Liar, Deluded or Truthful?

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) claimed prophet-hood over 1400 years ago. His message was simple:

There is none worthy to be worshipped but God, and he (Prophet Muhammad) is the final messenger of God

To test whether this claim is true we must rationally investigate the historical narratives and testimonies concerning the life of the Prophet (peace be upon him).

Once we do this, we will be in a position to come to a balanced conclusion in this regard.

In epistemology (which is narrowly defined as the study of knowledge and belief) testimony is considered to be one of the sources of knowledge, and when applied correctly, can form justified beliefs. Testimony is a valid source of knowledge only when it comes from a reliable source, especially if there are multiple sources in agreement. Obviously there are conditions as to how we can use testimony, but in the majority of cases, testimony is considered a valid source of knowledge.

Let’s take a look at the universally accepted, non-violence based philosophy of Mohandas Gandhi (better known as Mahatma Gandhi). The majority of the world’s population did not have the opportunity of meeting with him, eating with him or even joining him for a peaceful protest. Imagine for a moment, a claim is made that for a short period of time, Mahatma Gandhi was a prison officer and was involved in the torture over 2000 people. For anyone to take this claim seriously, evidence would be necessary to prove the slurs on his character. In fact, a claim such as this actually undermines our understanding of how Gandhi could have led India to independence based on his philosophy of non-violence and civil right movements.

Conversely, if we examine why we have such a high level of certainty that Mahatma Gandhi was a pacifist, we will conclude that it is due to recurrent testimony – that is, when a large number of people have reported a claim to knowledge such that it is impossible for them to agree upon a lie or to simultaneously lie. This is accentuated by the fact that most of these people never met one another and lived in different places, during different time periods. Therefore to claim they have lied is tantamount to claiming a mass conspiracy in which people across countries and time periods colluded to ensure its propagation.

In light of the above, accepting the slurs on Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) character and rejecting his prophet-hood, could be equated to accepting these fickle and unfounded claims on Mahatma Gandhi and rejecting his pacifist philosophy! In order to assess Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) claim to prophethood, let us discuss the possible options:

1. Did he lie?

Early historical sources on the Prophet Muhammad’s (upon whom be peace) life illustrate and emphasise the integrity of his character. He was not a liar and to assert as much is indefensible. The reasons for this abound, for instance he was known even by the enemies to his message as the “Trustworthy”[1].

Further proof of the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) reliability and credibility is enforced and substantiated by the fact that a liar usually lies for some worldly gain, but the Prophet (peace be upon him) rejected all worldly aspirations, and suffered tremendously for his message [2]. He rejected the riches and power he was offered to stop promulgating his message. Significantly, he was persecuted for his beliefs; boycotted and exiled from his beloved city – Makkah; starved of food; and stoned by children to the point where his blood drenched his legs. His wife passed away and his beloved companions were tortured and persecuted [3]. The psychological profile of the Prophet (peace be upon him) was obviously incongruent with a liar, and to maintain that he was dishonest is tantamount to making bold claims without any evidence.

The late Emeritus Professor in Arabic and Islamic Studies W. Montgomery Watt in, Muhammad at Mecca, explores this:

His readiness to undergo persecution for his beliefs, the high moral character of the men who believed in him and looked up to him as a leader, and the greatness of his ultimate achievement – all argue his fundamental integrity. To suppose Muhammad an impostor raises more problems than it solves.[4]

It was the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) truthfulness that was a key aspect of his success on both political and religious levels. Without his trustworthiness, which was an integral part of his moral behaviour, he could not have achieved so much in a relatively short space of time. This view is addressed by the historians Edward Gibbon and Simon Oakley in, History of the Saracen Empire:

The greatest success of Mohammad’s life was effected by sheer moral force.[5]

2. Was he deluded?

If someone is deluded, they have a strong conviction in a belief despite there being evidence to the contrary. The teachings of Muhammad (peace be upon him) are not that of someone who is deluded. Amongst many of his teachings, he taught how to perfect good character and be of service to others. Another way of looking at the issue of delusion is that when someone is deluded they speak falsehood whilst believing it to be true. To undermine this claim, the Prophet (upon whom be peace) foretold of many things that would occur to him and his community after him, pertaining to victory, the removal of the tyrannical kingdoms of Chosroes [the royal title for the Zoroastrian kings of Persia] and Caesar. These events occurred exactly as Muhammad (peace be upon him) foretold, and this is not something that is congruent with a deluded individual. There were a number of instances when this occurred. For example:

The Messenger predicted ‘Ammar’s martyrdom in a ‘civil’ war:

What a pity O ‘Ammar, a rebellious group will kill you. [6]

The Prophet foretold that Fatima would join him first of all after his death:

Before his death, the Messenger called his daughter Fatima to his bedside and informed her that she would be the first among his family to join him after his death. Fatima joined her father, the pride of mankind, six months later.[7]

The Prophet predicted the Mongol invasion:

The Hour will not be established till you fight with the Khudh and the Kirman from among the non-Arabs. They will be of red faces, flat noses and small eyes; their faces will look like flat shields, and their shoes will be of hair. [8]

3. Was he was both deluded and a liar? 

It is not possible for an individual to be both a liar and be deluded. Lying is something done with intent whereas a delusion stems from an individual’s belief of an altered reality. The two are diametrically opposed phenomena. So it is logically impossible, as the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) could not have been convinced that he was speaking the truth and yet it was based on falsehood and at the same time pretend to be speaking the truth but yet it being based on a lie!

4. Was he was speaking the truth?

Dr. William Draper in History of Intellectual Development of Europe wrote:

Four years after the death of Justinian, A.D. 569, was born in Mecca, in Arabia, the man who, of all men, has exercised the greatest influence upon the human race… To be the religious head of many empires, to guide the daily life of one-third of the human race, may perhaps justify the title of a Messenger of God.[9]

Thomas Carlyle in his ‘On Heroes and Hero Worship and The Heroic History’ wrote:

The man’s words were not false, nor his workings here below…a fiery mass of Life cast up from the great bosom of Nature herself. To kindle the world; the world’s Maker had ordered it so.[10]

In light of addressing the other options it can be argued the quotes above represent the most rational conclusion.

Therefore in summary, the evidence leads us to the following sequential statements and conclusion:

  1. The Prophet could have been a liar, deluded, both or speaking the truth
  2. He wasn’t a liar, deluded or both
  3. Therefore he was speaking the truth

Responding to the main contention

The main contention against Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) prophet-hood is that the narratives concerning his life are not valid sources of knowledge. These narratives are referred to as ahadith (singular: hadith). A hadith is a saying or an act or tacit approval or disapproval ascribed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). This contention however, is self-defeating in various ways. If the narratives of the life of the Prophet (peace be upon him) are rejected, then all other established historical narratives must be rejected, including World War One, the battle of Hastings and the Norman invasion of Britain! The reason for this is that the historical science adopted by Islamic scholarship is far more nuanced and precise than the methods used by many of the world’s historians.

The science of hadith is very thorough and is achieved through precise attention to the words narrated, as well as the detailed biographies of the reporters of the hadith.

A hadith is made of two parts:

  1. The actual text of the narration (in Arabic: matn)
  2. The chain of narration (in Arabic: isnad)

Both are vital parts of narrating a hadith because the chain of narration acts as the mark of validity and authenticity of the hadith. Abdullah b. al-Mubarak, the teacher of Imam Bukhari (the most notable compiler of hadith), said:

“The isnad is part of the religion: had it not been for the isnad, whoever wished to would have said whatever he liked.”[11]

The science of hadith is so precise, that it gives due consideration to whether a hadith has been reported by a single person, or several people; by people who were known to be honest, or by those who were known to lie on occasion; by individuals living in the same city, or those residing in different locations. All these factors are considered before giving a hadith a particular classification.

To summarise a vast science, the following broad classifications clearly show the depth and thoroughness of the science of hadith. Thus, hadith can be classified: [12]

1. According to the reference to a particular authority

Further subdivided into:

  • Marfu – “elevated” a narration from the Prophet e.g. I heard the Prophet saying….
  • Mauquf – “stopped” a narration from a companion e.g. we were commanded to….
  • Maqtu – “severed” a narration from a successor

2. According to the links of isnad (chain of narration) – interrupted or uninterrupted. Further subdivided into:

  • Musnad – “supported”
  • Muttasil – “continuous” – hadith with uninterrupted chain of narration going back to a companion or successor
  • Mursal – “hurried”e.g. when a successor says “The Prophet said…”
  • Munqati – “broken” a hadith whose link anywhere before the successor is missing.
  • Mu’adal – “perplexing” – reporter omits two or more consecutive reporters in the chain of narration
  • Mu’allaq – “hanging” – a hadith whose reporter omits the whole chain of narration and quotes the Prophet directly.

3. According to the number of reporters involved at each stage of the chain of narration. Further subdivided into:

  • Mutawatir –“consecutive” – a hadith which is mass narrated
  • Ahad – “isolated” – a hadith which is narrated by people whose number does not reach mutawatir. This category is further subdivided into another 3 categories:
  1.  Mash’hur – “Famous” – reported by more than 2 reporters
  2. Aziz – “rare” at any stage only 2 reporters found to narrate the hadith
  3. Gharib – “strange” – only one reporter found relating it

4. According to the nature of the text and chain of narration

  • Munkar – “denounced” reported by a weak narrator and whose narration goes against another authentic hadith
  • Mudraj – “interpolated” – if an expression or statement is proved to be an addition by a reporter to the text

5. According to the reliability and memory of the reporters

Further subdivided into:

  • Sahih – “sound”
  • Hassan – “good” one where its source is known & its reporters are unambiguous
  • Da’if – “weak” hadith which fails to reach the status of hasan
  • Maudu – “fabricated” – hadith whose text goes against the established norms of the Prophets sayings or its reporters include a liar.

In light of the above, to reject the narratives that elucidate on the life of the Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace) would be tantamount to rejecting all known historical truths because the science of hadith is far more thorough than the methodologies used is western history.

References

[1] Martin Lings. Muhammad: his life based on the earliest sources. 2nd Revised Edition. The Islamic Texts Society. 1983, page 34.
[2] Ibid, page 52.
[3] Ibid, pages 53 – 79.
[4] W. Montgomery Watt. Muhammad at Mecca. Oxford. 1953, page 52.
[5]Edward Gibbon and Simon Oakley. History of the Saracen Empire. London, 1870.
[6] Bukhari, Muslim and Musnad Ahmad
[7] Bukhari
[8] Muslim
[9] History of Intellectual Development of Europe
[10] On Heroes and Hero Worship and The Heroic in History
[11] Related by Imam Muslim in the Introduction to his Sahih
[12] Islamic Awareness – Hadith Sciences