Muslims around the world believe that Muhammad was an illiterate man; that he was not able to read or write. Allah also claims the same, rather proudly, in the Quran. Yet, there is strong evidence against this assertion.
I have shown in previous work that Muhammad was in fact able to read and write.
Muslims do not seem to read reliable historical Islamic sources; else they will believe that Muhammad was indeed able to read and write if he wanted to. He just did not like to do much of that. The Prophet's biography (Sirat) of Ibn Hesham (translated by Mohammad Mahdi al-Shariff, Dar Al-kotob Al-Ilmiyah, Lebanon, 2006) seems to support the view that Muhammad was a literate man. On page 41 we read the following:
The messenger of Allah (PBUH), himself narrated this story as follows: (Gabriel came to me carrying a carpet of silk as I was sleeping within which there was a book and said to me: “Read.”
I said: “I never read.”
He compressed me with it so strongly that I thought it to be the death.
Then, he let me and said again: “Read.”
I said also: “I never read.”
He compressed me with it once again so strongly that I thought it to be the death.
He let me and said: “Read.”
I said this time: “What can I read?”
He said: “Read in the name of your lord who has created; created man from leech; read and your lord is the most bounteous; who taught people with the pen. Taught man what he did never learn before.”
I read it myself; and he went away. Awoke of my sleep, I found it as if it were written within my heart.
I got out to the middle of the mountain where I heard a voice coming from the sky sounding: “Oh Mohammad, you are the messenger of Allah, and I am Gabriel!”
I raised my head up to the sky and found him in a shape of a man with his feet covering the horizons. I became fixed, not be able to move forward or backward. Everywhere I turned my head away from seeing him, I found him standing up as he was. He said again: “Oh Mohammad, you are the messenger of Allah, and I am Gabriel!”
Above quote from Ibn Hesham shows that Muhammad was in fact able to read. There are two reasons to my contention:
- First, I underlined in blue two statements by Muhammad showing that he was able to read. When someone asks you ‘What can I read’, there is an implied assumption that that person can read. Also, when Muhammad himself says ‘I read it myself’, aren’t we supposed to take this statement as evidence that he was able to do some reading?
- Second, Allah sends Gabriel to Muhammad and the first thing that Gabriel utters is ‘Read’. If an all-knowing Allah did not know that Muhammad was able to read, would he send a message to ‘Read’ to start with?