The title of a question on this website, which may be viewed at the following address, captured my interest and drove me to offer a few comments:
The heading of the question was: “Was Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) Really NOT-Learned?” although the larger part of the text of the question (except the sub-question no., 3) was not much related to this title.Needless to say that I do not consider the response to the sub-question no., 3 to be correct, and it is in response to this portion of the question that I wish to offer some comments.
The concept of Prophet Muhammad’s illiteracy primarily draws strength from the interpretation of the Qur’anic term “Ummi” as “illiterate.” Therefore we find Abdullah Yusuf Ali translating the verse 62:2 as follows:
It is He Who has sent amongst the Unlettered [fi-l ummiyyeena] a messenger from among themselves, to rehearse to them His Signs, to sanctify them, and to instruct them in Scripture and Wisdom…
However, a careful study of the relevant data leads one to the conclusion that such an interpretation is not possible and the more plausible interpretation of the word Ummiyyeena is “the Common People,” or the “Gentiles,” or the People without a Divinely Inspired Book. (cf., the translations of, for instance, A. J. Arberry and M. H. Shakir, of the verse cited above).The adjective-noun Umm (pl. Ummiyy»na or Ummiyyeena) occurs in six verses in the Qur’an. Of these six instances, two (3:20; 3:75) suggest a contrast between umm and the People of the Book. The same contrast is involved, as seen in the above citation, in the verse 62:2. In 2:78 the reference is to a group among the Jews who do not know the Book. The remaining two instances, 7:157 and 7:158, introduce the phrase an-Nab al-Umm. Therefore in its Qur’anic usage, the only instance, wherein the term umm has connotations of ignorance, is 2:78, but here too, not ignorance in the sense of illiteracy, but ignorance from the divine scriptures is what’s meant.
The narratives of the life of the Prophet record an incident concerning the peace treaty of Hudaibiya in which the Prophet, upon the objection of the Meccans, himself amended the written statement. One such narrative, recorded by al-Bukhari, says:
Narrated Al-Bara: When the Prophet intended to perform ‘Umra in the month of Dhul-Qada, the people of Mecca did not let him enter Mecca till he settled the matter with them by promising to stay in it for three days only. When the document of treaty was written, the following was mentioned:
‘These are the terms on which Muhammad, Allah’s Apostle agreed (to make peace).’ They said, “We will not agree to this, for if we believed that you are Allah’s Apostle we would not prevent you, but you are Muhammad bin ‘Abdullah.” The Prophet said, “I am Allah’s Apostle and also Muhammad bin ‘Abdullah.” Then he said to ‘Ali, “Rub off (the words) ‘Allah’s Apostle’ “, but ‘Ali said, “No, by Allah, I will never rub off your name.” So, Allah’s Apostle took the document and wrote, ‘This is what Muhammad bin ‘Abdullah has agreed upon: No arms will be brought into Mecca except in their cases, and nobody from the people of Mecca will be allowed to go with him (i.e. the Prophet) even if he wished to follow him and he (the Prophet) will not prevent any of his companions from staying in Mecca if the latter wants to stay.’
[Sahih Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 49, Number 863, M. Muhsin Khan’s translation, web version]
Such narratives quite clearly disprove the commonly held notion that the Prophet couldn’t read or write.
I do not subscribe to the idea that the word “ummi” does not mean “illiterate” (i.e. unable to read or write). This, however, is not the crux of our discussion. At no point in my answer did I refer to any of the verses you’ve stated. Nor did I base my answer on Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s translation (or mistranslation according to you). Thus, I see no reason to continue in the vein that you have proceeded.
As it relates to my answer I will say that my error was not mentioning the one hadith (i.e. tradition) that is contrary to the answer that I have given. I have found it to be unreliable due to the heaping amount of evidence that contradicts it. There are various other ahadith recounting the same events, however, with significant implications. Below are some of the ahadith, some do not mention the part under discussion, the others contradict the narrative you have provided as evidence.
Narrated Al-Bara bin ‘Azib:When Allah’s Apostle concluded a peace treaty with the people of Hudaibiya, Ali bin Abu Talib wrote the document and he mentioned in it, “Muhammad, Allah’s Apostle .” The pagans said, “Don’t write: ‘Muhammad, Allah’s Apostle’, for if you were an apostle we would not fight with you.” Allah’s Apostle asked Ali to rub it out, but Ali said, “I will not be the person to rub it out.” Allah’s Apostle rubbed it out and made peace with them on the condition that the Prophet and his companions would enter Mecca and stay there for three days, and that they would enter with their weapons in cases. (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 49, Number 862)
It has been narrated on the authority of al-Bara’ b. ‘Azib who said: ‘Ali b. Abu Talib penned the treaty between the Holy Prophet (may peace be upon him) and the polytheists on the Day of Hudaibiya. He wrote: This is what Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah, has settled. They (the polytheists) said: Do not write words” the Messenger of Allah”. If we knew that you were the Messenger of Allah, we would not fight against you. The Prophet (may peace be upon him) said to ‘Ali: Strike out these words. He (Ali) said: I am not going to strike them out. So the Prophet (may peace be upon him) struck them out with his own hand. The narrator said that the conditions upon which the two sides had agreed included that the Muslims would enter Mecca (next year) and would stay there for three days, and that they would not enter bearing arms except in their sheaths or bolsters. (Sahih Muslim, Book 019, Number 4401)
It has been narrated on the authority of Abu Ishaq, who heard Bars’ b. Azib say: When the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) made peace with the people of Hudaibiya, ‘Ali drew up the agreement between them, and so he wrote: Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah. (This is followed by the same wording as we have in the previous tradition except the omission of the words: This is what he has settled.) (Sahih Muslim, Book 019, Number 4402)
It has been narrated on the authority of Bara’ who said: When the Prophet (may peace be upon him) was checked from going to the Ka’ba, the people of Mecca made peace with him’ on the condition that he would (be allowed to) enter Mecca (next year) and stay there for three days, that he would not enter (the city) except with swords in their sheaths and arms encased in their covers, that he would not take away with him anyone from its dwellers, nor would he prevent anyone from those with him to stay on in Mecca (if he so desired). He said to ‘Ali: Write down the terms settled between us. (So ‘Ali wrote): In the name of Allah, most Gracious and most Merciful. This is what Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah, has settled (with the Meccans), The polytheists said to him: If we knew that thou art the Messenger of Allah, we would follow you. But write: Muhammad b. ‘Abdullah. So he told ‘Ali to strike out these words. ‘Ali said: No, by Allah, I will not strike them out. The Messenger of Allah (may Peace be upon him) said: Show me their place (on the parchment). So he (‘Ali) showed him their place and he (the Holy Prophet) struck them out; and ‘Ali wrote: Ibn ‘Abdullah. (According to the terms of the treaty, next year) the Holy Prophet (may peace be upon him) stayed there for three days When it was the third day, they said to ‘Ali: This is the last day according to the terms of your companion. So tell him to leave. ‘Ali informed the Prophet (may peace be upon him) accordingly. He said: Yes, and left (the city). Ibn Janab in his version of the tradition used:” we would swear allegiance to you” instead of” we would follow you”. (Sahih Muslim, Book 019, Number 4403)
It has been narrated on the authority of Anas that the Quraish made peace with the Prophet (may peace be upon him). Among them was Suhail b. Amr. The Prophet (may peace be upon him) said to ‘Ali: Write” In the name of Allah, most Gracious and most Merciful.” Suhail said: As for” Bismillah,” we do not know what is meant by” Bismillah-ir-Rahman-ir-Rahim” (In the name of Allah most Gracious and most Merciful). But write what we understand, i. e. Bi ismika allahumma (in thy name. O Allah). Then, the Prophet (may peace be upon him) said: Write:” From Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah.” They said: If we knew that thou welt the Messenger of Allah, we would follow you. Therefore, write your name and the name of your father. So the Holy Prophet (may peace be upon him) said: Write” From Muhammad b. ‘Abdullah.” They laid the condition on the Prophet (may peace be upon him) that anyone who joined them from the Muslims, the Meccans would not return him, and anyone who joined you (the Muslims) from them, you would send him back to them. The Companions said: Messenger of Allah, should we write this? He said: Yes. One who goes away from us to join them-may Allah keep him away! and one who comes to join us from them (and is sent back) Allah will provide him relief and a way of escape. (Sahih Muslim, Book 019, Number 4404)
These are the ahadith as they relate to the events of the treaty of Hudaibiya. In all the narrations I’ve presented none relate that the Prophet wrote anything down. The closest thing to that is the Prophet “rubbing” off his title after being shown its location. The only tradition that states the Prophet wrote anything down is the one you have provided. However, considering the amount of evidence stacked against it I would reject the thought that “such narratives clearly disprove the commonly held notion that the Prophet couldn’t read or write.” One narrative should not be the result of such a conclusion. Stronger evidence must be submitted, not to mention those that don’t contradict each other.
In rejecting the notion that the Qur’an is the result of the Prophet’s mind and handiwork, God in His book gives us a glimpse of the Prophet’s abilities or lack thereof.
And thou wast not (able) to recite a Book before this (Book came), nor art thou (able) to transcribe it with thy right hand: In that case, indeed, would the talkers of vanities have doubted. (Al `Ankaboot 29:48)
Though you may disagree with me regarding my findings, I would leave it up to history, it’s documentation and evidence to provide us with the answer regarding the Prophet’s literacy.
I hope I have clarified the issue.
God knows best.