Muhammad: ‘Prophet’ and Slave Trader

One of the most puzzling aspects of the current debate around Islam is the fact that it is pushed as an enlightened alternative to Western values by people who are essentially clueless about its regressive teachings. Nowhere is this more evident than in the disconnect between the idea that Islam stands for human rights and its attitude towards slavery.

Even a cursory examination of the Qur’an and hadiths will quickly reveal that Muhammad enthusiastically participated in the buying and selling of fellow human beings. The following is a brief selection of texts confirming this:

“O Prophet! We have made lawful to thee thy wives to whom thou hast paid their dowers; and those (slaves) whom thy right hand possesses out of the prisoners of war whom Allah has assigned to thee” (Qur’an 33:50) This is one of the many convenient revelations that Muhammad received. In this case, he is allowed as many sexual partners as he desires from among his female slaves. This verse would presumably not have been ‘revealed’ if Muhammad did not possess any female slaves.

Jabir (Allah be pleased with him) reported: There came a slave and pledged allegiance to Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) on migration; he (the Holy Prophet) did not know that he was a slave. Then there came his master and demanded him back, whereupon Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) said: Sell him to me. And he bought him for two black slaves (Sahih Muslim 10:3901) Here we see the prophet of Islam actually involved in the trading of slaves (selling two black slaves in exchange for a Muslim slave). Note that there is no record whatsoever of Muhammad immediately setting the Muslim slave free. Even if he did set him free it would have been better to pay in cash rather than with the black slaves. By ‘paying in slaves’ he ensured that the freedom of the Muslim slave (if he was indeed freed) was bought at the terrible price of the continued enslavement of the two black slaves.

Narrated Anas bin Malik: Allah’s Apostle was on a journey and he had a black slave called Anjasha, and he was driving the camels (very fast, and there were women riding on those camels). Allah’s Apostle said, “Waihaka (May Allah be merciful to you), O Anjasha! Drive slowly (the camels) with the glass vessels (women)!” (Sahih Bukhari 8:73:182) This is just one of the many examples of Muhammad interacting with his slaves. Interestingly the hadiths often stress the fact that many of Muhammad’s slaves were black.

The Prophet sent for a woman from the emigrants and she had a slave who was a carpenter. The Prophet said to her “Order your slave to prepare the wood (pieces) for the pulpit.” So, she ordered her slave who went and cut the wood from the tamarisk and prepared the pulpit, for the Prophet. When he finished the pulpit, the woman informed the Prophet that it had been finished. The Prophet asked her to send that pulpit to him, so they brought it. The Prophet lifted it and placed it at the place in which you see now.” (Sahih Bukhari 3:47:743) This hadith does not deal with a slave directly owned by Muhammad, but it does show that he had no problem commanding his followers to order their slaves to work on his behalf. It is a staggering fact that the very pulpit that he used to preach Islam from was constructed with slave labor.

Not quite ‘Let Freedom Ring’ is it? So, to Western apologists for Islam we, once again, have to say: There are none so blind as those who do not wish to see.

For a fuller discussion of the incompatibility of Islam with Western values see my book ‘Questioning Islam – Tough Questions and Honest Answers About the Muslim Religion’

The Bloodcurdling Message of the Qur’an’s Most Peaceful Verse

When former US President Barack Obama delivered his famous ‘Speech to the Muslim World’ in 2009, he quite predictably trotted out the favorite verse of Western apologists for Islam. A verse seemingly custom designed to prove that Islam is indeed a ‘Religion of Peace’. Here are the President’s exact words: ““… The Holy Qur’an teaches that whoever kills an innocent — it is as if he has killed all mankind” (Cairo Speech to the Muslim World, 4 June 2009)

It is hard to imagine a more uplifting sentiment. Yet, things are not nearly as simple as it would seem on the surface! It should, for starters, be pointed out that the president inserted a word that is not in the text. That word is ‘innocent’. That is simply not part of the original Arabic. The fact that he, or his speech writers, felt the need to ‘improve’ the text should immediately alert us that there may be more to this bit of the Qur’an than meets the eye. And so, it proves, Gere is the entire passage (with the bits the president quoted in bold) in full:

On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people. Then although there came to them Our messengers with clear signs, yet, even after that, many of them continued to commit excesses in the land. The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter. (Qur’an 5:32-33) 

It should be clear from the above that these verses are not blanket condemnations of violence in the name of Allah (see especially the statements I underlined above). In fact, the Qur’an here prescribes horrific methods of execution for those who ‘makes mischief’ against Allah. Such people are to be crucified and have their limbs amputated. The Arabic word used for ‘mischief’ here is ‘fitna’ and the classical Muslim commentaries on this verse makes it clear that the rejection of Muhammad as a Prophet qualifies as ‘fitna’. So, far from declaring that all humanity is ‘innocent’, the way in which this word is traditionally interpreted makes it clear that non-Muslims are certainly not innocent and those who strive against the prophet can be put to death in the most barbarous ways possible.

The way in which this verse is used by those who want to cover for Islam in our society is deeply ironic. Critics of Islam, like myself, are often accused of quoting the Qur’an out of context. This despite every effort being taken to handle the Qur’anic text responsibly and in line with classical Muslim interpretive principles. Yet, all that Western apologists can do to get Islam off the hook for violence committed in its name is to, in fact, make use of wildly out of context quotations from the Qur’an. In this case transforming a bloodcurdling exhortation to violence against unbelievers into a warm and fuzzy call for universal peace. The mind boggles.

For much more on what the Qur’an actually teaches on violence in the name of Allah, see my book ‘Nothing to do with Islam? – Investigating the West’s Most Dangerous Blind Spot’

Having Allah as Your Valet

Muslims claim that the Qur’an is ‘uncreated’. Existing eternally and merely transmitted through Muhammad, the ‘messenger’, as Allah’s final word to creation. We can therefore expect it to be focused on universal themes. Yet much of the Qur’an seemingly exists solely to make life easier and better for a single person. Guess who?

1. Allah reveals that Muslims are only allowed to marry four women (4:3). Muhammad wants more. How convenient: He gets a revelation allowing him to marry as many as he wants. It explicitly states that this privilege is ‘…for you only, not for the rest of the believers‘ (33:50)

2. Allah reveals that multiple wives are always to be treated equally (4:3). Yet Muhammad develops favorites among his wives, wanting to spend more time with some. How convenient: He promptly receives a revelation telling him that he can ‘postpone’ and ‘receive’ his wives as he sees fit (33:51)

3. Muhammad desires the wife (Zaynab) of Zaid, his adopted son. Zaid divorces her so that Muhammad can marry her. This causes a great deal of grumbling among his followers, many of whom regard his actions as tantamount to incest. How convenient: Allah immediately steps in with another special revelation making it clear that when adopted sons are ‘done’ with their wives their adopted fathers may marry them and that whoever questions this ruling questions Allah! (33:37)

4. Muhammad had sex with a slave (Mary the Copt) to whom he was not married. The wife (Hafsa) whose ‘turn’ it was that night furiously objected. Muhammad promised not to touch Mary again if Hafsa keeps quiet. She doesn’t, and a scandal ensues. How convenient: Ever faithful, Allah steps in to smooth things over: “O Prophet! Why do you ban (for yourself that which God has made lawful to you… ” (66:1)

The Qur’an does not contain instructions on how often to pray, the words of the shahada (Confession of Faith), instructions for keeping the fast, the words of the prayer ritual and many other standard aspects of Islamic faith and practice. Muslims must turn to secondary sources (most notably the traditions, or hadiths, for this).

Yet, Allah seems to have found space in his ‘eternal revelation’ to sort out Muhammad’s soap opera of a personal life by making sure that his every whim was gratified. Anyone else smell a rat?

For more about the suspect textual history of the Qur’an, see my book:Questioning Islam: Tough Questions and Honest Answers About the Muslim Religion

The Topsy-Turvy World of Muslim History

I have often written about Islam’s ‘Free Pass’. This is the tendency, very prevalent in the West, to refuse to subject Islam to the hard questions that are routinely asked about other faiths and ideologies. This means that some people who regularly pride themselves in being feminist, pro-LGBTI and open minded will in the next breath fawn about the ‘diversity’ that Islam brings. Never mind that Islam is deeply antithetical to each of those values.

It may come as a surprise to some that this tendency is not only observable on the popular level but even in academia. In countless universities and research institutions the foundational principle of free inquiry has given way to uncritical acceptance of Islam’s truth claims about itself.

Nowhere is this truer than in the field of history. In the very same institutions where deeply critical questions about traditional historical accounts dealing with every conceivable period are being asked, Islam’s history is treated with kid gloves. The very same historians who one moment would say ‘Question everything’ will essentially turn around and sanctimoniously intone Ernest Renan’s famous (and famously wrong-headed) dictum that ‘Islam was born in the full light of history’.

With the desire to give Islam a free pass, standard historiographical principles are turned on their heads. In all other forms of history writing, a focus on contemporary primary sources are seen as the gold standard. Yet, when it comes to Islam, accounts written 200-300 years after the traditional death date of Muhammad are glorified as ‘the best we have’. Even as much earlier documents that can be reliably dated from the days of the Arab Conquest are being resolutely ignored.

The absolute refusal among some historians to ask critical questions about how Muslim history came to be written is more than just a bit of forgivable intellectual laziness. It allows Muslim demagogues to make wildly overblown theological claims based on Muslim history that they can use to whip up the masses to recreate that ‘history’ in the present. The attempts by ISIS to ‘re-establish’ a supposedly vanished perfect Caliphate is a clear example of this.

Let’s be clear. Massive questions can and should be asked about the reliability of Muslim history. Questions that have the potential to shake the theological edifice of Islam to its core. This is a conversation we absolutely need to have. Especially given the challenges Islam is posing to the non-Muslim peoples of the world. May I, therefore, encourage you not to give Islam a free-pass in this area but to educate yourself to ask the hard questions?

My book ‘The Mecca Mystery – Probing the Black Hole at the Heart of Muslim History’ is essentially a re-examination of early Muslim history based on primary sources and would be a good place to start a quest to reappraise what you think you know about Islam’s early years.