Sura 10:94 and Muhammad's doubts

Sam Shamoun

Bassam Zawadi responds (*) to my endnotes (*) regarding Muhammad being rebuked in Sura 10:94-95 for doubting that revelations were coming to him. Here are the references in question so as to see what is at stake here:

And if thou (Muhammad) art in doubt concerning that which We reveal unto thee, then question those who read the Scripture (that was) before thee. Verily the Truth from thy Lord hath come unto thee. So be not thou of the waverers. And be not thou of those who deny the revelations of Allah, for then wert thou of the losers. S. 10:94-95 Pickthall

The above establishes two very crucial points. The first is that Muhammad is expressly told to consult the previous Scriptures if he wanted to know whether revelations were coming to him. This shows that the Holy Bible, which is the Scriptures that were in the hands of the people before Muhammad, serves as a criterion determining whether the Quran is true or not. As the late renowned Christian scholar and Islamist Sir William Muir stated:

"The Book revealed before Mahomet," is explained by Jelalooddeen to mean the Pentateuch; but there seems no reason to confine the reference to it. Here, as in many other passages, the word is obviously used in its widest sense, and intends the Scriptures in use among Christians as well as Jews.

The object of God, in referring Mahomet to that Scripture and its possessors, in order to be satisfied of the inspiration of the Corân, is explained by Baidhâwi thus: "for verily it (i.e. the Corân which We have revealed unto thee) is held as certain amongst them, proved in their books, in the same manner as that which We have revealed to thee. The object is to prove this, and to call in the testimony of the antecedent books."

فانه محقق عندهم ثابت في كتبهم على نحو ما القينا اليك والمراد تحقيق ذالك والإستشهاد بما في الكتب المتقدمة

"Ask those who read the book revealed before thee." Read, or "are reading," the Scripture. It is the present or imperfect tense, and has the signification of, "who are in the habit of reading" that Scripture. (Muir, The Corān: Its Composition and Teaching; And the Testimony It Bears To The Holy Scriptures, pp. 100-101; online edition)

Second, the author of the Quran very harshly warns and rebukes Muhammad for doubting whether revelation was being sent to him. As we had noted in our initial article some have tried to deny that Muhammad is being addressed here and say that the Quran is speaking to others through Muhammad. One such Muslim who held such a view was the late Muslim scholar Muhammad Asad:

115 Some of the commentators assume that verses 94 and 95 are addressed to the Prophet Muhammad - an assumption which is highly implausible in view of the admonition (in verse 95), "Be not among those who are bent on giving the lie to God’s messages": for it is obvious that God’s chosen Prophet was never in danger of falling into such a sin. Consequently, Razi interprets these two verses as being addressed to man in general, and explains the reference to "what We have bestowed upon thee from on high" in the sense given in my rendering. This interpretation makes it clear, moreover, that the above passage is closely connected with verses 57-58, which speak of the guidance vouchsafed to mankind through the ultimate divine writ, the Qur’an. (online edition; bold emphasis ours)

There is a major problem with Asad’s exegesis. Had the author of the Quran wanted to make sure that the reader didn’t think that Muhammad was being rebuked here he could have made the address in the plural instead of the singular, i.e. "If any of you are in doubt…" He could have even added the Arabic Qul ("Say") or the words "O mankind", or something of that nature, much like he did several verses later:

Say (O Muhammad SAW): "O you mankind! If you are in doubt as to my religion (Islam), then (know that) I will never worship those whom you worship, besides Allah. But I worship Allah Who causes you to die, I am commanded to be one of the believers. And (it is inspired to me): Direct your face (O Muhammad SAW) entirely towards the religion Hanifa (Islamic Monotheism, i.e. to worship none but Allah Alone), and never be one of the Mushrikun (those who ascribe partners to Allah, polytheists, idolaters, disbelievers in the Oneness of Allah, and those who worship others along with Allah). And invoke not besides Allah, any that will neither profit you, nor hurt you, but if (in case) you did so, you shall certainly be one of the Zalimun (polytheists and wrong-doers)… Say: "O you mankind! Now truth (i.e. the Qur'an and Prophet Muhammad SAW), has come to you from your Lord. So whosoever receives guidance, he does so for the good of his own self, and whosoever goes astray, he does so to his own loss, and I am not (set) over you as a Wakil (disposer of affairs to oblige you for guidance)." S. 10:104-106, 108 Hilali-Khan

Any combination of these would have clearly demonstrated that the rebuke wasn’t directed at Muhammad. The author obviously didn’t use any of these expressions but chose to use the singular address which makes it quite apparent that Muhammad was getting rebuked at this point for wavering. Asad’s response is more of an attempt of salvaging Muhammad’s reputation and of trying to uphold the later Islamic position that Muhammad had perfect faith and was absolutely sinless.

With the foregoing in mind we can now focus our attention on Zawadi’s rebuttal. Here is his response to the narration I cited where Muhammad asked a Jew whether the Torah contained any predictions of him:

My Response:

Sam needs to understand that when the Prophet said that he does not doubt and would not ask the Prophet meant that he would not ask because of being doubtful. The above narration that Sam showed does not show that the Prophet asked as a result of being doubtful but he asked as a result to make the Jew recognize that he is the Prophet of God. You need to distinguish the differences in the reason of asking.

It is Zawadi that needs to understand that the data does not support his claim that Muhammad was asking in order to make the Jew recognize his prophethood. Here is the hadith once again:

This is a description of the Prophet Muhammad in the Books of the Prophets. They delivered the good news of his advent to their nations and commanded them to follow him. His descriptions were still apparent in their Books, as the rabbis and priests well know. Imam Ahmad recorded that Abu Sakhr Al-‘Uqayli said that a bedouin man said to him, "I brought a milk-producing camel to Al-Madinah during the life time of Allah's Messenger. After I sold it, I said to myself, ‘I will meet that man (Muhammad) and hear from him.’ So I passed by him while he was walking between Abu Bakr and 'Umar, and I followed them until they went by a Jewish man, who was reading from an open copy of the Tawrah. He was mourning a son of his who was dying and who was one of the most handsome boys. The Messenger of Allah asked him (the father), <I ask you by He Who has sent down the Tawrah, do you not find the description of me and my advent in your Book?>
He nodded his head in the negative. His son said, ‘Rather, yes, by He Who has sent down the Tawrah! We find the description of you and your advent in our Book. I bear witness that there is no deity worthy of worship except Allah and that you are the Messenger of Allah.’ The Prophet said (to the Companions),
<Stop the Jew (the father) from (taking care of) your brother (in Islam).> (Tafsir Ibn Kathir on Sura 7:157; bold emphasis ours)

Anyone reading this without having the prior assumption that Muhammad was a prophet whom God spoke to can see that he wasn’t simply asking in order to help the Jew recognize his prophethood. Muhammad asked since he wanted to personally know whether what this Jew held in his possession could be used to verify his prophetic mission. There are other hadiths which solidify this point, narrations which show that Muhammad was clearly ignorant of the contents of the Holy Bible in its original languages:

Narrated Abu Huraira:
The people of the Scripture (Jews) used to recite the Torah in Hebrew and they used to explain it in Arabic to the Muslims. On that Allah's Apostle said, "Do not believe the people of the Scripture or disbelieve them, but say:-- We believe in Allah and what is revealed to us." (2.136) (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 60, Number 12)

Here Muhammad affirms that he believes in the Scriptures which the Jews were reciting, much like he did on another occasion:

Narrated Abdullah Ibn Umar:

A group of Jews came and invited the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) to Quff. So he visited them in their school.

They said: AbulQasim, one of our men has committed fornication with a woman; so pronounce judgment upon them. They placed a cushion for the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) who sat on it and said: Bring the Torah. It was then brought. He then withdrew the cushion from beneath him and placed the Torah on it saying: I believed in thee and in Him Who revealed thee.

He then said: Bring me one who is learned among you. Then a young man was brought. The transmitter then mentioned the rest of the tradition of stoning similar to the one transmitted by Malik from Nafi' (No. 4431)." (Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 38, Number 4434)

Yet he wasn’t certain whether the explanations by the Jews in Arabic agreed with the original Hebrew text. This shows that Muhammad didn’t know what the Holy Scriptures taught since if he did then he would have known whether what the Jews were saying to him in Arabic agreed with the contents of their inspired Scriptures. Here is another example:

Narrated Ibn ‘Umar:
A Jew and a Jewess were brought to Allah's Apostle on a charge of committing an illegal sexual intercourse. The Prophet asked them. "What is the legal punishment (for this sin) in your Book (Torah)?" They replied, "Our priests have innovated the punishment of blackening the faces with charcoal and Tajbiya." ‘Abdullah bin Salam said, "O Allah’s Apostle, tell them to bring the Torah." The Torah was brought, and then one of the Jews put his hand over the Divine Verse of the Rajam (stoning to death) and started reading what preceded and what followed it. On that, Ibn Salam said to the Jew, "Lift up your hand." Behold! The Divine Verse of the Rajam was under his hand. So Allah’s Apostle ordered that the two (sinners) be stoned to death, and so they were stoned. Ibn ‘Umar added: So both of them were stoned at the Balat and I saw the Jew sheltering the Jewess. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 82, Number 809)

Narrated Abdullah bin Umar:
The Jews came to Allah’s Apostle and mentioned to him that a man and a lady among them had committed illegal sexual intercourse. Allah’s Apostle said to them, "What do you find in the Torah regarding the Rajam?" They replied, "We only disgrace and flog them with stripes." ‘Abdullah bin Salam said to them, "You have told a lie the penalty of Rajam is in the Torah." They brought the Torah and opened it. One of them put his hand over the verse of the Rajam and read what was before and after it. Abdullah bin Salam said to him, "Lift up your hand." Where he lifted it there appeared the verse of the Rajam. So they said, "O Muhammad! He has said the truth, the verse of the Rajam is in it (Torah)." Then Allah’s Apostle ordered that the two persons (guilty of illegal sexual intercourse) be stoned to death, and so they were stoned, and I saw the man bending over the woman so as to protect her from the stones. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 82, Number 825)

The above narrations again show that Muhammad didn’t know whether the Torah contained the command to stone adulterers and needed a Jew to tell him. Therefore, these hadiths support our contention that Muhammad asked the Jew whether he was mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures because he himself wasn’t certain.

Zawadi tries to tackle the point I made that by admitting that these verses do indeed refer to Muhammad Zawadi basically helped me to prove that Muhammad was being rebuked for doubting the so-called revelations:

My Response:

No I am not. Look God is asking the Prophet that if he has any doubt then he can go and ask the people of the book. The Prophet replied back that he does not doubt and therefore not ask. (Tafsir of Ibn Kathir), (Tafsir of Suyuti), (Tafsir of Tabari) and (Tafsir of Qurtubi)

We have to understand that the Prophet meant that he would not ask because of a result of being doubtful and that he wanted to actually confirm that he is truly a Prophet sent by God. But the Prophet’s purpose in asking the Jew that specific time was in order to make him acknowledge the Prophethood of Muhammad peace be upon him.

Let us see whether Allah was asking or reprimanding Muhammad:

But if you are in doubt as to what We have revealed to you, ask those who read the Book before you; certainly the truth has come to you from your Lord, therefore you should not be of the disputers. And you should not be of those who reject the communications of Allah, (for) then you should be one of the losers. S. 10:94-95 Shakir

Again, anyone reading the above texts without any prior assumptions can see that this is a rather harsh rebuke.

More importantly, Zawadi brushed aside my claim that the Quran nowhere records any alleged response from Muhammad denying that he has any doubts by saying that he doesn’t follow the Quran alone. Yet this ignores the comments I made that this assertion by Muslim scholars that Muhammad denied that he had doubts is nothing more than a desperate attempt on their part to save their prophet from embarrassment. It is not hard for anyone who hasn’t already assumed that Muhammad was a genuine prophet, or was unwavering in his faith, to see how Muslims invented a saying where Muhammad claimed he never asks and never doubts. We have good grounds for assuming that Muslims fabricated this since the text of the Quran is clear that Muhammad did doubt and was rebuked because of it.

He then tries to address the hadith I cited which showed that Muhammad went to a Christian monk because he thought that a jinn had come to possess him:

My Response:

This was only at the beginning when the Prophet first received the revelation because it was an extraordinary experience. After that, the Prophet was okay. So you’ve really not shown any problem.


Zawadi obviously hasn’t read the hadiths carefully since everything was far from being okay for Muhammad. Muslim sources say that Muhammad thought of killing himself more than once after Waraqa died since his spirit guide stopped coming to him for sometime:

… But a short while later Waraqa died and the Divine Inspiration was paused (stopped) for a while so that Allah's Apostle was very much grieved.

Narrated Jabir bin 'Abdullah: While Allah's Apostle was talking about the period of pause in revelation. He said in his narration: Once while I was walking, all of a sudden I heard a voice from the sky. I looked up and saw to my surprise, the same Angel as had visited me in the cave of Hira. He was sitting on a chair between the sky and the earth. I got afraid of him and came back home and said, "Wrap me! Wrap me!" So they covered him and then Allah revealed:

‘O you, wrapped up! Arise and warn and your Lord magnify, and your garments purify and dessert the idols.’ (74.1-5) (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 60, Number 478)

… But after a few days Waraqa died and the Divine Inspiration was also paused for a while and the Prophet became so sad as we have heard that he intended SEVERAL TIMES to throw himself from the tops of high mountains and every time he went up the top of a mountain in order to throw himself down, Gabriel would appear before him and say, "O Muhammad! You are indeed Allah's Apostle in truth" whereupon his heart would become quiet and he would calm down and would return home. And whenever the period of the coming of the inspiration USED TO BECOME LONG, HE WOULD DO AS BEFORE, but when he used to reach the top of a mountain, Gabriel would appear before him and say to him what he had said before. (Ibn 'Abbas said regarding the meaning of: ‘He it is that Cleaves the daybreak (from the darkness)’ (6.96) that Al-Asbah means the light of the sun during the day and the light of the moon at night). (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 87, Number 111)

Noted historian and commentator al-Tabari writes:

Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Al‘a – Ibn Thawr – Ma‘mar – al-Zuhri: The inspiration ceased to come to the Messenger of God for a while, and he was deeply grieved. He began to go to the tops of mountain crags, in order to fling himself from them; but EVERY TIME he reached the summit of a mountain, Gabriel appeared to him and said to him, "You are the Prophet of God." Thereupon his anxiety would subside and he would come back to himself. (The History of al-Tabari: Muhammad at Mecca, translated and annotated by W. Montgomery Watt and M.V. McDonald [State University of New York Press (SUNY), Albany 1988], Volume VI (6), p. 76; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Islamic sources say that the period in which the spirit stopped coming to Muhammad which caused the latter to entertain the thought of committing suicide on more than one occasion lasted anywhere between six months to three years! Sir William Muir noted:

The period succeeding the revelation of the 96th Sura, during which inspiration was suspended, and Mahomet in despondency contemplated suicide, is generally represented as of longer duration than in the above statement. This interval, styled the Fatrah or "Intermission," is variously held to have lasted from six months to three years. At its close, the 74th and 93rd Suras, containing assurance of mercy and the command to preach, were delivered. The accounts, however, are throughout confused, if not contradictory; and we can only gather with certainty that there was a time (corresponding with the deductions which we have drawn from the Coran itself), during which the mind of Mahomet hung in suspense, and doubted the Divine mission.28 (Muir, The Life of Muhammad, Volume II, CHAPTER THIRD: The Belief of Mahomet in his own Inspiration, pp. 85-86; online edition; bold emphasis ours)

Abdullah Yusuf Ali informs us regarding Sura 73 that:

This is one of the earliest Suras to have been revealed. The first was S. xcvi. 1-5 (Iqraa), in the fortieth year of the Prophet’s life, say about 12 years before the Hijra. Then there was an interruption (Fatra), of which the duration cannot be exactly ascertained, as there was no external history connected with it. The usual estimate puts it at about six months, but it may have been a year or two years. The years were then counted by the luni-solar calendar… (Ali, The Holy Qur'an: Text, Translation and Commentary, p. 1632; bold emphasis ours)

For more on Muhammad’s suicide attempts we recommend this article.

Pay careful attention to what is being said by these sources. On more than one occasion Muhammad thought of throwing himself off a mountain and every time he tried to kill himself this spirit would appear to stop him. This means that Muhammad continued to have doubts despite the fact that the spirit always came to reassure him that he was Allah’s messenger. Now if Muhammad could still be full of fears for this entire period of time even though the spirit kept going out of his way to reassure him over and over again on what grounds does Zawadi want to say that Sura 10:94 cannot actually mean that Muhammad still had doubts about receiving "revelations"?

In fact, if we tie in Sura 10:94 with the above data then this leads us to conclude that Muhammad continued to have lingering doubts about his alleged prophethood up until his flight to Medina. We say this since Muslim sources place the date of composition for Sura 10 at the final period of Muhammad’s stay at Mecca:

Time of Revelation

We have no tradition in regard to the time of it's revelation, but its subject matter gives clear indication that it must have been revealed during the last stage of the Holy Prophet's residence at Makkah. For the mode of the discourse suggests that at the time of its revelation, the antagonism of the opponents of the Message had become so intense that they could not tolerate even the presence of the Holy Prophet and his followers among themselves, and that things had come to such a pass as to leave no hope that they would ever understand and accept the Message of the Prophet. This indicates that the last stage of the Prophet's life among thee people had come, and the final warning like the one in this Surah had to be given. These characteristics of the discourse are clear proof that it was revealed during the last stage of the Movement at Makkah.

Another thing that determines more specifically the order of the Surahs of the last stage at Makkah is the mention (or absence) of some open or covert hint about Hijrat (Emigration) from Makkah. As this Surah does not contain any hint whatsoever about this, it is a proof that it preceded those surahs which contain it. (Syed Abu-Ala’ Maududi ‘s Chapter Introductions to the Qura’n; online source)

Let us also not forget that this wasn’t the only time Muhammad got rebuked for being afraid or for faltering in his faith. There are many Quranic references where Muhammad’s deity warns or rebukes him severely:

And when you said to him to whom Allah had shown favor and to whom you had shown a favor: Keep your wife to yourself and be careful of (your duty to) Allah; and you concealed in your soul what Allah would bring to light, and you feared men, and Allah had a greater right that you should fear Him. But when Zaid had accomplished his want of her, We gave her to you as a wife, so that there should be no difficulty for the believers in respect of the wives of their adopted sons, when they have accomplished their want of them; and Allah's command shall be performed. S. 33:37 Shakir

The above verse was recited during Muhammad’s stay at Medina. This next one took place while he was still in Mecca:

Verily, they were about to tempt you away from that which We have revealed (the Qur'an) unto you (O Muhammad SAW), to fabricate something other than it against Us, and then they would certainly have taken you a friend! And had We not made you stand firm, you would nearly have inclined to them a little. In that case, We would have made you taste a double portion (of punishment) in this life and a double portion (of punishment) after death. And then you would have found none to help you against Us. S. 17:73-75 Hilali-Khan

Maududi places the time of composition during the same period that Sura 10 was composed:

Period of Revelation

The very first verse indicates that this Surah was revealed on the occasion of Mi`raj (Ascension). According to the Traditions and books on the life of the Holy Prophet, this event happened one year before Hijrah. Thus, this Surah is one of those which were revealed in the last stage of Prophethood at Makkah. (Source)

These texts expressly say that unless Allah had intervened Muhammad would have faltered away and turned towards the unbelievers. In fact, according to one Muslim source these verses were given in reference to Muhammad’s lapse into idolatry:

... Then the Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, approached them (Quraysh) and got close to them, and they also came near to him. One day he was sitting in their assembly near the Ka‘bah, and he recited: "By the Star when it setteth", till he reached, "Have ye thought upon Al-Uzza and Manat, the third, the other". Satan made him repeat these two phrases: These idols are high and their intercession is expected. The Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, repeated them, and he went on reciting the whole surah and then fell in prostration, and the people also fell in prostration with him. Al-Walid Ibn Al-Mughirah, who was an old man and could not prostrate, took a handful of dust to his forehead and prostrated on it. It is said: Abu Uhayhah Sa‘id Ibn al-‘As, being an old man, took dust and prostrated on it. Some people say: It was al-Walid who took the dust; others say: It was Abu Uhayhah; while others say: Both did it. They were pleased with what the Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, had uttered. They said: We know that Allah gives life and causes death. He creates and gives us provisions, but our deities will intercede with Him, and in what you have assigned to them, we are with you. These words pricked the Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him. He was sitting in his house and when it was evening, Gabriel, may peace be upon him, came to him and REVISED the surah. Then Gabriel said: Did I bring these two phrases. The Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, said: I ascribed to Allah, what He had not said. THEN ALLAH REVEALED TO HIM: "And they indeed strove hard to beguile thee (Muhammad) away from that wherewith We have inspired thee, that thou shouldst invent other than it against Us; and then would they have accepted thee as a friend.

And if We had not made thee wholly firm thou mightest almost have inclined unto them a little.

Then had We made thee taste a double (punishment) of living and a double (punishment) of dying then hadst thou found to [sic] helper against Us.

... This prostration became known to people till the news reached Abyssinia and the Companions of the Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, that the people of Makkah fell in protraction and joined Islam including al-Walid ... The people said: When such persons have joined Islam, who else remains in Makkah? They said: Our relatives are dear to us. SO THEY RETURNED. When they were at a distance of one hour’s walk from Makkah, they confronted some horsemen of Kinanah. They inquired about the Quraysh and their affairs. The horsemen said: MUHAMMAD SPOKE WELL OF THEIR DEITIES, SO THEY FOLLOWED HIM, but they turned apostate. He began to abuse their gods and they began to harm him. We left them in this struggle. They discussed that they should return to Abyssinia, but then they said: We have reached here, so let us enter (the town), see the Quraysh and visit our families and then return. (Ibn Sa’d, Kitab Al-Tabaqat Al- Kabir, English translation by S. Moinul Haq, M.A., PH.D assisted by H.K. Ghazanfar M.A. [Kitab Bhavan Exporters & Importers, 1784 Kalan Mahal, Daryaganj, New Delhi- 110 002 India], Volume I, parts I & II, pp. 237-238; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Thus, this clearly shows that Muhammad had a constant struggle with fears and unbelief, at least during his stay at Mecca.

The foregoing leads us to the inevitable conclusion that Muhammad continued to have doubts about whether what he was receiving was truly from God or not and that these fears of his didn’t stop after his first encounter with the spirit. Muhammad continued doubting his prophetic calling for many years afterwards, at least for the entirety of his stay at Mecca. This helps explain the rather harsh tone and dire threat of Sura 10:94-95, that Muhammad got rebuked by his deity since the latter became quite angry by the constant doubts of his apostle even though a spirit had been sent to him on more than one occasion to alleviate these lingering fears.

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