Islam and jihad
5) Who was Muhammad?
part 2: from Medina to his death
ambassador answered us that [the right to piracy] was founded on the Laws
of the Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who
should not have answered their authority were sinners, that it was their
right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and
to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners, and that every [Muslim]
who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise."
Jefferson addressing the U.S. Congress, 1786
Muslims display a banner, which reads 'Behead Those Who Insult Islam,'
and t-shirts with a wanted sign during a rally Wednesday March 7, 2007,
at a downtown Manila square, to protest recent televised preaching by
a Christian sect leader Eli Soriano, who alleges that Muslims are killers."
upon Muhammad's escape to Yathrib (or Medina) in 622, the very first masjid
or mosque was begun. In Islamic calendars, this is appropriately designated
as Year 1 A.H. (After Hijrah). It is here Muhammad began an entirely new
social order devoid of all former loyalties such as blood ties; loyalties
which had so painfully failed him in Mecca with his own Quraysh tribe. Instead,
Muhammad's new order would be based solely on absolute allegiance to
him, Muhammad, and to Allah for whom Muhammad claimed authority
to collect all financial tribute.
writer/apologist Reza Aslan observes
...[In Yathrib], Muhammad
finally had the opportunity to implement the reforms he had been preaching
to no avail in Mecca. By enacting a series of radical religious, social,
and economic reforms, he was able to establish a new kind of society,
the likes of which had never been seen before in Arabia.
For instance, whereas
power in the tribe was allocated to a number of figures, none of whom
had any real executive authority, Muhammad instead united all the pre-Islamic
positions of authority unto himself. He was not only the Shaykh of
his community, but also its Hakim [judge], its Qa'id [war leader], and,
as the only legitimate connection to the Divine, its Kahin [prophet].
His authority as Prophet/Lawgiver was absolute.
Also, while the only
way to become a member of a tribe was to be born into it, anyone could
join Muhammad's community simply be declaring, "There is no god
but God, and Muhammad is God's Messenger." The shahadah [creed]
was thus transformed in Yathrib from a theological statement...into a
new version of the oath of allegiance, the bay'ah, which the tribe gave
to its Shaykh. And because neither ethnicity nor culture nor race nor
kinship had any significance to Muhammad, the Ummah, unlike a traditional
tribe, had an almost unlimited capacity for growth through conversion.
the next year and a half, the Muhajirun began enforcing this new religious
order. If it was
not Allah's will that Muhammad merely offer his leadership, as was tried
in Mecca and failed, it seemed now it was Allah's will he impose it. Yet
in doing so, Muhammad found Medina offered a completely different obstacle
than did Mecca.
large numbers of Jewish and Christian Arabs around Medina flatly refused
to renounce their beliefs for Muhammad's. Unlike the largely illiterate
pagans of Mecca, Jews and Christians had biblical texts and, within them,
scriptural qualifications for true
prophets and for the nature of God. Measured against the previously
revealed Word of God through the Old and New Testaments (words which Muhammad
was on record as having supported), Jews and Christians could demonstrably
prove Muhammad did not fit the bill of prophet or divine messenger nor did
his claims of Allah.
new level of rejection it seemed was too much. Muhammad's resentment of
Jews for their role in Jesus' death, combined with Jewish and Christian
resistance to taking part in his economic theocracy, Muhammad boldly and
bitterly turned against his Medinite Jewish and Christian hosts. This is
evidenced by his quranic recitations during this period and as evidenced
patience was about to run out on Judaism and Christianity, and it was now
time for his self-appointed messiah-king Muhammad to begin judging the earth
and purging it of unbelievers, reluctant givers, and all the disobedient.
patience to jihad
is during this Medina period that Muhammad's divine recitations now take
a completely different tone than what was previously the case in Mecca.
Now Allah's will is to revile unbelievers, and no longer to tolerate them.
Now friendship with Christians and Jews is forbidden. Now Allah has no patience
for those who reject Muhammad's complete authority. Now the moral order
is to force conversion on the reluctant and to tax them, or to kill them
and take their possessions. And so Muhammad and the Muhajirun did.
lethal violence already deemed honorable in Bedouin eyes, became a divine
imperative to be exacted against Muhammad's enemies.
like certain Roman Catholic popes would do six hundred years in the future,
Muhammad took it upon himself to determine who were the enemies of Allah
who needed to be destroyed. For ten bloody years, the Muhajirun exercised
this throughout the countryside pressing for submission (islam) to
their beliefs, and making brutal raids on major trade caravans.
prior merchant experience likely provided useful tactical insight contributing
greatly to the success of his trade route assaults. It cannot be stressed
enough what an impact caravan raiding had on Arab communities. Recall the
bleak geography of Arabia, the lack of resources, and precarious existence
many desert communities had. Larger trade caravans were such that they may
have carried an entire community's investment or purchase for an entire
season. Loss of that caravan would be financially devastating, and might
mean a city's ruin. Thus the economic attractiveness of appeasing Muhammad
versus opposing his fearsome raiders began to grow. This in turn grew his
army and influence, and as those grew, financial appeasement and theological
capitulation grew faster still.
the military tactician
a military tactician Muhammad proved brilliant, at least at the key Battle
of Badr in 624. The story reads as good as any Hollywood movie,
and probably would be if any image or portrayal of Muhammad didn't carry
the death sentence. It's success is often regarded as the formal birth of
Islam, Muhammad's ascendancy to that of a regional power, the first commemorative
jihad, and the progenitor of beheading one's enemy while screaming praise
to Allah. (Refer to chapter nine of Vernon Richards' E-book "Islam
Undressed" for an excellent and detailed account of the battle
and its implications.)
Bell relates what would ensue:
Shortly after the
Battle of Badr a Jewish tribe, the Bani Qainuqa, were deprived of their
goods, and expelled from Medina. The Bani Nadir were similarly expelled
some two years later, and finally the Bani Quraiza were besieged, and,
after capitulation at discretion, were slaughtered, their goods confiscated,
their women and children enslaved.
particular slaughter is not ignored by apologist Aslan as he attempts to
mollify it by conveying that it "was
neither illegal nor immoral according to the tribal ethic of the time."
He also offers Norman Stillman's belief that the failure of nearby Jewish
communities to speak out against or prevent the massacre demonstrates their
tacit approval of such slaughters themselves. (I find that conclusion equivalent
to believing that Jews who successfully hid from the Gestapo happily supported
the execution of Jews who got caught. The reason you didn't prevent your
neighbor's murder is not limited to the conclusion you must have been for
it; especially when the murderer was a large and well-equipped army.)
here and elsewhere, Muslims began purging their region of unbelievers. Medinite
Christian communities throughout northern Arabia would fare no better than
their Jewish counterparts when they resisted.
spread of Islam
Jews, Christians, and pagans of their lives and wealth proved not only profitable
but quite an effective vehicle for making converts and spreading Islam.
To that end, Muhammad assured raiders it was Allah's pleasure that they
each keep eighty percent of anything they stole while warring for
Islam, be it property, possessions, or slaves. The remaining twenty percent
of booty was to be given back to Allah, naturally in care of Muhammad.
least measured by effectiveness at attracting new members, this doctrine
of stealing and killing was well received. The
final result was a large and wealthy army, at one point 30,000 strong, sometimes
able to "convert" entire villages without bloodshed merely by
encircling them. As the Qur'an records and some Muslims assert, such encircled
villagers were under "no compulsion" to believe.
amended practice would come into being around AD 630
that didn't demand conversion, but allowed non-believers to avoid slaughter
by instead paying a heavy protection tax (the jizya) and giving
up many of their rights. Forced converts had to pay a tax as well (the
zakat or purification tax), but could at least retain former
rights to the extent they matched those of quranic law. Protection in either
case was revocable and expired after ten years unless renewed. (Paying of
the zakat is the second pillar of Islam, and has alternately been dedicated
towards either funding the army or helping other Muslims. The zakat is forbidden
from being given to non-Muslims; hence when natural disasters strike places
like Haiti, not one penny is given in charitable help.)
the personal side, Muhammad had nine to twelve concurrent wives by this
point, one of them controversially young. It is noted that the girl was
so young that there was public concern about her youth even at that time.
Muhammad reacted by keeping her completely veiled, thus concealing her age
from further scrutiny. Only later would the following words be written into
Islam's sacred books:
The Prophet engaged me when I was a girl of six (years). We went to Medina
and stayed at the home of Bani-al-Harith bin Khazraj… [My mother] entrusted
me to [some Ansari women] and they prepared me (for the marriage). Unexpectedly
Allah's Apostle came to me in the forenoon and my mother handed me over
to him, and at that time I was a girl of nine years of age."
5, Sahih Bukhari 58: 234
accrued a sufficient army after a decade of raiding and looting, Muhammad
finally attacked his own Quraysh clan; the Quraysh troops defending Mecca.
However, his attempt to conquer the protectors of his former hometown failed.
Faced with superior numbers and with his own forces now in tatters, Muhammad
proposed and signed a ten-year peace treaty with them - the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah.
months later, however, during the Holy Truce months, Muhammad marshaled
his then revitalized army and surprise attacked; successfully defeating
the defensive forces outside Mecca. By
another account, it was Quraysh guards that initiated the skirmish, but
Muhammad was providentially nearby with an armed force of 10,000 that scattered
the handful of Quraysh aggressors practically without a fight. This is celebrated
in Islam as the 'deceptive peace treaty' or the first hudna.
victorious Muhammad purposed to turn Mecca into the spiritual and financial
hub of his Islamic empire, to retain the Meccan's revered Ka'ba (less all
the idols but two) and retain a time of Holy Truce (later adapted as
Ramadan). All this plus the fact the now-undefended Meccans had no choice
translated into the city's acquiescence of Muhammad's return. This return
is something Muhammed "prophecied" he would do, and its fulfillment
is lifted up as proof that Allah is the true god and Muhammad his greatest
prophet. (Fasting during the daylight hours of the month of Ramadan is the
third pillar of Islam; meant as a collective reminder of the suffering that
Islam's enemies wish upon all Muslims.)
the unrescinded Meccan death threat may also have come to pass when Muhammad
suddenly died in 632, attributed by some to poisoning by a Jewish servant
girl (indirectly Sunnah 5:59:551 and 26:5430). Having died so quickly and
unexpectedly, he left no clear successor or transition plan. Within about
100 years, there would no longer be a single Caliph (Islamic leader)
over all Muslim peoples (umma).
disagreement as to how succession should proceed split Islam into factions,
several of which continued to the present. The Shi'a (dominant in
Iran) believe successors should be of Muhammad's bloodline, whereas Sunnis
(dominant globally) believe the choice of leader may be politically influenced.
An early murder between the two groups seems to have permanently set them
in the wake of Muhammad's death certain Muslims expressed a kind of 'absolute
power corrupts absolutely' fear about consolidating both religious and governmental
power in a single leader. However, beatings and death threats eventually
won the debate against Muhammad's son-in-law Ali ibn Abi Talib and quelled
opposition to Muhammad's disciple Abu Bakr assuming power over both roles.
Bakr became the new Caliph.
tradition now says of Muhammad that it was he of whom John the Baptist foretold,
that he was the
one upon whom Christ's church would be built, that it was he who David said
would be seated at the right hand of God, he the scepter of Judah, he the
rightful holder of the title "Son of Man", he the conquering military
leader that Jews were looking for but did not find in Christ, and he, Muhammad,
the 'great comfort' promised by Christ (that Christians have supposedly
mistaken to be the Holy Spirit).