It’s taken much of the world by surprise, the coming of a man from an overlooked region of the world, who announced to his fellow humans that he received words from God.
The Prophet Muhammad’s veracity was questioned and continues to be questioned today. Some have called him a liar, a magician, and a madman. However, a closer look into the events of his life would reveal a different conclusion.
Three simple examples drawn from the Prophet’s life demonstrate that he could not have been an impostor:
1- The Beginning of Revelation
The Prophet Muhammad received the first words of revelation from Gabriel. After this experience, he went home to his wife, shivering, and asked her to wrap him in garments. Overwhelmed, he said to her:
“I am afraid for myself.” (Muslim)
An impostor that has claimed to have received revelation would present himself with full confidence. The act would have to be grandiose. If he showed the slightest bit of doubt, it could cause people to disbelieve in him.
The impostor would most probably go to a public square and share his revelation story instead of trembling in fear.
Khadijah, the Prophet Muhammad’s wife, comforted him and told him that God would not humiliate him because he joins ties of relationship, speaks the truth, bears people’s burdens, gives charity to the poor, honors guests, and assists people in their good and bad times. She then suggested for them to visit her Christian cousin, who was a scholar of the Gospel, to get his diagnosis of the experience he had with Gabriel.
The Prophet Muhammad and his wife proceeded to visit her cousin, Waraqah ibn Nawfal, for consultation.
Waraqah ibn Nawfal heard the account from the Prophet Muhammad and then said:
“This is the messenger (Gabriel) that was sent to Moses. Would that I were a young man! Would that I be alive when your people would expel you.”
The Prophet Muhammad was surprised that his people, who gave him the title “The Truthful and Trustworthy”, would ever expel him. He asked:
“Will they expel me?!?”
“Yes. A man has not come with what you have brought except that he was met with hostilities. If I were to see your day, I would help you with full support.” (Muslim)
Would an impostor subject his claim to prophethood to the decision of an elderly scholar who was well-versed in scripture to determine if his experience was real or not?
Would the impostor risk exposing himself by possibly making statements of his account that would be contrary to scripture?
The Prophet Muhammad’s immediate reaction to Gabriel, fear, and in one instance, falling to the ground upon seeing the angel of revelation, suggests that these reactions were real emotions and experiences. His questioning and honest search for what was happening to him do not in any way match the profile of an impostor.
2- The Break in Revelation
After several chapters of the Quran were revealed, revelation ceased. The pagans used this discontinuance as an opportunity to attack the Prophet. They claimed that God disliked him and abandoned him.
In the face of this slur, the natural reaction of an impostor would be to immediately fabricate verses to prove his attackers wrong.
How could he allow himself to appear abandoned by God, endangering his very agenda? How could he risk for people to indulge in doubt about his claim?
If he was fabricating verses at whim from the beginning, he would produce them in a rush when his relationship with God was being questioned.
However, the Prophet Muhammad’s reaction was very different. As he listened to the attacks of the pagans, he remained silent. He did not supply them with freshly revealed verses simply because there were none revealed. Instead, he was preoccupied with sadness and longed for revelation to continue.
After some time, the Doha Chapter was revealed which began with these words:
By the morning brightness, and [by] the night when it covers with darkness, your Lord has not taken leave of you, [O Muhammad], nor has He detested [you]. (Quran 93:1-3)
The Prophet’s responses to the attacks of his critics were not reactionary. They were not built around a strategy to maintain a false image. Rather, his actions showed that he was concerned with his relationship to God.
3- Impostor’s Agenda
An impostor would probably keep a false image for fame, wealth, or political power. The events in the life of the Prophet Muhammad show us that he pursued none of these ambitions.
Before Prophethood, the Prophet Muhammad, as mentioned before, was given the title of “The Truthful and Trustworthy”. People who wanted him to resolve their disputes sought him out. He was also their local bank, they entrusted their valuables to him.
Despite his title and benevolent actions, after assuming prophethood, he was called a liar, a madman, and a magician. Even his family was not spared, his wife was slandered.
The assaults did not remain just verbal, they also became physical. His followers were tortured and killed. The pagans even made multiple attempts to assassinate him since he announced prophethood. These were not years of fame, but long years of hardship.
God also at times corrected the Prophet. Here are a couple of examples of how the Prophet Muhammad was addressed by God:
The Prophet frowned and turned away because there came to him the blind man, [interrupting]. But what would make you perceive, [O Muhammad], that perhaps he might be purified or be reminded and the remembrance would benefit him? As for he who thinks himself without need, to him you give attention. (Quran 80:1-6)
…while you concealed within yourself that which Allah is to disclose. And you feared the people, while Allah has more right that you fear Him. (Quran 33:37)
An impostor concerned about fame would most probably not produce such verses.
The Prophet Muhammad also bore financial consequences. The pagan tribes boycotted the Prophet Muhammad and anyone that followed him. They forbade trade and marriage with anyone who decided to worship one God. As a result, it was common for the Muslims to spend days without food.
The Prophet Muhammad also had opportunities to pursue political power in Makkah. The Abyssinian King embraced Islam and became a follower of the Prophet Muhammad. However, the Prophet Muhammad did not embark on any political pursuits in Abyssinia.
The pagan Arabs in Makkah offered him wealth to make him the richest amongst them. They offered him leadership, and they offered him to be their king. However, the Prophet responded:
I did not come with what I brought seeking your wealth, or status amongst you, or dominion over you, but He sent me to you as a messenger and has revealed to me a Book. He has commanded me to be a bearer of good news and a warner to you. (Tafsir Ibn Kathir)
The events in Makkah during the Prophet Muhammad’s prophethood serve as a character witness to his credibility. His statements and actions, when analyzed, are proven to be genuine and devoid of alternate motives or agendas.