Reinterpretation of Ummiy: The Critics for Illiteracy of Prophet of Conventional View


A. Introduction

Prophet Mohammed as an illiterate person is a common understanding. Such understanding has hugely spread on all part of Muslims, the well-educated-one either the non-educated. It is such common notation in many occasions or forums that Prophet Muhammad was illiterate. When somebody firstly hears it, possibly he surprises, and will extend some fundamental question then: why? how could it be? how could Prophet Mohammed spread Islam as it became the very big religion while he was illiterate?

Nevertheless, these questions need no discussion any more. There might two possibilities cause this. The first, considering the object asked about is the figure of the Prophet, the very noble and honorable person, therefore his side of glorious, moral excellence and superiority has been very interesting instead of his weakness. This side therefore brings many people to accept this as it was without any discussion. This first possibility of course occurs among the common people. The second, it might also because the very great answer appears that the illiteracy of Mohammed is not some kind of the weakness, rather the evidence of the authenticity of Qur’an as revelation of Allah. This might appear among the academic people.

In the next development, this illiteracy phenomena of Prophet Mohammed no longer occurs in cognitive level as an understanding, but it moves to a belief. The early scholars have uncovered the hikmah beyond this illiteracy which ended to the existence of Qur’an as the revelation and the prophetic miracle of Mohammed. It means, this belief approximately said who denies the illiteracy of Mohammed has denies one of the evidence of the Qur’an as the revelation of God—not a work of Mohammed—and also denies a prophetic miracle of Mohammed. Considering this hikmah, common Muslims accept the illiteracy—that actually for the any others understanding it is a kind of weakness and stupidity—as one attribute of prophet. Such belief has too much influenced the minds of Muslims and therefore this has born a mainstream of understanding that everyone who denies this is wrong.

Nevertheless, this prophetic illiteracy then often becomes the field of such a sharp critics from some people who hate Islam.[1] They said that it is impossible that Qur’an—with its glorious value of letter upon the other scriptures and even the letter book existed—is a composition of the “illiterate” person such Mohammed. It might that he imitated some other books in composition it. It also might that he actually literate person so he can compose such book, not as the belief of every Moslems that he was illiterate.

On the other side, some other critics also occur around this issue from Moslems themselves. Some scholars begin questioning this illiteracy attribute, because some data shows the contrary side. There is a hadeeth that shows the ability of Mohammed to spell a word correctly. The ability of spelling exactly is the ability of whom able to read. Besides that, there are also some researches which begin to enfeeble the conventional understanding of the illiteracy of Mohammed.

In this point, there are some contradictions between two sides of understanding, Prophet Mohammed was illiterate in one side and Prophet Mohammed was not illiterate in the other side. This contradiction however leaves one problem; how is the way to compromise them? This is what this paper means to attempt.

This research becomes important since this kind of phenomena has hugely spread on all over the world of Islam. Everyone in everywhere knows it. This kind of understanding has the strong power since it is the great support for the existence of Qur’an as revelation and the prophetic miracle of Mohammed—according to majority of Moslems. It seems important to reinvestigate the validity of this understanding—moreover it has moved to a belief—because if this majority understanding is apparently off, there would be then the great bad effect appears, consciously or not.

Then, in discussing this problem, the research questions: where did the understanding of illiteracy of prophet take its origin?, what is the critics toward its understanding?, is it true that Ummiy in Qur’an means illiteracy?, and is it true that illiteracy has the connection to the existence of Qur’an as revelation, so that challenging it means denying Qur’an as revelation?

B. Prophet Mohammed was Illiterate: Conventional View

This understanding apparently has its pillar in Qur’an, specifically from the interpretation on term of ummiy mentioned in Qur’an. Qur’an uses this term not just in one place even though it does not also state it repeatedly in many places. Qur’an just mentioned it in six places in four different surahs.[2] These verses are—on the conventional view—the objection of the bad treatment shown by the enemies of Islam toward the Qur’an. They stated that Qur’an is just a work of Mohammed and he plagiarized it from the early scriptures. The information about this accusation appears not in little places of Qur’an besides in other sources. Some verses stated that they regarded Qur’an as asathir al-awwalin[3] (the tales from the ancestor which are imitated from the early books). Those who object Islamic doctrine make every effort to ruin Islam with such argumentation—that Qur’an is a work of Muhammad, that he plagiarized the doctrines and information from the early scriptures to be written in Qur’an—and even, they also claimed that Muhammad was a magician, poet, and mad person.[4] Thereby, Qur’an rebutted their accusation and said as if it was impossible for Muhammad to make a book such Qur’an since it was a very great and perfect scripture which has a miracle which challenged everyone to make any other correspond books with it, while the fact is Muhammad was illiterate.

It is an interpretation of the term of ummiy which delivers to a conclusion that the Prophet Mohammed was illiterate. It seems proper since the lexical meaning of this is la yaktub (unable to read). According to another meaning, ummiy is a condition of a person which is still in the womb of his mother. That means he has not study reading and writing yet.[5] The other literature said that ummiy means la yaktub, la yaqra’[6] la yahsun al-kitabah[7] (all of these mean unable to read). Thus, this term basically associates to a condition of somebody who could not read and write. It seems logical conclusion that Mohammed was illiterate since Qur’an tells that He was ummiy (as the first premise), ummiy itself means illiterate (as the second premise), and therefore He was illiterate.

Among those verses mention ummiy are al-Jumu’ah [62]: 2 and al-A’raf [7]: 157. Concerning to the first, al-Alusi said that ummiy means the Arabians who were unable to read and write.[8] The second verse talks about the attributes of Prophet Mohammed mentioned in the earlier scriptures; Torah and Bible. According to al-Tabari, ummiy in this verse means lā yaktub, as the majority opinion. The earlier scriptures actually mentioned that this attribute belonged to Mohammed. He proved it with some supporting riwayahs.[9]

In addition to that, a sound hadeeth makes this opinion of illiteracy become stronger. Mohammed said, “Innā ummatun ummiyyatun, lā naktubu wa lā nahsubu…”[10] (we are the society of ummiy, which are unable to read and count…). According to Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani, this hadeeth refers to a condition of Muslims at that era and a condition of Prophet Mohammed himself.[11] It means, based on Ibnu Hajars perspective, Prophet Mohammed explicitly stated that he was ummiy in the meaning of illiterate.

Up to this point, it is clear that the understanding of illiteracy of Prophet Mohammed is not an unauthorized understanding which is just born without any basic and reason. Qur’an and hadeeth themselves talked about this issue. Thus, it was proper when such understanding spreads, develops, and moves to an uncritical belief.

However, the conclusion of this illiteracy is still incomplete without searching the hidden secret or hikmah beyond it. As the explanation before, the verses telling the illiteracy of Prophet Mohammed plays the rule as a counter argument toward the bad accusation toward Qur’an; that it was an opus of Mohammed. Nevertheless, the earlier scholars discussed and discovered the secret hiding beyond this issue in detail. This actually does not take it origins from the normative notion of Qur’an and hadeeth—as the authoritative resource of Islamic law and doctrines—rather the interpretation of scholars on those resources. One of the opinions is an explanation from Fakhr al-Din al-Razi in his masterpieces, Mafātih al-Gaib.

According to him, at least there are three hikmahs beyond the illiteracy of Prophet Mohammed. The first, this illiteracy is such kind of his intelligence. The God revealed Him the Qur’an verbally and then He memorized this without any repetition in reciting; He could directly memorize Qur’an from the first time he heard. This illiteracy made his memorizing ability become strong and excellent. His ability to read or dependence to the written text might imply to the weakness of His memorization as the recent people. Therefore, this illiteracy apparently became the former of his intelligence and even his prophetic miracle. This illiteracy and the well-memorizing ability of Mohammed are in accordance to the way of Qur’an revealed; the verbum way. This—al-Razi said—is the interpretation on the information from Qur’an, sanuqri’uka falā tansā.[12]

The second, the ability of Mohammed to read might implies to the notion that He possibly read the earlier scriptures and had some knowledge from them. This is exactly—directly or not—in accordance to the accusation of the Scribers that Qur’an was just a work of Mohammed, not revelation from God. However, this illiteracy became the counter argument to their accusation, because it was impossible to him to plagiarize the earlier scriptures while the fact he was illiterate. Qur’an, al-‘Angkabut [29]: 48, actually explains this problem, that Prophet Mohammed never read the earlier scriptures and writes it as Qur’an as well.

The third, reading and writing are first step to get the other knowledge. They are the requirements to get some additional knowledge. It seemed hard to someone to get his knowledge increased without any access of information which he could reach with reading. Reading and writing themselves are actually the simple instruments which do not need any great effort to master them. Here is the point of his prophetic miracle. He was intelligent person even he could not read. He had the great knowledge even he did not read anything. He was especially taught by Almighty God.[13]

Bravely, these three hikmah indicates that illiteracy was such kinds of his prophetic miracle. The God revealed Him Qur’an which has the beautiful value of letter and i’jāz. He had the great ability of memorization, and the huge intelligence without any ability to read and write. He had gone on better than the usual person with this illiteracy.

Besides this, there are actually many literature discussed this problem, but however the researcher thinks the explanation of al-Razi is proper as the representative of the others since they seems similar in content, diffirent in wording, such as in Manāhil al-‘Irfān of al-Zarqani, Al-Tahrīr wa al-Tanwīr of Ibn Asyura, and many other.

This illiteracy argument becomes stronger based on such interpretation and some hadeeths, moreover after the discoveries about great hikmah beyond this phenomenon. Finally, the illiteracy—which actually common people regard as a kind of weakness—when relates to Prophet Mohammed, apparently becomes his peculiar and prophetic miracle, not a weakness!

C. Prophet Mohammed Apparently was not Illiterate: Reconstruction of Conventional View

It is clear that an interpretation on “ummiy” ends to the conclusion that Prophet Mohammed was illiterate. This conclusion for sure seems at glance like a weakness of Mohammed. Nevertheless, with concluding the philosophical secret beyond this, the image of illiteracy as a weakness that actually can ruin someone’s wisdom—that in this case attributed to Prophet Mohammed—precisely moves to a great evidence of his noble and prophetic miracle as well.

This understanding—that comes to a tenacious one and has moved to a belief—afterwards makes some people neglect the facts and riwayah that actually challenge this conventional view.  There are some evidences which show that Mohammed was not illiterate. In some occasions, he himself proved that he was able to read. In detail, some of arguments are as the explanation below:

Mohammed as a trader

Yes, inscription at the paganism era, before Islam, was very scarce. Nevertheless, it does not mean that they knew nothing about the use of inscription. At that era actually there were some writing and reading teaching activities even though in the very simple method and form. There were many places became the center of this activity such as Thaif, Mecca, Medina, Anber, Hirah, and Daumat al-Jandal. Besides that, some tribes wrote the rhymes belong to their figure. They wrote the story of wars, wise words, and others related to their tribes as well. They also wrote agreement treaty, some documents, oaths, and including the debts.[14] And this last point—the debt, which would be the focus of discussion below—certainly was a very important activity of the entrepreneurship of that era.

How was the milieu of commerce at that time? Usury was a very familiar term. Arabians often did it. They protractedly did it and disposed to be superfluous. This usury ran in the debt transaction. The mechanism of it ran as a multiply nominal of the debt. When somebody—who owed his friend some commodity—came to collect the debt from him at the settlement day, for instance, he was talking, “You will pay your debt today or you will postpone it till next year with the multiply nominal?” If he had something to pay, he would pay it at that time, but if he had nothing, he would postpone it and promised to pay in the next year with the multiply nominal. When the next settlement day coming, he still had nothing, he would postpone the payment till next year again on multiply nominal, and that is the way to the next. Such usury ran in every field of commodity, such camel, gold, etc.[15] It was clear that the usury was a very common tradition of the paganism Arabians.

Mohammed involved in business activity on such atmosphere of commerce. He had traded since he was teenager. On twelve, Abu Thalib, his uncle, invited him to the trade to Syam.[16] Yet, Abu Thalib was just a small trader. He did not have many commodities to bring on that trade. This is even the only trade of Abu Thalib accompanied by Mohammed. After this, he held no more trade.[17] Thus, the transaction of both Abu Thalib and Mohammed on that trade was a little one. Nevertheless, for Mohammed, it was different with his trade on his 25-age. He re-held the trade to Syam. In this trade, he carried the commodity of Khadijah binti Khuwailid. Khadijah was a rich honorable entrepreneur woman. His wealth much increased after twice marrying Banu Makhzum. She paid some wages for a man of Quraisy to do trading on her wealth. And Mohammed was a man.[18]

At least there are two important notes need full attention in the explanation above. First, the tradition of debt was common at that time. Second, Mohammed held a trade on the commodity of the rich Khadijah. Thus, unlike his first trade with Abu Thalib who just carried little trade commodity, this time Mohammed carried the commodity in a big number. The wealth and honor of Khadijah for sure made her famous, and of course have many customers as well. It means that it was very possible if many debts activities involved in the trade held by Mohammed. Thus, Mohammed, with this trade, involved in such atmosphere of trade which fulfilled by debt. Here, the researcher does not meant to claim Mohammed doing usury in his trade, yet just describes how the tradition of debt had much adhere to Arabians, and Mohammed, willy-nilly, faced this phenomena.

As the explanation before, debt was a field of writing activity at that era. Thus, such trade with a very big number of commodities had brought Mohammed to a writing activity. This writing activity for sure is as it was necessary in writing debt and others which could help the fluency of trading. In addition to that, besides writing, for sure this trade had forced Mohammed to use his ability of calculation—that possibly he also had at that time. Thus, it seems impossible that Mohammed was unable to write and calculate as well while he carried the commodity in a very big number. Moreover, according to some data, his capability in trading successfully gathered the big profit for Khadijah. How could he manage his big trading without an ability of literacy? [19]

 Three terms of Qur’an mean “reading”

In Qur’an, there are three terms mean “reading”, these are talā, qara’a, and ratala. These terms of course have some distinction each other, because if they are identic in one meaning, then what is the use of differing them up to three terms? The important point in this case is Qur’an used these three terms in relation to Mohammed. What we meant is Mohammed ever become the doer of reading which stated by these three terms. We can take some samples. Besides the examples are the term of qara’a in al-‘Alaq [96]: 1 and 3, ratala in al-Muzammil [73]: 4, and talā in al-Bayyinah [98]: 2.

There is one interesting question then: what is the secret behind the distinction of the term meaning ‘reading’ up to three terms? At least, it means a description of variety of reading activity, and each form is represented by each term. This variety must be many: reading with or without text, reading the psychological of someone, reading the social reality, reading the secret of nature, etc. The three terms cover all of these reading varieties. Then, when Qur’an states Mohammed—as in some samples mentioned above—as a subject or a doer for these three different terms, it means that Mohammad is a subject or doer for all existing kinds of reading activity. When one kind of reading is reading the written text, which needs the ability to know inscription and read, therefore Mohammed has this kind of ability.

To get some additional explanation, it seems better to discuss each terms in detail. Qara’a means al-jam’u wa al- dammu (collecting). Thus, the notion of qara’tu al-syai’a qur’ānan means “I collect something”. The term of “al-Qur’an” takes it origin from this term. The name of scripture of Muslims revealed to Mohammed is “al-Qur’an” because she collects surah by surah, or—according to the other opinion—because she collects the stories (Qashash), commands (Amr), prohibitions (Nahy), promises (Wa’d), and threats (Wa’id).[20] According to Quraisy Shihab, qara’a means collecting. When somebody strings many characters up and the words as well, and states it, he is “reading” in the meaning of “qara’a”. So, the mechanism of reading of this term might with or without text as the object.[21]

Let see surah al-‘Alaq [96], the surah first revealed. This surah was started by a command to read. This command is repeated in the third verse. There is something interesting in the fourth verse; this verse tells that Allah teaches with a “qalam”. Qalam means a pen or a tool used for writing (allażī yuktabu bihi).[22] As Zamakhsyari quoted from Ibnu Zubair, the meaning of this verse is ‘allama al-khatti bi al-qalam (teach him writing with a pen).[23] In accordance to that, al-Razi argued that there are two possible interpretations on this fourth verse, which one of them is teaching human to write with a pen.[24] It means, if the word of qara’a in the first and third verses—which has a subject as Mohammed—are interpreted in comprehensive relation with the word of qalam in the fourth verse, it will indicate that Mohammed have the ability to read.

The second, talā, as Raghib al-Ashfahani said, means tabi’ahu mutabi’atan. This word occasionally relates to jism (body), law enforcement, or reading and understanding (qiraā’ah wa tadabbur).[25] Of course, the point we are talking about at present is talā in the last meaning, reading and understanding (qara’a wa tadabbara). Thus, it seems that both of talā and qara’a lexically stand on the same meaning. However, there is a unique trend in Qur’an when uses this term. Talā is a transitive verb. The objects of this word are dominantly Qur’an and Devine revelation, that both are sacred. This brings Quraisy Shihab to state that this word means “reading a sound or haqq things”.[26] Something noticeable about this term is the needing of talā to orderliness in application of its ‘reading’ process. The orderliness here applies in character by character, word by word, and sentence by sentence, until the reader could reach a level of understanding (tadabbur).

Come to “ratala”. Ratala means arranging something then it is arranged in orderliness and consistent. The sentence of rajulun ratalu al-asnan means someone who has the well-ordered teeth. In the meaning of reading, ratala means delivering word by word from the mouth in an orderliness form.[27] Quraisy Shihab describes an activity of reading in ratala as an order in expression neatly, well, and soundly. When ratala has the object as Qur’an—tartil al-Qur’an—it means reading it slowly, sounding the characters clearly, and stopping and continuing process of reading in the proper places (waqaf wa ibtida’). This kind of precise reading therefore will lead both the reader and the listener to an understanding.[28]

There are many indicators imply to a conclusion that Mohammed was not illiterate from these two terms. They are the slow process and character-cleared sounding with stopping and continuing reading in proper places of ratala and the orderliness in characters by characters words by words, and sentences by sentences. The ending point of ratala and tala which reaches to understanding ((tadabbur) is also one strong indicator. Why? Understanding in a form of reading for sure needs a text. For understanding without any text, the proper term in Arabic seems fakkara,[29] not talā and ratala.

This conclusion will be stronger when quoting surah al-Bayyinah [98]: 2 and 3: “Yatlū uhufan mutahharah, fīhā kutubun qayyimah.” The doer of the activity of talā in these two verses is Mohammed with suhuf as the object. uhuf itself is a plural form of shahifah which means allatī yuktabu fīhā (a thing to be written down).[30] In interpretation on kutubun, Zamakhsyari said it was the written uuf.[31] Thus, talā or yatlu in this verse means a reading with a written thing; it is a text. Considering the doer of this activity—as the verse mentioned—is Mohammed, he therefore read a written text, and it means he had an ability to read.

Some Traditions

Reading is seeing an inscription and understanding it or ability to sound something written.[32] Reading is seeing and understanding the contents of something written. Reading is linear with spelling.[33] These two definitions imply that there are pillars in reading: recognizing the character and spelling. Nevertheless, there is also one thing which is not less important than two pillars before; reading is based on the language used. Then, there are three main points of reading now.

The first, someone who is able to read for sure recognizes the characters. It is the basic pillars, because how could someone read while he does not recognize the characters. This is because the written text consists of characters. Word is a composition of characters which has some meaning. Thus, to know the meaning of the word written, the reader has to recognize the characters build the word.

However, it was just one step of an ability to read. The next step is recognition the integration and the connection among characters each other then he could sound it. For example, some body recognizes the characters of t, a, b, l, and e. If he just knows the character, it means he is still unable to read. Nevertheless, if he also knows the interaction of each character, he could sound it as “table”, and he knows the meaning of this, he is therefore able to read. It the second pillar, spelling.

In spelling, there is something noticeable. Sometimes, the composition of characters with its integration as a word sounds different with its original sound when it was separated as single character. The character ‘a’ (in English) for instance, sounds /ei/.[34] However, when it gathers with the other characters, it has various pronunciations such /a/ in ‘father’ /faᴛʜǝr/[35], /æ/ in ‘pad’ /pæd/[36], /e/ in ‘pay’ /pei/[37], etc. Arabic also has such problem. For example the characters of “ا” and “ن” sound /alif/ and /nun/. When it is composed as a word, it can sound /an/ in اَنْ, /anna/ in اَنَّ, etc, and of course there is no sound of /alif/ and /nun/ in this composition.

The third, reading is dependent on the language used. When reader just knows Indonesian, he will read in a corridor of Indonesian, if he knows English, he will read in a corridor of English, and so with Arabic, Chinese, etc. This dependence is very important. For instance, when some Indonesian read ‘air’ in a corridor of Indonesian, it means the liquid drunk, used for taking a bath, washing, etc.  Nevertheless, if he read it in corridor of English, it means something we breathe with or sniff. It becomes much more complicated when it happens in the different language with the different inscription, such English and Arabic. An Arabic word of مريض[38], if he reads and spells it in corridor of English possibly consists of m, a, r, i, and d, not م, ر, ي, and ض. On the other way, if a word of ‘house’ is read or spelled as Arabic, it will consist of ه, و, and س, not h, o, u, s, and e. So, it is the proof that the ability of reading is dependent on the language used.

After explaining three pillars before, it is important to say that Mohammed had these three pillars of reading. He ever spelled some words correctly and it was in Arabic as the hadeeth:

..فإن الله يأجركم على تلاوته كل حرف عشر حسنات أما إني لا أقول : الم حرف و لكن ألف و لام و ميم… [39]

من قرأ حرفا من القرآن كتب له به حسنة لا أقول بسم و لكن باء و سين و ميم و لا أقول ألم و لكن الألف و اللام و الميم[40]

These hadeeths talk about the excellence of reciting Qur’an; however, this paper is not on that discourse. The noticeable point here is that Mohammed showed his ability to spell. “I do not mean الم as one character,” He said, “but ا, ل, and م!” You can see that He spelled it correctly. Why did not he spell as a, l, i, f, l, a, m, m, i, and m? This is of course because he could read, he only spook Arabic, and therefore he read and spelled in Arabic. It means, He really recognized the characters of Arabic, how to spell and sound it.

Someone possibly will deny this because Prophet Mohammed spelled ahruf al- muqatta’ah which sound as the single character as—before composed to certain word: /alif/, /lam/, and /mim/. Thus, this spelling is not a good evidence of his ability to read. Nevertheless, there is also the second spelling he did. He spelled the word of بسم. He said, “I do not mean بسم as one character but ب, س, and م.” This case is little bid different from the case before. In this case, Prophet Mohammed spelled a word of bismi which consists of ب /ba/, س /sin/, and م /mim/. These three characters have the different pronunciation when they are separated as single character and when they are composed as a word. Mohammed spelled it correctly. He did not spell it as b, i, s, m, and i because he did not recognize these characters, but he just recognized ب, س, and م. It means, Prophet Mohammed recognized the characters of Arabic, could spell correctly, and it is the strong indicator which leads us to the understanding of the literacy of him.

 D. Reinterpretation of “ummiy”

Up to this point, there is a contradiction around this problem. Many people belief that Prophet Mohammed is illiteracy, and this kind of understanding has the origin from interpretation on the term of ummiy in Qur’an. Nevertheless, many challenges arguments appear that actually Prophet Mohammed was not illiterate. So, it is important to re-question: is it true that the term of ummiy means illiterate?

This kind of belief says that illiterate is the attribute of Prophet. It implies to his prophetic miracle and the existence of Qur’an as revelation. Therefore, everyone denies this illiterate denies one of prophetic miracle and even the authenticity of Qur’an as the revelation of God. Thus, there is another question appears: is it true that the understanding of prophetic literate means denying that two points?

The first problem here is about the term of ummiy. Before researching the aim that Qur’an intends to in this term, firstly we have to investigate the use of this term in general or daily life, who use it? in what way he use it? in what context he use it? and what is the rational reason of him to use it?

Some reference said that this term marks a designation for Arabians due to their cultural circumstances. The script was very rare in civilization of Arab.[41] The geographical situation of Arab—which is hard to visit due to the location of this peninsula between the huge deserts—makes their civilization less-develop than the other developed civilization such India, Roman, Sasanian, and Persian.[42] Such condition absolutely influenced educational development of Arabians. Arabians had been the less developed then the others in their educational side.[43]

The script of Arabic itself, did not take its origins from Arab indigenously. The writers of Arabians initially came from Ţa’if. They learned writing to the inhabitants of Hīrah. The inhabitants of Hīrah themselves took it from Anber.[44] A little bid retreat, firstly, all Arabians did not recognize the script but in some area in Yamān and some area in the Northern. From this Yamān society, the script developed and spread into the tribe of Kindah, and then delivered to tribe of Nabaţ. It was from these two tribes the Hīrahs and Anbers learned the script.[45]

It is scribers (Jews and Christianity) who used ummiy as the designation to Arabians, and even to Moslems. Scribers are the scripture-revealed-generation. They are the generation of Abraham through his son, Ishaq. From this lineage, many scriptures-revealed appeared such Torah (Old Testament) to Moses and Bible (New Testament) to Isa. However, the lineage of Ismael was different. Almighty God did not reveal any scripture to any of this lineage generations. Here did Arabians have their position. This took their generation to neglect the doctrine of his ancestors, Abraham and Ismael. Based on a literature, Arabians started turning away from the doctrine since the era of ‘Amr ibn Amir Ibn Lahyu al-Khuza’i. He was interested in paganism he saw in Syam. Further, he developed it in Mecca. He made a sculpture and asked the inhabitant to worship it. The sculptures, in his development, are various in shapes and types. Latta is the prominent sculpture which made of the tree of al-Batra. In in the course of history, this became the culture of Arabians.[46] The Scribers hated this paganism,[47] and this condition possibly made them call Arabian ummiy. Even, after the delegation of Prophet Mohammed with revealing Qur’an—which actually had been informed in their scriptures—they kept denying him. This is possibly due to their egoism and ideology which refused all prophet and scripture from outsider of Bani Israil.[48]

Around this designation, Qur’an explains that it is true that Scribers called Arabians ummiy. They claimed that their scripture legalizes them to do some bad treatments toward Arabians, and then they use ummiy to apply this. Nevertheless, actually, their scriptures have no doctrine about it.[49] Besides that, one day, when the Khaibar war was running, Jewish of Khaibar went to the wall and stand at the door of lose. Before, they actually made war furiously because they realized that if the Jewish of Khaibar lose, the last of Bani Israel successfully destroyed in Arab. This is in accordance to the prediction of the Prophet Mohammed that there is no worried thing except Jewish of Khaibar. At the later in time, Jewish of Khaibar felt despondent because Mohammed and his soldiers dominated their entire defense fortifies: Watih, Sulalim, Na’im, Najat, Qamus, etc.[50] One of them prayed, “O ye God, we pray You in the name of your ummiy messenger…”[51]

It is clear that Scribers used this term as designation toward Arabians and Moslems. From the explanation before, at least there are two possible reasons for it. First, Arabians are called ummiy based on the cultural motive. They have ummiy as designation not only because of the illiteracy of them, but much because of their cultural condition, where the script was so rare in their civilization. Thus, this term seemed suitable for them, and then it is leaned on them.

The second reason runs on religious motive—if not political. The Jews called Arabians ummiy as a distinguishing between them and Arabians. Arabians was different from them because they got sacred book as the revelation from God, whereas Arabians did not. In this context, term of ummiy has the antonym: utu al-Kitab, scripture-revealed-society.[52] Brevity, term of ummiy plays the rule to give certain difference and identification for outsider (Arabians); and the Jews rightfully proud of their status as “alladzina utū al-Kitab.” Based on these two reasons, the term of ummiy much more means culturally, religiously, and might be politically, instead of lexically as illiterate.

The next important point is—in the discourse of semantic—there are two possible meanings of ummiy, illiteracy and Arabians. The first possibility is the lexical meaning of this term. The second, ummiy means Arabians on religious or culture motive, that they were the scriptureless-society, as the explanation above.

Based on these points, on the next step we are going to discuss about the term of ummiy in the Qur’an. Absolutely, the interpretation of this term is not apart from those two possibilities meaning. To research the meaning ummiy used by Qur’an, for sure, is to show all of verses of Qur’an which use this term. They are:

وَمِنْ أَهْلِ الْكِتَابِ مَنْ إِنْ تَأْمَنْهُ بِقِنْطَارٍ يُؤَدِّهِ إِلَيْكَ وَمِنْهُمْ مَنْ إِنْ تَأْمَنْهُ بِدِينَارٍ لَا يُؤَدِّهِ إِلَيْكَ إِلَّا مَا دُمْتَ عَلَيْهِ قَائِمًا ذَلِكَ بِأَنَّهُمْ قَالُوا لَيْسَ عَلَيْنَا فِي الْأُمِّيِّينَ سَبِيلٌ وَيَقُولُونَ عَلَى اللَّهِ الْكَذِبَ وَهُمْ يَعْلَمُونَ [آل عمران/75]

وَمِنْهُمْ أُمِّيُّونَ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ الْكِتَابَ إِلَّا أَمَانِيَّ وَإِنْ هُمْ إِلَّا يَظُنُّونَ [البقرة/78]

فَإِنْ حَاجُّوكَ فَقُلْ أَسْلَمْتُ وَجْهِيَ لِلَّهِ وَمَنِ اتَّبَعَنِ وَقُلْ لِلَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ وَالْأُمِّيِّينَ أَأَسْلَمْتُمْ فَإِنْ أَسْلَمُوا فَقَدِ اهْتَدَوْا وَإِنْ تَوَلَّوْا فَإِنَّمَا عَلَيْكَ الْبَلَاغُ وَاللَّهُ بَصِيرٌ بِالْعِبَادِ [آل عمران/20]

الَّذِينَ يَتَّبِعُونَ الرَّسُولَ النَّبِيَّ الْأُمِّيَّ الَّذِي يَجِدُونَهُ مَكْتُوبًا عِنْدَهُمْ فِي التَّوْرَاةِ وَالْإِنْجِيلِ يَأْمُرُهُمْ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَاهُمْ عَنِ الْمُنْكَرِ وَيُحِلُّ لَهُمُ الطَّيِّبَاتِ وَيُحَرِّمُ عَلَيْهِمُ الْخَبَائِثَ وَيَضَعُ عَنْهُمْ إِصْرَهُمْ وَالْأَغْلَالَ الَّتِي كَانَتْ عَلَيْهِمْ فَالَّذِينَ آَمَنُوا بِهِ وَعَزَّرُوهُ وَنَصَرُوهُ وَاتَّبَعُوا النُّورَ الَّذِي أُنْزِلَ مَعَهُ أُولَئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ (157) قُلْ يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنِّي رَسُولُ اللَّهِ إِلَيْكُمْ جَمِيعًا الَّذِي لَهُ مُلْكُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا هُوَ يُحْيِي وَيُمِيتُ فَآَمِنُوا بِاللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ النَّبِيِّ الْأُمِّيِّ الَّذِي يُؤْمِنُ بِاللَّهِ وَكَلِمَاتِهِ وَاتَّبِعُوهُ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَهْتَدُونَ [الأعراف/157، 158]

هُوَ الَّذِي بَعَثَ فِي الْأُمِّيِّينَ رَسُولًا مِنْهُمْ يَتْلُو عَلَيْهِمْ آَيَاتِهِ وَيُزَكِّيهِمْ وَيُعَلِّمُهُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ وَإِنْ كَانُوا مِنْ قَبْلُ لَفِي ضَلَالٍ مُبِينٍ [الجمعة/2]

These verses mentioned are verses using the term of ummiy. In al-Baqarah [2]: 78, term of ummy means illiteracy. This intention can be known from the sentence lā ya’lamūna al-kitāba. It is referred to several Jews who are illiterate, so that the Qur’an called them ummiy.[53] Yet there is another possibility in the sentence of lā ya’lamūna al-kitāba. This expression can be interpreted as not knowing doctrines of their scripture. They left their scripture, Torah, therefore Qur’an called them ummiy. Nevertheless, the term of ummiy here is near with illiteracy meaning.

In the al-Jumu’ah [62]:2, Ali Imran [3]: 20 and 75, term of ummiy precisely does not have illiteracy meaning, but associates to Arabians. In Ali Imran [3]: 20, term of ummiy is contradicted with utū al-kitāb, scripture-revealed-society; Torah and Bible, and the scriptureless society are called ummiy. This verse commands Prophet Mohammed to declare Islam both to whom scripture-revealed and scipttureless society (utū al-kitāb and ummiy).[54] In al-Jumu’ah [62]:2, term of ummiy takes its position as a target or object of Prophetic delegation. This term for sure refers to a community where Mohammed was delegated. It means that the term of ummiy means Arabians, because Prophet Mohammed is delegated over there, not illiteracy. Actually, this opinion was extended by classical scholars before. They also had a notion that the term of ummy has meaning Arabians. But for the term of minhum, some of them explicitly interpreted that the meaning of this verse is Prophet Mohammed was delegated to the illiterate Arabians, and Prophet Mohammed is part of them, therefore he was an illiterate Arabian.[55] It means that from all of those verses (al-Jumu’ah [62]:2 and Ali Imran [3]: 20 and 75), the terms of ummiy do not mean illiteracy, but it is a designation for Arabians due to their cultural condition at that time.

Ali Imran [3]: 75 is evidence that the Jews use the term of ummiy as a designation for Muslims. This verse tells about an activity of mu’amalah between Muslims and the Jews. As it was explained before, the Jews do not admit the prophet and scripture from outsider of Israel generations. And when Mohammed was delegating therefore they kept disavowing him and calling Muslims ummiy. In addition to that, they regarded ummiy as a fool community that are legal to accept the bad-treat. Thus, when they were doing business with a community which they called ummiy, they disposed to behave dishonest. When they had a debt to Muslims, they were not in intention to pay till they had been collected for many times, and they felt innocent with this.[56]

There is no such deeper problem about the interpretation of these verses, because every verse of them has clear indicator to put one of two possible meanings existed to ummiy. But the main problem appears in al-A’raf [7]: 157-158. Some of interpreters said that the meaning of ummiy in these verses is the attribute of the Prophet Mohammed as it was written in two early scriptures, Old and New Testaments. Ibnu Katsir explained that this verse tells us that Prophet Mohammed was written in the earlier scriptures and his attributes as well. Then, he presented some riwayahs to prove it. Even, some of riwayah tells about the admission of the Jews about this case. And among the attributes of Prophet Mohammed explained in the early scriptures is ummiy.[57] Nevertheless, there is no such clear explanation about ummiy itself, what it really means.

It means, there is no clear information about the meaning of ummiy in both of these verses. This verse only tells that the term of ummiy is one of attributes of Prophet as reported in Old and New Testaments. Some available information just tries to prove that the report about Prophet and his attributes can be found in the earlier scriptures, including ummiy. But, which kind of ummiy mentioned in this verse? On this unclearness condition, the pioneers of conventional view directly interpreted ummiy as illiteracy. They immediately quoted this verse as the main reference to show the illiteracy of Prophet.

Here is the mistaken happened, because—according to us—it was improper to immediately conclude that ummiy in this verse means illiteracy, as it has two possible meanings, illiteracy and Arabians. And in this verse there is no indication that leads to one of two possible meanings. In Ali Imran [3]: 20, term of ummiy is contradicted with utū al-Kitab, in al-Jum’ah [62]: 2, term of ummiy associates to a community where Prophet Mohammed delegated, and in Ali Imran [3]: 75, it also associates to a community that horsed around and down brown by the Jews.  So it is clear that in these verses, ummiy means Arabians. In al-Baqarah [2]: 78, the word ummiy followed by expression of lā ya’lamūna al-kitāb, so clearly seen that the term means illiteracy or do not know the doctrine of their scripture. But, in the other two verses, al-A’raf [7]: 157-158, there is no indication that leads to the firs possible meaning and the second as well. Thus, it was inappropriate to immediately interpreted ummiy in these two verses as illiteracy.

Therefore, in this point we still cannot choose one of two possible meanings. Yet, there is a method can be used to solve this problem, combining the verses that were in the same theme. It means, the verse that becomes the object of study right now, al-A’raf [7]: 157 and 158 will be combined with another verses which can interprets its meaning. Sometimes, these verses are combined with al-Ankabut [29]: 48, “wamā kunta tatlū min qablihī min kitābin, walā takhuṭṭuhū biyamīnika…” (And you—Muhammad—never read the scriptures before and never write it with your hand). But—according to us—this verse cannot utterly interprets term of ummiy in al-A’raf [7]: 157-158. Al-Ankabut [29]: 48 only explain that Prophet Mohammed never read the scriptures before. Therefore, it does not mean that he was unable to read nor write.

And still, in this point, there is a problem left, which one of the verses is suitable to be combined as the help to the interpretation? For sure, the available possibilities are in the other four verses. Yet, the four verses are divided into two groups; which use the term of ummiy as illiteracy and which use it as Arabians. If we combined this two verses (al-A’raf [7]: 157-158) with the first group, the term of ummiy means illiteracy, and Mohammed therefore was an illiterate person. But, when we combined them with the second group, the term of ummiy means Arabians, and the next implication is Mohammed is an Arabians and it does not mean that he was illiterate. However, once more, there is no indication can lead us to choose one of two possible groups of verses to be combined with al-A’raf [7]: 157-158. And of course, to choose one of two possibilities immediately in this case is not such a laudable attitude.

Then, there is another step left, searching the empirical condition of Prophet Mohammed. Actually, this is in order to find the indicators that can lead us to choose one of two possible meanings of ummiy and one of two possible groups of verses as well to be the help for interpretation. Searching the meaning of ummiy inside of internal substance of Qur’an which leaves some problem, in this step will be continued by searching into the external substance of Qur’an, empirical data of Prophet.

The provisionally conclusion till this point is ummiy in these verses (Al-A’raf [7]:157-158) has two possible meanings: illiteracy in one side and Arabians in the other side. These two possible meaning will be dialogued with empirical data which was discussed in sub-section before. In that sub-section, we provided some data which shows that Prophet in some occasions used his spelling ability as in several hadeeth, several historical analyses which tells us that Prophet has ability for reading, and the analyses around the linguistic side of Qur’an as well. The conclusion is the Prophet Mohammed was literate.

Therefore, from this step we find an indicator which can lead us to choose one of two possibilities which have been provided before, illiterate and Arabians. When we concluded that Prophet Mohammed was literate, therefore there is just one possible meaning left, it was Arabians. Therefore it was improper to interpret ummiy in these verses with illiterate, because the fact precisely said the contrary side. If we keep interpreting it with illiterate, for sure it leaves a contradiction between verses of Qur’an and the historical fact. Thus, to choose the second possible meaning, Arabians, is a must. Thereby, with this choice, nabiyy ummiy of the verse means Prophet Mohammed who is Arabian, not Prophet Mohammed who is illiterate. And until this point, there is no contradiction left among the conclusion, verses of Qur’an and historical data.

How is the way of behaving toward the conventional understanding arround this issue? There is an opinion that who questions and denies the illiteracy of Prophet Mohammed, has questioned his prophetic miracle. Undirectly, it means questioning or deniying one of the evidences of his prophetic. It is based on the opinion that connected the illiteracy of prophet to his miracle prophetic.

But, it was necessary to inderline that there is none of normative explanation which bravely says that this illiteracy is the prophetic miracle of Prophet Mohammed. The only one exists is the conclusion of the sholars that this illiteracy is his prophetic miracle after learning this pehenomenon and the verses talking about this. It means the hikmah or secret beyond this illiteracy is a product of human thought which started from the understanding of prophetic illiteracy. And if from the beginning someone has the conclusion that Prophet Mohammed was not illiterate and the term of ummiy attributed to him does not mean illiteracy, the discussion about this hikmah will never exist.

Nevertheless, basically the conclussion that Prophet Mohammed was not illiterate does not fall these hikmah down. The conclussion that Prophet Mohammed was not illiteracy does not imply to a claim that he have no prophetic miracle, unintelligent, and Qur’an was his plagiarism from the erlier scriptures. How is the explanation? Before it was stated the first secret or hikmah about it which make him have a good memorization. The question is, in the context of culture at that time when the memorization is something dominant, was the memorization of Prophet Mohammed would have been disturbed with his ability to read (if he was able)? Yes, the dependance on the script will affect to a lower preference to memorize, but did it run to Prophet Mohammed? In his era—as it was stated before—there is actually the script even though it was rare. And memorizing is still dominant and there is no dependence to the written text. It means, even though Prophet Mohammed could read as long as he did not dependant to a text in his daily life—and such was the fact—his memorization especially toward Qur’an would not have been disturbed.

The second secret stated is, if he could read, it was possible to him to read the earlier scriptures and later he wrote it in Qur’an. One weakness of this argument is ended and satisfied on the ‘possible’ point. It was better to decide and leave this possible point. How is the way? Let search his history. Did he ever read the earlier scriptures? The answer is no, indeed! The proof is, he did not know the content or doctrine of those scriptures, even one of this main doctrine about the delegating the last messenger. Why did he and Khadijah, in the beginning of delegation, ask Waraqah ibn Naufal about the matter happening?[58] For sure it is because he they—and He himself especially—had no idea about it. And why did he have no idea? It is because he never read the earlier scriptures. And why did Waraqah know? He had read it before. And of course, this is not in contrary with al-‘Angkabut [29]: 48, because this verse tells that Prophet Mohammed never read the earlier scriptures and wrote it as well, but does not tell that he “unable” to read or write.

And for the third hikmah, it was argued that this illiteracy is a sign of his intelligence. The Question is, when he was literate, does it mean he was unintelligent, or at least alleviated it? Of course it does not. He was a clever and intelligent person. Just pay attention to the story of his re-location of hajr al-aswad[59] or the story about his early time in Medina after hijrah,[60] or any other story about him. Surely, it was a great sign of his intelligence. It means, the literacy of him did not give any negative implication toward his prophetic miracle and intelligence—and may be it precisely increases his wisdom and intelligence.

 E. Summary

It has been the understanding of public that Prophet Mohammed was an illiterate person. This understanding comes from the conclusion of some scholars toward the term of ummiy which is interpreted as illiterate. Some information of Qur’an and Hadeeth, directly or not, attributed the term of ummiy to Prophet Mohammed. Therefore, it is proper to interpret the term with illiterate and conclude that Prophet Mohammed was illiterate.

Nevertheless, besides all of that arguments, thera are also some evidence and argument against them. According to these informations, Prophet Mohammed was not illiterate. In some occasions he showed his ability to spell, and the ability to spell fore sure is the ability of the reader.

Facing this contradiction, to re-investigate each argument is a must. And after searching the meaning of the term of ummiy in it historical side, some meanings of this were descovered. Beside illiterate, apparently it also used for the designation for Arabians.  There are some reasons for it, such as cultural, religious, and political reason. Therefore, there are two possible meanings of this term. And in Qur’an, there are six surahs use this term. The verses are devided to three groups; which has illiterate as the meaning of ummiy, which uses ummiy revering to a designation to Arabians, and the other which have no clear indicator leading ummiy to one of two possible meanings. This third group is the verses which directly attribute ummiy with Prophet Mohammed, and therefore to know if he was illiterate or not is dependant to the interpretation of these verses. And based on the historical fact that Prophet Mohammed ever spell and also base on the other argumantations wich against the illiteracy of Prophet, it was improper to interpret the third gruop of verses as illiteracy. Thus, the proper one here is Arabians, and therefore meaning of nabiyy ummiy is not the illiterate prophet but the prophet who is Arabians. And in this point, there is a distinction between the ummiy which is attributed to Prophet Mohammed with illiterate. In addition to that, the prophet himself was literacy even before his delegation. It was proved that he was a big trader in his 25, bringing the commodities of Khadijah.

Wallāhu A’lamu bi al-Şawwāb!


[1] Some of the critics are in www.faithfreedom.org. Such critics then empower the belief of Moslems toward the illiteracy of Prophet. They choose the illiterate of Prophet of Mohammad that implies the conclusion that Qur’an is the revelation then the literate of Him which implies any other problem in Qur’an.

[2] Q.S. al-Baqarah [2]: 78, Ali Imran [3]: 20 dan 75, al-A’raf [7]: 157-158, and al-Jumu’ah [62]: 2.

[3] It was repeatedly mentioned in Q.S. al-An’ām [6]: 25, Q.S. al-Anfāl [8]: 31, Q.S. al-Nahl [16]: 24, Q.S. al-Mukminūn [23]: 83, Q.S. al-Furqān [25]: 5, Q.S. al-Naml 27]: 68, Q.S. al-Ahqāf [46]: 17, Q.S. al-Qalam [68]: 15, Q.S. al-Muthaffifīn [83]: 13.

[4] Ibnu Kaṡīr, Tafsīr al-Qur’ān al-‘Aīm Juz 2 (Semarang: Toha Putra, n.d.), p. 566; Muhammad Husain Haikal (next: Haikal), Hayātu Muhammad terj. Ali Audah (Bogor: Litera AntarNusa, 2008), p. liii.

[5] Ibnu Manẓūr, Lisān al-‘Arab Juz 12 (Beirut: Dar el-Fikr, n.d), p. 34.

[6] Ibnu Jarir al- Ţabari (next: al- Ţabari), Jāmi’ al-Bayān fi Ta’wīl Ayi al-Qur’ān Juz 10, p. 152 (al-Maktabah al-Syāmilah Iṣdār al-ṡāni).

[7] Ibnu Katsir, Tafsīr al-Qur’ān al-‘Aīm Juz 1, p. 116.

[8] Al-Alusi, Rūh al-Ma’āni Juz 9 (Beirut: Dar Ihya’ Turats al-‘Arabi, n.d.), p. 79.

[9] al-Ţabari, Jāmi’ al-Bayān fi… Juz 6, p. 82.

[10] Shahih Bukhari, no. 1780

[11] Ibnu Hajar al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bāri Juz 6, p. 155 (al-Maktabah al-Syāmilah Iṣdār al-ṡāni).

[12] Al-A’la [87]: 6

[13] Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzi, Mafātih al-Ghaib Juz 7, p. 267 (al-Maktabah al-Syāmilah Iṣdār al-ṡāni).

[14] M. Musthafa Azami, Studies in Early Hadith Literature terj. Ali Musthafa Ya’qub (Jakarta: Pustaka Firdaus, 2000), p. 75-76.

[15] Abu al-Hasan ‘Ali Al-Hasan al-Nadhwi (next: al-Hasan al-Nadhwi), al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah terj. Muhammad Halabi Hamdi dkk. (Yogyakarta: Mardhiyah Press, 2008), p. 28.

[16] In such journey is the famous story about his dialogue with a clergyman in Bukaira. Ahmad ibn Hajar, al-Raddu al-Syāfiy al-Wāfir ‘Ala man Nafiya Ummiyata Sayyid al-Awā’il wa al-Awākhir terj. M. Halabi Hamdi dkk. (Yogyakarta: Pustaka Iqra, 2001), p. 21.

[17] Haikal, Hayātu Muhammad, p. 59.

[18] Haikal, Hayātu Muhammad, p. 65.

[19] This has been argued before by Muhammad Jaya in his book “Ternyata Muhammad Tidak Buta Huruf. He stated that in his book, he quoted many things from Syekh al-Maqdisi Khurafatu Umiyyati Muhammad. And we quoted some of Muhammad Jaya’s argument, because we cannot find the book of Syekh al-Maqdisi, but not in meaning quoting it as it was. We deny some of his argument because we think it was an unproven argument, like Mohammed was able to write because he was taugt by Abu Thalib as Ali was. But, after searching in many sources, we do not find the explanation that Abu Thalib is the one who taugh Ali in Writing and reading, and we do not find that Abu Thalib could read and write as well. Muhammad Jaya just said that it was impossible for Abu Thalib not to teach Mohammed while he teach Ali, and the fact he prevered Mohammed than Ali. But however—based on our perspective—it was unproven. We also criticize the argument around the debt. At the beginning, he describes the correlation among trade, debt, and writing activity. But, then he quotes some verses such al-Baqarah [2]: 282 and Ali Imran [3]: 75 as a justification. He shows as if, in his trade Mohammed has applicated both of these verses. Whereas, according to our mind, it was improper to quote both of these verses and make it as a basic of justification. It was because these two verses were revealed after delegating Mohammed as messenger, while he traded in his youth of age, before becoming a messenger. Thus, there was a long time separates the verses as the justification and the reality as the object of this justification. See Muhammad Jaya, Ternyata Muhammad saw. Tidak Buta Huruf (Yogyakarta: Rizma, 2009), p. 32-36.

[20] Ibnu Manẓūr, Lisān al-‘Arab Juz 1, p. 128.

[21] Rāgib al-Aşfahāni, al-Mufradat fi Garīb al-Qur’ān (Beirut: Dar al-Ma’rifah, n.d.), p. 402; Quraisy Shihab, Tafsir Alquran al-Karim: Tafsir atas Surat-Surat Pendek Berdasarkan Turunnya (Bandung: Pustaka Hidayah, 1997), p. 77.

[22] Ibnu Manẓūr, Lisān al-‘Arab Juz 12, p. 490.

[23] Al-Zamakhsyari, al-Kasyāf Juz 4 (Beirut: Dar el-Fikr, n.d.), p. 271.

[24] Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzi, Mafātih al-Ghaib Juz 17, p. 108.

[25] Rāgib al-Aşfahāni, al-Mufradat fi Garīb al-Qur’ān, hlm. 75.

[26] Quraisy Shihab, Tafsir al-Mishbah, (Jakarta: Lentera Hati, 2007) Vol. 15, p. 442. This term is often considered as one of critics from who denies the illiteracy of Prophet Mohammed. In this critic, they connect this to the first revelation event. Further, this problem is connected to unexistence of the text at that even. That’s whay, the answer of Prophet Mohammed toward the command of Gabriel—mā aqra’ or mā ana biqāri’—is not proper to be transleted as “I cannot read!” and the possible translation is “What will I read?” Based on this argument, they conclude that this event is an evidence of the literacy of prophet. This is because there was no text to be read at that time, and therefore Prophet Mohammed re-asked, “What will I read?” And it was impossible of him to anwer “I cannot read!” due to the unexistence of text. And the notion of “What will I read” is a notion of the literate person, not illiterate. See Aksin Wijaya, Arah Baru Studi Ulum Al-Qur’an (Yogyakarta: Pustaka Pelajar, 2009), p. 42-47; see also Muhammad Jaya, Ternyata Muhammad saw tidak…, p. 15-19.

Nevertheless, we are not in this argument. According to us, based on the meaning or qara’a of Quraish Shihab, that the word is not identic to the text, and therefore it is not identic to the ability of read as well. That’s why, we say that this argumen was not proper to be the evidence the literacy of Prophet.

[27] Rāgib al-Aşfahāni, al-Mufradat fi Garīb al-Qur’ān, p. 187; Ibnu Manẓūr, Lisān al-‘Arab Juz 11, p. 265.

[28] Quraisy Shihab, Tafsir Alquran al-Karim…, p. 164.

[29] Fakkara is an action to think of something. Ibnu Manẓūr, Lisān al-‘Arab Juz 5, p. 65.

[30] Ibnu Manẓūr, Lisān al-‘Arab Juz 9, p. 186.

[31] Al-Zamakhsyari, al-Kasyāf Juz 4, p. 271.

[32] W. J. S. Poerwadarminta, Kamus Umum Bahasa Indonesia (Jakarta: Balai Pustaka, 1987), p. 71.

[33] Pusat Bahasa Depdiknas, Kamus Bahasa Indonesia (Jakarta: Pusat Bahasa, 2008), p. 110.

[34] John M. Echols and Hasan Shadili, Kamus Inggris Indonesia (Jakarta: Gramedia, 1996), p. 1.

[35] John M. Echols and Hasan Shadili, Kamus Inggris Indonesia, p. 234.

[36] John M. Echols and Hasan Shadili, Kamus Inggris Indonesia, p. 415.

[37] John M. Echols and Hasan Shadili, Kamus Inggris Indonesia, p. 421.

[38] Arabic word means sick

[39] Abd Allāh al-Hakīm al-Naisabūry, al-Mustadrak alā al-Shahīhain Juz 1, p. 741 (Maktabah al-Syāmilah Iṣdār al-ṡāni).

[40] al-Baihāqi, Syu’b al-Imān Juz 2, p. 341 (Maktabah al-Syāmilah Iṣdār al-ṡāni); Turmuzi, no. 2835.

[41] M. Musthafa Azami, Studies in Early…, hlm. 74.

[42] According to Muhammad Husain Haikal, the peninsula of Arab is hard to be visited and lifed in. The border of West and South is the big sea, and the border of North and East is the big deserts. Such condition makes it uninteresting for the colonizers. Haikal, Hayāt Muhammad…, p. 7; al-Hasan al-Nadwi, al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyah…, p. 15-50.

[43] It is in accordance to the quotation of Ahmad ibn Hajar from Fajr al-Islam, “At that time, they (the paganism Arabians) had no knowledge and philosophy. There was no one appropriated to be called scientist. Foolness is spread evenly on them. And aslo is in the side of literacy. Ahmad ibn Hajar, al-Raddu al-Syāfi al-Wāfir..., p. 53.

[44] Ibnu Manẓūr, Lisān al-‘Arab  Juz 12, p. 34.

[45] Ahmad ibn Hajar, al-Raddu al-Syāfi al-Wāfir..., p. 52.

[46] al-Nadhwi, Sirah Nabawiyah, p. 69-70.

[47] Haikal, Hayat Muhammad, p. 59.

[48] Haikal, Hayat Muhammad p. 217.

[49] Ali Imran [3]: 75.

[50] Haikal, Hayat Muhammad, p. 428.

[51] Al-Wahidi, Asbab al- Nuzul Alquran Juz 1, p. 7 (al-Maktabah al-Syāmilah Iṣdār al-ṡāni).

[52] Ali Imran [3]: 20.

[53]. Ibnu Katsir, Tafsīr al-Qur’ān al-‘Aīm Juz 1, p. 116: al-Ţabari, Jami’ al-Bayan… juz 2. p. 257; Al-Alusi, Rūh al-Ma’āni Juz 1, p. 378; Zamakhsyari, al-Kasyaf juz 1, p. 105.

[54] al-Ţabari, Jami’ al-Bayan… juz 6, p. 281; Zamakhsyari, al-Kasyaf juz 1, p. 261.

[55] Zamakhsyari, al-Kasyaf juz 7, p. 56

[56] al-Ţabari, Jami’ al-Bayan… juz 6, p. 516

[57] Ibnu Katsir, Tafsīr al-Qur’ān al-‘Aīm Juz 2, p. 251-253.

[58] Waraqah ibn Naufal is cousin of Khadijah. He is a Nashara which known Bible and translated it to Arabic. Therefore, he knows the doctrine of it. Haikal, ayātu Muammadin, p. 85

[59] Haikal, ayātu Muammadin, p. 71.

[60] Haikal, ayātu Muammadin, p. 198-205.

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