Islam stands or falls on the claim that the Qur’an is a compilation of the literal and timeless words of Allah as transmitted inerrantly by the angel Jibril (Gabriel) to Muhammad, the last of the prophets, who then relayed those words verbatim to his listeners. Muslims believe that the Qur’an is without error of any kind and that there are no omissions or additions due to human corruption. The text is pure, pristine, straight from Allah’s eternal Book in heaven to the words on the page in today’s earthly Qur’an.
Muhammad, however, was according to Islamic tradition illiterate, and so incapable of writing down these revelations himself. As such, he needed a stable of scribes. Islam’s earliest and most highly respected historian, al-Tabari, lists ten men who served Muhammad in this capacity at various times in his revelatory career (Tarikh, vol. 9. pp. 147-8). One of those men is of particular relevance.
Abdullah Ibn Sa’d Abi Sarh was originally from Muhammad’s polytheistic tribe in Mecca (the Quraysh). At some point (historical sources don’t tell us when), he converted to Islam and was entrusted with the signficant role of converting Muhammad’s dictations to written format. But some years into this work, Abdullah fled from Medina (where Muhammad lived and ruled) and went back to his Meccan family, having rejected Islam. When asked why, he declared that the Qur’an contained his own words, as well as those Muhammad dictated. At times, Abdullah said, Muhammad would speak a phrase and Abdullah would write it differently. He would check with the prophet, who agreed that the scribe’s emendation was fine. One time, Muhammad was revealing something about Allah’s work in creating human beings (Sura 23:12-14), and Abdullah exclaimed, “And blessed be Allah, the best of creators.” Muhammad commanded Abdullah to include that in the text as part of the revelation. Based on his experience of times where his suggestions for improvement were accepted by Muhammad, Abdullah reasoned that either he was as inspired by Allah as Muhammad or Muhammad was wrong to replace “Allah’s dictations with the words of a fallible mortal. In either case, Abdullah Ibn Sa’d concluded that the Qur’an was not divinely inspired, and that Muhammad was not a true prophet. For this reason, he fled Medina and renounced Islam.
A few years later, in 630 AD, Muhammad arrived at the outskirts of Mecca with an imposing army of some 10,000 Muslim soldiers, ready to conquer the holy city if its pagan leaders would not voluntarily surrender. He told his jihadis to fight and slay only those who put up resistance, but to act peaceably toward all others with one notable exception. The prophet had a hit list of ten people who were to be executed wherever they were found, even if they surrendered willingly, even if they were found clinging to the curtains of the Ka’aba (custom dictated that any clinging to the hangings of the central shrine of Mecca were to be accorded mercy — no blood was to be spilled in the holy precincts, and petitioners were to be forgiven).
One of the names on Muhammad’s hit list was that of Abdullah Ibn Sa’d Abi Sarh. Why? According to Ibn Ishaq (Muhammad’s earliest biographer),
“The reason he ordered him to be killed was that he had been a Muslim and used to write down revelation; then he apostatized and return to Quraysh and fled to Uthman bin ‘Affan whose foster-brother he was” (Life of Muhammad, p. 550; trans. by A. Guillaume).
Abdullah knew his life was in danger. Some accounts report that he reconverted to Islam on the day of Muhammad’s conquest of Mecca, hoping to avert Muhammad’s vengeance through the rule that Muslims are not to kill fellow Muslims. But one thing we know for sure is that he took refuge with his foster-brother ‘Uthman, who was one of Muhammad’s closest advisors and who would ultimately become the third Caliph of Islam.
‘Uthman determined it would be wise to wait a few days until the initial fervor of the Muslim conquest subsided, and after that to bring his foster-brother before Muhammad, to plead that Muhammad would rescind his death order, and instead would embrace Abdullah’s new oath of loyalty. Biographer Ibn Ishaq reports on this scenario:
“[‘Uthman] hid him until he brought him to the apostle [Muhammad] after the situation in Mecca was tranquil, and asked that he might be granted immunity. They allege that the apostle remained silent for a long time [in fact, other accounts portray ‘Uthman as asking for mercy three times before Muhammad finally broke his awkward silence] till he finally said yes. When ‘Uthman [and Abdullah] had left he [Muhammad] said to his companions who were sitting around him, ‘I kept silent so that one of you might get up and strike off his head!’ One of the Ansar [faithful jihadis from Medina] said, ‘The why didn’t you give me a sign, O apostle of God?’ He answered that a prophet does not kill by pointing” (Ibid.)
Clearly, Muhammad saw Abdullah’s betrayal and his private knowledge of the “sausage factory process” by which the “inspired” Qur’an was constructed as factors worthy of the death penalty. There was no question that Muhammad’s law mandated that apostates be put to death. But what about apostates who reconvert in order to save their necks? At times Muhammad showed mercy in such cases, and at other times his heart remained stony and the sentence was carried out. But Abdullah Ibn Sa’d was a special case — his “testimony” would torpedo the two unassailable claims of Islam — that the Qur’an was the perfect, uncorrupted revelation of Allah, and that Muhammad was Allah’s preeminent spokesman. And that didn’t sit well with the prophet.
Hence Muhammad’s hit list, with Abdullah’s name at the top. Things didn’t work out the way the prophet wanted, with his former scribe’s head on a platter. He was hoping beyond hope that one of his assassins would read his mind, but was shamed by his silence during three repeated requests for mercy. Finally, he gave his grudging assent, and Abdullah walked away a free man.
In exchange for his life, Abdullah realized that he could no long openly mock the prophet as an impostor without swift and lethal action being taken against him. So, he faded into the background even as Muhammad continued his imperious ways until his death two years later in Medina.
Even though we hear little more of Abdullah, it seems he remained under the umbrella of ‘Uthman’s protection, and when the latter became Caliph in 644 AD, Abdullah Ibn Sa’d was appointed governor of newly-conquered Egypt, which post he filled until ‘Uthman was assassinated in 656. After ‘Uthman’s death, Abdullah fades from history.
But he had left his mark — Islam’s early historians record for posterity his original apostasy and the reasons for it. Students of Islam are left to draw their own conclusions.
The evidence seems pretty damning to me. If Abdullah’s own account is not to be believed, what would have led to his departure and apostasy? And what would have let Muhammad to such hatred/fear of his former scribe that he would “put out a contract” on Abdullah when his army conquered Mecca, and then resist ‘Uthman’s pleas for mercy by stalling for time in the desperate hope that one of his henchmen would step forward and decapitate Abdullah before he would have to grant mercy?
If Abdullah’s account is believable, even as recorded by Muslim historians and biographers, then Islam is not believable, for the Qur’an is demonstrated to be the work of human engineering, and Muhammad shown to be less than sure of his recitations as a prophet.
This account is just one of many hair-raising reports in early Islamic sources about the actions and beliefs of Muhammad and his companions. Unfortunately, very few Muslims read their own religious history, and so know little about the true prophet, believing instead the hagiographies spun by pious imams and theologians who are committed to their false narratives.
The truth deserves to see the full light of day, to set Muslims free from darkness and to immunize the rest of the world. I hope you will help me get the word out, by sharing these posts with others!