How should we take the phrase, “unlettered prophet (1)” ?

The Details of the Question
How should we take the phrase, “unlettered prophet (1)” ?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

The word unlettered refers to “someone who has had no worldly education of any sort.”

The Prophet’s (PBUH) community must have understood this subtlety in this unletteredness so well that they recall the Lofty Prophet (PBUH) especially in Tarawih prayers with this quality of his while uttering benedictions on him: The Prophet, the Unlettered.

This Lofty Prophet (PBUH) was involved in no evil deed. He was free from any sort of passions, tricks, traps of the world. Allah (SWT) prepared and trained him as a bright mirror without stain, dust, whatsoever. On this mirror of purity, which is called “unletteredness,” the revelation manifested itself. “This Person, by traversing time and space with his pure soul, which is the reflection of the divine revelation, went into deepest degrees of time and narrated as he saw.”  Isharat al-I’jaz, (The Signs of Miraculousness) by Bediuzzaman

The Lord of the realms did not let anybody tutor him. He did not permit it with his Divine determining and will. His reading was postponed till the command of “Read.” Having received this command, the Prophet, the Unlettered (PBUH) instructed mankind about the Qur’an. He (PBUH) read the book of universe through his Lord’s name. He taught people about the wisdoms, subtle meanings, and purposes in it. He told about the nature, truth, and duty of man.

While he was reading the Hereafter, the throne of Allah (SWT), the Preserved Tablet (2), the polytheists were busy worshipping the idols they made with their hands. They were able to read neither the universe, nor themselves, nor the idols they made. If they had been able to read, they would not have committed themselves to those stones. Their literate ones were the most obstinate and ignorant ones.

If we did not understand well and evaluate correctly the command of “read” of Islam, we would need to proclaim those believers who did not attend any school to be rebels in the face of this definite command. This is impossible… The Qur’an informs us that the Prophet, the Unlettered did not speak through his passions, that is, it is Allah (SWT) Who undertakes this. What else should that Glorious Prophet (PBUH) have read, whose every word was dependent on the divine will? 


1- The Unlettered Prophet: The Unlettered Prophet does not refer to a state of illiteracy as we know it with its lexical meaning. Yes, actually he was illiterate, that is, he was able to neither write nor read. However, the phrase “The Unlettered Prophet”, which today most Muslims use, refers to a state which characterizes itself with having no worldly education, and which means that his education and tutoring were provided by Allah Almighty Himself.    

2- The Preserved Tablet: The original Arabic name of this term is “lahw al-mahfuz,” which refers to an abstract area, whose true nature can only be known by its Maker, where the things that happened and are to happen have been pre-ordained and kept inside. 

Alaâddin Başar (Prof. Dr.)

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