Reexamining Satan’s Influence and Control over Muhammad

Being a Response to a Muslim Dawagandist’s Defense of his prophet’s bewitchment

Sam Shamoun

This is the second part of our response

The Spirit Revealed and Muhammad’s Suicide Attempts Revisited

According to the ahadith Muhammad’s first direct encounter with the spirit left him traumatized and suicidal. In fact, the spirit was very violent towards Muhammad, manhandling him both emotionally and physically:

I. The beginning of the revelation to the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, was the true dream

6581. 'Urwa related that 'A'isha said, "The beginning [of the revelation] to the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, 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; source; 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)

Realizing the serious damage and major problems that the story of Muhammad’s suicide attempts create for his cause Jalal decides to go into damage control and throws al-Bukhari under the bus!

k. The suicide story is a lie. Al-Bukhari collected this story as Balaghan, i.e., without a continuous chain of narration. (p. 10)

It seems that Jalal is basing this on the fact that the story of Muhammad wanting to commit suicide is based on a narration from Ibn Shihab az-Zuhri. This has led some Muslims to question its authenticity:

This conclusion excludes the chainless, broken-chained reports, or unattibuted reports sometimes adduced by al-Bukhari in his chapter-titles or appended to certain narrations. An example of the latter is the so-called "suicide hadith" - one of al-Zuhri's unattributive narrations (balaghat) which is actually broken-chained and therefore weak. It does not meet the criteria of hadith authenticity used by the lesser and greater hadith Masters, much less that of al-Bukhari who mentioned it only to show its discrepancy with two other chains whose versions omit the attempted suicide story, and Allah knows best. (Shaykh Gibril Foaud Haddad, Weak Hadiths in Sahih al-Bukhari?; source)

There are several problems with this assertion. First, Muslims such as Jalal do not hesitate to narrate from az-Zuhri when it is convenient for them to do so:

In another narration for this authentic Hadeeth, Ibn Shihab az-Zuhri, a student of the Prophet’s companions, added afterwards, the Prophet forbade the killing of women and children; (A Sahih Hadeeth; Sahih Abi Dawud [2672]) (Abualrub, Muhammad: The Prophet of Mercy –50 New & Humane Concepts Brought by Muhammad, edited by Alaa Mencke [Madinah Publishers and Distributors, June 2007; source], p. 113)

Now Jalal may object and say that az-Zuhri’s statements in this particular narrative satisfy the criteria of authenticity (sahih) whereas the one from al-Bukhari does not. This leads us to our second point.

It is often claimed that al-Bukhari was the most careful collector of Muslim traditions, omitting thousands of hadiths that did not meet his strict specifications of authenticity. For example, notice what Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan says concerning Al-Bukhari's hadith collection:

It has been UNANIMOUSLY AGREED that Imam Bukhari's work is the most authentic of all the other works in Hadith literature PUT TOGETHER. The authenticity of Al-Bukhari's work is such that the religious learned scholars of Islam said concerning him: "The most authentic book after the Book of Allah (i.e., Al-Qur'an) is Sahih Al-Bukhari." …

Before he recorded each Hadith he would make ablution and offer two Rak’at prayer and supplicate his Lord (Allah). Many religious scholars of Islam tried to find fault in the great remarkable collection- Sahih Al-Bukhari, BUT WITHOUT SUCCESS. It is for this reason, they UNANIMOUSLY AGREED that the most authentic book after the Book of Allah IS Sahih Al-Bukhari. (Translation of the Meanings of Sahih Al-Bukhari, Arabic-English, translated by Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan, Formerly Director, University Hospital, Islamic University, Al-Madina Al-Munawwara (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia), [Dar-us-Salam Publishers & Distributors, Riyadh-Saudi Arabia, July, 1997], Volume 1, pp. 18-19; bold and capital emphasis ours)

The following citations are taken from the Islamic Awareness team’s response to Andrew Vargo's criticism of Imam al-Bukhari’s collection:

* The two sahīh collections did not gather the totality of the authentic ahādīth as proved by al-Bukhārī's testimony: "I have not included in my book al-Jāmic but what is authentic, and I left out among the authentic for fear of [excessive] length.(Footnote 2)"

Footnote 2 says:

He [al-Bukhārī] meant that he did not mention all the turuq [parallel chains of transmission] for each and every hadīth.[1]

To reiterate this in elementary English for the neophyte, Imām al-Bukhārī selected only a few authentic ahādīth from his vast collection. However, he left out certain traditions, despite their authenticity, simply to avoid excessive length and repetition in his al-Jāmic (a discussion about which is given below). If anything, the privilege to make such a gesture is highly complimentary to the authenticity of the Islamic traditions. In another tradition, Imām al-Bukhārī is also reported to have said:

He said, I heard as-Sacdānī say, I heard some of our companions say, Muhammad Ibn Ismācīl said: I selected/published [the content of] this book - meaning the Sahih book - from about 600,000 hadīths/reports. Abū Sacd al-Mālīnī informed us that cAbdullāh Ibn cUdayy informed us: I heard al-Hasan Ibn al-Husayn al-Bukhārī say: "I have not included in my book al-Jāmic but what is authentic, and I left out among the authentic what I could not get hold of."[2]


Imām al-Bukhārī's collection of ahādīth was maintained to be authentic on account of his authority, and it has been maintained as authentic ever since. The neophyte's assertion, that Imām al-Bukhārī regarded almost 99% of his own collection as spurious, is among the most rash and foolhardy statements ever dared by a Christian missionary. On the contrary, the 7,397 refers to the number of hadīths that Imām al-Bukhārī chose to include in his al-Jāmic and left out many authentic narrations from his vast collection for the fear of excessive length.

…Regardless, we will quote the famous trial of Imām al-Bukhārī to show how Maqlub[8] (changed, reversed) ahadīth can be identified with ease by a scholar of hadīth:

The famous trial of al-Bukhārī by the scholars of Baghdad provides a good example of a Maqlūb isnād. The traditionists, in order to test their visitor, al-Bukhārī, appointed ten men, each with ten ahādīth. Now, each hadīth (text) of these ten people was prefixed with the isnād of another. Imām al-Bukhārī listened to each of the ten men as they narrated their ahādīth and denied the correctness of every hadīth. When they had finished narrating these ahādīth, he addressed each person in turn and recounted to him each of his ahādīth with its correct isnād. This trial earned him great honour among the scholars of Baghdad.[9]

(On The Nature Of Hadith Collections Of Imam Al-Bukhari & Muslim; source; bold and italic emphasis ours)

With the foregoing in perspective it should be abundantly clear that al-Bukhari would not include anything which he suspected was fraudulent or that didn’t meet his criteria for authenticity.(1) Thus, for al-Bukhari to include the story of Muhammad’s suicide attempts means that this report must have met his very strict specifications and was fully convinced of its reliability. This, perhaps, explains why Muslim scholars and expositors such as Ibn Kathir source it with approval:

"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)

And here is a quote from a more recent Muslim scholar:

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)

And yet Jalal wants his readers to actually believe that al-Bukhari was less stringent at this specific point since he decided to quote a questionable report!

Thirdly, we are again left wondering why Muslims would concoct a story which reflects rather negatively on Muhammad. Why would devout Muslims forge a narration of Muhammad trying to commit suicide by throwing himself off a mountaintop, thereby putting a weapon in the hands of the enemies of Islam to discredit him? After all, wasn’t it the tendency of Muslim compilers and scholars to omit, rather than include, such damaging testimonial? Then why did they retain this incriminating report if it wasn’t based on some historical fact?

Jalal further denies that Muhammad thought he was possessed:

b. There is no Hadeeth stating that Muhammad believed he was demon-possessed. The Hadeeth says he feared for himself, "Khasheetu ‘ala nafsi" and states that Khadeejah, his first wife, dismissed these fears and mentioned Muhammad’s magnificent qualities. (p. 9)

The question that Jalal should have immediately asked is, feared for/of what? In order to find the answer we must consult the older source material:

So I read it, and he departed from me. And I awoke from my sleep, and it was though these words were written on my heart. (Tabari: 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 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.’ (The Life of Muhammad – A Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasulallah, with introduction and notes by Alfred Guillaume translation [Oxford University Press, Karachi, Tenth Impression 1995], p. 106; bold and capital emphasis ours)

To make matters worse according to certain reports Muhammad feared that he had gone mad:

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." (The History of al-Tabari: Muhammad at Mecca, Volume VI, pp. 70-71; bold, capital and underline emphasis ours)

In light of the foregoing doesn’t this make it obvious that Jalal will just about say anything or attack his own Islamic sources in order to salvage his prophet’s reputation? And we once again have to ask why would Muslim scholars and expositors fabricate or pass on such forged stories making their prophet look bad? Why propagate this lie (if it really was a lie) that Muhammad thought he was demon-possessed if these authorities didn’t think that this narrative was sound, that it was based on credible information?

On pp. 3-4 Jalal also alluded to Muhammad’s encounter with Waraqa who convinced the former that the same angel who spoke with Moses had now come to commission him.

It never ceases to amaze me how Muslims will often appeal to him to validate Muhammad’s prophethood. After all, for a person who was supposed to be reading the Gospel Waraqa was rather too hasty in assuming that God had sent to Muhammad the same entity that had also appeared to Moses. Waraqa must have known that no genuine Biblical prophet had ever been violated and demoralized by God’s Spirit or holy angels. Besides, Waraqa should have known to test the message brought by this spirit to see if it was in complete agreement with the Gospel that he was reading and had access to. In fact, the New Testament expressly says not to believe every entity but to test them so as to see whether they confess the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ:

"I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I betrothed you to Christ to present you as a pure bride to her one husband. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if some one comes and preaches another Jesus than the one we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you submit to it readily enough… For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds." 2 Corinthians 11:2-4, 13-15

"But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!" Galatians 1:8-9

Interestingly, Waraqa himself wasn’t completely certain at first that the spirit who appeared to Muhammad was Gabriel since he suspected that it might have been Satan or a demon:

"Waraqa was dumbfounded at this, and said, ‘If Gabriel has actually placed his feet upon the earth, he has done so for the best of people thereupon. And he never came down for anyone except a prophet. For he is the companion of all the prophets and messengers, the one whom God sends down to them. I believe what you tell me of him. Send for ‘Abd Allah’s son, so that I may question him, hear what he says and talk to him. I am afraid it may be someone other than Gabriel, for certain devils imitate him and by so doing can mislead and corrupt some men. This can result in a man becoming confused and even crazy whereas before he had been of sound mind.’" (Ibn Kathir, The Life of the Prophet Muhammad (Al-Sira al-Nabawiyya), Volume I, pp. 296-297; bold and underline emphasis ours)

Amazingly, some expositors even admitted that Muhammad had a satan named al-Abyad ("the White") who would appear to him in the form of Gabriel!

"Some of the commentators mention that Muhammad had an enemy from among the demons of the jinns whose name was the White. And he use to appear to him in the image of Gabriel. But some people objected to that because people would not then trust the revelation. But we say that God bestowed on the prophet the necessary knowledge by which he would discern between Gabriel and the demon." (Burhan al-Deen al-Halabi, al-Sira al-Halabiyya, Volume I, p. 58)

Finally, according to the hadith Waraqa died shortly after Muhammad started having these experiences and never got to hear the message that Muhammad would eventually bring. Had he continued to live and actually learned what Muhammad would later preach about Jesus Christ and his Cross, Waraqa may not have been so keen to support him and may have come to the realization that his fears that it was one of the devils who appeared to Muhammad was correct.

Thus, Jalal’s appeal to Waraqa’s testimony is quite misplaced.

This finishes our rebuttal. Lord Jesus willing, more responses to Jalal’s debate material to follow shortly.

Further Reading


(1) One note of caution at this point: Just because al-Bukhari included this anecdote or that it met his criteria of authenticity doesn’t mean that this makes it a genuine event, or that we somehow accept the collection of al-Bukhari as historically reliable. What this means is that those Muslims who do hold al-Bukhari’s collection in very high esteem must contend with the fact that this narrative satisfied his strict and rigorous standards of reliability and cannot simply be dismissed out of hand, like Jalal desperately tries to do. Yet it must be noted that al-Bukhari’s stringent method of authentication cannot at all guarantee that a narration was passed down accurately for over two hundred years, nor can it insure that the names of those who transmitted it actually existed or were reliable preservers of that specific tradition in question.

However, due to what historians call the principle of embarrassment, whenever we find a rather embarrassing story or read statements which portray Muhammad as a murderer, robber, liar, womanizer, a man bewitched and inspired by Satan etc., there is a greater probability that these narratives have some historical credibility behind them, having a higher degree of probability of being based on actual events. After all, which Muslim would forge or fabricate such stories that reflect so poorly on Muhammad’s character and which are a source of major embarrassment?

Moreover, we know that it is the tendency for religious followers to make their founder look much better by embellishing stories concerning him/her. In light of this, whenever we see hadiths making Muhammad look much better than what the Quran says concerning him we are to view these reports with suspicion.

To put this simply, whereas we would expect Muslims to make Muhammad look much better with the passing of time, transforming a mere fallible sinner into a demigod, we wouldn’t expect them to write derogatory things about him which call his integrity into question.

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