Muhammad: The Conduct of the ‘Excellent Example’

How should we live our lives? For Muslims the answer cannot be clearer: “Ye have indeed in the Messenger of Allah a beautiaful pattern (of coanduct) for any one whose hope is in Allah and the Final Day, and who engages much in the Praise of Allah.” (Qur’an 33:21) This seems rather straightforward. Just follow Muhammad’s example in everything.

There is a problem however. What are we to make of the following acts of the ‘perfect example’ (all based on impeccable Islamic sources)?  According to these sources, Muhammad:

1.    Ordered raids (razzias) on caravans (and took part in several) in order to steal their contents and to sell people for ransom (Sahih Bukhari Volume1 Book 7 Hadith 331)

2.    Forced several of his enemies (e.g. Abu Sufyan) to accept his prophethood or be executed (Chronicle of Al Tabari, part 2, p. 157)

3.     Forced his adopted son (by receiving a ‘revelation’ from God) to divorce his wife so that he could marry her (Sahih Muslim Volume 2 Number 2347; Sahih Bukhari Volume 3 Number 249; see also Qur’an 33:6-38).

4.    ‘Married’, and had sex with, a woman on the same day that her husband, father, brother and most of her family were slaughtered by his followers (Sahih Bukhari Volume 2 number 68 and Volume 4 number 143,280)

5.    Instead of only taking four wives (the amount he allowed his followers) he received a special revelation allowing him to take as many as he wished (Qur’an 33:50). Prompting his favourite wife Aisha to exclaim that it seems that God sent down revelations merely to suit the prophet (Sahih Muslim Volume 2 Number 3453)!

6.    Married Aisha when she was six and consummated the marriage while she was only nine (Sahih Bukhari Volume 7 Book 62 Number 64) One tradition even states that she was still playing with dolls at the time the marriage was consummated (Sahih Muslim Volume 8 Number 3311).

7.    Committed genocide by allowing the slaughter of 900 unarmed male members of the Banu Qurayzah (Jewish) tribe after they refused to embrace Islam and received ‘divine sanction’ for it (Qur’an 33:25-26).

8.    Ordered the assassination of several people who were critical of him (e.g. the poets Asma bint Marwan and Abu Afak). (The Life of Muhammad. A translation of Ishaq’s “Sirat Rasul Allah”, p. 675–676)

9.    Ordered the torture of a man named Kinana al-Rabi to with a red-hot iron to ‘encourage’ him to reveal the whereabouts of a hidden treasure. (The Life of Muhammad. A translation of Ishaq’s “Sirat Rasul Allah”, p. 515)

10.    Broke a treaty (The treaty of Hudabiyyah) which committed him to live in peace with the people of Mecca. Again he conveniently receives a ‘revelation’ justifying his actions (Qur’an 60:10).

11.    Allowed his followers to rape captive women (Sahih Muslim Book 8 Number 3371)

All of the above leave us with an urgent question: What would a society look like that takes these things as the action of someone setting an ‘excellent example’?

Muslim apologists would, no doubt, protest that we should see at least some of these events within their particular historical contexts. This is, however, an easy and unconvincing cop out.

Remember that Muhammad’s example should be followed by all Muslims, those living in the 7th century and those living in the 21st century. Yet, if modern Muslims do the things above they would end up in prison. Are we to understand that Muhammad is an ‘excellent example’, just not one that we should follow too closely?

For more on how the example and teachings of Muhammad play a significant role in inspiring violence in the name of Islam, please see my book: “Nothing to do with Islam – Investigating the West’s Most Dangerous Blind Spot.

The Qur’an on Child Marriage

Modern society rightly displays a strong abhorrence at the very idea of sex with young children. There are very good reasons for this. The physical and emotional fallout resulting from underage sex can take decades to recover from. One way in which societies around the world try to limit sex with children is through the setting of the age of consent at ages where both partners have attained (or are at the very least approaching) physical and emotional maturity. One significant exception to this trend is the Islamic world where several examples can be cited of countries including Yemen, Iran and Afghanistan where efforts to enact legislation to protect girls from child marriage, and thus child sex, are strenuously resisted. Why would this be?

The first and most obvious point to make is that setting the age of consent at anything higher than nine would send a message that Muhammad had been wrong by having sex with his child-wife Aisha when she was nine years of age. (Sahih Bukhari 5:58:234) Since Muhammad is presented as an excellent example to all of humanity (Qur’an 33:21), many Muslims feel that it should be possible to follow him in this aspect of his conduct as well. At the very least, they do not want to support legislation that could cast Muhammad in a bad light as he would have been on the wrong side of it.

It is, furthermore, the case that the Qur’an is unambiguous in legalizing marriage (and therefore sex) with little girls who had not yet reached sexual maturity. Qur’an 65:4 spells out the rules for divorcing a girl who had not yet begun to menstruate: “Such of your women as have passed the age of monthly courses, for them the prescribed period, if ye have any doubts, is three months, and for those who have no courses (it is the same)

This verse prescribes a waiting period (idda) that will have to be observed before such pre-pubescent girls can remarry. This waiting period only applies in cases where the couple actually had sex: “O ye who believe. When ye marry believing women, and then divorce them before ye have touched them, no period of ‘Idda have to count in respect of them: so give them a present. And set them free in a handsome manner.” (Qur’an 33:49). The clear implication of Qur’an 65:4 is reinforced by several sound hadiths in which the passage is explained:

  • Mujahid said that “if you have any doubt” (65:4) means if you do not know whether she menstruates or not. Those who do not longer menstruate and those who have not yet menstruated, their ‘idda is three months. (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Chapter 68: Book of Tafsir)
  • Narrated Sahl bin Sad: While we were sitting in the company of the Prophet a woman came to him and presented herself (for marriage) to him. The Prophet looked at her, lowering his eyes and raising them, but did not give a reply. One of his companions said, “Marry her to me O Allah’s Apostle.” The Prophet asked (him), “Have you got anything?” He said, “I have got nothing.” The Prophet said, “Not even an iron ring?” He said, “Not even an iron ring, but I will tear my garment into two halves and give her one half and keep the other half.” The Prophet; said, “No. Do you know some of the Quran (by heart)?” He said, “Yes.” The Prophet said, “Go, I have agreed to marry her to you with what you know of the Qur’an (as her Mahr).” ‘And for those who have no courses (i.e. they are still immature). (65.4) And the ‘Iddat for the girl before puberty is three months (in the above Verse) (Sahih Bukhari 7:62:63)

The conclusion is inescapable. Both the sacred texts of Islam and the conduct of the prophet of Islam sanction the incredibly harmful practice of sexual relations with girls before they have reached sexual maturity. It will not do to point to the fact that this was in line with the practices of the Arabian Desert during the time of Muhammad (an assertion that is in any event highly questionable). The Qur’an is regarded by Muslims as the word of Allah to all people, through all time, in all places and in all circumstances and therefore some modern Muslims therefore see it as their God given right to marry little girls.

For more on some of the troubling teachings of Islam’s ‘holy texts’ see my book ‘Questioning Islam – Tough Questions and Honest Answers About the Muslim Religion

The ‘Prophet’ of Islam on Free Speech

Modern Muslim apologists, seeking to give their prophet a bit of an image makeover, often insist that Muhammad was a champion of human rights. Considering this we are entitled to ask how Muhammad would have reacted to those who threaten and, in some cases, kill people (e.g. the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists) for ‘insulting’ him.

It is not hard to work out the answer, and the implications are chilling.

Perhaps the most famous critic of Muhammad during his lifetime was a poet named Asma bint Marwan who wrote satirical verses against him. Muhammad did not appreciate this (to put it mildly) and made sure that she was silenced in the most brutal way possible.

Muhammad’s biographer, Ibn Ishaq, relates the story: “When the apostle heard what she had said, he said ‘Who will rid me of Marwan’s daughter?’ `Umayr b. `Adiy al-Khatmi who was with him heard him, and that very night he went to her house and killed her. In the morning, he came to the apostle and told him what he had done and he [Muhammad] said, ‘You have helped God and His apostle, O `Umayr!’ When he asked if he would have to bear any evil consequences the apostle said, ‘Two goats won’t butt their heads about her’, so `Umayr went back to his people.” (The Life of Muhammad – A Translation of Ishaq’s “Sirat Rasul Allah”, p. 675—676, A. Guillaume, Oxford University Press)

The terror and fear caused by the actions of Muhammad quickly convinced the people of his victim’s tribe to embrace Islam. Was this out of deep conviction? That is not how Ibn Ishaq relates it: “The day after Bint Marwan was killed, the men of B. Khatma became Muslims because they saw the power of Islam”. According to Sahih Bukhari (Volume 4 Book 52 Hadith 220), Muhammad declared: “I have been made victorious by terror [cast into the hearts of the enemy]”. This seems to be exactly what happened with the men of Asma Bint Marwan’s tribe. Her death cast terror in their hearts causing them to hurriedly convert to Islam.

Not quite a champion of human rights and free speech, you would have to agree. This is just one of the many examples of where the ‘prophet’, who is often portrayed as a Gandhi-like figure for the benefit of gullible Westerners, acted more like a mafia boss than a great spiritual leader. So, next time when you hear a friend express surprise at the often-violent reactions to criticism of Islam, please be so kind as to point him or her to the source. The ‘perfect example’ (Qur’an 33:21) himself.

For more on the ways in which contemporary acts of violence can be traced straight back to Islam’s source documents, please see my book ‘Nothing to do with Islam – Investigating the West’s Most Dangerous Blind Spot

Why All the Fuss About Muslim History?

Over the past few years several books that challenge traditional Muslim historical accounts (including my own ‘The Mecca Mystery’) have appeared. Some people may respond to this by asking what the value of reaching into the mists of time to try and decipher Islam’s origins might be. Far form being an obscure and unnecessary pursuit I maintain that this is one of the most important things that historians can become involved in. I realize that this is a very bold statement. So, allow me to give you some reasons:

If Muslim history falls, Islam falls. It is sometimes hard for outsiders to fathom just how much of Islamic teaching is based on (supposedly accurate) historical accounts. Muslims have to turn not to the Qur’an, but to historical traditions for the following: The words of the confession of faith, how many times per day to pray, how to pray, how to fast, how to go on pilgrimage to Mecca, the rules for almsgiving. In short, the so-called Five Pillars of Islam (including the term itself) is based on traditions that Muslims believe had been pristinely preserved across the centuries. If it can be shown that these ‘reliable’ traditions are nothing of the sort, then the practice of Islam itself must be called into serious question.

History provides us with an opportunity to actually test Muslim claims. Muslim apologists are often very quick to retreat to faith as a means to deal with thorny issues. Some things should simply be taken on faith, they constantly assert. History, however, provides us with the opportunity to move beyond this impasse. This is because historical claims can actually be tested. So while we may just have to shrug our shoulders when Muhammad’s supernatural experiences come up for discussion, we can apply the standard methods of historical research when other questions are raised. Questions like: What evidence are there for the pre-Islamic existence of Mecca? Did the Arab invaders conquer large parts of the Roman Empire with the name of Muhammad on their lips? When do we find the first mentions of key Islamic object or teachings in recorded history? The answers to these questions may surprise you and will prove fatal to the confident pronouncements of Islamic supremacists.

History allows us to ‘Slip Through the Defences’. By focusing on history, critics of Islam can also go some way to getting beyond the emotive language that criticism of Islam is routinely greeted with. Those questioning Islam are often accused of being ‘bigots’ or ‘haters’ simply for querying certain aspects of Islamic theology or practice. These charges are nonsensical to begin with, but the belief that those who question Islam must ‘hate’ Muslims are so deeply ingrained that an indirect approach may sometimes be required. Focusing on history represents exactly such an indirect approach as it brings us into the realm of names, dates, people and places. In short, things that can be approached in a more objective and less emotive manner. By this I am not saying that those who question Muslim history should not prepare themselves for bitter denunciations and even threats of violence. What I am suggesting is that questions about history will have a better chance of ‘slipping through the defences’ given how seemingly non-theological they are.

I would, considering the above, like to suggest that historical questioning should be at the very heart of all efforts to undermine belief in Islam in our societies. A struggle that will be absolutely essential in the coming years if we are to survive as a civilization. May I, therefore, encourage you to ask the hard historical questions about early Islam by reading my book ‘The Mecca Mystery – Probing the Black Hole at the Heart of Muslim History