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Introduction

The Muslim claim that Muhammad was an unlettered prophet does not withstand critical analysis. It is a lie marketed to the public.  I have published some articles in the past analyzing such a claim using evidence from the Hadith as well as the Qur’an. What I felt was lacking in my work is a more thorough analysis of the four verses in the Qur’an that use the word “Ummi” or any of its derivatives , where such a word is translated as “unlettered”. The current article is an attempt to correct this weakness.

Which Qur’anic verses include the word “unlettered?

There are only 4 verses in the Qur’an where the translator uses the word “unlettered”. The verses are Qur’an 2:78, 7:157,7:158, 62:2. The interested reader can confirm that on his/her own. Here is a link to do such a search: http://quran.com/search?q=unlettered

My goal is to see if any such verses do speak about Muhammad being an unlettered ( illiterate) prophet. I have published many articles in the past on this matter. The only difference in this article is doing a more detailed analysis of each verse that had the word “unlettered” in it. Here are some links to some of my published articles on the topic under consideration:

1.  http://www.islam-watch.org/authors/59-kammuna/1101-was-muhammad-illiterate-quranic-evidence.html

2.  http://www.islam-watch.org/authors/59-kammuna/1094-was-muhammad-illiterate-hadith-evidence.html

Let me start with the verses of the Qur’an in Arabic first, followed by a Sahih International translation. Analysis of each verse follows thereafter:

Qur’an 2:78

وَمِنْهُمْ أُمِّيُّونَ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ الْكِتَابَ إِلَّا أَمَانِيَّ وَإِنْ هُمْ إِلَّا يَظُنُّونَ

Sahih International

And among them are unlettered ones who do not know the Scripture except in wishful thinking, but they are only assuming.

Analysis

Note that the context of the verse is speaking about the “Book”, which is the book of the Jews (The Book cannot mean the Qur’an here as it has not been made into a book yet). Hence, the appropriate meaning of the word “umiyyoona” is gentiles or non-Jews. Another possible meaning of “umiyyoona” in the above verse is “ignorant people”. Even with a relaxed interpretation of the above verse, using “unlettered” for “umiyyoona” just won’t work. Note what the verse is saying. It is talking about people who think they know the book (i.e. read some of it). Muhammad is telling them “No, you do not know the book. That is wishful thinking.”

Qur’an 7:157

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 آمَنُوا بِهِ وَعَزَّرُوهُ وَنَصَرُوهُ وَاتَّبَعُوا النُّورَ الَّذِي أُنْزِلَ مَعَهُ ۙ أُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ

Sahih International

Those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered prophet, whom they find written in what they have of the Torah and the Gospel, who enjoins upon them what is right and forbids them what is wrong and makes lawful for them the good things and prohibits for them the evil and relieves them of their burden and the shackles which were upon them. So they who have believed in him, honored him, supported him and followed the light which was sent down with him - it is those who will be the successful.

Analysis

Again, the context of the above verse is speaking about the Jews and the Christians and what is written in their book. Translating the word “Ummi” in the above verse as “unlettered” is wrong. Muhammad is contrasting himself as a gentile prophet/not a Jew (or from the “Umam” “other nations”).

Qur’an 7:158

قُلْ يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنِّي رَسُولُ اللَّـهِ إِلَيْكُمْ جَمِيعًا الَّذِي لَهُ مُلْكُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ ۖ لَا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا هُوَ يُحْيِي وَيُمِيتُ ۖ فَآمِنُوا بِاللَّـهِ وَرَسُولِهِ النَّبِيِّ الْأُمِّيِّ الَّذِي يُؤْمِنُ بِاللَّـهِ وَكَلِمَاتِهِ وَاتَّبِعُوهُ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَهْتَدُونَ

Sahih International

Say, [O Muhammad], "O mankind, indeed I am the Messenger of Allah to you all, [from Him] to whom belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth. There is no deity except Him; He gives life and causes death." So believe in Allah and His Messenger, the unlettered prophet, who believes in Allah and His words, and follow him that you may be guided.

Analysis

Verse 158 follows its predecessor verse 157. The Ummi prophet here does not change meaning from one verse to the next. So, using “unlettered” prophet here is a mistranslation. A correct translation would be “The gentile prophet” or “the Non-Jewish prophet”.

Qur’an 62:2

هُوَ الَّذِي بَعَثَ فِي الْأُمِّيِّينَ رَسُولًا مِنْهُمْ يَتْلُو عَلَيْهِمْ آيَاتِهِ وَيُزَكِّيهِمْ وَيُعَلِّمُهُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ وَإِنْ كَانُوا مِنْ قَبْلُ لَفِي ضَلَالٍ مُبِينٍ

Sahih International

It is He who has sent among the unlettered a Messenger from themselves reciting to them His verses and purifying them and teaching them the Book and wisdom - although they were before in clear error -

Analysis

The word “Umiyyeena” in context in the above verse is very telling of the meaning conveyed. It is saying Allah has sent amongst the “Umiyyeena” a prophet from amongst  them. Surely not all the Arabs around Muhammad were “unlettered”. Rather the verse is saying we have sent a prophet for the gentiles (non-Jews), one that is amongst them (i.e. Muhammad  himself  is a gentile).

Conclusion

There is not a single verse in the Qur’an telling that Muhammad was illiterate