The Quran, The Prophet And Writing (2)

The Quran, The Prophet And Writing (2)

However, knowing words, grammar, and the like are not in themselves knowledge, for these will not make us aware of true relationship between the objects. Instead, they will help us to know a series of conventional matters which do not go beyond the limit of assumption. Knowing these matters means knowing the keys to knowledge rather than "knowledge" itself. Of course, a series of real phenomena such as the development of words and compositions, which represent the evolution of thought and take place on the basis of natural laws, appear in the context of such conventional matters; and needless to say that it is a part of philosophy and knowledge to know these natural laws. Consequently, the value of literacy lies in the fact that the man can find the key to others' knowledge.

Now, let's see whether acquiring knowledge is limited to man's getting the key to the knowledge of others and making use of it. Does the Prophet have to make use of the knowledge of mankind? If so, then what happens to genius and initiative and to the direct acquisition of knowledge from nature? It actually happens that the inferior way of seeking knowledge is through the sayings and writing of others, for not only the seeker's personality does not play its role in this process, but also in man's writings, there can be found illusions and realities interwoven.

The famous French philosopher, Descartes, after having published a series of articles, earned a worldwide fame and his sayings gave rise to the amazement and admiration of one and all. One of those who had read Descartes' articles and was astounded by them, and whose viewpoint was the same as of Dr Sayyid `Abd al-Latif, thought that Descartes had found a valuable treasure of books and manuscripts and had received all his knowledge and information from these sources. He met Descartes and requested him to show -his library. Descartes directed him to a place where he had dissected the dead body of a calf, and addressed the man: "This is my library. I have gained all my knowledge from `these' books". The late Sayyid Jamal al-Din Asadabadi used to say: "It is quite strange that some people spend a long life studying the books and writings by their fellow-human beings under the light of a lamp, but if they close the books one night and study the same lamp, they will acquire much more knowledge."

Nobody is born learned, Ali people are ignorant at the beginning, and they become learned little by little. In other words, every person, with the exception of Allah (SWT), is ignorant himself but turns out to be knowledgeable by virtue of some other forces, causes, and means. Thus, every individual is in need of an instructor - an inspiring force. Allah (SWT) speaks of the Holy Prophet (SA) in this respect in the following verse: "Did He not find you an orphan and give you shelter? Did He not find you unable to see and show you the way? Did He not find you in need and make you free from need?"(1)

But, in principle, who and what should the instructor be? Does the man out of necessity have to acquire knowledge from another of his fellow beings? If so, then he would essentially have the key to the knowledge of others (ie, "literacy") at his disposal. Is the man not in a position to be the initiator himself? Can he not study the book of nature and creation independent of others? Is the man not in a position commune with the ghayb (invisible) and the kingdom of heaven, and Allah (SWT) directly becomes his instructor and guide? The Holy Qur'an clarifies this in respect of the Prophet (SA): "Nor does he speak out of desire. This is naught but revelation that is revealed; the Lord of Mighty Power has taught him.”(2)

Imam `Ali (AS) speaks about the Holy Prophet (SA): "Allah (SWT) had appointed His most honorable angel to look after him since his very childhood. The angel led him to noble ways and manners and the best morals of the world."(3)

In his outstanding "Al-Muqaddamah (Introduction)", Ibn Khaldun regards the perfection of writing to lie in the fact that man leads a social life, ie, members of human society need the knowledge of one another. He depicts the evolutionary course of writing in different civilizations and after pointing out the advent of writing in Hijaz, continues thus: "In the early days of Islam, writing enjoyed its initial forms so far as its technical aspect was concerned, and the ways of writings of Prophet's Companions were undoubtedly defective. However, their followers and successors retained the same ways of writing and regarded them as sacred and honorable in transcribing the Holy Qur'an, without making any alterations, though some ways were in distinct opposition to the rules of writing. Consequently, some of the Qur'anic terms and phrases remained in a specific form of writing."

Ibn Khaldun adds:"We should not be mistaken about the difference between perfection in technical and practical matters, including prescribed forms of writing, which are relative and dependent on means of living, and the absolute perfection, the lack of which creates real defects in man's humanity." He then sets forth the issue of the Prophet's unclutteredness and concludes: "The Prophet was untaught, and being untaught was an accomplishment for him, for he had received his knowledge from the heavens. But for us, being untaught means defect and imperfection, for it indicates our very ignorance."(4)

Other Qur'anic verses to which Dr `Abd al-Latif refers are 3rd and 4th verses of Surat al-Bayyinah.(5) He says: "It is quite strange that the translators and commentators of the Holy Qur'an have been heedless of these verses about the Holy Prophet (SA), in which Allah (SWT) says: '(Muhammad) a messenger from Allah, reciting pages purified, therein true Books'. We should take into consideration the fact that in these verses it is not mentioned that the Holy Prophet (SA) narrated the holy "suhuf" (ie, pages) by heart. It is rather stipulated that he read from the texts."

The answer to this reasoning will be clear when the meanings of the two words (ie, "Sahifah" and "yatlu") in the above-mentioned verses are understood. The meaning of the verses is: "The Holy Prophet (SA) reads to the people some purified pages on which there are true and everlasting writings." Now, since the "pages" here means the very sheets on which the Qur'anic verses were recorded, it is obvious that the Holy Prophet (SA) recited the Holy Qur'an for the people.

The word "yatlu" (from the root "tilawah") does not have the sense, "reading from a text" and nowhere has it been so employed. A consideration of various applications of the words "tilawah" and "qira'ah" makes it clear that not every kind of expression can be called "tilawah" or "qira'ah". Rather, these words are employed in cases where the material read is related to a certain text, regardless of being read from memory or from the text. For instance, reciting the Holy Qur'an is both "tilawah" and "qira'ah" whether it is recited from the text of the Qur'an or from one's memory. There is a difference, of course, between the two, that is, "tilawah" is used when reading a holy text but "qira'ah" can be applied to any reading, holy or unholy sort of written material. As an example, in case of reading Sa'di's "Gulistan" only "qira'ah" can be used, and not "tilawah".

At any rate, whether one reads from the text or from the memory, it does not :lave anything to do with the concepts of "tilawah" and "qira'ah". Thus, the above-mentioned verses indicate no more than the fact that the Prophet (SA) read to the people the Qur'anic verses which were recorded on some sheets. And there was essentially no need for the Prophet (SA) to read the verses of the Qur'an from the text while hundreds of Muslims recite them from the memory. Had the Prophet (SA) not memorized the Holy Qur'an? In fact, Allah (SWT) had guaranteed his memory. In Surat Al-'A`la, verse 6, the Holy Qur'an says: "We shall make you recite so you shall not forget.”(6)

It is thus clear that one cannot conclude from the Qur'anic verses that the Prophet (SA) of Allah (SWT) was able to read and write. Rather, contrary to this fact can be concluded. Even if we conclude on the basis of the Qur'anic verses to that effect, it would be something belonging to the prophetic period, whereas Dr Sayyid `Abd al-Latif's claim is that the Prophet (SA) was able to read and write before his appointment as a prophet.



1. (The Holy Quran 93: 6-8)

2. (The Holy Quran 53: 3-5)

3. Nahj al-Balaghah" Sermon No 190

4. Ibn Khaldun, Al Muqaddamah (Introduction)", Ibrahim Hilmi Press, p 494, 495.

5. (The Holy Quran, Surah 98)

6. (The Holy Quran 87:6)