Muslims believe that Muhammad is the most virtuous person who has ever lived. His benefits include not only his wisdom and character, but also extend to his rinse water, exocrine glands, and even his excretory system. Numerous authentic Hadiths describe his followers almost fighting to gain access to and smear over themselves the water he used to wash himself (Vol 1, Book 4, Numbers 187, 188). Young Muslims are regularly taught that the prophet's sweat was more fragrant than musk and his perspiration shone like pearls. A detailed online article was written about the blessed urine of the Beloved Messenger after Syrian scholar Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi was criticized for saying at an international Islamic conference in London that he wished he could be the pure and medicinal urine that passed out of Muhammad's body.
In a recent Dialogue of Truth episode on al-Hayat TV, Abuna (Father) Boutros mentioned that Muhammad had lice. The initial reaction of Muslims was the same as it always is when something unfavorable is said about their Prophet: anger and denial (This is Phase One; here I discuss Phases 1-3). They accused Zakaria of lying and presenting false information without any evidence. Whether by design or accident (if by design, it was brilliant!) Zakaria dedicated his following week's program to respond to these critics by presenting the following historical evidence from Islamic sources that the Prophet did indeed have an itchy head (although these sources have existed for well over 1200 years, not all of them are easily available in languages other than Arabic which is one reason many historical facts about Muhammad are unknown to non-Arabic reading Muslims. English links will be provided below if available online).
1. The Sunan of Abu Dawud al-Sajistani (Book 19, Number 3074) as well as the Jamia al-Asul of Ibn Kathir and the Sunan al-Kubra of Imam al-Bayhaqi relate that a woman named Zainab was picking lice from the head of the Prophet (it is unclear from the texts if this is the daughter-of-law and cousin of Muhammad whom he married after she divorced his son Zayd, or another woman with the same name).
2. Abu al-Qasim al-Tabarani in his Al-Mujam al-Kabeer relays an account by Umm Salama that she was picking lice from the head of the prophet when a woman named Zainab came to see her. Umm Salama stopped picking the lice as he lifted her head to talk to Zainab, but Muhammad angrily told her not to stop; she could talk to Zainab and pick his lice at the same time.
3. Ibn Jawzi in Kashf al-Mushkil writes that the Prophet liked to take his afternoon nap in the house of Anas Ibn Malik's aunt, and she would pick the lice off his head.
4. Abu Umar Ibn Abdel Barr in his book Tamhid writes that Umm Haram relayed that the Prophet used to come to her house and fall asleep in her lap while she picked his lice.
5. Jalal al-Din al Sayuti in al-Durr al-Mansur writes that Akramah said that a woman named Khawlah came to the Prophet to complain about her husband while another woman was picking the lice from Muhammad's head. As Khawlah began speaking Muhammad lifted his head distractedly towards the sky, causing the woman to exclaim, "Khawlah, can't you stop talking? Don't you see what you are doing to the Prophet?"
After noting that it seemed as if everywhere the Prophet went he needed women to pick the lice from his hair, including but not limited to the five women listed above, Abuna Zakaria paused dramatically as he often does, to look directly into the camera and ask, "I would like the Ulama (Muslim scholars) of al-Azhar University to explain to us why the head of the Prophet was so filled with lice that everywhere he went he needed women to remove them. Your Quran describes Christians as najiseen (filthy), but whose head was covered with lice?"
When the co-host asked if the Arabic texts also gave the reasons for lice, Zakaria continued with the following sources:
In his Book of Animals, al Jahiz (go here for more on this fascinating Arab zoologist, grandson of an African slave) said that Abu-Qathifa asked his friends if they knew were lice came from. When they replied they did not, he told them that lice gathered when they passed gas and did not clean themselves. Later in the same book, al-Jahiz wrote that lice multipled from unclean perspiration, dirty clothing, and unwashed hair. In his Book of Medicine, Physician al-Razi wrote that lice increased when people rarely took baths. Shaykh al-Nasafi noted in his book Tilbat al-Talabah that "filth brings lice". Ibn Samoun wrote in Amali that lice grow in places that are not clean. Again characteristically, Zakaria asked, "Did the Prophet have so many lice because he was unclean? I don't want anyone to accuse me - I'm just asking the question."
The co-host next asked what Arabic sources said about someone who had lice. Zakaria quoted Abu Husayn Zakaria in The Encyclopedia of Language as saying, "Lice indicates vulgarity and oppression. The person with lice is vulgar and an oppressor."As Zakaria continued with more Islamic sources that discussed lice resulting from poor hygiene and personal uncleanliness, I found myself thinking the same thing you might be thinking right now, "Isn't this pushing the envelope a little too far? What's the point on going on about Muhammad and his lice? Who cares anyhow?"
Then I realized I was thinking from the perspective of a non-Muslim living in the West. How would I think if I were an ordinary Christian Copt living in Egypt? What would it feel like to be a Coptic girl walking the streets of Cairo, her uncovered hair flowing over her shoulders, hearing men call her a whore as they stare with contempt at the cross she wears around her neck? What would it be like to be a young Christian boy walking to church on Christmas Eve with the neighborhood ruffains chasing and teasing him, calling him a kafir and an idolater? What is it like for a Christian teenager in a Muslim country to know that America elected its first African American President, but he could never be president of his country because he is a non-Muslim? What is it like for a Christian pediatrician working in the clinic of a Coptic neighborhood, knowing he will never fulfill his dream of being Head of Pediatrics at a major hospital or university just because he is not a Muslim? What is it like for Christians to realize they cannot even repair their churches without government permission while mosques are built all around them and they are forced to listen to Quranic verses describing them from loudspeakers as being filthy and untrustworthy?
If I lived in their shoes, a minority in a cultural majority that feels itself spiritually and morally superior to them in every way, I might understand a little better the emotions that drive Zakaria Boutros as he risks his life to talk about the lice of Muhammad.