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.

9 comments:

Cyril said...

Oh, you're GOOD. Thanks for this one.

Adam said...

It seems you have at least one of your facts wrong. Sura 5 was revealed after sura 66. According to WikiIslam sura 66 was the 107th sura revealed while sura 5 was the 112th.

http://wikiislam.net/wiki/Chronological_Order_of_the_Qur'an

Masjid Tucson corroborates that sura 66 was revealed before sura 5.

http://www.masjidtucson.org/quran/miracle/revelationorder.html

I agree with you that Mohammad was not the perfect man. No human can be perfect, the best of us are flawed, ergo the "perfect man" is a misnomer.

I would greatly appreciate a link to the hadith you draw from. I have not read the one where he lies to his wife to sleep with Mary the Copt.

As is the trouble with history, neither of us were there and we must rely on sources far removed from the event. I pray that God guide us on the straight path that leads to paradise, rather than damnation.

Quotable Quotes: said...

Adam,
Thank you for your comment. If sura 5 came after sura 66 you are correct in noting that my phrase "the Quran had already stated in 5:72...." was inaccurate. A better reading would be, "the Quran states in 5:72". But I think it is irrelevant to the main discussion which sura came first - what I meant was that if the Quran says that all who reject Muhammad are kafirs, the list of Coptic sins for six centuries would have been a mile high!
Unfortunately I do not have the copy of the Quran in which I read the story of Mary the Copt in connection with sura 66. I was working in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, at the time and looking through some Qurans in an Arabic Islamic bookstore. I read the explanation of Mary the Copt for the events of sura 66 in that Quran, but unfortunately did not buy it. I did notice, however, that the tafsir given for suras in that Quran was much different than the watered-down tafsir given in English Qurans in the West. Western Qurans, for example, talk of Muhammad's bad breath in association with sura 66, while the Arabic Quran I read in Riyadh gave a more unvarnished story.

Cyril Lucar said...

I checked my Saudi-printed study Koran (English) and it's exactly as you said, the bad-breath and honey yarn. My Hilali-Khan, which often has embarrassingly candid notes, is silent on the incident. Is there anything available in English which has the true Arabic tasfir?

Thanks for your great work and insights!

Quotable Quotes: said...

Cyril, it is in Ibn Sa'd, who is one of Muhammad's biographers. I would imagine that was available in English, although I don't have a copy.

Quotable Quotes: said...

Cyril, that is Ibn Sad al-Baghdadi, and the 8 volume text is called The Book of the Major Classes, or something like that. The first 2 volumes are about Muhammad - I am not aware of an English translation.

Anonymous said...

Muhammad was a dirty bastard and thats why I left Islam, He was no prophet

Sarahoqyg said...

Cyril, that is Ibn Sad al-Baghdadi, and the 8 volume text is called The Book of the Major Classes, or something like that. The first 2 volumes are about Muhammad - I am not aware of an English translation.

Anonymous said...

The Peace by force!