Why the Prophet Muhammad was not Mentally Ill: Part I – Schizophrenia

vintage anatomy
Why the Prophet Muhammad was not Mentally Ill: Part I – Schizophrenia
(Tayyab Pirzada)

نٓ‌ۚ وَٱلۡقَلَمِ وَمَا يَسۡطُرُونَ
مَآ أَنتَ بِنِعۡمَةِ رَبِّكَ بِمَجۡنُونٍ۬

“By the inkstand and by the pen and by that which they write.
You [Muhammad] are not, by the grace of your Lord, mentally ill.” (Qur’ān, 68:2-3)

Introduction

Medieval illuminated Qur'an from the 13th/14th century

Medieval illuminated Qur’an from the 13th/14th century

Of the various criticisms against the Prophet Muhammad (sa) by modern atheists, one that is especially naive is the notion that the Prophet Muhammad (sa) was somehow mentally ill, and that the revelations he purportedly received from a Divine source were in fact the product of his own disturbed mind. Notwithstanding the amount of prophecies in the Qur’ān that were fulfilled not only in the Prophet’s own lifetime but in the lives of his successors (the Caliphs) as well as even in modern times, this article will instead analyze the possibility of mental illness as the source of the revelations from a clinical psychological perspective. The author, though not a professional in mental health, is studying neuroscience and mental health at the university level and intends to pursue the clinical neurology field in the future, God Willing.

Inasmuch as hallucinations are concerned whether auditory or visual, these episodes of psychosis fall under mainly four disorders, two psychiatric and two neurological, that of schizophrenia, delirium, dementia, and epilepsy. We shall analyze the diagnostic criteria for each and see if they applied to the Prophet Muhammad (sa), after which a discussion on the nature and probable neurological mechanism of revelation (God speaking to man) will be addressed. This research will be released in parts, with Part I (the current) about schizophrenia, part II regarding delirium, Part III on dementia, Part IV on epilepsy, and Part V on the nature and neurological mechanism of revelation, along with instances of such in the scientific world.

Schizophrenia

Schizophrenic brain scans; associated with enlarged ventricles and decreased temporal grey matter

Schizophrenic brain scans; associated with enlarged ventricles and decreased temporal grey matter

Schizophrenia is a severely disabling mental disorder involving hallucinations and delusions, as well as often paranoia and irrational beliefs. The clinical diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Vol. 5 (DSM-5) are listed as follows:

A. Two (or more) of the following, each present for a significant portion of time during a 1-month period (or less if successfully treated). At least one of these must be (1), (2), or (3):

1. Delusions.
2. Hallucinations.
3. Disorganized speech (e.g., frequent derailment or incoherence).
4. Grossly disorganized or catatonic behavior.
5. Negative symptoms (i.e., diminished emotional expression or avolition).

B. For a significant portion of the time since the onset of the disturbance, level of functioning in one or more major areas, such as work, interpersonal relations, or self-care, is markedly below the level achieved prior to the onset (or when the onset is in childhood or adolescence, there is failure to achieve expected level of interpersonal, academic, or occupational functioning).

C. Continuous signs of the disturbance persist for at least 6 months. This 6-month period must include at least 1 month of symptoms (or less if successfully treated) that meet Criterion A (i.e., active-phase symptoms) and may include periods of prodromal or residual symptoms. During these prodromal or residual periods, the signs of the disturbance may be manifested by only negative symptoms or by two or more symptoms listed in Criterion A present in an attenuated form (e.g., odd beliefs, unusual perceptual experiences).

D. Schizoaffective disorder and depressive or bipolar disorder with psychotic features have been ruled out because either 1) no major depressive or manic episodes have occurred concurrently with the active-phase symptoms, or 2) if mood episodes have occurred during active-phase symptoms, they have been present for a minority of the total duration of the active and residual periods of the illness.

E. The disturbance is not attributable to the physiological effects of a substance (e.g., a drug of abuse, a medication) or another medical condition.

F. If there is a history of autism spectrum disorder or a communication disorder of childhood onset, the additional diagnosis of schizophrenia is made only if prominent delusions or hallucinations, in addition to the other required symptoms of schizophrenia, are also present for at least 1 month (or less if successfully treated).

Now we will analyze each of these criteria that are relevant in turn (with the exception of C-D since they build on A-B, and the exception of F since the diagnosis is for the Prophet when he was an adult).

A.) 1. Prophet Muhammad (sa) did not have any false delusions as schizophrenics usually have, which are most often of a persecutory nature and are opposed to reality. A schizophrenic may think that the government is out to get him/her and may display ideas of reference (i.e. seeing supposed signs of things in neutral stimuli, such as seeing “proof of a government plot” in a newspaper cutting). The Prophet (sa) did not display any such delusions that would usually be distressing to the individual. On the contrary, he was firm in his conviction as a prophet to the extent that when asked by the Meccans to abandon his call as a prophet, he said:

“Even if they placed the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left, to force me to renounce my work, verily I would not desist thereform until Allah made manifest His cause, or I perished in the attempt.”[1]

It could however be argued that he may have suffered from delusions of grandeur (which usually manifest themselves in the schizophrenic thinking that God has chosen him/her for for some special mission or that he/she holds some place of status), however this is also debunked by the fact that the Meccans offered the Prophet (sa) riches and status if he stopped his prophetic mission yet he refused. In addition, he was known as al-Amīn (the trustworthy) and al-Sādiq (the truthful) among the Arabs prior to his mission. In fact, when he stood on a mountain and asked the Meccans if they would believe him if he hypothetically said that an army was approaching the city of Mecca, they unanimously agreed that they would.[2]  An entire society of people including its most intellectual would not accept the ramblings of a delusional person. And yet all the Meccans unanimously agreed he was truthful, and later the chieftains of Arab society in Mecca became his followers including ‘Umar bin al-Khattāb, Abū Sufyān bin Harb, ‘Uthmān bin al-‘Affān, and others.

2. It could be argued that his revelations constituted hallucinations, but this will be discussed in due forth.

3. It is recorded in the earliest biographical accounts that when the Prophet (sa) would speak, he would be coherent, speak in a moderate tone, and often repeat himself at least once to make the message clear.[3] This is not the disorganized speech shown by schizophrenics.

4. The Prophet (sa) did not display catatonia (immobility in strange bodily positions over extensive periods of time), which is a (rare) symptom displayed by some schizophrenics.

5. The Prophet (sa) did not display any of the negative symptoms for schizophrenia, which include flat affect (facial expression of emotion) and avolition (lack of motivation to do anything). On the contrary, a companion named ‘Abdullah bin Hārith narrates that “I did not see anyone who smiled more than the Messenger of Allāh.” [4] It is well recorded as well, that the Prophet (sa) would often cry to let out his emotions, during prayer or otherwise.

B.) The revelations experienced by the Prophet (sa) did not impair him in any way. On the contrary, he was able to effectively function in marital and family life, as well as function as the head of an entire state in Madinah. In addition to this, it should be noted that a very prominent symptom of schizophrenia is the failure to maintain regular standards of self-hygiene. The Prophet Muhammad (sa) on the other hand was known to be extremely particular in matters of hygiene, to the point that he said he brushed his teeth almost before every time he prayed during the five daily prayers. He in fact stated that “Cleanliness is half of faith.” [5]

E.) The Prophet (sa) did not take any form of drug or intoxicant for recreational use in his entire life, although it was the custom of the Arabs of the time.

In addition to all this, it should be noted that epidemiological studies have revealed that schizophrenia has an onset of late adolescence and early adulthood (especially for males)[6], while the Prophet (sa) received his first verbal revelation at age 40.[7] According to this diagnosis, the Prophet (sa) was not in any way or form suffering from any type of schizophrenia.

Works Cited
1 Sīrah Ibn Hishām of  ‘Abdul-Mālik bin Hishām (died 213 A.H.)
2 Tārīkh al-Tabarī (History of Tabarī) of Abū Ja‘far Muḥammad bin al-Jarīr al-Ṭabarī, Vol. II, pg. 228; Tārīkh al-Khamīs of Hussayn bin Muhammad bin Hasan Dayār Bakrī, Part I, p. 279
3 Shamā’il al-Tirmidhī of ‘Abu Abū ‘Īsa Muhammad al-Tirmidhī (died 279 A.H.), Chapter on the Speech of the Prophet (sa), pg. 107
4 Shamā’il al-Tirmidhī of ‘Abu Abū ‘Īsa Muhammad al-Tirmidhī (died 279 A.H.), Chapter on the Laughter of the Prophet (sa), pg. 109
5 Sahīh Muslim, Book of Purification (2), Hadith #1
6 Erick Messias, Chuan-Yu Chen, and William W. Eaton. “Epidemiology of Schizophrenia: Review of Findings and Myths.Psychiatric Clinics of North America. 30, 3 (September 2007): 323–338.
7 Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam, pg. 13E.

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10 thoughts on “Why the Prophet Muhammad was not Mentally Ill: Part I – Schizophrenia

  1. Anonymous says:

    Your article made me think even more of the possibility that he was a schizophrenic.

    Risk factors: loss of family, war, unstable employment, he spent many weeks socially isolated, did he have any friends?

    He repeated things. He smiled and cried – bipolar?

    He brushed his teeth 5 times a day – OCD/hypochondria?

    He did not display catatonia, he only started these visions when he was 40 – were you there to witness this?

    He believed in this ‘divine being’ and that angels were telling him to do stuff (including to kill) – if that doesn’t scream schizophrenia to you, you should just fold up your degree.

    I am also surprised that the Meccans would follow a delusional man. People are so unsure of themselves that they need a divine being to worship. I just wonder what was wrong with Christianity and Judaism at the time that people were so ready to move to another religion..

    I hope one day you will open your eyes and write an objective article using your head instead of a subjective article following your heart.

    • “Risk factors: loss of family, war, unstable employment, he spent many weeks socially isolated, did he have any friends?”

      He was cared for by his loving grandfather and then his uncle. There was no “war” going on in Arabia while he was growing up. He had a stable job as a merchant and businessman. He didn’t spend “many weeks socially isolated”; rather he would meditate sometimes at the cave of Hira but this was when he was 40. He had many friends such as Abu Bakr and ‘Uthman, who ended up being his foremost followers. He also had many childhood friends; one that comes to mind was named ‘Abdullah (Abu Bakr was also his friend from childhood). He was known as as-Sadiq (the truthful one) and al-Amin (trustworthy) by everyone while growing up. No one suspected mental illness or anything of the sort.

      Smiling and crying are natural human emotions. Bipolar disorder has stringent clinical criteria and “repeating things” or showing emotion is not one of them.

      He brushed his teeth a lot because he was hygienic, indicating also that he was definitely not schizophrenic since one of the biggest symptoms of schizophrenia is that one loses all personal hygiene. Again, OCD has stringent clinical crteria as well as hypochondriasis.

      I was not there to witness him getting visions at age 40 or him not displaying catatonia, but this is based on historical sources – both Muslim and non-Muslim, from the time. In fact the Prophet’s life is much more easily historically verified than that of other figures in history such as Jesus.

      He spent 13 years being persecuted, and then finally he fought in self-defense because if he didn’t that would mean the annihilation of all the Muslims. Would you not defend yourself? And no that does not “scream” schizophrenia to me. Many figures in history have been enlightened through mystic experiences including Buddha, Socrates, Confucius, Zoroaster and others. Even irreligious scientists have – look up Otto Leowi and August Kekule.

      The Meccans DIDN’T follow him. They persecuted him and his community for over a decade. But they admitted he was truthful in everything he said. Also, the majority of the Meccans were idol-worshippers and not Christian or Jewish. The Arabs all accepted him way later on, and even then not everyone.

      I hope one day you will learn to critically analyze things academically instead of being biased by preconceived notions. Study Arabic for a start, so you can read the primary texts.

  2. Umar N says:

    Lol he smiled and cried- that makes someone bipolar? Bipolar is certainly not that, please look up its definition. As pointed out in the post, he was known as being reliable, cheerful, honest and the best among them. That’s not descriptive of people with a previous psychiatric history. If you doubt the sources of this, then that’s your choice, but you immediately rule out yourself from having any opinion on the Prophet (SA) whatsoever as you disbelieve in all sources relating to him. (Which is somewhat irrational I might add. No doubt you would happily accept less authenticated secular sources about his contemporaries in that age, simply because they made no claim that seems foreign to you).

    Being contacted by a divine being only indicates mental illness if you have the preconceived prejudice that God doesn’t exist. Mentally ill people can believe that God has contacted them, but that doesn’t mean God has never truly contacted anybody. That would be like saying just because schizophrenics believe the government or media is out to get them does not mean that the govt or media aren’t out to get ANYONE. And it certainly doesn’t mean that the government or media don’t exist😉

  3. Fatima says:

    Thank you so much for posting an article like this with credible sources. Please continue to post more informative articles like this. May Allah (Swt) reward you for clarifying so many misconceptions about Islam.

    “It is not the eyes that are blind, but the hearts” (Qur’an 22:46)

  4. Well, visions are a huge part of the history that I research also, mainly pagan Northern Europe. Visions are found in all religious paths. I never try to prove what people saw was REAL, I just simply talk about them as part of the cultural tradition and how the figures they saw in their visions fit into the folklore and mythology.

    When in comes to spiritual visions in general, I think there are many factors at play:

    1) They may well be real spiritual encounters. As an agnostic, I don’t believe or disbelieve in spirits. I’m open to them existing, but since I prefer to keep my writing more on the historical scholarly side (which I do more in articles, not on my blog here on WP which is more casual), so I don’t think arguing for or against the existence of spirits fits in the historical sphere, that’s for theological discussions.

    2) They can be caused by medical triggers. I would never argue the case of Mohamed without researching it first. But, a comparison from Medieval European Christian history is Hildegard von Bingen who was an amazing woman in the Middle Ages. She was an Abbotess (the head of a convent), she was an herbalist with vast knowledge of plants used for healing, she was also a writer, musical composer, and artist. She also had visions which she attributed to God and it was inspiration for her art. Most scholars today think she suffered from severe migraine headaches which caused visuals. But, of course, nobody knew about migraines in the Middle Ages, so it was interpreted as signs from God. The fact that she may have had visual hallucinations during migraine fits does not undermine her spirituality in anyway. And, who is to say that God didn’t USE her migraines to communicate with her? Even if they were medically induced, they were still inspirational for her and encouraged her religious ideas which she then shared with the world of her day. In other words, a medical cause does not need to cut God, or spirits, or Allah, or what have you, out of the picture. Science and religion do not need to counteract one another. Understanding the scientific mechanism does not mean that spirituality is not also at work.

    3) Visuals can obviously be caused by plants and other things like dehydration under desert sun. Again, that does not have to counteract a spiritual experience. Most indigenous cultures will use herbal aids to induce visual hallucinations which they believe is just a bridge to spiritual communication. So if someone IS using a plant or has some other reason they are hallucinating, that does not negate the presence of a spiritual dimension. Many cultures historically have believed that those modes to induce hallucination are just gateways to open the door to spirit communication.

    4) Cultural influences – If certain things are strongly believed by the culture, such as an active spirit world, then individuals are more likely to generate visionary experiences psychologically. Today, in the secularized West, we no longer see people claiming to be abducted by fairies like was common in European folklore in the past. But today we see many people claiming to be abducted by aliens. Aliens are common in film, television, and other media today, and so we see many people having supernatural experiences involving them. Are they real? Who’s to say? I won’t call them liars, but I can’t believe without verification.

    So, basically, I’m just saying that spiritual visionary experience is a cross-cultural phenomenon. People see different things in different cultures, and the reason for them varies with the individual case. I think that if we want to be grounded in science then we have to be open to the idea that there may well be scientific reasons for these hallucinations. But when it comes to faith, a person’s faith is not very strong if the scientific mechanism behind the supernatural event cancels out the spiritual element. In other words, both can be happening simultaneously, and both can be true.

  5. […] This was a comment in response to another blog called Science and Mysticism, which was about whether the Prophet Muhammad’s spiritual visionary experiences were the result of Schizophrenia. The blog author was arguing against atheists who claim that Muhammad was a schizophrenic, (which you can read here). […]

  6. Nunya says:

    He was too mentally ill, and pedo, and abuser, rapist, and his religion is a cancer for the progress of humanity. I mean people actually want to glorify this crap… come on people wake up!

  7. Richard says:

    I like it! A madman, who claims God spoke to him, could not possibly be a madman because God told him he wasn’t a madman!! It’s perfect.

  8. Asmaa says:

    Muhammad is the one that Allah LOVES THE MOST…isnt that favouritism already???Even if we have many children and loves one of them the most,would we announce it to our other children?The answer is NO.So would Allah announce to the whole world that He loves Muhammad the most???But Allah is MIGHTY FAIR…why n who portray such unfairness from Allah???And would the child we love the most announce to his/her other siblings that his/her mum/dad loves him/her the most….the answer is again no…so if Muhammad doesnt announce this,who did…and if he did announce this,what could I ever say???Very sad and dissappointing when Allah is all U have and all Muslims I know all tell me that Allah can never love me anytink near to how He loves Muhammad…then I started wondering if Muhammad’s also schizophrenic like me;therefore the claimation of Allah loves him the most…when I was badly sick,I also end up making doa that Allah to Love me the most,without a single intention to oppose or challenge Muhammad…n I had delusions that my prayers are being answered by Allah already…but my dad says that I am dirty as a woman,because woman is dirty always come menses,how could Allah love me the most…n Muhammad is Allah’s Lover…n I believed my dad like an innocent small child would,broke down and cried…

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