The illiteracy of the Prophet (Allah’s prayers be upon him and his Holy Family)

What does the Quranic word "ummi" (the illiterate) attributed to the Prophet (Allah’s prayers be upon him and upon his Immaculate Family) mean? Why were the Arabs described as "ummeyyin" (the illiterate people)?

Most Quran commentaries, as well as lexica, explain the word "ummi" (illiterate) as the person that "does not read and write," while some interpret it as the person "that does not read the book." Some modern commentaries attribute it to "Oumam" meaning nations. Early narrators and old commentaries assert the word "ummiyyin" (the illiterate people) to the Arabs that "did not have/read a Holy book."

This paper refutes the claims, that the Prophet (Allah’s prayers be upon him and upon his Immaculate Family) was able to read and write, by elucidating the meaning of the word "ummi" (the illiterate) mentioned in the Holy Quran. Is it attributed to "umm" (mother) or "umma" (nation) or "ama" (maid)? Is it related to the illiteracy of the Prophet and his people and their unknowingness of reading and writing? This paper also aims at answering the related questions by the deduction of the Quranic text, especially the verses in which the word "ummi" is attributed to the Prophet or these in which the Jews call the Arabs "ummeyyin." In this approach, we build on the hadith and the views of interpreters and researchers to explain the meaning of the two words. Especially as the logic and historical facts prove that Arabs were neither all illiterate, nor Jews were all literate.

  • - Prof. Dr. Dalal Hassan Abbas
  • - Lebanon/ The Lebanese University