In the previous article of this series on the conduct of Muhammad (supposedly an ‘excellent example’ to be followed by all Muslims) we looked at his treatment of the men of the Banu Qurayza tribe. Treatment that essentially amounted to genocide. With this final article we’ll turn our focus to how he dealt with those who rejected his message.
An important test of the character of a person is the way in which he or she responds to criticism. Upon examination of the evidence, it has to be said that Muhammad’s example in this area shows him to be someone for whom “live and let live” was a totally alien concept. He, instead, sought to silence criticism and dissent in as ruthless a manner as possible.
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.
This is how Ibn Ishaq relates this 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 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. Muslims are obviously very uncomfortable with this story, with some trying to claim that it is based on a weak chain of transmission. In response to this, it can be stated that this story is found in Ibn Ishaq which is, by far, the most authoritative biography of Muhammad.
Some will also, no doubt, claim that the killing of Asma bint Marwan was a political necessity since she was such a high profile and vocal critic of Muhammad. This can hardly be seen as justification for his actions, however.
Furthermore, there is another hadith that confirms that critics without a great deal of influence were also brutally snuffed out. This is found in a respected hadith collection (Sunan Abu Dawud Book 38 Hadith 4348). It relates the story of a man who killed his slave (who was also the mother of his children) because she insulted Muhammad: “He the murderer [sat] before the Prophet and said: ‘Apostle of Allah! I am her master; she used to abuse you and disparage you. I forbade her, but she did not stop, and I rebuked her, but she did not abandon her habit. I have two sons like pearls from her, and she was my companion. Last night she began to abuse and disparage you. So I took a dagger, put it on her belly and pressed it till I killed her.’ Thereupon the Prophet said: ‘Oh be witness, no retaliation is payable for her blood’”
This passage proves that Muhammad’s treatment of Asma bint Marwan was entirely consistent with incidents related in other hadiths. It also disproves the notion that Muhammad solicited the killing of the poetess purely for strategic reasons as he here approves the killing of a humble slave who probably did not have any influence outside of her own household. The question needs to be asked. What are we to make of a “prophet” who is so insecure that he incites the murder of those who criticize him instead of responding to their challenges by engaging them in a debate?
Even more importantly for the purposes of this article series: What are we to make of a religion that enshrines a person who engaged in all of the acts mentioned above as a “perfect example”? It should be very clear that, far from acting as a restraining influence, the words and deeds of the supreme human figure in Islam can, instead, be used as a justification for the kind of violence that some within the Muslim community view as an essential part of the expression of their faith.
For much more about the links between Islamic teaching and violence committed in its name, please see my book “Nothing to do with Islam? Investigating the West’s Most Dangerous Blind Spot”www.ntdwi.com