Oftentimes, those who claim that the Qur’an was authored by Prophet Muhammad ﷺ himself suggest various worldly motives (e.g., material gain or power), claims that can be rationally eliminated by utilizing historical evidence, reasoning, and objectivity. Other researchers, such as William Montgomery Watt, mistakenly assume that the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was an unrivaled genius who authored the Qur’an in his subconscious mind (via “intellectual locution”) and mistook it as revelation from God.2
This modern orientalist claim, however, contradicts his own and other orientalists’ views about the Prophet’s established sincerity,3
his illiteracy (“ [he] was not... taught to read and write”),4
his lack of exposure to scripture (“it seems certain that he had not read any scripture”),5
and their inability to properly and coherently explain the concept of waḥy
(revelation) via a secular or materialist psychological lens.6
The primary objective of including a section on the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ in the introductory article of this series is so that readers may keep in mind his exalted moral character, his inability to read or write, and his experience as a medium of the Qur’an’s delivery to the very society in which he was raised.
As Muhammad ﷺ is one of the most documented humans in history,7
it is easy to examine these claims and compare them with the historical evidence. As with orientalists of recent centuries (e.g., Muir, Margoliouth, Bell), the Arabs of Quraysh initially accused the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ of being the author of the Qur’an. But eventually, this accusation was completely discontinued:
When Our clear revelations are recited to them, those who do not expect to meet with Us say, “Bring [us] a different Qur’an, or change it.” Say [O Prophet]: “It is not for me to change it of my own accord; I only follow what is revealed to me, for I fear the torment of a tremendous Day if I were to disobey my Lord.” Say [O Prophet], “If God had so willed, I would not have recited it to you, nor would He have made it known to you. I lived a whole lifetime among you before it [revelation] came to me. How can you not use your reason?”8
These two verses of the Qur’an were revealed as instructions to the Prophet (“Say [O Prophet]”) to respond to the initial claim of Quraysh, who were advised to reflect rationally and reasonably on their claim. The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ had lived amongst them for forty years, was known to be trustworthy and honest (aṣ-ṣādiq al-amīn), had never been witnessed learning language or poetry from anyone, never sought any power or authority, and—seemingly abruptly—he was commanded to convey an unrivaled and inimitable revelation from God which he could not have conjured or controlled of his own accord. His righteousness was known to the people even before prophethood and many Western scholars of Islam acknowledge his integrity, as seen in Watt’s scholarly testimony:
His readiness to undergo persecutions for his beliefs, the high moral character of the men who believed in him and looked up to him as leader, and the greatness of his ultimate achievement—all argue his fundamental integrity. To suppose Muhammad an impostor raises more problems than it solves. Moreover, none of the great figures of history is so poorly appreciated in the West as Muhammad.9
As Professor M. Mohar Ali writes:
It must be pointed out that the Qur’an is not considered a book of poetry by any knowledgeable person. Nor did the Prophet ever indulge in versifying. It was indeed an allegation of the unbelieving Quraysh at the initial stage of their opposition to the revelation that Muhammad ﷺ had turned a poet; but soon enough they found their allegation beside the mark and changed their lines of criticism in view of the undeniable fact of the Prophet’s being unlettered and completely unaccustomed to the art of poetry, saying that he had been tutored by others, that he had got the ‘old-worst stories’ written for him by others and read out to him in the morning and evening.10
Thus, the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was not considered a person who had learned or engaged in the craft and mastery of poetry and rhetoric. Therefore, the claim that he somehow managed to produce, seemingly out of thin air, an inimitable work of linguistic and literary perfection and mesmerizing rhetoric—with knowledge of the unseen—in the desert of Arabia after living among his people for 40 years, is far from rational thought.
The scholar Taqi Usmani contends:
…such a proclamation was no ordinary thing. It came from a person who had never learned anything from the renowned poets and scholars of the time, had never recited even a single piece of poetry in their poetic congregations, and had never attended the company of soothsayers.11
Although Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was the medium (i.e., the messenger) by which the Qur’an was conveyed to mankind over twenty-three years, there are many clear signs highlighting that the Qur’an was not his speech. The types of evidence for “separation” between the Speech of the Qur’an and the speech of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ include the following:
- Stylometric analyses of the Qur’an compared to the hadith of Muhammad ﷺ
- The Prophet’s lack of control over revelation
- The separation between the emotional experiences of Prophet Muhammad and the speech of the Qur’an
- The Qur’an’s rebuking of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ
- The limited references to Prophet Muhammad’s name in the Qur’an
- The iʿjāz of the Qur’an
Stylometric analysis of the Qur’an compared to the hadith
A strong rational basis for eliminating the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ as the author of the Qur’an involves stylometry, the statistical analysis of a text’s linguistic style, oftentimes for the purpose of attributing or eliminating an author.12
A number of scholars in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries began examining religious texts, such as the Bible, through the lens of stylistic analysis. For example, the nineteenth-century Christian scholar Schleiermacher disputed the authorship of Paul’s First Epistle to Timothy, while Ferdinand Baur and Heinrich Holtzmann conducted similar studies of the New Testament.13
Although it is generally known amongst fluent Arabs who are familiar with both the Qur’an and hadith that the two could not be attributed to the same author, a statistical study was conducted to support this claim with objective data.14
The conclusion of the study, which included sixteen total experiments, was that the Qur’an and the hadith compilation of Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhāri
must have two completely different authors.15
Although the study’s conclusions were lengthy, one of the important findings was that 62% of the words from the hadith in Bukhārī
are not found in the Qur’an, and 83% of the words of the Qur’an are not found in the Bukhārī
also referred to as “discriminant words”—found in one text and not the other.16
Other findings included significant differences in the uses of singular and plural forms, differences in the frequency of word lengths in the two texts (e.g., monograms, trigrams, tetragrams, etc.), and the different results in stylometric classifiers (Canberra distance, Manhattan distance,17
RN cross entropy, cosine distance, Kullback Leibler,18
LDA analysis, Naïve Bayes classifier,19
The conclusion of the study was that the two examined texts (the Qur’an and Bukhārī
hadith) must have had two different authors and that the statistical results reject attributing the Qur’an to Muhammad (peace be upon him).21
When Muslims encounter the claim that the Qur’an was authored by Muhammad ﷺ, one typical response is the following question: If the Qur’an was revealed over the span of twenty-three years, then how did Prophet Muhammad maintain such distinct speech for so long and in so many places and circumstances? The more remarkable point of observation that should be highlighted is that the Qur’an’s verses were revealed instantaneously at times after unplanned events or historical incidents, or in response to questions and challenges posed to the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ; thus, there was no time to carefully plan what was being conveyed in order to maintain such strongly distinct styles and personalities. It is unreasonable to assume that a trustworthy human being, untrained in poetry and rhetoric, would have or could have maintained such an otherworldly feat for twenty-three years.
On this point, Dr. Muhammad Draz writes:
When we consider the Qur’anic style we find it the same throughout, while the Prophet’s own style is totally different. It does not run alongside the Qur’an except like high flying birds which cannot be reached by man but which may ‘run’ alongside him. When we look at human styles we find them all of a type that remains on the surface of the Earth. Some of them crawl while others run fast. But when you compare the fastest running among them to the Qur’an you feel that they are no more than moving cars compared to planets speeding through their orbits.22
Revelation being beyond the Prophet’s control
Another form of evidence that the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was not the author of the Qur’an is his lack of control over revelation, as illustrated in the following prophetic narration:
According to the exegesis of al-Ṭabarī,23
the Quraysh sent al-Naḍr ibn al-Ḥārith and ʿUqbah ibn Abī Muʿīṭ to the Jewish rabbis in Madīnah and told them: “Ask them (the rabbis) about Muhammad, and describe him to them, and tell them what he is saying. They are the people of the first Book, and they have more knowledge of the Prophets than we do.” So they set out and when they reached Madīnah, they asked the Jewish rabbis about the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. They described him to them and told them some of what he had said. They said, “You are the people of the Tawrāh and we have come to you so that you can tell us about this companion of ours.”
They (the rabbis) said, “Ask him about three things which we will tell you to ask, and if he answers them, then he is a Prophet who has been sent (by God); if he does not, then he is saying things that are not true, in which case how you deal with him will be up to you. Ask him about some young men in ancient times, what was their story for theirs is a strange and wondrous tale. Ask him about a man who traveled a great deal and reached the east and the west of the earth; what was his story? Ask him as well about the Rūḥ (soul or spirit)—what is it? If he tells you about these things, then he is a prophet, so follow him, but if he does not tell you, then he is a man who is making things up, so deal with him as you see fit.” So al-Naḍr and ʿUqbah left and came back to the Quraysh, and said: “O people of Quraysh, we have come to you with a decisive solution that will put an end to the problem between you and Muhammad. The Jewish rabbis told us to ask him about some matters,” and they told the Quraysh what they were. Then they came to the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and said, “O Muhammad, tell us,” and they asked him about the things they had been told to ask.
The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said, “I will tell you tomorrow about what you have asked me,” but he did not say “If Allah wills.” So they went away, and fifteen days passed without any revelation from Allah concerning that, and the Angel Jibrīl did not come to the prophet ﷺ during that time. The people of Makkah started to doubt him, and said, “Muhammad promised to tell us the next day, and now fifteen days have gone by and he has not told us anything in response to the questions we asked.” The Messenger of Allah felt sad because of the delay in revelation and was grieved by what the people of Makkah were saying about him. Then Jibrīl (Angel Gabriel) came to him from Allah with the sūrah
about the companions of al-Kahf (The Cave),24
which also contained a rebuke for feeling sad about the idolaters.25
also informed him about the matters they had asked him about, the young men and the traveler, as well as the verse about the soul. In addition, as was reported from Ibn ‘Abbās, were the two verses:
And never say, “Indeed, I will do that tomorrow,” without [adding], “If Allah wills.” And remember your Lord when you forget [it] and say, “Perhaps my Lord will guide me to what is nearer than this to right conduct.”26
Ultimately, the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ had no control over the revelation and was, in fact, grieved and saddened at the lack of revelation when questioned by people. Had the Prophet had control over the speech of the Qur’an, he would have not placed himself in such a difficult position in front of his opponents, one in which he promised revelation the next day and then had no response for fifteen days. It is absurd to assume that anyone in such a position would accept such a dilemma if it were avoidable.
The separation between the emotional experiences of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and the speech of the Qur’an
A third disconnect between the speech of the Qur’an and the life of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ regards his emotional experiences over the course of twenty-three years of prophethood; none of this emotional turmoil is observed in the Qur’an except as a distinct and differentiated voice. When he first received revelation in the cave of Hirāʾ, the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ had a genuine human reaction, one of fear, and he ran home to his wife Khadījah rather than going to the town center and making some bold proclamation.27
Furthermore, the Prophet’s children died, his wife Khadījah passed away, he and his community were completely boycotted and cut off, his close companions were harassed and murdered, he was stoned by the people of Ṭāʾif, he engaged in military campaigns, and yet throughout the entirety of his human experiences as a prophet, the Qur’an’s linguistic style and eloquent voice remain consistently distinct and divine in perspective, assertions, style, and character.28
The Qur’an’s rebuking of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ
The fourth facet of separation between the Qur’an and the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ requires the reader to reflect on the responses of rulers and leaders throughout history to being criticized. If, as some critics claimed, Prophet Muhammad ﷺ wanted authority and power over the world, then it would be reasonable to assume that he would want his image and reputation to remain excellent and this is the common reality seen today amongst rulers and politicians. However, the Qur’an does not hesitate to rebuke the Prophet ﷺ in examples such as the following:
He [the Prophet] frowned and turned away. Because there came to him the blind man, [interrupting]. But what would make you perceive, [O Muhammad], that perhaps he might be purified? Or be reminded and the remembrance would benefit him?29
These verses highlight the incident in which Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was speaking with the elite of Quraysh and a blind man came to him to ask about Islam. The Prophet ﷺ turned away from him as he was busy with delivering the message of Islam to the elite of Quraysh, hoping their leaders would accept the faith.30
Thereafter, revelation was sent down admonishing him for his treatment of the blind man. Thus, one can see clearly that there is a significant level of disconnect between the Qur’an’s voice and character and the life of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.
Furthermore, the Prophet ﷺ was threatened with punishment if he did not convey the Qur’an or if he tampered with its verses, and the author of the Qur’an made it clear that nobody would be able to defend him if he were to do such a thing:
And if he [Muhammad] had made up about Us some [false] speech, We would have seized him by the right hand. Then We would have cut [his] aorta. And there is no one of you who could prevent [Us] from [doing that]. And indeed, the Qur’an is a reminder for the righteous. And indeed, We know that among you are deniers. And indeed, it will be [a cause of] regret for the disbelievers. And indeed, it is the truth of certainty. So exalt the name of your Lord, the Most Great.31
And if We had not strengthened you, you would have almost inclined to them a little. Then [if you had], We would have made you taste double [punishment in] life and double [after] death. Then you would not find for yourself against Us a helper.32
If the Qur’an were authored by Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, it would be extremely strange to threaten, harshly criticize, and admonish himself in a scripture recited by the entire nation of believers, and expected to be recited until the end of time. People—particularly rulers and leaders—are generally resentful of harsh criticism, and especially a form of criticism that is preserved, public, and ongoing.
Other significant examples of reproaching verses of the Qur’an include:
But [Prophet] are you going to worry yourself to death over them if they do not believe in this message?33
O Prophet, why do you prohibit [yourself from] what Allah has made lawful for you…?34
We know well that what they say grieves you [Prophet]. It is not your honesty they question—it is Allah’s signs [i.e., revelation] that the wrongdoers deny.35
The fact that these aforementioned verses and others were not removed from the Qur’an highlights the divine authorship of the Qur’an, the authenticity of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ in conveying it as it was revealed, and the promise of God to preserve it against any corruption or modification.36
It is important to note that the verses that reproach the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ are not insults to him; rather, they indicate his keenness in spreading the message, which sometimes caused him grief, whilst reminding him of his role and mission.
As for the claim that the Qur’an was authored by Muhammad ﷺ for power or wealth, it is well established in the prophetic narrations and biographies that the Prophet’s behavior exemplified the exact opposite—his material wealth actually decreased after he began conveying the Qur’an, and he declined all worldly offers in exchange for discontinuing the preaching of Islam. One example of this is seen in the following report:
One day some of the Quraysh chiefs were sitting in their assembly, while in another corner of the Mosque there was the Prophet sitting by himself. This was the time when Ḥamzah رضي الله عنه had already embraced Islam and the elite of the Quraysh were upset at the growing numbers of Muslims. On this occasion, ʿUtbah ibn Rabīʿah said to the Quraysh chiefs: “Gentlemen, if you like I will go and speak to Muhammad and put before him some proposals; maybe he will accept one of them, to which we may also agree, and so he may stop opposing us [by conveying the message of Islam].” They all agreed to this, and ‘Utbah went and sat by the Prophet ﷺ.
When the Prophet ﷺ turned to him, he said: “Muhammad, you are, as you know, a noble from your tribe and your lineage assures you a place of honor but now you have brought to your people a matter of grave concern, whereby you have split their community, declared their way of life to be foolish, spoken shamefully of their gods and religion, and referred to their forefathers as disbelievers. Listen to what I propose and see if any of it is acceptable to you. If it is wealth that you seek, we will gather our wealth and make you the richest amongst us. If you seek honor, we will make you our overlord and we will make no decision without your consent. If you seek kingship, then we will make you our king. And if you cannot get rid of this demon that appears to you, we will find you a physician and spend all our money until you are cured.”
ʿUtbah went on speaking in this strain and the Prophet ﷺ went on listening to him quietly until he finished speaking. He ﷺ then asked, “Have you finished, O Abū al-Walīd (the honorific nickname of ʿUtbah)?” When he replied in the affirmative, the Prophet said, “Then listen to me:
In the name of Allah, the Ever-Merciful, the Bestower of Mercy. Haa Meem. A revelation from Allah, the Ever-Merciful, the Bestower of Mercy. [This is] a book whose verses are explained in detail—a Qur’an in Arabic, for people who reflect. Giving glad tidings and warning [of a severe punishment]. But most of them turn away, so they listen not...37
The Prophet continued to recite until he finished the sūrah
. ʿUtbah sat quietly, entranced by what he was hearing. Then the Prophet ﷺ said, “You have heard what you have heard, so do as you please.” When ʿUtbah returned to his people, they said to themselves, “I swear by the Lord of the Kaʿbah, this ʿUtbah is not the same as the ʿUtbah that left us!” He said, “O people! I have heard a speech the likes of which I have never heard before. I swear by Allah, it is not magic, nor is it poetry, nor is it sorcery. O gathering of Quraysh, listen to me. Leave this man alone, for I swear by Allah, the speech that I have heard from him [i.e., the Qur’an] will soon be news (among the other tribes)...”38
This narration highlights the Prophet’s genuine and consistent character whenever he was offered power, glory, and wealth. Anyone with a rudimentary study of the biography of Muhammad ﷺ would never claim that he sought power, glory, or wealth, as his character exemplified the opposite. Additionally, this narration highlights that even to the proficient and high-ranking ʿUtbah, the Speech of the Qur’an was unlike anything he had ever heard—a testimony carrying significant weight in light of the role of rhetoric and poetry among the Arabs of the time. Furthermore, ʿUtbah acknowledged that the Qur’an would spread and become news to other people—which manifested shortly thereafter—an additional indicator of the powerful eloquence and otherworldliness of the Qur’an.