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in category History

Was there any historical scholar in Mecca?

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Islamic researcher, graduated from Al-Azhar University, Islamic Studies in the English language. I also studied at Temple University in the US.
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In a Nutshell:
Arabs generally did not pay so much attention to History and knowledge. Mecca was thousands of kilometres away from any kind of civilization. Thus Most of its population were illiterate. When Meccans searched for teaching source of the content of the Qur'an, they found two possible sources: Waraqa b. Naufal and a blacksmith Roman slave. But Prophet Muhammad (saw) could not have learned anything from them as the later was not qualified and the former died a few days after the initiation of the revelation.


Background

The content of the Qur'an can be generally summarized in three categories: Religious and moral teachings and legislations; prophecies of some future matters; and sophisticated religious, cultural and historical references of the previous and contemporary nations. From a historical background, the third category is the most relevant to the question because these are acquired and learning based information. The author of such references must either have dictated himself studying detailed historical literature or a well-informed scholar did and taught him. The first possibility is improbable because the Prophet (saw) was illiterate, thus the second possibility in the one in the discussion.

People of Knowledge in Mecca

the Arabs during this pre-Islamic period carved their name of the stone of ignorance (al-Jahilyah, the state of ignorance." Mecca was thousands of kilometres away from any kind of civilization. They lived their lives earning money, invading one another, composing poems and worshipping their idols. Most of the population were illiterate with the exception of some individual of the Judeo-Christian followers. This historical and social context in Mecca does not support the notion of Mecca as a source of such information. They were very small communities who know each other's work, preference, life and so on. When the people of Quraysh heard the content of the Qur'an, they acknowledged that such content must have a source of knowledge outside their community.

There were only two people living in Mecca with historical background who, as supposed, could have taught Muhammad (saw) this information: Waraqa b. Naufal (a converted Christian monk who isolated himself from people) and a blacksmith Roman slave who was exhausted working for his master.

When Prophet Muhammad (saw) firstly received the revelation, he was afraid as he experienced something really terrifying, his wife asked him seeking the advice of someone who has knowledge of God and His revelation. It was narrated on the authority of Aisha (ra):

فَانْطَلَقَتْ بِهِ خَدِيجَةُ حَتَّى أَتَتْ بِهِ وَرَقَةَ بْنَ نَوْفَلِ … ابْنَ عَمِّ خَدِيجَةَ ـ وَكَانَ امْرَأً تَنَصَّرَ فِي الْجَاهِلِيَّةِ، ... فَقَالَ لَهُ وَرَقَةُ يَا ابْنَ أَخِي مَاذَا تَرَى فَأَخْبَرَهُ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم خَبَرَ مَا رَأَى‏.‏ فَقَالَ لَهُ وَرَقَةُ هَذَا النَّامُوسُ الَّذِي نَزَّلَ اللَّهُ عَلَى مُوسَى صلى الله عليه وسلم
"Khadija then accompanied him to her cousin Waraqa Who concerted to Christianity during the pre-Islamic Period … Waraqa asked … What have you seen?" Allah's Messenger (saw) described whatever he had seen. Waraqa said, 'This is the same one who keeps the secrets (angel Gabriel) whom Allah had sent to Moses (saw).' … But after a few days Waraqa died." (Sahih al-Bukhari 3)

First, Waraqa passed away as soon as the revelation initiated and there is no historical source says they met each other, let alone the claim that they studied together, except for few minutes after the first revelation and not before. Therefore, he couldn't have learned the whole sophisticated knowledge existent in the Quran in just a few minutes.

Second, in the meeting, Prophet Muhammad (saw) was the teller and the speaker, not the student and listener. Meccans found it meaningless to claim Waraqa as his teacher. In addition, the nature of the Qur'an as an opportunity based revelation makes this resolution improbable because he was to accompany him all over the way.

The last resort for Meccans was the blacksmith Roman slave. The strength in their argument was: first, this slave is not a member of the tribe from Rome and so he could have learned any of the Qur'anic stories which they were not able to do; second, his living inside Mecca is supposed to make it easy for Prophet Muhammad to frequently meet him; third, he is still alive.

But this solution also seemed implausible for some reasons: he was an uneducated slave who was enslaved in his childhood and then was exhaustively working under the authority of his master as a blacksmith. Thus he seems to be no different than the ordinary Arab. There are no historical references state he accompanies the Prophet (saw) during his life. The sophisticated historical, religious, and cultural references in the Qur'an could not only be learned by being born in Rome, rather they require years of intensive study languages and ancient literature, analyzing data and so on. The mere birth in Egypt does not make us Azhari Muslim Scholars and mere birth in the UK does not make him an Oxford scientist.

Allah says concerning their claim:

وَلَقَدْ نَعْلَمُ أَنَّهُمْ يَقُولُونَ إِنَّمَا يُعَلِّمُهُ بَشَرٌ لِّسَانُ الَّذِي يُلْحِدُونَ إِلَيْهِ أَعْجَمِيٌّ وَهَـذَا لِسَانٌ عَرَبِيٌّ مُّبِينٌ
"And We certainly know that they say, "It is only a human being who teaches the Prophet." The tongue of the one they refer to is foreign, and this Qur'an is [in] a clear Arabic language." (Qur'an 16:1103)

Thus these two probabilities seem unreasonable to believe in. Eventually, the importance of such historical references is to answer the question of 'From where Prophet Muhammad (saw) learned this knowledge? Tom Holland, a sceptic orientalist, said "The key factor about the traditional account is that Muhammad receives his first revelation in Mecca, and Mecca stands at a fabulous remove from the World of the Roman Empire. … There were no Jews and no Christian in Mecca. … Muhammad was illiterate …if that is the case, … so how to explain this text which full of those sophisticated cultural references except by a miracle. It seems if we are to rely on the Muslim account of how the Quran came into being that The Divine must indeed have penetrated this Miracle." (The Origin of Islam, a YouTube video at Rancho Mirage) For that reason, radical sceptic orientalists try to subject a new history of the origin of Islam as a religion first appeared in Rome, not in the desert because they could not find any source of teaching there. When the question is not yet answered, "So how to explain this text which full of those sophisticated cultural references except by a miracle. … The Divine must indeed have penetrated this Miracle."

Conclusion

Arabs generally did not pay so much attention to History and knowledge. Mecca was thousands of kilometres away from any kind of civilization. Thus Most of its population were illiterate. When Meccans searched for teaching source of the content of the Qur'an, they found two possible sources: Waraqa b. Naufal and a blacksmith Roman slave. But Prophet Muhammad (saw) could not have learned anything from them as the later was not qualified and the former died a few days after the initiation of the revelation.


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