Has a major branch of history been determined by one man’s bout with epilepsy? I think it might have!
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 incident 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 temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) creates 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 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.
Ancient, 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 seizures. These seizures are reported to have frightened 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.
There is only anecdotal evidence that Muhammad was an epileptic. It’s just a theory but is a convincing one: 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.
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