Deception for the Sake of Allah (Muhammad’s Conduct: Article #4)

In the previous article in this series on Muhammad’s example we had a look at how Muhammad treated the property of vanquished enemies. The time has now come to focus on his relationship with the truth.

Most people would agree that leaders should be people of integrity who can be relied upon to keep their word. The life of Muhammad provides clear evidence that he was willing to make and break promises (including solemn treaties) as it suited him. The most famous instance of this happening was the Treaty of Hudaibiya (628 CE). Muslim apologists spend much time defending Muhammad’s conduct in the aftermath of the signing of this treaty, often claiming that the people of Mecca got what they deserved. This may or may not be the case, and I’m not about to enter into a rather unprofitable debate about the minutiae of why Muslims feel that the Meccans “had it coming”. The point is that, as the “Messenger of Allah”, Muhammad’s conduct should have been totally above reproach in honoring a promise that he made in the name of Allah. Therefore, the only question that I want to address in this section is this: Did Muhammad break a solemn treaty or not?

These are the basic details surrounding Muhammad’s breaking of the “Treaty of Hudaibiya”: While exiled from Mecca, Muhammad tried to lead a large group of Muslims to Mecca to perform the Umrah (lesser pilgrimage). On the way to Mecca, Muhammad’s party was approached by an emissary of the Meccans who indicated that the Muslims would be prevented from entering Mecca by the forces of the Quraysh. Muhammad did not feel confident in forcing the Meccans to relent, so, he had to mount a sudden climb-down. He agreed to sign a treaty with the Meccans and even took the extraordinary step of handing a Meccan convert to Islam back to the people of Mecca. In addition to this, he was forced to change his name and title at the end of the treaty document from “Muhammad: Apostle of Allah” to “Muhammad: Son of Abdullah” (this incident is related in Sahih Bukhari Volume 3 Book 50 Hadith 891). This is what was agreed to: “This is what Muhammad b. Abdullah has agreed with Suhayl b. Amr: they have agreed to lay aside war for ten years during which men can be safe and refrain from hostilities on condition that, if anyone comes to Muhammad without the permission of his guardian, he will return him to them; and if anyone of those with Muhammad comes to Quraysh they will not return him to him. We will not show enmity one to another and there shall be no secret reservation of bad faith.” Two key provisions have to be pointed out: a) The treaty was to stand for 10 years, and b) Those that migrated to Muhammad (in Medina) without permission would be returned to Mecca.

The treaty that Muhammad entered into amounted to a defeat for the Muslims and also indicated a failed prophecy. Its signing, therefore, caused a great deal of grumbling amongst the Muslim forces who objected to the return of some of their compatriots who had converted to Islam back to the Meccan pagans. Many were, furthermore, incensed that Muhammad accepted the change of his title from “Apostle of Allah” to “Son of Abdullah” and also by the fact that the treaty was weighted in favor of the pagans of Mecca (Sahih Bukhari Volume 3 Book 50 Hadith 891). As so often happened in these cases, Allah apparently immediately sprang into action with a “convenient revelation” to shore up Muhammad’s position. Despite the expedition being a dismal failure and defeat, Allah declares it to be a stunning victory: “Verily We have granted thee a manifest Victory” (Qur’an 48:1). Muhammad’s followers must have wondered if they could afford many more “victories” like that.

The grumbling, despite the declaration of “victory”, among his followers put Muhammad in an extremely difficult position. He immediately began to cast around for an opportunity to get out of the treaty. Muslim apologists claim that the Meccans attacked the Muslims first, thus, violating the non-aggression side of the treaty. However, long before the alleged attacks happened, Muhammad had already broken the provision regarding the return of refugees. There can, therefore, be no doubt that he was the first to dishonor his word by reneging on a solemn promise for the sake of political expediency. As can be seen above, one of the key provisions of the treaty was that if any person went to Medina (to join Muhammad) from Mecca, he or she would be returned by Muhammad: “…if anyone comes to Muhammad without the permission of his guardian he will return him to them”.

This provision was very quickly put to the test. According to Ibn Ishaq: “Umm Kulthum Uqba Muayt migrated to the apostle during this period. Her two brothers Umara and Walid sons of Uqba came and asked the apostle to return her to them in accordance with the agreement between him and the Quraysh at Hudaybiyya, but he would not”.

There can be no doubt whatsoever that Muhammad went back on his word with his refusal to return Umm Kulthum to her brothers. Ever faithful, Allah comes to the rescue with yet another “convenient revelation”: “O you who have believed, when the believing women come to you as emigrants, examine them. Allah is most knowing as to their faith. And if you know them to be believers, then do not return them to the disbelievers; they are not lawful [wives] for them, nor are they lawful Allah is most knowing as to their faith. And if you know them to be believers, then do not return them to the disbelievers; they are not lawful [wives] for them, nor are they lawful [husbands] for them” (Qur’an 60:10). How good it must have been for Muhammad to have Allah on-call to constantly justify his questionable actions.

Telling us that Allah sanctioned Muhammad’s treaty breaking does not change the fact that he clearly could not be trusted to keep his word. Allah’s supposed involvement in this sordid episode also raises more questions than it answers. How could he, the supposedly “All-Knowing One”, allow Muhammad to enter into a solemn agreement that he knew would be broken? Perhaps the best answer to this is the fact that Muhammad generally had no problem with deceiving people to gain his own political ends. According to Sahih Bukhari, he said as much: “The Prophet said: War is deceit” (Sahih Bukhari Volume 4 Book 52 Hadith 269).

Muhammad’s behavior, in this case, did not go unnoticed by his followers. It left them with the conviction that treaties and solemn promises can be set aside in a flash if it would serve the cause of Islam. As Muhammad’s successor, Abu Bakr, said: “If I take an oath to do something and later on I find something else better than the first one, I do what is better and make expiation for my oath” (Sahih Bukhari Volume 8 Book 78 Hadith 618). Muhammad would certainly have been proud of a lesson well-learned.

The events described above and the commentary in the hadith that followed should prove salutary to any non-Muslim believing him or herself to be in possession of a non-aggression treaty from an armed Muslim group. If the “perfect example” broke treaties with impunity when it became militarily and politically expedient, why should his modern followers hold them to be unbreakable?

The next article in the series will focus on Muhammad’s treatment of the captives who fell into his hands.

For much more about the links between Islamic teaching and violence, please see my book ‘Nothing to do with Islam? – Investigating the West’s Most Dangerous Blind Spot’

‘Profit for the Prophet’ (Muhammad’s Example Article 3)

In the previous article in this series on the ‘prophet’s’ conduct we looked at Muhammad’s many exhortations to warfare. He was certainly successful in rousing the military ardor of his followers. A significant part of early Islamic expansion was based on military conquest. This leaves an obvious question: How were the expensive military campaigns in which he constantly engaged financed?

A large part of the answer can be found in the fact that Muhammad allowed his followers to raid merchant caravans. As the military might of the Muslims grew, it was made clear that the collection of war booty was an important objective. There is even an entire chapter in the Qur’an (Chapter 8) entitled “Booty”. A remarkable inclusion in a supposedly peaceful holy text.

Here are some of Allah’s reassurances to his followers stating that enriching themselves for the Muslim cause through the collection of booty was completely acceptable:

  • Allah promiseth you much booty that ye will capture, and hath given you this in advance, and hath withheld men’s hands from you, that it may be a token for the believers, and that He may guide you on a right path” (Qur’an 48:20).
  • And that which Allah gave as spoil unto His messenger from them, ye urged not any horse or riding-camel for the sake thereof, but Allah giveth His messenger lordship over whom He will. Al- lah is Able to do all things” (Qur’an 59:6).
  • Now enjoy what ye have won, as lawful and good, and keep your duty to Allah. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful” (Qur’an 8:69)81.

Some Muslim apologists try to justify these incitements, to what can only be described as blatant theft, by stating that there was a strategic need to rob the Meccan caravans. You have to wonder, however, if those who were forced at the point of the sword to hand over their belongings would have seen the theft of their property as anything but an expression of naked greed. The question also has to be asked: What was the “strategic necessity” behind the fact that a significant percentage (20%) of this booty flowed directly to Muhammad?

In the Qur’an, Allah takes particular care to ensure that Muhammad gains significant personal financial benefit from all the raiding and thieving in which he commanded his followers to engage. This was done through the command that one-fifth of the spoils of war and raiding had to be paid over to him (Qur’an 8:41). There must have been serious concern among at least some of the followers of Muhammad that this decree departed significantly from the tradition of earlier prophetic figures who embraced lives of simplicity and who shunned the acquisition of wealth. Muhammad remedied this problem by placing an exemption from this rather inconvenient prophetic tradition in the mouth of Allah: “The Booty has been made Halal [lawful] for me yet it was not lawful for anyone else before me” (Sahih Bukhari Volume1 Book 7 Hadith 331, a similar statement can also be found in Sahih Muslim Book 4 Hadith 1058).

So, it is clear that raiding and capturing the property of others was established as a legitimate source of income for Muslims (as long as Muhammad got his percentage). Many of his followers responded to this open invitation to enrich themselves through the use of violence with enthusiasm.

Here is just one example, as retold by an early follower of Muhammad: “The Prophet again said, ‘Anyone who has killed an enemy and has proof of that, will possess his spoils.’ I [again] got up and said, ‘Who will be a witness for me?’ and sat down. Then the Prophet said the same for the third time. I again got up, and Allah’s Apostle said, ‘O Abu Qatada! What is your story?’ Then I narrated the whole story to him. A man [got up and] said, ‘O Allah’s Apostle! He is speaking the truth, and the spoils of the killed man are with me. So please compensate him on my behalf.’ On that Abu Bakr As-Siddiq said, ‘No, by Allah, he [i.e., Allah’s Apostle] will not agree to give you the spoils gained by one of Allah’s Lions who fights on the behalf of Allah and His Apostle.’ The Prophet said, ‘Abu Bakr has spoken the truth.’ So, Allah’s Apostle gave the spoils to me. I sold that armor [i.e., the spoils] and with its price I bought a garden at Bani Salima, and this was my first property, which I gained after my conversion to Islam” (Sahih Bukhari Volume 4 Book 53 Hadith 370)85.

The implications of this aspect of the example and teaching of Muhammad are deeply troubling. It provides justification for anyone who believes that he is fighting in the “path of Allah” to see the theft of the property of anyone whom he is fighting against as lawful. The “holy warrior” merely has to point to the text of the Qur’an and the example of Muhammad. It also opens up the possibility that wars will be fought with the “strategic objective” being nothing more than the desire to loot and plunder. Is this the kind of “excellent example” that will make our world a better place?

In the next article we will look at Muhammad’s track record when it comes to the deception of unbelievers.

For much more about the links between Islamic teaching and violence, please see my book ‘Nothing to do with Islam? – Investigating the West’s Most Dangerous Blind Spot

Prophetic War Mongering (Muhammad’s Example – Article 2)

In the previous article we looked at the importance of Muhammad’s example in shaping Muslim beliefs and practices. The record of his conduct is perhaps nowhere more troubling than when it comes to exhortations to conflict and warfare.

When studying the Qur’an and hadiths, a consistent pattern emerges. Muhammad made it clear on several occasions that engaging in warfare for the sake of Allah is one of the greatest things that a Muslim can do. Here are just some examples of this being made explicit by Muhammad (or supposedly said to Muhammad by Allah in the Qur’an):

  •  “Not equal are those believers remaining [at home] – other than the disabled – and the mujahideen, [who strive and fight] in the cause of Allah with their wealth and their lives. Allah has preferred the mujahideen through their wealth and their lives over those who remain [behind], by degrees. And to both Allah has promised the best [reward]. But Allah has preferred the mujahideen over those who remain [behind] with a great reward” (Qur’an 4:95). It was narrated that Amr bin Abasah said: “I came to the Prophet and said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, which Jihad is best?’ He said: ‘[That of a man] whose blood is shed and his horse is wounded’” (Sunan Ibn Majah Book 24 Hadith 2794). 
  • “Allah’s Apostle was asked, ‘What is the best deed?’ He replied, ‘To believe in Allah and His Apostle (Muhammad).’ The question- er then asked, “What is the next [in goodness]?’ He replied, ‘To participate in Jihad [religious fighting] in Allah’s Cause’” (Sahih Bukhari Book 1 Volume 2 Hadith 26). 
  • It has been narrated on the authority of Abu Sa’id Khudri that the Messenger of Allah [may peace be upon him] said [to him]: ‘Abu Sa’id, whoever cheerfully accepts Allah as his Lord, Islam as his religion and Muhammad as his Apostle is necessarily entitled to enter Paradise.’ He [Abu Sa’id] wondered at it and said: ‘Messenger of Allah, repeat it for me.’ He [the Messenger of Allah] did that and said: ‘There is another act which elevates the position of a man in Paradise to a grade one hundred [higher], and the elevation between one grade and the other is equal to the height of the heaven from the earth.’ He [Abu Sa’id] said: ‘What is that act?’ He replied: ‘Jihad in the Way of Allah! Jihad in the Way of Allah!’” (Sahih Muslim Book 20 Hadith 4645). 
  • “It has been narrated on the authority of Abu Huraira that the Messenger of Allah [may peace be upon him] said: ‘One who died but did not fight in the way of Allah nor did he express any desire [or determination] for Jihad died the death of a hypocrite’” (Sahih Muslim Book 20 Hadith 4696).

 It should be noted that the term “Jihad in the Way of Allah” always refers to warfare as the context of these verses makes abundantly clear. Muhammad’s emphasis on the fact that committing acts of violence in the name of Allah is a primary form of obedience to the message of Islam means that the many incidents of violence that he was directly involved in cannot be seen as aberrations.

They were, instead, entirely consistent with one of Muhammad’s core convictions – namely that the reign of Allah can, and should, be established through warfare. Muhammad followed through on this commitment by participating in raids and other violent actions for the sake of the spread of Islam. This aspect of the teachings and example of Muhammad has very troubling implications for those who want to maintain that Muhammad was essentially a man of peace. His record and his teachings point in the exact opposite direction.
In the next article we will turn our attention to Muhammad’s teachings on how to treat defeated enemies.

For much more on the links between Islamic teaching and violence, see my book ‘Nothing to do with Islam – Investigating the West’s Most Dangerous Blind Spot

The Conduct of the ‘Perfect Example’ – Introduction

The ‘Prophet’ Muhammad said, “I have been made victorious through terror” (Sahih Bukhari Volume 4, Book 52, Number 220)

Does that statement strike you as odd? If so, why?

Most westerners know very little about the life and deeds of Muhammad. This despite him being such a towering figure on the world historical stage. Perhaps this can be explained by the fact that he is associated with a religious tradition that most westerners do not follow. Still, one would think that the reality that Islam has dominated the news over the past two decades would cause at least some people to dig deeper. Sadly this did not happen.

Ignorance about Muhammad is nothing short of dangerous. It allows people to simply think of him as a benign religious figure who, like many others, taught the Golden Rule while trying to reform society. While there are, of course, many things that Muslims admire about their prophet there are also some aspects of his life and teaching that those of us outside the fold of Islam will necessarily find deeply troubling.

The purpose of this series of articles is to look at the example of Muhammad and to analyze its relevance for the modern world. Why do this? Simply because the example of their prophet is of supreme importance for Muslim believers. As the Qur’an says: “There has certainly been for you in the Messenger of Allah an excellent pattern for anyone whose hope is in Allah and the Last Day and [who] remembers Allah often” (Qur’an 33:21). His example, as portrayed in the hadiths and his Sira (biography) is, therefore, a matter of supreme importance to Muslims. By following in his footsteps, they believe that they give themselves the best possible chance to inherit eternal life.

So, if Muhammad consistently preached and lived toleration, then Muslims would be duty-bound to follow him in this example. On the other hand, if his example was one of aggression and belligerence towards unbelievers, then this would be the standard example that Muslims are required to follow. We, therefore, need to carefully examine his record in this regard.

Unfortunately, it quickly becomes clear, according to the authoritative Islamic texts describing his life, that Muhammad spent a significant part of his prophetic ministry in engaging or promoting warfare for the sake of Allah. This may come as a surprise to those who expect religious leaders to be peaceful and ready to “turn the other cheek”. This was something that Muhammad clearly did not believe in. This series on Muhammad will explore this aspect of Muhammad’s conduct as presented in the Qur’an and hadiths (traditions). I am obviously not going to attempt to provide a full biography of Muhammad. Instead I will focus on those aspects of his legacy that are most relevant to current debates about the role of Islam in the modern world.

It should be noted that there are many questions to be asked about the reliability of the traditions concerning Muhammad (questions I explore in my book ‘The Mecca Mystery – Probing the Black Hole at the Heart of Muslim History‘). For the purposes of these articles I will, however, simply cite the authoritative traditions as they are accepted and followed by devout Muslims around the world.

As always, all quotations will be taken from impeccable Islamic sources and fully referenced.

In the next article the focus will be on Muhammad’s attitudes towards warfare for the sake of Allah.  

Much more about the link between Islamic teaching and violence in my book ‘Nothing to do with Islam – Investigating the West’s Most Dangerous Blind Spot

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