The True Meaning of "an-Nabi al-Ummi"

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is a transcript of discourse given by Mawlana Waffie Mohammed.  The video presentation of this discourse can be accessed at The True Meaning of “an-Nabi al-Ummi.

One of the descriptions or attribute of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) is that he is an-Nabi al-Ummi.  Normally, the layman may translate it to mean “the illiterate Messenger”.  However, this is very far from the truth.  Although he did not attend any formal institution of learning, he gave to the universe a Book which cannot be surpassed.  Concerning the Qur’an, Allah (s.w.t.) Says:

Say: “If the whole of mankind and jinn were to gather together to produce the like of this Qur’an, they could not produce the like thereof, even if they backed up each other with help and support.” (Surah al-Isra’:88)

Do you then think that he was really “illiterate” as we interpret this word to mean?  Therefore, we have to understand what Allah (s.w.t.) Means when He Says:

“Those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered prophet, whom they find Mentioned in their own (Scriptures); ― in the Law and the Gospel; ...” (Surah al-A’araf:157)

… “So, believe in Allah and His Messenger, the unlettered Prophet, who believed in Allah and His Words: follow him that (so) ye may be Guided.” (Surah al-A’araf:158)

My understanding and explanation of “the unlettered Prophet” is the one who was “not taught by anyone except Allah (s.w.t.).”  He never attended any institution; nor sat at the feet of any scholar.  He was never exposed to any academic teaching from any creature.  This is one reason why he is referred to as “an-Nabi al-Ummi.”

For example, when Moses (a.s.) was Commanded by Allah (s.w.t.) to go to Pharaoh, to give him the da’wah, Pharaoh rebuked him by listing all the things he did for Moses (a.s.) as an infant.  On the other hand, no one can accuse Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) of him being indebted to them.  When he was a baby, Halimah (r.a.) took care of him, and it was only out of his blessed personality that she began receiving so many blessings.  Then, he went to his mother who died shortly after and the same with his grandfather.  No one could say that he owed them or anything of such.  A few other reasons why Allah (s.w.t.) Refers to him as “Nabi al-Ummi” are as follows below.  He was not taught by any creature, yet he gave the Universal Message.  The very first Revelation, “‘Iqra”, could be translated as “read” or “recite”.  So, when Jibril (a.s.) requested of him the first five verses of Surah al-‘Alaq, what he was possibly asking him to do was to recite that which Allah (s.w.t.) Impressed in his blessed heart.  To read would imply a script of which there was not any.

He was never influenced by anyone.  And as a matter of emphasis, Jibril (a.s.) washed his heart on two separate occasions.  Before him, the Arabs were barbaric.  They believed heavily in tribalism.  And with his coming, he refined them and cultured them.  They did not give anything or teach him anything.  It was he, who totally refined their personalities.

He was never sustained by anyone.  Allah (s.w.t.) Took Care of him just as He did with Jesus (a.s.) and his mother, Mary (a.s.).  As He Says:

Did He not Find thee an orphan and Give thee shelter (and care)?  And He Found thee wandering, and He Gave thee Guidance.  And He Found thee in need, and Made thee independent. (Surah adh-Dhuha’:6-8)

He had no bias for any tribe or nation.  He was fair, clean and clear.  Jesus (a.s.), for example, came to the Israelites; as he said, “I came to uphold the Law of Moses.”  Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) was Sent to the whole of mankind.  And he harboured no doubt.  Abraham (a.s.) questioned Allah (s.w.t.) as to how He Brought life to the dead.  Our Prophet (s.a.w.) never displayed anything like that.

In the real sense of the word, “an-nabi al-ummi”, is like a mother.  When a baby is brought into the world, he is not influenced by anyone and does not know anything.  It has inherent or intuitive knowledge that Allah (s.w.t.) Allows such as to cry or make signs.  Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.), in this world, was like a young infant.  He was not influenced by anyone except Allah (s.w.t.).  Allah Guided and Took Care of him.

Because he was like this and because Allah (s.w.t.) Says of him that he never said anything of his own desire, coming from him, we have “Umm al-Qura’”, “The Mother of all Cities”; and “Umm al-Kitab”, “The Mother of all Books”.  Would we, then, say he was illiterate as how we understand the word to be?  Even today, we hear a’immah attributing illiteracy to him.  And really, we should not connect this degrading attribute to him.  He Received knowledge from Allah (s.w.t.), and no man could accuse him like how some of the Christian’s fabricate that he borrowed from the Bible.  All he gave was clean, pure and comprehensive.  Even though he was not formally taught, he is the one who can take us back to our Lord because he went back to Him in this world.

The point we are making is that we need to understand what Allah (s.w.t.) Means when He Calls him “an-Nabi al-Ummi”.  Contrary to the literal meaning and what we understand it to mean, it does not truly reflect the meaning contained in the ayat quoted above.  “an-Nabi al-Ummi” means he is unique, special and we really cannot comprehend the greatness of his personality.  He is not comparable to any other human being with regard to the contributions made intellectually, spiritually, socially and all the other disciplines.


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