Despite the numerous suspicions over the course of history that claim that Prophet Muhammad (s) suffered from epilepsy, there is no real evidence to support this idea. Rather, if one studies his life and analyses the way the Prophet (s) behaved, it is evident that he was a wise and knowledgeable man and did not have the symptoms common to epilepsy.
In order to better understand this question, we first define epilepsy and the symptoms associated with it.
According to Mayo Clinic (2021), epilepsy is defined as “a central nervous system (neurological) disorder in which brain activity becomes abnormal, causing seizures or periods of unusual behavior, sensations, and sometimes loss of awareness.” It is often accompanied by a temporary confusion, a staring spell, uncontrollable jerking movements of the arms and legs, and sometimes even loss of consciousness or awareness (Mayo Clinic, 2021).
Methods of Revelation:
There were three main modes of revelation used to convey messages to the Prophets of Allah (swt), as explained in the book, The Qur’an and Hadith by Sayyid Saeed Akhtar Rizvi (Rizvi, 1994). The first mode was inspiration in the form of true dreams, or Prophetic inspirations. The second consisted of revelations sent from ‘behind a curtain’ which could be done in various different ways. The story of Prophet Musa (a) is one that exemplifies such a mode of revelation. There are accounts in the Bible as well as in the Quran that report God speaking to Prophet Musa from behind a burning bush, and the Prophet feeling intense fear that caused him to fall down at the sound of The Voice (Aziz, 2019). The third and final mode of revelation, being the easiest and clearest form, took place through an angel (Jibrail).
“It is not possible for a man that he should receive the message of Allah except either by inspiration or from behind a curtain, or Allah sends angels and the angels bring the message of Allah, whatever Allah wishes. Verily Allah is High, Omniscient”The Quran 42:51.
Revelations to the Prophet (s) and Accusations of Epilepsy:
Of all the different modes of revelation mentioned above, the hardest form experienced is said to be the revelations from ‘behind a curtain.’ For Prophet Muhammad (s) there would sometimes be a continuous high-pitched ringing that reached his ears, causing him to go through physical and emotional discomfort before he received the revelation and was able to convey it to others.
Some accounts state that the Prophet (s) “would be gripped by a feeling of pain, and in his ears, there would be a noise like the reverberation of a bell. Even on a very cold day, the bystanders would see great pearls of sweat on his forehead as the revelation descended upon him” (Aziz, 2019).
It was accounts like these, as well as others, that noted symptoms such as the “unconsciousness” of the Prophet (s) during these revelations, that led some to suspect the presence of epilepsy. However, one must note that after an episode of unconsciousness in epilepsy, the individual often “does not know what has happened. Sometimes, he is confused, forgets where he is, and wanders away in an attack of loss of memory (amnesia or epileptic fugue)” (Rizvi, 1994).
One might wonder, where did these accusations stem from in the first place? It is believed that these accusations against the Prophet (s) were a result of religious and political propaganda that sought to discredit him and his divine mission by spreading dread and falsehood about him (Aziz, 2019). It is interesting to further note that the effects the Prophet (s) endured during the time of revelation were not unique to him alone. Rather, they were common to other Israelite Prophets as well – those against whom such claims of epilepsy are not made (Rizvi, 1994).
It is therefore clear that the Prophet (s) did not suffer from epilepsy. Rather, the intense discomfort that he went through during the moments of revelation was a natural reaction to the transferral of a divine message – from a divine entity to a finite human being (Aziz, 2019). The Quran also confirms the validity of the statements of the Prophet (s) by saying, “He [i.e. the Prophet] does not speak of his own desire, it is not but a revelation revealed” (The Quran, 53:3-4).
Aziz, H. (2019). Did Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) have epilepsy? A neurological analysis.
Epilepsy & Behavior, 103, 1-6. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.yebeh.2019.106654
Mayo Clinic. (2021). Epilepsy. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/epilepsy/symptoms-causes/syc-20350093
Rizvi, S.S.A. (1994). The Qur’an and Hadith | Al-Islam.org. Bilal Muslim Mission of Tanzania.