Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

A Muslim Scholar’s Incriminating Statements on Islam Pt. 1

Muhammad’s Suicide Attempts

Sam Shamoun

This begins a series of posts where we examine the published works and lectures of Jonathan A. C. Brown, a Muslim convert and Georgetown University professor who comes highly recommended by Paul Bilal Williams, as can be seen from the following posts:

And here is what one commenter said concerning Brown:

Muhammad Al-Hakeem

April 7, 2013 at 9:54 pm

That young scholar is brilliant, mashā’ Allāh! He came to Egypt and appeared on TV discussing Sharia and secularism with an Egyptian secularist, and he was just another R&R Muslim who stunned me with his eloquent Arabic! 

The quotations which we will be using come from Brown’s short introduction to the subject of Muhammad titled, “Muhammad: A Very Short Introduction,” published by Oxford University Press Inc., New York 2011. This is a work that Williams highly recommends.

Williams even includes it in his recommended reading list.

Speaking of Muhammad’s first encounter with the spirit that mentally and emotionally manhandled him, Brown writes:

“… and at the moment Muhammad was overcome with terror. What had just happened? Was he mad? He hurried down the rocky slope towards the lit houses of Mecca. What would his tribe say if he told them of this? Surely he was insane or possessed. He considered throwing himself off the mountain, but suddenly the figure appeared again to him in the form of a man who stood astride the horizon. ‘O Muhammad, you are the messenger of God, and I am the archangel Gabriel’, it proclaimed.

“Muhammad struggled back to Khadija and told her ‘Indeed I hear a voice and see a light, and I fear that I am mad.’ She comforted him, saying ‘God would never afflict you with this, since you are known for your truthfulness, character and kindness.’ Khadija took Muhammad to see her cousin, Waraqa, a Christian who was well versed in the scriptures.” (Brown, pp. 12-13; bold emphasis ours)

Related to this issue of Muhammad’s suicide attempts, Brown goes on to mention how some of the later Muslim scholars expunged these rather embarrassing and at times humiliating stories from earlier Islamic works, such as the Sira of Ibn Ishaq:

“The earliest Islamic historical writing built on these interests. Muslim scholars compiled reports about the campaigns, or maghazi, of the Prophet and his Companions. Books of genealogy, ansab, were also composed. Muslims with Jewish or Zoroastrian backgrounds devoted special attention to stories of earlier prophets, known as qasas. In addition, Muslim scholars attempted to trace when and where various Quranic verses had been revealed in order to understand their meaning. Such works on Quranic commentary were known as tafsir.

“Ibn Ishaq drew on all this material in composing his Sira. With the exception of a few scraps of papyrus and parchment, however, no original copy of the Sira has survived until today.

“Furthermore, we do not even have a complete copy made of Ibn Ishaq’s original book. Instead, what we have is an edition of the Sira produced decades later by an Egyptian scholar named Ibn Hisham (d. 833). Ibn Hisham found some of the material that Ibn Ishaq included objectionable, such as the story of the Prophet contemplating suicide after his first revelation and the Satanic verses (see below). He removed such reports as well as the entire first section of the work, which covered the history of the world (from a very Abrahamic point of view) from Adam and Eve until Muhammad’s birth. Ibn Hisham also added his own selection of stories about Muhammad. Nevertheless, modern historians have tried to reconstruct Ibn Ishaq’s original work by locating his reports in other Muslim historical works of the 9th and 10th centuries.

Ibn Hisham’s edition of the Sira became the most widely read and influential biography of the Prophet. Other Muslim scholars wrote siras, both before and after that of Ibn Ishaq/Ibn Hisham. The early Muslim historians al-Zuhri (d. 742), Wahb bin Munabbih (d. 732), and Abu Ma’shar (d. 780) compiled siras that Ibn Ishaq sometimes consulted in his work. The biography of Muhammad written by the 14th-century Syrian scholar Ibn Kathir (d. 1373) gained a great deal of popularity, but no work has been as definitive as Ibn Hisham’s edition of the Sira. It became the reference for the basic chronology for the Prophet’s life (for example, when the night journey occurred). Furthermore, this Sira accords with and represents orthodox Sunni Islam, but it also has tremendous popular appeal. One 13th-century scholar even named Ibn Hisham’s book in poetry form.” (Ibid., Chapter 2: Shaping Muhammad in history, pp. 66-67; bold emphasis ours)

We will have more to say in regards to the Satanic verses in the second part of our series. Finally:

“Perhaps the only report that gives us a glimpse of the Prophet’s inner ruminations is his terror upon seeing Gabriel for the first time, his thoughts of suicide, and ultimate refuge with his loving wife. It is no accident that the mention of suicide, present in Ibn Ishaq’s original Sira, was removed in Ibn Hisham’s more orthodox edition. That Muhammad could have doubted his calling or thought of suicide was unacceptable to Muslim scholars.” (Ibid., p. 100; bold emphasis ours) 

Brown isn’t the only scholar or authority who accepts the historicity of Muhammad’s attempt of killing himself after his initial encounter with a spirit being.(1)

Here is a list of sources which mention Muhammad’s suicidal tendencies after his traumatic and demoralizing experience:

I. The beginning of the revelation to the Messenger of Allah was the true dream

6581. 'Urwa related that 'A'isha said, "The beginning [of the revelation] to the Messenger of Allah took the form of the true dream in sleep. Whenever he had a dream, it was clear like the break of day. He used to go to Hira' and there he devoted himself to worship for a number of nights. He took provisions with him for that. Then he would return to Khadija and take provisions for the like of that again. This continued until the Truth came to him suddenly while he was in the Cave of Hira'. The angel came to him in it and said, 'Read!'

"The Prophet said, ‘I said, "I do not read." He seized me and squeezed me until all the strength went out of me and then released me and said, "Read!" I said, "I do not read." Then he seized me and squeezed me a second time until all the strength when out of me and then released me and said, "Read!" I said, "I do not read." Then he seized me and squeezed me a third time and then released me, and then he said, "Read in the name of your Lord who created man from a blood clot. Read, and your Lord is the Most Generous. He Who taught the use of the Pen" and the ayats up to "Taught man which he knew not." (96:1-5)’'

"He returned with that and his heart was quaking. He went to Khadija and said, ‘Wrap me up! Wrap me up!’ They wrapped him up until the STATE OF TERROR had left him and then he said to Khadija, ‘What is wrong with me?’ He told her what had happened and said, ‘I am afraid for myself.’ She said, ‘No, it is good news. By Allah, Allah would never bring disgrace upon you. You maintain ties of kinship, speak the truth, bear people's burdens, give hospitality to your guests and help those who have been afflicted by calamities.’

"Then Khadija then went with him to Waraqa ibn Nawfal ibn Asad ibn ‘Abdu'l-‘Uzza ibn Qusayy, Khadija’s cousin (the son of her father's brother), who had become Christian during the Jahiliyya. He could write in Arabic and wrote as much of the Gospel in Arabic as Allah willed. He was an old man who had gone blind. Khadija said to him, ‘Cousin! Listen to your nephew.’ Waraqa asked him, ‘Nephew, what have you seen?’ The Messenger of Allah told him what he had seen. Waraqa said to him, ‘This is the Namus [Jibril] which Allah sent to Musa. I wish that I were still young. I wish I might still be alive when your people drive you out!’ The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, ‘Will they drive me out?’ Waraqa said, ‘Yes, no man has brought anything similar to what you have brought without being treated with hostility. If I am still alive on that day, I will give you my strong support.’

"Shortly after that, Waraqa died and there was a pause in the revelation until the Prophet became so sad that we heard that his sorrow several times made him want to throw himself off the tops of the mountains. Whenever he reached the peak of a mountain, Jibril would appear to him and say, ‘Muhammad, you are truly the Messenger of Allah.’ So his agitation was stilled by that and he would be at peace and then would return home. When the gap in the revelation was long for him, and he was moved to act as before. When he reached the peak of he mountain, Jibril would appear before him and say the like of that to him."

Ibn ‘Abbas said that "(faliq al-isbagh) It is He Who splits the sky at dawn," (6:96) is the light of the sun in the day and the light of the moon at night. (Aisha Bewley, The Sahih Collection of al-Bukhari, 95. Book of Dream Interpretation; capital and underline emphasis ours)

“Ahmad b. ‘Uthman, known as Abu al-Jawza – Wahb b. Jarir – his father – al-Nu‘man b. Rashid – al-Zuhri – ‘Urwah – ‘A’ishah: The first form in which the revelation came to the Messenger of God was true vision; this used to come to him like the break of dawn. After that, he grew to love solitude and used to remain in a cave on Hira’ engaged in acts of devotion for a number of days before returning to his family. Then he would return to his family and supply himself with provisions for a similar number of days. This continued until the Truth came to him unexpectedly, and said: ‘Muhammad, you are the Messenger of God.’ [Describing what happened next], the Messenger of God said, ‘I had been standing, but fell to my knees; and crawled away, my shoulders trembling. I went to Khadijah and said, “Wrap me up! Wrap me up!” When the terror had left me, he came to me and said, “Muhammad, you are the Messenger of God.”’

He (Muhammad) said: I had been thinking of hurling myself down from a mountain crag, but he appeared to me, as I was thinking about this, and said, ‘Muhammad, I am Gabriel and you are the Messenger of God.’ Then he said, ‘Recite!’ I said, ‘What shall I recite?’ He took me and pressed me three times tightly until I was nearly stifled and was utterly exhausted; then he said, ‘Recite in the name of your Lord who created,’ and I recited it. Then I went to Khadijah and said, ‘I have been in fear for my life.’ When I told her what happened she said, ‘Rejoice, for God will never put you to shame, for you treat your kinsfolk well, tell the truth, deliver what is entrusted to you, endure fatigue, offer hospitality to the guest, and aid people in misfortunate.’…

“Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Malik b. Abi al-Shawarib – ‘Abd al-Wahid b. Ziyad – Sulayman al-Shaybani – ‘Abd Allah b. Shaddad: Gabriel came to Muhammad and said, "O Muhammad recite!" He said, ‘I cannot recite.’ GABRIEL WAS VIOLENT TOWARDS HIM and then said again, ‘O Muhammad recite!’ He said, ‘I cannot recite,’ AND GABRIEL AGAIN WAS VIOLENT TOWARDS HIM…” (The History of al-Tabari – Muhammad at Mecca, translated and annotated by W. Montgomery Watt & M.V. McDonald [State University of New York Press (SUNY), Albany 1988], Volume VI, pp. 67-69; bold and capital emphasis ours)

“Then he went to Khadijah and said, ‘Khadijah, I think that I have gone mad.’ No, by God,’ she said, ‘Your Lord would never do that to you. You have never committed a wicked act.’ Khadijah went to Waraqa b. Nawful and told him what had happened. He said, ‘If what you say is true, your husband is a prophet. He will meet adversity from his people. If I live long enough, I shall believe in him.’

"After this, Gabriel did not come to him for a while, and Khadijah said to him, ‘I think that your Lord MUST HAVE COME TO HATE YOU.’ Then God revealed to him:

By the forenoon, and by the night, when it is still, your Lord has not forsaken you, nor does he hate you.

“… I recited it, and then he desisted and departed I woke up, and it was as though these words had been written on my heart. There was no one of God’s creation more hateful to me than a poet or a madman; I could not bear to look at either of them. I said to myself, ‘Your humble servant (meaning himself) is either a poet or a madman, but Quraysh shall never say this of me. I shall take myself to a mountain crag, hurl myself down from it, kill myself, and find relief in that way.’” (Ibid., pp. 70-71; bold, capital and underline emphasis ours)

"Al-Bukhari stated in his account given above, "then the revelation waned, so that the Messenger of God was so depressed, as we have been told, that he would often feel like throwing himself down from the summits of high mountains. Whenever he reached the top of a mountain to throw himself down, Gabriel would appear to him and say, ‘O Muhammad, you are in truth the Messenger of God.’ This would relieve his distress and he would return down. And if the revelation was again long in coming, he would feel and do the same. When he would reach the mountain summit, Gabriel would appear and speak to him as before." (Ibn Kathir, The Life of the Prophet Muhammad (Al-Sira al-Nabawiyya), translated by professor Trevor Le Gassick, reviewed by Dr. Ahmed Fareed [Garnet Publishing Limited, 8 Southern Court, south Street Reading RG1 4QS, UK; The Center for Muslim Contribution to Civilization, 1998], Volume I, pp. 298-299)

Some time thereafter, Waraqah died and the revelation ceased to come.

There is some disagreement as to how much time elapsed before the revelation began to come again; some say it was three years, while others say it was less than this. The most probable figure, however, is that given by al-Bayhaqi, namely, six months. Al-Bukhari relates a hadith on the authority of Jabir ‘Abdullah concerning the period during which the revelation came. Jabir relates that the Prophet said… And why was he afraid for himself, suspicious that what had appeared to him in the cave might be an apparition from the world of demons, rather than thinking it more likely that this was a trustworthy angel from God? Moreover, why was the revelation withheld from him for such a long period of time after this – a fact which caused the Prophet such distress that, according to al-Bukhari, he used to consider throwing himself down from the tops of mountains?…

We get an even clearer sense of the frightening surprise which he experienced if we ponder the fact that he imagined that the figure he had seen in the cave, and which had embraced him and spoken to him, had come from the world of the jinn. As we have seen, he told Khadijah, "I was afraid for myself" – that is, of harm by the jinn. However, she reassured him that due to his virtuous morals and praiseworthy qualities, he was not someone who could be harmed by demons or jinn… It was decreed by the divine wisdom that the angel who had once appeared to him in the Cave of Hira’ should be withheld from him for a long time, and that he should suffer intense anxiety on this account. His anxiety was so great, in fact, that he began to fear that God Almighty had abandoned him due to some evil he had committed. He suffered such torment over this that whenever he found himself on a mountain top, he was tempted to throw himself down from it. One day, however, he saw the same angel that he had seen at Hira’. His form was filling the expanse between heaven and earth, he said, "O Muhammad, you are God’s messenger to the people." Once again, he came home with fear and dread… (Dr. M. Sa’id Ramadan al-Buti, The Jurisprudence of the Prophetic Biography & A Brief History of the Orthodox Caliphate, translated by Nancy Roberts, revised by Anas al-Rifa’i [Dar al Fikr in Damascus, Reprinted 2006], pp. 140, 142, 144, 145; bold and underline emphasis ours)

Subsiding of the Revelations

Muhammad expected the revelations to guide his path from day to day, but they subsided. Gabriel did not appear for some time, and all around him there was nothing but silence. Muhammad fell into solitude, separated from himself as well as from the people. His old fears recurred. It is told that even Khadijah said to him, "Does it not seem that your Lord is displeased with you?" Dismayed and frightened, he returned to the mountain and the cave of Hira'. There, he prayed for God fervently, seeking assiduously to reach Him. Particularly, he wanted to ask God about the cause of this divine displeasure. Khadijah did not dread these days any less than Muhammad, nor was she any less fearful. Often Muhammad wished to die, but he would again feel the call and the command of his Lord which dispelled such ideas. It was also told that he once thought of throwing himself down from the top of Mount Hira' or Mount Abu Qubays, thinking what good was this life if his greatest hope therein was to be frustrated and destroyed? Torn between these fears on one hand and despair on the other, revelation came to him after a long interval. The word of God was as clear as it was reassuring:

"By the forenoon, and by the night as it spreads its wings over the world in peace, your Lord has not forsaken you; nor is He displeased with you. Surely, the end shall be better for you than the beginning. Your Lord will soon give you of His bounty and you will be well pleased. Did He not find you an orphan and give you shelter? Did He not find you erring and guide you to the truth? Did He not find you in want and provide for you? Do not, therefore, oppress the orphan nor turn away whosoever seeks your help. And the bounty of your Lord, always proclaim."[Qur'an, 93:1-11]

The Call to Truth Alone

Oh, what divine majesty, what peace of mind, what joy of heart and exaltation to the soul! Muhammad's fears dissolved and his dread was dissipated. He was overjoyed with this fresh evidence of his Lord's blessing and fell down in worship to God and praise of Him. There was no more reason to fear, as Khadijah had done, that God was displeased with him, and there was no cause for his dread. God had now taken him under His protection and removed from him every doubt and fear. Henceforth there was to be no thought of suicide but only of a life dedicated to calling men unto God and unto God alone… (The Life of Muhammad, by Muhammad Husayn Haykal, Translated by Isma'il Razi A. al-Faruqi, pp. 141-142) 

Interruption of Revelation

Ibn Sa‘d reported on the authority of Ibn ‘Abbas that the Revelation paused for a few days.[1] After careful study, this seems to be the most possible. To say that it lasted for three and a half years, as some scholars allege, is not correct, but here there is no room to go into more details.

Meanwhile, the Prophet was caught in a sort of depression coupled with astonishment and perplexity.

In the Book of Dreams, Al-Bukhari reported that the Divine inspiration paused for a while and the Prophet became so sad, as we have heard, that he intended several times to throw himself from the tops of high mountains.

Every time he went up the top of a mountain in order to throw himself down, Gabriel would appear before him and say: “O Muhammad! You are indeed Allah’s Messenger in truth," whereupon his heart would become quiet and he would calm down and return home.

Whenever the period of the coming of the Revelation used to become long, he would do as before, but Gabriel would appear again before him and say to him what he had said before.[2]

[1] Fath Al-Bari, 1/27, 12/360]

[2] Sahih al-Bukhari, 2/340] (Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum (The Sealed Nectar): Memoirs of the Noble Prophet, by Safi-ur-Rahman al-Mubarakpuri, Translated by Issam Diab Maktaba [Dar-us-Salam Publishers and Distributors, Revised edition: January 2002], pp. 88-89; See also p. 44 of this version of the book; bold emphasis ours)

“… Bukhari added: Until the Prophet felt grief about what has reached us, such a grief that he went out several mornings in that mood, so that he might destroy himself from the heights of the hills. Whenever he ascended on the submit[sic] of a hill in order to cast himself down therefrom, Gabriel appeared before him and said: O Muhammad! you are truly the Apostle of Allah. On that account, his commotion of heart became calm and his soul was set at rest.2459d -Bukhari.”

2559d[sic]. In the period of cessation of revelation, the Holy Prophet was overwhelmed with deep regret owing to the stop of revelation. He wished sometimes that he would destroy himself rather than suffer the pangs of the absence of Divine Communion. It appears from this tradition that Gabriel appeared sometimes to the Prophet and consoled him in the period of cessation but he did not take revelation with him at those times. (An English Translation & Commentary With the Arabic Text of Mishkat-ul-Masabih, by Maulana Fazlul Karim [Islamic Education Center Publishers & Booksellers, Improved Edition 1998], Book IV, Chapter XLIV, Section 4. His Prophethood and Revelation, Number 77, p. 359)    

In his Saheeh, Bukharee mentioned that the Prophet became so sad and confused that he went a number of times to jump down from the peaks of mountains. Each time he reached the peak of a mountain and intended to jump off of it, Jibreel appeared to him and said, “O Muhammad, indeed you are truly the Messenger of Allah.” Jibreel’s appearance and words had the effect of calming and soothing the Messenger of Allah, and he would then return to Makkah. But when the period of waiting became even more prolonged, he went again to the peak of a mountain, and again Jibreel appeared before him and spake similarly reassuring words.[2]

[2] Refer to Saheeh Bukharee, “The Beginning of Revelation”; chapter, “The True Dream was the First Form of Revelation which the Messenger of Allah was Introduced.” (The Noble Life of the Prophet, by Dr. ‘Ali Muhammad As-Sallaabee, translated by Faisal Shafeeq [Darussalam Publishers & Distributors, First Edition: October 2005], Volume 1, p. 151)

Despite having a problem with the story of Muhammad attempting to kill himself, this next renowned Muslim scholar and jurist included it anyway since he recognized its pedigree:

“Ibn Ishaq related that one of the Salaf said that the Prophet mentioned his experience in the cave of Hira’ and said, ‘He came to me when I was asleep and said, “Recite!” I said, “What shall I recite?”’

“There is a similar hadith from ‘A’isha which states that Jibril seized him and recited the sura to him, ‘Recite in the name of your Lord.’ (96:1) Then he said, ‘He left me and I woke up and it was as if something had been taken from my heart. Now nothing was more hateful to me than a poet or someone possessed. I said, “Quraysh will never say this of me! I shall go to the top of a mountain and throw myself off and kill myself.” While I was intending to that, I heard a voice calling from heaven saying, “O Muhammad, you are the Messenger of Allah and I am Jibril.” I looked up and there was Jibril in the form of a man.’

“It is clear from this that what he said and what he intended to do occurred before he met Jibril and before Allah had informed him of his prophethood, his being made known and being chosen for the message.

“This is similar to the hadith from ‘Amr ibn Shurahbil in which the Prophet is reported as saying to Khadija, ‘Since I have been in retreat, I have heard a voice and I fear, by Allah, that this is due to some foolishness on my part.’1

“Hammad ibn Salama said that the Prophet said, ‘I hear a voice and see a light and I fear that there is some MADNESS in me.’2

“According to this, if it is true that he said ‘the most hateful thing to me is a poet or one possessed’ or phrases which imply doubt in the truth of what he saw, all of that was at the beginning of his affair before the angel met him and informed him from Allah that he was His Messenger. But how can it be so, when some of these things have not come by sound paths of transmission?…

“Ma’mar ibn Rashid al-Yamani spoke about the gap in the revelation. We have heard that the Prophet was so sad that he went out at times to throw himself off a mountain. Ma’mar did not give an isnad or mention the line of transmission for what he said. It could only be possibly applied to the Prophet at the very beginning of his affair or because of the denial of his message by those to whom he conveyed it. It is as Allah says, “Perhaps you will consume yourself with grief over them if they do not believe in these words.” (18:6)

“This interpretation is confirmed by the hadith which Sharik ibn ‘Abdullah an-Nakh’i related from ‘Abdullah ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Aqil from Jabir ibn ‘Abdullah. When the idol-worshippers gathered in the Dar an-Nadwa to consult about the Prophet and agreed that they should say that he was a sorcerer, that was difficult for to bear, and he wrapped himself in his garment, enshrouding himself in it. Jibril came to him and said, “O enwrapped!” and, “O enshrouded!” (73 and 74) 

“Or he might have feared that the gap was due in some way to himself and thus feared that it was a punishment from his Lord. No rejection of this possibility has come which would cause it to be objected to…” (Qadi 'Iyad Musa al-Yahsubi, Muhammad Messenger of Allah (Ash-Shifa of Qadi 'Iyad), translated by Aisha Abdarrahman Bewley [Madinah Press, Inverness, Scotland, U.K. 1991; third reprint, paperback], pp. 283-285; capital and underline emphasis ours)

1. Al-Bayhaqi.

2. At-Tabarani. (Ibid., p. 284)

With the foregoing in view, it is time for us to now move to Brown’s discussion of the “Satanic Verses".


Further Reading

Analysing the defences offered by the charlatan advocates of Muhammad
Sunni Hadith About the Prophet Contemplating Suicide
Reexamining Satan’s Influence and Control over Muhammad Pt. 2 



(1) Sadly, we still find Muslims today (1; 2) who are so embarrassed by Muhammad’s suicidal bouts that they are willing to go as far as distort the Islamic sources or rewrite history in order to avoid having to deal with the ramifications that such suicidal tendencies have on Muhammad’s mental sanity and prophetic claims.