The Dark Nature of Muhammad’s Revelations
We begin our further critical examination of Islam with the person of Muhammad and his revelations. For this is where it all started. If we expect to accurately discern the spirit of Islam then we must begin at the foundation, we must examine the seed.
Muhammad is the founder of Islam and is believed by Muslims to be the sole human instrument that "received" the words of the Quran directly from Allah. This chapter will review the nature of Muhammad’s spiritual encounters that led to his career as a "prophet" and birthed the religion that now has the attention of the world.
The Birth of the Quran
Muslims believe that when Muhammad received the revelations that have been compiled to make up the Quran, he received them word for word, directly from Allah. As such, Allah is thought to be the actual author of the Quran. The Quran is thus intended to be read as if it is Allah speaking directly in the first person. Muhammad is merely viewed as the human messenger, or the apostle of Allah (rasul-allah). As one Muslim theologian has said, "The prophet was purely passive – indeed unconscious: the Book was in no sense his, neither its thought, nor language, nor style: all was of God, and the Prophet was merely a recording pen." 1 This stands in distinction to the Christian view of the nature of inspiration of the Bible. Christians understand that while God indeed inspired the authors of Scripture to convey His thoughts and words, each individual author brought to the Scriptures his own individual human style and personality. God used the human agents as His vessels, but He did not literally override them. As we will see, this was not the manner of Muhammad’s revelations.
Karen Armstrong, a popular and highly sympathetic writer about Islam and Muhammad gives this account of the manner of Muhammad’s initial encounter with what Muslims believe was Gabriel (jibril) the "angel" in the cave of Hira:
Muhammad was torn from his sleep in his mountain cave and felt himself overwhelmed by a devastating divine presence. Later he explained this ineffable experience by saying that an angel had enveloped him in a terrifying embrace so that it felt as though the breath was being forced from his body. The angel gave him the curt command: ‘iqra!’ ‘Recite!’ Muhammad protested that he could not recite; he was not a kahin, one of the ecstatic prophets of Arabia. But, he said, the angel simply embraced him again until, just as he thought he had reached the end of his endurance, he found the divinely inspired words of a new scripture pouring forth from his mouth. 2
Armstrong mistakenly however, does not mention that it was not actually until the third time that the "angel" had strangled Muhammad, demanding that he recite, that he finally did so. 3 This encounter stands in stark contrast to the general nature of angelic and divine encounters found throughout the Bible, where the angels (or the Lord Himself) almost always are found beginning their conversation with the comforting phrase, "Do not be afraid." (Genesis 15:1, 26:24, 46:3, Daniel 8:15-19, 10:12,19, Matthew 28:5,10, Luke 1:13, Luke 1:26-31, 2:10, Revelation 1:17)
We should not be surprised to find out then, that after Muhammad’s terrifying and violent encounter with the spirit in the cave, he literally believed that he was demon possessed. Muhammad became so distraught that he even became suicidal. From Guillaume’s translation of Ibn Ishaq’s famous early biography of Muhammad, sirat-rasul, we read:
So I [Muhammad] read it, and he [Gabriel] departed from me. And I awoke from my sleep, and it was as though these words were written on my heart… Now none of God’s creatures was more hateful to me than an [ecstatic] poet or a man possessed: I could not even look at them. I thought, "Woe is me poet or possessed – Never shall Quraysh [Muhammad’s tribe and kinsman] say this of me! I will go to the top of the mountain and throw myself down that I may kill myself and gain rest." So I went forth to do so and then when I was midway on the mountain, I heard a voice from heaven saying "O Muhammad! thou are the apostle of God and I am Gabriel."3
The reference to "poet or possessed" comes from the notion that Arabs contemporary with Muhammad believed that poets created their poetry under the inspiration of demons. At-Tabari, one of Islam’s most highly respected early historians says, "The pre-Islamic Arabs believed in the demon of poetry, and they thought that a great poet was directly inspired by demons…" 4
After the terrible experience, Muhammad returned home to his wife Khadija. Muhammad was still terribly disturbed by the encounter:
Then Allah’s Apostle returned with the Inspiration, his neck muscles twitching with terror till he entered upon Khadija and said, "Cover me! Cover me!" They covered him till his fear was over and then he said, "O Khadija, what is wrong with me?" Then he told her everything that had happened and said, "I fear that something may happen to me." 5
But it was not only Muhammad who suspected a demonic source to his revelations, clearly many of Muhammad’s contemporaries also believed that his revelatory experiences were demonic and that he was demon possessed:
"Yet they turn away from him and say: "Tutored (by others), a man possessed!" – Surah 44:14 (Yusuf Ali)
And say: "What! shall we give up our gods for the sake of a Poet possessed?" -Surah 37:36 (Yusuf Ali)
Apparently it was even necessary that Allah come to Muhammad’s defense and respond to his critics within the Quran itself:
No, your compatriot [Muhammad] is not mad. He saw him [Gabriel] on the clear horizon. He does not grudge the secrets of the unseen, nor is this the utterance of an accursed devil. -Surah 81:22-25
It [the Quran] is no poet’s speech: scant is your faith! It is no soothsayer’s divination: how little you reflect! It is revelation from the Lord of the Universe. -Surah 69:41,42
It is not surprising then that after reading the comments made regarding Muhammad by his contemporaries as well as after studying the nature of Muhammad’s revelatory experiences, that many scholars have become convinced that Muhammad was either an epileptic or demon possessed or both. 6 After discussing some of the specific physical manifestations of Muhammad’s experiences, John Gilchrist, a South African Christian author and well known authority on Islam, finalizes his analysis of the various physical phenomena that accompanied Muhammad’s revelatory experiences:
It should be pointed out that men can be subjected to a different type of seizure which very closely resembles epilepsy. During the life of Jesus a young boy was brought to him who was "an epileptic" (Matthew 17.15) and who suffered extreme forms of epilepsy (he would suddenly fall down, be convulsed. and be unable to speak). There is no doubt, however, that this epilepsy was not naturally but demonically induced as all three records of the incident (in Matthew 17, Mark 9 and Luke 9) state that Jesus exorcised the unclean spirit in the child and healed the boy. Without passing judgment on Muhammad, let it nevertheless be said that anyone subject to occultic influences could well find that seizures similar to epileptic fits would occur at appropriate times and, instead of causing a loss of memory, would have just the opposite effect and leave firmly induced impressions on the recipient’s mind. Throughout the world missionaries have related cases of precisely this nature. To this day such phenomena are not uncommon among oriental ecstatics and mystics and they are widely reported. 7
So while the Apostle Peter describes the experience of the authors of biblical Scripture by referring to men who, "spoke from God" as they were, "moved by the Holy Spirit." (2 Peter 1:21), the experience of Muhammad was a much more direct, ecstatic and dark experience. It is important to note that none of the biblical prophets ever questioned the source of their revelations. Muhammad’s experience was far more similar to the experience of a spiritist or someone who channels spirits than a biblical prophet.
Other Strange Phenomena
Muhammad’s frightening spiritual encounters did not end with the examples provided above. On another occasion, Muhammad was "bewitched," whereby he literally believed himself to be having sexual relations with his wives when he was actually doing no such thing. Guillaume notes that one Muslim scholar says that the spell lasted for an entire year. This episode of Muhammad’s life is well documented in Islam’s sacred traditions.
Narrated Aisha (One of Muhammad’s wives): Magic was worked on Allah’s Apostle so that he used to think that he had sexual relations with his wives while he actually had not. 8
This absolutely bizarre portion of Muhammad’s life should be enough to give pause to anyone who might consider Muhammad to be a genuine prophet of God – never mind the greatest of all prophets, as Muslims claim. One can only conclude that in order to have fallen into such a delusional state, Muhammad was indeed either literally demon possessed or significantly ill or both. In light of the occultic occurrences that defined Muhammad’s initial "revelatory" experiences, the conclusion is not hard to arrive at for anyone with any genuine spiritual discernment. Of course the contrast here is so stark when we look at the life of Jesus, who rather than being given over to any form of demonic influence, instead freed numerous people from any such form of oppression.
In the final assessment, we see that the revelations of Muhammad – the seeds out of which Islam sprouted, began amidst a violent and dark encounter with some form of spiritual being in the cave of Hira. We have also seen that Muhammad’s life contained periods of either significant delusion or blatant spiritual oppression. It is this dimension of Muhammad’s life that should indeed be noted as we develop the greater theme of this book. Also, when attempting to discern the primary spiritual source of Islam, it is essential to not only see the dark nature of the initial seed from which Islam sprouted but even moreso its ultimate vision of the future – its fully mature "fruit". The demonic and anti-biblical revelations that began in the Cave of Hira find their culmination with the killing of every Jew, Christian and non-Muslim in the world.
- W.H.T. Gairdner, The Reproach of Islam, (Foreign Mission Committee of the Church of Scotland, 1911) p. 158
- Karen Armstrong, Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet (Harper Collins Books, 1993), 46
- A. Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad, (Oxford University Press, 2001) p. 106
- At-Tabari Vol. 9, page 167, note 1151
- Sahih Bukhari Volume 6, Book 60, Number 478
- John Gilchrist, Jesus to the Muslims, 1986, Benoni, Republic of South Africa. An online version entitled Muhammad and the Religion of Islam is also available online at http://answering-islam.org.uk/Gilchrist/Vol1/3b.html Also, for a good discussion of the demonic activity in Muhammad’s life see the article Muhammad and the Demons, by Silas: http://www.answering-islam.org/Silas/demons.htm
- Ibid. (Gilchrist)
- Sahih Buhkari Volume 7, Book 71, Number 660
© 2009 – 2011, Matt. All rights reserved.