Temporal Lobe Epilepsy

Tem­po­ral Lobe Epilep­sy and the Slan­der towards Muhammad

It is well-known that the polemics of the Chris­t­ian mis­sion­ar­ies and Ori­en­tal­ists where the char­ac­ter of the Prophet(P) ranges from the total­ly ludi­crous to an out­right lie and blas­phe­my. One such polemic is with regard to the alle­ga­tion that the Prophet(P) suf­fered from a type of epilep­sy known as tem­po­ral lobe epilep­sy.

This charge on the Inter­net is spear­head­ed by one Dr. Her­man H. Somers, who claimed that the symp­toms of the dis­ease were all present in the Prophet(P) because he used to lose con­scious­ness, per­spire, fall into con­vul­sions and sput­ter. After recov­er­ing from such seizures, the claim con­tin­ues, the Prophet(P) would then recite to the believ­ers what he then claimed to be a rev­e­la­tion from God, where­as that was only an after-effect of the epilep­tic fits which he suffered.

Need­less to men­tion, this alle­ga­tion is not a new one and has been addressed in the past by var­i­ous Mus­lim schol­ars and intel­lec­tu­als. In this gen­er­al exam­i­na­tion of this alle­ga­tion, how­ev­er, we seek to exon­er­ate the Prophet(P) from this ludi­crous charge, insha’Allah. 

In this endeav­our, we have adapt­ed the writ­ings of M.H. Haykal, which we feel suf­fi­cient­ly address­es and refutes the charge. Addi­tion­al elab­o­ra­tion of our own, in order to elu­ci­date Haykal’s answer to the alle­ga­tion of epilep­sy, will be pro­vid­ed in the Notes & Ref­er­ences section.

See also : Epilep­tic Symp­toms In The Bib­li­cal Prophets ?

The Slan­der of Tem­po­ral Lobe Epilepsy

To rep­re­sentAdapt­ed from M.H. Haykal, The Life of Muham­mad (North Amer­i­can Trust Pub­li­ca­tions, 1976), p. lxxii — lxxv. Also avail­able on the WWW as Pref­ace to the Sec­ond Edi­tion[Online Doc­u­ment]. Empha­sis is our own. the phe­nom­e­non of Muham­mad’s(P) rev­e­la­tions in these terms is, from the stand­point of sci­en­tif­ic research, the gravest non­sense. The fit of tem­po­ral lobe epilep­sy leaves the patient utter­ly with­out mem­o­ry of what has tak­en place. In fact, the patient com­plete­ly for­gets that peri­od of his life and can rec­ol­lect noth­ing that has hap­pened to him in the mean­time because the process­es of sens­ing and think­ing come to a com­plete stop dur­ing the fit. Such are the symp­toms of epilep­sy as sci­ence has estab­lished them. 

This was not the case at all with the Prophet(P) at the moment of rev­e­la­tion, for his cog­ni­tive fac­ul­ties used to be strength­ened — rather than weak­ened ‑and do so to a superla­tive degree hith­er­to unknown by the peo­ple who knew him most. Muham­mad(P) used to remem­ber with utmost pre­ci­sion what he received by way of rev­e­la­tion and recit­ed it to his com­pan­ions with­out a flaw. More­over, a rev­e­la­tion was not always accom­pa­nied by parox­ysms of the body. Much of it took place while the Prophet(P) was per­fect­ly con­scious, dur­ing his usu­al wake­ful­ness. We have advanced suf­fi­cient evi­dence for this in our dis­cus­sion of the rev­e­la­tion of the surah al Fath” upon return of the Mus­lims from, there­fore, Yathrib after sign­ing the Pact of Hudaybiyah.

Sci­en­tif­ic inves­ti­ga­tion, there­fore, reveals that the case of Muham­mad(P) was not one of epilep­sy. For this rea­son, very few Ori­en­tal­ists have upheld this claim and these turn out to be the same authors who upheld the charge of forgery against the Qur’an. Obvi­ous­ly, in charg­ing Muham­mad(P) with epilep­sy, their moti­va­tion was not the estab­lish­ment of his­tor­i­cal fact but the dero­ga­tion of the Prophet(P) in the eyes of his Mus­lim fol­low­ers. Per­haps, they thought, prop­a­ga­tion of such views would cast some sus­pi­cion upon his rev­e­la­tion, for it was pre­cise­ly the rev­e­la­tion that came as a result of the so-called epilep­tic fits. This, of course, makes them all the more blame­wor­thy and, from the stand­point of sci­ence, pos­i­tive­ly in error.

Return to Sci­ence On Epilepsy

Had these West­ern Ori­en­tal­ists been can­did, they would not have pre­sent­ed their non-sci­en­tif­ic claims in the name of sci­ence. They did so in order to delude the igno­rant who, igno­rant though they are of the symp­toms of the epilep­tic dis­ease, are pre­vent­ed by their own naïveté from check­ing the Ori­en­tal­ists’ claims against the writ­ings and opin­ions of the men of the med­ical sciences. 

A con­sul­ta­tion of med­ical lit­er­a­ture would have quick­ly exposed the errors of the Ori­en­tal­ists, delib­er­ate or acci­den­tal, and con­vinced them that in an epilep­tic fit all the intel­lec­tu­al and spir­i­tu­al process­es come to an absolute stop. When in a fit, the epilep­tic patient is either in a ridicu­lous­ly mechan­i­cal state of motion or on a ram­page inju­ri­ous to his fel­low men. He is utter­ly uncon­scious, unknow­ing of what he him­self does, or of what hap­pens to him, very much like the som­nam­bu­lant who has no con­trol over his move­ments dur­ing his sleep and who can­not remem­ber them when he wakes up. 

A very great dif­fer­ence sep­a­rates an epilep­tic fit from a rev­e­la­tion in which an intense and pen­e­trat­ing con­scious­ness estab­lish­es, in full knowl­edge and con­vic­tion, con­tact with the super­nal plenum that enables the prophet to report and con­vey his rev­e­la­tion. Epilep­sy, on the oth­er hand, stops cog­ni­tion. It reduces its patient to a mechan­i­cal state devoid of either feel­ing or sen­sa­tion.This par­tic­u­lar argu­ment was also for­ward­ed by Malik Ben Nabi when he says that : Some crit­ics of Muham­mad’s mis­sion have found in these phys­i­o­log­i­cal indi­ca­tions symp­toms of tem­po­ral lobe epilep­sy. This point of view gives rise to a dou­ble error, in tak­ing these symp­toms as the only cri­te­ri­on for judg­ing the total­i­ty of the Qur’an­ic phe­nom­e­non. First of all, we must take into account the con­comi­tant psy­chic aspect, which no patho­log­i­cal expla­na­tion can clar­i­fy. More­over, the phys­i­o­log­i­cal symp­toms them­selves are not suf­fi­cient for a diag­no­sis of epilep­sy, which cre­ates a con­vul­sive paral­y­sis in the sub­ject, depriv­ing him momen­tar­i­ly of his intel­lec­tu­al, and espe­cial­ly his phys­i­cal, fac­ul­ties. For Muham­mad, while it is true that his face became red, he kept a nor­mal pos­ture and an intel­lec­tu­al equi­lib­ri­um, proven from the psy­cho­log­i­cal point of view, by the fact that he used his mem­o­ry per­fect­ly even dur­ing the cri­sis. Now, this is not so in an epilep­tic seizure in which con­scious­ness is com­plete­ly abol­ished.” (The Qur’an­ic Phe­nom­e­non (Islam­ic Book Trust, 1991), p. 77) Rev­e­la­tion is a spir­i­tu­al height­en­ing with which God pre­pares His prophet to receive from Him the high­est and apode­ic­tic cos­mic truths that he may con­vey them to mankind. Sci­ence may even­tu­al­ly reach some of these truths and dis­cov­er the secrets and laws of the uni­verse. The rest may nev­er become an object of human knowl­edge until exis­tence on this earth has come to an end. Nonethe­less, these truths are apo­d­ic­ti­cal­ly cer­tain, fur­nish­ing true guid­ance to the earnest believ­er though they remain opaque to the igno­rant whose hearts are locked and whose vision is dim.

Inca­pac­i­ty of Sci­ence in Some Fields

We would have under­stood and appre­ci­at­ed the West­ern Ori­en­tal­ists hav­ing said : Rev­e­la­tion is a strange psy­chic phe­nom­e­non inex­plic­a­ble in terms of con­tem­po­rary sci­ence.” Such a state­ment would mean that despite its wide scope and pen­e­tra­tion, our sci­ence is still unable to explain many spir­i­tu­al and psy­chic phe­nom­e­na of which rev­e­la­tion is one. This state­ment is nei­ther objec­tion­able nor strange. Sci­ence is still unable to explain many nat­ur­al, cos­mic phe­nom­e­na. The nature of the sun, moon, stars, and plan­ets is still large­ly a mat­ter for the hypoth­e­sis. These heav­en­ly bod­ies are only some of what the human eye, whether naked or through the tele­scope, reveals to us of the cos­mos. Many of the inven­tions of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry that we present­ly take for grant­ed were regard­ed by our pre­de­ces­sors in the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry as pure fiction. 

Psy­chic and spir­i­tu­al phe­nom­e­na are now sub­ject to care­ful sci­en­tif­ic study. But they have not yet been sub­ject to the domin­ion of sci­ence so that it could be made to reveal their per­ma­nent role. We have often read about phe­nom­e­na wit­nessed by the men of sci­ence and ascer­tained by them with­out expla­na­tion in terms coher­ent with sci­en­tif­ic knowl­edge. Psy­chol­o­gy, for instance, is a sci­ence which is not yet cer­tain of the struc­tures of many areas of psy­chic life. If this uncer­tain­ty is true of every­day phe­nom­e­na, the demand to explain all the phe­nom­e­na of life sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly must be a shame­ful and futile exaggeration.

The rev­e­la­tions of Muham­mad(P) were phe­nom­e­na wit­nessed by his Mus­lim con­tem­po­raries. The more they heard the Qur’an the more con­vinced they became of the truth of these rev­e­la­tions. Among these con­tem­po­raries were many of extreme intel­li­gence.It is inter­est­ing to note that the symp­toms of tem­po­ral lobe epilep­sy were already well-known among the con­tem­po­raries of the Prophet(P), and yet they do not invoke this charge against the Prophet(P)! In fact, the Prophet(P) him­self was already aware of epilep­sy, as demon­strat­ed in this hadith as record­ed by al-Bukhari : Ibn Abbas said to me, Shall I show you a woman of the peo­ple of Par­adise?” I said, Yes.” He said, This black lady came to the Prophet and said, I get attacks of epilep­sy and my body becomes uncov­ered ; please invoke Allah for me.’ The Prophet said (to her), If you wish, be patient and you will have (enter) Par­adise ; and if you wish, I will invoke Allah to cure you.’ She said, I will remain patient,’ and added, but I become uncov­ered, so please invoke Allah for me that I may not become uncov­ered.’ So he invoked Allah for her.” (Sahih al-Bukhari 5652) One must, there­fore, ask that if the Prophet(P) had indeed suf­fered from epilep­sy, why was this dis­ease not diag­nosed” by his clos­est Com­pan­ions(R)?

Oth­ers were Jews and Chris­tians who had argued with the Prophet(P) for a long time before, and they believed in his mis­sion and trust­ed his rev­e­la­tion in every detail. Some men of Quraysh had accused Muham­mad(P) of mag­ic and mad­ness. Lat­er, con­vinced that he was nei­ther a magi­cian nor a mad­man, they believed in and fol­lowed him. Since all these facts are cer­tain, it is as unsci­en­tif­ic to deny the phe­nom­e­non of rev­e­la­tion as it is unwor­thy of the men of sci­ence to speak of it in derog­a­tive terms.A par­tic­u­lar Chris­t­ian mis­sion­ary has con­ve­nient­ly list­ed out the symp­toms” of the alleged epilep­sy of the Prophet(P), and this has been addressed else­where by the com­par­i­son of the so-called symp­toms” with the expe­ri­ences of the Bib­li­cal Prophets.

The man of sci­ence can­did in his search for the truth will not go beyond assert­ing that his dis­ci­pline is unable to explain the phe­nom­e­non of rev­e­la­tion accord­ing to the mate­ri­al­is­tic the­o­ry. But he will nev­er deny the fac­tu­al­i­ty of rev­e­la­tion as report­ed by the com­pan­ions of the Prophet(P) and the his­to­ri­ans of the first cen­tu­ry of Islam. To do oth­er­wise would be to fall under prej­u­dice and betray the spir­it of science.

Slan­der against Muham­mad Is Argu­men­tum ad Hominem

Such obsti­nate prej­u­dice only proves the deter­mined con­cern of its author to arouse sus­pi­cion in Islam itself. Such peo­ple have been inca­pable of argu­ing against Islam because they had found it sub­lime­ly noble, sim­ple, and easy to under­stand, and real­ized that these qual­i­ties are the sources of its strength. They hence resort to the trick of the impo­tent who shifts atten­tion from the great idea beyond his reach to the per­son advo­cat­ing it. That is the argu­men­tum ad hominem fal­la­cy which every schol­ar should seek to avoid.W. Mont­gomery Watt rein­forces the same point by stat­ing that : His readi­ness to under­go per­se­cu­tion for his beliefs, the high moral char­ac­ter of the men who believed in him and looked up to him as a leader, and the great­ness of his ulti­mate achieve­ment — all argue his fun­da­men­tal integri­ty. To sup­pose Muham­mad rais­es more prob­lems than it solves.”(Muham­mad at Mec­ca (Oxford 1953), p. 52)

It is nat­ur­al for men to con­cern them­selves with ideas and not with the per­son­al cir­cum­stances of their authors and advo­cates. Men do not give them­selves the trou­ble to inves­ti­gate the roots of a tree whose fruits they had found delec­table, nor the fer­til­iz­er which had helped it to grow, as long as their pur­pose is not to plant a sim­i­lar or bet­ter tree. When they ana­lyze the phi­los­o­phy of Pla­to, the plays of Shake­speare, or the paint­ings of Raphael, and find noth­ing objec­tion­able in them, they do not look for blame­wor­thy aspects in the lives of these great men who con­sti­tute human­i­ty’s glo­ry and pride. And if they try to fab­ri­cate charges against these per­sons, they will nev­er suc­ceed in con­vinc­ing any­one. They only suc­ceed in betray­ing them­selves and expos­ing their ulte­ri­or motives. 

Cast­ing resent­ment in the form of sci­en­tif­ic research does not alter it from being what it is : name­ly resent­ment. Resent­ment refus­es to rec­og­nize the truth ; the truth will always be too proud to allow resent­ment to be its source or asso­ciate.Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Nad­wi notes that : “[The cler­gy, mis­sion­ar­ies and Euro­pean authors]…have pre­sent­ed both the Prophet and his Mes­sage in shock­ing­ly hideous colours as a result of which aston­ish­ing­ly false and base­less talks have gained cur­ren­cy about them. (Speak­ing Plain­ly to the West, p. 35)” Such is the case of the Ori­en­tal­ists’ charges against the per­son of the Arab Prophet Muham­mad(P), Seal of the Prophets ; and that is why their charges fall to the ground. Temporal Lobe Epilepsy and the Slander towards Muhammad 1Endmark


  1. I love the prophet Muhammad :)

  2. Actu­al­ly, Her­man Somers does not make the diag­no­sis epilep­sy. He claims that the Holy Prophet had pitu­itary ade­no­ma”. In his book he rejects epilep­sy ! When it comes to pitu­itary ade­no­ma, Somers is very stupid !
    The Prophet used Hija­ma for the poi­son a jew­ish woman gave to him. That can explain the headaches. And what does it mat­ter he had large, fleshy hands and feet ! Noth­ing ! He also always kept him­self busy with some­thing, and giv­ing full atten­tion to every­thing he did. So intend on the task at hand, he nev­er looked over his shoulder.
    Also the claim of impo­tence is also spec­u­la­tive of nature”. He had a son about twen­ty years lat­er, after receiv­ing rev­e­la­tions from Allah ! The Holy Prophet was also very hand­some ! See for exam­ple the hadith from Ummu Mabed. And last, only a Prophet could do miracles !

  3. … an epilep­tic fit all the intel­lec­tu­al and spir­i­tu­al process­es come to an absolute stop. … He is utter­ly uncon­scious, unknow­ing of what he him­self does, or of what hap­pens to him …”

    While as a mus­lim myself I of course don’t believe the rev­e­la­tions of the prophet, salal­lahu alay­hi wa salam, were the result of epilep­sy, there are forms of epilep­sy which result in what feel to the afflict­ed like pro­found reli­gious expe­ri­ences. This to the extent that some refuse treat­ment where it is avail­able, because to them treat­ment” is akin to ask­ing them to give up a beau­ti­ful gift.

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