Has a major branch of history been determined by one man's bout with epilepsy? I think so!

Epilepsy Toronto has, on its web page, a list of famous people who have had epilepsy. The idea of the list is that epilepsy doesn't need to stand in the way of achievement. On that list - along with such luminaries as Fyodor Dostoevsky, Joan of Arc, Napoleon and Newton - was Muhammad. Well, you guessed it . . . the incendiary email this organization received from indignant Muslims, prompted them to quickly remove Muhammad from its on-line list. By now, we all know that nothing gets results like Muslim threats.

This article reminded me of the connection between epilepsy and the "God Module". If you're not familiar with the God Module or "God Spot", here's a quick summary . . . It was discovered when scientists explored the association between epilepsy and intense spiritual experiences. It seems that some forms of epilepsy create electrical storms in the brain that stimulates an adjacent area (now identified as the God Module). Many of these epileptics are hyper-religious.

Anyway, I did a Google search for "Muhammad and epilepsy" and hit pay-dirt. There appears to be a strong correlation between the symptoms of epilepsy and the witness descriptions of Muhammad's condition while in his "trances". Epilepsy (the "sacred disease", also known as the "falling sickness") is what the ancients thought were demon possessions. Muhammad was known to have had epileptic symptoms from at least the age of 5. His guardians were (allegedly) afraid he was demon possessed and pawned him off on other relatives.

Epilepsy would explain Muhammad's visions and preoccupation with spirituality and his solitary retreats to the mountains for contemplative meditation. Many epileptics describe the spiritual sensations surrounding seizures as so exquisite that they actually look forward to these fits. Fyodor Dostoevsky claimed that he would not trade 10 years of life for a single epilepsy-induced spiritual experience.

Ignorant and superstitious people, especially in Muhammad's day, were easily impressed by these seizures. They seemed real, because they were. However, they weren't demon possessions or contact with God; they were epileptic fits. These fits are reported to have scared Muhammad until his wife (the first, ever, Muslim) convinced him that they were divine communiqués. That's right . . . Muhammad's wife was the first Muslim - Muhammad was the second to believe.

There is only anecdotal evidence that Muhammad was an epileptic. It's just a theory. But, due to the preponderance of evidence, many historians and researchers believe it. The first to suggest it was the Greek monk, Theophanes. Theophanes (752-817) wrote, in his "Chronography", that Muhammad suffered from epilepsy. In 1869, Sir William Muir, made the same connection in his book, "The Life of Mahomet". More recently, Clifford Pickover writes:
Dostoevsky, another famous epileptic whose works are filled with ecstatic visions of universal love (and terrible nightmares of uncanny fear and radical evil), thought it was obvious that Mohammad's visions of God were triggered by epilepsy. "Mohammad assures us in this Koran that he had seen Paradise," Dostoevsky notes. "He did not lie. He had indeed been in Paradise - during an attack of epilepsy, from which he suffered, as I do."
I guess it takes one to know one.

Tags: God Module, Pickford, Sir William Muir, dostoevsky, epilepsy, muhammad, toronto

Views: 337

Replies to This Discussion

I can add that I have an academic friend who is an atheist and who had her first-ever epileptic fit a few years ago in her 40s, since when she gets the attacks fairly frequently. She understands how Mohammad could have suffered the reported illusions.
After posting my replay the other day,I remembered during my work as an ER doctor in a hospital several years ago a man brought to us with an epileptic fit. He was a known case and he was accompanied by his calm wife in a black veil. The man, bearded and obviously very relegious, was shouting and calling for Mohammad daughters!!! as if they were speaking to him. I did not give it any attention because I know now through my experience as a surgeon that when people come out of surgery (in the recovery room) the effect of anesthesia on them varies greatly from one person to another. Some have vivid hallucinations that depend on their lifestyles and beliefs. We, for example , had to deal with a patient who thought he was King David of Israel and shouted in good Hebrew although he was a religous arab muslim.Some of our nurses freaked out and thought it was a reincarination or something . He turned out to be a former construction worker in Israel for a long time and guess what... his name was Dawod. Arabic for David.
Mero, I'm not a Muslim scholar, but wasn't it inside the cave that the Angel Gabriel engraved the words of the Quran on Moe's heart. Gabriel was the one who announced to Mary that she was to be the mother of Christ—so it's not a big coincidence. I guess Moe picked Gabby to show he knew his business.

But Mohammad was illiterate and he had to recite the Surahs to his uncle, who became his amanuensis or secretary.

It's interesting to note that the Surahs aren't supposed to be read, but hummed or chanted.
The relationship between epilepsy and religion has been reviewed several times. Jeffery Saver and John Rabin list the following religious people about whom it has been said, at one time or another, that they had epilepsy: Saint Paul, Muhammad, Margery Kempe, Joan of Arc, Saint Catherine of Genoa, Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint Catherine dei Ricci, Swedenborg, Ann Lee, Joseph Smith, Dostoyevsky, Hieronymus Jaegen, Vincent van Gogh, and Saint Therese of Lisieux.

It was clear and indisputable that after an epileptic seizure, which threw him out of his horse in the road to Damascus, Saint Paul underwent a physical transformation: all at once he felt as thought he was places in contact with the Christ himself, and he “converted.” Everything appears to him changed. He didn’t forget his past as Pharisee and persecutor of the early Christian Church, because there was nothing to forget. Now, it was plain clear to him that Jesus was the Messiah, and, eventually, the Savior who had replaced the pagan redeemers of the salvation cults.

The ancients regarded epilepsy as sacred, and it was referred to as such by Hippocrates (460 – 377 BC) in his famous text, “On the Sacred Disease.” The Greeks reasoned that epilepsy must be divine because only a god could throw a man to the ground, render him senseless, and then restore him to normality. However, Hippocrates opined that there was nothing sacred at all about epilepsy and that it was instead a brain-related disorder. Hence came one of the most important statements of neuropsychiatry of all time, Hippocrates’ apothegm, quoted uncountable times but worth repeating:

“Men ought to know that from the brain, and from the brain only arise our pleasures, joys, laughter and jests, as well as our sorrows, pains, griefs and tears … and by this same organ we become mad and delirious, and fears and terrors assail us.” For Hippocrates, the brain was the sea of both the falling sickness and madness, and both were related to disordered phlegm.”

The association between epilepsy and religion stretches back to antiquity. Oswei Temkin, in his brilliant account of the history of epilepsy, noted several ancient religious explanations for the illness: either a god sent it, or a devil entered the patient, or the patient had sinned against Selene, the goddess of the moon. Superstition has always veiled epilepsy, the old name for the disorder, “the sacred disease,” lingering on even today in some parts of the world. While at some times and in some places, patients with epilepsy were considered to be unclean, touched by evil forces, and contagious, at others they were considered divine, magic, and their utterances were thought to be prophetic.

Toward the end of the nineteenth century there was a considerable expansion of both the clinical and experimental neurosciences, and the historical associations between epilepsy and religion attracted the attention of psychopathologists with an interest in these matters. An analogy was drawn between the epileptic attack and the moments of inspiration of genius, and, interestingly in this context, pride of place was given to a number of famous geniuses who were said, on account of their inspirations, to have had epilepsy.

One author, Cesare Lombroso (1836 – 1909) considered that epilepsy in somebody who was a genius represented a “morbus totius substantiae,” a disease of his whole substance. He sees the epileptic seizure as an analogy for the moment of inspiration: “this active and violent unconsciousness in the one case manifests itself by creation and in the other by moroty agitation.” Lombroso cites as examples the “confessions” of several men of genius, including Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Louis Goncourt. It is well known that Dostoyevsky describe moments of “the presence of eternal harmony.” He likened his states of ecstasy to the experiences of Muhammad, and he included characters with epilepsy in several of his novels, notably, Prince Myshkin, in The Idiot.

What an epileptic experiences is neither terrestrial nor celestial. It is an “indescribable something.” Not tenderness, nor yet joy. For Dostoyevsky, “the terrible thing is the frightful clearness with which it manifests itself, and the rapture with which it fills you. If this state were to last more than five seconds, the soul could not endute it, and would have to disappear.”


Source: The Soul in the Brain, The Cerebral Basis of Language, Art, and Belief, by Michael R. Trimble. M. D., The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 2007.
Hi Claudia,

That article, by Dr. Trimble, pulls together many of the facts and cases that were fleshed out by other articles I researched from Google. In my case, I was (obviously) focused on the Muhammad angle. :-)
Studies have shown that people with temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) have religious experiences in which the feel "one with the universe" or "one with God." This phenomenon has been observed in both nuns and Buddhist monks. http://health.howstuffworks.com/mental-health/human-nature/behavior...

Also, during a TLE attack hallucinations occur. http://health.howstuffworks.com/mental-health/neurological-conditio... These facts beg the question, "Did religious people such as Paul of the New Testament, Moses of the Old Testament, and Joseph Smith of the Mormons have their religious experiences during an TLE seisure? At least one writer speculated that this is so. http://health.howstuffworks.com/mental-health/human-nature/behavior...

If this is true, then we could conclude that TLE is a disease that had one of the biggest impacts on the world. If it were not for TLE, the new testament might not have existed. Mormonism would not have existed. The Jehovah Witnesses would not have existed. Perhaps the Abrahamic religions of the Jews, Christians and Muslims would not have existed. Imagine that: A peaceful world without these religions. To me, that would be nirvana.
It's not impossible that the revealed religions originated with prophets "divinely" inspired by TLE's stimulation of the God Module. But, given the antiquity of these prophets, we're left with mere speculation. The symptoms, in Muhammad's case, are pretty well documented by the descriptions of observers of his "trances". If you look at modern founders of religions, TLE doesn't seem to be a common factor. Greed and/or hubris seem to be their motivation. If Muhammad began his career as a prophet because of sincere belief in his TLE-induced visions, it's clear that he ended up motivated by greed and hubris, just like modern prophets.
According to this video, Ellen White, The founder of 7th Day Adventists experienced her revalations under an epileptic attack. http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=7991385426492181792#

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