David S. Powers


On his book Muhammad is Not the Father of any of Your Men: The Making of the Last Prophet

Cover Interview of September 03, 2009


The first Muslims constructed their foundation narrative in such a manner as to insure the integrity of the bold new claim that the office of Prophecy closed with the death of Muhammad.  To this end, they revised the text of the Qur’an, abolished the institution of adoption and reformed the rules of inheritance.  One element of this strategy involved the creation of a narrative in which Muhammad takes his daughter-in-law and makes her his wife.  Recall my argument that the original reading of Q. 4:12 refers to a man who designates his daughter-in-law or wife as heir. Muslims who were familiar with both the narrative and the verse had to ask themselves: Did Muhammad designate Zaynab as his heir?  It was, in part, in order to make sure that no one would ever ask this question that the text of Q.  4:12 was revised by changing kalla (“daughter-in-law”) to kalala.

The word kalala was an artificial creation that did not exist during Muhammad’s lifetime and it only entered the Arabic language in the years following his death.  Because there is no equivalent of kalala in any other Semitic language, its meaning could only be derived from context.  The first exegetes advanced several different definitions of the word.  In the end, the Islamic understanding of the word (“collaterals”) was grounded in the authority of the first caliph Abu Bakr, who is reported to have said, “I have expressed my own personal opinion on kalala.  If it is correct, it is from God; if it is mistaken, then it is from me and from Satan.”  The sentiment expressed in this statement merits further investigation.

© 2009 David Powers