The young bookseller in the Sultanahmat neighborhood of Istanbul reminded me that Muhammad's only miracle was the Quran. "Other prophets performed other miracles," he informed me, "But Muhammad's miracle was the Quran. No-one else could create anything equal to it."
My response was that no-one else had a chance to. "Muhammad killed poets he saw as threats," I said. "When Muhammad entered Mecca after ten years in Medina, he gave orders to kill those who had written against him."
He was quite offended. "That's not true," he replied. "Muhammad conquered Mecca without killing a single person. You don't need to try to teach me Islamic history."
But he was the one who didn't know his history, or at least knew it only from the perspective it had been taught him. Historian Ibn Ishaq informs us that Muhammad had instructed his commanders when they entered Mecca only to fight those who resisted him, except a small number who were to be killed "even if they were found beneath the curtains of the Kabah". One might wonder what horrible crimes these individuals had committed that demanded their deaths. Were they serial murderers, child rapists, or inveterate bank robbers? Not quite. Abdallah bin Sad was to be killed because he had been a Muslim and wrote down the revelations of the Quran before he aposticized from Islam and returned to Mecca from Medina. (What was it about recording the messages given to Muhammad from Allah that caused him to lose his faith?) Another was Abdallah bin Khatal, who was a Muslim but left Islam after killing another Muslim. Abdallah had two "singing girls" who used to sing satirical songs about the Apostle, so Muhammad "ordered that they should be killed as well."
Several others were included in the list. Although some of them had actually committed murder, such as Abdallah, they all shared one thing in common - they had aposticized from Islam. If they had remained in Islam, chances are much greater their murders would have been forgiven them. That would especially be true if their victims had been non-Muslims, since according to Islamic law Muslims are not put to death for the murder of non-Muslims.
They all shared the same "crime" - they had left Islam, and they had publicly expressed criticism of Muhammad. Some Muslims today argue there are "no verses in the Quran" that command the killing of people who leave Islam. This ignores the reality that there are two things in Islam just as important as the Quran as a guide for Islamic life - the Hadith, or sayings of Muhammad, and the Sira, his biography. Reading the Sira makes it abundantly clear that those who wrote critically of Muhammad could not expect to live long. It doesn't take much imagination to realize the fate of someone who would write something that Muhammad saw as a challenge to the Quran.