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The Muslim scholars derived the illiteracy concept for Muhammad
from verses 7:157-158 of the Quran. They say that the word ummy
means illiterate. It is true that in today’s standard Arabic,
“illiterate” is one of the meaning of this word. But
this is not a compelling evidence, since “gentile” is
also another meaning of it. In fact, if we study the Quran carefully
where this word is found, its usage has always been in the context
of “the people of the scripture” vs. “the gentiles”
(see for example 3:20, 3:75, 62:2, 2:78). It is even possible to
surmise that the “illiterate” meaning is secondary.
It came to be used after the Quran was revealed, since it is reasonable
to deduct “illiterate” as the opposite of “those
who can read.” This in turn may well be coming from “those
who read the book,” or “those who received the book,”
or “the people of the book” (ahl al-Kitab), which is
precisely the opposite of “the gentiles.”
It is interesting that in his book “Sirat Rasul Allah,”
the 8th century historian Ibn Ishaq also recorded a written communication
between Prophet Muhammad and one of his contemporaries. Ibn Ishaq
wrote one of the earliest chronicles of Islam (he was born in Medina
some 85 years after the Hijra), and his book predates hadith collections
by at least a century. Of course, as with any historical records
(of which the hadith collection is one), we must apply a certain
degree of judgment. Our primary criterion is of course information
from God’s revelation, i.e. the Quran. Therefore, some things
that Ibn Ishaq (or anyone else for that matter) wrote, which clearly
disagree with the Quran, we can easily reject. On the other hand,
other records that support the Quran can be accepted as part of
history. What follows, therefore, is a historical record from early
During the prophet Muhammad’s
time, there were some people who also claimed to be God’s
prophet and messenger. One of them was Musaylima b. Habib. The following
is a quote from Guillaume’s translation of Ibn Ishaq’s
MUSAYLIMA’S LETTER AND THE APOSTLE’S
Musaylima had written to the apostle (Prophet Muhammad):
From Musaylima the apostle of God to Muhammad
the apostle of God. Peace upon you. I have been made partner with
you in authority. To us belongs half the land and to Quraysh half,
but Quraysh are a hostile people...
Then he (Prophet Muhammad) wrote to Musaylima:
From Muhammad the apostle of God to Musaylima
the liar. Peace be upon him who follows the guidance. The earth
is God’s. He lets whom He will of His creatures (to) inherit
it and the result is to the pious...
This was at the end of the year 10 (after Hijra).
There were other instances in the history of early Islam where
Prophet Muhammad sent many letters to Kings and other heads of state,
inviting them to embrace God's religion. The only plausible conclusion
is that he realized the importance of written communication, as
God has taught in the earliest revelation. Ibn Ishaq’s chronicle
on this issue provides a historical evidence to support the fact
that Muhammad was indeed a literate prophet.
[From Friday khutba at Masjid Tucson, October 27,
Reference: Guillaume, A., The Life of Muhammad, a
translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah, Oxford,
1967, p. 649.
let’s get together
11th Annual International Conference
August 9-11, 1996
The conference registration fee is $57 per person. The fee is $29
for children 5-12 years old. Children under 5 are free. The registration
fee covers two lunches and two dinners, and miscellaneous conference
expenses. It does NOT include the hotel room charges.
We made special arrangements with a first class hotel and reserved
rooms for our group. The special rate is $72 per room per night
(for example, a single adult pays $72 total for 2 nights assuming
double occupancy). The room rate includes full breakfast. Participants
pay the room charges to the hotel directly on departure.
Please make your plans right away to attend the conference. If
you travel by air, you need to fly into Houston Intercontinental
airport. The hotel has free shuttle service from the airport.
Registrations for the conference must be received by July 21. Please
send the registration fees to:
PO BOX 43476
TUCSON, AZ 85733-3476
Registration highlights and notes:
- Adults: $57
- Children (ages 5-12): $29
- Children under 5: Free
- Room charges paid to the hotel directly at check-out.
- You do not have to make reservations for the hotel. We make
the reservations for you. Please do not delay your registration.
- You can stay at the hotel before and after the conference dates
at the special rate for ICS.
- Notify us right away if you would like give a talk at the conference.
Indicate your topic. The time allotted for talks is 15-20 minutes.
Attendance to the conference by registration and invitation only.
We appreciate your prompt response. God willing, we will see you