21 Mar 2005

...and our Prophet was Ummi

'Prophet Mohamed was Ummi. He didn't know how to read and write. This is a miracle.'

This is the first statement I learnt at school when talking about prophet Mohamed. With all my respect and partial acceptance, I am not going to teach it the same way to my kids.

Let me start off by saying that I don't think that the word ummi is solely translated as illiterate, can't read or write. Well, I happen to think that this point of view is a limited and limiting one. It is a view that aims to reinforce the doctrine of miraculous character of the Coran; if the prophet couldn't read or write, so the argument goes, then his reception of a text of surpassing beauty and wisdom must be divine revelation. However, in todays time we no more need an assertion of the miraculous nature of the Coran through prophet Mohamed illiteracy. Time proves and will continue to prove that on many levels.

Another plausible interpretation could also mean instead that the prophet is the 'Gentile' prophet sent to the umma of the arabs. Symbolically, the illietracy of the prophet is parallel to the doctrine of the virgin birth of Jesus. In either cases, the Word of God, whether in the form of Coran or Jesus, comes into existence through divine agency rather than human initiative.

A verse in the Coran that always fascinates me is the verse saying that the Coran was revealed to the prophet's Heart. Further another verse, 'la tu'ajel bih lesanak le tafkah bih....', (God asking the prophet not to move his tongue in a hurry to memorize the Coran.) For me an indication that the Coran is not just words that need to be memorized by the tongue; doesn't need someone who can read and write to understand it, rather, there are others ways to grasp it. It is through the heart. In that sense, I AM the illiterate in reading with my heart, not the prophet.

The word Ummi, doesn't it also mean Mother! Describing the prophet as an ummi , for me, is in reference to his rahma side of his mission, to the worlds. rahma lel 'alameen. This quality is a feminine one, or at least found by fitra in women and their apparent motherly nature that they show to their kids, even when they grow up. This is what we are taught the prophet will do for us.


Anonymous zoss said...

" the Word of God, whether in the form of Coran or Jesus, comes into existence through divine agency rather than human initiative." I think you hit it on the head there.

" 'la tu'ajel bih lesanak le tafkah bih....'" I think the verse actually says "la to7arik bihi lesanak le ta3jal bih"

3/22/2005 05:37:00 am  
Blogger حـدوتـة said...

This is such an interesting topic. I remember reading explanation for the word "ummi" somewhere but I cannot remember where now. I'll do my best to dig it out. However, from what I recall, yes, "ummi" did NOT mean illiterate at all. I think, as you mentioned, it had to do with being an Arab for the Arab umma (in contrast to Jesus to the Jews)

Thanks for bringing this up. I think this "ummi" thing made a lot of simple people see illiteracy as a not-so-dangerous thing: "the Prophet was illiterate! do you think you are better than the Prophet?!"

3/22/2005 07:41:00 am  
Blogger haal said...

Thanks Zoss for correcting the verse.

3/29/2005 08:52:00 pm  

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