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Prophet’s Illiteracy and Mariya

Question and answer details
Pearl
Prophet’s Illiteracy and Mariya
2002-12-12
As-salaamu `alaikum, I have read many articles on Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and the number of his wives differs. The number eleven (11) doesn't include Mariya al-Qibtiya, known as Mary the Copt. I would like to know more about this. Some Orientalists said that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was literate. They've mentioned two examples: The Treaty of Hudaibiah and two versions I've read: A. The prophet signed “son of Abdullah” B. The prophet omitted the word “apostle of God” Another story is that at his death bed, the prophet asked for a pen and ink to write who was to be his successor. Hope to hear from you soon. Thank you, wa-salaam. P.S.: Glad 'Ask About Islam' is available :)
Salem Al-Hasi
Answer
As-salaamu `alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,

Thank you for your question.

The books of sirah (the biography of the Prophet Muhammad) differ on the number of his wives (may Allah bless all). The main reason behind the differences in the number of his wives is - in most of the cases - due to the reliance on weak non-authentic hadiths.

However, the vast majority of Muslim scholars agreed that the wives of the prophet (pbuh) were:
1. Khadijah
2. `A’isha bint Abu Bakr
3. Sawda bint Zum`ah
4. Hafsa bint `Umar
5. Zaynab bint Khuzaymah
6. Um-Habibah bint Abu Sufyan
7. Um-Salamah
8. Zaynab bint Jahsh
9. Juwariyah bint al-Harith
10. Safiyah bint Hayi ibn Akhtab
11. Maymunah al-Hilaliyah
12. Mariya al-Qibtiya (Who was from Egypt.)
(May Allah be pleased with all of them). These are the names upon whom the scholars agreed.

Some books list Mariya as a concubine, yet the opinion I more lean toward is that she was one of the prophet’s wives and was not a concubine. Mariya was honored and respected by the prophet (pbuh), as well as his family and companions.

She also gave birth to the prophet’s son Ibrahim. As any of the prophet’s wives, she is known as Um al-Mo’meneen (Mother of the believers). She spent three years of her life with the prophet, until his death, and died five years later in 16 AH.

After her death, `Umar ibn al-Khattab – the second caliph -led her funeral prayer and she was buried in al-Baqi, like many other companions and the rest of the wives of the prophet. Because she was the prophet’s wife and the mother of his son Ibrahim, Caliph Mu`awiyah ibn abi-Sufyan exempted her hometown in Egypt from taxation, as a sign of honor.

As for the second part of your question, it is true that some Orientalists tend to use the two occasions – as you have mentioned - to prove that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was literate. However, by analyzing each one of the incidents, one can easily discover the fallacies in the allegation.

For example, in the al-Hudaybiyah Treaty, the prophet (pbuh) did not write the treaty, but his cousin `Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) was the writer. While writing the treaty, Suhail ibn `Amr [Quraish side] rejected that the prophet would have his name signed as the messenger or apostle of Allah (rasoulu Allah).

Sohail asked to have it changed to “Muhammad, son of Abdullah”. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) then asked `Ali to omit rasoulu Allah, which means the messenger of Allah. Yet, Ali did not like the idea of omitting it and said: “By Allah I swear I will never omit rasoulu Allah!” Thus, the prophet himself - with his thumb - omitted rasoulu Allah.

One part of the story, which the Orientalists usually – deliberately - do not mention, is the fact that when `Ali refused to omit rasoulu Allah, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said to `Ali: “show it to me.” After `Ali showed it to him, the prophet omitted it.

As for the second incident, although there is a dispute among some scholars about its authenticity, the way Orientalists are reporting it is quite inconceivable! The report says that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) asked for a pen and a paper, to write the letter, saying who would be the successor after him.

In dealing with this incident, Orientalists totally ignore the fact that in the Arabic language, as well as culture, you can simply use the tools to indicate the profession! Thus, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), by asking for a pen and a paper, he was asking for some one to write the letter for him…

Furthermore, the companions who happened to be near the prophet at that moment were not astonished by the prophet’s request for one reason; they were aware of exactly what he meant. Also, throughout history, none of the Arabic speaking people ever used this incident to doubt the illiteracy of the prophet (pbuh)!

In fact, it is the miracle that despite this illiteracy, he received the Qur’an as a last testament. This is what Muslims believe to be a sign that the Qur’an is a divine revelation.

Indeed, as no illiterate man could come up with such a beautifully accomplished and complete text. Also, stories of the prophets, narrated in the Qur’an - from Adam to Jesus - could not have been read by Muhammad in the Old or New Testament. This as he could not read in the first place!

Allah knows best…
Wa-salaam.

You may also find interest in the following:

The Seal of Prophets

The Light of Muhammad

The Prophet’s Knowledge of the Unseen

The Beautiful Wives of the Prophet

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