بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَنِ الرَّحِيم
HUMAN history has witnessed the rises (and falls) of copious numbers of fascinating individuals who had each developed their own radical ideologies, and which they managed to bring to the global forefront in their respective time periods, as a result of stunning leadership skills and personal intellect. Hitler, Stalin, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr – there is no controversy surrounding the fact that these men and their similar counterparts challenged the status quo and dramatically altered the courses of history. There is, however, much controversy surrounding the moral bases of both their visions for the world and of their claims to leadership. And there is one significant historical figure who undoubtedly stands out in terms of the rift between how his supporters (of which there are approximately 1.8 billion in the world today) view him, in contrast to what his adversaries say of him. This man undoubtedly changed the world; his transformative works first took effect in the affluent and idol-worshipping society that he was born into. He claimed that he had been sent as a prophet and a messenger of God, and that he received divine revelation – the Holy Qur’an – via Angel Gabriel, over a period of twenty-three years. His following grew exponentially each year; peasants, noblemen, poets, and even individuals who had initially fiercely opposed his message alike eventually answered the Call. But how can we test the veracity of this man’s claims? Was Muhammad ﷺ really who he claimed he was – but a mortal, imbued with a divine message, and simply a ‘warner’ and a ‘guide for mankind’? The only two alternative possibilities are that, a) he was delusional and perhaps severely mentally ill, and b) that he was an adept and cunning pathological liar. In this article, I will attempt to explore each of these three possibilities, however I ask that you remember, while reading this article, that my knowledge is rather limited. I am not a member of the ‘Ulama (the worldwide community of qualified Islamic scholars) and there is probably more evidence in support of Muhammad ﷺ’s prophethood than I have managed to mention here.
“You are not [O Muhammad], by the favour of your Lord, a soothsayer or a madman” – Holy Qur’an [52:29]
The Islamic view is that Muhammad ﷺ was the ‘Seal of the Prophets’ – the last of a chain of messengers that God has sent to humanity so as to remind us (of the central Islamic message of pure monotheism), to warn us, and to guide us. According to our tradition, Muhammad’s ﷺ predecessors in these tasks included Jesus, Moses, John, Solomon, David, (etc.) all the way back to Adam. Moreover, the word Islam means, in Arabic, ‘pure submission to God’; it is not in our view that Islam was innovated during Muhammad’s ﷺ time. Rather, it is our conviction that the Hanif tradition – the initial ‘religion’ in the purest sense of the term (i.e. the worship of God – one God, and God alone) – became diluted and corrupted over time. For instance, the reiterative message that Jesus brought to mankind was acutely misinterpreted – leading to him being seen as an actual manifestation of God as opposed to a mere messenger of Him, and the form of revelation Jesus had been given – the Injil – became susceptible to human corruption over time. Thus, a new – and final – messenger was sent to mankind, in the form of Muhammad ﷺ, whose form of revelation would endure the test of time, and would remain unchanged by Man.
Note: The repeated symbol ‘ﷺ’ comprises the Arabic phrase ‘Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam’, which translates to ‘May blessings and peace be upon him’
Carl Jung famously likened Muhammad ﷺ to Hitler (more so vice versa, labelling Nazism as a ‘new Islam’). There have been many who have shared this view of Jung’s in recent history; several renowned (mainly atheistic) figures have referred to Muhammad ﷺ as a deceitful and vain megalomaniac. By stark contrast, playwright and political activist George Bernard Shaw said the following of him:
“He must be called the Saviour of Humanity. I believe that if a man like him were to assume the dictatorship of the modern world, he would succeed in solving its problems in a way that it would bring much-needed peace and happiness”
And, just as there exists a plethora of advocates for the former opinion, there are scores of proponents for the latter. Indeed, Michael Hart, in his book The 100, a Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History, decided to list Muhammad ﷺ as the most influential leader in the history of the world. Of course, this is a positive statement – a mere observation based on the extent of the man in question’s impact, and not a normative one that proves whether or not he was (in accordance with the Islamic view) a human being of the highest attainable moral standard, or (in accordance with the alternative view) a deliberately deceitful, or unknowingly delusional, madman.
Firstly, let us address the claim that this man was delusional. To be delusional is not to be an intentional liar. A delusional man is not one who knows that he is delusional, but rather one that is convinced that the lies that he creates and spreads are, in fact, true. Indeed, some modern (anti-Islamic and/or otherwise anti-theistic) historians have attempted to psycho-pathologically analyse the behaviour of the Islamic prophet, and many of them have come to conclude that he was, perhaps, schizophrenic or otherwise psychotic, and was therefore prone to experiencing hallucinations. According to this view, Muhammad ﷺ’s visitations by Angel Gabriel were little more than symptoms of some severe mental illness, as were his claims to prophethood. As previously implied, to be delusional is to be a type of liar, but a sincere liar at that, i.e. one who genuinely believes in his own claims, as a result of some sort of mental instability. Granted, from an outsider’s unacquainted viewpoint, this is not a wholly absurd claim to make: throughout history, we can find reams of examples of mentally ill individuals claiming to be prophets and the receivers of divine instructions. Moreover, there are clear links that can be found between mental illness and creativity [the greatest poets, writers, painters, musical composers etc. tend to also be or have been sufferers of adverse mental health conditions]. Perhaps it is with these facts in mind that many anti-Muhammadans reach the conclusion that Muhammad ﷺ was merely mentally ill – deluded – and was consequently able to compose a text as intrinsically awe-inspiring as the Holy Qur’an.
“Have they not considered that their companion [Muhammad] is not afflicted with insanity? He is but a clear warner.” – Holy Qur’an [7:184]
To refute this claim, I would like to bring the reader’s attention once more to the fact that to be deluded is to be a sincere liar; it is to be unaware that the truth that one purports to be a knower of is not, in fact, objectively truthful. Delusions are subjective ‘truths’, in spite of objective – or, popularly accepted – reality. If Muhammad ﷺ were truly deluded and not an insincere cold-hearted liar (a claim that I shall further acknowledge and deconstruct later on in this article) he would have believed that the ostensibly angelic being that conveyed the words of the Qur’an to him were real, when, in actual fact, said being was a figment of his own imagination. Thus, according to this argument, the text that came about as a result of Muhammad ﷺ’s encounters with ‘Gabriel’ came about as a result of distorted cognitive projections – the mouth of Gabriel was merely a manifestation of Muhammad ﷺ’s own wildly creative imagination, and he did not know that he was lying. According to this perspective, Muhammad ﷺ wrongly believed that ‘his works’ (the Holy Qur’an) were divinely inspired; ‘inspiration’ for the lengthy text was a pre-existing imaginative formulation of his own mind.
“Muhammad is but a messenger. There have been [mortal] messengers before him.” – Holy Qur’an [31:44]
This assertion of delusion is a bold one indeed, and can be reasonably challenged from a number of different angles. The Qur’an is undoubtedly an awe-inspiring book; I could write lengthy chapter books on its brilliance in terms of eloquence, rhythmic qualities, and linguistic prowess. There is so much to unpick in terms of the potentials for literary analysis of this book; here I shall only list a small few. In the Qur’an, the word ‘day’ is mentioned 365 times in total. The word ‘month’ is repeated 12 times; the word ‘moon’ is repeated 28 times [note that we know that the moon exhibits 28 distinctive phases]. The word meaning ‘angels’ is mentioned 88 times; so is the word meaning ‘devils’. The word meaning ‘this world’ [Muslims believe that this world is temporary, and is but a trial to determine our positions in the next – eternal – world] is mentioned 115 times; so is the word meaning ‘the next world’. ‘Man’ is mentioned 24 times; so is ‘woman’. ‘Heaven’ is mentioned 77 times; so is ‘hell’. The number of times ‘water’ is mentioned over the number of times ‘human’ is written in the Qur’an provides the percentage of man that is known to be composed of water; likewise, the number of times ‘water’ is mentioned in comparison with ‘land’ forms the actual ratio between the Earth’s land and water mass(es). And, crucially, the Qur’an consistently employs language of certainty. For instance, God swears by one of his creations that are most integral to reality as we humans know it: time. To fortify these claims of indisputable truth, there are examples, in the Qur’an, of events of the future being foretold. Take, for example, what is expressed in this verse:
“The Byzantines have been defeated. In the nearest land. But they, after their defeat, will triumph. Within a few years.” – Holy Qur’an, [30:2-4]
Extract from the Yaqeen Institute website:
From 613-619 CE, the Byzantines were absolutely decimated by the Persian Empire, losing the territories of Antioch, then Damascus, then Armenia, then their most cherished Jerusalem, then Chalcedon, and finally Egypt. In his book, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon says, “When this prophecy was made, no prediction could be more unbelievable because the initial twelve years of Heraclius were evidently declaring an end to the Roman Empire.” Everyone saw Byzantium as on its deathbed; thus opponents of the Prophet ﷺ like Ubayy b. Khalaf mocked this “preposterous” foretelling in the Qur’an. However, not long after, Heraclius led the Byzantine Crusade like a dagger into the heart of the Persian Empire, fulfilling the amazing prophecy 6-8 years after it was uttered.
And so on, and so forth.
Once again, a complete text on the superb and wonder-inspiring features of the Qur’an would be a lengthy one indeed. Instead of listing further examples of them, I would like to take a moment to review the undeniable splendour of the Qur’an in line with the argument of delusion: if this man genuinely believed that what he were ‘writing down’ came from up above, was it simply by chance that the Qur’an’s distinctive qualities emerged? This would have been impossible. Of course, it could be argued that, while still delusional that his works were ‘inspired’ by an angel of God, Muhammad ﷺ wrote the text independently, and planned extensively for these words to be repeated in such a way, and to be tied together with such rhythmic perfection. There are many examples of there being a mathematical design behind the composition of the Qur’an, and by One who knows far more than we do; I have spent many – many – hours looking into them, and still I find that there is so much more for me to discover.
In addition to this, the argument based on the idea that Muhammad ﷺ was deluded into thinking he was a messenger of God is counteracted by the fact that he was known to be illiterate. In pre-Islamic Arabia, the ability to read and write was a rare privilege, reserved for those who were able to afford the expenses of training under a qualified scribe, and of purchasing such writing materials as vellum. Muhammad ﷺ was an orphan, a shepherd, and a merchant; he was not known to be poetic in speech at all. The language features – the idioms, palindromes, poetic structures – employed in the Qur’an are completely unparalleled by those demonstrated in Muhammad ﷺ‘s Hadiths. Further to this, the Qur’an itself refers to Muhammad ﷺ as Ummee – which, in Classical Arabic, means ‘illiterate’, stemming from the idea that to be illiterate is comparable to being an infant in the arms of one’s mother (the Arabic word for whom is Umm), unlearned. From this information, one can safely reach the following conclusions: Muhammad ﷺ was not delusional, for if he were sincere in his arguably false claims, a text like the Holy Qur’an could not have been brought about. The author of the Qur’an demonstrates a magnificent richness of literary knowledge and planning. Muhammad ﷺ could not have been both delusional in his claims to prophethood by evidence of the Qur’an and illiterate at the same time. The only other possibilities that can arise in light of this self-evident truth aside from the Islamic view that this text is the Word of God are that, a) Muhammad ﷺ was not delusional but a covertly literate liar, knowing full well that he was not a prophet, and thus deciding to engage in an enduring extreme sport of calculated deceit, or, b) that the Qur’an had been written by other than Muhammad ﷺ– by someone who had perhaps worked in cooperation with him.
Now, in an attempt to concisely express to you, the reader, just how rich and magnificent the Qur’an is under the microscope of literary analysis, I will briefly tell you about how much of a shock it caused to the society unto which it had been imparted. Pre-Islamic Arabia had been a society of poets; poetry was everywhere. It was composed and recited competitively; it was read aloud in public, and men would gather around renowned poets so as to listen to their compositions in awe and wonder. As Shaykh Hamza Yusuf points out in one of his online lectures on the topic, all significant societies are built on a central text – or texts – of some sort. For example, Ancient Greece had been ‘built’ around Homer’s seminal works; the Soviet Union had been based on The Communist Manifesto. In the same vein, pre-Islamic Arabia had been ‘built’ around seven poems – the Muallaqat, or, ‘hanging poems’ – which were stored inside the sanctuary of the Ka’aba [the symbolic black cube that Muslims circumambulate when they go on pilgrimage to Makkah]. These poems were known to have been a small collection of the best works by the best Arab poets of the time, and were displayed as a means of projecting the literary superiority of Arabian poetry at the time. The authors of these works were educated men, who were extremely practiced in the arts of composing and reciting poetry. But many idol-worshipping or otherwise non-monotheistic poetic aficionados converted to Islam upon hearing the unmatchable poetic majesty of the Qur’an; not even the venerated Muallaqat came close to its magnificence.
It is difficult to put into words just how extraordinary the Qur’an is as a text, when explored in the language through it had been revealed – or in the eyes of skeptics, synthetically written: Classical Arabic. Indeed, the book itself poses a challenge to poets who might wish to challenge its authenticity:
“Or do they say he [Muhammad] has made it [the Qur’an] up? Then let them produce a single statement like it, if they be truthful.” – Holy Qur’an, [52:33-34]
If this text had indeed been composed by a human mind, this is, of course, a very strong challenge for someone to pose, particularly amid a society composed of men renowned for their poetic abilities. The words of the Holy Qur’an, as is unanimously agreed by atheistic and Muslim scholars of Classical Arabic alike, are memorisable and comprehensible to the human mind, but are somehow simultaneously inimitable. Over 1400 years have passed since the revelation of the Qur’an, and not a single soul has been able to parallel its linguistic richness. So, had Muhammad ﷺ been simultaneously a liar and the possessor of a bountiful and unmatchable literary skillset? Did he possess the ability to plan extremely extensively – calculating and tallying, ensuring perpetual rhythmic perfection – and extremely quickly? Given the nature of how the Qur’an had been revealed – circumstantially and part-by-part, in response to very particular events – if Muhammad ﷺ had authored this text himself, he would have had to have worked extremely hard, smart and fast. To continue to assert that Muhammad ﷺ was delusional and that this work was the product of his own mental faculties is to also believe that this man was an absolute genius, and also managed to bring about some of the Qur’an’s distinctively breathtaking contents entirely by chance.
And yes, from the dawn of human existence, there have been a number of deceitful evil geniuses who have risen to power, gaining streams of followers as a result of their abilities to calculate and persuade. These individuals have been megalomaniacal, obsessed with both wealth and unbridled authority, and have displayed a characteristic propensity toward creating laws that they themselves are not bound by. What was different about Muhammad ﷺ? Firstly, the laws that he encouraged others to follow – such as praying five times a day – he had made sure to personally strictly adhere to himself. In fact, he had sacrificed many a night of sleep so as to observe additional prayers at night. Secondly, Muhammad ﷺ was not born into wealth, nor did he accumulate materialistic rewards during his lifetime. Despite his followers – who would have grown in number in a similar fashion to Jesus’, as a result of witnessing the divinely ordained miracles he was capable of carrying out – Muhammad ﷺ (who could have easily heavily taxed the noblemen among his devout followers) lived and died in a self-chosen state of asceticism; the house he had shared with his wife A’isha had been constructed of sticks, and the only food he allowed to be kept within its walls were dates. In light of this information – and the abundance of similar historical testimonies we are fortunate enough to have access to in reference to his life – Muhammad ﷺ was either truly a messenger, or a sufferer of severe delusions (which, again, cannot coexist with his illiteracy, and is highly improbable in light of the fact that he had made numerous specific and – at the time, seemingly very unlikely – ‘predictions’, or prophecies, which had come true). Alternatively, he had been a liar; all he wanted was the joy of knowing that he had been able to deceive such a large number of people – many of whom were highly educated and wealthy. But again, were all the eventuations of his prophecies mere coincidences? Were the miracles that dozens of his followers claimed that he had been able to carry out – healing the sick, splitting the moon, feeding hundreds with a small plate of food – just the stuff of legend? This is the belief held by one Jay Smith – a Christian apologist who claims that Muhammad ﷺ perhaps never even existed in the first place. I will address this particular (absurd) claim very soon in this piece of writing.
Just a handful of prophecies that were proclaimed by Muhammad ﷺ:
- [At a time when the Arabs were known to have been bedouins, and only other cultures including the Persians had been known to be able to construct tall buildings] Muhammad ﷺ prophesied that, as the End of Time approaches, barefoot Bedouin shepherds – the Arabs, he clarified, promptly afterwards – will compete in the construction of very tall buildings. To understand just how improbable this would have seemed to contemporary Arabs, just look at a picture of Dubai fifty years ago, compared to what it looks like now
- In battle, Muhammad ﷺ was able to state precisely who would die, and where they would be martyred.
- Taken from the Yaqeen Institute website:
Regarding the night prior to the Battle of Badr, ‘Umar b. al-Khaṭṭāb (rA) said, “The Prophet ﷺ showed us where those [enemies] at Badr would die. He would place his hand somewhere on the ground and say, “This is where so-and-so will die tomorrow, by God’s will, and this is where so-and-so will die.” I swear by the One who sent him with the Truth, none of them fell other than exactly where the Prophet’s hand had touched.”
Anas (rA) reported that, as the Battle of Mu’tah was taking place in Jordan, the Prophet ﷺ had informed the people in Madinah of the martyrdom of Zayd b. Ḥāritha, Ja‘far b. Abi Ṭālib, and ‘Abdullāh b. Rawāḥa. While 600 miles away, the Prophet ﷺ said, “Zayd took the flag (as commander) and was killed, then Ja‘far took the flag and was killed, then Ibn Rawāḥa took the flag and was killed.” Anas describes that as the Prophet ﷺ was telling them this, “his eyes were shedding tears.” He ﷺ continued, “Then the flag was taken by one of God’s swords (Khālid b. al-Walīd), and Allah made him victorious.” That army eventually returned to Madinah, with eyewitness accounts that matched exactly what the Prophet ﷺ had described.
- Taken from the Yaqeen Institute website:
During the Battle of Tabūk, the Prophet ﷺ said to ‘Awf b. Mālik (rA), “Count six signs before the Hour; my death, the conquest of Jerusalem, two mortal plagues that will take you [in great numbers] as the plague of sheep [depletes them], then wealth will be in such surplus that a man will be given a hundred gold coins and still be unsatisfied, then there will be a tribulation that will not leave an Arab home without entering it […]” Jerusalem was conquered five years after his death ﷺ, in the year 15H, followed by the plague of ‘Amwās in 18H which took the lives of many Companions. An unprecedented surplus of wealth was then experienced during the caliphate of ‘Uthmān (rA), 23H, as a result of conquests on every front. As for the tribulation that would spare no Arab home, this took place following the assassination of ‘Uthmān, 37H, for it resulted in dissent and chaos everywhere.
- Extract from Hamza Tzortzis’ book The Divine Reality:
Six hundred years or so after the death of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, the Mongols invaded the Muslim lands and massacred millions of people. A significant milestone in the invasion was the ransacking of Baghdad. At that time, it was known as a city of learning and culture. The Mongols arrived in Baghdad in 1258 and spent a whole week spilling blood. They were hell-bent on demolishing the city. Thousands of books were destroyed and up to one million people were killed. This was a major event in Islamic history.
The Mongols were non-Arabs who had flat noses, small eyes, and their boots were made of hair; the Mongols had fur covers over their boots called degtii. This was foretold by the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ hundreds of years before the Mongol invasion: “The Hour will not be established till you fight with the Khudh and Kirman from among the non-Arabs. They will be of red faces, flat noses, and small eyes; their faces will look like flat shields, and their shoes will be of hair” – Hadith, [narrated by Muslim]
To add to the above, what would Muhammad ﷺ have materially gained by intentionally lying? It is clear that he believed in the radical reform of the society he had been born into – a society where such things as idol worship, burying one’s daughters alive, brutal racism, and deceiving customers in trade and commerce ran rampant. But surely it would have been counterintuitive to tackle perceptive societal ills such as falsehood with… more falsehood? In actuality, this man had been totally unfazed by offers of extreme wealth and luxury from his enemies (which were made in keen attempts to get him to stop proselytising). In fact, Muhammad ﷺ became wealthy by association when he married the rich and beautiful trader Khadijah (when he was twenty-five years of age, and she forty) but the two sacrificed their wealth when Muhammad ﷺ received his first revelation fifteen years after this wedding. It is also worth noting that the acquisition of wives is unlikely to have been a guiding motive for his activities: he was known to have been extremely handsome by all who knew him – even more so than Joseph (Yusuf in Arabic) whose physical beauty had earned him the epithet handsome Yusuf – and hence the occurrence of Muhammad ﷺ’s marriage to Khadijah, who had turned numerous wealthy businessmen (who had asked for her hand in marriage before she met Muhammad ﷺ) away. She instead proposed to that humble, unlearned, kind merchant who worked for her.
A handful of notable sayings of Muhammad ﷺ:
“Speak a good word, or remain silent”
“Those people who show no mercy will receive no mercy from Allah”
“None of you truly believe until you love for your brother what you love for yourself”
“He who is not merciful to our young (people) and who shows no respect to our elderly is not one of us”
“Allah will examine neither your physical appearance nor your possessions. He will only examine your hearts and your actions”
“Wherever you may be, do not oppose Allah; if you perform an evil action, perform a good one afterwards to cancel the evil out; act towards people as required by good morals”
“There are two characteristics that a believer does not have: Meanness and bad morals”
“Modesty always leads to goodness”
“The best of men are those who are best to their wives”
Muhammad ﷺ’s prophetic ventures also led to the sacrifice of his personal security, for his enemies were extreme and widespread. He was pelted by stones by the children of some of said enemies until his legs bled; cow intestines were thrown onto him while he was engaged in prayer on one occasion, in the presence of his young daughter Fatimah; his own neighbour would make it a point to scatter broken glass on his doorstep every morning. [This story is a particularly endearing one: one day, when he saw that there was no glass on his doorstep, he rushed to see if his neighbour was well, out of concern for her wellbeing].
Now, back to the controversial opinions of evangelist apologist Jay Smith, who is unsure as to whether or not Muhammad ﷺ even existed: firstly, how do we come to historical truths about anything at all? Well, we analyse evidence, of course; if there is a wealth of evidence for an event (which, for the entirety of Muhammad ﷺ’s life and after it, there is certainly plenty) we look for similarities and differences between individual sources. We know that the World Wars, Pompeii, the rise of Genghis Khan, took place, and we are aware of their happenings as a result of the primary evidence that such major events inevitably leave in their wake. What’s more, rather interestingly, while there is primary evidence from even Muhammad ﷺ’s enemies about his existence and proselytising activities (take, for example, the extract from the contemporary anti-Jewish polemic the Teaching of Jacob, which speaks of a “deceiving prophet [that] has appeared amidst the Saracens [Arabs]”) there are no primary Roman accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion… at a time when the Romans were known to have been recorders of practically everything, from the weather to mundane activities such as politicians walking their dogs. Further proof for Muhammad ﷺ’s existence can be derived from his modern descendants – who are popularly referred to as Sayyids – and who can each present genealogical evidence for being members of his ensuing bloodline. [Random pointless fact: I actually went to school alongside two such people, one of whom is a proud Sayyid, and who carries around a copy of his family tree in his pocket, and the other of whom is more modest about her own status as being a Sayyida [the feminine form of the term] on both sides of her family].
By way of continuing to analyse the question at hand via a Christian lens: there is strong evidence to suggest that the prophethood of Muhammad ﷺ had been foretold in the Bible – in both the Old and New Testaments. Arguably, Isaiah 2 speaks of a ‘servant coming to glorify the Lord’, referring to the person in question as a descendant of Ishmael; who will bring a new Law; who will who will not praise “graven images”; who will “sing a new song”. [Note: the Islamic view is in agreement with the Christian view with regard to how Jesus was born of a virgin mother. However, this does not equate to God being his literal ‘father’; rather, the Qur’an states that “the likeness of Jesus is as that of Adam” (– Holy Qur’an, [3:59]), i.e. both were biologically fatherless. Fascinatingly, both Adam and Jesus are mentioned in the Qur’an 25 times respectively].
An extreme skeptic might put forth the case that the Hadiths from which we glean the sayings and stories we now have from Muhammad ﷺ’s life are either fabricated or corrupted, and that the Qur’an has been changed over time. With regard to the first possible refutation, the conventions of historicity must be consulted once again. How do we know that what has been said about this man (and there are narrations about practically every aspect of his life, from his sleeping habits to the manner in which he would receive guests) is true? Consider this: Muhammad ﷺ had hundreds of companions and followers who accepted his message. Many of them wrote about him, narrating what he said and did, and made it a point to pass these recounts down to their children, who migrated to different regions [modern Sayyids are an ethnically heterogenous group; one of the two I went to school with was Iraqi, and the other Lebanese] and continued to pass the stories down. Of course, the fact that news of the Muslim Prophet’s sayings and doings were transmitted orally renders them susceptible to human error – to embellishments and redactions and misinterpretation – as in a game of Chinese Whispers. However, the fact that there exists a high degree of similitude between hundreds upon hundreds of the Hadiths that early modern history has produced (from the mouths of Sayyids in all corners of the globe, and prior to the advent of the internet) is suggestive of the fact that most of these Hadiths have origins that can safely be verified.
“Your companion has not strayed; he is not deluded; he does not speak from his own desire” – Holy Qur’an, [53:2]
Extract from Hamza Tzortzis’ book The Divine Reality about the rigorous process via which Hadiths are authenticated:
“An objection to the argument that has been presented includes that there can be another option to explain the Prophet Muhammad’s ﷺ claim to prophethood. This additional option is that the Prophet ﷺ‘s claim is based on a legend. In other words, it has no basis in established history. This objection maintains that the narratives and testimonies that underpin the life of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ cannot be trusted or independently verified. In essence, the proponent of this contention does not trust Islamic history.
The ‘legend’ objection is incoherent and exposes a lack of knowledge concerning how scholars ensured the historical integrity of the sources of the life of the Prophet ﷺ. The Islamic approach to preserving history is based on two main elements: the island, known as ‘the chain of narration’, and the main, meaning ‘the text or report’. There are robust criteria used to establish a sound chain of narration and a report. This is not the place to go into detail about this Islamic science (referred to as ‘Ilm ul-hadith in the Islamic intellectual tradition; the knowledge of narrations); however, a brief summary of what it entails will be enough to demonstrate its robustness.
- In order for the chain of narration to be authentic, many rational criteria for each narrator would have to be fulfilled. Some of these include:The name, nickname, title, parentage and occupation of the narrator should be known. The original narrator should have stated that he heard the narration directly from the Prophet ﷺ.If a narrator referred his narration to another narrator, the two should have lived in the same period and have had the possibility of meeting each other.
- At the time of hearing and transmitting the narration, the narrator should have been physically and mentally capable of understanding and remembering it.
- The narrator should have been known as a pious and virtuous person.
- The narrator should not have been accused of having lied [in general areas of life, such as business], given false evidence or committed a crime.
- The narrator should not have spoken against other reliable people.
- In order for the text of the report to be accepted, the number of rational criteria must be fulfilled. Some of these include:The text should have been stated in plain and simple language as this was the undisputed manner of speech of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.A text which refers to actions that should have been commonly known and practised by others but were not known and practised, was rejected.A text contrary to the basic teachings of the Qur’an was rejected.
- A text inconsistency with well-known historical facts was rejected.
Note that thousands of Hadiths have been deemed inauthentic as a result of failing to meet any one of the above criteria.
Unless there is a significant branch of possibility that I have (inadvertently) omitted from this article, we are left with only two outstanding possibilities: a) that Muhammad ﷺ had indeed been chosen by God Almighty to convey the message of pure monotheism, and of the reality of this world and the next, to humanity, and b) that Muhammad ﷺ had been a genius liar who … somehow managed to: write the Qur’an (an inexpressibly rich and inimitable work) and make a large number of accurate predictions (all of which would have been met with incredulity at the time) and who had knowledge about such things as embryology [leading to one Professor Keith Moore authoring a book entitled The Developing Foetus in light of Qur’anic discourse on it] as well as the fact that the universe is expanding… 1400 years ago… despite having been illiterate and not of a learned background.
“If you have doubts about the revelation We have sent down to Our servant, then produce a single Surah like it- enlist whatever supporters you have other than God – if you truly [think you can]” – Holy Qur’an, [2:23]
If you delve into the hundreds of Hadiths (narrations of the Prophet ﷺ) as reported by his companions, you will find that, whether you believe he was divinely appointed or not, Muhammad ﷺ was a man of tremendous masculinity, inner and outer beauty, honesty, grace, kindness, wisdom and humility. And, whether you are Muslim (a term referring to one who submits to God, one God and to God alone) or not, the more you investigate the qualities and sayings of Muhammad ﷺ, the more that it becomes almost impossible to argue against the view that he was an extraordinary human being; one that endured much pain at the hands of fate, his enemies, and, occasionally, of those closest to him; one that rose to become the world’s most influential leader, an anti-racist and anti-misogynist at a time of entrenched and seemingly insurmountable racism and misogyny [the list of his virtues goes on] as well as a wonderful guide for humanity, in equal parts in his tenure as a statesman, a husband, a friend, a merchant, a father, and, of course, as a humble but esteemed servant of God, one God, and of God alone.
Recommended Further Reading
Sadia Ahmed Jannath, 2019
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