examines this incident in detail, the circumstances surrounding it, and Muhammad's responses. It asks several important questions about Muhammad's thinking and his prophethood. Further detailed treatments on this topic are Who Killed Muhammad? and How Allah Killed His Prophet.

He was buried in Madinah in his house adjoining the mosque. After his death, the Islamic Empire continued to expand under the Caliphs.

The Beginning of Muhammad's preaching

After marrying Khadija, Muhammad's life became settled and he found much time to meditate and fast, sometimes for many days. He often retreated to the caves in the mountains around Mecca. During one of those retreats, he claimed that Angel Gabriel appeared to him. This was claimed to be the beginning of the revelation of the Qur'an. The account in Sahih Bukhari formed pretty much the foundation of all accounts:

Narrated 'Aisha:
(the mother of the faithful believers) The commencement of the Divine Inspiration to Allah's Apostle was in the form of good dreams which came true like bright day light, and then the love of seclusion was bestowed upon him. He used to go in seclusion in the cave of Hira where he used to worship (Allah alone) continuously for many days before his desire to see his family. He used to take with him the journey food for the stay and then come back to (his wife) Khadija to take his food like-wise again till suddenly the Truth descended upon him while he was in the cave of Hira. The angel came to him and asked him to read. The Prophet replied, "I do not know how to read." [Note: This statment can also mean, "I will not read." See the section "Was Muhammad illiterate?"]

The Prophet added, "The angel caught me (forcefully) and pressed me so hard that I could not bear it any more. He then released me and again asked me to read and I replied, 'I do not know how to read.' Thereupon he caught me again and pressed me a second time till I could not bear it any more. He then released me and again asked me to read but again I replied, 'I do not know how to read (or what shall I read)?' Thereupon he caught me for the third time and pressed me, and then released me and said, 'Read in the name of your Lord, who has created (all that exists) has created man from a clot. Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous." (al-`Alaq 96:1-3) Then Allah's Apostle returned with the Inspiration and with his heart beating severely. Then he went to Khadija bint Khuwailid and said, "Cover me! Cover me!" They covered him till his fear was over and after that he told her everything that had happened and said, "I fear that something may happen to me." Khadija replied, "Never! By Allah, Allah will never disgrace you. You keep good relations with your Kith and kin, help the poor and the destitute, serve your guests generously and assist the deserving calamity-afflicted ones."

Khadija then accompanied him to her cousin Waraqa bin Naufal bin Asad bin 'Abdul 'Uzza, who, during the PreIslamic Period became a Christian and used to write the writing with Hebrew letters. He would write from the Gospel in Hebrew as much as Allah wished him to write. He was an old man and had lost his eyesight. Khadija said to Waraqa, "Listen to the story of your nephew, O my cousin!" Waraqa asked, "O my nephew! What have you seen?" Allah's Apostle described whatever he had seen. Waraqa said, "This is the same one who keeps the secrets (angel Gabriel) whom Allah had sent to Moses. I wish I were young and could live up to the time when your people would turn you out." Allah's Apostle asked, "Will they drive me out?" Waraqa replied in the affirmative and said, "Anyone (man) who came with something similar to what you have brought was treated with hostility; and if I should remain alive till the day when you will be turned out then I would support you strongly." But after a few days Waraqa died and the Divine Inspiration was also paused for a while.

Narrated Jabir bin 'Abdullah Al-Ansari while talking about the period of pause in revelation reporting the speech of the Prophet "While I was walking, all of a sudden I heard a voice from the sky. I looked up and saw the same angel who had visited me at the cave of Hira' sitting on a chair between the sky and the earth. I got afraid of him and came back home and said, 'Wrap me (in blankets).' And then Allah revealed the following Holy Verses (of Quran):

'O you (i.e. Muhammad)! wrapped up in garments!' Arise and warn (the people against Allah's Punishment),... up to 'and desert the idols.' (al-Mudathir 74:1-5) After this the revelation started coming strongly, frequently and regularly." (Sahih Bukhari 1.3)

After the meeting with the spirit at the Cave, Muhammad was very distressed. For two years, Muhammad sank into depression, thinking that he had gone mad or had become one of the soothsayers or poets. His wife, Khadija, however stood by him and reassured him that a good and pious man like him, who took care of his kin, should not face such a possibility. Nonetheless, he reached a point where he wanted to commit SUICIDE,

"I shall go to some high mountain cliff and cast myself down therefrom so that I may kill myself and be at rest. I went off with this mind, but when I was in the midst of the mountains I heard a voice from heaven saying, 'O Muhammad, thou art God's apostle and I am Gabriel.' (At-Tabari: "Tarikh al-Rasul Wa al-Muluk.", Leiden, 1991, I, p. 1152)
One interesting thing to note in the episodes was the behavior of the being that was claimed to be the Angel Gabriel. See Gabriel for more details.

Prophethood of Muhammad

Narrated Ibn Abbas:
Allah's Apostle started receiving the Divine Inspiration at the age of forty. Then he stayed in Mecca for thirteen years, receiving the Divine Revelation. Then he was ordered to migrate and he lived as an Emigrant for ten years and then died at the age of sixty-three (years). (
Sahih Bukhari 5.242)

Muslims give Muhammad the title the seal of the prophets (see Seal of the prophets and Seal of Prophethood). He was also given over 200 titles, including "Apostle of Allah", "The Light of Allah (al-Ahzab 33:46) and "The Peace of the World" (al-Ahzab 33:40-41).

Altogether, he fought or led in 66 battles, including raid of Uhud, battle at Badr, raid of Hunayn, raid of Tabuk,etc.

Articles that evaluate Muhammad's claim to prophethood in the light of the biblical criteria for true prophets can be found in these sections: Muhammad, Thoughts on the Prophethood of Muhammad, and the discussions regarding Muhammad's Fatrah and the period of his bewitchment.

Muhammad: Model to Mankind

The person and life of Muhammad is put before us not only by contemporary Muslim authors, but already in the Qur'an as the ideal and role model to follow. The Qur'an states:

Ye have indeed in the Apostle of Allah a beautiful pattern (of conduct) for any one whose hope is in Allah and the Final Day, and who engages much in the Praise of Allah. (33:21, Y. Ali)

And thou (standest) on an exalted standard of character. (68:4, Y. Ali)

W.H.T. Gairdner's article Mohammed without Camouflage: Ecce Homo ... Arabicus provides an in-depth discussion on this issue.

As a logical implication, this leads to the next section:

Sunna: Obedience to all his words

The quranic basis for the obligation to obey not only the Qur'an but all of Muhammad's words and deeds is laid down in al-Ahzab 33:21, an-Najm 53:2-4 :

Certainly you have in the Messenger of Allah an excellent exemplar for him who hopes in Allah and the latter day and remembers Allah much. (al-Ahzab 33:21)

Your Companion is neither astray nor being misled.
Nor does he say (aught) of (his own) Desire.
It is no less than inspiration sent down to him.
(an-Najm 53:2-4)

Since Muhammad as a person with his personal conduct is the example for Muslims to follow, and all that he has said (and done) was believed to be out of inspiration, the Sunna (example of Muhammad) and the hadith (reports of his words and acts) are foundational to Islam and the shariah (Islamic law). In fact, it is through the example of Muhammad that we can understand the mindset of many fundamentalist Muslims. For example, jihad can only be understood through Muhammad's own discourses and actions.

Muhammad's treatment of enemies

Muhammad, on the whole, appeared to be a pious man. There are, however, several interesting contradictions in his own life. One of the most damaging was his relationship with his enemies.

Also, excessive cruelty in the cases of

and A Christian perspective on these events.

The above are linked to the pages in "Muhammad And His Enemies".

There is also an unknown man who told Muhammad to be afraid of Allah, and Muhammad predicted that out of this man will be people who recite prayers continuously and eloquently but who are hypocrites (Sahih Bukhari 5.638).

Curses of Muhammad

Muhammad cursed some of the people around him, and he was also cursed by his enemies.

Narrated 'Abdullah bin Mas'ud:
The Prophet faced the Ka'ba and invoked evil on some people of Quraish, on Shaiba bin Rabi'a, 'Utba bin Rabi'a, Al-Walid bin 'Utba and Abu Jahl bin Hisham. I bear witness, by Allah, that I saw them all dead, putrefied by the sun as that day was a very hot day. (
Sahih Bukhari 5.297)
"A Jew had thrown a curse on the Prophet of God, as a result the Prophet kept forgetting and became absent minded. Then God sent him these two Surahs (113, 114) to break the curse." (Mohammed Farid Wagdi, in his analysis of Surat Al-Nas and Al-Falaq chapter 113 and 114)
These stories are almost certainly the basis of some superstition in folk Islam (see for example, Muawwdhatan for more details). Note: The suras that were like charms were rejected by some of the companions of Muhammad, most notably ibn Mas`ud, who had his own compilation of the Qur'an. The story behind those verses certainly raise a theological question about the power and unity of Allah. Were the breaking of the curse the result of the Qur'anic verses, or Allah? Recall that Muslims believed that the Qur'an was uncreated, and yet not Allah himself, so from whence does the power come from? If Allah gave it that power, then the Qur'an did not exist in the same state before this event, which means that a new creation was made. If it had been in the same state (in harmony with its uncreated state), then it was not by Allah that the curse was broken. If the Qur'an were changing, then it had to be living by virtue of its uncreation, which means there were two beings that were uncreated -- Allah and the Qur'an. If the breaking of the curse had no relation to the two suras, then it is a sad truth that many Muslims through the ages had been misled.

see also curses.

Muhammad and Satan

See this separate entry.

Was anyone called Muhammad before him?

Some Muslims assert that no Arabs were called by the name Muhammad before the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad b. Abdullah. This, however, is not true. In the year of the Elephant, a man by the name of Muhammad b. Khuza`i b. Khuzaba al-Dhakwani, al-Sulami, and his brother Qays, went to Abraha, king of Yaman. He was made amir of Mudar and was later killed, and this led to the campaign of the Elephant. (Ibn Ishaq, Life of Muhammad, tr. Guillaume, 1967, p. 22-23). Sura 105 of the Qur'an was named "The Elephant" after this incident. Muhammad b. Abdullah, was supposedly born in that year.

Was Muhammad illiterate?

Muslims believe that Muhammad was illiterate, on the basis that the Qur'an gave him the title "an-nabi al-ummi" (al-A`raf 7:157-158; al-Jum`ah 62:2), nowadays commonly translated "The Unlettered Prophet", a translation suggested by Kenneth Cragg. In the story concerning the incident in the cave of Hira, when told to read, Muslims translate Muhammad's response to "I do not know how to read."

However, the following hadiths suggest that Muhammad did know how to read.

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). (Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 19, Number 2993)

Narrated Al-Bara:

When the Prophet went out for the 'Umra in the month of Dhal-Qa'da, the people of Mecca did not allow him to enter Mecca till he agreed to conclude a peace treaty with them by virtue of which he would stay in Mecca for three days only (in the following year). When the agreement was being written, the Muslims wrote: "This is the peace treaty, which Muhammad, Apostle of Allah has concluded."

The infidels said (to the Prophet), "We do not agree with you on this, for if we knew that you are Apostle of Allah we would not have prevented you for anything (i.e. entering Mecca, etc.), but you are Muhammad, the son of 'Abdullah." Then he said to 'Ali, "Erase (the name of) 'Apostle of Allah'." 'Ali said, "No, by Allah, I will never erase you (i.e. your name)." Then Allah's Apostle took the writing sheet...and he did not know a better writing..and he wrote or got it the following written: "This is the peace treaty which Muhammad, the son of 'Abdullah, has concluded: "Muhammad should not bring arms into Mecca except sheathed swords, and should not take with him any person of the people of Mecca even if such a person wanted to follow him, and if any of his companions wants to stay in Mecca, he should not forbid him." (excerpt from Sahih Bukhari 5.553)

Narrated 'Ursa:
The Prophet wrote the (marriage contract) with 'Aisha while she was six years old and consummated his marriage with her while she was nine years old and she remained with him for nine years (i.e. till his death). (Sahih Bukhari 7.88)

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 ... (Sahih Bukhari 1.65)

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. (Sahih Bukhari 1.114) [One really has to ask why is it so unfortunate if Muhammad doesn't know to read and write]

Narrated Said bin Jubair:
Ibn 'Abbas said, "Thursday! What (great thing) took place on Thursday!" Then he started weeping till his tears wetted the gravels of the ground . Then he said, "On Thursday the illness of Allah's Apostle was aggravated and he said, "Fetch me writing materials so that I may have something written to you after which you will never go astray." The people (present there) differed in this matter and people should not differ before a prophet. They said, "Allah's Apostle is seriously sick.' The Prophet said, "Let me alone, as the state in which I am now, is better than what you are calling me for." The Prophet on his death-bed, gave three orders saying, "Expel the pagans from the Arabian Peninsula, respect and give gifts to the foreign delegates as you have seen me dealing with them." I forgot the third (order)" (Ya'qub bin Muhammad said, "I asked Al-Mughira bin 'Abdur-Rahman about the Arabian Peninsula and he said, 'It comprises Mecca, Medina, Al-Yama-ma and Yemen." Ya'qub added, "And Al-Arj, the beginning of Tihama.") (Sahih Bukhari 4.288)

Narrated Ibn Abbas:
Thursday! And how great that Thursday was! The ailment of Allah's Apostle became worse (on Thursday) and he said, fetch me something so that I may write to you something after which you will never go astray." The people (present there) differed in this matter, and it was not right to differ before a prophet. Some said, "What is wrong with him ? (Do you think ) he is delirious (seriously ill)? Ask him ( to understand his state )." So they went to the Prophet and asked him again. The Prophet said, "Leave me, for my present state is better than what you call me for." Then he ordered them to do three things. He said, "Turn the pagans out of the 'Arabian Peninsula; respect and give gifts to the foreign delegations as you have seen me dealing with them." (Said bin Jubair, the sub-narrator said that Ibn Abbas kept quiet as rewards the third order, or he said, "I forgot it.") (See Hadith No. 116 Vol. 1) (Sahih Bukhari 5.716)

Narrated Ubaidullah bin 'Abdullah:
Ibn Abbas said, "When Allah's Apostle was on his deathbed and there were some men in the house, he said, 'Come near, I will write for you something after which you will not go astray.' Some of them ( i.e. his companions) said, 'Allah's Apostle is seriously ill and you have the (Holy) Quran. Allah's Book is sufficient for us.' So the people in the house differed and started disputing. Some of them said, 'Give him writing material so that he may write for you something after which you will not go astray.' while the others said the other way round. So when their talk and differences increased, Allah's Apostle said, "Get up." Ibn Abbas used to say, "No doubt, it was very unfortunate (a great disaster) that Allah's Apostle was prevented from writing for them that writing because of their differences and noise." (Sahih Bukhari 5.717)

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." (Sahih Bukhari 7.573)

Narrated Ibn 'Abbas:
When the time of the death of the Prophet approached while there were some men in the house, and among them was 'Umar bin Al-Khatttab, the Prophet said, "Come near let me write for you a writing after which you will never go astray." 'Umar said, "The Prophet is seriously ill, and you have the Quran, so Allah's Book is sufficient for us." The people in the house differed and disputed. Some of them said, "Come near so that Allah's Apostle may write for you a writing after which you will not go astray," while some of them said what 'Umar said. When they made much noise and differed greatly before the Prophet, he said to them, "Go away and leave me." Ibn 'Abbas used to say, "It was a great disaster that their difference and noise prevented Allah's Apostle from writing that writing for them. (Sahih Bukhari 9.468)

Narrated Said bin Jubair:
that he heard Ibn 'Abbas saying, "Thursday! And you know not what Thursday is? After that Ibn 'Abbas wept till the stones on the ground were soaked with his tears. On that I asked Ibn 'Abbas, "What is (about) Thursday?" He said, "When the condition (i.e. health) of Allah's Apostle deteriorated, he said, 'Bring me a bone of scapula, so that I may write something for you after which you will never go astray.'The people differed in their opinions although it was improper to differ in front of a prophet, They said, 'What is wrong with him? Do you think he is delirious? Ask him (to understand). The Prophet replied, 'Leave me as I am in a better state than what you are asking me to do.' Then the Prophet ordered them to do three things saying, 'Turn out all the pagans from the Arabian Peninsula, show respect to all foreign delegates by giving them gifts as I used to do.' " The sub-narrator added, "The third order was something beneficial which either Ibn 'Abbas did not mention or he mentioned but I forgot.' (Sahih Bukhari 4.393, also Ibn Sa'd's biography, Vol. II, p. 302)

It is apparent that, even though the hadiths have slight variations, upon the authority and witness of ibn `Abbas, they all indicated that Muhammad wanted to write at his deathbed. In fact, that some of the onlookers agreed to give him writing materials for him to write indicates that he must know how to write. If it were not the case, the response clearly was quite meaningless. Had Muhammad been illiterate, he would have asked for scribes so that he can dictate to them.

Similarly, if Muhammad was illiterate, his writings will be unintelligible anyway, so why did ibn 'Abbas regret that Muhammad was prevented from writing? There is a contrary hadith where Ibn 'Abbas used to say when narrating the Hadith that he had not witnessed the event personally (see Fath Al-Bari Vol. 1, p.220 footnote, See Hadith No. 228, Vol. 4), but the overwhelming number of hadiths indicate that he was there.

Others argue, not very convincingly, that "write" can also include "dictate".

Some Muslims pointed out concerning during the first meeting between Muhammad and Gabriel,

Gabriel came to the prophet and said, "Iqra'" [read]. The Prophet in reply said, "I cannot read" ("Maa ana bikaarin"). Gabriel once again said, "Iqra'" [Read]. And once again the Beloved Prophet replied, "I cannot read" ("maa ana bikaarin") Gabriel said for a third time, "Iqra'" [Read]. Once again the prophet replied, "I cannot read" ("Maa ana bikaarin"). Then Gabriel said, "Iqraa bismi Rabbikalladhee khalaq" [Read in the name of your Lord who created]. And the Prophet read "Iqraa bismi Rabbikalladhee khalaq".
that the translation of "Maa an bikaarin" into "I cannot read" is an open breaking of the rules of Arabic. The question is asked that how was it that, Muhammad was unable to read a single word (Iqra') three times, and all of a sudden, he was able to read five words without hesistation. Some Muslims say that this sort of translation is inconsistant and wrong and that the correct meaning of the prophet's reply should have been "I will not read." He did not read the single word, Iqra', but read the five words, "Iqra bismi Rabbikalladhee khalaq" because the name of his Lord was mentioned.

Incidentally, the reciters of the Qur'an are called "qara", from the same root word, and it does not at all mean that they are literate, since a reciter can do it through rote-learning without actually knowing how to read.

Some Muslims also quote from Isaiah 29:12 as a proof that the Bible prophesied about Muhammad being illiterate. However, the context of that passage is:

10The LORD has brought over you a deep sleep: He has sealed your eyes (the prophets); he has covered your heads (the seers).
11For you this whole vision is nothing but words sealed in a scroll. And if you give the scroll to someone who can read, and say to him, "Read this, please," he will answer, "I can't; it is sealed."
12Or if you give the scroll to someone who cannot read, and say, "Read this, please," he will answer, "I don't know how to read."
13The Lord says: "These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men. (Isaiah 29:10-13)

Clearly, the "someone" in v. 12 does not refer to a definite person, but any person who can read in v. 11 and any person who cannot read in v.12. Also, the "you" in v. 12 was not the angel Gabriel, but the same "you" in vv. 10 and 11. v.13 clearly shows that the people refered to in vv. 11-12 are those who "honor [God] with their lips, but their hearts are far from me [Him]. Their worship of me [God] is made up only of rules taught by man. If Muslims claim that v. 12 refers to Muhammad, then v. 13 must also apply to him, which means that his worship of God was just man-taught (in this case, either through the Jews and Christians he encountered, or formed through his own ideas). Therefore, if the Bible did indeed prophesy about Muhammad's illiteracy, it also clearly prophesied that his idea of God was man-made.

Khalifites, on the other hand, believe that Muhammad was not illiterate, but that he, together with other writers, wrote down the Qur'an after it was revealed. They argue that since the first revelation to Muhammad was "READ" (al-`Alaq 96:1-4) and the second was the "PEN" (al-Qalam 68:1), it is inconceivable that he should tell his followers to learn to read, but he himself continued in illiteracy. See, for example, this article.

As for the word "ummi", it was used six times in the Qur'an as a term for those who are not Jews and Christians. In particular, in Âl 'Imran 3:20, the word "ummi" (translated "those who read not" by Pickthall, "unlearned" by Yusuf Ali, Shari, Sher Ali, "those who did not (received scriptures) by Rashad Khalifa) is used to describe the Meccan idol worshippers, in contrast to those who had received the scriptures. Also in Âl 'Imran 3:75, the contrast is again between those who have the scriptures and the ummiyeen. Those who had received scriptures were the Jews and the Christians, and thus "ummi" is in a loose sense, gentile (not the usual meaning of "non-Jews", but "those without scriptures"). In al-Jum`ah 62:2, a messenger was sent among the unlettered ones (ummiyeen). In al-Baqarah 2:78, it is "Among them are unlettered folk who know the Scripture not except from hearsay. They but guess."

It was also pointed out that Arabs used letters as numbers and if Muhammad was a successful merchant, he ought to know this number system. This system was replaced by the "Arabic numerals" in the 9th century, adapted from the Indians. The first revelation, which starts with "Read" (Recite) clearly encourages reading, and if Muhammad remain illiterate for the 23 years that he was supposed to receive revelation, that is quite unthinkable.

As seen above, many traditions showed that Muhammad most likely knew how to read and write. As a result, Muslims have tried to reconcile these by saying that Muhammad learned to read and write later in his life. See here for more discussion. Also, see Ignorance and Illiteracy.

Did Muhammad perform miracles?

The Qur'an says that Allah did not give Muhammad power to perform miracles (al-An`am 6:109-112; bani Isra'il 17:92-97; al-Kahf 18:10; al-`Ankabut 29:49-50), that he was a mortal like anyone else (Ha Mim Sajdah 41:6) and that he was an ordinary man, (bani Isra'il 17:90-96).

Nonetheless, many Muslim Traditions speak of Muhammad performing many different miracles. These included :

  1. water for about 80 people to perform ablution (Sahih Bukhari 1.170, Sahih Bukhari 1.194, also Sahih Bukhari 1.199)
  2. water for a whole army of 1500 as narrated by Jabir (in Bukhari and Muslim), and the whole miracle occurred more than once.
  3. water during travel, Sahih Bukhari 1.340
  4. moaning of trunk when Muhammad gave a sermon away from it, and Muhammad embraced it to calm it down, which was later buried. (Abu Awanah and Ibn Khuzaima).
  5. curing the eye of Qatadah ibn an-Nu'man which felled out in the battle of Uhud, and Muhammad was supposed to have put it back in place (al-Bayhaqiyy).
  6. curing Ali of an eye trouble, Sahih Bukhari 5.51
  7. comforted a camel who was overworked and underfed (ibn Shahin).
  8. splitting the moon into two and seen by the Quraish. (Sahih Bukhari vol 6, no 387).
  9. stone saluting Muhammad when he passed by it.
  10. two trees responded when he called them. In another instance, a tree witnessed that he is a prophet.
  11. a tree's branch turning into a sword for Abdullah ibn Jahsh in the battle of Uhud.
  12. food praising God when Muhammad held it. A piece of meat given by a Jew told him that it was poisonous.
  13. multiplying of food.
  14. met with Gabriel
  15. ascended into heaven
  16. prophesied.
  17. casting out demons
  18. enable Abu Huraira to remember hadiths without forgetting anything, see ABU HURAIRA.

which clearly contradict the Qur'an verse (note: items 14-16 are not usually associated with miracles). If these miracles occurred before those verses were revealed, then it seems odd that the verse should say no power was given for performing them. On the other hand, if these miracles occurred after the revelations, then clearly the revelation of Allah failed to account for a future event. If the hadiths of Muhammad's miracles were not true, this casts a great doubt on many other details of Muhammad's life, since even the two sahihs (supposedly the most authentic of the traditions) recorded some of them.

Did Muhammad keep slaves and concubines?

There has been much controversy about whether Muhammad had kept concubines. It is pretty certain that he had kept slaves. Even before his ministry, Khadija gave him Zaid, whom he later freed and adopted as his son (which is not legal in Islam).

Some contend that among his women, Maria the Copt was his concubine but not his wife, but others vehemently defend that indeed she was his wife.

The incident of Muhammad's marriage to one Safiyaa,

Narrated Anas:
The Prophet stayed for three days at a place between Khaibar and Medina, and there he consummated his marriage with Safiyya bint Huyay. I invited the Muslims to a banquet which included neither meat nor bread. The Prophet ordered for the leather dining sheets to be spread, and then dates, dried yogurt and butter were provided over it, and that was the Walima (banquet) of the Prophet. The Muslims asked whether Safiyya would be considered as his wife or as a slave girl of what his right hands possessed. Then they said, "If the Prophet screens her from the people, then she is the Prophet's wife but if he does not screen her, then she is a slave girl." So when the Prophet proceeded, he made a place for her (on the camel) behind him and screened her from people. (Sahih Bukhari 7.89)
which was reported in many places in Bukhari and other traditions, is very interesting. Even though it was clear that it was a marriage between Muhammad and Safiyaa bint Huyay, a Christian captured by Muhammad and whose husband was killed, it was not clear to the believers whether she would become a real wife or just another slave girl (yet in marriage. This can mean only concubine). Suffice it to say that if Muhammad did not keep slaves nor concubines, such a question need never be asked among his believers.

Interestingly, this hadith throws light that even marriage doesn't mean that a women becomes a wife with all the privileges (if any) of being one. It is also clear that slavery was sanctioned. In fact, Muhammad himself kept slaves, and also sold his enemies into slavery after defeating them. For example, the men of Banu Qurayza were massacred, and the women and children sold as slaves.

Then the apostle divided the property, wives and children of B. Qurayza among the Muslims, and he made known on that day the shares of horse and men, and took out the fifth. [1/5 of all booty in all raids/wars was the personal property of Muhammad.] ...

Then the apostle sent Sa`d b. Zayd al-Ansari brother of b. `Abdu'l-Ashhal with some of the captive women of B. Qurayza to Najd and he sold them for horses and weapons. [page 466] (What really happened with the Banu Qurayza? quoting the ibn Hisham's "Life of Muhammad", tr. Guillaume).

see also Behind the Veil, Chapter 5.

Did the Bible prophesy about Muhammad?

see also AHMAD.

Muslims believed that Muhammad was prophesied in the Bible. Hence, some Muslim theologians have written treatises that dealt with these "prophecies":

It is clear Ali Tabari was using the Syraic translation in his treatise instead of using Hebrew, the original language of most of the Old Testament. That, in itself, rendered much of his arguments invalid.

Muhammad does not only claim the existence of prophecies about himself in the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, but inserts into the Qur'an a prayer of Abraham at the Kaaba, of which he considers himself to be the answer:

"Our Lord! send amongst them a Messenger of their own, who shall rehearse Thy Signs to them and instruct them in scripture and wisdom, and sanctify them: For Thou art the Exalted in Might, the Wise." (al-Baqarah 2:129)

Lo! those of mankind who have the best claim to Abraham are those who followed him, and this Prophet and those who believe (with him); and Allah is the Protecting Guardian of the believers. (Âl 'Imran 3:68)

A thorough discussion of Muhammad's understanding of his own role is found in Arthur Jeffery's The Qur'an as Scripture, Part II.

Prayers of Muhammad

The prayers of Muhammad are interesting as they provide insights into his mind. In particular, he prayed for

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