Muhammad’s Convenient Revelations
By Peter Townsend
Danish translation: Muhammeds bekvemme åbenbaringer
Source:, October 14, 2019
Published on October 24, 2019

Muslims believe the Qur’an is Allah’s final word to humanity and that it is a sufficient guide to faith and practice to people from South America to China. Indeed, Allah declares that “nothing was omitted from the book.” (Qur’an 6:38) Yet, Muslims search in vain within the pages of the Qur’an for the words of the Shahada (the Muslim confession of faith), the five pillars, how often you have to pray and many other crucial bits of information. Despite these glaring omissions from the ‘complete record’, Allah did, however, find time to settle the domestic and other problems of one single individual, namely Muhammad. Indeed, when we consult the so-called Asbāb al-Nuzūl (Occasions of Revelation) literature, it quickly becomes clear that Allah was ever ready to use his eternal word to make life as easy as possible for his prophet.

Here are just some examples of how some just-in-time revelation got Muhammad out of some very tight spots:

Muhammad was exempted from any limits on the number of women that he could marry. In Qu’ran 4:3 it is revealed that Muslims could marry up to four wives. For a variety of reasons, Muhammad wanted to marry more than four women. Ever obliging, Allah sent down a revelation that stated that the limit of four is only for ordinary Muslims. He told Muhammad that he could marry as many wives as he liked. It is made very clear that this privilege is “…for you only, not for the rest of the believers.” (Qur’an 33:50)

Muhammad was exempted from the requirement to treat his wives equally. In the same verse cited above (Qur’an 4:3), it is stated that those with multiple wives should treat them all equally. Muhammad experienced this to be a too difficult burden, especially as he began to develop favorites among his wives. Again, Allah stepped in and absolved him of the requirement to treat his wives equally, essentially telling the prophet that he was allowed to treat his wives as he wished and that he could ‘postpone’ and ‘receive’ them according to his own desires (Qur’an 33:51).

Muhammad received a special dispensation allowing him to marry the wife of his adopted son. The story of the marriage between Muhammad and Zainab, who was the wife of his adopted son Zaid, is another occasion where Allah used the Qur’an to help Muhammad out of a very tight spot. According to Muslim tradition, Muhammad went to the house of Zaid to look for him one evening. Upon arriving there, he only found Zainab in a state of semi-undress. Muhammad rushed away, but it seems that from this moment the desire to marry Zainab is implanted in him. Zaid, who obviously saw how the wind was blowing, divorced her, so Muhammad could marry her. This caused a great deal of grumbling among his followers, many of whom regarded his actions as tantamount to incest. How convenient. Allah immediately stepped in with another special revelation, making it clear that when adopted sons are ‘done’ with their wives, their adopted fathers may marry them and that whoever questions this ruling, questions Allah. (Qur’an 33:37)

Allah Settles a Domestic Dispute on Behalf of Muhammad. On one occasion, Muhammad had sex with a slave (Mary the Copt) whom he had not married yet. The wife (Hafsa) whose turn it was that night furiously objected. Muhammad promised not to touch Mary again if Hafsa kept quiet. She does not keep quiet, however, and a scandal ensues. Ever faithful, Allah steps in to smooth things over (Qur’an 66:1-5). He begins: “O Prophet. Why do you ban (for yourself) that which God has made lawful to you…” (Qur’an 66:1) and goes on to say that Muhammad is not bound by his oaths. The two ladies in question get a severe tongue lashing from Allah who tells them that they better shape up or that Muhammad may yet divorce all his wives and marry more obedient ones.

Allah Changes the Qur’an On-the-Spot in Response to a Question Posed to Muhammad. In Sahih Bukhari, the most respected Sunni hadith collection, we read of the following exchange: “There was revealed: ‘Not equal are those believers who sit (at home) and those who strive and fight in the Cause of Allah.’ (4.95) The Prophet said, 'Call Zaid for me and let him bring the board, the inkpot and the scapula bone (or the scapula bone and the ink pot).' Then he said, “Write: ‘Not equal are those Believers who sit..”, and at that time ‘Amr bin Um Maktum, the blind man, was sitting behind the Prophet. He said, “O Allah’s Apostle. What is your order For me (as regards the above Verse) as I am a blind man?” So, instead of the above Verse, the following Verse was revealed: “Not equal are those believers who sit (at home) except those who are disabled (by injury or are blind or lame etc.) and those who strive and fight in the cause of Allah.” (4.95) (Sahih Bukhari 6:61:512) Here, we have an example of how Allah’s supposedly eternal word is changed in a flash as a result of Muhammad wanting to accommodate one of his disabled followers. While his motivation may be praiseworthy, this playing loose-and-fast with Allah’s word to fit in with what Muhammad wants is quite instructive.

Muhammad Gets Irritated with some Diggers: Allah Tells Them to Keep Digging. During the so-called Battle of the Trench, Muhammad ordered some of his followers to dig a deep trench around Medina. This was obviously very hard work, and some of the men went absent without leave. This greatly irritated Muhammad. Sure enough, Allah comes through and makes it clear that those who want to leave the work can only do so with Muhammad’s explicit permission (Qur’an 24:62).

It is worth stressing how remarkable these convenient revelations are. As already noted Allah could not find space in the Qur’an to instruct the faithful on key aspects of Islamic faith and practice such as how to pray, how to make the pilgrimage and how to confess your faith. On the other hand, the ‘Eternal Qur’an’ is filled with verses clearly aimed at smoothing things over for just one single person. Perhaps, the last word in this regard belongs to Aisha (Muhammad’s favorite wife) who responded as follows to the revelation that Muhammad can marry as many women as he wished: “I feel that your Lord hastens in fulfilling your wishes and desires.” (Sahih Bukhari 6:60:311)