A psychopathological profile of the prophet Mohammad - Part 1 of 5

25 October 2012
A psychopathological profile of the prophet Mohammad  - Part 1 of 5

By Coorosh

Mohammad’s schizophrenic disorder

Depicting a psychological profile of Mohammad has been, because of the Quran’s many mistakes, incomprehensible verses, contradictions, inconsistencies, fallacies, errors, and absurdities, a central issue for those who have been researching on Islam. As examples, I mention two classic scholars: Aloy Sprenger, in his fascinating three-volume work about Mohammad and Islam (das Leben und die Lehre des Muhammed), categorizes Mohammad as having suffered from hysteria.

He then goes through hallucinations that could emerge by hunger, thirst, loneliness and religious enthusiasm. He explains over 60 pages, based on psychological knowledge at that time, with the help of single case stories and examples from newspaper to prove his diagnosis. It is very much likely that he would have come to the correct diagnosis if the disorder schizophrenia were known at that time.

While the second German edition of his work was released in 1869, the disease was first identified, and classified as a discrete mental illness into different categories by Dr. Emil Kräpelin in his Psychiatric Compendium in the 1887; he named it "dementia praecox” (early dementia) to distinguish it from other forms of dementia (such as Alzheimer’s disease,) which typically occur late in life. It was Dr. Eugen Bleuler, who coined the term, "schizophrenia" in 1911.

Another scholar, Theodor Nöldke, expresses his assessment in an article with the title, "Quran, an introductory essay”. He writes, "In his [Mohammad’s] early career, sometimes perhaps in its later stages also, many revelations must have burst from him in uncontrollable excitement, so that he could not possibly regard them otherwise than as divine inspirations… There may have been many a revelation of this kind which no one ever heard but himself, as he repeated it to himself in the silent of the night (Q73:4).”

Ali Dashti explains the situation as follows, "The impression conveyed by the Quran is that a hidden voice in Mohammad’s soul or subconscious mind was continually impelling him to guide the people, restraining him from lapses, and providing him with solutions to problems. (23-years, pp. 150-151).

In recent years, Ali Sina is the only one I know who has performed a comprehensive research about Mohammad’s psychological make up. However, he dedicates less than one page on the subject that "Muhammad may have also suffered from schizophrenia”. He attributes all the hallucinations and delusions Muhammad experienced to his Temporal Lob epilepsy.


Schizophrenia is a disorder characterized by a profound disruption in cognition and emotion, affecting the most fundamental human attributes: language, thoughts, perception and affect. Its course is difficult to study because it does not follow a single pathway and varies considerably from person to person. Some individuals experience periods of acute psychotic symptoms and remission, others have a relatively stable course, while some show a progressive worsening associated with moderate to severe disability.

Schizophrenia develops gradually with a prepsychotic stage, also known as the prodromal phase or prodrome. This is the period of time from the first change in a person until development of the first frank psychotic symptoms. The length of the prodromal phase varies from patient to patient and can last between a few weeks to few years. The person slowly withdraws from family, friends, and society, exhibits different sleeping patterns than usual, becomes preoccupied with odd ideas, religion, or philosophy, and can be excessively suspicious. (S. f. ex. Psychological & mental health disorders, or schizophrenia.com, or omnimedicalresearch.com).

At the end of his thirtieth year, Mohammad started being pensive and depressed. It seemed, the good life without being pushed around to work had shown its limits and he preferred a more solitary and retiring lifestyle. His favorite place was a cave in the declivities at the foot of Mount Hira, a lofty conical hill, three-four kilometers north of Mecca. This prepsychotic or prodromal stage in Mohammad’s schizophrenic development has by Islamic scholars been the subject of one interpretation: Mohammad was supposed to be meditating in that cave, and in one of those occasions, the Angel Gabriel was supposed to appear and start delivering the revelations.

In the this essay, I am going to follow Mohammad’s behavior based on the Islamic History (hadith and sira) and Qura, and try to explain it by means of the psychological knowledge. My apologies to those readers who have read and heard these stories on and on in the hadith, sira, interne sites, books and other places, but for the sake of continuity, I have to repeat them in this new context.

Diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia according to DSM-IV-R:

A. Positive symptoms: (Two, or more, of the following, each present for a significant portion of time during a 1-month period)

1- Delusions 2- Hallucinations 3. Disorganized speech (e.g., frequent derailment or incoherence) 4. Grossly disorganized and catatonic behavior

B. Negative symptoms, i.e., affective flattening, alogia or avolition.

Notes: Only one criterion A symptom is required if delusions are bizarre or hallucinations consists of a voice keeping up a running commentary on person’s behavior.

Based on the constellation of symptoms present, one may classify any given case of schizophrenia into one of following 5 subtypes: Different subtypes of schizophrenia are defined according to the most significant and predominant characteristics present in each person at each point in time. The result is that one person may be diagnosed with different subtypes over the course of his illness.

• Paranoid schizophrenia – the patient feels extremely suspicious, persecuted, grandiose, and has auditory and/or visual hallucination, or a combination of these experiences. • Disorganized schizophrenia – This subtype of schizophrenia is marked by significant regression to primitive, uninhibited, and disorganized behavior. Thumb-sucking, howling like a wolf, temper tantrums, creation of pornographic art and unreasonably strong cravings to suckle a female’s breast are characteristic of this type. The patient may not have delusions.

• Catatonic schizophrenia – the patient is withdrawn, mute, negative and often assumes very unusual postures. Alternatively, activity can dramatically increase, a state known as catatonic excitement.

• Residual schizophrenia – the patient displays no longer delusion or hallucinating, but has no motivation or interest in life. This type commonly displays emotional bluntness, social withdrawal, illogical thinking, eccentric behavior or mild loosening of association.

• Undifferentiated schizophrenia – It is used when patients do not clearly fit into any one type, fit into more than one type, or do not fit into any of the other types. As indicated, the course varies from person to person and in Mohammad’s case, it really does not matter which subtype we choose, the symptoms speak for themselves. However, the symptoms reveal that he can be classified as paranoid subtype. People with this subtype may be more functional in their ability to work and engage in relationships than people with other subtypes of schizophrenia; they are also more likely to be affected by positive symptoms, compared to other types of schizophrenia.

The reasons are not entirely clear, but may partly reflect that people suffering from this subtype often do not exhibit symptoms until later in life [Mohammad was 40 when he exhibited the symptoms] and have achieved a higher level of functioning before the onset of their illness. Typically, the hallucinations and delusions revolve around some characteristic theme, and this theme often remains fairly consistent over time [until he died, he insisted being chosen as prophet]. A person’s temperaments and general behaviors often are related to the content of the disturbance of thought (PsychCenteral.com). We are going to see that he not only suffered from a bizarre delusion (criterion A1 is fulfilled), he also had many hallucinations and thought disorders, which manifest themselves in disorganized speech (criterion A2 and A3 are fulfilled). We will also see that the combination of his hallucinations and delusions go hand in hand. This is to say, his delusions of grandiosity are supported by 'evidence' derived from his hallucinations, and vice versa.

1. Delusions

Delusions are defined as erroneous beliefs that usually involve a misinterpretation of perceptions or experiences and cannot be accounted for by the person’s cultural or religious background, or level of intelligence. A person experiencing delusion, strongly believe in his/her beliefs and will hold firmly to them regardless of the logical arguments and evidence presented. According to the delusion's content theme, schizophrenics can experience one or more of the following delusions:

• Grandiose delusions • Religious delusions • Persecutory delusions • Referential delusions • Somatic delusions

In the grandiose type, the patient believes possessing special powers, talents, abilities, or they are famous people.

The religious type includes any delusion with a religious or spiritual content. Some of these delusions can have grandiose characteristics such as the belief that the person was chosen by God. It is a known clinical picture that a patient may believe herself as a prophet. He has a message that will save the world, and sets about spreading it. However, religious delusions vary across cultures and in some cases, can lead to violent behaviors.

In persecutory type, the patient has the feeling being spied on, followed, ridiculed, tricked, cheated, conspired against, etc. In referential type, certain events, objects, remarks, gestures, comments, passages from a book, newspaper etc. have a personal meaning or are directed to the individual. In somatic type, the patient focuses on the diseased, changed, of a bodily functioning, bodily sensation, or physical appearance, e.g., he thinks that his body is infested by parasites or his organs are removed and replaced with someone else’s organs. (Omnimedicalsearch.com)

In Mohammad’s case, we experience a religious, grandiose and a persecutory delusion, as said above, sometimes melted together, reflected in different verses in the Quran and in his behaviors as described in hadiths and sira. The grandiose-religious aspect of his delusion, we read in the following verses in which he (from Allâh’s mouth) calls himself a good example whom everybody has to bless:

Q33: 21

Certainly you have in the Apostle of Allah an excellent exemplar for him who hopes in Allah and the latter day and remembers Allah much.

Q68: 4

And you are certainly on the most exalted standard of moral excellence.

Q33: 56

Surely Allah and His angels bless the Prophet; O you who believe! call for (Divine) blessings on him and salute him with a (becoming) salutation.

Bukhari: B2-N14: The prophet said:

"None of you will have faith till he loves me more than his father, his children and all mankind.” The above hadith, which expresses his grandiosity, contains at the same time the element of paranoia. He knows that people love their parents, their children or some friends more than they love others. He gets paranoid about the fact that people could be influenced by their love ones. To cut off the connection of his followers with their relatives, and thereby to make sure that they would not be influenced by them, he conditions their faith with their love to him. This is confirmed also in the following verse:

Q9: 23

O People who Believe! Do not consider your fathers and your brothers as your friends if they prefer disbelief over faith; and whoever among you befriends them – then it is he who is the unjust. In the following verse, he unambiguously shows how paranoid about people setting up a partner for his Allâh:

Q4: 48 Undoubtedly Allah does not forgive (the sin of) disbelieving in Him and forgives anything lower than it to whomever He wills; and whoever ascribes partners to Allah has invented a tremendous sin.

In other word, you can commit any crime and Allâh forgives you but not setting up a partner for Him (Ali Sina).