Monday, December 28, 2009

Muslims and Muhammad and Slave Trading

At Muslims and Muhammad - the Impossible Task, I posted, "It is impossible that a man could trade the Jewish wives and daughters of the men he had just beheaded for weapons and horses, and be a prophet of God."

Following Ibn Ishaq's description of Muhammad's beheading 600-900 Jewish men in Medina and dividing up their children, women, and property among the Muslims, discussed here, the Islamic historian continued as follows, "Then the Apostle sent Sa'd bin Zayd al-Ansari, brother of Abdel Ashhal, with some of the captive Jewish women of the tribe of Beni Qurayza to Najd, and he sold them for weapons and horses."

I would guess that 95 percent of Western Muslims would accuse anyone who described Muhammad as a slave trader as being a liar. Arabic Muslims in the Middle East, who know their own history much better than Westerners, do not deny but justify it.

How many captive Jewish women were taken as slaves to Najd and sold for weapons and horses? History does not record the number, but analysis can give a fair idea. Families were large in those days, so imagine that the average family contained six people, half of whom were female. As many as 900 males were beheaded, so easily 5,000 women and children could have remained. Muhammad's share of the booty was twenty percent, so 1,000 women and children could have been his. The others were divided among all of his followers, with the result that each Muslim received only a few slaves. Muhammad could not possibly utilize 1000 female slaves, so it is very likely that his own captives were the ones sent hundreds of miles across the desert to be traded for weapons and horses.

This is not an unreasonable number, because Ibn Ishaq elsewhere describes very large numbers of slaves captured and held by Muhammad. Following the capture of Taif, in which Muhammad's warriors for the first time used the catapult and a movable protective covering known as the testudo, the author notes that Muhammad held "six thousand women and children, and sheep and camels innumerable which had been captured from them". The women and children were returned to their husbands only after they accepted Islam. It is incredulous to imagine that these conversions, proclaimed to the man who had just captured their city, killed their peers, appropriated their property, stolen their livestock, and taken captive their wives and children, were motivated by true faith in Muhammad and Allah, but Muslims seem to have no trouble reaching that conclusion.

In the final analysis, of course, it makes do difference if the number of women and children sold was ten or ten thousand. I cannot believe that any understanding of the Golden Rule, which is treating others as you would want them to treat you, would justify selling even one person, much less a much larger number, for weapons and horses, and I cannot believe that a man who would do this could be a prophet of God.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Muslims and Muhammad and the Jews of Medina

At Muslims and Muhammad - the Impossible Task, I posted, "It is impossible that a man could behead 800 Jewish men who had lived in his city for centuries for the simple reason they refused to accept him as their leader, and be a prophet of God."

Few people realize that Medina in Saudi Arabia once had a majority Jewish population, just as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv do today. The National Museum of Saudi Arabia in Riyadh, which I've had the opportunity to visit and tours of which are often included in the itinerary of visiting Heads of State, does not even mention the word Jew in discussing the history of Medina before or after Muhammad's immigration there in 623 AD. In keeping with the Muslim practice of considering all pre-Islamic history as that of jahiliya or ignorance, hundreds of years of Jewish history in Medina were wiped out as completely as the history of 1500 years of Buddhism in Afghanistan. The Quran states in numerous verses including 3:85 that no other religion than Islam is accepted by Allah, and Muslim conquerors had no interest in preserving the cursed religious history and documentation of those they conquered.

The result of this is that only scattered historical fragments remain of the Jewish presence in Medina. The first Jews may have arrived in the area after the Babylonian emperor Nebuchadnezzar exiled the Jews from Jerusalem in 586 BC. Successive colonies probably arrived after the Roman Emperor Pompey's attack upon Judea in 64 BC, the conquest of Jerusalem by Titus in 70 AD, and again following Hadrian's persecution of the Jews 70 years later. They developed prosperous settlements in the area later known as Medina, and were skilled farmers, merchants, and gold smiths. Two of their three main tribes traced their ancestry back to Aaron, brother of Moses, and their Rabbis and sacred scriptures kept their Jewish identify alive. Muhammad's own grandfather, Abdel-Mutalib, was sent as a young boy to learn religion from the Rabbis, and Muhammad himself referred to them as People of the Book in distinguishing them from their illiterate and uneducated Arab neighbors. These Arab tribes began to arrive in the region from Yemen in the two centuries before Muhammad, and would often raid and attack the Jews. In response the Jews would claim that a Prophet was coming among them who would help them gain revenge against their enemies, and this is what caused the first Arabs from Medina to become Muslims.

Islamic historian Ibn Ishaq describes it as follows: At the annual fair at Aqaba outside of Mecca, the Prophet met a number of the Khazraj tribe from Medina. They lived side by side with the Jews, who were people of the Scriptures and knowledge, while they themselves were polytheists and idolaters. They had often raided the Jews in their districts, and whenever bad feeling arose the Jews would tell them that a Prophet was coming and that when he came he would kill them all. When they heard Muhammad's message, the Khazraj said, "This is the prophet of whom the Jews warned us! Let's get to him before they do!" They then accepted his teaching and became Muslims.

Soon after, these same people invited Muhammad to come to Medina. He did so with the expectation that the Jews there would also accept him as a Prophet. When they did not he expelled the first two tribes and then beheaded 600-900 men of the final tribe in one day. The only males who escaped were young boys who showed no evidence of pubic hair. The Jewish women, children, and property were divided among the Muslims with Muhammad himself taking twenty percent.

At this link, I have described in more detail the politically-motivated conversion of the first converts from Medina. At Muhammad and the Jews, Parts One, Two, and Three, I have described in more detail Muhammad's dealings with the Jews in Medina. Muslims go to great lengths to justify this treatment, but the simple fact is they were exiled and slaughtered simply for refusing to accept him as a Prophet.

At this link is a very graphic video of a Muslim beheading a man in the name of Allah. It is amazing to me that any Muslim could watch this video, and then imagine Muhammad and his companions repeating this slaughter 900 times and throwing the heads of their victims into the trenches they had dug for them, and still revere Muhammad is a prophet of God. I cannot. I cannot believe that a man who would treat the Jews of Medina as Muhammad did for not accepting him as a Prophet could possibly be a Prophet from God.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Muslims and Muhammad and Empire Building

At Muslims and Muhammad - the Impossible Task, I posted, "It is impossible that a man could call other men to follow him, and then watch them die one after the other in the battles he instigated to build his empire while giving them promises of the sensual Paradise that awaited them, and be a prophet of God."

The knowledge many Muslims have of Muhammad begins with his first claimed revelation in the cave of Hira when he was about 40 years old, but a better understanding of his personality and motivation comes with a study of his family's history beginning five generations earlier when his ancestor Qusay married the daughter of the Quraysh tribal leader and purchased the keys of the Kaaba for a flagon of wine and a camel. The Kaaba housed the tribal gods of many local tribes, and was a source of revenue as worshippers offered donations to visit the buidling and pray to their idols.

Qusay's leadership of the Quraysh and control of the Kaaba passed through the succeeding generations of Abdel-Manaf and Abu-Hashim. Abu-Hashim, who was Muhammad's great-grandfather, married a woman from Medina and sent their son Abdel-Mutalib to Medina specifically to learn horsemanship and religion from the Jewish rabbis who lived there. As a result of his time with the rabbis and his study of Jewish history, Abdel-Mutalib learned two principles that he in turned passed on to his young grandson Muhammad. First was a belief in monotheism, and second was the concept of the prophet-king exhibited by King David and other ancient Jewish rulers. To control both the religious and secular life of his subjects, a leader needed to be first accepted as a prophet and then as a king. Although Muhammad was only 8 years old when Abdel-Mutalib died, there are several Hadiths that indicate that Abdel-Mutalib preferred his young grandson even above his own ten sons, and recognized the potential of leadership in the young Muhammad.

The power and influence of the Beni Hashim had greatly decreased in the four generations between Abu-Hashim and Muhammad, and the young orphaned Muhammad only had memories passed through oral tradition of his family's past leadership in Mecca. At the same time, other Arab tribes throughout Arabia and Yemen were successfully forming unions and kingdoms (I have discussed this at this link). The year before Muhammad's first revelation, there was an unprecedented Arab victory over the Persians at Dhi Qar in present day Iraq, and about the same time a Yemeni tribe forced the Ethiopians from their territory in southern Yemen. It became apparent to Muhammad that a united Quraysh tribe could form a political entity that would challenge the surrounding kingdoms. It was for this reason that Muhammad promised his first converts in Mecca that if they followed him, the treasures of the Roman and Persian Emperors would be theirs.

Muhammad spent the first thirteen years of his career trying to find a tribe that would accept him, in the tradition of King David, as first a prophet and then a king. When the Quraysh refused, Muhammad approached tribes in nearby cities such as Taif and at annual tribal gatherings to urge them to accept him as their leader. He was finally successful when Abbas Ibn Ubada and some others from Medina accepted his leadership hoping it would give them an advantage over local Jewish tribes with whom they existed in enmity. When Abbas Ibn Ubada asked Muhammad what they would get for following him, Muhammad answered with one word, "Paradise."

Historian Ibn Ishaq in great detail gives the names of many of Muhammad's early followers, both from Mecca and later in Medina. He also carefully lists the names of those who died in Muhammad's battles at Badr, Uhud, and many other battlegrounds throughout Arabia and extending to Syria. Many of Muhammad's first converts, including his son Zayd, were dead within a few years.

Muslim and Muslim apologists defend these battles as defensive and necessary for the survival of the Muslim community, but it is impossible to read them carefully in the words of Islam's early historians and conclude they were in any way defensive.

Umayyah ibn Abu Salt, a contemporary of Muhammad whose poetry was both admired and copied by Muhammad into the Quran, never accepted Islam. While passing a graveyard where the Muslim victims of the battle of Badr were buried, Umayyah said according to the Hadith, "I cannot believe that a man who leads his own tribal members to death can be a prophet of God."

I agree. I don't believe that Muhammad was necessarily any better or worse than an innumerable number of other warlords, political leaders, or empire builders who have lived after him or who are alive today. But I don't accept them as prophets. I find it impossible to believe that a man who would lead his followers to battle and death as Muhammad did, while offering them promises of the Paradise awating them, could be a Prophet of God.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Muslims and Muhammad and Mary the Copt

At Muslims and Muhammad - the Impossible Task, I posted, "It is impossible that a man could lie to his wife to get her out of the house so that he could sleep with the slave girl he had given her as a gift, and be a prophet of God."

I have noticed that the notes and commentary contained in English translations of the Quran intended for Western audiences are much different than explanatory notes found in Arabic editions of the Quran intended for readers in the Middle East. One notable example is the explanation given to surah 66 of the Quran, entitled Prohibition, which I discussed in a related posting here. This is the chapter in which Muhammad responds to a marital conflict (which in itself is an interesting phrase; "marital conflict" usually refers to a disagreement between a man and his wife - what do you call it when it is a man at disaccord with a dozen wives?) by reminding his wives that if he divorced them all, Allah would probably give him a better set the second time around.

The cause of this conflict is what I find interesting. English translations of Prohibition quote a Hadith in which Aisha explained that Muhammad stayed overtime one day with wife number six Zainab because she had some honey he really liked. Aisha, Hafsah, and the other wives, who were jealous about the amount of time he spent with Zainab, agreed among themselves that when the prophet came to them they would claim the honey had given him bad breath. When they did this, Muhammad promised he would never eat honey again. That night, however, Allah came to his rescue with surah 66, releasing him of his promise to not eat honey and adding the threat that these complaining wives could easily be replaced with some who were better.

It's really quite a silly story, but accepted as truth by millions of non-Arabic speaking Muslims who know little of their own history and have never read the original accounts of Muhammad's life written by the first historians. The actual account, as written by historian Ibn Sa'd and noted in Arabic renditions of the Quran, is quite different. It has a lot to do with sex, deception, lies and threats, and nothing at all to do with honey.

As Muhammad's armies succeeded in one raid after another against the Arab tribes of Arabia, he was finally able to put into plan the dream he had harbored since the first days of announcing his Prophethood. One of his initial messages to his early converts was that if they followed him, the treasures of the Roman and Sassanid Empires would be theirs. When Muhammad reached the point of being able to put his plan of expansion into action, he began writing letters to the leaders of neighboring countries giving them the choice of either accepting Islam or preparing for invasion.

Muhammad's letter to the Roman ruler in Egypt, known as Muqawqas, contained the following, "I invite you to accept Islam if you want security. If you refuse to do so, you will bear the burden of the transgressions of all the Coptic Christians." Since the Quran had already stated in 5:72 that all who believed Jesus was the Son of God were kafirs or infidels, the transgressions of millions of Christian Copts over 600 years would have been quite high.

In his response to Muhammad, Muqawqas diplomatically declined the offer to accept Islam, and informed the Prophet he was sending him as a gift two young girls who came from noble Coptic families (incidentally, Muqawqas paid dearly for his refusal to accept Islam; within a dozen years Muslim armies had invaded and conquered Egypt). Muhammad was smitten with the black hair and fair skin of one of them, Mary, and gave her as a slave to one of his wives, Hafsah.

Historian Ibn Sa'd relates the rest of the story. Muhammad went to Hafsah's room one day and was again overwhelmed with the beauty of Mary the Copt. He informed Hafsah that her father, Umar Ibn al-Khattab, wanted to see her and Hafsah left for his house. After she arrived there and realized that Muhammad had lied to her, Hafsah returned to her room to find the door locked. When the door was opened, it was apparent that her husband had just had sex with her slave. Muhammad responded to her anger by promising her he would never do this again, but warned her not to repeat the story to any of his other wives. In disobedience to Muhammad, Hafsah informed Aisha of the incident. Muhammad found out and very quickly received the surah of Prohibition, which not only absolved him of his promise to not again sleep with Mary but also threatened all of his wives with divorce if they did not shape up.

Muslims have no problem with this story from the life of their Prophet, seeing nothing in his behavior to shake their belief in him as the perfect man. I see it differently. I cannot believe that a man could treat Hafsah and Mary the way Muhammad did and be a prophet of God.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Muslims and Muhammad and Zainab

At Muslims and Muhammad - the Impossible Task, I posted, "It is impossible that a man could encourage his own son to divorce his wife so that he, the father, could marry her, and be a prophet of God.

There is perhaps no incident in the life of Muhammad that more clearly demonstrates the difference between the way Muslims and non-Muslims think than in the events surrounding Muhammad's marriage to his cousin, daughter-in-law, and sixth wife Zainab.

The story as recounted by historian al-Tabari in his book The History of Peoples and Kings and other early Muslim historians is quite straightforward. A boy named Zayd was captured in an Arab intertribal war and given as a slave to Muhammad's first wife Khadijah. After Muhammad married Khadijah they adopted Zayd and he became known as Zayd Ibn Muhammad, Zayd the son of Muhammad. Zayd's father eventually found him and wanted to take him to his original home, but Zayd preferred to stay with Muhammad and Khadijah. Zayd, along with Khadijah, was one of the first converts to Islam. He married a woman and had children with her, but divorced her and upon Muhammad's advice married Zainab, who was the daughter of Muhammad's aunt and thus his first cousin.

Zainab was not happy about marrying Zayd, and the union was not a happy one. Islamic commentators have speculated that she, coming from one of the leading families of the Quraysh tribe, thought it was beneath her dignity to marry a freed slave.

Zayd and Zainab were among the Meccan immigrants who went to Medina with Muhammad. One day Muhammad went to Zayd's house to speak to him, but Zayd was not at home. The wind blew a curtain aside and Muhammad saw Zainab "hasirah" or "uncovered". She quickly dressed and invited Muhammad into the house, saying to him, "Come in, Oh Prophet of God, for you are as my father and my mother to me." This was in keeping with Arabic tribal tradition, where a daughter-in-law was regarded by the parents of her husband as their own daughter.

Muhammad was flustered by having seen Zainab undressed to the point that it was apparent to her. He refused to enter the house, mumbled something unclear under his breath, and then rushed away repeating, "Praise God who changes the hearts of men. Praise God who changes the hearts of men."

Zainab told her husband of the incident when he arrived home. Zaid realized his father had been affected by seeing Zainab undressed and immediately went to Muhammad to ask if he should divorce Zainab so that he could marry her. Muhammad initially refused and told Zayd to remain with her. A short time later, however, Muhammad informed his wife Aisha, who was now about 14,that someone should be sent to Zainab with the good news that she was about to marry the Prophet. Aisha was fearful about the union, since Zainab was known for her beauty even though at 39 she was 25 years older than Aisha, but Muhammad was not one to put the concerns of his wife above the commands of Allah. Muhammad married Zainab, freeing Zayd to become a commander in Muhammad's army. A few years later he was killed in Muhammad's first raid against non-Arabs, the Byzantine army at the Battle of Mutah.

A Muslim might object to my description of Zayd as Muhammad's son and Muhammad as his father by saying, "He was not Muhammad's son, he was only an adopted son." Comedian and religious critic Bill Maher says that when Biblical-literalist Christians are confronted with the story of Jonah and the whale their first response is, "It wasn't a whale, it was a big fish!" In reality, there is no difference. Friends of mine who have adopted children see no difference between the adopted children and their natural offspring. They love and treat them both the same.

A Muslim believes that the Quran is the perfect book, and Muhammad is the perfect man. The starting point in any Muslim's thinking, whether an uneducated villager or a world-renowned scholar, is what the Quran says. In the case of Muhammad and Zainab, there is an entire string of verses that not only allowed but practically forced Muhammad to marry his daughter-in-law. Zayd is the only "sahaba", whose who emigrated from Mecca to Medinah with Muhammad, whose name is mentioned in the Quran, and Zainab is the only woman concerning whom Muhammad received a direct order from Allah to marry.

Although Muhammad (or Allah, as a Muslim would say) in Quran 4:3 limited the number of wives for Muslim men at four, he himself received a special dispensation that gave him sexual and marital access to an unlimited number of women. A Quranic verse amazing to the sceptic, 33:50, says, "Oh Prophet, we have allowed for you the wives for which you paid a dowry, the slaves given you by Allah (including women taken as prisoners of war in Muhammad's many raids), your first cousins who emigrated from Mecca (including Zainab), and any believing woman who offers herself to you and with whom you wish to have sex." Here as in many cases, the individual who is able to read the Quran in Arabic has a great advantage over the person who is forced to rely on translations that deliberately tone down the blunt meaning of the original. The Arabic word used for "to have sex", istankah, means exactly that. The English translation "whom the Prophet wishes to marry" does not appear at all in the original.

The next relevant verse, Quran 4:23, in a long list of women that Muslim men were not allowed to marry, includes "the wives of your biological sons".

In respect to Zainab, the Quran had thus far taken care of the problem of her being Muhammad's daughter-in-law (Zayd was not his biological son), her being his paternal first cousin (those were allowed to him), and her becoming wife number six (he could have as many as he wanted). The only thing left was the socially sticky matter of her being the wife of his adopted son. In one fell swoop, the Quran dealt with that by declaring that adoption was no longer legal. Quran 33:4,5 states that just as no man has two hearts and no man has two mothers, so no man can have both natural and adopted sons. Those who had been adopted previous to this verse were to revert to the names of their biological fathers. In the case of Zayd, he was no longer known as Zayd bin Muhammad; he was henceforth called Zayd bin Harith.

Having removed all the roadblocks, the Quran now delivered its coup de gras. God next commanded Muhammad to marry Zainab. Quran 33:37 informed Muhammad that Allah had given him the wife of Zayd, and that Allah's command must be obeyed. Within a few days, Zainab was in Muhammad's bed.

An interesting sideline to the story is that Aisha's fears about Zainab proved true. Zainab never tired of reminding Muhammad's other wives that she was the only one God had commanded the prophet to marry.

The non-Muslim is not bound to limit his or her thinking to what is written in the Quran. As I analyze the story of Muhammad and Zainab, I cannot believe that a man who would do what Muhammad did with his daughter-in-law could be a prophet of God.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Muslims and Muhammad and His Raids

At Muslims and Muhammad - the Impossible Task, I posted, "It is impossible that a man could finance his religious and political community by robbing the trade caravans that passed through his area on their annual trips between Arabia and Syria, and be a prophet of God."

One reader responded, "You have truly written a bad article and when taking information from books and sources that are clearly against the clear and peaceful message of Islam, it should be taken with a grain of salt and a lot more integrity and respect for honesty because most of what you have written is lies and your own opinion."

I have noticed that when Muslims are presented with the bare and unvarnished facts of Muhammad's life as presented in the original sources of Islam written 12 to 14 hundred years ago, they respond as people do when one of their friends or relatives has committed a violent crime. The first response is to deny that the accused could possibly have done such a thing. The next step is to challenge the motivations of the authorities; the police must have doctored the evidence or had it in for the accused. If the evidence presented is inconvertible, the final stage is to argue there must have been a justification for his action; it was an accident or done in self defense. There is no way, according to their thinking, that their loved one could simply have committed a cold-blooded crime.

There is no place this is more true in Islamic history than when looking at the raids that Muhammad began less than a year after moving to Medinah and continued for the rest of his life. One early biographer of Muhammad, Al Wakidi, simply entitled his book "Kitab al-Maghazi" - The Book of Raids. Another biographer, Ibn Hisham, began many of his chapters with titles such as "Ghazwat at-Tabuk" - the Raid against Tabuk. One Arabic writer commented that Muhammad's ten years in Medinah could be summarized in the phrase "ghazawatahu wa zawjatahu" - his raids and his wives. In the English translation of Ibn Ishaq's "Sirat Rasul Allah", The Life of the Prophet, the raids begin soon after Muhammad's arrival in Medinah on page 281 and continue uninterrupted until his final illness and death on page 678.

What is most striking about these original accounts, whether in Arabic or English translation, is that they are simply presented as historical fact with no explanation or justification. Bear with me as I quote Ibn Ishaq's description of the first raid led by Muhammad:

The apostle came to Medina on Monday at high noon during the month of First Rabiah, when he was 53 years old, and remained there for almost one year. Then he went forth raiding in Safar at the beginning of the 12th month from his coming to Medinah, and continued until he reached Waddan. The Beni Damrah there made peace with him through their leader Makhshi bin Amr al-Damri. Then he returned to Medinah without meeting war and remained there for the next two months.

A few months later Muhammad sent a commander named Abdallah to raid a camel caravan carrying dry raisins, dates, and other merchandise. Ibn Ishaq writes, "The raiders encouraged each other and decided to kill as many as they could and take what they had. Waqid shot Amr bin al-Hadrami with an arrow and killed him, and Uthman and al-Hakam surrendered. Abdallah and his companions brought the captured caravan and the two prisoners to Medinah where they gave the Apostle a fifth of the booty and divided the rest among his companions."

I wonder how Amr bin al-Hadrami felt as he looked up from the back of his camel and saw Muhammad's warriors swarming down upon him waving their swords and shouting "Allahu Akbar". Was his terror any different than that experienced by the young businesswoman on the 80th floor of the Twin Towers as the aircraft piloted by Muhammad's followers crashed into her office space on 9/11?

The non-Muslim historian is free to look at Muhammad's raids objectively, seeing in them the pattern of intimidation and conquest and source of revenue that has been part and parcel of Islamic history for 14 centuries. Muslim historians, unfortunately, do not have this luxery of freedom. Forced to think of Muhammad as the perfect leader and guide for all humanity, they are required to justify his raids in any way possible.

One can look at any number of recent books written by Muslims to see how they attempt to do this. In No God but God, Reza Aslan argues that the raids were a type of spring-time sporting activity that all the Arabian tribes engaged in. It's impossible to believe that Muhammad's first victim Amr bin al-Hadrami could have thought of the raid that cost his life as a type of spring fun.

Tariq Ramadan justifies the raids in The Footsteps of the Prophet by saying they were to take back the equivalent of the properties in Mecca that were expropriated from the Muslims who migrated to Medinah with Muhammad. In the first place, this is like saying if someone from Philadelphia stole my car, I could steal the vehicle of another Philadelphian in retaliation. I wonder how far that would get me in court! But even more serious is that Tariq's claim is without any historical documentation. It is important to understand that there are only a few extant writings of the early history of Islam. Their well-known authors include Ibn Hisham, Ibn Ishaq, Al-Wakidi, Ibn Sa'd, and al-Tabari. Apart from that, there is nothing. If what Tariq said was true, it would have been recorded by these early historians. It is easy for Tariq to claim to unknowing and gullible Westerners that the properties and belongings of the immigrants were stolen after their departure, but it is only his speculation, his attempt to justify Muhammad's raids.

In the Life of Muhammad, author Muhammad Haykal takes an even more fanciful approach. He agrues that the raids were really intended to make peace with the Quraysh and other enemies of Muhammad. The Muslims had to show themselves strong, according to Haykal, to entice the other tribes to seek peace with them.

Behind all these justifications is the claim that Muhammad's raids were somehow a form of self-defense. It is impossible to read them in the original Islamic source documents - not the apologies written by Aslan and Ramadan and others 14 centuries later - and conclude they were in any way undertaken in self-defense.

The camel caravans were the economic life-line for the Arab tribes in Muhammad's day. The goods that were bought and sold in destinations such as Damascus provided the foodstuffs and supplies that enabled the Arabs to live. It is impossible for me to see Muhammad's continual raiding of the Arab tribes for the last 10 years of his life as anything other than common highway robbery to build and enrich his own kingdom at the expense of his fellow Arabs. And it is impossible for me to believe that a man who would do this could be a prophet of God.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Muslims and Muhammad and Aisha

At Muslims and Muhammad - the Impossible Task, I posted,"It is impossible that a man in his mid-50's could engage in sexual intercourse with a nine-year-old child, possibly damaging her physically so that she never became pregnant, and be a prophet of God."

On reader responded as follows, "It seems that you have misinterpreted and have been misinformed a lot about the The Prophet Muhammed(pbuh). Regarding his marriage with Aisha, they were engaged when she was about 9-12 years old (Scholars opinion differ greatly) However the marriage was not consummated until she was of the age of puberty. I do not have to tell you that spanning different cultures and religions that the most appropriate age for marriage varies greatly as well. Also just as many Buddhist religions of peace may be interpreted as cults or Mormonism may seem as strict or controlling you have painted the picture that Islam is violent. I would imagine that if a person or religion were under attack that they would be able to defend themselves, you afford Islam and the Prophet Muhammad no such luxury to even be able to fight back when they are being attacked."

I've recently realized something interesting. I believe that modern Muslims writing to a Western audience deliberately misrepresent historical Islam to make it attractive to the Western mind. I would argue, as I did in "Why Aysha is Important", that Muslims in the Middle East have no cause not to believe, as they have believed for the past 14 centuries, that Aisha was telling the truth when she said in the Al-Bukhari Hadith Volume 7, Book 62, Number 64, "that the Prophet married her when she was six years old and he consummated his marriage when she was nine years old, and then she remained with him for nine years (i.e., till his death)."

In Al-Bukhari 5:234 Aisha describes herself as a little 9-year old girl, playing on the swing in her yard, when Muhammad came for her on the wedding day. In Al-Bukhari8:151 she describes playing on the floor with her dolls and her friends in Muhammad's house after her marriage.

It is well-known that Aisha, at the age of six, had been given in engagement by her father Abu Bakr to a man named Jubayr, son of Abu Bakr's friend Mutim, before Muhammad asked for her hand. When Muhammad did so, Abu Bakr broke the engagement with Jubayr and promised Aisha to Abu Bakr's prophet Muhammad.

Fourteen centuries later, biographer Muhammad Haykal writes in "The Life of Muhammad" that Aisha was eleven whem Muhammad consumated his marriage with her. Tariq Ramadan writes in "In the Footsteps of the Prophet" that Aisha was engaged to Muhammad when she was 9, but the marriage took place "several years later". Numerous other modern writers argue that she "must have" been older than nine. There is no new evidence; it's just the realization that the older Aisha is, the easier it is to justify to a Western audience Muhammad's behavior with her.

In one sense, it doesn't matter whether Aisha was 9, 11, or even 13 when she married Muhammad. The broader and much more important question to me is, How did Muhammad honor her? How did he honor the innocence of her childhood by forcing her into a sexual relationship with him when he was at least 40 years older than she was? What freedom of choice did she really have, as a young girl living in a patriarchal society where her father would give her in engagement to first one man and then another? Muhammad always made it clear that obeying him was the same as obeying God and disobeying him was disobedience to God; what choice was left to Aisha when Muhammad told her father he wanted to marry her? How could Abu Bakr have refused the request of his Prophet? How did Muhammad honor Aisha by taking her as a wife soon after he had married another woman, Sawdah? How did he honor her by marrying numerous other women soon after her?

As a father myself, I cannot imagine giving any of my daughters to be the sexual partner of a man in his mid-50s whether they were 9 or 19. I do not accept the argument that since sexual and social mores in 8th century Arabia were different then they are today, the behavior of Muhammad was acceptable. If Muhammad were truly a prophet, he would have risen above those cultural norms. Muslims see him as the model for behavior for all time. I don't. I cannot believe that a man who would do what Muhammad did with Aisha can be a prophet of God.

Insulting Muhammad

Several readers of my recent post Muslims and Muhammad - the Impossible Task criticized me for not providing sources for the material that I presented. One asked what I got out of "insulting the man billions look up to without any references", and another speculated I had taken my information from books and sources that "were clearly against the clear and peaceful message of Islam".

I would like to respond to these legitimate questions by presenting the authentic Islamic sources, the Quran, the Hadith (the sayings of Muhammad and his close associates) and the Sirah (Muhammad's original biography)for the information that was given. One reason I did not do this in the initial posting is that this information is common knowledge among Muslims of the Middle East, where I lived for 15 years. I am constantly surprised by how little Muslims in the West know of their own history. Any schoolboy in Saudi Arabia knows the story of the Jews of Khaybar, the poetess Asma bint Marwan, and the marriage of Muhammad to his daughter-in-law Zaynab. The schoolboy might interpret and justify those stories differently than I would, but he is at least aware of them. Muslims in the West are, for the most part, ignorant that they even exist.

I would also like to comment on the accusation that I "insulted" Muhammad. The common Arabic expression that is usually translated as "insulting the Prophet" is "museeat an-nabi". The noun "museeat" which literally means "to speak bad of", is derived from the verb "saah" which means "to be bad". The expression means to speak "bad" of someone, or to say something about someone that is not "good."

There is a major difference, however, between the Middle Eastern and the Western understanding of what it means to "speak bad" of someone. In the West, slander is commonly understood as saying something about someone that is not true. If Tiger Woods, for example, who has been in the news recently for alleged marital infidelity, were innocent of any transgression he could successfully sue for slander the media personnel making the accusations against him. If Tiger is guilty, however, he has no legal grounds for bringing a case against them.

The Middle East is much different. To "insult" or "slander" someone is not based on whether or not the accusation is true, but on whether or not the accused person would be pleased with what you said. A journalist in any Arab country writing the details about his President or King or Emir that were written about Tiger Woods would be thrown in prison before his ink was dry, even if what he wrote was completely true.

The same holds true about Muhammad. Muslims consider it to be "insulting the Prophet" or "speaking badly of Muhammad" to say things that Muhammad would not want said of him, whether or not the information is true. Anything said about Muhammad that Muslims do not want to hear is considered by them to be insulting him.

In the coming days I'll revisit each item mentioned in Muslims and Muhammad - the Impossible Task, and present the documentation for each one. We'll begin with number 1 - Aisha.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Muslims and Muhammad: The Impossible Task

I've reached the conclusion that Muslims face an impossible task. Simply put, their entire faith rests upon defending a man - Muhammad - who is indefensible.

Wafa Sultan expressed it best when she said, "It is impossible that a man who did the things Muhammad did could be a prophet of God."

It is impossible that a man in his mid-50's could engage in sexual intercourse with a nine-year-old child, possibly damaging her physically so that she never became pregnant, and be a prophet of God.

It is impossible that a man could finance his religious and political community by robbing the trade caravans that passed through his area on their annual trips between Arabia and Syria, and be a prophet of God.

It is impossible that a man could encourage his own son to divorce his wife so that he, the father, could marry her, and be a prophet of God.

It is impossible that a man could lie to his wife to get her out of the house so that he could sleep with the slave girl he had given her as a gift, and be a prophet of God.

It is impossible that a man could call other men to follow him, and then watch them die one after the other in the battles he instigated to build his empire while giving them promises of the sensual Paradise that awaited them, and be a prophet of God.

It is impossible that a man could behead 800 Jewish men who had lived in his city for centuries for the simple reason they refused to accept him as their leader, and be a prophet of God.

It is impossible that a man could trade the Jewish wives and daughters of the men he had just beheaded for weapons and horses, and be a prophet of God.

It is impossible that a man could be so fearful of criticism that he would send a man at night to kill the mother of a nursing child because of the poems she had written against him, and be a prophet of God.

It is impossible that a man could sentence a woman to death by having her limbs attached to camels that moved in opposite direction pulling her apart, then behead her and parade her severed head through Medina, and be a prophet of God.

It is impossible that a man could torture a young Jewish tribal leader to death to obtain his money, and then "marry" his 17-year old widow the same night, and be a prophet of God.

It is impossible that a man could allow his followers to have sex with their female slaves as well as their prisoners of war, whether or not they were married, and be a prophet of God.

For the past several months on Al-Hayat TV, Father Zakariya Boutros has been discussing the dozens of stories Muhammad "stole" from the Old and New Testaments, as well as from the Midrash and other ancient Jewish documents, and inserted into the Qur'an as revelations from Allah. Zakariya makes a clear distinction between "plagarism", which is the Arabic word "iqtibas", and "theft". He points out that Muhammad did not merely copy and paste stories from these documents into the Qur'an, but essentially changed their meanings in the Qur'an to indicate that he, Muhammad, was not merely similar to but essentially superior than the individuals such as Adam, Moses, and Abraham whose stories he stole.

For the first part of his 90-minute program Zakariya presents his evidence, and then opens the lines for people to call in. His live programs do not contain the 10-second delay to block out explicit language found in American programs such as the Larry King Show, which means the listener gets to hear exactly what the caller says. More than one call has a sequence similar to this:

Moderator: Our next caller is Abdul Rahman from Bahrain. Hello, Abdul Rahman.

Caller: You bastard, you son-of-a-bitch, you son of a whore, you MF'ing infidel...

Zakariya Boutros: Thank you, may God bless you and forgive you...

Very rarely do the callers actually challenge the information presented by Zakariya, because they cannot. No-one can.

Muslims in the West tend to follow a different approach in trying to defend Muhammad. They simply present information about Muhammad in a way that ignores the reality of his actions. Reza Aslan for example, in No God but God, describes the raids led by Muhammad as a type of "spring games" engaged in by everyone of the era. Tariq Ramadan in The Footsteps of the Prophet acknowledges that Muhammad was engaged to Aisha when she was six, but then says that Muhammad married her "several years later". That sound better than saying he raped her when she was nine. Tariq also admits that Muhammad allows men to "beat their wives" in the Qur'an, but claims that Muhammad himself "never struck a woman", and is therefore a model worthy of emulation in his relationship with women. Tariq ignores the hadith where Aisha herself says that Muhammad "struck me on the chest with such force that it hurt me", when she made the mistake of following him outside the house one night.

P.S. "Rape" is a highly emotive word that is extremely offensive to Muslims when used in the context of Muhammad and some of his sexual partners, and is not used lightly. Looking at the situation objectively in a male-dominated paternalistic society where women had little freedom of choice, what other word can describe the sexual conquest of a 9-year-old child given away by her father to the man her father believed to be a Prophet from Allah? What other word can describe the sexual conquest of a 17-year-old Jewish girl, Sofiah, the same day this Prophet tortured and killed her husband? What other word can describe the sexual conquest of a young Christian slave girl, Mary the Copt, in the house of her mistress Hafsah, one of Muhammad's wives? What other word can describe the sexual conquest of female slaves and prisoners of war taken in battles instigated by this Prophet and his followers?