SHAFAQNA – One of the highlights in the life of the great Prophet Muhammad (SA) is the fact that he was untrained and unschooled (ie, he did not attend any school). He had not been trained by any teacher and neither he had acquainted himself with any written work.
No historian, Muslim or non-Muslim, can be found who would claim that the Prophet (SA) had been taught to read or write by anyone in his childhood or youth, let alone during his old age, which was the time of his mission. No one has ever either indicated an instance of the Prophet (SA) having read or written a line.
The Arabs, particularly those from Hijaz, were generally unlettered during that period, and those of them who could read and write were very well-known and very few in number. It would, as a rule, be impossible for a man to learn this skill under such conditions and not be well-known for this virtue among the people.
As we know, and will be later discussed, at William James Durant remarks: “Evidently no one thought of teaching him (the great Prophet) reading and writing. At that time the art of reading, and writing was of little significance to the Arabs. For this very reason, there were no more than seventeen persons among the Quraysh tribe who could read and write.
It is not known that Muhammad himself should have written anything. After his appointment as Prophet, he had a special scribe for him. Yet the most popular and eloquent Arabic book was recited by him. He had a better acquaintance and grasp of the affairs than the educated ones”.
John Davenport in his book entitled: “Apology for Fault to Muhammad and Qur’an” observes: “As regards education, such as is usual throughout the world, it is the general belief that Muhammad had no education other than that which was commonly practiced in his tribe”.
Constante Vergil Giorgio in his book entitled: “Muhammad – a Prophet to Be Acquainted with Afresh” remarks: “Although he was unschooled, the early verses sent down to him spoke of the pen and knowledge; namely of writing, putting into writing, learning, and of teaching. In no other major religion has knowledge been so extensively appreciated, and no other religion can be found in which such an importance has been attached to knowledge, at its initial stage of development. Had Muhammad been a scholar, no surprise would be caused at the verses having been sent down into the Ghar Hira’ (Hira’ Cave), since a scholar appreciates knowledge, but the Prophet was neither schooled nor tutored. I congratulate the Muslims on their religion having so dearly regarded, at its inception, the acquisition of knowledge”.
Gustav Lébon in his famous work: “The Civilization of Islam and the Arabs” notes:
“It is well-known that the Prophet was unschooled. This stands to reason also by appealing to inductive generalization, that if he happened to be knowledgeable, the contents and paragraphs of Qur’an would have been better interrelated. Furthermore, if Muhammad was not unschooled, he would not have been capable of propagating a new religion, for an unschooled person is better aware of the needs of the common (illiterate) people and thus is more capable of helping them to the right path. However, whether the Prophet was schooled or unschooled, undoubtedly, he was possessing the highest degree of intellect, wisdom and awareness”.
Not being conversant with the Qur’anic concepts, materialistically oriented Gustav Lébon fabricates nonsensical words concerning the relationships of Qur’anic verses and the incapability of the educated to understand the needs of the uneducated, thus insults the Qur’an and the Prophet (SA). Yet he admits that there is no recorded evidence or indication concerning the Prophet (SA) having been able to read and write.
I am not intending to seek supportive evidence by quoting the above. The Muslims and the easterners themselves are better qualified to comment on the history of Islam and the east. My purpose in bringing in the above quotations is for letting the readers know that had there been the slightest indication to this effect, it would not have escaped the inquisitive and critical attention of non-Muslim historians.
In the course of his journey to Damascus, the great Prophet (SA), accompanied by Abu Talib (AS), stayed at a resting place on his way, during which he had a brief meeting with a monk named Buhayra.
This meeting has diverted the attention of the orientalists to this question that the Prophet (SA) might have been taught through this short meeting. When an incident as insignificant as this, attracts the attention of his old and new enemies, had there ever been some record testifying the Holy Prophet’s knowledge of reading and writing, it would have not remained hidden from them, but, it would rather have been magnified several times.
For clarification, the point will be discussed in two parts: (1) The Pre-prophetic period; and (2) The Post-prophetic period.
The post-prophetic period, will also be discussed in two parts: (i) Writing; and (ii) Reading
Later on, it will be concluded that it is unanimously agreed upon, by both Muslim and non-Muslim scholars, that before his prophetic mission the Prophet (SA) had not the slightest acquaintance with either reading or writing. However, during the post-prophetic period it is not very certain. During the post-prophetic period what is more certain is that he could not write; however, the fact that he could not read is not so certain. It can be concluded from certain Shi’i accounts that he could read but not write during the post-prophetic period. Although Shi’i accounts are also not unanimous in this respect. What can be inferred from the various pieces of evidence is that he neither read nor wrote during the post-prophetic period also.
In order to study the pre-prophetic period, we need to discuss the general conditions which prevailed in, what is now, Saudi Arabia during that period from the viewpoints of reading and writing.
It is inferred from historical accounts that those who could read and write at the advent of Islam were very few in number.