Every now and then some Muslim claims that the name "Muhammad" was not known before the life of prophet Muhammad and he was the first to be called by this name. But this is yet another rumor.
For example, Fouad Haddad wrote on the Islamic newsgroup on February 2, 1997:
... the name Muhammad. None of the Arabs or anyone else had been called that until it became known shortly before his birth that a Prophet would be sent whose name was Muhammad.
Fouad Haddad is wrong despite all the references he gave to legends supporting this claim. His complete post and references are appended below for comparison.
The Encyclopaedia of Islam (New Edition), vol. 7 (1993), p. 361, in article "Muhammad" by "F. Buhl - [A.T. Welch]".
Even though the above sources might be more inspired by this same legend building that fooled Mr. Haddad, the next one seems to be independent from it.
During the time of Abraha (c. 570), the Abyssinian ruling at Yaman, there was an Arab named Muhammad who came him. The relevant passage from Ibn Ishaq's "The Life of Muhammad", tr. Guillaume, p. 22-23: [Guillaume has a lot of abbreviations for name, T. seemingly stands for at-Tabari as source for this particular passage]
This led to the story of Elephant (alluded to in Sura 105), where Abraha died.
Supposedly the year of the Elephant is the year of the birth of Muhammad. Hence, before the birth of Muhammad ibn Ishaq reports of a grown man with this same name, i.e. this name has been borne by Arabs and it was not announced shortly before the birth of the prophet.
1) The Abyssinians, and the Yamanis (at least at Najran) were Christians at that time. It is quite possible that the above bearer of the name Muhammad was even a Christian, and there are other records of Christians bearing this name. I have heard it several times, but currently do not have further references. But I will make sure if I come across them that they will be shared on this forum.
2) "Became known shortly before his birth?" Became known in what way? Does the Qur'an refer to some other prophet in Arabia in the sixth century? Muslims generally hold that there was no prophet between Jesus and Muhammad. Would not such a prophecy mean that there would ahve to be a prophet as well? And even if there had been such a prophet and prophecy, how do we know then that it refers to "the prophet Muhammad" the founder of the religion of Islam? After all, we just established there were more Muhammad's around.
Further evidence that the name Muhammad was far from unique comes from Sahih Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 45, Number 687:
Narrated Jabir bin 'Abdullah: Allah's Apostle(SAW) said, "Who would kill Ka'b bin Al-Ashraf as he has harmed Allah and His Apostle(SAW)?" Muhammad bin Maslama (got up and) said, "I will kill him." So, Muhammad bin Maslama went to Ka'b and said, "I want a loan of one or two Wasqs of food grains." Ka'b said, "Mortgage your women to me." Muhammad bin Maslama said, "How can we mortgage our women, and you are the most handsome among the Arabs?" He said, "Then mortgage your sons to me." Muhammad said, "How can we mortgage our sons, as the people will abuse them for being mortgaged for one or two Wasqs of food grains? It is shameful for us. But we will mortgage our arms to you." So, Muhammad bin Maslama promised him that he would come to him next time. They (Muhammad bin Maslama and his companions) came to him as promised and murdered him. Then they went to the Prophet(SAW) and told him about it.
Which again clearly shows there were other "Muhammads" around those days. And it gives some other grizzly details with are interesting in their own right...
More observations about the names of Muhammad can be made. For example it is well known that Muhammad was called by the names Al-Amin, Al-Mustafa and Abu al-Qasem. In Sahih Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 56, Number 732 we are informed that:
Narrated Jubair bin Mutim: Allah's Apostle said, "I have five names: I am Muhammad and Ahmad; I am Al-Mahi through whom Allah will eliminate infidelity; I am Al-Hashir who will be the first to be resurrected, the people being resurrected there after; and I am also Al-'Aqib (i.e. There will be no prophet after me)."
How then can he have only five names?
And his full name was:
Abu al-Qasim Muhammad ibn Abd Allah ibn 'Abd al-Muttalib ibn Hashim
And who knows how many more names are out there??
The rumorous article the above is responding to:
Subject: The name "Muhammad" From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Fouad Haddad) Date: 1997/02/06 Message-Id: <email@example.com>, Newsgroup: soc.religion.islam Wa `alaykum as-salam, in reply to: >Fouad Haddad in his reply to the question "The name Muhammad" wrote >>Qadi `Iyad says: > >>... the name Muhammad. None of the Arabs or anyone else had been >>called that until it became known shortly before his birth that a > >Prophet would be sent whose name was Muhammad. > >I would be deeply grateful if this passage could be explained. >How did it became known? It became known through prophecies and divinations among both the Jews and the Christians. The following reports give a glimpse of that kind of knowledge: 1. Hassan ibn Thabit said: "I was a child of seven or eight years of age who understood everything I saw or heard. One morning I saw a Jew in Yathrib shouting: O nation of the Jews! They gathered around him and I listened in. They said: What is wrong with you? He said: The star of Ahmad has risen whereby he was born last night." Bayhaqi narrates it through three chains in Dala'il al-nubuwwa (1:110) as well as Ibn Hisham in his Sira and Bayhaqi's shaykh al-Hakim in al-Mustadrak (3:486). 2. Ibn al-Nazur25 the (religious) head of Eilat by appointment of Heraclius and bishop26 of the Christians of Syria used to relate that one morning after Heraclius had first come to Eilat he was seized by anxiety and that some of his patricians said to him: "We see that your countenance has changed for the worst." Ibn al-Nazur continued: "Heraclius used to be a diviner27 who gazed at the stars,28 so when they questioned him he replied to them: "Last night as I gazed at the stars I saw that the King29 of the Circumcised30 had appeared. Which of the nations circumcise themselves?" They replied: "None but the Jews, therefore do not let them worry you in any way. Write to the cities of your kingdom and order them to exterminate their Jewish populations." "As they were pondering this a man sent by the king of Ghassan came to Heraclius with information about Allah's Messenger (s). When Heraclius heard his report he said: "Go and see: is he circumcised or not?" They enquired and reported back to him that he was. Asked about the Arabs as a whole, the informer said again: "They practice circumcision." Heraclius said: "Now has come the time for this nation to rule (the world)." "Heraclius wrote to one of his friends in Rome who was his peer in learning. Then he travelled to Hims31 from where he did not move until his friend's reply came back. The latter agreed with Heraclius's opinion about the appearance of the Prophet (s) and on the fact that he was a prophet. Heraclius then summoned the Roman authorities to his villa32 in Hims, ordered the gates locked, then looked at them and said: "O Romans! Do you want to reap success, do what is right, and ensure that your empire will endure? Follow this prophet." At this they fled like wild asses and made for the gates but found them locked. When Heraclius saw their loathing of what he had proposed to them he despaired that they could ever believe. "Bring them back to me," he ordered; then he addressed them again: "I said this just now33 only in order to test the strength of your attachment to your religion, of which I am satisfied." At this they prostrated to him and and they were happy again. That was the last we heard of Heraclius." 26usquffan is an Arabized form of the Latin episcopus or high priest for Christians. 27A seer who informed others about invisible matters. 28"Who inferred divination from the position of the stars." 29Another relation has "the Kingdom." 30The Romans did not practice circumcision. 31A city in central Syria. 32daskara, a palace with surrounding lodgings for servants and others. 33anifan: "at first." Bukhari narrates it from Ibn `Abbas in his Sahih, it is the last hadith in the first book of the Sahih. Blessings and Peace on the Prophet, his Family, and his Companions
Overview on the rumors and hoaxes
Answering Islam Home Page