Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Revisiting the issue of Muhammad and Epilepsy Pt. 2

Exposing More of Jamal Badawi’s Misinformation

Sam Shamoun 

We continue from where we previously left off

Here is what Britannica says regarding the issue of epilepsy: 

epilepsy, sudden and recurrent disturbances in mental function, state of consciousness, sensory activity, or movements of the body, caused by paroxysmal malfunction of cerebral nerve cells. Epilepsy includes generalized convulsions in which there is sudden unconsciousness with falling and shaking of limbs (grand mal; q.v.) momentary lapses of awareness (petit mal; q.v.), and local movements and sensations in parts of the body (focal seizure; q.v.), as well as other types of activity that may include bizarre automatic behaviour, STRANGE MEMORIES, ILLUSORY AND HALLUCINATORY EXPERIENCES, and changes in mood… Focal onset may be manifested by localized movements or sensations of a part of the body or by subjectively experienced warnings, called auras, that last from a fraction of a second to a few seconds. Auras arising from specific areas of the brain include illusions that the environment is strangely familiar, AUDITORY OR VISUAL HALLUCINATIONS, RINGING IN THE EARS, and unpleasant odours or tastes. Although part of the seizure proper, auras are considered warnings of an impending attack. (The New Encyclopedia Britannica: Micropaedia [Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. 15th edition, 2007], Volume 4. Delusion-Frenssen, p. 525; bold and capital emphasis ours)   

And here is what another reference work on epilepsy states concerning this chronic disorder: 

More than 30 different types of seizures have been identified as accompanying epilepsy (Cavazos & Spitz, 2007). These seizure types are classified into two broad categories: (1) partial seizures, which begin at a single site in the brain and typically affect only one sensory or motor system, and (2) generalized seizures, which occur in both hemispheres of the brain at onset and affect the body bilaterally and symmetrically. Approximately 60% of persons with epilepsy experience partial seizures, which also are known as focal seizures. 

Complex partial seizures may present in a variety of fashions, with the single requirement that consciousness is altered. The alteration of consciousness may be subtle or dramatic and may affect mood, cognition, memory, and personal traits. The classic presentation of a complex partial seizure involves automatisms, which consist of stereotypic or repetitive activities ranging from eye blinking and lip smacking to marching circles and disrobing. In some instances, the person continues to engage in an activity, such as washing dishes, but in a repetitive and unproductive manner. Like simple partial seizures, most complex partial seizures are very short-lived, lasting 15 seconds or less. Once a complex partial seizure has concluded, the affected person is often disoriented, tired, and unable to recall the event.  

Generalized seizures are a heterogeneous group that includes absence seizures and tonic-clonic seizures. Both of these types involve an impairment of consciousness and bilateral motor symptoms. In the classic tonic-clonic seizure, the person’s eyes roll upward into the head, an event that is accompanied by loss of consciousness.

There also may be a grunt or piercing cry, caused by the constriction of the thoracic muscles and forced exhalation through constricted vocal chords. The person then becomes rigid, extending the extremities and arching the back (tonic phase) followed by rhythmic contractions of the extremities (clonic phase). Tonic-clonic seizures are self-limiting and can last from a few seconds to 30 minutes. In absence seizures, there is a brief period of loss of consciousness without the accompanying motor activity. Absence seizures are characterized by momentary lapses of consciousness involving staring, head dropping, loss of facial tone, and in some cases, eyelid fluttering. (The Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology, edited by Irving B. Wiener & W. Edward Craighead [John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Fourth edition 2010], Volume 2. D-L, pp. 586-587; bold emphasis ours)  

Now let us if whether Muhammad exhibited the symptoms typically associated with a person suffering from epilepsy. 

Suffered headaches and fainted. 

Abu Nu‘aym related, from a tradition of Qutayba that ‘Ali b. Ghurab related to him, from al-Ahwas b. Hakim, from Abu ‘Awana, from Sa‘id b. al-Musayyib, from Abu Hurayra, who said, “When revelation came down to the Messenger of God, he would get a headache and would cover his head with the henna plant.” (Ibn Kathir, The Life of the Prophet Muhammad, Vol. I, p. 308; bold and italicized emphasis ours) 

Abu Hurayrah narrated: “When the revelation came from Allah to the Prophet it was as if he had fainted.” (Abu Nu'aym). (As-Suyuti, Tahdhib al-khasa'is al-nabawiyyah al-kubra (“The Awesome Characteristics of the Prophet”) [Iz Publication, Istanbul 2003], p. 300; bold and italicized emphasis ours) 

Experienced violent convulsions and shaking. 

“It was while he was making his annual retreat on Mount Hira’ in about the year 610 that he experienced the astonishing and dramatic attack. The words are squeezed, as if from the depths of his being, went to the root of the problem in Mecca… 

“When Muhammad came to himself, he was so horrified to think, after all his spiritual striving, that he had simply been visited by a jinni that he no longer wanted to live. In despair, he fled from the cave and started to climb to the summit of the mountain TO FLING HIMSELF TO DEATH. But there he had another vision. He saw a mighty being that filled the horizon and stood ‘gazing at him, moving neither forward nor backward.’ He tried to turn away, but, he said afterwards, ‘Towards whatever region of the sky I looked, I saw him as before.’ It was the spirit (ruh) of revelation, which Muhammad would LATER call Gabriel. But this was no pretty, naturalistic angel, but a transcendent presence that defied ordinary human and spatial categories. 

TERRIFIED and still unable to comprehend what had happened, Muhammad stumbled down the mountainside to Khadijah. By the time he reached her, HE WAS CRAWLING ON HIS HANDS AND KNEES, SHAKING CONVULSIVELY. ‘Cover me!’ he cried, as he flung himself into her lap… After the experiences on Mount Hira’, there were more visions–we do not know exactly how many–and then, to Muhammad’s dismay, the divine voice fell silent and there was no further revelations… 

“It was a time of great desolation. Had Muhammad been deluded after all? Was the presence simply a mischievous jinni? Or had God found him wanting and abandoned him? For two long years, the heavens remained obdurately closed and then, suddenly, the darkness was dispersed in a burst of luminous assurance…” (Karen Armstrong, Muhammad: A Prophet for our time [HarperCollins Publishers, 2006], Chapter One. Mecca, pp. 45-49; bold and capital emphasis ours) 

Experienced facial disfiguration/discoloring, and would grunt or moan. 

‘Ubida b. Samit reported that when wahi (inspiration) descended upon Allah’s Messenger, he felt a burden on that account and the colour of his face underwent a change. (Sahih Muslim, Book 030, Number 5766

“Narrated Safwan bin Ya'la bin Umaiya: Ya'la used to say, ‘I wish I could see Allah's apostle at the time he is being inspired Divinely.’ When the prophet was at Al-Ja'rana and was shaded by a garment hanging over him and some of his companions were with him, a man perfumed with scent came and said, ‘O Allah's apostle! What is your opinion regarding a man who assumes Ihram and puts on a cloak after perfuming his body with scent?’ The prophet waited for a while, and then the Divine Inspiration descended upon him. ‘Umar pointed out to Ya'la, telling him to come. Ya'la came and pushed his head (underneath the screen which was covering the prophet) and behold! The prophet's face was red and he kept on breathing heavily for a while and then he was relieved. Thereupon he said, ‘Where is the questioner who asked me about ‘Umra a while ago?’ The man was sought and then was brought before the prophet who said (to him), ‘As regards the scent which you perfumed your body with, you must wash it off thrice, and as for your cloak, you must take it off; and then perform in your 'Umra all those things which you perform in Hajj.’” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 61, Number 508

“… When he (the Prophet) CAME TO HIMSELF GRADUALLY, he asked: Where is the man who asking about umrah? (When the man came) he (the Prophet) said: Wash the perfume which is on you, or he said: (Wash) the mark of saffron (the narrator is doubtful), take off the tunic, then do in your umrah as you do in your hajj.” (Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 10, Number 1815

Muslim narrated an account in his sahih from Hammam b. Yahya, from ‘Ata’, from Ya‘la b. Umayya, who claimed that, 

“‘Umar said to me, ‘Would you like to look at the Messenger of God while revelation is coming to him?’ He raised the edge of his robe from his face while he was receiving revelation at al-Ji‘rana, and he was all flushed. And he would moan like a newborn calf.” (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, UK, First Paperback Edition: 2000], Volume 1, p. 307; bold and italicized emphasis ours) 

Would drop or bow his head.

'Ubida b. Samit reported that when wahi descended upon Allah's Apostle, he lowered his head and so lowered his Companions their heads, and when (this state) was over, he raised his head. (Sahih Muslim, Book 030, Number 5767

Would hear the ringing of bells that caused intense pain.

“Narrated 'Aisha (the mother of the faithful believers): Al-Harith bin Hisham asked Allah's Apostle, ‘O Allah's Apostle! How is the Divine Inspiration revealed to you?’ Allah's Apostle replied, ‘Sometimes it is (revealed) like the ringing of a bell, this form of Inspiration is the hardest of all and then this state passes off after I have grasped what is inspired. Sometimes the Angel comes in the form of a man and talks to me and I grasp whatever he says.’ 'Aisha added: Verily I saw the Prophet being inspired Divinely on a very cold day and noticed the sweat dropping from his forehead (as the Inspiration was over).” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 1, Number 2)

“… So, there overtook him the same state which used to overtake him, (when he used to have, on being inspired divinely). He was sweating so much so that the drops of the sweat were dropping like pearls though it was a (cold) wintry day. When that state of Allah's Apostle was over, he was smiling and the first word he said, 'Aisha! Thank Allah, for Allah has declared your innocence.' My mother told me to go to Allah's Apostle . I replied, 'By Allah I will not go to him and will not thank but Allah.' So Allah revealed: "Verily! They who spread the slander are a gang among you . . ." (24.11). (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 48, Number 829 – See also Volume 4, Number 438) 

We are further told that the buzzing of bees could be heard around his face: 

“Imam Ahmad stated that ‘Abd al-Razzaq related to him, quoting Yunus b. Salim, who said that Yunus b. Yazid dictated to him, from Ibn Shihab, from ‘Urwa b. ‘Abd al-Rahman b. ‘Abd al-Qart who said, ‘I heard ‘Umar b. al-Khattab say, “When revelation came down to the Messenger of God, it would be heard like the buzzing of a bee near his face.”’” (Ibn Kathir, The Life of Muhammad, Volume 1, p. 306; bold and italicized emphasis ours) 

Would fall down to the ground, disrobe and stare. 

Safwan b. Ya'la b. Umayya reported that Ya'la used to say to 'Umar b. Khattab: Would that I see revelation descending upon the Apostle of Allah. (Once) when the Apostle of Allah was in Ji'rana and there was a cloth which provided shade over him, and there were his Companions with him. 'Umar being one of them, there came a person with a cloak of wool on him daubed with perfume and he said: Messenger of Allah, what about the person who, entered upon the state of Ihram with a cloak after daubing it with perfume? The Apostle of Allah looked at him for a short while, and then became quiet, and revelation began descending upon him, and 'Umar gestured (with his hand) to Ya'la b Umayya to come. Ya'la came and he entered his head (beneath the cloth and saw) the Apostle of Allah with his face red, and breathing with a snore. Then he felt relieved (of that burden) and he said: Where is the man who was just asking me about Umra? The man was searched for and he was brought, and the Apostle of Allah said: So far as the perfume is concerned, wash it three times, and remove the cloak too (as it was sewn) and do in 'Umra as you do in Hajj.  (Sahih Muslim, Book 007, Number 2656

‘Some months after our return he and his brother were with our lambs behind the tents when his brother came running and said to us, "Two men clothed in white have seized that Qurayshi brother of mine and thrown him down and opened up his belly, and are stirring it up." We ran towards him and found him standing up with a livid face. We took hold of him and I asked him what was the matter. He said, "Two men in white raiment came I and threw me down and opened up my belly and searched therein for I know not what."1 So we took him back to our tent. His father said to me, "I am afraid that this child has had a stroke, so take him back to his family before the result appears." So we picked him up and took him to his mother who asked why we had brought him when I had been anxious for his welfare and desirous of keeping him with me. I said to her, "God has let my son live so far and I have done my duty. I am afraid that ill will befall him, so I have brought him back to you as you wished." She asked me what happened and gave me no peace until I told her. When she asked if I feared a demon possessed him, I replied that I did. She answered that no demon had any power over her son who had a great future before him, and then she told how when she was pregnant with him a light went out from her which illumined the castles of Busra in Syria, and that she had borne him with the least difficulty imaginable. When she bore him he put his hands on the ground lifting his head towards the heavens. "Leave him then and go in peace," she said.’ (The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah, with introduction and notes by Alfred Guillaume [Oxford University Press, Karachi, Tenth impression 1995], pp. 71-72; bold and italicized emphasis ours) 


The following story connected with Muhammad's stay with Halimah is related by Abu 'l-Fida' (p. 64). When some time passed, Muhammad and his foster-brother went out to a distance from the house, when Halimah's son came to his mother and said. "Two men clothed in white raiments have taken hold of the Quraish boy, and have thrown him down and have ripped open his belly." So Halimah and her husband went to the place where the child was, but found him standing on his feet. And they said, "What has happened to thee child?" And he answered and said, "Two men came to me, and threw me down and ripped up my belly." Then Halimah's husband said to her, "I greatly fear that this boy has got the epilepsy." So they took him to his mother Aminah. And Halimah said to Aminah, "I am afraid he is possessed of a devil." But Aminah said, "What in the world can Satan have to do with my son that he should be his enemy?" (T. P. Hughes, Dictionary of Islam, p. 368; bold and italicized emphasis ours) 

This wasn’t the only time that Muhammad fell unconscious to the ground: 

Narrated Jabir bin 'Abdullah: When the Ka'ba was rebuilt, the Prophet and 'Abbas went to carry stones. 'Abbas said to the Prophet "(Take off and) put your waist sheet over your neck so that the stones may not hurt you." (But as soon as he took off his waist sheet) he fell unconscious on the ground with both his eyes towards the sky. WHEN HE CAME TO HIS SENSES, he said, "My waist sheet! My waist sheet!" Then he tied his waist sheet (round his waist). (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 5, Book 58, Number 170

Jabir b. 'Abdullah reported: When the Ka'ba was constructed the Apostle of Allah (may peace be upon him) and Abbas went and lifted stones. Abbas said to the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him): Place your lower garment on your shoulder (so that you may protect yourself from the roughness and hardness of stones). He (the Holy Prophet) did this, but fell down upon the ground in a state of unconsciousness and his eyes were turned towards the sky. He then stood up and said: My lower garment, my lower garment; and this wrapper was tied around him. In the hadith transmitted by Ibn Rafi', there is the word: "On his neck" and he did not say: "Upon his shoulder." (Sahih Muslim, Book 003, Number 0670

It is narrated on the authority of Jabir b. Abdullah that he heard the Messenger of Allah say: The wahi was intermitted for me for a small span of time and while I was walking, and then the hadith like the one narrated by Yunus was transmitted but with the exception of these words: I was terror-stricken till I fell on the ground. Abu Salama said: Defilement means idols. After this the revelation was speeded up and followed rapidly. (Sahih Muslim, Book 001, Number 0305

Would experience severe trauma and muscle twitching. 

“Narrated 'Aisha: The commencement of the Divine Inspiration to Allah's apostle was in the form of good righteous (true) dreams in his sleep. He never had a dream but that it came true like bright day light. He used to go in seclusion (the cave of) Hira where he used to worship (Allah Alone) continuously for many (days) nights. He used to take with him the journey food for that (stay) and then come back to (his wife) Khadija to take his food likewise again for another period to stay, till suddenly the Truth descended upon him while he was in the cave of Hira. The angel came to him in it and asked him to read. The Prophet replied, ‘I do not know how to read.’ (The prophet added), ‘The angel caught me (forcefully) and pressed me so hard that I could not bear it anymore. He then released me and again asked me to read, and I replied, “I do not know how to read,” whereupon he caught me again and pressed me a second time till I could not bear it anymore. He then released me and asked me again to read, but again I replied, “I do not know how to read (or, what shall I read?).” Thereupon he caught me for the third time and pressed me and then released me and said, “Read: In the Name of your Lord, Who has created (all that exists). Has created man from a clot. Read and Your Lord is Most Generous,” up to, “that which he knew not.” (96.1-5)’ 

“Then Allah's apostle returned with the Inspiration, his neck muscles twitching WITH TERROR till he entered upon Khadija and said, ‘Cover me! Cover me!’ They covered him till his fear was over and then he said, ‘O Khadija, what is wrong with me?’ Then he told her everything that had happened and said, ‘I fear that something may happen to me.’… But after a few days Waraqa died and the Divine Inspiration was also 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 and 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 Apostle in truth,’ whereupon his heart would become quiet and he would calm down and would return home. And whenever the period of the coming of the inspiration used to become long, he would do as before, but when he used to reach the top of a mountain, Gabriel would appear before him and say to him what he had said before. (Ibn 'Abbas said regarding the meaning of: ‘He it is that Cleaves the daybreak (from the darkness)’ (6.96) that Al-Asbah means the light of the sun during the day and the light of the moon at night).” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 87, Number 111)

Would salivate and foam at the mouth. 

(then he Istawa (rose).) this refers to the angel Jibril, according to Al-Hasan, Mujahid, Qatadah and Ar-Rabi` bin Anas… 

(While he was in the highest part of the horizon.) meaning, Jibril rose to the highest part of the horizon, according to `Ikrimah and several others; `Ikrimah said, "The highest horizon where the morning comes from.” Mujahid said, "It is (the place of) sunrise.” Qatadah said, "That from which the day comes.” Ibn Zayd and several others said similarly. Imam Ahmad recorded that Abdullah bin Mas`ud said, "The Messenger of Allah saw Jibril in his original shape having six hundred wings, each wing filling the side of the horizon, with a colorful array, and pearls and rubies falling from each wing as much as only Allah knows.” Only Imam Ahmad collected this Hadith. Imam Ahmad recorded that `Abdullah bin `Abbas said, "The Prophet asked Jibril to appear himself to him in his original shape and Jibril said to him, `Invoke your Lord.' The Prophet invoked his Lord the Exalted and Most Honored, and a great huge figure appeared to him from the east and kept rising and spreading. When the Prophet saw Jibril in his original shape, HE WAS KNOCKED UNCONSCIOUS. Jibril came down and revived the Prophet AND WIPED THE SALIVA OFF OF HIS CHEEKS.” Only Ahmad collected this Hadith. (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Q. 53:6-7; bold, capital and underline emphasis ours) 

Another thing to learn 

Ibn Sa'd related that A'ishah said: "Whenever the Prophet received Inspiration (al-wahy), HIS HEAD WOULD TWITCH, HE WOULD FOAM AT THE SIDES OF HIS MOUTH, he would feel cold in his incisors, and he would break into a sweat until it flowed down like pearls." (Imam Jalal-al-Din ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Suyuti, The Perfect Guide to the Sciences of the Qur'an: Al-Itqan fi 'Ulum Al-Qur'an (Great Books of Islamic Civilization), translated by Professor Hamid Algar, Dr. Michael Schub and Mr. Ayman Abdel Haleem, reviewed by Professor Osman S. A. Isma’il al-Bili [Garnet Publishing Limited, UK 2011], Volume 1, p. 104; capital and underline emphasis ours) 

Muhammad’s salivating and foaming at the sides of his mouth is quite interesting, since people that are undergoing a seizure are often incapable of swallowing, and so they start drooling saliva from their mouths. And as we are about to see, there is another significant aspect to Muhammad’s foaming at the mouth, since this helps reveal the true source and cause of his seizures. 

Was highly sensitive to certain odors and smells. 

5529. The Prophet's household was not like other households. The Consorts of Purity were expected to hold a higher standard in behaviour and reticence than ordinary women, as they had higher work to perform. See n. 3706 to xxxiii. 28. But they were human beings after all, and were subject to the weaknesses of their sex, and they sometimes failed. The commentators usually cite the following incident in connection with the revelation of these verses. It is narrated from 'Aisha, the wife of the holy Prophet by Bukhari, Muslim, Nasai. Abu Dawud and others that the holy Prophet usually visited all his wives daily after 'Asr Prayer. Once it so happened that he stayed longer than usual at the quarters of Zainab bint Jahsh, for she had received from somewhere some honey which the holy Prophet liked very much. "At this", says 'Aisha, "I felt jealous, and Hafsa, Sawda, Safiya, and I agreed among ourselves that when he visits us each of us would tell him that a peculiar odour came from his mouth as a result of what he had eaten, for we knew THAT HE WAS PARTICULARLY SENSITIVE TO OFFENSIVE SMELLS". So when his wives hinted at it, he vowed that he would never again use honey. Thereupon these verses were revealed reminding him that he should not declare to himself unlawful that which Allah had made lawful to him. The important point to bear in mind is that he was at once rectified by revelation, which reinforces the fact that the prophets are always under divine protection, and even the slightest lapse on their part is never left uncorrected. (Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an [Amana Publications, Beltsville, Maryland], Q. 66:1, p. 1490; bold, capital and underline emphasis ours) 

Muhammad had such a repugnant reaction to the smell of garlic, onions or leeks that he would forbid people who ate them to come to his mosque to pray with him. He also went as far as to claim that their odors were even repulsive to the angels!   

(17) Chapter: Prohibiting one who has eaten garlic, onions, or leeks, and other things that have an offensive odor from coming to the masjid, until that smell has gone away, and such a person should be expelled from the masjid 

Ibn 'Umar reported: 

The Messenger of Allah said during the battle of Khaybar: He who ate of this plant, i.e. garlic, should not come to the mosques. In the narration of Zubair, there is only a mention of" battle" and not of Khaybar. 

Reference: Sahih Muslim 561a 

In-book reference: Book 5, Hadith 86 

USC-MSA web (English) reference: Book 4, Hadith 1141 (; underline emphasis ours) 

Jabir b. 'Abdullah reported the Messenger of Allah saying: 

He who eats of this (offensive) plant, i.e. garlic, and sometimes he said: He who eats onion and garlic and leek, should not approach our mosque for the angels are harmed by the same things as the children of Adam

Reference: Sahih Muslim 564b 

In-book reference: Book 5, Hadith 92 

USC-MSA web (English) reference: Book 4, Hadith 1147 (; underline emphasis ours) 

Abu Sa'id reported: 

We made no transgression but Khaybar was conquered. We, the Companions of the Messenger of Allah, fell upon this plant, i.e. garlic, because the people were hungry. We ate it to our heart's content and then made our way towards the mosque. The Messenger of Allah sensed its odour and he said: He who takes anything of this offensive plant must not approach us in the mosque. The people said: Its (use) has been forbidden; its (use) has been forbidden. This reached the Messenger of Allah and he said: O people, I cannot forbid (the use of a thing) which Allah has made lawful, but (this garlic) is a plant the odour of which is repugnant to me

Reference: Sahih Muslim 565 

In-book reference: Book 5, Hadith 94 

USC-MSA web (English) reference: Book 4, Hadith 1149 (; underline emphasis ours) 

With the foregoing in perspective we can now move to the final part.