The Illiterate Prophet

Yishan Jufu

Some Arab Christians apologists falsely claim that Prophet Muhammad(P) was literate and even knew many languages. They base their falsehood on the interpolation of the word “umiyy” and claim that it stands for “non-Israelite” or “Gentile” and that it does not mean “illiterate”.

One wonders why would Arab Christians make such a false claim? The answer is that in trying to prove that the Prophet Muhammad(P) was not “illiterate”, they would be achieving the following goal, that

  • the Prophet(P) did know how to read and write, and hence
  • he(P) did copy the Qur’an from the previous Scriptures (the Torah and the Injil)

When it is presented to them that the word “umiyy” means “illiterate” in Arabic, and proof is available from the term “mahwo al-umiyyah”, literally “erasing illiteracy” or “educating the illiterate adults”, Arab Christians claim that this term is a late one that was developed but does not prove that the word “umiyy” means “illiterate”.

This article will present, beyond a shadow of doubt, the truth behind the word “umiyy” and will prove that it stands for “illiterate” from within the Qur’anic context itself since the critics tend to use the Qur’an in their vain attempts to discredit the Prophet Muhammad(P).

Let us start by quoting Qur’anic verses that testify to the “illiteracy” of the Prophet(P).

Verses 7:157-158 testify to the illiteracy of the Prophet(P):

7:157 “Those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered [al-umiyya] Prophet, whom they find mentioned in their own (Scriptures) -in the Law and the Gospel- for he commands them what is just and forbids them what is evil; he allows them as lawful what is good (and pure) and prohibits them from what is bad (and impure); he releases them from their heavy burdens and from the yokes that are upon them. So it is those who believe in him, honour him, help him, and follow the Light which is sent down with him,it is they who will prosper.”

7:158 Say: “O men! I am sent unto you all, as the Messenger of Allah to Whom belongeth the dominion of the heavens and the earth: there is no god but He: it is He that giveth both life and death. So believe in Allah and His Messenger, the unlettered [al-umiyyi] Prophet, who believed in Allah and His Words: follow him that (so) ye may be guided.”

Verses 29:47-49 refute (1400 years ago) the false claims of what the Arab Christians are saying today:

29:47 And thus (it is) that We have sent down the Book to thee. So the People of the Book believe therein, as also do some of these (Pagan Arabs) and none but Unbelievers reject Our Signs.

29:48 And thou wast not (able) to recite a Book before this (Book came), nor art thou (able) to transcribe it with thy right hands: in that case, indeed, would the talkers of vanities have doubted.

29:49 Nay, here are Signs self-evident in the hearts of those endowed with knowledge: and none but the unjust reject Our Signs.

The above two sets of verses are enough proof to the lack of “literacy” of the Prophet Muhammad (P). However, knowing how recalcitrant some anti-Islamic apologists are, as well as their lack of logic when dealing with the Qur’an it is therefore necessary to present further Qur’anic proof that will stifle their falsehoods and hopefully forever.

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The Christian Arabs and their parrot-like non-Arab partners keep repeating the nonsense that “umiyy” means “non-Israelite” or “Gentile”. What will happen when the Qur’?itself refutes this claim by attributing the very same word to the Jews? It should be sufficient proof against the fallacies of the Arab Christian apologists, and it should prove beyond any shadow of doubt that their claims are as false as their “Trinity” doctrine that was never preached by the Prophet Jesus(P).

Let us read the following verses objectively and in its context:

2:75 Can ye (O ye men of Faith) entertain the hope that they will believe in you? Seeing that a party of them heard the Word of Allah and perverted it knowingly after they understood it.
2:76 Behold! when they meet the men of Faith, they say: “We believe”: but when they meet each other in private, they say: “Shall you tell them what Allah hath revealed to you, that they may engage you in argument about it before your Lord?” Do ye not understand (their aim)
2:77 Know they not that Allah knoweth what they conceal and what they reveal?
2:78 And there are among them illiterates [umiyyouna], who know not the Book, but (see therein their own) desires, and they do nothing but conjecture.
2:79 Then woe to those who write the Book with their own hands, and then say: “This is from Allah ” to traffic with it for a miserable price! Woe to them for what their hands do write, and for the gain they make thereby.
2:80 And they say: “The Fire shall not touch us but for a few numbered days”: say: “Have ye taken a promise from Allah for He never breaks His promise? Or is it that ye say of Allah what ye do not know?”
2:81 Nay, those who seek gain in Evil and are girt round by their sins, they are Companions of the Fire: therein shall they abide (for ever).
2:82 But those who have Faith and work righteousness. They are Companions of the Garden: therein shall they abide (for ever).
2:83 And remember We took a Covenant from the Children of Israel (to this effect): worship none but Allah treat with kindness your parents and kindred, and orphans and those in need; speak fair to the people; be steadfast in prayer; And practice regular charity. Then did ye turn back, except a few among you, and ye backslide (even now).

From verses 2:75-83, one should notice that they are talking of those who have a Book (the Jews), those who concealed parts of it and who had a Covenant with God according to a consensus among Muslims. In view of the above, one is bound to wonder how can the Jews be called “non-Jews” according to the logic (or lack of it) of some Christian apologists?

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The Qur’anic texts prove that the use of the word “umiyy” or the plural “umiyyoun” stands for “illiterate” and not for “non-Jews” (goyem).

To describe the misguided apologists and their misguiding efforts against the truth, allow me to quote a verse from the Qur’an that is very proper for the situation:

28:75 And from each people shall We draw a witness, and We shall say: “Produce your proof”; then shall they know that the Truth is in Allah (alone), and the (lies) which they invented will leave them in the lurch.

Peace to all the believers in The One True God, The Creator “Allah”.


A. Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur’an: Text, Translation and Commentary

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