Was Prophet Muhammad Uncertain of His Own Salvation?


Bassam Zawadi

Christian missionaries argue that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was not certain about his own salvation according to Islamic sources. They put forth one Qur’anic verse and one hadith as proof for this. They are:

Surah 46:9 

Say: “I am no bringer of new-fangled doctrine among the messengers, nor do i know what will be done with me or with you. I follow but that which is revealed to me by inspiration; I am but a Warner open and clear.” S. 46:9

Saheeh Bukhari 

Volume 5, Book 58, Number 266: 

Narrated’ Um al-'Ala: 

An Ansari woman who gave the pledge of allegiance to the Prophet that the Ansar drew lots concerning the dwelling of the Emigrants. ‘Uthman bin Maz’un was decided to dwell with them (i.e. Um al-'Ala's family), ‘Uthman fell ill and I nursed him till he died, and we covered him with his clothes. Then the Prophet came to us and I (addressing the dead body) said, “O Abu As-Sa’ib, may Allah’s Mercy be on you! I bear witness that Allah has honored you.” On that the Prophet said, “How do you know that Allah has honored him?” I replied, “I do not know. May my father and my mother be sacrificed for you, O Allah’s Apostle! But who else is worthy of it (if not ‘Uthman)?” He said, “As to him, by Allah, death has overtaken him, and I hope the best for him. By Allah, though I am the Apostle of Allah, yet I do not know what Allah will do to me,” By Allah, I will never assert the piety of anyone after him. That made me sad, and when I slept I saw in a dream a flowing stream for ‘Uthman bin Maz’un. I went to Allah’s Apostle and told him of it. He remarked, “That symbolizes his (good) deeds.”

There are two solutions to this allegedly apparent problem.

The first possible solution is that the Qur’anic verse and statement of the Prophet (peace be upon him) came before the Prophet (peace be upon him) knew that he was going to paradise.

Ibn Hajar Al Asqalani states: 

ولفظه " فوالله ما أدري وأنا رسول الله ما يفعل بي ولا بكم " وإنما قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم ذلك موافقة

لقوله تعالى في سورة الأحقاف ( قل ما كنت بدعا من الرسل , وما أدري ما يفعل بي ولا بكم ) وكان ذلك قبل نزول قوله تعالى ( ليغفر لك الله ما تقدم من ذنبك وما تأخر ) لأن الأحقاف مكية , وسورة الفتح مدنية بلا خلاف فيهما , وقد ثبت أنه صلى الله عليه وسلم قال " أنا أول من يدخل الجنة " وغير ذلك من الأخبار الصريحة في معناه , فيحتمل أن يحمل الإثبات في ذلك على العلم المجمل , والنفي على الإحاطة من حيث التفصيل .

As for his expression, “By Allah, though I am the Apostle of Allah, yet I do not know what Allah will do to me,” the Prophet (peace be upon him) uttered this in accordance with Allah’s statement in Surah Al Ahqaaf “Say: “I am no bringer of new-fangled doctrine among the messengers, nor do i know what will be done with you or with me”. This was before the revealing of the verse by Allah All Mighty “That Allah may forgive you your sins of the past and the future” (Surah 48:2) because Al Ahqaaf is a Makkan Surah, while Surah Al Fatah is a Madinan Surah and there is no contradiction between the two of them. And it has been established that he (peace be upon him) said, “I am the first who will enter paradise,” and there are other reports which convey this meaning as well. So it is possible to sustain this (i.e., the fact that the Prophet doesn’t know) on knowledge in a general sense but negating the inclusiveness of the particulars. (Ibn Hajar Al Asqalani, Fathul Bari, Kitab: Al Janaaiz, Bab: Al Dukhool 'Ala Al Mayyit Ba'd Al Mawt izhaa Adraja fi Akfaanihi,Commentary on Hadith no. 1166, Source)

Imam Tabari in his commentary quotes Qatadah saying:

 وَمَا أَدْرِي مَا يُفْعَل بِي وَلَا بِكُمْ } ثُمَّ دَرَى أَوْ عَلِمَ مِنْ اللَّه صَلَّى اللَّه عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ بَعْد ذَلِكَ مَا يُفْعَل بِهِ , يَقُول { إِنَّا فَتَحْنَا لَك فَتْحًا مُبِينًا لِيَغْفِر لَك اللَّه مَا تَقَدَّمَ مِنْ ذَنْبك وَمَا تَأَخَّرَ }

“Nor do I know what will be done with you or with me”, then he (peace be upon him) knew from Allah after that what he would do with him, for Allah said, “Verily, We have given you (O Muhammad SAW) a manifest victory. That Allah may forgive you your sins of the past and the future” (Surah 48:1-2) (Ibn Jarir al-Tabari, Jami’ al-bayan fi ta’wil al-Qur’an, Commentary on Surah 46:9, Source)  

So we see that the first possible solution is that the Prophet (peace be upon him) expressed his ignorance of what would happen to him in the next life before he received revelation from Allah that stated that he would be going to paradise.

The second possible solution is that the Qur’anic verse and hadith do not even speak about the next life but this life.

Tafsir Al Jalalayn states:

Say: ‘I am not a novelty, unprecedented, among the messengers, that is to say, [I am not] the first to be sent [by God as His Messenger]. Already many of them have come before me, so how can you deny me? Nor do I know what will be done with me or with you, in this world: will I be made to leave my [native] land, or will I be slain as was done with [some] prophets before me, or will you stone me to death, or will the earth be made to swallow you as [it did] deniers before you? I only follow what is revealed to me, that is, the Qur’ān, and I do not invent anything myself. And I am only a plain warner’, one whose warning is plain. (Tafsir Al Jalalayn, Commentary on Surah 46:9, Source)

Imam Qurtubi quotes Abu Ja'far saying:

لَا يَدْرِي صَلَّى اللَّه عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ مَا يَلْحَقهُ وَإِيَّاهُمْ مِنْ مَرَض وَصِحَّة وَرُخْص وَغَلَاء وَغِنًى وَفَقْر

He (peace be upon him) doesn’t know what would follow for him and them from sickness, health, authority, low prices, high prices, wealth, and poverty. (Abu 'Abdullah Al-Qurtubi, Tasfir al Jami' li-ahkam al-Qur'an, Commentary on Surah 46:9, Source)  

Ibn Kathir quotes Al Hassan Al Basri explaining the statement "Nor do I know what will be done with me or with you":

أَمَّا فِي الْآخِرَة فَمَعَاذَ اللَّه وَقَدْ عَلِمَ أَنَّهُ فِي الْجَنَّة وَلَكِنْ قَالَ لَا أَدْرِي مَا يُفْعَل بِي وَلَا بِكُمْ فِي الدُّنْيَا أُخْرَجُ كَمَا أُخْرِجَتْ الْأَنْبِيَاءُ عَلَيْهِمْ الصَّلَاة وَالسَّلَام مِنْ قَبْلِي ؟ أَمْ أُقْتَلُ كَمَا قُتِلَتْ الْأَنْبِيَاء مِنْ قَبْلِي ؟  

 وَهَذَا الْقَوْل هُوَ الَّذِي عَوَّلَ عَلَيْهِ اِبْن جَرِير وَأَنَّهُ لَا يَجُوز غَيْره وَلَا شَكَّ أَنَّ هَذَا هُوَ اللَّائِق بِهِ صَلَّى اللَّه عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ فَإِنَّهُ بِالنِّسْبَةِ إِلَى الْآخِرَة جَازِم أَنَّهُ يَصِير إِلَى الْجَنَّة هُوَ وَمَنْ اِتَّبَعَهُ . وَأَمَّا فِي الدُّنْيَا فَلَمْ يَدْرِ مَا كَانَ يَئُول إِلَيْهِ أَمْره وَأَمْر مُشْرِكِي قُرَيْش إِلَى مَاذَا ؟ أَيُؤْمِنُونَ أَمْ يَكْفُرُونَ فَيُعَذَّبُونَ فَيُسْتَأْصَلُونَ بِكُفْرِهِمْ

As for the Hereafter, I seek refuge in Allah, and he (i.e., the Prophet) knew that he was going to paradise, but he said, “I don’t know what He (i.e. Allah) will do to me and you in this life. Will I be kicked out just as the Prophets (may Allah bestow His peace and blessings upon them) before me were kicked out? Or would I be killed just as the Prophets before me were killed?”

And this is the opinion that Ibn Jareer (i.e. Tabari) took and insisted that there should not be another opinion in this matter, for there is no doubt that this is the suitable explanation that suits the Prophet (peace be upon him). This is because, regarding the Hereafter, it is certain that he (i.e., the Prophet) will go to paradise along with those who followed him. And in regards to this life, he didn’t know what was going to happen to him or the polytheists of Quraysh. Were they going to believe or disbelieve and be punished and extirpated for their disbelief? (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Commentary on Surah 46:9, Source)

So we see that the second possible solution is that the Prophet (peace be upon him) is not speaking about his ignorance of what will happen to him in the Hereafter but in this life.

I personally favor the first solution. This is because it appears to me that the context of the hadeeth in Saheeh Bukhari makes it appear that the Prophet (peace be upon him) is speaking about how he doesn’t know what will happen to him in the Hereafter. This, of course, is not necessarily true, but in my opinion, it seems more likely. Thus, even though I believe the second solution is still plausible, I will personally opt for the first solution.

Either way, we look at it, there is a solution, and that is all that matters.



Shamoun tried to respond to my article over here.

Shamoun tries to argue that the Prophet’s statement refers to the afterlife by citing Ibn Kathir’s tafsir:

<> This and similar texts indicate that it is not allowed to declare that a specific person will enter Jannah except for those who were distinctly indicated by Allah or his Messenger. Examples of those are the Ten, Ibn Sallam, Al-Ghumaysa’, Bilal, Suraqah, `Abdullah bin `Amr bin Haram (Jabir’s father), the Seventy Reciters (of Qur’an) who were assassinated near the Well of Ma`unah, Zayd bin Harithah, Ja`far, Ibn Rawahah, and other similar individuals, may Allah be pleased with them. (Tafsir Ibn Kathir; source; bold and underline emphasis ours)

The narration says, “I do not know what will happen to him.” What does this have to do with the Prophet (peace be upon him) knowing about his own salvation?

He then misrepresents my position by saying: 

Even Muslim polemicist Bassam Zawadi, who tried to address this very topic, accepts that Q. 46:9 is dealing with Muhammad’s eternal destiny:

I personally favor the first solution. This is because it appears to me that the context of the hadeeth in Saheeh Bukhari makes it appear that the Prophet (peace be upon him) is speaking about how he doesn’t know what will happen to him in the Hereafter. This of course is not necessarily true, but in my opinion it seems more likely. Thus, even though I believe that the second solution is still plausible, I will nevertheless personally opt for the first solution. (Was Prophet Muhammad Uncertain of His Own Salvation?; source; underline emphasis ours)

We can therefore rule out the second explanation since the context of the hadiths demonstrates the implausibility of this view, just as this Muslim dawagandist admits. 

Is Shamoun blind? Not only did I not say this view is implausible, but I said the opposite! This is what I said: 

Thus, even though I believe that the second solution is still plausible, I will nevertheless personally opt for the first solution. 

Perhaps Shamoun could see better now. 

Shamoun says: 

But is this what the verse actually says? Does it really claim that Allah had forgiven all of Muhammad’s previous and latter sins? Let us see:

Lo! We have given thee (O Muhammad) a signal victory, That Allah MAY forgive thee of thy sin that which is past and that which is to come, and MAY perfect His favour unto thee, and MAY guide thee on a right path, S. 48:1-2 Pickthall Medinan

As the readers can see for themselves the reference doesn’t say that Allah HAD forgiven Muhammad completely, but that he MAY forgive his messenger of his sins.

What is translated as “may” is actually the laam al-ta’leel (laam of purpose), which basically means “in order that,” so there’s no doubt here?

Shamoun says:

And some part of the night awake for it, a largess for thee. It MAY BE that thy Lord will raise thee to a praised estate. S. 17:79

The Arabic word translated as “may” isعسى  (‘assa). Ibn Mandhur in his famous Lisaan al-Arab dictionary says that the word ‘assa could linguistically either indicate probability or certainty.(Ibn Manzur, Lisaan Al Arab,Volume 15, page 54; under the word عسا) 

Imam Al-Qurtubi said:

عَسَى " مِنْ اللَّه وَاجِبَة.

'assa from Allah is an obligation.(Abu 'Abdullah Al-Qurtubi, Tasfir al Jami' li-ahkam al-Qur'an, Commentary on Surah 9:18Source)

Al-Tabari states:

وَكُلّ " عَسَى " فِي الْقُرْآن فَهِيَ وَاجِبَة

Every occurrence of ‘assa in the Qur’an is an obligation. (Ibn Jarir al-Tabari, Jami' al-bayan fi ta'wil al-Qur'an, Commentary on Surah 9:18, Source)

Even in English, the word “may” can express contingency/possibility OR power/ability.

An example of it expressing possibility is “I may travel to Ireland next week”. An example of it expressing ability is: 

Luke 1:4 

so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. 

The verses that Shamoun cited do not express contingency because they are explained by other verses that indicate certainty (e.g., Allah guaranteeing and making promises for paradise). 

The definite proof for this is when Allah revealed Surah 9:102, which states:

And there are others who confessed their faults. They mixed good works with others that are evil. It may be that ALLAH will turn to them with compassion. Surely, ALLAH is Most Forgiving, Merciful.

Waakharoona iAAtarafoo bithunoobihim khalatoo AAamalan salihan waakhara sayyi-an AAasa Allahu an yatooba AAalayhim inna Allaha ghafoorun raheemun 

This verse was revealed regarding Abu Lubabah. Tafsir Al-Jalalayn states:

And [there are] others (ākharūn is the subject), [another] folk, who have confessed their sins, for having stayed behind (i’tarafū bi-dhunūbihim is an adjectival qualification of it [the subject] and the predicate is [the following, khalatū ‘amalan sālihan]) they have mixed a righteous deed, that is, their former [participation in the] struggle, or their confession of their sins, or otherwise, with another that was bad, which is their having stayed behind. It may be that God will relent to them. Truly God is Forgiving, Merciful: this was revealed regarding Abū Lubāba and a group of men who tied themselves to the walls of the mosque after they heard what had been revealed regarding those who stayed behind; they swore that only the Prophet (s) would untie them, which he did when this [verse] was revealed. (Tafsir Al-Jalalayn, Commentary on Surah 9:102, Source)

The background of this story is that Abu Lubabah mistakenly told the Bani Qurayza tribe what their fate would be. He realized that this was a big mistake, and then he tied himself to the wall of the mosque until God forgave him. Then Surah 9:102 (containing the word’ assa) was revealed. Once it was revealed, Abu Lubabah was untied. The question here is why he would do that if the word ‘assa indicated that his repentance would be conditional. The answer is that it didn’t. Abu Lubabah understood that he was definitely forgiven, so he agreed to untie himself.

Hence, the verses that Shamoun has cited do not prove his case. Rather, he is ignorant of Arabic and needs to settle with fallible English translations. Shamoun doesn’t seem to be too knowledgeable of English since he should have remembered that the word “may” does not always express contingency in any given context. 

Shamoun says: 

Moreover, the following Sura, which was composed at a later time, shows that Allah hadn’t removed all of Muhammad’s sins:

When comes the Help of Allah (to you, O Muhammad against your enemies) and the conquest (of Makkah), And you see that the people enter Allah’s religion (Islam) in crowds, So glorify the Praises of your Lord, and ask for His Forgiveness. Verily, He is the One Who accepts the repentance and forgives. S. 110:1-3 Medinan 

And then asks: 

The question to ask is why is Muhammad still being commanded to ask forgiveness for his sins if Allah had already completely forgiven him? 

Could it be that Allah informed His Messenger that His past and future sins are forgiven because Allah already knew how Muhammad (peace be upon him) would continue to live out the rest of his life? You think that Muhammad (peace be upon him) could turn around and say, “Haha, God! I can do whatever I want now since you promised to forgive all my future sins!”? Obviously not. Allah already forgave the Prophet (peace be upon him) in advance and informed him in advance because He knew that he would continue repenting and worshipping Allah until the day he died.

Aisha asked the Prophet (peace be upon him) a similar question:


Saheeh Bukhari

Volume 6, Book 60, Number 361:

Narrated Aisha:

The Prophet used to offer prayer at night (for such a long time) that his feet used to crack. I said, “O Allah’s Apostle! Why do you do it since Allah has forgiven you your faults of the past and those to follow?” He said, “Shouldn’t I love to be a thankful slave (of Allah)?’ When he became old, he prayed while sitting, but if he wanted to perform a bowing, he wound get up, recite (some other verses) and then perform the bowing.

The question Shamoun should be asking himself is why he continues to repent when his imaginary God supposedly died for his sins and already paid his debt. Such a belief is as strange as someone trying to repay someone he doesn’t owe money anymore. But that’s a different topic; we won’t delve into it here.

The rest of Shamoun’s points are irrelevant.

In conclusion, Shamoun failed to prove that Muhammad (peace be upon him) wasn’t certain of his salvation.

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