Historical Facts About The knowledge of the Prophet (PBUH&HP)

Historical Facts About the Knowledge of the Prophet (PBUH&HP)

Dr Sayyid `Abd al-Latif claims that it is possible to prove, through historical facts and traditions, that the Prophet (SA) used to read and write. He supports this by two facts.

(1) He states: "Al-Bukhari relates within the narrations and ahadith recorded in the Chapter: "Al-Ilm" (the knowledge that the Prophet (SA) gave 'Ali, his son-in-law, a secret letter and told specifically not to open it, but have the name of the recipient in his mind and hand him over the letter. Who else other than the Prophet could have written the letter while even 'Ali, his son-in-law and his trusted person did not know its content?(1) Unfortunately, the narration in Sahih al-Bukhari does not mention 'Ali's (AS) name as the carrier of the letter, whereas Dr `Abd al-Latif concludes that the Prophet (SA) himself had written the letter, on the basis that he kept its contents a secret even to 'Ali (AS): In Sahih al-Bukhari, Chapter "Al-Ilm" Al-Bukhari asserts: "The Prophet set off a group of people and handed a letter to their commander and asked him not to open it before he arrived at a certain place."

He does not say that their commander was 'Ali (AS). The contents of the narration reveal, in addition, that the one to open it should have been the carrier of the letter not a third person, as assumed by Dr `Abd al-Latif. What Al-Bukhari has narrated is really connected with a story called "Batn al-Nakhlah" recorded in books of history and Prophetic traditions. Both Ibn Hisham's "Sirah "(2) (under the title: `Abdullah ibn Jahsh's sariyyah) and Bihar al-Anwar(3) relate the same narration that the carrier of the letter was `Abdullah ibn Jahsh. It is said that the Prophet (SA) asked him to open the letter after two days' journey and do as it instructed, and he did so and acted upon the Messenger of Allah's command.

Al-Waqidi's "Al-Maghazi" states in explicit terms that Ubay ibn Ka'b was the writer of the letter, not the Holy Prophet (SA). It says: "Abdullah ibn Jahsh said: `Once, after the Salat al-Isha' (night prayer), the Prophet asked me to come to him the next morning early, armed and ready, to be sent on a mission. The next day, after the Salat al-Fajr (morning prayer), held in the mosque in congregation under the leadership of the Prophet, I was standing near the Prophet's house armed and prepared. Some other Companions were present there too like me. The Prophet summoned Ubay ibn Ka'b and ordered him to write a letter. Then, he handed me over the closed letter and said: `You are the commander of these people.

Open this letter after two nights of journey on the mentioned path, and act as it instructs.' I did what I had been told after two days and noticed that I had been ordered to go to Batn al-Nakhlah (a place between Makkah and Waif) to obtain necessary information about the Quraysh's caravan. In addition, I had been advised not to compel any of the men to accompany me in the task. Of course, it was a dangerous mission. I told my friends that whoever is ready for the martyrdom could accompany me, and that the remaining were free to go back. They all unanimously remarked: We all heard and shall obey Allah, His Prophet and you.'(4) Accordingly, what Dr `Abd al-Latif has based his claim on is totally unfounded.

(2) Dr `Abd al-Latif further states: "As narrated by Al-Bukhari and Ibn Hisham..., the Prophet (SA) wrote the treaty by his own hand.":

Firstly, Al-Bukhari has quoted this in one narration and has related the contrary in another.

Secondly, Sunni scholars have almost unanimously asserted that although Al-Bukhari's statement apparently indicates that the Prophet (SA) himself has written it, this has not been the intention of the narrator. Al-Halabi's "Sirah", narrates the story in the same manner and even states: "The Holy Prophet asked `All to delete the words: "Allah's Messenger'." but adds, quoting narration of Al-Bukhari, that some have taken this as a miracle carried out by the Prophet (SA). It, however, mentions afterward: "Some have said that this narration is not acceptable by some knowledgeable persons. It actually implies that the Prophet ordered someone to write and that he did not write it himself."

He adds:

"Abul-Walid Baji Maliki from Spain, who intended to rely on the apparent meaning of Al-Bukhari's statement was seriously refuted by the Spanish scholars."(5) However, Ibn Hisham's "Sirah" does not include such a statement and it is not clear as why did Dr `Abd al-Latif ascribe this to Ibn Hisham.' We have already mentioned that from the historical point of view, what is inferred from most narrations, is that `Ali (AS) wrote all the written material. That the Prophet (SA) wrote, despite his inability to write, can only be concluded from Al-Tabari's and Ibn Al-Athir's statements. At the most this can be implied that the Prophet (SA) wrote once or more during the prophetic period, whereas, the issue under discussion concerns the period before his prophethood.

The Adversaries' Accusation

It was mentioned at the very beginning of the book that: "The opponents of Islam and the Prophet (SA) accused him of borrowing ideas from others (this accusation is reflected from some verses of the Qur'an). But they did not say that he was literate and knew how to read and write and that he perhaps had some books which he consulted before presenting his views." Someone might, however, claim that the Prophet (SA) accusation is was accused in this respect too. This reflected from the Qur'an where it says: "They say: The stories of the ancient - he has got them written down - so that these are recited to him morning and evening'.(6)

The answer is that this verse does not explicitly indicate their claim that the Prophet (SA) used to write, regardless of the fact that the opponents' accusations were so prejudiced and based on complexes and grudges that, as the Holy Qur'an puts it, only terms like "injustice" and "oppression" can best be used for them. At the same time, the Arabic term "iktitab" means both `to write' and "istiktab" ie, to make someone write something'. Here, the second meaning applies to the verse which would mean "They said: `he has written (or others have written for him) the stories of the ancient, then someone reads to him every morning and evening," "iktitab" is mentioned here in the past tense and "imla"' in the present continuous.

It implies that someone wrote them, and that those who knew how to read, used to come to Prophet (SA) every day and night and read them to him, and that he learned and memorized them. Thus, if the Prophet (SA) knew how to read, they would not necessarily say that others used to read to him day and night; rather, it would suffice them to say that he himself referred to writings and memorized them. Therefore, even the oppressive and accusing infidels of his time, who accused the Prophet (SA) in many ways and named him an insane, a sorcerer, a liar and an imitator of others' oral statements, etc, could not claim that he read the contents of other books to them due to his inability to read and write.


It is inferred from what has already been stated that according to the definite testimony of history, Qur'anic proofs and abundant indications deduced from the history of Islam, the Holy Prophet's (SA) mind was untouched by human teaching. He was a man taught only in the divine school and who received his knowledge from Him alone. He was a flower fostered by the Pre-eternal Gardener and none else. Although Allah (SWT) has nothing to do with the pen, paper, ink, reading and writing, He swore by the pen and its manifestations as a sacred matter in His Holy Book: "Nun' I swear by the pen and what they write.(7) " Allah (SWT) also commanded "reading" in His ,first heavenly message and introduced the knowledge and art of using the pen as the greatest blessing bestowed on man after the blessing of "creation".

The Holy Qur'an states: "Read in the name of your Lord Who created. He created man from a clot. Read and your Lord is Most Honourable; Who taught (to write) with the pen; taught man what he knew not.(8) In fact, the one who had not held a pen in his hand, established the "Pen Movement" immediately after his arrival in Madinah by providing simple facilities. Although he had neither been tutored by man nor had he attended any universities or the like, he turned out to be man's teacher and the founder of universities. Hafiz remarks:

"Brightened and made Heaven's grace manifest, He healed our wandering heart and our wounded chest. He, who attended no school, was dear of mine, Hundreds of tutors were taught with his knowledge, divine. And his graceful glance filled the lovers with spirits raised, The knowledge and wisdom both got amazed." Imam 'Ali al-Rida (AS), in his discussion with the people following other religions, addressed Ra's al-Jalut: "Among the true reasons of his prophethood is that the Prophet was an orphan, a poor shepherd and a worker who had not read any books and had not been taught; yet, he brought a book in which there are the stories of prophets and the information regarding both past and future generations."(9)

What reveals more reasonably the loftiness, grandeur and heavenliness of the Holy Qur'an is the fact that this great divine Book, with myriad instructions concerning the creation, the Resurrection, human beings, morality, law, admonitory stories and sermons - with all its grace, beauty and eloquence - was issued from the tongue of the one who was himself unlettered, who neither attended any school or college nor received any university education and who neither met any of his contemporary scholars nor read a simple book of his time. The sign and miracle that Allah (SWT) granted to His last Prophet (SA) was the book and writing, of speech and meditation, and of feelings and senses. It deals with wisdom, thoughts, the heart and mind. This Holy Book has shown for centuries, and still shows, its extraordinary spiritual authority.

The passage of time cannot make it obsolete. It has fascinated, and continues to fascinate, millions and millions of hearts. It brims over with a life-sustaining power. What thoughtful minds it has induced to meditation! What numerous hearts it has over-flown with spiritual enthusiasm! What countless nightingales of dawn and those keeping a night vigil it has spiritually fed! What tears it has caused to flow on cheeks at midnight out of love for Allah (SWT) and fear of Him. And what enslaved and chained nations has it emancipated from the claws of tyranny and despotism.

The poet says:

"As the Qur'an's seal shone all and everywhere, The Pope's plans it shattered and of the Magi's here and there. Let's open what I really feel in essence, It is not a simple book but has a difference. It transforms into whosoever's soul it enters, Like the transformed soul, the .world also alters. It is clear like "truth", but hard to reach, Alive, everlasting, a manifest speech." Yes, to enlighten more clearly that the Qur'an is a revelation and a miracle for the human beings Allah (SWT), the Everlasting Grace, revealed it to one among His servants who was an orphan, a poor shepherd and a desert-rover and an untaught and unschooled man. "That is Allah's grace; He grants it to whom He wills, and Allah is of abounding bounty.(10)



1. Sahih al-Bukhari, vol 1, p 25.

2. Ibn Hisham, S'irah, vol 1, p 601.

3. Bihar al-Anwar, old edition, vol 6, p 575.

4. Muhammad ibn 'Umar al-Waqidi, Al-Maghazi, vol 1, p 13.

5. Al-Sirah al-Halabiyyah, vol 3, p 24.

6. (The Quran 25: 5)

7. (The Quran 68:1)

8. (The Quran 96:1-5)

9. Uyun Akhbar al-Rida, p

10. (The Quran 62:4)