Dr. Yusuf Qaradawi devoted a recent Sharia and Life program on Al Jazeera to the Sahaba, the Companions of Muhammad. Islam divides the earliest Muslims into several categories including the Muhajireen (the immigrants who migrated from Mecca to Medina with their Prophet), the Ansar (those supporters who accepted Islam in Medina), and the Tabieen (the followers, or Muslims of the generation following Muhammad's death). Those who personally knew Muhammad are accorded the highest category of Sahaba.
The occasion for Dr. Qaradawi's discussion was the fatwa (I wrote about it here) pronounced against Kuwaiti Shia dissident Yasser Al Habib for suggesting that Muhammad's wives Aisha and Hafsah killed their husband so their fathers (Abu Bakr and Umar bin Khattab) could take charge. Qaradawi praised the fatwa, but regretted that Kuwait had withdrawn Al Habib's citizenship. "Anyone who insults the Umahat Al Mumineen (the Mothers of the Believers, or wives of Muhammad) deserves to be punished," said Qaradawi. "Rather than withdrawing his citizenship, Kuwait should have brought him back for a public trial, so that everyone can see what happens when someone speaks against the wives of the Prophet."
Even this sentence is interesting on a number of levels. Qaradawi seems to think that the United Kingdom, where Al Habib now lives, would be interesting in extraditing one of its residents back to Kuwait to stand trial for what the West has traditionally understood to be an expression of free speech. Secondly, Qaradawi obviously believes that speaking critically of even those associated with Muhammad is worthy of a public trial. Thirdly, Yusuf Qaradawi wants Yasser dead but is very skilled at not publicly saying exactly what he means. Ask any of the estimated 40 million Arabic-speaking people who watched this program what he meant by the comment, "So that everyone can see what happens when someone speaks against the wives of the Prophet," and they will unanimously tell you he is calling for Yasser's death. Ask a Muslim or non-Muslim apologist on CNN, FOX, or any of the other Western channels if Qaradawi was advocating the death sentence and they will deny it.
Some additional background information might be helpful. Some of Muhammad's followers thought the first three Caliphs Abu Bakr, Umar bin Khattab, and Uthman usurped the position that should have gone to the Prophet's cousin and son-in-law Ali. They became known as the Shia, who are even today given the derogatory title of the Rafideen, or Rejectionists, because they rejected the idea that Muhammad's successor should be chosen by a Shura council rather than following his blood line. Some modern Shia clerics have been quite vulgar in talking about the early Caliphs and their families, using the Arabic and Farsi equivalent of English four-letters obscenities to describe them. Recent Shia pilgrims to Medina have gone as far as to desecrate the graves of the Umahat Al Mumineen to show their contempt for the women buried there.
Dr. Qaradawi defined the Sahaba as "any Muslim who saw the Prophet, met with him, or heard him speak even once in their lives". They represent a unique generation that can never be repeated, he said, because they were "the students in the school of Muhammad". No other generation will have a better teacher, and no Muslims will ever again equal the Sahaba. Their relationship to Muhammad was different than the relationship of other followers to their prophets. They were willing to follow him to the death, whereas the Children of Israel continually rebelled against Moses and were unwilling to follow him into the land of Canaan (Qaradawi then quoted the relevant verses from Quran 5:20-26. The fact that the Bible indicates the "two spies" were sent into Canaan under the leadership of Joshua, not Moses as recounted in the Quran, seems irrelevant to Muhammad who never was a stickler for historical Biblical detail).
The Sahaba, explained Qaradawi, were not Maasoum or protected from sin as was Muhammad, but they had a strong sense of Adalah, or justice. They read the Quran with such devotion that they insisted the punishment of Hadd, or death, be imposed upon them if they broke its commands. Qaradawi then recounted the Hadith of the Sahaba woman from Juhaina who became pregnant as a result of Zina (either adultery or sex outside of marriage) and asked Muhammad to put her to death because of her sin. The Prophet replied that only she could be judged, not the child growing in her womb, and asked her to come back after giving birth. She did so, again pleading with Muhammad, "Please purify me now." Islam's Prophet told her to wean her child, and then return to him. She returned a few years carrying the child in her arms, fed him a piece of bread in the presence of Muhammad to prove that it could eat, and said, "Oh Apostle of Allah, the child has been weaned." At that moment Muhammad pronounced judgment upon her and she was stoned to death.
It's difficult to find a more vivid contrast between the message of Jesus and that of Muhammad than to simply read Jesus' encounter with the adulterous woman in John 8 and compare it with the above story. Dr. Yusuf Qaradawi would have us believe that the woman from Juhaina wanted to be killed because of her sensitivity to God's law, and that the Prophet of Islam carried out the sentence in obedience to the same law. I find this really hard to believe. It is true that Islam has produced a shame-based society, and I can imagine this woman's sense of shame being so strong she would see no advantage to staying alive. But Islam has also produced a very judgmental society, and I can also see Muhammad killing her simply because she had transgressed a rule he established for that society. In either case I, apparently unlike Dr. Qaradawi, don't see in the story a model for life and behavior to be followed in the 21st century.