From Merchant to Messenger
The Koran is very much the story of one man’s struggle to get his Meccan kin, the Quraysh, and neighbours to abandon their smorgasbord of gods and goddesses and to worship only Allah and to deny access to the Ka’ba to anyone who was not willing to do so.
The merchant Muhammad had it on good authority – from the archangel Gabriel no less – that Allah did not want to share His Ka’ba with alleged “associates”.
Gabriel also informed the forty-something Muhammad that he had been personally chosen by God to be His last and greatest Messenger to mankind, and unless they, the Meccans and anyone else, listened to what he had to say about how Allah wanted them to behave and how He wanted to be worshipped, they were doomed.
In 622, the Meccans, having had enough of his denigrating of their gods and the gods of fathers, forced him to leave town. Muhammad would eventually have his way with his detractors when he returned to Mecca in 630 A.D. at the head of an army of believers as the Prophet Muhammad.
From Merchant to Messenger is not about this military-like take-over of Mecca and shortly thereafter the entire Arabian Peninsula, but about the way the budding Prophet tried to cajole his kin and fellow citizens of Mecca into accepting him as Allah’s legitimate and last spokesman and therefore deserving of their unwavering, unquestioning obedience.
The verses pertaining to this period comprise what is called the 84 Meccan surahs or chapters of the Koran. The remaining 30 surahs containing revelations said to have been revealed at Medina, the city in which the Prophet sought refuge after fleeing Mecca to save his life.
Getting accepted by his Arab contemporaries as a legitimate Prophet and a Messenger of Allah was not easy, as Allah’s revelations in the Koran will attest.
A Book Revealed
2:151 Just as We sent forth to you a Messenger (Muhammad, Messenger of Allah) from among you reciting Our Revelations (the Qur’an) to you, purifying you (from polytheism), instructing you in the Book (the Qur’an) and the wisdom, and teaching you what you did not know.
In the Name of Allah,
the Compassionate, the Merciful
14:1 Alif – Lam – Ra.
A Book which We have revealed to you so that you may, with the will of their Lord, bring mankind from darkness to light, to the Path of the Mighty, the Praiseworthy One.
14:2 Allah to whom belongs what is the heavens and on the earth. And woe betide the unbelievers, for a terrible punishment!
14:3 Those who prefer the present life to the Hereafter and bar others from Allah’s Path and seek to make it crooked, are far astray.
In the Name of Allah,
the Compassionate, the Merciful
33:1 O Prophet, fear Allah and do not obey the unbelievers and the hypocrites. Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise.
33:2 And follow what is revealed to you from your Lord. Indeed, Allah is Well-Informed about what you do.
33:3 And trust in Allah; Allah suffices as a Guardian.
36:69 We did not teach him (the Prophet) poetry, nor did it become him. It is only a Reminder and a Manifest Qur’an;
36:70 So as to warn those who are alive and the word may be fulfilled against the unbelievers.
38:27 We have not created the heaven and the earth and what is between them in vain. That is the presumption of the unbelievers; so woe betide the unbelievers because of the Fire.
38:28 Or shall We regard those who believe and do the righteous deeds like those who work corruption in the land, or shall We regard the God-fearing like the transgressors.
38:29 It is a Blessed Book that We have sent down to you, that they may ponder its Verses, and that those possessed of understanding may remember.
Say, O Muhammad:
6:50 Say: “I do not tell you that I have the treasures of Allah, and I do not know do Unseen; nor do I tell you that I am an angel. I only follow what is revealed to me.” Say: “Are the blind man and the one who sees alike? Do you not reflect?”
6:51 And warn with it (the Qur’an) those who fear that they will be gathered before their Lord, other than Whom they have neither a protector nor an intercessor, so that they may be God-fearing.
38:65 Say: “I am only a warner and there is no god but Allah, the One, the Conqueror.
38:66 “The Lord of the heavens and the earth and what is between them, the All-Mighty, the All-Forgiving.”
38:67 Say: “That (this Qur’an) is great news,
38:68 “From which you are turning away.
38:69 “I had no knowledge of the Higher Host, when they were disputing among themselves*.
38:70 “It is only revealed to me that I am a manifest warner.”
* Muhammad Assad’s translation:
38:69 [Say, O Muhammad:] “No knowledge would I have had of [what passed among] the host on high when they argued [against the creation of man].
Accusations of Plagiarism and Fabrication
Allah acknowledges that many of His Messenger’s contemporaries accused the Prophet of plagiarism.
25:5 And they say: “Legends of the ancients which he solicited their writing down. Hence they are dictated to him morning and evening.”
25:6 Say: “He Who knows the secret in the heavens in the earth has sent it down; He is indeed All-Forgiving, Merciful.”
An example of what could be construed as "taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own" using a famous saying of Jesus: “It will be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Mathew 16:23).”
7:40 Indeed, those who have denied Our Revelations and rejected them arrogantly – the gates of heaven shall not be opened for them and they shall not enter Paradise until the camel passes through the eye of the needle. Thus we punish the wicked sinners.
If it was plagiarism, would Allah have even mentioned it?
6:25 And some of them listen to you, but We have cast veils over their hearts, lest they should understand it (the Qur'an), and a deafness in their ears. And even where they see every sign, they will not believe in it; so that when they come to dispute with you, the unbelievers will say: “This is nothing but fables of the ancients.”
6:26 And they forbid others from [following] him (the Prophet) and they keep away from him, but they only destroy themselves, without perceiving it.
The Prophet's purported illiteracy, for a successful merchant, would have been a serious handicap even during the Dark Ages. During this period, just like the time before the invention of writing, facts and fiction effortless mixed in stories told and re-told, with countless variations, and passed down from generation to generation in what is known as oral traditions.
The Koran is a product of these oral traditions. God’s Messenger could not be accused of plagiarism for repeating “Fables of the ancients”, if that is what he did, since this was done all the time.
8:31 And when Our Revelations are recited to them, they say: “We have heard. Had we wished, we would have uttered the like of this; this is nothing but fables of the ancients.”
16:24 And if it is said to them: “What has your Lord revealed?” they say: “Fables of the ancients.”
What about accusations that the Koran is a fabrication?
25:4 The unbelievers say: “This (the Qur’an) is nothing but deceit, which he (Muhammad) has invented and was assisted therein by other people (the Jews).” They have simply come up with wrongdoing and falsehood.
The Prophet did not always have a revelation handy to respond to the taunts and accusations of his detractors prompting them to tell him to make one up; understood that this is what they believed he did all the time. Allah did eventually provided a revelation to fit this particular situation.
7:203 And if you do not bring them a revelation, they say: “Why don’t you yourself invent it?” Say: “I only follow what is revealed to me from my Lord. This (the Qur’an) constitutes a clear proof from your Lord and a guidance and a mercy to those people who believe.”
Some of the accusations of fabrication may have been the result of Allah changing his mind. The pre-Islamic Arabs were a practical no-nonsense people. The logic of an omniscient god who knows everything, including the future, and is never wrong, changing His mind was simply inconceivable.
It was profoundly illogical! They simply did not buy Allah’s argument in revelation 2:106 that abrogating i.e. replacing one revelation with another was His prerogative. A stupefying concept in and of itself!
2:106 Whichever verse We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, We bring instead a better or similar one. Do you not know that Allah has the power over all things?
It did not matter that Allah revealed that He knows what He is doing when He replaces “a verse with another”, and you have the angel Gabriel’s word on it – “the Holy Spirit” in revelation 16:102.
16:101 And if We replace a verse by another – and Allah knows best what He reveals – they say: “You are only a forger.” Surely, most of them do not know.
16:102 Say: “The Holy Spirit has brought it down from your Lord in truth, in order to reassure the believers, and as a guidance and good news to those who submit.
Furthermore, it’s not that His Messenger got a revelation wrong because he heard it in a foreign language (the person alluded to here is undoubtedly a Jew) that an earlier revelation was changed, as Allah only transmits His revelations in Arabic.
16:103 And We surely know that they say: “Surely a mortal teaches him.” The tongue of him to whom they allude is foreign, whereas this is a clear Arabic tongue.
26:192 And this (the Qur’an) is the revelation of the Lord of the Worlds;
26:193 Brought down by the Faithful Spirit (Gabriel),
26:194 Upon your heart, so that you might be one of the warners;
26:195 In manifest Arabic tongue.
Research into the origins of the Koran, such as that conducted in Germany by Christoph Luxenberg (pseudonym), have revealed a great number of words in Aramaic and/or Syriac which would indicate that many verses may have had a Christian or Jewish origin. Allah may be indirectly recognizing this fact in the next two revelations where He acknowledges the contribution of the Torah to the Koran and that of Jewish scholars.
26:196 And it is, indeed, in the Scriptures of the ancients.
26:197 Is it not a sign for them that the scholars of the Children of Israel recognized it?
Allah cannot be bothered with leading those who will not be led. This is His trademark explanation when words delivered on his behalf by His Messenger fail to convince people to follow the Guide, both literally and figuratively – the revelations (the Koran) and the bringer of the revelations (the Prophet Muhammad). And for not following the Guide, the pervasive promise of a painful punishment.
16:104 Those who do not believe in Allah’s Revelations shall not be guided by Allah, and a very painful punishment awaits them.
If you say it often enough that those who deny the Revelations as being God’s Truth are liars, and the Koran says it often enough, the disparagement will eventually be accepted as the truth.
16:105 It is those who do not believe in Allah’s revelations that fabricate falsehood. It is they who lie.
If the Koran is a fabrication, it is a pretty good fabrication, perhaps only a fabrication that a god could produce. Allah told His Messenger to challenge anyone to produce a single chapter that is as good as one found in the Koran.
10:38 Or do they say: “He (the Prophet) has forged it.” Say [O Muhammad]: “Come up, then, with a single Surah like it, and call upon whomever you can, apart from Allah, if you are truthful.”
Maybe someone did, and Allah raised the ante.
11:13 Or will they say: “He has forged it (the Qur'an).” Say: "Come up then with ten forged surahs like it, and call upon whomever you can, apart from Allah, if you are truthful.”
11:14 But if they (other gods) do not answer you, then know that it (the Qur’an) was revealed with Allah’s knowledge and that there is no god but He. Will you then submit?
What if jinn and men got together to produce a Koran?
17:88 Say: “Were men and jinn to band together in order to come up with the like of this Qur’an, they will never come up with the like of it, even if they back up one another.”
Only the ingrates deny the Divine origins of the Koran.
17:89 We have indeed given mankind in this Qur’an every kind of example, but most people insist on being ungrateful.
Trading in Revelations
The words “sell it for a small price”, or variations thereof, appear in more than a handful of revelations in most translations. Taken literality “sell it for a small price” would imply that a trade in revelations existed while the Koran was being revealed to the Prophet.
The would-be sellers, in most revelations pertaining to these possible commercial transactions, are clearly Jews who would sell verses from the Torah and perhaps the Gospels. Other would-be sellers may have been Arab kin or acquaintances of the Prophet, Muslim converts perhaps, for only they would fear the Fire for doing what they obviously believed was a minor transgression.
In revelation, 2:80 Allah tells His Messenger to warn these imitators about what they are doing.
2:79 Woe unto those who write the Book with their hands, then say that it is from Allah in order to sell it for a small price. Woe unto them for what their hands have written, and woe unto them for what they have earned.
2:80 And they say: “The Fire will only touch us for a few days.” Say: “Have you received a pledge from Allah, and Allah does not revoke His Pledge, or are you imputing to Allah what you do not know?”
2:81 Indeed, whoever commits a sin and his sin takes complete hold of him is one of the people of Hell, wherein they will dwell forever.
2:82 Those who believe and do good works are the people of Paradise, where they will dwell forever.
This begs the question: if “sell it for a small price” is given its everyday modern interpretation, was the Prophet a customer? He was not a customer if you accept Moududi's interpretation that “sell it for a small price” means “rejecting God’s directives” if it will improve your situation in this world.
16:95 Do not sell Allah’s Covenant for a small price. Surely what is with Allah is better for you, if only you knew.
16:96 What you have will be exhausted, and what is with Allah remains [undiminished]. And We will give the steadfast a better reward than the best of their actions [deserved].
Punishment for Misrepresenting Allah's Revelations
Many thought the Prophet was lying about being a Messenger from God and told him so.
34:44 We did not bring them heretofore any Books to study and We did not send them before you (Muhammad) any warner.
34:45 Those who preceded them denounced the Messengers, although they have not attained the tenth of what We gave them; yet they denounced My Messengers as liars. How, then, was My Wrath?
35:4 If they denounce you as a liar, surely they have denounced other Messengers before you; and unto Allah all matters shall be returned.
What Allah would have done to His Messenger if he lied about or misrepresented what was communicated to him by the angel Gabriel, the Messenger to the Messenger:
69:38 No; I swear by what you see;
69:39 And what you do not see.
69:40 It is the speech of a noble Messenger;
69:41 And it is not the speech of a poet. How little do you believe!
69:42 Nor the speech of a soothsayer; how little do you remember.
69:43 It is the Revelation from the Lord of the Worlds.
69:44 Had he (Muhammad) imputed to us falsely some statements;
69:45 We would have seized him by the right arm;
69:46 Then cut off his great artery.
69:47 None of you would have restrained us from him.
69:48 Surely, it (the Qur’an) is a reminder for the God-fearing.
69:49 And We know that some of you will denounce it as lies.
69:50 And it is surely a source of grief for the unbelievers;
69:51 And it is surely the certain truth.
69:52 So, glorify the Name of your Lord, the Sublime.
The Prophet, at one time, must have nearly let himself be convinced to change Allah’s revelations, which would have been a big mistake. The cut artery would just have been the beginning of an eternity of pain.
17:73 They were about to lure you away from what We have revealed to you, so that you might replace it with false inventions against Us. Then they would have taken you for a friend.
17:74 Had We not enabled you to stand firm, you might have inclined towards them a little.
17:75 Then, We would have made you taste double [the punishment in life] and double the punishment after death, and then you would not have found any supporters against Us.
17:76 They were about to provoke you so as to expel you from the land. Then they would not stay after you except a little while.
17:77 This was Our Way with those Messengers We sent before you, and you will not find any change in Our Way.
Allah enabled His Messenger to stand firm, but, a whimsical god reminds His Prophet, reveal truth 17:86, that if He had wanted to, He could have manipulated him just like He manipulates everyone else, and he would have been a goner. But, He really really likes him obviously; why else would He bestow not only His Mercy but great favours, revelation 17:87.
17:83 And when We are gracious to man, he turns away and withdraws haughtily; and if adversity touches him, he is in despair (he loses hope in Allah’s Mercy).
17:84 Say: “Everyone acts according to his own manner, but your Lord knows well who is best guided on his way."
17:85 And they ask you about the Spirit (Gabriel, Moududi). Say: “The Spirit is of my Lord’s Command, and you have not been given except a little knowledge.”
17:86 If We please, We certainly can blot out that which We have revealed to you (O Muhammad, Moududi); then you would find no guardian to assist you against Us.
17:87 [But it was left] as a Mercy from your Lord. His favours upon you have surely been great.
Another timely revelation.
Narrated Ibn Masud:
I was with the Prophet at one of the farms of Medina while he was leaning on a date palm leaf-stalk. He passed by a group of Jews and some of them said to the other, Ask him (the Prophet) about the spirit.
Some others said, "Do not ask him, lest he should tell you what you dislike."
But they went up to him and said, "O Abal Qasim! Inform us bout the spirit."
The Prophet stood up for a while, waiting. I realized that he was being Divinely Inspired, so I kept away from him till the inspiration was over.
Then the Prophet said, "(O Muhammad) they ask you regarding the spirit, Say: The spirit its knowledge is with my Lord (i.e., nobody has its knowledge except Allah)" (17.85)
The Prophet may not only have saved himself by telling the Truth and not changing what Allah revealed, but also the Arabs, who had they not eventually believed might have suffered the fate of other civilizations who had the audacity to deny Allah’s clear proofs.
10:13 And We have destroyed generations before you, when they did wrong and their Messengers brought them the clear proofs, but they would not believe. Thus We reward the wicked sinners.
10:14 Then We made you successors on earth, after them, to see how you would behave.
10:15 And if Our revelations are clearly recited to them, those who do not hope to meet Us say: “Bring a Qur’an other than this one or alter it.” Say: “It is not for me to alter it of my own accord. I only follow what is revealed to me. Indeed, I fear, if I disobey my Lord, the punishment of a Fateful Day (Judgement Day).”
10:16 Say: “If Allah had willed, I would not have recited it to you, and He would not have told you about it. I have dwelt in your midst a lifetime before it. Do you not understand?”
The Prophet remained steadfast in his duty to Allah even as Allah revealed in revelation 39:36, the unbelievers tried to frighten him with their idols.
39:36 Does not Allah suffice His servant? Yet they frighten you with those apart from Him (that is, idols). Whomever Allah leads astray will have no other guide.
39:37 And whomever Allah guides none will lead astray. Is not Allah All-Mighty, Vengeful?
39:38 If you (Muhammad) ask them (the Meccans): “Who has created the heavens and the earth?”, they will reply: “Allah.” Say: “Do you see, then? What you call upon, apart from Allah, should Allah wish me ill, will they lift His ill? Or should Allah will a mercy for me, will they withhold His Mercy?” Say: “Allah suffices for me. In Him those who trust should put their trust.”
39:39 Say: “My people, act according to your ability. I am acting; then you will know.