Was Muhammad certain of his Salvation?
Examining the capriciousness of Allah as the cause of Muhammad’s uncertainty
Written By: Sam Shamoun
Introduction – Muhammad just doesn’t know
According to the Quran, Muhammad was uncertain whether Allah would save him:
Or do they say, 'He has forged it'? Say: 'If I have forged it, you have no power to help me against Allah. He knows very well what you are pressing upon; He suffices as a witness between me and you; He is the All-forgiving, the All-compassionate.' Say: 'I am not an innovation among the Messengers, and I know not what shall be done with me or with you. I only follow what is revealed to me; I am only a clear warner.' S. 46:8-9 Meccan
The so-called authentic narrations make it clear that Muhammad was speaking in respect to his eternal fate:
Narrated 'Um al-'Ala:
An Ansari woman who gave the pledge of allegiance to the Prophet that the Ansar drew lots concerning the dwelling of the Emigrants. 'Uthman bin Maz'un was decided to dwell with them (i.e. Um al-'Ala's family), 'Uthman fell ill and I nursed him till he died, and we covered him with his clothes. Then the Prophet came to us and I (addressing the dead body) said, "O Abu As-Sa'ib, may Allah's Mercy be on you! I bear witness that Allah has honored you." On that the Prophet said, "How do you know that Allah has honored him?" I replied, "I do not know. May my father and my mother be sacrificed for you, O Allah's Apostle! But who else is worthy of it (if not 'Uthman)?" He said, "As to him, by Allah, death has overtaken him, and I hope the best for him. By Allah, though I am the Apostle of Allah, yet I do not know what Allah will do to me," By Allah, I will never assert the piety of anyone after him. That made me sad, and when I slept I saw in a dream a flowing stream for 'Uthman bin Maz'un. I went to Allah's Apostle and told him of it. He remarked, "That symbolizes his (good) deeds." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 5, Book 58, Number 266)
Narrated Abu Huraira:
When Allah revealed the Verse: "Warn your nearest kinsmen," Allah's Apostle got up and said, "O people of Quraish (or said similar words)! Buy (i.e. save) yourselves (from the Hellfire) as I cannot save you from Allah's Punishment; O Bani Abd Manaf! I cannot save you from Allah's Punishment, O Safiya, the Aunt of Allah's Apostle! I cannot save you from Allah's Punishment; O Fatima bint Muhammad! Ask me anything from my wealth, but I cannot save you from Allah's Punishment." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 51, Number 16)
These references should trouble any Muslim. If Muhammad himself, the very founder and prophet of the religion of Islam, was uncertain where he would spend eternity then how can any Muslim know where they will go after they die?
Muslim scholars to the rescue!
Needless to say, these statements didn’t sit well with Muslims, especially the scholars. They were obviously troubled by the fact that even their very own prophet, who is supposed to be the standard of moral perfection, didn’t know for certain whether he was going to paradise or hell. The Muslims had to therefore come up with some convenient ways of explaining these troubling statements.
Some Muslims believe that these statements were made before Muhammad knew or was informed that he would be going to paradise. Still others are of the opinion that Q. 46:9 is not even speaking about the afterlife but this life, e.g. Muhammad doesn’t know whether he will be rejected by the people, driven out, killed etc.
The problem with the second explanation is that this directly conflicts with the hadith reports which specifically deal with the issue of the afterlife, not life in this world. In fact, according to some scholars Q. 46:9 was uttered in connection with Muhammad telling the woman that he didn’t know what Allah would do with 'Uthman bin Maz'un even though he was dead:
As for his expression "By Allah, though I am the Apostle of Allah, yet I do not know what Allah will do to me", the Prophet uttered this in accordance with Allah's statement in Surah al-Ahqaaf, "Say: "I am no bringer of new-fangled doctrine among the messengers, nor do I know what will be done with me or with you". This was before the revealing of the verse by Allah All Mighty, "That Allah may forgive you your sins of the past and the future" (Surah 48:2), because al-Ahqaaf is a Makkan Surah, while Surah al-Fatah is a Madinan Surah and there is no contradiction between the two of them. And it has been established that he said, "I am the first who will enter paradise," and there other reports which convey this meaning as well… (Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Fathul Bari, Kitab al-Janaaiz, Bab al-Dukhool 'Ala al-Mayyit Ba'd al-Mawt izhaa Adraja fi Akfaanihi, Commentary on Hadith no. 1166; bold and underline emphasis ours)
<<Say: "I am not a new thing among the Messengers...">> which means, ‘I am not the first Messenger who ever came to the world. Rather, Messengers came before me. Therefore, I am not an unprecedented incident that should cause you all to reject me and doubt my being sent to you. Indeed, Allah has sent before me all of the Prophets to various nations.’ Allah then says…
(nor do I know what will be done with me or with you.) `Ali bin Abi Talhah reported from Ibn `Abbas that he said, "It (this Ayah) was followed in revelation by…
<<That Allah may forgive for you your sins of the past and future>>. Similarly, `Ikrimah, Al-Hasan, and Qatadah all said that this Ayah was abrogated by the Ayah…
(That Allah may forgive for you your sins of the past and future). They said that when the latter Ayah was revealed, one of the Muslims said to Allah's Messenger, "Allah has declared what He will do for you. But what will He do for us?" Then Allah revealed…
(That He may admit the believing men and the believing women to Gardens under which rivers flow). This is what they said. That which has been confirmed in the Sahih is that the believers said, "May you enjoy that, O Allah's Messenger! But what do we get?" So Allah revealed this Ayah. Imam Ahmad recorded that Kharijah bin Zayd bin Thabit, reported that Umm Al-`Ala' -- a woman from the Ansar who had given her pledge of loyalty to Allah's Messenger -- said, "When the Ansar drew lots regarding taking in the Muhajirun to dwell with them, our lot was to have `Uthman bin Maz`un. Later, `Uthman fell sick in our house, so we nursed him until he died, and we wrapped him in his garments (for burial). Allah's Messenger then came in, and I said, `O Abu As-Sa'ib! May Allah have mercy on you. I bear witness that Allah has indeed honored you.' Allah's Messenger asked…
<<How do you know that Allah has honored him>> I said, `I do not know -- may my father and mother both be ransoms for you!' Allah's Messenger then said…
<<As for him, certainty (death) has reached him from his Lord, and I surely wish well for him. But by Allah, even though I am Allah's Messenger, I do not know what will happen to me (after death).>> I then said, `Never will I claim a person to be pious after this.' This incident caused me some distress, and I went to sleep thereafter. I saw in my dream that `Uthman owned a running water spring. I went to Allah's Messenger and told him about that. Allah's Messenger said …
<<That was his (good) deeds.>>" Al-Bukhari recorded this Hadith but Muslim did not. In one of the narrations, Allah's Messenger said…
<<Even though I am Allah's Messenger, I do not know what will happen to him.>> This and similar texts indicate that it is not allowed to declare that a specific person will enter Jannah except for those who were distinctly indicated by Allah or his Messenger. Examples of those are the Ten, Ibn Sallam, Al-Ghumaysa', Bilal, Suraqah, `Abdullah bin `Amr bin Haram (Jabir's father), the Seventy Reciters (of Qur'an) who were assassinated near the Well of Ma`unah, Zayd bin Harithah, Ja`far, Ibn Rawahah, and other similar individuals, may Allah be pleased with them… (Tafsir Ibn Kathir; source; bold and underline emphasis ours)
Even Muslim polemicist Bassam Zawadi, who tried to address this very topic, accepts that Q. 46:9 is dealing with Muhammad’s eternal destiny:
I personally favor the first solution. This is because it appears to me that the context of the hadeeth in Saheeh Bukhari makes it appear that the Prophet (peace be upon him) is speaking about how he doesn't know what will happen to him in the Hereafter. This of course is not necessarily true, but in my opinion it seems more likely. Thus, even though I believe that the second solution is still plausible, I will nevertheless personally opt for the first solution. (Was Prophet Muhammad Uncertain of His Own Salvation?; source; underline emphasis ours)
We can therefore rule out the second explanation since the context of the hadiths demonstrates the implausibility of this view, just as this Muslim dawagandist admits.
Was Muhammad actually forgiven of his sins?
According to the above expositors Q. 46:9 was canceled out or abrogated by Q. 48:2 since the latter text states that Muhammad’s past and future sins had been forgiven.
But is this what the verse actually says? Does it really claim that Allah had forgiven all of Muhammad’s previous and latter sins? Let us see:
Lo! We have given thee (O Muhammad) a signal victory, That Allah MAY forgive thee of thy sin that which is past and that which is to come, and MAY perfect His favour unto thee, and MAY guide thee on a right path, S. 48:1-2 Pickthall Medinan
As the readers can see for themselves the reference doesn’t say that Allah HAD forgiven Muhammad completely, but that he MAY forgive his messenger of his sins. Moreover, the following Sura, which was composed at a later time, shows that Allah hadn’t removed all of Muhammad’s sins:
When comes the Help of Allah (to you, O Muhammad against your enemies) and the conquest (of Makkah), And you see that the people enter Allah's religion (Islam) in crowds, So glorify the Praises of your Lord, and ask for His Forgiveness. Verily, He is the One Who accepts the repentance and forgives. S. 110:1-3 Medinan
The question to ask is why is Muhammad still being commanded to ask forgiveness for his sins if Allah had already completely forgiven him?
The answer is obvious… the text of Q. 48:2 doesn’t say that Allah would definitely wipe away his prophet’s sins, but that he may do so if he so chooses to. Yet Q. 110 makes it clear that Allah hadn’t chosen to remove all of Muhammad’s sins, which explains why the latter is still being commanded to seek for forgiveness. After all, if Allah has already forgiven Muhammad then there is no need to remind or command him to ask to be forgiven.
Muhammad lives in constant fears and doubts
There is further evidence that Allah hadn’t forgiven all of his prophet’s sins since the Quran is a witness that Muhammad remained uncertain of his destiny and that his god was constantly threatening him all throughout his career.
For example, Allah made Muhammad repeat the point that, even though he is a messenger, he doesn’t know what will happen and that he doesn’t have any power to hurt or benefit anyone:
Say (unto them, O Muhammad): I pray unto Allah only, and ascribe unto Him no partner. Say: Lo! I control not hurt nor benefit for you. Say: Lo! none can protect me from Allah, nor can I find any refuge beside Him (Mine is) but conveyance (of the Truth) from Allah, and His messages; and whoso disobeyeth Allah and His messenger, lo! his is fire of hell, wherein such dwell for ever. Till (the day) when they shall behold that which they are promised (they may doubt); but then they will know (for certain) who is weaker in allies and less in multitude. Say (O Muhammad, unto the disbelievers): I know not whether that which ye are promised is nigh, or if my Lord hath set a distant term for it. S. 72:20-25 Pickthall Meccan
Moreover, on more than one occasion Allah warned his prophet from changing the Quran:
And when Our clear revelations are recited unto them, they who look not for the meeting with Us say: Bring a Lecture other than this, or change it. Say (O Muhammad): It is not for me to change it of my accord. I only follow that which is inspired in me. Lo! if I disobey my Lord I fear the retribution of an awful Day. S. 10:15 Pickthall Meccan
And surely they had purposed to turn you away from that which We have revealed to you, that you should forge against Us other than that, and then they would certainly have taken you for a friend. And had it not been that We had already established you, you would certainly have been near to incline to them a little; In that case We would certainly have made you to taste a double (punishment) in this life and a double (punishment) after death, then you would not have found any helper against Us. S. 17:73-75 Shakir Meccan
That this is verily the word of an honoured apostle; It is not the word of a poet: little it is ye believe! Nor is it the word of a soothsayer: little admonition it is ye receive. (This is) a Message sent down from the Lord of the Worlds. And if the apostle were to invent any sayings in Our name, We should certainly seize him by his right hand, And We should certainly then cut off the artery of his heart: S. 69:40-46 Y. Ali Meccan
Allah also threatened his messenger from turning away to worship other gods,
This is (part) of that wisdom wherewith thy Lord hath inspired thee (O Muhammad). And set not up with Allah any other god, lest thou be cast into hell, reproved, abandoned. S. 17:39 Pickthall Meccan
And certainly, it has been revealed to you and to those before you: Surely if you associate (with Allah), your work would certainly come to naught and you would certainly be of the losers. S. 39:65 Meccan
Allah even had to rebuke Muhammad for fearing men instead of his god:
O Prophet! be careful of (your duty to) Allah and do not comply with (the wishes of) the unbelievers and the hypocrites; surely Allah is Knowing, Wise… And when you said to him to whom Allah had shown favor and to whom you had shown a favor: Keep your wife to yourself and be careful of (your duty to) Allah; and you concealed in your soul what Allah would bring to light, and you feared men, and Allah had a greater right that you should fear Him. But when Zaid had accomplished his want of her, We gave her to you as a wife, so that there should be no difficulty for the believers in respect of the wives of their adopted sons, when they have accomplished their want of them; and Allah's command shall be performed. S. 33:1, 37 Medinan
O Messenger, deliver that which has been sent down to thee from thy Lord; for if thou dost not, thou wilt not have delivered His Message. Allah will protect thee from men. Allah guides not the people of the unbelievers. S. 5:67 Medinan
We further read in the Quran how Allah constantly chided his apostle for inclining his heart to the wealthy nobles of the Arabs while turning away or frowning upon the poor, the misfortunate and the marginalized:
And do not drive away those who call upon their Lord at morning and evening desiring His countenance; nothing of their account falls upon thee, and nothing of thy account falls upon them, that thou shouldst drive them away, and so become one of the evildoers. S. 6:52 Meccan
And restrain thyself with those who call upon their Lord at morning and evening, desiring His countenance, and let not thine eyes turn away from them, desiring the adornment of the present life; and obey not him whose heart We have made neglectful of Our remembrance so that he follows his own lust, and his affair has become all excess. S. 18:28 Meccan
Stretch not thine eyes to that We have given pairs of them to enjoy - the flower of the present life, that We may try them therein and thy Lord's provision is better, and more enduring. S. 20:131 Meccan
He frowned and turned (his) back, Because there came to him the blind man. And what would make you know that he would purify himself, Or become reminded so that the reminder should profit him? As for him who considers himself free from need (of you), To him do you address yourself. And no blame is on you if he would not purify himself And as to him who comes to you striving hard, And he fears, From him will you divert yourself. S. 80:1-10 Shakir Meccan
And on one occasion Allah had to warn Muhammad to stop having doubts lest he become one of the losers:
And if thou (Muhammad) art in doubt concerning that which We reveal unto thee, then question those who read the Scripture (that was) before thee. Verily the Truth from thy Lord hath come unto thee. So be not thou of the waverers. And be not thou of those who deny the revelations of Allah, for then wert thou of the losers. S. 10:94-95 Pickthall Meccan
Yet it is hard to see how Muhammad could avoid having serious doubts when his deity is constantly warning and threatening him. These repeated scare tactics would cause him to have greater doubts and may explain why Muhammad never felt certain whether Allah would honor him,
And some part of the night awake for it, a largess for thee. It MAY BE that thy Lord will raise thee to a praised estate. S. 17:79 Meccan
'Abdullah b. Amr b. al-As reported Allah's Messenger as saying: When you hear the Mu'adhdhin, repeat what he says, then invoke a blessing on me, for everyone who invokes a blessing on me will receive ten blessings from Allah; then BEG from Allah al-Wasila for me, which is a rank in Paradise fitting for only one of Allah's servants, and I HOPE that I MAY BE that one. If anyone who asks that I be given the Wasila, he will be assured of my intercession. (Sahih Muslim, Book 004, Number 0747)
And why he asked his community to pray for his salvation and peace:
Verily, Allah and His angels pray for the prophet. O ye who believe! pray for him and salute him with a salutation! S. 33:56
We know that Allah, his angels, and the believers are all praying for Muhammad’s salvation and forgiveness because of the following verse which appears in the same sura:
He it is who prays for you and His angels too, to bring you forth out of the darkness into the light, for He is merciful to the believers. S. 33:43
As well as this one:
The heavens wellnigh are rent above them, when the angels proclaim the praise of their Lord, and ask forgiveness for those on earth. Surely Allah -- He is the All-forgiving, the All-compassionate. S. 42:5
The foregoing indicates that the very purpose for praying for Muhammad is to beseech Allah to bestow peace and salvation on his messenger.
Source Answering Islam.
Dr. Max Shimba for Max Shimba Ministries