Date: 20 Mar 2010


has 120 Understanding Muhammad described to you ‘obeyed there, trustworthy.’ Surah 81:21 ‘Will you not order him to show me hell?’ And he said, ‘Certainly! O Malik, show Muhammad Hell.’ Thereupon he removed its covering, and the flames blazed high into the air, until I thought that they would consume everything. So I asked Gabriel to order him to send them back to their place, which he did. I can only compare the effect of their withdrawal to the falling of a shadow, until, when the flames retreated whence they had come, Malik placed their cover on them. When I entered the lowest heaven, I saw a man sitting there, with the spirits of men passing before him. To one he would speak well and rejoice in him, saying, ‘A good spirit from a good body.’ Of another, he would say ‘Faugh’ and frown, saying: ‘An evil spirit from an evil body.’ In answer to my question, Gabriel told me that this was our father Adam, reviewing the spirits of his offspring. The spirit of a believer excited his pleasure, and the spirit of an infidel excited his disgust. ‘Then I saw men with lips like camels. In their hands were pieces of fire, like stones, which they used to thrust into their mouths, and they would come out of their posteriors. I was told that these were those who sinfully devoured the wealth of orphans.167 Then I saw men in the way of the family of Pharaoh, with such bellies as I have never seen, there were passing over them, camels maddened by thirst when they were cast into hell, treading them down, they being unable to move out of the way. These were the usurers.168 Then I saw women hanging by their breasts. These were those who had fathered bastards on their husbands.169 167 Some years later, when Muhammad came to power, he reduced children into orphans by killing their fathers and enslaving their mothers and took their belongings. 168 The allusion is to Surah 40:46, ‘Cast the family of Pharaoh into the worst of all punishments 169 Sahih Bukhari Volume 1, Book 6, Number 301 reports Muhammad saying “I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-fire were you (women)." They asked, "Why is it so, O Allâh's Apostle ?" He replied, "You curse frequently and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you." The women asked, "O Allâh's Apostle! What is deficient in our intelligence and religion?" He said, "Is not the evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man?" They replied in the affirmative. He said, "This is the deficiency in her intelligence. Isn't it true that a Muhammad’s Ecstatic Experiences 121 Then I was taken to the second heaven, and there were the two maternal cousins, Jesus, son of Mary, and John, son of Zakariah. Then to the third heaven, and there was a man whose face was as the moon at the full. This was my brother Joseph, son of Jacob. Then to the fourth heaven, and there as a man cal Idris. ‘And we have exalted him to a lofty place.’ Surah 19:58 Then to the fifth heaven, and there was a man with white hair and a long beard, never have I seen a more handsome man than he. This was the beloved among his people, Aaron, son of ‘Imran. Then to the sixth heaven, and there was a dark man with a hooked nose, like the Shanu’a. This was my brother Moses, son of ‘Imran. Then to the seventh heaven, and there was a man sitting on a throne at the gate of the immortal mansion, Paradise. Every day, seventy thousand angels went in, not to come back until the resurrection day. Never have I seen a man more like myself. This was my father, Abraham. Then he took me into Paradise, and there I saw a damsel with dark red lips and asked her to whom she belonged, for she pleased me much when I saw her, and she told me ‘Zayd b. Haritha.’ The apostle gave Zayd the good news about her.170 One tradition says, When Gabriel took Muhammad up to each of the heavens and asked permission to enter, he had to inform the guards whom he had brought, and whether his guest had received a mission or had been sent for, to which the gate keepers would respond ‘Allâh grant him life, brother and friend!’ and let them pass until they reached the seventh heaven and there Muhammad met Allâh. There the duty of fifty prayers a day was laid upon his followers. On his return he met Moses and here is what happened: On my return, I passed by Moses, and what a fine friend of yours he was! He asked me how many prayers had been laid upon me, and when I told him fifty, he said, ‘Prayer is a weighty matter, and your people are weak, so go back to your Lord and ask him to reduce the number for you and your community.’ I did so, and He took off ten prayers. Again I passed by Moses, and he said the same again, and so it went on, until only five prayers woman can neither pray nor fast during her menses?" The women replied in the affirmative. He said, "This is the deficiency in her religion." 170 Some years later in Medina Muhammad fell in love with Zayd’s wife and made his lust known. Zayd felt compelled to divorce his wife so Muhammad could marry her. 122 Understanding Muhammad for the whole day and night were left. Moses again gave me same advice. I replied that I had been back to my Lord and asked him to reduce the number until I was ashamed, and I would not do it again. He of you who performs them in faith and trust will have the reward of fifty prayers. There are Muslims who say this epic did not actually happen in the physical world but it was a spiritual experience. However, the claims of Muhammad about spotting the caravan of Banu so and so on his way and all those details about scaring a camel or drinking water from the jar of the people on the way, negate that claim. The biggest proof that this experience was claimed as actually happening in the physical realm comes from the Qur’an, which says this ascension was intended to test the faith of the believers. People are willing to buy any absurdity as long as it is labeled “spiritual”, but when a claim is made to have happened in the real world, they tend to be a bit more skeptical. Muhammad Was Telling the Truth The Russian existential writer, Feodor Dostoevsky, actually thought that Muhammad was telling the truth. He believed that Muhammad’s experiences were real, at least to him. Dostoevsky himself suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy. He alleged, via one of his characters, that when he had a seizure the gates of Heaven would open and he could see row upon row of angels blowing on great golden trumpets. Then two great golden doors would open and he could see a golden stairway that would lead right up to the throne of God.171 Newsweek, on May 7, 2001, in an article entitled Religion and the Brain, explained this phenomenon as follow: When the image of a cross, or a Torah crowned in silver, triggers a sense of religious awe, it is because the brain’s visual-association area, which interprets what the eyes see and connects images to emotions and memories, has learned to link those images to that feeling. Visions that arise during prayer or ritual are also generated in the association area: electrical stimulation of the temporal lobes (which nestle along the sides of the head 171 www.emedicine.com/neuro/topic658.htm Muhammad’s Ecstatic Experiences 123 and house the circuits responsible for language, conceptual thinking and associations) produces visions. Temporal-lobe epilepsy—abnormal bursts of electrical activity in these regions—takes this to extremes. Although some studies have cast doubt on the connection between temporal-lobe epilepsy and religiosity, others find that the condition seems to trigger vivid, Joan of Arc-type religious visions and voices. Although temporal-lobe epilepsy is rare, researchers suspect that focused bursts of electrical activity called “temporal-lobe transients” may yield mystical experiences. To test this idea, Michael Persinger of Laurentian University in Canada fits a helmet jury-rigged with electromagnets onto a volunteer’s head. The helmet creates a weak magnetic field, no stronger than that produced by a computer monitor. The field triggers bursts of electrical activity in the temporal lobes, Persinger finds, producing sensations that volunteers describe as supernatural or spiritual: an out-ofbody experience, a sense of the divine. He suspects that religious experiences are evoked by mini electrical storms in the temporal lobes, and that such storms can be triggered by anxiety, personal crisis, lack of oxygen, low blood sugar and simple fatigue—suggesting a reason that some people “find God” in such moments.172 The Origin of Muhammad’s Mystical Experiences! Is it possible to tickle the temporal lobe and induce mystical experiences such as sensing a “presence”, hearing sounds, seeing lights, or even ghosts? Michael Persinger, a neuropsychologist at Canada's Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario thinks so. He has been able to demonstrate that the sensation described as “having a religious experience” is merely a side effect of our bicameral brain's feverish activities. In simple words: When the right hemisphere of the brain, the seat of emotion, is stimulated in the cerebral region presumed to control notions of self, and then the left hemisphere, the seat of 172 Newsweek May 7, 2001, U.S. Edition; Section: SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY; Religion And The Brain By Sharon Begley With Anne Underwood 124 Understanding Muhammad language, is called upon to make sense of this nonexistent entity, the mind generates a “sensed presence.”173 Ken Hollings writes: “Persinger… argues that religious experience is created within the brain. Current studies suggest that our sense of self is produced by the left temporal lobe, located in the logical and precise hemisphere of our brains, which helps maintain the boundary between individual consciousness and the outside world. Shut that lobe down, and you feel at one with the Universe – a prime form of religious experience. Stimulate the right temporal lobe, on the creative and more emotional side of our brains, and a right hemispheric sense of self is invoked, which we tend to experience as a 'separate' entity.”174 Persinger fitted a motorcycle helmet with solenoids emitting mild electromagnetic fields around the volunteers’ temples. The volunteers were made to sit blindfolded in an empty room “the chamber of heaven and hell” as it was jokingly called. By alternating the electrical charges, 80% of the subjects that took part in this experiment sensed “presence” of a ghostly being in the room, sometimes touching or grabbing them. Some of them said that they smelled the fragrance of paradise or the stench of hell. They heard voices, saw dark tunnels, lights and had profound religious experiences. Ed Conroy, reporting on Michael Persinger’s experiments writes: “The personalities of normal people who display enhanced temporal lobe activity… display enhanced: creativity, suggestibility, memory capacity and intuitive processing. Most of them experience a rich fantasy or subjective world that fosters their adaptability. Many of them are prone to bouts of physical and mental activity followed by mild depression. These people have more frequent experiences of a sense of presence during which time ‘an entity is felt and sometimes seen’; exotic beliefs rather than traditional religious concepts are endorsed.”175 Persinger has found out that different subjects label this ghostly perception with the names that are familiar to them. Religious people experience the holy personalities of their faith - Elijah, Jesus, the Virgin Mary, Mohammad, the Sky Spirit, etc. Some subjects have emerged with Freudian interpretations - describing the presence as one's grandfather, for instance - while others, agnostics, fascinated about UFOs, tell something that sounds more like a standard alien-abduction story. 173 http://web.ionsys.com/~remedy/Persinger,%20Michael.htm 174 Ken Hollings http://www.channel4.com/science/microsites/S/science/body/exorcism.html 175 www.laurentian.ca/neurosci/_research/tectonic_theory.htm Muhammad’s Ecstatic Experiences 125 This method has been used also to induce the near-death experience NDE. Hollings writes “In 1933 Montreal neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield discovered that when he electrically stimulated certain nerve cells in the temporal lobe, the patient would ‘relive’ previous experiences in convincing sensory detail. In his controversial 1976 publication, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Princeton psychologist Julian Jaynes argued that the sensation commonly described as 'having a religious experience' is merely a side effect of the feverish interactivity between the right and left halves of our brain. Our ancient ancestors, he suggested, lacked a strong enough sense of individual identity to explain such exchanges as anything but voices and visions from the gods on high.”176 What exactly happens in that moment of intense spiritual awareness? Hollings says, “Activity in the brain's amygdala, which monitors the environment for threats and registers fear, is dampened. Parietal lobe circuits, which orient you, go quiet, while circuits in the frontal and temporal lobes, which mark time and generate self-awareness, become disengaged. Using brainimaging data collected from Tibetan Buddhists during meditation and Franciscan nuns at prayer, Dr. Andrew Newberg of the University of Pennsylvania observed that a bundle of neurons in the superior parietal lobe, toward the top and back of the brain, had shut down. This region also helps processes information about orientation and time.”177 Persinger has shown that “spiritual” and “supernatural” experiences are the result of the lack of proper communication and coordination between the left and right temporal lobes. The sense of a presence in the room, an out-of-body experience, bizarre distortion of body parts, and even religious feelings are all caused in the brain. Persinger calls these experiences ‘temporal lobe transients’, or increases and instabilities in neuronal firing patterns in the temporal lobe. How do these experiences produce religious states? Our "sense of self", says Persinger “is maintained by the left hemisphere temporal cortex. Under normal brain functioning this is matched by the corresponding systems in the right hemisphere temporal cortex. When these two systems become uncoordinated, such as during a seizure or a transient event, the left hemisphere interprets the uncoordinated activity as ‘another self’, or a ‘sensed presence’, thus accounting for subjects' experiences of a ‘presence’ in the room (which might be interpreted as angels, demons, aliens, or ghosts), or leaving their bodies (as in near-death experiences), or even ‘God’. When the amygdala (deep-seated 176 Ken Hollings http://www.channel4.com/science/microsites/S/science/body/exorcism.html 177 Ibid 126 Understanding Muhammad region of the brain involved with emotion) is involved in the transient events, emotional factors significantly enhance the experience which, when connected to spiritual themes, can be a powerful force for intense religious feelings."178 Brain Stimulation Creates Shadow Person Swiss scientists say they've found that electrical stimulation of the brain can create the sensation of a "shadow person" mimicking one's bodily movements. physorg.com reports: Olaf Blanke and colleagues at the Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne say their discovery might help shed light on brain processes that contribute to the symptoms of schizophrenia, which can include the sensation that one's own actions are being performed by someone else. Doctors evaluating a woman with no history of psychiatric problems found stimulation of an area of her brain called the left temporoparietal junction caused her to believe a person was standing behind her. The patient reported that "person" adopted the same bodily positions as her, although she didn't recognize the effect as an illusion. At one point in the investigation, the patient was asked to lean forward and clasp her knees: this led to a sensation that the shadow figure was embracing her, which she described as unpleasant. The finding could be a step towards understanding psychiatric affects such as feelings of paranoia, persecution and alien control, say neuroscientists. The discovery is reported in a Brief Communication in this week's issue of the journal Nature.179 Could these findings explain what Muhammad heard, saw and felt during his epiphanic experiences? Muhammad came from a culture that believed in jinns, angels, ghuls and demons and these were the creatures that he saw in his hallucinations. The dispute about whether there is one God, as the Jews, the 178 How We Believe, 2000, Michael Shermer p.66 179 www.physorg.com/news77992285.html Muhammad’s Ecstatic Experiences 127 Christians and the Hanifism (a pre Islamic monotheistic sect propagated in Araba to which Khadijah belonged) believed or there are many gods, as Muhammad’s clan thought, was an ongoing debate. Muhammad sided with the more “exotic belief” of monotheism, instead of the traditional religious concept endorsed by his own people. It is also not to undermine the influence that Khadijah exerted on him in interpreting his hallucinatory experiences. What Muhammad experienced was real to him, but it was only mental. When he relayed his story to Khadijah, all she could think of was that her beloved husband had either become possessed by demons or had been touched by angels. So when Muhammad told her “I fear that something may happen to me”, she replied, “Never! Allâh will never disgrace you”. Since she could not accept that Muhammad had gone mad, she was left with the only alternative that she could think of and therefore concluded that he must have been chosen to be a prophet. If it was not for Khadijah’s unconditional support and encouragement, Muhammad may have continued thinking that he had become possessed, and he may had come to grasp the reality of his condition as most epileptics do. Camel Kneeling Under the Power of Revelation Muslims often exaggerate and attribute false miracles to Muhammad. This is quite normal for cultists who are fond of attributing miracles to their leader. One hadith claims that one day Muhammad was on a camel and revelation descended on him, the weight of which was so great that the camel could not withstand it and had to kneel down on the ground. Kneeling down of the animal at the time that Muhammad was allegedly having a revelation could have had something to do with what Muhammad was experiencing and another indication that he was epileptic. Bonnie Beaver, an expert in animal behavior at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University, says “Dogs and cats have been known to alert some people when a seizure is about to begin. It's common for animals to sense a seizure in their owners, and some dogs can even be trained to warn a person of an impending seizure.” 180 The ability to predict seizure is not restricted to dogs and cats alone. Animals seem to have sensory perceptions that we humans don’t have or may 180 http://www.tamu.edu/univrel/aggiedaily/news/stories/04/070104-3.html 128 Understanding Muhammad have lost. Animals can sense when earthquake is coming, hours before it actually happens. Many animals - especially horses and cattle - can sense a thunderstorm before it occurs. On January 4, 2005 The National Geographic wrote: “Before giant waves slammed into Sri Lanka and India coastlines ten days ago, wild and domestic animals seemed to know what was about to happen and fled to safety. According to eyewitness accounts, elephants screamed and ran for higher ground, dogs refused to go outdoors, flamingos abandoned their low-lying breeding areas, zoo animals rushed into their shelters and could not be enticed to come back out. The belief that wild and domestic animals possess a sixth sense—and know in advance when the earth is going to shake—has been around for centuries. 181 The point is that animals are known to perceive things, especially pending epilepsy in their owners that humans can’t. It is not unlikely for an animal to become distressed and behave erratically when his owner is about to have a fit of seizure. We know that neither Muhammad’s wives nor his companions were affected or sensed anything when he was receiving “revelations”. During one of his hallucinations Muhammad told Aisha, “This is Gabriel. He sends his greetings and salutations to you. Aisha replied, ‘Salutations and greetings to him.’ Then addressing the Prophet she said, ‘You see what I don't see.’”182 So if only a camel could feel what was happening to Muhammad, it is another clue that what he was experiencing was a seizure. The Case of Phil K. Kindred Case studies of other epileptic sufferers can give us a better understanding of what may have happened to Muhammad. The similarities are often astounding. The American science fiction writer, Philip Kindred Dick (1928-1982), speaking of his own strange visions to Charles Platt said. “I experienced an invasion of my mind by a transcendentally rational mind, as if I had been insane all my life and suddenly I had become sane.”183 All Dick’s works start with the basic assumption that there cannot be one, single, objective reality. Charles Platt 181 National Geographic: “Did Animals Sense Tsunami Was Coming?” http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/01/0104_050104_tsunami_animals.html 182 Bukhari:Volume4, Book 54, Number 440 183 183 Platt, Charles. (1980). Dream Makers: The Uncommon People Who Write Science Fiction. Berkley Publishing. ISBN 0-425-04668-0 Muhammad’s Ecstatic Experiences 129 describes Dick’s novels. “Everything is a matter of perception. The ground is liable to shift under your feet. A protagonist may find himself living out another person's dream, or he may enter a drug-induced state that actually makes better sense than the real world, or he may cross into a different universe completely.”184 Like Muhammad, Dick was also paranoid, emotionally infantile, a narcissist, had suicidal thoughts and was resentful of his parents. He imagined plots against him perpetrated by the KGB or FBI, who he believed were constantly laying traps for him. We sense the same kind of paranoia in Muhammad’s writings who constantly talked about the unbelievers and how they were plotting against him, opposing his religion and persecuting him and his followers. VALIS, the first of Dick's three final autobiographical novels,185 is a fool's search for God, who turns out to be a virus, a joke, and a mental hologram transmitted from an orbiting satellite. The proponent of the novel is thrusted into a theological quest when he receives communion in a burst of pink laser light and turns out to have a direct com link with God. In this work, Dick examines his own supposed encounters with a divine presence. VALIS is an acronym for Vast Active Living Intelligence System. He theorizes that VALIS is both a “reality generator” and a means of extraterrestrial communication. Lawrence Sutin, in Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick writes about one of Dick’s mystical experiences that eerily resemble those of Muhammad. “Monday night he called me and said that the night before, he'd been smoking some marijuana that a visitor had left, and felt himself entering that by-now-familiar state in which he had visions (generally not dope-related), and he said, ‘I want to see God. Let me see you.’ And then instantly, he told me, he was flattened by the most extreme terror he'd ever felt, and he saw the Ark of the Covenant, and a voice said, ‘You wouldn't come to me through logical evidence or faith or anything else, so I must convince you this way.’ The curtain of the Ark was drawn back, and he saw, apparently, a void and a triangle with an eye in it, staring straight at him. Phil said he was on his hands and knees, in absolute terror, enduring the Beatific Vision from nine o'clock Sunday evening until 5 a.m. Monday. He said he was certain he was dying, and if he could have reached the telephone he'd have called the paramedics. The Voice told him, in 184 Ibid 185 The others are Divine Invasion and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. 130 Understanding Muhammad effect, ‘You've managed to talk yourself into disbelieving everything else. I let you see, but this you'll never be able to forget or adapt or misrepresent.’”186 Dick, who died prematurely at the age of 54, wrote millions of words. His biographer Sutin quotes one of his writings in which he explains his mystical experience: God manifested himself to me as the infinite void; but it was not the abyss, it was the vault of heaven, with blue sky and wisps of white clouds. He was not some foreign God but the God of my fathers. He was loving and kind and he had personality. He said, “You suffer a little now in life; it is little compared with the great joys, the bliss that awaits you. Do you think I in my theodicy would allow you to suffer greatly in proportion to your reward?” He made me aware, then of the bliss that would come; it was infinite and sweet. He said, “I am the infinite. I will show you. Where I am, infinity is; where infinity is, there I am… They reckon ill who leave me out; When me they fly I am the wings. I am the doubter and the doubt.187 Other Cases of TLE On October 23, 2001 PBS television aired a documentary on TLE. One of the persons interviewed with temporal lobe epilepsy was called John Sharon. It is interesting to read his case and compare it to what we know about Muhammad. This could shed more light on the Prophet’s state of mind and his sickness. John Sharon: The seizures involve my person and my soul and my spirit, all of it. When I get one of those feelings my whole body just tingles and I just, oh...that's that. Narrator: John's epileptic seizures are essentially an electrical storm in his temporal lobes when a group of neurons starts firing at random, out of sync with rest of his brain. Recently John experienced one of his worst episodes to date. He'd gone out to the desert with a girlfriend, and they'd both got very drunk, with disastrous results. John was suddenly hit by a volley of seizures, each one 186 Divine Invasion , A Life of Philip K. Dick by Lawrence Sutin p.264 187 Ibid. p.269 Muhammad’s Ecstatic Experiences 131 lasted about five minutes and involved violent convulsions that left him unconscious. Eventually, John managed to get a call through to his father who drove out to the desert to bring him home. John Sharon: On the way home, him and I got just into some philosophical questions about everything. And I just would not shut up once I...on the way home I was going and going. It was like I was wired. John Sharon, sr.: It's basically an earthquake within the body, and like any earthquake there are aftershocks. And like any earthquake that does damage, things have to be rebuilt. Things have to subside. Mainly what I deal with is the aftermath, particularly with this last episode. It was very much like stepping into a Salvador Dali painting. Instantly everything was surreal. And that's, in essence, what his seizures are all about – the aftermath – where it puts his brain, where it puts his memory, where it puts his mind, his thinking ability, everything else. Narrator: When John's seizures came to an end he was exhausted but he felt omnipotent. John Sharon: I went running down the streets screaming that I was God. And then this guy came out and I just, like, pelvic thrust at him and his wife, and I was like, “You want to f–ing bet, I ain't God?" John Sharon sr.: And I said, literally, “You asshole, get back in here! What do you think you're doing? You're disturbing the neighbors. They're gonna call the cops. What is this all about?” John Sharon: I kind of just looked at him, cool and calm, and apologized to him, and like, “No. No one's going to call the police.” Like, I didn't say this last part, but I'm thinking to myself, “No one's going to call the police on God!” Narrator: John had never been religious, yet the onset of his seizures brought on overwhelming spiritual feelings. Vilayanur.S. Ramachandran is Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition and professor with the Psychology Department and the Neurosciences Program at the University of California, San Diego. He has done extensive studies on Temporal Lobe Epilepsy. V.S. Ramachandran: It has been known for a long time that some patients with seizures originating in the temporal lobes have intense religious auras, intense experience of God visiting them. Sometimes it's a personal god, sometimes it's a more diffuse feeling of being one with the cosmos. Everything seems suffused with meaning. The patient will say, “Finally I 132 Understanding Muhammad see what it’s really about, Doctor. I really understand God. I understand my place in the universe, in the cosmic scheme.” Why does this happen and why does it happen so often in patients with temporal lobe seizures? John Sharon: Oh my God. And you know what? I am so right in my own head, I know I could go out there and get people to follow me. Not like these whackos with sheets on their heads, not like those idiots...but now it's just the new generation of the prophets. And were all the prophets people who were flopping around on the ground, is that what this whole message was, the gift from the gods, this whole time? V.S. Ramachandran: That's possible, isn't it? Yes? John Sharon: I've never been religious, ever. People say, “No, you can't see into the future...unh unh.” That's what that gift is, but you've got to pay for it by getting slammed around. V.S. Ramachandran: Now, why do these patients have intense religious experiences when they have these seizures? And why do they become preoccupied with theological and religious matters even in between seizures? One possibility is that the seizure activity in the temporal lobes somehow creates all kinds of odd, strange emotions in the person's mind...in the person's brain. And this welling up of bizarre emotions may be interpreted by the patient as visits from another world, or as, "God is visiting me." Maybe that's the only way he can make sense of this welter of strange emotions going on in his brain. Another possibility is that this is something to do with the way in which the temporal lobes are wired up to deal with the world emotionally. As we walk around and interact with the world, you need some way of determining what's important, what's emotionally salient and what's relevant to you versus something trivial and unimportant. How does this come about? We think what's critical is the connection between the sensory areas in the temporal lobes and the amygdala, which is the gateway to the emotional centers in the brain. The strength of these connections is what determines how emotionally salient something is. And therefore, you could speak of a sort of emotional salience landscape, with hills and valleys corresponding to what's important and what's not important. And each of us has a slightly different emotional salience landscape. Now, consider what happens in temporal lobe epilepsy when you have repeated seizures. What might be going on is an indiscriminate strengthening of all these pathways. It's a bit like water flowing down rivulets along the cliff surface. When it rains repeatedly there's an Muhammad’s Ecstatic Experiences 133 increasing tendency for the water to make furrows along one pathway and this progressive deepening of the furrows artificially raises the emotional significance of some categories of inputs. So instead of just finding lions and tigers and mothers emotionally salient, he finds everything deeply salient. For example, a grain of sand, a piece of driftwood, seaweed, all of this becomes imbued with deep significance. Now, this tendency to ascribe cosmic significance to everything around you might be akin to what we call a mystical experience or a religious experience. There is no specific area in the temporal lobe concerned with God. But it's possible there are parts of the temporal lobes whose activity is somehow conducive to religious belief. Now this seems unlikely, but it might be true. Now, why might we have neural machinery in the temporal lobes for belief in religion? Well belief in religion is widespread. Every tribe, every society has some form of religious worship. And maybe the reason it evolved, if it did evolve, is that it is conducive to the stability of society, and this may be easiest if you believe in some sort of supreme being. And that may be one reason why religious sentiments evolved in the brain.188 History is full of charismatic religious figures. Psychologist William James (1902) believes that apostle Paul’s new found voice of conscience on his way to Damascus, where he saw lights and heard a voice asking him “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”189, which led to his temporary blindness and conversion, may have been “a physiological nerve storm or discharging lesion like that of epilepsy.” St. Paul talked about his visions in the following words: To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.190 TLE researcher Eve LaPlante191 thinks that Moses’ encounter with the burning bush was also the result of TLE. 188 www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/transcripts/2812mind.html 189 Acts 9:1-9. 190 2 Corinthians 12 7-9 191 Seized: Temporal Lobe Epilepsy as a Medical, Historical, and Artistic Phenomenon, (HarperCollins, 1993, 2000), 134 Understanding Muhammad Ezekiel is also believed to have suffered from TLE. His vision is particularly striking. I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north—an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The center of the fire looked like glowing metal, and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures. In appearance their form was that of a man, but each of them had four faces and four wings. Their legs were straight; their feet were like those of a calf and gleamed like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides they had the hands of a man. All four of them had faces and wings, and their wings touched one another. Each one went straight ahead; they did not turn as they moved.192 It is not possible to make a correct psychoanalysis of characters that had lived many centuries ago and of whom we know so little. Moses in particular is a semi mythological personage. We cannot even be certain whether the stories attributed to him are correct. However, what we can say is that these strange stories, if true, are consistent with symptoms characterizing TLE. Today, the TLE patients see UFOs and little gray ETs. LaPlante has noted that many UFO abductees feel mild, epileptic-like symptoms just before they are “captured.” Some abductees feel heat on one side of their faces; hear a ringing in their ears, and see flashes of light prior to abduction. Others report a cessation of sound and feeling, or an overwhelming feeling of apprehension. Another famous case concerns a16th-century nun known as Santa Teresa of Avila (1515 -1582). She experienced vivid visions, intense headaches and fainting spells, followed by “such peace, calm, and good fruits in the soul, and ... a perception of the greatness of God” (St. Theresa 1930:171). Biographers suggest that she may well have experienced epileptic seizures (Sackville-West 1943). LaPlante says that painters and writers like Vincent van Gogh, Gustave Flaubert, Lewis Carroll, Marcel Proust, Tennyson and Fyodor Dostoevsky all were diagnosed with TLE. The TLE sufferers often undergo patterns of personality changes, typically including compulsive writing or drawing and hyper-religiosity. According to LaPlante, Muhammad also suffered from TLE. More recent examples are Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, and Ellen White, the 192 Ezekiel 1:4-9 Muhammad’s Ecstatic Experiences 135 founders of the Seventh Day Adventist Movement, who at the age of 9 suffered a brain injury that totally changed her personality. She also began to have powerful religious visions. Helen Schucman, the atheist Jewish psychologist who claimed receiving messages from Jesus Christ in the form of “readings” that she called A Course in Miracles, was most probably a sufferer of TLE. Reportedly, Schucman spent the last two years of her life in a terrible, paranoid depression. Syed Ali Muhammad Bab the founder of the Babi religion may also have been an epileptic sufferer. His Persian Bayan (translated into English and available online) can be defined as classical “epileptic writing.” Other Famous People with Epilepsy Heidi Hansen and Leif Bork Hansen who allege that Søren Kierkegaard had written in his journal that he suffered from TLE and had kept it a secret all his life, quote him say: “Of all sufferings there is perhaps none so martyring as to become an object of pity, nothing which so tempts one to rebel against God. People usually regard such a person as stupid and shallow, but it would not be difficult to show that precisely this is the hidden secret in the lives of many of the most eminent world-historical figures."193 The Danish philosopher was absolutely right. Far from being stupid, the TLE sufferers are among the geniuses. Temporal Lobe Epilepsy can well be defined as the disease of creativity. Many famous and talented people in the history suffered from TLE and arguably they owed their creativity to this disease. Between five to ten persons in every 1,000 people have TLE. Not all of them, of course, reach fame. Steven C. Schachter, M.D. has compiled a list of prominent people in the history who possibly suffered from TLE. This list comprises philosophers, writers, world leaders, religious figures, painters, poets, composers, actors and other celebrities. “Ancient people” writes Schachter, “thought epileptic seizures were caused by evil spirits or demons that had invaded a person's body. Priests attempted to cure people with epilepsy by driving the demons out of them with magic and prayers. This superstition was challenged by ancient physicians like Atreya of India and later Hippocrates of Greece, both of whom recognized a 193 www.utas.edu.au/docs/humsoc/kierkegaard/docs/Kierkepilepsy.pdf 136 Understanding Muhammad seizure as a dysfunction of the brain and not a supernatural event.” He further says, “Epileptic seizures have a power and symbolism which, historically, have suggested a relationship with creativity or unusual leadership abilities. Scholars have long been fascinated by evidence that prominent prophets and other holy men, political leaders, philosophers, and many who achieved greatness in the arts and sciences, suffered from epilepsy.”194 Aristotle, who was the first to connect epilepsy to genius, claimed that Socrates had epilepsy. Dr. Jerome Engel considers the co-existence of epilepsy and genius to be a coincidence.195 Schachter continues: “Others disagree, claiming to have found an association between epilepsy and giftedness in some people. Eve LaPlante in her book Seized, writes that the abnormal brain activity found in temporal lobe (complex partial) epilepsy plays a role in creative thinking and the making of art. Neuropsychologist Dr. Paul Spiers maintains: “Sometimes the same things that cause epilepsy result in giftedness. If you damage an area [of the brain] early enough in life, the corresponding area on the other side has a chance to overdevelop.”196 This is an interesting theory. If Spiers is right, it is not the TLE that brings forth genius and creativity but the reaction of the brain to compensate for what it damages. The following is a short list of some of the geniuses who Schachter believes may have had epileptic seizures. Alexander the Great: King of Macedonia who in the third century BC conquered most of the world. Julius Caesar: another brilliant general and formidable politician. Napoleon Bonaparte: another brilliant military figure. Harriet Tubman: the black woman who led hundreds of her fellow slaves from the American South to freedom in Canada. She came to be known as the “Moses of her people”. Saint Paul: the greatest Christian evangelist without whom Christianity would probably never have reached Europe to become a World Religion. Joan of Arc: the young uneducated farmer's daughter in a remote village of medieval France who altered the course of history through her amazing 194 www.epilepsy.com/epilepsy/famous.html 195 Dr. Jerome Engel, Professor of Neurology at the University of California School of Medicine and author of the book Seizures and Epilepsy: 196 www.epilepsy.com/epilepsy/famous.html Muhammad’s Ecstatic Experiences 137 military victories. From age thirteen Joan reported ecstatic moments in which she saw flashes of light, heard voices of saints and saw visions of angels. Alfred Nobel: the Swedish chemist and industrialist who invented dynamite and financed the Nobel Prize. Dante: the author of La Divina Comedia; Sir Walter Scott: one of the foremost literary figures of the romantic period; the 18th century. Jonathan Swift: English satirist, author of Gulliver's Travels. Edgar Allan Poe: the nineteenth century American author. Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Alfred Lord Tennyson: three of the greatest English Romantic poets, Charles Dickens: the Victorian author of such classic books as A Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist. Lewis Carroll: the author of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland who may have been writing about his own temporal lobe seizures. The sensation initiating Alice's adventures- that of falling down a hole is a typical one to many people with seizures. Fyodor Dostoevsky, the great Russian novelist, author of such classics as Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, who is considered by many to have brought the Western novel to the peak of its possibilities. Muhammad probably had his first seizure at age five. Dostoevsky had his first seizure at age nine. After a remission, which lasted up to age 25, he had seizures every few days or months, fluctuating between good and bad periods. His ecstatic auras occurring seconds before his bigger seizures were moments of transcendent happiness, which then changed to an anguished feeling of dread. His experiences were similar to those of Muhammad whose vision of hell was dreadful, filled with doom and horrendous scenes of torture. Here are a couple of examples of what Muhammad saw: But those who deny for them will be cut out a garment of Fire: over their heads will be poured out boiling water. With it will be scalded what is within their bodies as well as (their) skins. In addition there will be maces of iron (to punish) them. Every time they wish to get away therefrom from anguish they will be forced back therein and (it will be said) "Taste ye the Penalty of Burning!" (Q. 22: 19-22) 138 Understanding Muhammad But those, whose balance is light, will be those who have lost their souls; in Hell will they abide. The fire will burn their faces, and they will therein grin, with their lips displaced. (Q. 23: 103-104) Dostoevsky also saw a blinding flash of light. Then he would cry out and lose consciousness for a second or two. Sometimes the epileptic discharge generalized across his brain, producing a secondary tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizure. Afterward he could not recall events and conversations that had occurred during the seizure, and he often felt depressed, guilty and irritable for days. Count Leo Tolstoy: The great nineteenth century Russian author of Anna Karenina and War and Peace, also may have had epilepsy. Gustave Flaubert: is another great name in literature. This nineteenth century French literary genius wrote such masterpieces as Madame Bovary and A Sentimental Education. According to Schachter, “Flaubert's typical seizure began with a feeling of impending doom, after which he felt his sense of self grow insecure, as if he had been transported into another dimension. He wrote that his seizures arrived as ‘a whirlpool of ideas and images in my poor brain, during which it seemed that my consciousness sank like a vessel in a storm.’ He moaned, had a rush of memories, saw fiery hallucinations, foamed at the mouth, moved his right arm automatically, fell into a trance of about ten minutes, and vomited.” Dame Agatha Christie: the leading British writer of mystery novels is also reported to have had epilepsy. Truman Capote: American author of In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany's. George Frederick Handel: the famous baroque composer of the Messiah. Niccolo Paganini: one of the greatest violinists. Peter Tchaikovsky: The eminent Russian composer of the ballets Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker and. Ludwig van Beethoven: One of the greatest classical composers ever. Schachter says, “This is just a sampling of the many, many famous people whose epilepsy has been recorded by historians.” In fact the list of famous people diagnosed or suspected for having epilepsy is long. Muhammad is not among a bad company. His imaginative power, his depression, his suicidal thoughts, his irritability, his interest in religion, his vision of the Dooms Day and the after-life, his visual and auditory hallucinations and many of his physical and psychological characteristics can all be explained by TLE. Muhammad’s Ecstatic Experiences 139 However, epilepsy does not explain Muhammad’s ruthlessness, his mass murders and his dogged determination. Those were the results of his pathological narcissistic disorder. It was this combination of personality and mental disorders that made him the phenomenon that he had become. Muhammad harbored thoughts of grandiosity and omnipotence. His epileptic visions reaffirmed his megalomania and gave him the confirmation that he was indeed the chosen prophet of God. As if that was not enough, he married a codependent woman who sought her own greatness in lionizing her husband. Muhammad was convinced of his prophetic mission. It was this selfassurance that inspired those who were close to him and confirmed their faiths in him. This does not mean that all the verses of the Qur’an have been “revealed” to him during his epileptic trances. The seizures probably stopped in his later years. However, convinced of his righteousness, he kept reciting verses as situation dictated. As a narcissist, he received his confirmation from those who believed in him. It is difficult to say who was fooling whom. Muhammad was convinced of his claim even though he freely lied, making up verses as he needed them, and yet, when people believed in him he was reconfirmed. As a result, he thought to be vested with divine authority to exact punishment on those who disagreed with him. He was the voice of God and opposition to him meant opposition to Almighty. He felt entitled to lie. If he lied, it was for a good cause and therefore justified. When he looted and massacred innocent people, he did it with clear conscience. The end was so august that all means to achieve it were deemed by him to be legitimate. He was so convinced of his hallucinations that it felt right to kill anyone who stood in his way. The following Quranic verses are self-explanatory. And whoever disobeys Allâh and His Messenger and goes beyond His limits, He will cause him to enter fire to abide in it, and he shall have an abasing chastisement. (Q.4:14) On that day will those who disbelieve and disobey the Messenger desire that the earth were leveled with them, and they shall not hide any word from Allâh. (Q.4:42) Whoever disobeys Allâh and His Messenger surely he shall have the fire of hell to abide therein for a long time. (Q. 72:23) 00000000