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THE INFALLIBILITY OF THE PROPHET MUHAMMAD, upon him be peace and blessings

God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, is superior to all other Prophets in every aspect of Prophethood. He had to be so since he was sent as a mercy to all the worlds, with a religion inclusive of all the essential tenets of the previously revealed religions and containing all the principles and dynamics required for the solutions to all kinds of problems which mankind are likely to face until the Last Day. The mission of all the previous Prophets was, however, confined to a certain people and a limited period. In the words of Busiri:

He is the sun of virtues and the others are, in comparison to him, the stars that diffuse light for people at night.

When the sun rises, both the moon and stars are no longer visible. Likewise, when the ‘Sun of Prophethood’ - that is, the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings - rose to illuminate all the universe, there was no longer a need for the light of stars.

Like his predecessors, inferior to him in rank, the last Prophet of God, Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, was also infallible. We see both in the Qur’an and history books that, although his enemies spoke every slander against him, no one has ever dared to say anything to defame his honesty and infallibility.

They said he was ‘mad’ - he madly loved God and, again, madly desired and sought for the people to be guided, but he was not mad. They said he was a ‘magician’ charming people - he did charm them with his personality and the religion and the Book he brought from God Almighty, but he was not a magician. They said he was a ‘soothsayer’ - he made hundreds of predictions most of which have already come true, with the rest certain to come true, but he was not a soothsayer. In short, they spoke every slander against him, but no one has ever been able to attack his truthfulness, trustworthiness, honesty and infallibility.

Like the Qur’anic expressions which, superficially, seem to cast doubt on the infallibility of some of the Prophets we have so far concentrated on, there are also admonitions in the Qur’an regarding some actions of God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings. Before passing on to clarify them, it should be noted once more that the Prophets, like great jurists, also exercised their reasoning to judge a matter or case about which there was not explicit or implicit ruling in Revelation, in the hope of solving it in the best way. Just as the wives of the Prophet are not, because of their position, the same as other Muslim women with respect to reward and Divine punishment (see, al-Ahzab, 36.30-32), the Prophets, upon them all be peace, were also not treated by God the same as other believers. So, when they chose, for example, to drink the water of zamzam instead of kawthar, they were admonished. Because of this, such admonitions, the examples of which related to the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, will be discussed below, should never be regarded as the result of sins. Further, rather than being admonitions, they should, in most cases, be taken as Divine compliments. We should therefore reiterate once more that the Prophets were free from committing sins.

God’s Messenger’s treatment of the prisoners of war taken in the battle of Badr

A handful of believers were subjected to the most brutal of tortures in Makka. They bore all of them patiently and never thought of retaliation, as the Qur’an ordered God’s Messenger to call unbelievers to the way of God with wisdom and fair preaching and advised him to repel the evil with what was better, and overlook their faults and evils with magnanimous forgiveness. When the Muslims emigrated to Madina, having left most of their belongings in Makka in order to be able to live according to their beliefs, the harassment of the Makkan polytheists did not stop. Indeed, they also became the target of Jewish conspiracy in Madina. Also, since the Helpers, the native believers of Madina, had to share, although willingly, everything they had with their emigrant brothers, all the Muslims suffered deprivations. In such straitened circumstances, God Almighty permitted them to resist the enemy onslaught because they were wronged. This was just before the Battle of Badr.

The Battle of Badr was the first confrontation of the Muslims with the enemy forces. Although outnumbered, the believers won a great victory. Until then, if, indeed, we do not accept the opinions of some interpreters of the Qur’an that sura Muhammad, which contains regulations as to how to treat prisoners of war, was revealed before sura al-Anfal, no Divine commandment had been revealed as to how the captives should be treated. They did not even know whether they would kill the enemy on the battlefield or take them as prisoners. Sa’d ibn Muadh, for example, was not pleased when he saw his brothers (in-religion) taking enemy soldiers as prisoners of war; he was in favor of killing them in the first confrontation.

The battle ended and the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, chose, as he always did where there was no specific Divine commandment, to consult with his Companions about how they should treat the prisoners of war. Abu Bakr said:

O God’s Messenger! They are your people. Even though they did you and the believers great wrong, you will win their hearts and cause their guidance if you forgive them and please them.

However, ‘Umar gave this opinion:

O God’s Messenger! The prisoners of war are the leading figures of Makka. If we kill them, unbelief will no longer be able to recover to encounter us. So, hand over to each of the Muslims his kin among them. Hand over to ‘Ali his brother ‘Aqil to kill. Let Abu Bakr kill his son, ‘Abd al-Rahman, and let me kill my relative so and so.

God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, turned to Abu Bakr and said:

You are, O Abu Bakr, like the Prophet Abraham, upon him be peace, who said: ‘He who follows me is of me, and he who disobeys me - but You are indeed Oft-Forgiving, Most Compassionate’ (Abraham, 14.36). You are also like Jesus, who said: ‘If You punish them, they are Your servants. If You forgive them, You are the All-Mighty, the All-Wise’ (al-Ma’ida, 5.118).

Then he turned to ‘Umar and said:

O ‘Umar! You are like Noah, who said: ‘O my Lord! Leave not even a single unbeliever on earth!’ (Nuh, 71.26). You are also like Moses, who said: ‘Our Lord, destroy their (Pharaoh’s and his chiefs’) riches and harden their hearts so that they will not believe until they see the painful chastisement’ (Yunus, 10. 88). Then, he acted according to the view of Abu Bakr.19

Every Prophet was sent to guide people to the way of God, and the mission of each was undoubtedly based on mercy. However, mercy sometimes requires that, as in the case of Noah and Moses, upon them both be peace, an arm should be amputated for the health of the body, or even that the body should undergo a major operation. Islam, being the ‘middle way’ of absolute balance - balance between materialism and spiritualism, between rationalism and mysticism, between worldliness and excessive asceticism, between this world and the next - and inclusive of the ways of all the previous Prophets, makes a choice according to the situation. Prior to the Battle of Badr, the Muslims were weak, and unbelief was, in material terms, strong, formidable and organized. For this reason, conditions may have required that the Prophet should not have had prisoners of war until he became completely triumphant in the land (al-Anfal, 8.67). For they were fighting for the cause of God, not some worldly purposes, like collecting ransom. However, God Almighty had already decreed before that ransom and spoils of war would be lawful for Muslims. The pure hearts of the Prophet, upon him be peace, and Abu Bakr must have felt before that God would make spoils of war and taking ransom lawful for the Muslims and, before waiting for the Revelation, chose to release the prisoners of war in return for some ransom. However, had it not been for that decree, a severe penalty would have reached them for the ransom that they took. If, then, God made it lawful, they could enjoy what they took in war, lawful and good (al-Anfal, 8:67-69).

The same is mentioned more explicitly in another verse:

When you confront the unbelievers (in battle), smite their necks, and when you have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly on them. Thereafter (is the time for) either generosity (i.e. the release of prisoners without ransom) or ransom (recommended). (Muhammad, 47.4)

The Prophet’s granting exemption to hypocrites from the expedition of Tabuk

The expedition of Tabuk took place in the ninth year of Hijra. It was in summertime, when the heat is intense in Arabia, and against the Empire of Byzantium, which was one of the two superpowers of the time. Because of this, against his usual practice, God’s Messenger announced where and against whom the expedition would be. Some people, therefore, came to God’s Messenger and requested, for some reasons, exemption from the expedition. God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, granted exemption to those whose excuses he regarded as justifiable, without, naturally, investigating whether they were telling the truth or not. This was what, of course, he had to do, because a Muslim must judge according to the outward signs and the affirmation of faith; he cannot pry into whether the person is being truthful or not. For this reason, hypocrites, who are outwardly Muslims but inwardly unbelievers, are treated as Muslims in a Muslim society; there were several of them in Madina in the time of the Prophet himself.

Besides, God Almighty is the One who veils the shortcomings of people. Accordingly, God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, never reproached people directly for their shortcomings. When he discerned a defect in some individual, or a fault common in the society, he used to climb the pulpit and warn the people generally against the shortcoming or fault he saw, without disclosing those in whom he saw it.

Among those who applied to God’s Messenger for exemption from the expedition of Tabuk, were many hypocrites who offered false excuses. Despite this, God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, accepted them. Concerning that, the following verse was revealed:

God forgive you! Why did you grant them exemption until those who told the truth were manifest to you, and you knew the liars? (al-Tawba, 9.43)

Although some scholars have held that God Almighty reproached His Messenger for granting exemption to the hypocrites, the truth is the reverse.

Imam Fakhr al-Din al-Razi and many others, among whom are linguists, have correctly pointed out that the expression, God forgive you! is an exclamation, as one might say in English, ‘God bless you!’ So, the true meaning of the expression is ‘God give you grace!’ As explained earlier, it is not necessary for a sin to exist before forgiveness is granted and, as, for example, in the verses, 4.99, 5.3 and 4.43, forgiveness may be juxtaposed to ‘grace’ as they have closely allied meanings.20

In addition to the explanations above, God’s Messenger was motivated by kindness as well as policy - kindness because in the urgency of the moment, he did not wish anyone who had a real excuse to be refused exemption; and policy, because, if anyone did not come willingly or whole-heartedly, he would be a burden to the army and cause disorder in the army, as explicitly stated in the following verse:

If they had gone forth with you they would have added nothing but mischief to you and they would have hurried through your ranks, seeking to cause sedition among you. (al-Tawba, 9.47)

God’s Messenger recognized the hypocrites, as we read in another verse: Surely you will know them by the tone of their speech! (Muhammad, 47.30). In addition, God did not will that they should set out for war:

If they had intended to go forth they would certainly have made some preparation therefor; but God was averse to their being sent forth; so He made them lag behind, and they were told, ‘Sit you among those who sit (inactive).’ (al-Tawba, 9.46)

That being so, the meaning of the verse in question is this:

‘God give you grace! If you had not given them leave on their first application, the liars would have been clearly distinguished from the truthful.’ In other words, it is not a reprimand to the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings; rather it expresses a Divine compliment and affection for him.

Sura ‘Abasa or He Frowned

Prophethood is not an ordinary job which everyone desirous of it can do, and people are not identical to one another. Man has two aspects, one heavenly, the other earthly. He was shaped from ‘dust’, created from a contemptible drop of ‘water’, but distinguished with the ‘breath of God’. So, human beings range from ‘the lowest of the low’ to ‘the highest of the high’. All the Prophets were of the rank of the highest of the high. God chose them, created them pure, and endowed them with all laudable virtues, and intellectual and spiritual faculties of the highest degree. In order to catch a glimpse, only a glimpse, of the greatness of God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, we should consider how, by God’s Will and Power, he made, in so short a time as twenty-three years, out of coal-like people - savage, ignorant, pitiless, dishonest and obstinate - diamond-like founders of the most magnificent civilization in human history. In addition, according to the rule, ‘One who causes something is like its doer’, the reward of each deed any believer does, from the time of the Prophet to the Last Day, is added to the rewards of the Prophet, causing him to grow in spirit incessantly. Despite this fact, some classical books - some Qur’anic commentaries and the like - unfortunately contain some assertions based on borrowings or unreliable anecdotes incompatible with the truth of Prophethood. What is more tragic and heart-rending than this is that in the Muslim world itself, some so-called researchers, under the influence of either orientalists or worldly temptations, have been quite tactless, even insolent, in dealing with Prophethood in general, and God’s Messenger in particular, and his Sunna. Deceived into mistaking ‘the reflection of the sun for the sun itself’, they regard themselves as free to criticize the Prophet and his Sunna. One of the pretexts they use for their misconduct is the initial verses of sura ‘Abasa:

He frowned and turned away because there came to him the blind man. But how can you know: perhaps he might purify himself? Or be forewarned, and warning might profit him? As to him who regards himself as self-sufficient, to him you eagerly attend, though it is not your concern if he does not purify himself. But as for him who eagerly hastens to you, and is in fear [of God], you are heedless of him. (‘Abasa, 80.1-10)

According to what some interpreters of the Qur’an have written, God’s Messenger was once deeply and earnestly engaged in conveying the Message to pagan Quraysh leaders, when he was interrupted by a poor blind man, ‘Adbullah ibn Umm Maktum, one who was also poor, so that no one took any notice of him. He desired to profit from the teaching of God’s Messenger. The holy Prophet disliked the interruption and showed impatience. Because of this, these verses were revealed to reproach the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings.

This story is, however, highly questionable due to the following:

· The narration of the event and the figures who took part in it are not the same in all of the reliable books of Tradition as in some commentaries on the Qur’an. In some versions of the narration, besides Ibn Umm Maktum, seven other people are mentioned.

· There are several verses in the Qur’an which explain how the previous Prophets behaved towards poor people, so it is inconceivable for a Prophet who always advised his followers to be in the company of the poor, that he could frown at, and turn away from, a poor, blind man, especially when he came to listen to him.

· God’s Messenger always rejected the calls of the leaders of Quraysh to drive away the poor Muslims from him if he desires them to believe in him.

· The Qur’an attaches great importance to the way a believer behaves in the presence of God’s Messenger. For example, it orders them ‘not to depart without asking for his leave when they are with him on a matter’; prohibits them from entering the Prophet’s house without permission; warns Muslims that their deeds and labor would come to nothing if they raise their voices above the voice of the Prophet and threatens those who ill-treat him with eternal punishment in Hell. That being the truth, it should have been Ibn Umm Maktum, not God’s Messenger, who was reprimanded for interrupting God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings.

· Ibn Umm Maktum, may God be pleased with him, was the son of Khadijah’s uncle, and one of those who accepted Islam in its early days. He had a remarkable position in Islam. God’s Messenger deputed to him the government of Madina twice while he was on military campaign. So, he cannot have been, despite his blindness, so reckless as to interrupt God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, while inviting the leaders of the Quraysh to the truth. He was blind, but he was not deaf.

· The reprimand contained in the relevant verses is too severe to be for the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings. The verbs ‘to frown’ and ‘to turn away from’, are never used in the Qur’an for a Prophet; in fact, they are not even used for ordinary believers. They are used in the verse in question in third singular form and in the absence of the Prophet, which means disrespect and debasement. Also, the expressions following are of the type used for the leaders of unbelievers. Therefore, it is inconceivable that the target of this reprimand was the Prophet.

· The books of Qur’anic interpretation which mention this incident add to it that whenever God’s Messenger saw Ibn Umm Maktum after that event would say to him: ‘Greetings to you, O one because of whom my Lord admonished me!’ This addition is also not to be found in any of the reliable books of Tradition.

· God’s Messenger was very kind-hearted and tried his hardest for the guidance of the people. And, in the words of the Qur’an, It grieves him that the believers should perish, and he is ardently anxious over them, and most kind and merciful to them (al-Tawbah, 9.128).

After all these explanations, we choose to refer the truth of the matter to God, who is the All-Knowing.

The offer made by the tribe of Thaqif

In order to accept Islam, the people of Thaqif wanted God’s Messenger to give them some concessions including exemption from some religious duties, as if the Messenger were authorized to do so. It is inconceivable not only for God’s Messenger but even for an ordinary Muslim to think of allowing such concessions to anybody, even if he be the president of the most powerful state of the world. The verses revealed concerning this incident say:

They sought to entice you from what we reveal unto you, to substitute against us something different. Then, they would certainly have made you a trusted friend! Indeed, had We not given you strength and firmness, you might nearly have inclined to them a little. Then, We should have made you taste double (punishment) in this life, and double in death; and moreover you would have found none for you to help you against Us. (al-Isra’, 17.73-5)

It should, first of all, be noted that God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, is the direct addressee and receiver of the Divine Revelation. For this reason, God Almighty directly addresses him in the Commandments - orders and prohibitions - where collective, as well as individual, responsibilities are stressed. This does not mean that God’s Messenger sometimes - God forbid! - neglected their performance. Being the embodiment, representative and preacher of Islam, as well as the best example, God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, personified, practiced them most strictly and experienced the ‘whole history of Islam’ in miniature measure. In other words, God used him and his time and his Companions as a pattern according to which all future expansion of Islam would be shaped. He functioned as a seed from which all future Islamic civilizations, Islamic movements and sciences, the universal tree of Islam, would grow. For this reason, such verses as the one above and the like should never be taken to suggest that God’s Messenger was reproached for something he did that was wrong. That blessed person, who is the Beloved of God, for whose sake God created all the worlds, is absolutely free from every kind of defect, fault and shortcoming.

As explained in the previous sections, God’s Messenger was extremely eager for the guidance of all people. In order to be able to have some understanding of his love and affection for, not only humanity, but for all existence, it will be enough to reflect on what a contemporary Muslim saint said concerning his connection with existence: ‘Each leaf that falls off its branch in autumn gives me as much pain as my arm being amputated.’ And, another says concerning his eagerness for the guidance and well-being of his nation: ‘I have known nothing of worldly pleasures in my life of over eighty years. All my life has passed on battlefields, and at various other places of suffering. There has been no torment which I have not tasted and no oppression which I have not suffered. I care for neither Paradise nor fear Hell. If I witness that the faith of my nation - that is, all the Muslim peoples - has been secured, I will have no objection to being burnt in the flames of Hell, for my heart will change into a rose garden while my body is being burnt.’ God said to His Messenger, consoling him in the face of persistent unbelief:

You will nearly grieve yourself to death, following after them, if they believe not in this Message. (al-Kahf, 18.6)

Having seen God’s Messenger’s eagerness to guide people, the leaders of the Thaqif tribe made him the stupid offer mentioned earlier, adding that, if others objected, he might excuse it by lying that his Lord had ordered him to do so. From a purely human point of view, it may seem a good policy to make a small ‘concession’ in order to fulfil a great mission, but the Messenger was not the author of Islam. His duty was simply to communicate it. The religion is God’s.

The Prophet’s marriage to Zaynab

During the pre-Islamic period of jahiliyya, as is the case now, cultural, economic and spiritual slavery was widespread. Islam came to destroy the institution of slavery and sought to solve this social, as well as psychological, problem in stages. Since slavery has a deep psychological aspect, its abolition in one go may have had far-reaching effects worse than slavery itself. For example, when Lincoln abolished ‘legal’ slavery in the United States, most of the slaves had to return to their owners because they had already lost initiative and the ability to make a free choice in managing their affairs as free people. So, Islam established, as its first step, strict principles in treatment of slaves, as seen in the following hadiths:

Whoever kills his slave, he shall be killed. Whoever imprisons his slave and starves him, he will be imprisoned and starved himself, and whoever castrates his slave will himself be castrated.21

You should know that no Arab is superior to a non-Arab and no non-Arab is superior to any Arab, no white is superior to a black and no black is superior to a white. Superiority is only by righteousness and fear of God.22

As its second step, Islam enabled slaves to realize their human consciousness and identity. It educated them in Islamic values, and implanted in them love of freedom. When, at last, the slaves were emancipated, they found themselves fully equipped with the potential to be useful members of the community as farmers, artisans, teachers, scholars, and commanders, governors and ministers and even prime ministers.

There was another practice in the pre-Islamic era, as still exists in the civil laws of many countries, which is adoption as a way of having children. Adopted children enjoyed the same legal status as natural children. It followed that a man could not legally marry, for example, the widow or former wife an adopted son. This was to be abolished because neither adoption nor any other way of declaring someone a son can create a relationship comparable to the relationship of children and natural parents.

As was the case with slavery, this practice was to be abolished. The Messenger himself was to bear a heavy burden as the one who would personally go against the accepted norms and stamp out a well-established custom.

Zayd was a black man who had been kidnapped from his family in his childhood by slave-traders and taken to the bazaar of Makka. Khadija, the first wife of God’s Messenger, had bought him, and after her marriage to the Prophet, gave him as a present. God’s Messenger emancipated him and called him ‘my son’. Meanwhile, Zayd’s parents had found out where he was and come to Makka to fetch him, but Zayd had preferred to stay with God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings.

In order to show the equality between black and white people and demonstrate that superiority only lies in righteousness and God-fearing, not in decent and worldly positions, God’s Messenger married Zayd to Zaynab, the daughter of Jahsh. Zaynab was from the Hashimite tribe. She was a very devoted and intellectual Muslim woman and noble in character. God’s Messenger knew her very well from her childhood. Although her family had wanted her to marry God’s Messenger, they had given consent to her marriage with Zayd because God’s Messenger desired it to be so.

Zayd, however, admitted himself to be spiritually inferior to his wife. He realized through his insight that Zaynab was a woman whose sublimity of character made her fit to be the wife of a far greater man than himself. He appealed to God’s Messenger many times to allow him to divorce her, but each time, as the Qur’an explicitly states, God’s Messenger warned him, saying: Retain your wife (in wedlock). Nevertheless, Zayd concluded that he was not his wife’s equal and eventually divorced her. In the end, God’s Messenger was ordered by God to marry her himself against the established traditions of the time. This marriage had been ordained in heaven and, therefore, God’s Messenger had to concede to it:

When Zayd had dissolved (his marriage) with her, We gave her in marriage to you, so that there may be no difficulty and sin for believers in marriage with the wives of their adopted sons if they divorce them. And God’s command must be fulfilled. (al-Ahzab, 33:37)

Although, in essence, this marriage was very difficult for God’s Messenger to enter into, God had willed that through this marriage a false custom would be abolished and a new law and custom established through the ideal example of God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings. Despite this, the enemies of Islam and hypocrites slandered God’s Messenger and unfortunately some of these slanderous ideas have found their way into some Qur’anic commentaries. It should again be emphasized that any perverse allegation or slander has never had and will never have the least effect on his pure personality and world-admired chastity. As is unanimously agreed, he happily restricted himself to living with Khadija, a widow fifteen years older than himself, with nothing to suggest any misconduct during the twenty-five most youthful years when people burn with lust and carnal desires. This clearly shows that his marriages after the age of fifty, when desire has subsided, were not to satisfy his passions, but to fulfill some very important purposes.

In sum, like every other Prophet, God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, is absolutely free from any blemish, and no accusation can defame his infallibility.

18. Bukhari, “Anbiya’,” 21.19; Ibn Hanbal, 2.96, 332.

19. Qurtubi, “Tafsir, 8.31; Ibn Hanbal, 1.383.

20. Qurtubi, 8.98-9; Fakhr al-Razi, Mafatih al-Ghayb, 16.73-4.

21. Abu Dawud, “Diyat, 70; Tirmidhi, “Diyat, 17.

22. Ibn Hanbal, 411.


Recommended Reading:
The Prophets were free from all bodily and mental defects

Last Updated on October 05, 2000

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