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By David Wood
Over the centuries, and around the world, thousands of people have
claimedto be prophets. The problem is that their messages,
supposedly revealed by God, often contradict one another. Hence, unless we’re
willing to grant that God has Multiple Personality Disorder,we
can’t accept what someone says just because he claims to be a prophet. We need
to examine such people to see whether we can trust their
When confronted with someone claiming to speak for God, there are
three main possibilities we should consider. First, the person might be getting
revelations from his own mind. This doesn’t necessarily mean that he is
intentionally inventing things. He may sincerely believe that he is a prophet,
and yet his teachings may have a purely human origin. Second, the person might
be getting revelations from demonic sources. If demons exist and can influence
people, a person who claims to be a prophet could be deceived by demons. Third,
the revelation may actually come from God, in which case everyone should submit
In this article, we will sift through the facts to see if we can
determine the origin of Muhammad’s revelations. Did they come from Muhammad’s
own mind? Did they come from demons? Did they come from God? Let’s consider the
I. ALL TOO HUMAN
In many ways, Islam seems like a religion that came from the mind of a
caravan trader in seventh-century Arabia. Here we may reflect on various
teachings and practices that were present during Muhammad’s time and which
became a part of the fabric of Islam. Jewish monotheism had spread into many
communities in Arabia, along with biblical and extra-biblical stories about
Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. Peculiar teachings about Jesus and Mary
that certain quasi-Christian cults believed in (e.g. Jesus speaking at birth,
Jesus giving life to clay birds, Mary giving birth under a palm tree, etc.) had
taken firm root in Arabia. The Sabians, who are mentioned in the Qur’an, prayed
at all five of the times Muslims pray during their daily prayers. Many of the
polytheists of Arabia performed ablutions (ceremonial washings), prayed facing
Mecca, took an annual pilgrimage to Mecca, circled the Ka’aba, and kissed a
black stone that supposedly fell from heaven. All of these teachings and
practices became a part of Islam, which means that Islam is exactly the sort of
religion we would expect to arise in seventh century Mecca. So right from the
beginning, we have good reasons to think that Islam had a merely human
origin—the mind of a man deeply affected by the teachings and practices that
But we have other reasons to believe that the true origin of Islam was
the mind of Muhammad. Take, for instance, Muhammad’s self-serving revelations.
According to the Qur’an (4:3), Muslims can marry up to four women. But we know
from history that Muhammad had far more than four wives. The early Muslim
historian al-Tabari says that Muhammad consummated marriages with thirteen
women.i We also
know from references in Sahih al-Bukhari (Islam’s most trusted source on the
life of Muhammad) that he had at least nine wives at one
time.ii So if
the Qur’an says that men are allowed to have no more than four wives, why did
Muhammad get more? As it turns out, Muhammad received another revelation
(33:50) which gave him, and him only, special moral privileges—namely, the
right to marry more women. Since human beings tend to feed their desires, this
looks like a very human revelation.
But 33:50 wasn’t the only morally convenient revelation Muhammad
received.The prophet of Islam had an adopted son named Zaid. One
day, Muhammad went to visit him and was greeted by Zaid’s wife, Zaynab, who was
one of the most beautiful women in Arabia.Muhammad saw Zaynab
practically naked, and Muslim sources report that his desire was aroused. When
Zaynab found out that Muhammad was attracted to her, she began to despise her
husband. Zayd divorced her, and Muhammad married the former wife of his adopted
son. This sort of marriage wasn’t allowed at the time, but once again, Muhammad
started receiving revelations to justify his behavior (see 33:5 and 33:37).
This seems entirely human.
II. SPIRITUAL ISSUES
So we have good reasons to think that the origin of Muhammad’s message
was his own seventh century Meccan mind. But we should also look to see if
there might be something darker at work. Here we find plenty of evidence
suggesting that forces beyond Muhammad were involved in his
Islam seems to be designed to keep people from believing in the true
Gospel. The core of the Christian Gospel consists of three doctrines: (1) Jesus
is the divine Son of God, who (2) died on the cross, and (3) rose from the
dead. These are the key elements of the Gospel according to the New Testament.
Yet we’re also told in the New Testament that false prophets would come, and
that they would try to distort this message. Muhammad taught his followers to
reject all three doctrines, and this is exactly what Christians would expect if
Muhammad was led by something demonic. But is there any additional evidence
that Muhammad was susceptible to the influence of evil
We know from Muslim records that when Muhammad began receiving
revelations, his first impression was that he was demon-possessed. We also know
that after his experience in the cave, he became suicidal and tried to hurl
himself off a cliff. Muhammad’s wife Khadijah and her cousin Waraqah—people who
weren’t with him in the cave and had no idea what he experienced—eventually
persuaded him that he wasn’t possessed. Instead, he was a prophet of God. But
this wasn’t Muhammad’s impression of what he
Even more startling is that, according to our earliest Muslim sources,
Muhammad, on at least one occasion, delivered a revelation from the devil. The
story runs as follows.
When Muhammad was preaching in Mecca, he didn’t win very many
converts. But he wanted his countrymen to accept Islam, and he was hoping to
receive a revelation that would help them. Then one day he got the revelation
he was looking for. It said,
Have you not heard of al-Lat and al-Uzza
And Manat, the third, the other?
These are the exalted cranes
Whose intercession is to be hoped
This revelation was originally part of Surah 53. It said that, in
addition to Allah, there are three goddesses that Muslims can pray to: al-Lat,
al-Uzza, and Manat. Muhammad delivered these verses to his followers, he bowed
down in honor of them, and his followers bowed down with him. But a little
later, Muhammad came back and said that these verses (which he had delivered as
part of the Qur’an) weren’t really from God; they were from Satan. The only
conclusion to draw from this is that Muhammad couldn’t tell the difference
between a revelation from God and a revelation from Satan.
But there’s more. We know from multiple sources that Muhammad was the
victim of black magic that made him delusional and gave him false beliefs.
According to Muslim accounts, one of the Jews stole Muhammad’s hairbrush and
used it to cast a spell on him. The spell lasted about a year, and it affected
Muhammad’s memory and gave him delusional
So could demonic powers have been at work in Muhammad’s teachings?
Muhammad’s first impression of his revelations was that he was demon-possessed;
early Muslim sources report that Muhammad delivered revelations from the devil;
a person could give Muhammad delusional thoughts and false beliefs, simply by
getting a hair from his hairbrush. Given such clear evidence of spiritual
problems, it is extremely difficult to take Muhammad’s claims
III. A DIVINE ORIGIN?
So we have good evidence that some of Muhammad’s revelations had a
purely human origin. At the same time, we’ve seen that something much darker
was at work in the formation of Islam. The question before us now is whether we
have any good reason to think that Islam is from God. Is there evidence strong
enough to outweigh the difficulties we’ve seen?Let’s consider the
two most common arguments for the prophethood of Muhammad.
First, Muslims argue that Muhammad’s miraculous scientific insights
are proof that his message was from God. The obvious problem with this argument
is that both the Qur’an and the Hadith are filled with scientific inaccuracies.
In Sahih Al-Bukhari 547, Muhammad tells his followers that if a fly falls into
their drink, they should dip the fly into the drink, because one of the fly’s
wings has a disease, while the other wing has the cure for the disease. While
it’s true that flies spread disease, they certainly don’t have the cures for
these diseases on their wings.
Muhammad told his followers that Adam was 90 feet tall, and that
people have been shrinking since the time of
Adam.v Yet it’s
physically impossible for a human being to be anywhere near that tall, and we
have no evidence that humans have been shrinking since the time of
The Qur’an tells us that the sun sets in a pool of murky water
(18:86), and that stars are missiles that God uses to shoot demons when they
try to sneak into Heaven (67:5). In Surah 27, ants talk to Solomon. In Surah
86, we learn that semen is produced between the ribs and the spine. According
to several verses in the Qur’an, humans come from a clot of blood. All of these
claims are scientifically false.
Muslims, of course, are free to reinterpret these passages. But since
these passages are much clearer than any supposedly scientifically accurate
statements, it’s obvious that Muslim apologists can’t appeal to science as
evidence for their faith.
Second, the central argument of the Qur’an is found in Surah 2:23,
which says, “[I]f you are in doubt as to that which We have revealed to Our
servant, then produce a chapter like it and call on your witnesses besides
Allah if you are truthful.” According to this verse, if a person can’t compose
something similar to a chapter of the Qur’an, he must admit that the Qur’an is
from God. To see how puzzling this claim is, consider one of the shorter
chapters of the Qur’an:
Surely We have given you Kausar, Therefore pray to your Lord and make
a sacrifice. Surely your enemy is the one who shall be without posterity.
Are we supposed to believe that this chapter is so wonderful that
human beings are completely incapable of producing something like it? Such a
claim would be absurd. Yet this was Muhammad’s challenge.
Notice also that if we take the Muslim challenge seriously, many
things turn out to be inspired by God. I can’t compose symphonies like
Mozart’s. Does this mean that Mozart’s symphonies are the inspired music of
God? I can’t write plays like Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet.
Does this mean that the works of Shakespeare are inspired Scripture? Muhammad’s
criterion of truth amounts to “If my poetry is better than your poetry, then my
poetry is from God,” and this simply makes no sense.
There are, of course, other arguments for Islam. Nevertheless, many
Muslims believe that the two arguments we’ve considered provide their strongest
evidence for the prophethood of Muhammad. Even a cursory examination of the
evidence, however, shows that these arguments fail miserably.
We’ve seen thatIslam looks like a mixture of Jewish
teachings, heretical Christian teachings, and pagan practices, and that some of
Muhammad’s revelations apparently had no purpose but to satisfy his desires. We
therefore have good evidence that certain Qur’anic teachings had a purely human
origin. We’ve also seen thatIslam seems as if it was designed to
keep people from the Gospel, that Muhammad’s first impression of his
revelations was that he was demon-possessed, that he admittedly delivered a
revelation from the devil, and that he was a victim of black magic. This gives
us good reason to suppose that demonic forces were at work in Muhammad’s
ministry. Since we have no evidence that Muhammad received any of his
revelations from God, we can only conclude that Muhammad was a false prophet,
and that anyone who wants to follow the truth will have to look somewhere other
Tabari, “the Messenger of God married fifteen women and consummated his
marriage with thirteen. He combined eleven at a time and left behind nine”
(The History of al-Tabari, Volume IX: The Last Years of the Prophet,
Ismail K. Poonawala, tr. [Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990],
ii “Anas bin
Malik said, ‘The Prophet used to visit all his wives in a round,
during the day and night and they were eleven in number.’ I asked Anas, ‘Had
the Prophet the strength for it?’ Anas replied, ‘We used to say that the
Prophet was given the strength of thirty (men).’ And Sa'id said on the
authority of Qatada that Anas had told him about nine wives only (not eleven)”
(Sahih al-Bukhari, Number 268).
iii See Ibn
Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah (Life of Muhammad), A. Guillaume, trans.
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1955), pp. 165-6.
v See Sahih
al-Bukhari 3326 and Sahih Muslim 6809.
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