Thursday, June 12, 2008

Everyone Should Know About Asma Bint Marwan

Hundreds, if not thousands, of biographies are written about Muhammad. Some are for small children, others designed for Muslim teenagers living in the West, and still others intended for non-Muslims. Countries such as Saudi Arabia have competitions for students to write the best biography of the Prophet.

The interesting thing is that all of these are based on a trilogy of books that have been here for 1200 years. They are the Quran, the sayings of Muhammad, and his original biography. There have been no recently discovered hidden documents, no Dead Sea Scrolls, not even a Da Vinci Code.

The original biography was written by Ibn Ishaq (Is-haq) about 130 years after Muhammad died. His text is lost to history, but an editor named Ibn Hisham (Hi-sham) collected most of it and published it along with his own notes and additions. That is available today in English, translated by A. Guillaume, under the title, “The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah”. I’d read it some time ago, but today I walked into the Obeikan Bookshop and bought the original Arabic version, 850 pages of “As-Sira An-Nabawiya”, by Ibn Hisham.

What amazes me is that the Muhammad I see in this book is so different from the fawning biographies on the shelf at Barnes & Nobles. Guillaume’s translation contains all the authentic material but there’s something sobering about reading it in the original language, as Arabs have done for 1200 years. The first story I read was “The Raid of ‘Umayr Bin ‘Uday Al-Khatmi to Kill ‘Asma Bint Marwan”. Asma was a poetess, the mother of five children. When she heard that Muhammad had sent one of his soldiers to kill another poet, the 100-year old Abu ‘Afaq, she said, “I blame Islam and its people.” She then composed the following lines:

I despise you, Oh you tribal people
You obey a stranger who is not from you
He’s not from any of your tribes
How can you expect good from the person who killed all your leaders?
Why are you waiting like a hungry man hoping for the cook’s left-over broth?
Are none of you courageous enough to attack him by surprise,
And cut off the hopes of those who are expecting something from him?

That was enough to get her killed. As soon as Muhammad heard about it, he asked, “Who will get rid of that woman for me?” One of his courageous (irony intended) followers went to her house that night and killed her in her bed with her nursing child by her side. In the morning he told Muhammad what he had done. The Prophet’s response was, “You have brought victory to Allah and his Apostle.” The murderer asked if anything might happen to him as the result of what he had done. Muhammad replied, “Two goats won’t butt their heads about her.” Just in case the message wasn’t clear, my Arabic edition has the footnote, “That means she is insignificant.”

We don’t understand this in the West. We can’t connect the dots between the death of a poetess 1400 years ago because of a poem, and the blowing up of the Danish Embassy in Islamabad because of a cartoon. We can’t make the connection between her being murdered for criticizing Muhammad, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali receiving death threats for Submission. We’d rather believe, with our President, that a “few extremists have hijacked the religion of peace”. It’s a lot easier than actually examining that religion. We don’t want to really know about Asma Bint Marwan or the Prophet who killed her.


Anonymous said...

Like the majority of other Hadiths that advocate a narrowed worldview, that account of Asma appears to be fabricated, rejected by many classical scholars of Hadith such as al-Albani, because of a weak isnad. Also - did you know that many scholars of Ibn Ishaq's day rejected the authenticity of his narrative? I find it incredible that the source material of so much of what those who criticize Islam is a book that wasn't even considered infallible in its own day (something I consider very important, as those scholars can hardly be leveled accusations along the lines of 'modern moderate Muslims trying to reconcile their wishful thinking with *The Real Muhammad*, an ENTIRELY different figure').

The whims of fallible man always twist whatever is held sacred to justify ends - Islam has been no exception. I believe my duty as a Muslim is to differentiate between the will of God and the whim of man. Usually, I find that the two are quite easy to distinguish - none more so than in accounts of the Prophet's life.

If you don't reply - if, as it appears to be, this blog has been abandoned - I may send you an e-mail.

Peace to you.

Anonymous said...

-->The Killing of Asma': True Story or Forgery?

Basically the charge is that the Prophet(P) had ordered the killing of Asma' when she insulted him with her poetry. As it is usually the case where the history of Islam and the character of the Prophet(P) is concerned, it is left to the Muslims to throw some light on authenticity of the story in which this incident is reported by the sources and educate the missionaries in matters which they have no clue about.

The story of the killing of Asma' bint Marwan is mentioned by Ibn Sa'd in Kitab At-Tabaqat Al-Kabir[1] and by the author of Kinz-ul-'Ummal under number 44131 who attributes it to Ibn Sa'd, Ibn 'Adiyy and Ibn 'Asaker. What is interesting is that Ibn 'Adiyy mentions it in his book Al-Kamel on the authority of Ja'far Ibn Ahmad Ibn Muhammad Ibn As-Sabah on authority of Muhammad Ibn Ibrahim Ash-Shami on authority of Muhammad Ibn Al-Hajjaj Al-Lakhmi on authority of Mujalid on authority of Ash-Shu'abi on authority of Ibn 'Abbas, and added that

...this isnâd (chain of reporters) is not narrated on authority of Mujalid but by Muhammad Ibn Al-Hajjaj and they all (other reporters in the chain) accuse Muhammad Ibn Al-Hajjaj of forging it.[2]

It is also reported by Ibn al-Gawzi in Al-'Ilal[3] and is listed among other flawed reports.

So according to its isnâd, the report is forged - because one of its reporters is notorious for fabricating hadîth. Hence, such a story is rejected and is better off being put into the trash can.
[1] Ibn Sa'd, Kitab At-Tabaqat Al-Kabir, Vol. 1, pp. 27-28
[2] Ibn 'Adiyy, Al-Kamel, Vol. 6, p. 145
[3] Ibn al-Gawzi, Al-'Ilal, Vol. 1, p. 279