The Psychological Impact of The Fatrah Experience

In their hasty attempt to obfuscate and attack anything that invalidates their claims regarding the Prophet’s(P) experiences during the period known as the Fatrah, the Christian missionary Sam Shamoun had released a verbal barrage of rhetorical nonsense in his (ridiculously-)titled “A Christian Perspective[!] of the Fatrah of Muhammad”.

Needless to mention, it is neither “Christian” nor it is balanced in its “perspective”, as the author simply remains true to the form of the missionary tradition. This is followed by the equally-messy strawman arguments by his cohort, “Silas”, in his comments to our exposition of the Fatrah.

We are not surprised that the missionaries have taken a keen interest in our work, since this shows that our elucidation of the matter must have sown a deep discord amongst these proclaimed enemies of the Prophet Muhammad(P) and Islam. Whoever is the enemy of Muhammad(P) is no doubt an enemy of ours, and we aim to stifle their tongues once and for all by addressing the claims that they have made, insha’allah.


Obfuscation: The Missionary Tradition

After bawling out nonsensical paragraphs of what we consider as having nothing to do with his alleged “Christian Perspective” of the Fatrah, Sam Shamoun claims:

    Does MENJ contest Silas’ claim that Muhammad thought he was demon-possessed? No. Does MENJ contest the fact that Muhammad attempted suicide on several occasions as a result of believing he was demon-possessed and/or because the spirit delayed in coming to him? No.

Perhaps the missionary had developed an acute sense of traumatic paranoia when he first wrote the above statement. We have shown previously that none of the reasons that the missionary had highlighted (namely, that the Prophet(P) “thought” he was demon-possessed) is correct. It is in fact stated that the reason the Prophet(P) had developed the so-called “suicidal tendencies” is because he was anguished that the Archangel Gabriel had not visited him for a period of time. Experiencing human emotions of anguish does not make one “demon-possessed”! To infer that just because we agree that the Prophet(P) had suffered from this anguish and therefore this “automatically” means that we support their allegations of the so-called “demon-possession” of the Prophet(P), is an outright lie and misrepresentation of our purpose in our explanation of the Fatrah experience.

That is not all. The missionary fantasies get even worse as he tries to desperately pit our sources against us, the very same sources that a priori lends support to our article!

    The most interesting part of all this is that MENJ’s own sources confirm Silas’ statements. For instance, MENJ cites authorities regarding the duration of Muhammad’s Intermission, and makes the inference that this period lasted no later than six months even though there is nothing in his sources that suggest this.

Perhaps it has not been clear to the missionary that the problem with their “Christian perspective” of the Fatrah is that they only wish to demean and denigrate any significance of this experience to the Prophet Muhammad(P). Their closet-minded blindness has failed to make them look at the bigger picture of the Fatrah and the mode of Revelation.

This will be further elucidated in the next section where we discuss the psychological impact of the experience, insha’allah.

What Do The Sources Really Say?

Next, the same missionary again bawls out irrelevant material which cites the “opinions” of some people who had thought the Prophet(P) had an encounter with a “demon” or was “demon-possessed”. It is no surprise as to why these people had thought so, as the mode of Revelation was virtually unknown in the consciousness of the pagan Arabs before the coming of Islam. As the pagan Arabs are not used to perceiving the phenomenon of wahyToshihiku Izutsu, God And Man In The Qur’an (Islamic Book Trust, Kuala Lumpur, 2002), pp. 169-175. For a discussion of the Qur”ac concept of wahy (Revelation) and its linguistics, see Toshihiku Izutsu, ibid., p. 178ff., the prevailing superstition have connected the supernatural experiences of wahy with demons. Hence the missionary attempt at making a “connection” between two totally unrelated events is simply a desperate attempt at making a strawman and then knocking it down.

Interestingly, while this missionary was busy berating our appeal to Karen Armstrong and quoting a passage from her work which he claims “defeats” our position, his very same citation actually supports our above contention regarding the perception of the pagan Arabs on wahy!

Muhammad came to himself in terror and revulsion, horrified to think that he might have become a mere disreputable kahin whom people consulted if one of their camels went missing. A kahin was supposedly possessed by a jinni, one of the sprites who were thought to haunt the landscape and who could be capricious and lead people into error. Poets also believed that they were possessed by their personal jinni. Thus, Hasan ibn Thabit, a poet of Yathrib who later became a Muslim, says that when he received his poetic vocation his jinni had appeared to him, thrust him to the ground and forced the inspired words from his mouth. This was the only form of inspiration that was familiar to Muhammad….Karen Armstrong, A History of God, (Ballantine Books, NY, 1994) p. 137

It is also perhaps a good idea to define once and for all the difference between a Prophet and a mere poet/shaman:

…there is also an essential and absolute difference between a Prophet and a poet. A poet is by nature an aff? what he says is sheer ifk, a word which does not necessarily mean a ‘lie’, but something which has no basis of haqq (reality) or ‘truth’, something that is not based on haqq. An aff? is a man who utters quite irresponsibly whatever he likes to say without stopping to reflect whether his own words have some real basis or not, while what a Prophet says is Truth, absolute haqq and nothing else. So that the A [God] -> B [Man] relation of prophetism, although it bears an outward and formal balance to the A [Man] -> B [Man] relation of shamanism, has an essentially different structure from the latter.Toshihiku Izutsu, op. cit., p. 186

Further, it is also interesting to note that Armstrong had correlated the experience of Muhammad(P) with what the Hebrew prophets called kaddosh, acknowledging at the same time that the reason that Muhammad(P) was brought to “suicide” was not because he was “demon-possessed”, but because he had no prior experience or knowledge of the Semitic tradition of Revelation to support him:

Now, rushing from the cave, he resolved to fling himself from the summit to his death. But on the mountainside he had another vision of a being which, later, he identified with the angel Gabriel:

When I was midway on the mountain, I heard a voice from heaven saying, “O Muhammad! Thou art the apostle of God and I am Gabriel”…

…This was no pretty naturalistic angel, but an overwhelming ubiquitous presence from which escape was impossible. Muhammad had had that overpowering apprehension of numinous reality, which the Hebrew prophets had called kaddosh, holiness, the terrifying otherness of God. They too had felt near to death and at a physical and psychological extremity when they experienced it. But unlike Isaiah or Jeremiah, Muhammad had none of the consolations of an established tradition to support him. The terrifying experience seemed to have fallen upon him out of the blue and left him in a state of profound shock. In his anguish, he turned instinctively to his wife, Khadija.ibid., pp. 137-138

This clearly refutes the missionary position on misrepresentation of evidence. The rest of his “explaining away” regarding the experiences of the Biblical Prophets, it should be noted, does not serve to prove his point other than to reaffirm Armstrong’s position above. Refer to our original article which summarises the experiences of the Hebrew Prophets.

The missionary Silas presents an, even more, sillier case, inclusive of the ad hominem.

In totally misrepresenting our article, he only lends credence to the criticism in our conclusion that this missionary only:

…resort[s] to nothing but perjury in order to put forward his claims. At best, the missionary claim is merely a devious attempt at highly-speculative misinterpretations and mendacious assumptions, with the utter disregard to the deeper significance of the Fatrah…

Basically, he parrots the same filthy allegations of Shamoun, albeit in a more voracious manner that can only be described as “vicious” (i.e., finding so-called “contradictory” statements that are actually complementary to one another!), and rewords his statements that generally reflects the same basic assumption that the both of them share, i.e. that the reason for the so-called “suicide attempt” was that the Prophet(P) had thought that he was demon-possessed. We have earlier addressed above why this basic assumption of the missionary is not tenable, especially in light of our exposition on the matter.

As for his appeal to the false (and unhistorical) tradition of ‘Abu Afak, this has been addressed here.

It is clear that these missionaries should seriously consider getting themselves admitted to a psychiatry ward for curing their mental anguish and Islamophobia. For each time the name “Muhammad” is mentioned, the hair bristles on their neck, their teetg start gnashing and they shamelessly assault the Prophet’s(P) good name by appealing to fatuous theories and false accounts of history.

The Psychological Significance of the Fatrah

The missionaries are clearly desperate in their attempt to discredit the mode of the wahy phenomenon. They have even gone so far as to say that so-called “similarities” with shamanism is, therefore, evidence that the Prophet(P) was merely demon-possessed!

This clearly reminds us of the following Qur’anic verse which exonerates him of this charge:

“And (O People!) Your Companion is not one possessed; and without doubt he saw him [Gabriel] in the clear horizon.” (Qur’an lxxxi 22-23)

Hence one cannot help but be gratuitously offended when the filthy missionary makes empty claims such as:

    I believe that this was a time in which Satan continued to strive for domination over Muhammad’s mind and soul. This was a Satanic jihad. Muhammad struggled with what he knew was happening, was confused, and could not cope. His conscience told him something terrible had happened and he tried to address the pain through suicide. But Satan deceived him into thinking that perhaps he truly was a prophet. Slowly Satan took control.

To reciprocate in the same manner would make us stoop as low as to the level of the missionary mentality, therefore we would not dance to their tune.

Having said that, however, it would be a good idea to discuss excerpts from Malik Ben Nabi’s The Qur’anic PhenomenonMalik Ben Nabi (translated by Abu Bilal Kirkary), The Qur’anic Phenomenon (Islamic Book Trust, 1991), which actually analyses and refutes criticisms similar to the ones alleged by the missionaries.

Discussing the psychological impact of the Fatrah on the Prophet(P), Ben Nabi rhetorically asks:

…towards his fortieth year one finds Muhammad with a dominant, painful preoccupation: he doubts. He doubts not God – his belief in this respect was never to be shaken, but he doubts himself. We might as why and how this doubt come to his mind. Why, in the course of his contemplation, did he finds the shadow of his person, the specter of his “me” standing out at the far end of his religious meditation, suddenly becoming its central point?ibid., p. 54

He then answers that:

Without giving us an entire explanation for Muhammad’s doubt, the verse and biographical detail cited showed, nonetheless that this doubt does not result from a temporary hope, from an egocentric insanity, or from a hyperthrophy of the Muhammad “me”. One is obliged to see it as the consequence of an accidental subjective condition in which the Prophet found himself with the pre-knowledge, the foreboding of something extraordinary concerning his destiny.ibid.

In other words, one can pinpoint that the reason for the mental anguish of the Prophet(P) is due to this serious doubting of self, having not known the reasons of this foreboding. This due to the fact that the phenomenon of Revelation was an entirely unknown concept to the nomad Arabs at the time.

Muhammad had had that overpowering apprehension of numinous reality, which the Hebrew prophets had called kadosh, holiness, the terrifying otherness of God. They too had felt near to death and at a physical and psychological extremity when they experienced it. But unlike Isaiah or Jeremiah, Muhammad had none of the consolations of an established tradition to support him. The terrifying experience seemed to have fallen upon him out of the blue and left him in a state of profound shock. In his anguish, he turned instinctively to his wife, Khadija.Karen Armstrong, op. cit., pp. 137-138

This should answer the missionary’s boastful challenge, namely that:

    Come MENJ, bring forth your proof! Can MENJ meet the challenge? Of course he can’t. None of the Biblical prophets experienced what Muhammad experienced and none of them reacted the way Muhammad reacted.

So the reason why none of them had “reacted” in a similar manner is partly due to the fact that the Biblical prophets had assurances in their tradition, while the Prophet(P) did not.

Further, it is also clear that:

His shock upon receiving the first revelation and his amazement concerning the sudden commission which he received in the form of an order in the second revelation, mark for us the two psychological states which are especially interesting for the study of the Qur’anic phenomenon with relation to the Muhammadan “me”.

One should note that the condition of this “me” between the two crises and the two outcomes in question was never marked by a messianic hope, but only by a search for a state of grace, seen vaguely at the time of the first revelation. We should also note Muhammad’s desperate effort during this time to recover his mental self-possession.

The above facts indicate the independent nature of the Qur’anic phenomenon with reference to our subject – the “me” of Muhammad. One has to admit that the second revelation occured so long after the first that it could not have been lying merely in the subconscious of a man who had tried neither to contain nor to repress this phenomenon but, on the contrary, had strained to encourage its manifestations with all of his will and being. These psychological details gives us all the reasons necessary for Muhammad’s accepting his mission as a commission coming from God.ibid., p. 58

Hence it can be said that such an experience cannot be merely the product of a subconscious mind. For the missionaries to convince us that the Prophet(P) had indeed “suffered” experiences that are not dissimilar to shamans, poets or the “demon-possessed”, they must show that Ibn Khaldun’s Theory of Prophecy cannot be generally applied to the Biblical Prophets, and is hence null and void. See our appendix for further details.

The above exposition is sufficient to repel the rancour of the missionaries, the stench of their rhetorical fantasies and the incessant whining of their claims that Satan was responsible for the experiences of the Prophet(P)!

On the contrary, it is, in fact, clear that:

Muhammad certainly had in this collection of personal facts a subject for reflection – at least at the beginning of his mission. He could not have avoided considering these events as constituting objective facts, unique to his case, though insufficient in themselves as a basis for a firm conviction regarding the nature of his mission. This conviction would come only through the formulation of the Qur’an.Malik Ben Nabi, op. cit., pp. 77-78


We believe that we have made a strong case in having exonerated the Prophet(P) from all the charges and defamation by these two known fanatical characters in the “Answering Islam” camp by discussing, in brief, the psychological impact of the Fatrah. Hence

…Muhammad’s belief in his sincerity was in fact genuine and not a product of illusions and hallucinations. This is not a simple undertaking, because it amounts to the verification and substantiation of the entire body of doctrines, rites and practices of Islam. However, we can make the following statement in this connection: the strongest proof of the sincerity of Muhammad’s belief in the Divine nature of his mission is the Qur’an itself. Its noble language and teachings, its lofty moral directives, the exciting and revealing accounts which it conveys of former nations, their prophets and anti-prophets, their fates and fortunes, the information which it contains about things to come and the fore-knowledge which it conveys about a diversity of subjects – these are some of the considerations which make it extremely unrealistic to pronounce it a product an an outcome of a hallucinatory and illusory vision.Zakaria A. Bashier, The Meccan Crucible (FOSIS, 1978), p. 97

We seek the protection of God from the missionaries’ fanaticism and bigotry, from the evils within their hearts and from the fitna’ which they spread with their tongues. We also beseech Him that He may always strengthen our resolve to stiffle the tongues of those who oppose Him and His Apostle.

And only God knows best!

Appendix: Ibn Khaldun Theory of Prophecy

From shamanism to the poet Hassan ibn Thabit, the missionaries had constantly amused us with their constant jumping from one nefarious postulation to another. In his section, “OPEN CHALLENGE TO MENJ”, the missionary has also attempted to resort to devious trickery by asking rhetorical questions which serve no other purpose other than to ridicule, hence showing that their actions all border on insanity.

Below is a reproductionAdapted from Zakaria A. Bashier, ibid., pp. 82-85 of a discussion regarding Ibn Khaldun’s theory of prophecy that defines the experiences of a true Prophet of God, and hence invariably refutes the missionary agenda.

In his Muqaddimah, Ibn Khaldun gives both diagnosis and criteria for prophecy. The diagnosis consists of an ingenious description of the phenomenon of prophecy. In remarkably elegant style, he discusses the nature of the prophetic experience, giving a metaphysical exposition of its various signs and symptoms. The criteria, on the other hand, consists of traits and properties which are alleged to be useful in distinguishing between genuine and spurious prophets. As the leading Muslim sociologist, Ibn Khaldun believes that prophets are both chosen and prepared for their prophetic role by Providence, the essence of this role being to communicate Divine guidance to their respective peoples. The essence of Divine guidance is to acquaint man with his happiness and bliss in the Hereafter.

But first, let us see how Ibn Khaldun characterizes the prophetic experience.

    The Nature of Prophetic Experience

    (i) For Ibn Khaldun, the prophetic experience is essentially a kind of trance, a sudden leap, from the human level of consciousness to that of the Divine order. In this trance or leap the ordinary human cognitive powers are drastically transformed so that the subject undergoing the experience becomes able to partake of the perception and understanding of the Divine order.

    (ii) This transformation is described by him as a momentary exchange of the human consciousness with pure angelic consciousness, uninhibited by the mediation of the human body. As a result of this exchange or transformation, the subject becomes totally immersed in the spiritual medium of the realm of the angels. The subject becomes, momentarily that is, part and parcel of that higher realm and thus becomes able to partake in its activities, its perceptions and experience.

    (iii) At the termination of the prophetic experience, which normally takes the form of a trance, the subject returns to the ordinary human condition. However, he does not lose or forget the experiences and the perception which he attained whilst in the higher realm. He retains them in an exceptionally vivid manner as if engraved on his heart. This ability to memorize things perceived in visionary trances, is achieved by the subject during the training which he receives in preparation for his imminent prophetic role.

    (iv) By a process rather similar to translation but whose precise nature is unknown, the mystical content of the experience is rendered comprehensible in ordinary human discourse.

    (v) The prophetic role consists in communicating the content of prophetic experience to the people, rationally and completely unchanged. This material provides Divine guidance to the people and the conveying of this guidance is the very essence of the prophetic role.

    (vi) The actual transformation which makes the prophetic subject possible is quite painful and exhausting to the subjectwho shows visible signs of fatigue and hardship.

    Criteria For Recognizing A Genuine Prophetic Experience

    (i) True prophets experience a trance which can be described as follows:

    It is not a state of unconsciousness, nor is it a failure of physical or mental powers. The agent does not exhibit any signs of suffering from mental or physical illness. And quite definitely it is not any form of epileptic unconsciousness. The agent experiencing the trance becomes unaware of his surroundings, like someone asleep.

    Like a sleeping person who is experiencing some kind of unusual dream, the agent exhibits visible signs of fatigue and hardship. These include (i) heavy breathing, (ii) sweating heavily, and (iii) loud snoring. According to Ibn Khaldun, the fatigue and hardship is due to “an immersion in (and) encounter with the spiritual kingdom, the result of perception congenial to them but entirely foreign to the (ordinary) perception of men”.

    (ii) Even before receiving Divine Revelation the would-be prophets are recognizable as good and innocent persons, naturally averse to any reprehensible or sinful actions. This is to say that they are immune from sin and vice. This is the well-known doctrine of ‘Ismah (or infallibility) with which all true prophets are endowed. Prophets, that is truly inspired prophets, are by nature disposed to avoid and shun blameworthy actions as if such actions are the negation of their very nature.

    (iii) True prophets are also recognizable by the honest and sincere means which they employ to spread their messages. They use Divine worship and prayer, observe chastity and practise alms-giving. They are kind and sympathetic to the depressed and the underprivileged and dispense justice and equity to all people and under all circumstances. They are neither wealthy nor status seekers. Nor are they possessed by any craving for power or influence. Above all they desire and seek to impart Divine guidance at any cost to all members of their respective peoples.

    (iv) They must enjoy the support of some powerful group. This support is necessary because it serves as a buffer that protects them against their antagonists and gives them a measure of security which enables them to carry out their Divine mission.

    (v) All true prophets produce miracles, accompanied by some advance challenge of some sort. The challenge is in many cases made by their antagonists who seek to deny, belie and upset their prophetic claims. The prophets then produce the miracles both as answers to these challenges, and furthermore, as attestations to the truth and sincerity of their claims.

Our Challenge To The “Dumb and Dumber” Christian Missionaries

Based on the above we now throw back the “challenge” into the missionaries’ faces and ask them to prove that

    (a) Ibn Khaldun’s Theory of Prophecy cannot be applied to the Biblical prophets;
    (b) Can be applied to the experiences of shamans, poets and “demon-possessed” (including the “suicidal individuals”) that the missionaries have listed.

Of course, it is obvious that they cannot. The Theory of Prophecy highlighted above can only be generally applied to the Biblical prophets’ experience, and it is exactly what Muhammad himself had experienced. To discredit the Theory of Prophecy is to discredit the nature of Revelation as experienced by their own Biblical Prophets. Hence, the missionaries are handed back their own challenge.


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