From Merchant to Messenger

The Prophet Muhammad's struggle for legitimacy as revealed in the Koran

Rhetoric to the Rescue

Variation on the Socratic Method

From Merchant to MessengerAnswering a question with another question is known as the Socratic Method. In a variation of this technique, God instructs Muhammad to ask a question to his audience, predict the answer they will give, and then He offers him the follow-up question to ask that should leave the responders dumbfounded.

23:84 Say: “Whose is the earth and all those in it, if you really know?”

23:85 They will say: “Allah’s”; say: “Do you not reflect, then?”

23:86 Say: “Who is the Lord of the seven heavens and the Lord of the Mighty Throne?”

23:87 They will say: “They are Allah’s.” Say: “Do you not fear God then?”

23:88 Say: “In whose hand is the dominion of everything, protecting and is not protected, if you really know?”

23:89 They will say: “[In] Allah’s.” Say: “How then are you bewitched?”

23:90 Nay, We brought them the truth, but they are liars.


29:61 And if you ask them: “Who created the heavens and the earth and subdued the sun and the moon?”, they will say: “Allah.” Why then do they vacillate?

29:62 Allah expends the provisions for whomever He wishes of His servants or restricts it. Surely, Allah has knowledge of all things.

29:63 And if you ask them: “Who sends from heaven water [with which] He revives the earth after it was dead?”, they will say: “Allah.” Say: “Praise be to Allah.” Yet most of them do not understand.

A Twist on Hypophora

Hypophora is a rhetorical device where you answer your own questions. Muhammad, on instructions from God, used this often, as in the following:

6:13 To Him belongs whatever comes to rest in the day and in the night; and He is the All-Hearing, All-Knowing.

6:14 Say: “Shall I take as guardian anyone other than Allah, Who created the heavens and the earth, and Who feeds and is not fed?” Say: “I have been commanded to be the first to submit[17] and not to be one of the polytheists.”

6:15 Say: “Indeed, if I disobey my Lord, I fear the punishment of a Fateful Day (Judgement Day).”

6:16 Whoever is spared on that Day has gained His Mercy, and that is indeed the manifest triumph!

6:17 And if Allah lets you suffer an affliction, no one can lift it except He; and if He accords you any good, He surely has power over everything.

6:18 And He is Sovereign over His servants and He is Wise, Well Acquainted with all things.

6:19 Say: “What (sic) has the greatest testimony?” Say: “Allah is Witness between you and me, and He has revealed this Qur’an to me so that I may warn you and whomever it may reach. Do you indeed testify that there are gods besides Allah?” Say: “I do not testify.” Say: “He is indeed One God and I am innocent of the association of idols [with Him].”

In defending Muhammad, Allah is careful not to name names.

22:8 And of the people, there is one who disputes concerning Allah without any knowledge, or guidance, or an illuminating Book.

22:9 Bearing himself proudly so as to lead people away from Allah’s Path. His is disgrace in the present world and, on the Day of Resurrection, We shall make him taste the agony of burning;

22:10 That is what your hands have advanced in deeds and Allah is never unjust to His servants.

6:12 Say: “To whom does that which exists in the heavens and on earth belong?” Say: “To Allah. He has prescribed to Himself Mercy. He will certainly gather you on the Day of Resurrection, which is undoubted. Those who lost their souls will not believe.”

The only antagonizer of Muhammad singled out by name in the entire Koran is Abu Lahab, who called out God’s spokesman for wasting his time. He gets an entire surah, albeit a small one, in which you have the Compassionate at His sadistic best making Lahab’s innocent wife part of the ghastly punishment in store for her husband (see Getting to Know Allah: "Allah’s Mercy," Boreal Books)


[17] Adam was the first to submit (see Shared Prophets: "Adam," Boreal Books); Allah may be referring to Muhammad as the first Arab of his generation to submit.

Say, Say, Say!

The most important modification made to the Koran to clear up any confusion—the introduction of diacritical marks notwithstanding—has to be the verb ‘say’ as a command from Allah, with the impact of literally putting words in God’s mouth. The initial text of the Koran was first put together by a fellow by the name of Zaid bin Thabit after Muhammad’s passing. Thabit did it, for the most part, by going around asking what people remembered about what their deceased tribesman said was written in that book in Paradise. Thabit’s effort was later revised by a committee of three, of which he was a member, on the orders of Caliph Uthman (see Shared Prophets:The First Korans,” Boreal Books). Thabit’s original collection would obviously not have included prefixing each response with something to the effect of “this is what God told Muhammad to say,” but simply recorded what they remembered Muhammad preaching, which was usually in the form of a complete surah. For example, consider the following three revelations:

27:91 I was only ordered to worship the Lord of this city (Mecca) which He has sanctified. His is everything, and I was ordered to be one of those who submit [to Allah];

27:92 And to recite the Qur’an. He who is well-guided is only well-guided to his own advantage, and to him who goes astray, say: “I am only one of the warners.”

27:93 And say: “Praise be to Allah. He will show you His Signs and then you will recognize them. Your Lord is not heedless of what you do.”

Without the use of the verb “say” in the third revelation of this sequence, it could easily be misconstrued as Muhammad explaining why he was sent rather than God telling the angel Gabriel to provide him with His response. The most prolific use of the verb “say” is in the Koran’s defence of the accusation of slander. The inclusion of the verb “say” will often leave the impression, as it does in the following revelations, that Gabriel is whispering Allah’s retort to the slander in His spokesman's ear in real time. This is simply not the case. 

6:56 Say: “I have been forbidden to worship those you call upon apart from Allah.” Say: “I do not follow your fancies, or else I would have gone astray and would not be one of the well-guided.”

6:57 Say: “I have clear proof from my Lord, and you deny Him. I do not possess that which you seek to hasten [punishment]. Judgement is Allah’s alone; He determines the right, and He is the Best-Decision-maker.”

6:58 Say: “If I possessed that which you seek to hasten, the matter between you and me would have been settled; and Allah knows best the wrongdoers.”


6:71 Say: “Shall we call, besides Allah, on what neither profits nor harms us and turn on our heels, after Allah has guided us?” [We shall then be] like one who, being tempted by the devils in the land, is bewildered though he has friends who call him to guidance [saying]: “Come to us.” Say: “Guidance from Allah is the true guidance. And we are commanded to submit to the Lord of the Words;

6:72 “And perform the prayers and fear Him; for He is the One unto Whom you shall be gathered.”


6:147 If they accuse you of lying, say: "Your Lord has an All-Encompassing Mercy and His Wrath cannot be prevented from afflicting the guilty people."

6:148 The polytheists will say: “If Allah pleased, we would not have associated [other gods with Him], nor would our fathers; nor would we have forbidden anything.” Thus those before them denied the truth until they tasted Our Wrath. Say: “Do you have any knowledge which you can produce for us? You only follow conjectures and you only tell lies.”

6:149 Say: “To Allah belongs the decisive argument. Had He pleased He would have guided you all.”

6:150 Say: “Produce your witnesses to testify that Allah has forbidden this.” Then, if they testify, do not bear witness with them, and do not follow the fancies of those who deny Our Revelations and those who do not believe in the Hereafter and set up equals with their Lord.

6:151 Say: “Come, I will recite what your Lord has forbidden you: that you associate nothing with Him; that you show kindness to your parents; that you do not kill your children for fear of poverty; We will provide for you and for them; that you do not approach indecencies, whether open or secret; and that you do not kill a living soul which Allah has forbidden you to kill except for a just cause. This is what Allah command you to do, so you may understand.”


6:158 What! Do they expect the angels, or your Lord or some of your Lord’s signs to come to them? The day some of your Lord’s Signs come, faith will not avail any soul which did not already accept it, nor earned some good through its faith. Say: “Wait we too are waiting.”

6:159 Surely, you are not in any way part of those who have differentiated between parts of their religion and split into sects. Their fate is in Allah’s Hands. He will inform them about what they have done.

6:160 He who comes up with a good deed shall have ten times its like; and he who comes up with an evil deed will only be requited for it once; and they shall not be wronged.

6:161 Say: “My Lord has guided me to a Straight Path, a right religion, the creed of Abraham, an upright man who was no polytheist.”

6:162 Say: “My prayer and my sacrifice, my life and my death, are Allah’s, the Lord of the Worlds.

6:163 “He has no associate, and thus I am commanded, and I am the first of those who submit.”

6:164 Say: “Shall I seek a Lord other than Allah, Who is the Lord of all things? Every soul is accountable for what [evil] it commits, and no soul shall bear the burden of another soul. Then, unto your Lord is your return; and He will inform you about that over which you used to defer.

6:165 And it is He Who made you successors on earth, and raised some of you above the others in rank, so as to test you regarding what He has given you. Your Lord is indeed Quick in retribution, and He is indeed All-Forgiving, Merciful.


18:103 Say: “Shall We inform you about the greatest losers of their works?

18:104 “Those whose endeavour in the present life has gone astray and they still believe that they are doing well.

18:105 “Those who disbelieve in the Revelations of their Lord and in meeting Him. Their works are in vain and We will not take any account of them on the Day of Resurrection.

18:106 “That is their reward – Hell, on account of their disbelief and their taking my Revelations and my Messengers as objects of scorn.

18:107 “Indeed, those who believe and do the good works, the Gardens of Paradise shall be their dwelling.

18:108 “Abiding therein forever and not desiring to be ever removed therefrom.”

18:109 Say: “Were the sea to become ink for my Lord’s Words, the sea would be exhausted before the Words of my Lord are exhausted, even if We were to bring its like to replenish it.”

18:110 Say: “I am only a mortal like you. It has been revealed to me that your God is One God. Let him who hopes to meet his Lord, do what is good and associate none in the worship of his Lord.”


34:24 Say: “Who provides for you out of the heavens and the earth?”, say: “Allah, and you or we are either rightly guided or in manifest error.”


34:27 Say: “Show me those you have attached to Him as associates. Allah is rather the Almighty, the All-Wise.”


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 (this verse refers to a dispute between God and Satan, via an angel intermediary, as to whether the creation of humans was a good idea).

38:70 “It is only revealed to me that I am a manifest warner.”


39:11 Say: “I have been commanded to worship Allah, professing to Him the religion sincerely.

39:12 “And I have been commanded to be the first of those who submit.”

39:13 Say: “I fear if I disobey my Lord, the punishment of a great Day.”


39:45 If Allah alone is mentioned, the hearts of those who do not believe in the Hereafter shudder; but if those apart from Him are mentioned, behold, they rejoice.

39:46 Say: “O Allah, Creator of the heavens and the earth, Knower of the Unseen and the Seen, you shall judge between your servants regarding that whereon they used to differ.”


40:65 He is the Living One; there is no god but He. So call on Him professing sincerely the religion unto Him. Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds.

40:66 Say: “I have been forbidden to worship those you call upon, apart from Allah; since the clear proofs have come to me from my Lord and I have been commanded to submit to the Lord of the Worlds.”


64:5 Has not the news of those who disbelieved formerly come to you and so they tasted the evil plight of their condition? A painful punishment awaits them.

64:6 That is because their Messengers used to bring them the clear proofs, but they would say: “Will mortals guide us rightly?” So, they disbelieved and turned their backs. And Allah was well content. Allah is All-Sufficient, All-Worthy.

64:7 The unbelievers claim they will not be raised from the dead.[18] Say: “Yes indeed by my Lord, you shall be raised, then you will be informed about what you did. That for Allah is an easy matter.”

64:8 Therefore, believe in Allah, His Messenger and the Light We sent down. Allah is Aware of what you do.


67:24 Say: “It is He Who scattered you abroad in the land, and unto Him you shall be mustered.”

67:25 They say: “When is this promise to be fulfilled, if you are truthful?”

67:26 Say: “Knowledge is with Allah; I am only a manifest warner.”

67:27 When they see it (the punishment) close at hand, the faces of the unbelievers become grim, and it will be said to them: “That is what you boasted about.”

67:28 Say: “Have you considered, what if Allah destroyed me and those with me or had mercy on us, who will protect the unbelievers from a painful punishment?’

67:29 Say: “He is the Compassionate, we believe in Him, and in Him we put our trust. You will then know who is in manifest error.

67:30 Have you considered who, if your water drains away, will bring you pure running water?

Not all will listen to what I tell you to say, and I had something to do with it.

47:16 There are some of them who listen to you, but as soon as they leave you, they say to those who have been given the knowledge: “What did he just say now?” Such are those upon whose hearts Allah has set a seal and who have followed their fancies.

47:17 But those who are rightly guided, He increases them in guidance and accords them their piety.


[18] 16:38 And they solemnly swear by Allah that Allah will not raise from the dead anyone who dies. Surely, His is the true promise, but most people do not know.

16:39 [They shall be raised up] so as to make clear to them that whereof they differ, and that the unbelievers may know that they were lying.


13:5 Should you (Muhammad) wonder, the wonder is their saying: “What, if we turn into dust, will we be created anew?” Those are the ones who disbelieve in their Lord, and those are the ones around whose necks are chains, and those are the people of the Fire, abiding therein forever.