Muhammad Is Not the Father of Any of Your Men: The Making of the Last Prophet

Muhammad Is Not the Father of Any of Your Men: The Making of the Last Prophet

Muhammad Is Not the Father of Any of Your Men: The Making of the Last Prophet

Muhammad Is Not the Father of Any of Your Men: The Making of the Last Prophet


The Islamic claim to supersede Judaism and Christianity is embodied in the theological assertion that the office of prophecy is hereditary but that the line of descent ends with Muhammad, who is the seal, or last, of the prophets.

While Muhammad had no natural sons who reached the age of maturity, he is said to have adopted a man named Zayd, and mutual rights of inheritance were created between the two. Zayd b. Muhammad, also known as the Beloved of the Messenger of God, was the first adult male to become a Muslim and the only Muslim apart from Muhammad to be named in the Qur'an. But if prophecy is hereditary and Muhammad has a son, David Powers argues, then he might not be the Last Prophet. Conversely, if he is the Last Prophet, he cannot have a son.

In Muhammad Is Not the Father of Any of Your Men, Powers contends that a series of radical moves were made in the first two centuries of Islamic history to ensure Muhammad's position as the Last Prophet. He focuses on narrative accounts of Muhammad's repudiation of Zayd, of his marriage to Zayd's former wife, and of Zayd's martyrdom in battle against the Byzantines. Powers argues that theological imperatives drove changes in the historical record and led to the abolition or reform of key legal institutions. In what is likely to be the most controversial aspect of his book, he offers compelling physical evidence that the text of the Qur'an itself was altered.


Two long Medinan verses set out a complex law of inheritance (Q4:11–12) … a
very practical matter. The second includes an account of what happens in the event
that “a man is inherited by kalāla”; this word, which also occurs in Q4:176, seems
to have bothered the commentators from the earliest times, and remains obscure to
this day

—Michael Cook, The Koran: A Very Short Introduction, 139

The word kalāla occurs twice in the Qurʾān, once in Q 4:12b and again in 4:176. Although the word is little known today, even among native speakers of Arabic, it was a subject of great interest to the early Muslim community. The second caliph ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb is reported to have said that he would rather know the meaning of this word than possess an amount of money equal to the poll-tax levied on the fortresses of Byzantium. One might say that the meaning of kalāla was a mystery. Eventually, the word was defined as either (1) a man who dies leaving neither parent nor child or (2) a person’s relatives except for parents and children, that is, collateral relatives.

Western scholarly interest in kalāla is barely a quarter of a century old. In 1982, I published an article in which I drew attention to the fact that the Arabic word kalāla is derived from the same root (k-l-l) as the Semitic kinship terms kallatu (Akk.), kallâh (Hebr.), and kalltā (Syr.), all of which signify a daughter-in-law. Using literary evidence—reports about ʿUmar and kalāla that I treated as coded narratives—I argued that the Qurʾānic term originally signified daughter-in-law and that the original qirāʾa or vocalization of Q. 4:12b had been modified at three points. If so, then Q. 4:12b originally awarded fractional shares of the estate, not to exceed one-third, to the siblings of a man who had designated his daughter-in-law (or wife) as his heir in a last will and testament. The novelty of my argument lay in the fact that Islamic inheritance law does not allow a person contemplating death to designate anyone as heir—let alone a female who is not related to him or her by ties of blood. My hypothesis about Q. 4:12b became the starting point of an attempt . . .

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