According to several passages in the Quran, Muhammad was the first Muslim:
Say: Shall I choose for a protecting friend other than Allah, the Originator of the heavens and the earth, Who feedeth and is never fed? Say: I am ordered to be the first to surrender [aslama] (unto Him). And be not thou (O Muhammad) of the idolaters. S. 6:14 Pickthall
Say, verily my Lord hath directed me into a right way, a true religion, the sect of Abraham the orthodox; and he was no idolater. Say, verily my prayers, and my worship, and my life, and my death are dedicated unto God, the Lord of all creatures: He hath no companion. This have I been commanded: I am the first Moslem (Wa 'Ana 'Awwalu Al-Muslimin). S. 6:161-163 Sale
He hath no associate. This am I commanded, and I am the first of the Muslims. S. 6:163 Rodwell
Say (O Muhammad): Lo! I am commanded to worship Allah, making religion pure for Him (only). And I am commanded to be the first of those who are muslims (surrender unto Him). S. 39:11-12 Pickthall
This is contradicted by both the Quran and various Islamic traditions which refer to the presence of true believers both before and during Muhammads alleged "call" to prophethood. The Quran mentions that Adam, Noah, the Patriarchs, the twelve tribes of Israel, Moses, Jesus etc., were all believers and many of them even messengers who lived a long time before Muhammad:
Behold, thy Lord said to the angels: "I will create a vicegerent on earth." They said: "Wilt Thou place therein one who will make mischief therein and shed blood?- whilst we do celebrate Thy praises and glorify Thy holy (name)?" He said: "I know what ye know not." And behold, We said to the angels: "Bow down to Adam" and they bowed down. Not so Iblis: he refused and was haughty: He was of those who reject Faith. We said: "O Adam! dwell thou and thy wife in the Garden; and eat of the bountiful things therein as (where and when) ye will; but approach not this tree, or ye run into harm and transgression." When learnt Adam from his Lord words of inspiration, and his Lord Turned towards him; for He is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful. S. 2:30, 34-35, 37
We have sent thee inspiration, as We sent it to Noah and the Messengers after him: we sent inspiration to Abraham, Isma'il, Isaac, Jacob and the Tribes, to Jesus, Job, Jonah, Aaron, and Solomon, and to David We gave the Psalms. S. 4:163
We gave him Isaac and Jacob: all (three) guided: and before him, We guided Noah, and among his progeny, David, Solomon, Job, Joseph, Moses, and Aaron: thus do We reward those who do good: S. 6:84
And when Ibrahim and Ismail raised the foundations of the House: Our Lord! accept from us; surely Thou art the Hearing, the Knowing: Our Lord! and make us both submissive (muslimayni) to Thee and (raise) from our offspring a nation submitting (ommatan muslimatan) to Thee, and show us our ways of devotion and turn to us (mercifully), surely Thou art the Oft-returning (to mercy), the Merciful. Our Lord! and raise up in them an Apostle from among them who shall recite to them Thy communications and teach them the Book and the wisdom, and purify them; surely Thou art the Mighty, the Wise. And who forsakes the religion of Ibrahim but he who makes himself a fool, and most certainly We chose him in this world, and in the hereafter he is most surely among the righteous. When his Lord said to him, Be a Muslim (aslim), he said: I submit myself (aslamtu) to the Lord of the worlds. And the same did Ibrahim enjoin on his sons and (so did) Yaqoub. O my sons! surely Allah has chosen for you (this) faith, therefore die not unless you are Muslims (illa waantum muslimoona). Nay! were you witnesses when death visited Yaqoub, when he said to his sons: What will you serve after me? They said: We will serve your God and the God of your fathers, Ibrahim and Ismail and Ishaq, one God only, and to Him do we submit (wanahnu lahu muslimoona). S. 2:127-133 Shakir
When Jesus found Unbelief on their part He said: "Who will be My helpers to (the work of) Allah?" Said the disciples: "We are Allah's helpers: We believe in Allah, and do thou bear witness that we are Muslims. S. 3:52
Ibrahim was not a Jew nor a Christian but he was (an) upright (man), a Muslim (musliman), and he was not one of the polytheists. S. 3:67 Shakir
They are not all alike; of the followers of the Book there is an upright party; they recite Allah's communications in the nighttime and they adore (Him). They believe in Allah and the last day, and they enjoin what is right and forbid the wrong and they strive with one another in hastening to good deeds, and those are among the good. And whatever good they do, they shall not be denied it, and Allah knows those who guard (against evil). S. 3:113-115 Shakir
Then will Allah say: "O Jesus the son of Mary! Recount My favour to thee and to thy mother. Behold! I strengthened thee with the holy spirit, so that thou didst speak to the people in childhood and in maturity. Behold! I taught thee the Book and Wisdom, the Law and the Gospel and behold! thou makest out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, by My leave, and thou breathest into it and it becometh a bird by My leave, and thou healest those born blind, and the lepers, by My leave. And behold! thou bringest forth the dead by My leave. And behold! I did restrain the Children of Israel from (violence to) thee when thou didst show them the clear Signs, and the unbelievers among them said: This is nothing but evident magic. And behold! I inspired the disciples to have faith in Me and Mine Messenger: they said, 'We have faith, and do thou bear witness that we bow to Allah as Muslims." S. 5:110-111
Lo! it is from Solomon, and lo! it is: In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful; Exalt not yourselves against me, but come unto me as those who surrender (muslimeena). ... So, when she came, it was said (unto her): Is thy throne like this? She said: (It is) as though it were the very one. And (Solomon said): We were given the knowledge before her and we had surrendered (wakunna muslimeena) (to Allah). ... It was said unto her: Enter the hall. And when she saw it she deemed it a pool and bared her legs. (Solomon) said: Lo! it is a hall, made smooth, of glass. She said: My Lord! Lo! I have wronged myself, and I surrender (aslamtu) with Solomon unto Allah, the Lord of the Worlds. S. 27:30-31, 42, 44 Pickthall
Apart from various groups being called guided, having the right faith, or even having been given inspiration, we have at least Abraham and the disciples of Jesus being explicitly called Muslims (3:52, 67, 5:111). Certainly both Abraham and the disciples of Jesus lived long before Muhammad.
In fact, the Quran claims that all believers were essentially Muslims:
And strive in His cause as ye ought to strive, (with sincerity and under discipline). He has chosen you, and has imposed no difficulties on you in religion; it is the cult of your father Abraham. It is He Who has named you Muslims, both before and in this (Revelation); that the Messenger may be a witness for you, and ye be witnesses for mankind! So establish regular Prayer, give regular Charity, and hold fast to Allah! He is your Protector - the Best to protect and the Best to help! S. 22:78
Would that not qualify them as being Muslims and believers even before Muhammad? Certainly, this would make Adam the first believer, the first Muslim, wouldnt it?
The Quran says that every person is created in a natural state of religion, which the hadith interprets as Islam. In other words, every human being is born Muslim!
Then set your face upright for religion in the right state -- the nature made by Allah in which He has made men; there is no altering of Allah's creation; that is the right religion, but most people do not know -- S. 30:30 Shakir
Narrated Abu Huraira:
Allah's Apostle said, "Every child is born with a true faith of Islam (i.e. to worship none but Allah Alone) but his parents convert him to Judaism, Christianity or Magianism, as an animal delivers a perfect baby animal. Do you find it mutilated?" Then Abu Huraira recited the holy verses: "The pure Allah's Islamic nature (true faith of Islam) (i.e. worshipping none but Allah) with which He has created human beings. No change let there be in the religion of Allah (i.e. joining none in worship with Allah). That is the straight religion (Islam) but most of men know, not." (30.30) (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 2, Book 23, Number 441)
Narrated Abu Huraira:
The Prophet said, "Every child is born with a true faith of Islam (i.e. to worship none but Allah Alone) and his parents convert him to Judaism or Christianity or Magianism, as an animal delivers a perfect baby animal. Do you find it mutilated?" (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 2, Book 23, Number 467)
Again, doesnt this show that every person who lived before Muhammad was already a Muslim, at least for some time, even though many of them may have deviated from the path later on?
Ibn Ishaq mentions four persons during Muhammads time who were said to be followers of the religion of Abraham:
One day when the Quraysh had assembled on a feast day to venerate and circumambulate the idol to which they offered sacrifices, this being a feast which they held annually, four men drew apart secretly and agreed to keep their counsel in the bonds of friendship. They were Waraqa b. Naufal, Ubaydullah b. Jahsh, whose mother was Umayma d. 'Abdu'l Muttalib, Uthman b. al-Huwayrith and Zayd b. 'Amr. They were of the opinion that their people had corrupted the religion of their father Abraham, and that the stone they went round was of no account, it could neither hear nor see, nor hurt nor help. Find yourselves a religion, they said, for by God you have none. So they went their ways seeking the Hanaffiya -- the religion of Abraham. (The Life of Muhammad, trans. Alfred Guillaume [Oxford University Press Karachi], p. 99; underlined emphasis ours)
Interestingly, the Quran calls Abraham a Hanif:
Ibrahim was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but he was a true Muslim Hanifa, and he was not of the Mushrikin. S. 3:67 Ibn Kathir(*)
Say: "Truly, my Lord has guided me to a straight path, a right religion, the religion of Ibrahim, a Hanif." S. 6:161 Ibn Kathir(*)
Al-Bukhari records Muhammads run in with one of these so-called Hanifs:
Allah's Apostle said that he met Zaid bin 'Amr Nufail at a place near Baldah and this had happened before Allah's Apostle received the Divine Inspiration. Allah's Apostle presented a dish of meat (that had been offered to him by the pagans) to Zaid bin 'Amr, but Zaid refused to eat of it and then said (to the pagans), "I do not eat of what you slaughter on your stone altars (Ansabs) nor do I eat except that on which Allah's Name has been mentioned on slaughtering." (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 67, Number 407)
Amazingly, it was one of these very Hanifs that convinced Muhammad that he was a prophet of God:
Khadija then accompanied him to her cousin Waraqa bin Naufal bin Asad bin 'Abdul 'Uzza, who, during the PreIslamic Period became a Christian and used to write the writing with Hebrew letters. He would write from the Gospel in Hebrew as much as Allah wished him to write. He was an old man and had lost his eyesight. Khadija said to Waraqa, "Listen to the story of your nephew, O my cousin!" Waraqa asked, "O my nephew! What have you seen?" Allah's Apostle described whatever he had seen. Waraqa said, "This is the same one who keeps the secrets (angel Gabriel) whom Allah had sent to Moses. I wish I were young and could live up to the time when your people would turn you out." Allah's Apostle asked, "Will they drive me out?" Waraqa replied in the affirmative and said, "Anyone (man) who came with something similar to what you have brought was treated with hostility; and if I should remain alive till the day when you will be turned out then I would support you strongly." But after a few days Waraqa died and the Divine Inspiration was also paused for a while. (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 1, Number 3)
These sources make it quite evident that Muhammad was by no means the first believer.
It doesnt stop here. The Quran elsewhere claims that Moses was the first to believe:
When Moses came to the place appointed by Us, and his Lord addressed him, He said: "O my Lord! show (Thyself) to me, that I may look upon thee." Allah said: "By no means canst thou see Me (direct); But look upon the mount; if it abide in its place, then shalt thou see Me." When his Lord manifested His glory on the Mount, He made it as dust. And Moses fell down in a swoon. When he recovered his senses he said: "Glory be to Thee! to Thee I turn in repentance, and I am the first to believe." S. 7:143
According to the Quran, to be a believer is to be a Muslim since there is no other religion acceptable before Allah:
The true religion with God is Islam. Those who were given the Book were not at variance except after the knowledge came to them, being insolent one to another. And whoso disbelieves in God's signs. God is swift at the reckoning. S. 3:19 Arberry
Whoso desires another religion than Islam, it shall not be accepted of him; in the next world he shall be among the losers. S. 3:85 Arberry
And, as the above verses showed, the Quran claims that all the prophets and messengers were Muslims. Hence, for Moses to be the first believer means that he was also the first Muslim.
In fact, people can be called Muslims without being Mu'mineen (believers) yet, but certainly not vice versa since the Quran states:
The Arabs said, "We are Mu'mens (believers)." Say, "You have not believed; what you should say is, ‘We are Muslims (submitters),’ until belief is established in your hearts." If you obey GOD and His messenger, He will not put any of your works to waste. GOD is Forgiver, Most Merciful. S. 49:14 R. Khalifa
We obviously cant have two "firsts." Either Muhammad was the first to believe or Moses was the first. Some Muslims get really ingenious and claim that these passages are simply stating that Muhammad and Moses were the first to believe from their respective generations. Others claim that these passages actually mean that these individuals were the first amongst their contemporaries to receive the message:
The Quran refers to every messenger as the first believer among his people. This is quite logical since the messenger is the first to receive the message. Muhammad is spoken of as the first Muslim/Believer among his people, since the revelation came to him before all others.
When we read the story of Moses in Sura 7, we read how he refered[sic] to himself as the first of the believers. Obviously Moses did not mean that he is the first believer of all time, but what he meant is that he was the first to believe from among his own people: (Source)
This last explanation is simply erroneous since nothing in the passages state that "first" here means that they were the first to receive the message. In fact, the Quran itself refutes this claim since we find in the case of Moses that both his mother and brother Aaron were believers who had received inspiration:
We have sent thee inspiration, as We sent it to Noah and the Messengers after him: we sent inspiration to Abraham, Isma'il, Isaac, Jacob and the Tribes, to Jesus, Job, Jonah, Aaron, and Solomon, and to David We gave the Psalms. S. 4:163
Then after them sent We Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh and his chiefs with Our Signs. But they were arrogant: they were a people in sin. S. 10:75
And, out of Our Mercy, We gave him his brother Aaron, (also) a prophet. S. 19:53
In the past We granted to Moses and Aaron the criterion (for judgment), and a Light and a Message for those who would do right,- S. 21:48
He said: "O my Lord! I do fear that they will charge me with falsehood: "My breast will be straitened. And my speech may not go (smoothly): so send unto Aaron. And (further), they have a charge of crime against me; and I fear they may slay me." Allah said: "By no means! proceed then, BOTH OF YOU, with Our Signs; We are with you, and will listen (to your call). So go forth, BOTH OF YOU, to Pharaoh, and say: 'We have been sent by the Lord and Cherisher of the worlds 'Send thou with us the Children of Israel." S. 26:12-17 (Cf. S. 20:29-41; 23:45; 25:35; 28:33-35; 37:114-120)
And We inspired the mother of Moses, saying: Suckle him and, when thou fearest for him, then cast him into the river and fear not nor grieve. Lo! We shall bring him back unto thee and shall make him (one) of Our messengers. S. 28:7
Although one could perhaps argue that God spoke to Moses slightly earlier than to Aaron, in the case of Moses mother, she clearly received divine inspiration (and believed and obeyed it) before God spoke to Moses.
The Holy Bible states:
"Then the anger of the LORD burned against Moses, and He said, Is there not your brother Aaron the Levite? I know that he speaks fluently. And moreover, behold, he is coming out to meet you; when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart. You are to speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I, even I, will be with your mouth and his mouth, and I will teach you what you are to do. Moreover, he shall speak for you to the people; and he will be as a mouth for you and you will be as God to him Now the LORD said to Aaron, Go to meet Moses in the wilderness. So he went and met him at the mountain of God and kissed him. Moses told Aaron all the words of the LORD with which He had sent him, and all the signs that He had commanded him to do." Exodus 4:14-16, 27-28
In fact, the immediate context of Sura 7:143 shows that Aaron was already a believer at this time:
They said, 'We believe in the Lord of all Being, the Lord of Moses and Aaron And We appointed with Moses thirty nights and We completed them with ten, so the appointed time of his Lord was forty nights; and Moses said to his brother Aaron, 'Be my successor among my people, and put things right, and do not follow the way of the workers of corruption.' And when Moses came to Our appointed time and his Lord spoke with him, he said, 'Oh my Lord, show me, that I may behold Thee!' Said He, 'Thou shalt not see Me; but behold the mountain -- if it stays fast in its place, then thou shalt see Me.' And when his Lord revealed Him to the mountain He made it crumble to dust; and Moses fell down swooning. So when he awoke, he said, 'Glory be to Thee! I repent to Thee; I am the first of the believers.' S. 7:121-122, 142
The sorcerers response presupposes that Aaron was there assisting Moses and was therefore a believer; the fact that Moses assigns him as his successor further assumes this point.
It is quite evident in light of the foregoing that God spoke with Aaron around the same time he had spoken with Moses. This means that Moses was neither the first believer, nor necessarily the first person that God spoke with.
Furthermore, we already saw that both the Quran and Islamic sources plainly show that Muhammad was by no means the first believer. The Quran also shows that there were other believers besides Aaron during the time of Moses:
A believer, A MAN from among THE PEOPLE OF PHARAOH, who had concealed his faith, said: "Will ye slay a man because he says, My Lord is Allah? - when he has indeed come to you with Clear (Signs) from your Lord? And if he be a liar, on him is (the sin of) his lie: but, if he is telling the Truth, then will fall on you something of the (calamity) of which he warns you: truly Allah guides not one who transgresses and lies! O my people! Yours is the dominion this day: Ye have the upper hand in the land: but who will help us from the Punishment of Allah, should it befall us?" Pharaoh said: "I but point out to you that which I see (myself); Nor do I guide you but to the Path of Right!" Then said the man who believed: "O my people! Truly I do fear for you something like the Day (of disaster) of the Confederates (in sin)! - Something like the fate of the People of Noah, the Àd, and the Thamüd, and those who came after them: but Allah never wishes injustice to His Servants. And O my people! I fear for you a Day when there will be Mutual calling (and wailing),- A Day when ye shall turn your backs and flee: no defender shall ye have from Allah: any whom Allah leaves to stray, there is none to guide. And to you there came Joseph in times gone by, with Clear Signs, but ye ceased not to doubt of the (Mission) for which he had come: at length, when he died, ye said: 'No messenger will Allah send after him.' Thus doth Allah leave to stray such as transgress and live in doubt,- (Such) as dispute about the Signs of Allah, without any authority that hath reached them, very hateful (is such conduct) in the sight of Allah and of the Believers. Thus doth Allah seal up every heart - of arrogant tyranical" The man who believed said further: "O my people! Follow me: I will lead you to the Path of Right. O my people! This life of the present is nothing but (temporary) enjoyment: it is the Hereafter that is the Home that will last. "He that works evil will not be requited but by the like thereof: and he that works a righteous deed - whether man or woman - and is a Believer- such will enter the Garden (of Bliss): therein will they have abundance without measure. And O my people! How (strange) it is for me to call you to Salvation while ye call me to the Fire! Ye do call upon me to blaspheme against Allah, and to join with Him partners of whom I have no knowledge; and I call you to the Exalted in Power, Who forgives again and again! Without doubt ye do call me to one who has no claim be called to, whether in this world, or in the Hereafter; our return will be to Allah: and the Transgressors will be Companions of the Fire! Soon will ye remember what I say to you (now), My (own) affair I commit to Allah: for Allah (ever) watches over His Servants." Then Allah SAVED HIM from (every) evil that they plotted (against him), but the brunt of the Chastisement encompassed on all sides THE PEOPLE OF PHARAOH. In front of the Fire will THEY be brought, morning and evening: and (the sentence will be) on the Day when the Hour comes to pass: "Cast ye the people of Pharaoh into the severest Penalty!" S. 40:28-35, 38-46 Y. Ali
The presence of an Egyptian believer shows that Moses wasnt the first believer of his generation. This person must have been a believer for a while since he knows of the prophets sent to the people of Ad and Thamud, of Noah, Joseph, and those that came later.
The problem worsens since this last passage contradicts the following Sura:
"(Pharaoh) said: If thou takest any god other than me, I will certainly put thee in prison! (Moses) said: Even if I showed you something clear (and) convincing? (Pharaoh) said: Show it then, if thou tellest the truth! So (Moses) threw his rod, and behold, it was a serpent, plain (for all to see)! And he drew out his hand, and behold, it was white to all beholders! (Pharaoh) said to the Chiefs around him: This is indeed a sorcerer well-versed: His plan is to get you out of your land by his sorcery; then what is it ye counsel? They said: Keep him and his brother in suspense (for a while), and dispatch to the Cities heralds to collect- And bring up to thee all (our) sorcerers well-versed. So the sorcerers were got together for the appointment of a day well-known, And the people were told: Are ye (now) assembled?- That we may follow the sorcerers if they win? So when the sorcerers arrived, they said to Pharaoh: Of course - shall we have a (suitable) reward if we win? He said: Yea, (and more),- for ye shall in that case be (raised to posts) nearest (to my person). Moses said to them: Throw ye- that which ye are about to throw! So they threw their ropes and their rods, and said: By the might of Pharaoh, it is we who will certainly win! Then Moses threw his rod, when, behold, it straightway swallows up all the falsehoods which they fake! THEN did the sorcerers fall down, prostrate in adoration, Saying: We believe in the Lord of the Worlds, The Lord of Moses and Aaron. Said (Pharaoh): Believe ye in Him before I give you permission? Surely he is your leader, who has taught you sorcery! But soon shall ye know! Be sure I will cut off your hands and your feet on opposite sides, and I will crucify you all! They said: No matter! For us, we shall but return to our Lord! Only, our desire is that our Lord will forgive us our faults, SINCE WE ARE THE FIRST TO BELIEVE." S. 26:29-51
Here it is the magicians that are the first ones who came to faith! This contradicts the earlier passages claiming that Muhammad was the first to believe, and that Moses was the first to believe. Even if one wants to restrict it to mean only the first ones among the Egyptians, it contradicts 40:28 quoted above which reports about another Egyptian believer. Moreover, Moses had grown up among the Egyptians (from early infancy until well into his adulthood), he had even been adopted by the wife of the Pharaoh (according to the Quran), so he was certainly counted as an Egyptian by them, not as a foreigner.
Now, someone may say that first here doesnt mean historically the first to believe, but that Muhammad was first in the sense of being the foremost of believers, the most prominent in position. After all, the Quran does mention that Allah has chosen some prophets above others:
And those Messengers, some We have preferred above others; some there are to whom God spoke, and some He raised in rank. And We gave Jesus son of Mary the clear signs, and confirmed him with the Holy Spirit. And had God willed, those who came after him would not have fought one against the other after the clear signs had come to them; but they fell into variance, and some of them believed, and some disbelieved; and had God willed they would not have fought one against the other; but God does whatsoever He desires. S. 2:253
And thy Lord knows very well all who are in the heavens and the earth; and We have preferred some Prophets over others; and We gave to David Psalms. S. 17:55
The problem with this view is that the Quran does not explicitly present Muhammad as the premier prophet or messenger. A careful analysis of the Quran actually shows that both Jesus and Moses are in fact greater. Note, for instance, what is said about Jesus supposed family and ancestral line (we say supposedly since Jesus wasnt a descendant of Imran):
God chose Adam and Noah and the House of Abraham and the House of Imran above all beings, the seed of one another; God hears, and knows. When the wife of Imran said, 'Lord, I have vowed to Thee, in dedication, what is within my womb. Receive Thou this from me; Thou hearest, and knowest.' And when she gave birth to her she said, 'Lord, I have given birth to her, a female.' (And God knew very well what she had given birth to; the male is not as the female.) 'And I have named her Mary, and commend her to Thee with her seed, to protect them from the accursed Satan.' And when the angels said, 'Mary, God has chosen thee, and purified thee; He has chosen thee above all women. S. 3:33-36, 42
Here, Jesus mother is exalted above all women with her father Imran being chosen above all else. The text seems to be narrowing down the line of those whom Allah chose above the rest, i.e. beginning with Adam, Noah, then chooses Abraham and his descendants, and from all of Abrahams descendants chooses the family or house of Imran above the rest. The claim that Mary is exalted above all women supports this understanding of the passage, i.e. that from all of Abrahams seed Imran and his household, which according to the Quran includes Jesus, were chosen above them all. Furthermore, there are other things which the Quran says about Jesus which makes him vastly superior to Muhammad. For the data demonstrating this, we encourage the reader to consult the following articles:
Even in the above texts where it is stated that Allah has preferred some to others, the author of the Quran didnt mention Muhammad but Jesus and David. Thus, based on the immediate contexts themselves, we can safely say that Jesus and David were definitely two of the messengers preferred above the others. But we cant say this of Muhammad.
Besides, one still has to deal with the problem of Moses being the first believer, which could also be understood as implying that he was the most prominent, thereby contradicting the claim that Muhammad was. Even the hadiths say that Muhammad wasnt as great as Moses:
Narrated Abu Huraira:
"A man from the Muslims and a man from the Jews quarreled, and the Muslim said, By Him Who gave superiority to Muhammad over all the people! The Jew said, By Him Who gave superiority to Moses over all the people!' On that the Muslim lifted his hand and slapped the Jew. The Jew went to Allah's Apostle and informed him of all that had happened between him and the Muslim. The Prophet said, Do not give me superiority over Moses, for the people will fall unconscious on the Day of Resurrection, I will be the first to regain consciousness and behold, Moses will be standing there, holding the side of the Throne. I will not know whether he has been one of those who have fallen unconscious and then regained consciousness before me, or if he has been one of those exempted by Allah (from falling unconscious)." (See Hadith No. 524, Vol. 8) (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 93, Number 564)
The hadith also has Muhammad admitting that Abraham was the best creature, not him:
Anas b. Malik reported that a person came to Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) and said: O the best of creation; thereupon Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: He is Ibrahim (peace be upon him). (Sahih Muslim, Book 030, Number 5841)
The Muslim may say that Moses and Muhammad were the most prominent amongst their respective contemporaries. In other words, Moses and Muhammad were both the first in the sense of being preeminent over their respective generations.
But even this explanation is problematic since the context shows that, at least as far as Muhammad is concerned, first can only mean the first one (in time) to submit to the unity of Allah:
Say: Shall I choose for a protecting friend other than Allah, the Originator of the heavens and the earth, Who feedeth and is never fed? Say: I am ordered to be the first to surrender (unto Him). And be not thou (O Muhammad) of the idolaters. S. 6:14 Pickthall
Say: "Verily, my Lord hath guided me to a way that is straight,- a religion of right,- the path (trod) by Abraham the true in Faith, and he (certainly) joined not gods with Allah." Say: "Truly, my prayer and my service of sacrifice, my life and my death, are (all) for Allah, the Cherisher of the Worlds: No partner hath He: this am I commanded, and I am the first of those who bow to His will. S. 6:161-163 Y. Ali
In S. 6:14 the temporal aspect is obvious. "First" in Sura 6:161-163 has to be understood in a temporal sense as well, since the text speaks of having been guided to a way that is straight, to the right religion, presupposing that he was on a different way before. So there is a change in time in regard to his beliefs, and he is supposed to be the first one who bows to Allahs will.
The reference to Abraham, the true in faith (6:161) may be taken as an indication that 6:163 is referring to Muhammad being the first Muslim of his time, or among his people, as otherwise it would be in contradiction to the statement only two verses earlier.
More importantly, the Quran shows that Moses wasnt the most prominent of his time since there was someone named Al-Khadir who was greater:
And remember the time when Moses said to his young companion, `I will not cease pursuing my course until I reach the junction of the two seas, though I may have to journey on for ages. But when they reached the place where the two seas met, they forgot their fish and it made its way into the sea going away quickly. And when they had gone beyond that place, he said to his young companion, `Bring us our morning meal. Surely, we have suffered much fatigue on account of this journey of ours.' He replied, `Didst thou see, when we betook ourselves to the rock for rest and I forgot the fish - and none but Satan caused me to forget to mention it to thee - it took its way into the sea in a marvelous manner? He said, `That is what we have been seeking.' So they both returned, retracing their footsteps. Then they found a servant of OURS, upon whom WE had bestowed mercy from US, and whom WE had taught knowledge from Ourselves. Moses said to him, `May I follow thee on condition that thou teach me some of the guidance which thou hast been taught?' He replied, `Thou canst not have patience with me; And how can thou have patience about the things the knowledge of which thou comprehendest not?' He said, `Thou wilt find me, if ALLAH please, patient and I shall not disobey any command of thine.' He said, `Well, if thou wouldst follow me, then ask me no questions about anything till I myself speak to thee about it.' So they both set out till, when they embarked in a boat, he made a hole in it. Moses said, `Hast thou made a hole in it to drown those who are in it ? Surely, thou hast done a grievous thing.' He replied, `Did I not tell thee that thou canst not have patience with me?' Moses said, `Take me not to task for what I forgot and be not hard on me for this lapse of mine.' So they journeyed on till when they met a young boy; he slew him. Moses said, `What! hast thou slain an innocent person without his having slain anyone ! Surely, thou hast done a hideous thing.' He replied, `Did I not tell thee that thou couldst never bear with me patiently?' Moses said, `If I ask thee concerning anything after this, keep me not in thy company, for then thou shalt have got sufficient excuse from me.' So they went on till, when they came to the people of a town, they asked its people for food, but they refused to receive them as their guests. And they found therein a wall which was about to fall and he repaired it. Moses said, If thou hadst so desired, thou couldst have taken payment for it.' He said, `This is the parting of the ways between me and thee. I will tell thee the meaning of that which thou wast not able to bear with patience; As for the boat, it belonged to certain poor people who worked on the sea and I desired to damage it, for there was behind them a king who seized every boat by force; And as for the youth, his parents were believers, and we feared lest on growing up he should involve them into trouble through rebellion and disbelief; So we desired that their Lord should give them in exchange one better than he in purity and closer in filial affection; And as for the wall, it belonged to two orphan boys in the town, and beneath it was a treasure belonging to them, and their father had been a righteous man, so thy Lord desired that they should reach their age of full strength and take out their treasure, as a mercy from thy Lord and I did it not of my own accord. This is the explanation of that which thou could not bear with patience.' S. 18:60-82 Sher Ali
Therefore, not only is it a mere assumption that first here refers to prominence or preeminence, this assertion directly contradicts the context of the passages which clearly define first to mean the first one submitting to and believing in the unity of Allah (at least in the case of Muhammad). They are also at tension with the Qurans reference to a servant from Allah who was more knowledgeable and greater than Moses.
And, as we saw above, Muhammad was definitely not the first one to submit to Allah since the so-called Hanifs, which we already mentioned, were said to be monotheists following the religion of Abraham.
Let us summarize all the problems thus far:
To make matters worse, the claim that some of Pharaohs magicians believed in Moses contradicts S. 10:83 which says that none believed in him except some of Moses own people! (Cf. this article.)
Our analysis leads us to conclude that first cannot mean preeminence or prominence, but must mean the first in time, either in all of history or within the respective generations. Yet either understanding results in contradictions to other statements of the Quran which show that neither Moses nor Muhammad was the first to believe even during their generations.
And it becomes even more complicated ... There seems to be evidence which shows that the Quran views Abraham as the first Muslim. We saw that in several places believers are called to embrace the religion of Abraham, that Islam is the belief system which Abraham espoused and exhorted his children to walk in (cf. 2:132-133; 3:67; 4:125; 6:161; 22:78).
The constant emphasis on Islam being the religion of Abraham — as opposed to Adam, Noah etc. —, may mean that the Qurans author assumed that the faith actually started with him. This understanding can be inferred from the following text:
And strive in His cause as ye ought to strive, (with sincerity and under discipline). He has chosen you, and has imposed no difficulties on you in religion; it is the cult of your father Abraham. It is He Who has named you Muslims, both before and in this (Revelation); that the Apostle may be a witness for you, and ye be witnesses for mankind! So establish regular Prayer, give regular Charity, and hold fast to God! He is your Protector - the Best to protect and the Best to help! S. 22:78 Y. Ali
The implication of the above is that Allah started using the term Muslim for believers during the time of Abraham, and that is why it is called his faith or cult. Not coincidentally Abraham is the first one among all the prophets and messengers who are mentioned in the Quran that is expressly called a Muslim!
The following are the occurrences of the words Muslim, Muslims, surrender (i.e. aslama, aslamoo, aslimoo, oslima, aslamtu) so that the readers can investigate this issue for themselves: 2:112, 128, 131-133, 136; 3:20, 52, 64, 67, 80, 83-84, 102; 4:92, 125; 5:44, 111; 6:14, 163; 7:126; 10:72, 84, 90; 11:14; 12:101; 15:02; 16:89, 102; 21:108; 22:34, 78; 27:31, 42, 81, 91; 28:53; 29:46; 30:53; 33:35; 37:103; 39:12, 54; 40:66; 41:33; 43.69; 46:15; 49:14, 17; 51:36; 66:05; 68:35; 72:14
Now lest we be accused of misunderstanding the text or distorting the teaching of the Quran, note what the following Muslim author says about this very issue:
The misunderstanding and poor interpretation here stems from their lack of understanding of the word Islam (Submission). In spite of the fact that God tells us in the Quran that Islam (Submission to God Alone) is as old as Abraham WHO WAS THE FIRST MUSLIM (see 2:128, 2:131, 2:133) AND WHO WAS THE FIRST TO NAME US MUSLIMS (22:78), still the Muslim scholars today insist that Islam is confined to being the religion of the Quran!!!
By creating such a false statement, the Muslim scholars claim to be the custodians of the message! In 3:67 God specifically tells us that Abraham was neither Jewish nor Christian, but a monotheist Muslim. God also tells us in 5:111 that Jesus and the Disciples were Muslim. In 27:44 tells us that Solomon was Muslim and in 5:44 we are told of all the prophets who were given the Torah and who were all Muslim.
What all these verses are confirming is that there are Muslims who followed the Torah and the Bible and who knew nothing of the Quran. These Muslims were submitters to God Alone, Lord of the universe. (Source; capital emphasis ours)
In the above quotation there seems to be a misunderstanding regarding S. 22:78. One probably has to understand this verse in the sense that it was not Abraham but Allah who gave the believers the name "Muslims". Still, we would agree that these passages give the impression that this happened first at the time of Abraham, i.e. Abraham and his descendants are the first ones who are explicitly called Muslims in the Quran.
If this is the case then we have several more contradictions which the Muslims must work through. Abraham being the first Muslim would contradict the statements that Moses and/or Muhammad were the first believers/Muslims. This also contradicts the fact that there were other prophets and messengers before Abraham, such as Adam and Noah, who obviously were believers otherwise they couldnt be Allahs spokespersons! That is, unless we are to understand from this that even though Noah and others were believers before Abraham, their religion wasnt Islam. They actually had a different religion.
If the foregoing conclusion regarding Abraham is correct then Muslims have a lot of problems that they must deal with.
Sam Shamoun and Jochen Katz
Articles by Sam Shamoun
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