Prophets Life and
Mission as a Messenger
Mission as a Messenger
The Unlettered Teacher of Humanity
Did the Prophet ﷺ know how to read & write?
The answer to the question is clearly mentioned in the Quran where Allah ﷻ said that Prophet did not know how to read and write: “for, [O Muhammad,] you have never been able to recite any divine book before this one [was revealed], nor did you ever transcribe one with your own hand - or else, they who try to disprove the truth [of your revelation] might indeed have had cause to doubt [it].” This is one of the greatest proof of Quran’s miraculous origin that the Prophet ﷺ could not have authored it. In fact, this was a challenging statement for the opponents of his times, and those of contemporary times, that if he was unlettered then how he managed to write a book that made such a global impact and brought one of the greatest revolutions of modern history. In another verse of the Quran, Allah ﷻ explicitly called him the unlettered prophet: “…Believe, then, in God and His Messenger - the unlettered Prophet who believes in God and His words - and follow him, so that you might find guidance!” The term ummi is translated in this verse as ‘unlettered’ in English which is a correct and more civilized translation instead of ‘illiterate’ which sounds more negative. Many translations have translated this word as ‘illiterate’, which is incorrect because even though he did not know how to read and write yet there was no human ever to walk on the face of the earth who was more educated and knowledgeable than he was! Mawlana Jalal al-Din Rumi, a famous Sufi wrote in his masterpiece Mathnavi: “How could the one who wrote over the moon when he cut it in two, be illiterate?” An authentic hadith describes the major incident of his first revelation of the Quran. It tells us of his conversation with Archangel Gabriel (alaihi salaam) which confirms his inability to read or write:
“One night, the Angel of Revelation suddenly appeared to him and said, "Read!" Muhammad at first thought that he was expected to read actual script, which, being unlettered, he was unable to do; and so he answered, "I cannot read" - whereupon, in his own words, the angel "seized me and pressed me to himself until all strength went out of me; then he released me and said, 'Read!' I answered, 'I cannot read....' Then he seized me again and pressed me to himself until all strength went out of me; then he released me and said, 'Read!' - to which I [again] answered, 'I cannot read....' Then he seized me and pressed me to himself a third time; then he released me and said, 'Read in the name of your Sustainer, who has created - created man out of a germ-cell! Read - for your Sustainer is the Most Bountiful One...'": and so Muhammad understood, in sudden illumination, that he was called upon to "read", that is, to receive and understand, God's message to man. The above excerpts are quoted from the third Tradition of the section Bad al- Wahy, which forms the introductory chapter of Bukhari's Sahih; almost identical versions of this Tradition are found in two other places in Bukhari as well as in Muslim, Nasa'i and Tirmidhi.” (Message of the Quran - English commentary of the Quran by Muhammad Asad).
Why did the Prophet ﷺ remained unlettered even after the revelation?
As for the reason why the Prophet ﷺ remained unlettered even after his prophethood is due to divine wisdom in the Quran where Allah ﷻ says: “VERILY, in the Messenger of God you have a best example for everyone who looks forward (with hope and fear] to God.” Since the Quran refers to him as the best teacher and model for all humanity, hence if he had a teacher, that would make that teacher the best and not the Prophet thus contradicting the Quranic advice to follow his model. Therefore, divine wisdom decreed that he remain unlettered so that it is known that the best personality to ever walk on the face of this earth had only one teacher and that was Allah ﷻ Himself.
 Al Quran 29:48
 Al Quran 7:158
 The word Ummi by Shaykh Gibril Haddad – As-Sunnah Foundation of America
 Al Quran 33:21
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