March 8, 2006
Muhammad's Dead Poets SocietyBy James Arlandson
The peaceful non—assassinations of mockers
In their replies to the uproar over satirical depictions of the Prophet Muhammad, Muslim spokespersons who have access to the national media have recently withheld some valuable but unpleasant information about early Islam. Killing those who ridicule Muhammad is in the Quran.
On national television, Feb 2, 2006, Ibrahim Hooper, a leader of the Council on American—Islamic Relations (CAIR), spoke only of the forgiveness and kindness of his prophet.
On February 8, 2006, Amir Taheri, a reputable journalist who often explains Islam to the West, used the absolutist word 'never' in the context of chopping off the heads of satirists during Islam's founding.
On February 9, 2006, a journalist for al—Jazeera, Abderrahim Foukara, appeared on the Charlie Rose Show saying about the same thing. After Muhammad conquered Mecca 'peacefully' (in early AD 630), he forgave a satirical poet. Never mind that twenty—eight Meccans died in the 'peaceful' conquest, after their city—weakened by eight years of Muslim raids on Meccan trade—was surrounded by 10,000 jihadists. 
In truth, however, while Muhammad forgave a poet and a singing girl right after his conquest of Mecca, he killed satirical poets more often than he forgave. Muhammad violently created a dead poets society of his own. He also killed non—poetic or ordinary mockers, and he used a poet to mock a tribe of Jews just before their conquest, slaughter, and enslavement.
These spokesmen for Islam presented only peaceful aspects. This is not full disclosure. This is wrong. The truth about all of Islam must be publicized, if we want to understand this religion fully. This article is intended to balance out the picture of Islam from the one that these spokespersons have presented.
The assassination of satirical poets
Once Muhammad reached Medina in AD 622 and gradually grew in military power, his tone and outlook changed. The following murders occur after the Hijrah.
Before Muhammad's Hijrah, he used to sit in the assembly and invite the Meccans to Allah, citing the Quran and warning them of God's punishment for mocking his prophets. A Meccan named Al—Nadr bin al—Harith would then follow him and speak about heroes and kings of Persia, saying, 'By God, Muhammad cannot tell a better story than I, and his talk is only of old fables which he has copied as I have.' On other days al—Nadr would interrupt Muhammad until the prophet silenced him.
It was Nadr's bad fortune to join Mecca's army, riding north to protect their caravan, which Muhammad attacked at the Battle of Badr in AD 624. It pitted about 320 Muslims against about 1,000 Meccans, near the north—south trade route following the Red Sea. The story—telling polytheist was captured, and on Muhammad's return journey back to Medina, Ali, Muhammad's cousin and son—in—law, at Muhammad's order, beheaded him, instead of getting some possible ransom money. He was one of two prisoners who were executed and not allowed to be ransomed by their clans—all because he harassed Muhammad and wrote poems and told stories critiquing him. 
A similar story as that of Nadr can be told about Uqba bin Abu Muayt. He too harassed and mocked Muhammad in Mecca and wrote derogatory verses about him. He too was captured during the Battle of Badr, and Muhammad ordered him to be executed. 'But who will look after my children, O Muhammad?' Uqba cried with anguish. 'Hell,' retorted the Prophet coldly. Then the sword of one of his followers cut through Uqba's neck.
After the prophet's victory at Badr, he was not always magnanimous. This passage finds him mocking the enemy dead in the middle of the night, as their bodies lie motionless in a pit:
The reliable hadith collector and editor Bukhari confirms Ibn Ishaq's account.
In this tradition the prophet is shown taunting the dead in a well, not a pit, and he seems to have done this in broad daylight. Maybe these are two different episodes in Ibn Ishaq and Bukhari; regardless, they convey the same unpleasant message. 
She was a poetess who belonged to a tribe of Medinan pagans. She composed a poem blaming them for obeying a stranger (Muhammad) and for not taking the initiative to attack him by surprise. Perhaps in March 624, when the Allah—inspired Prophet heard what she had said, he asked, 'Who will rid me of Marwan's daughter?' A member of her husband's tribe volunteered and crept into her house that night. She had five children, and the youngest was sleeping at her breast. The assassin gently removed the child, drew his sword, and plunged it into her, killing her in her sleep. 
Kab b. al—Ashraf had a mixed ancestry. His father came from a nomadic Arab tribe, but his mother was a Jew from the powerful al—Nadir tribe in Medina. He lived as a member of his mother's tribe. He heard about the Muslim victory at the battle of Badr, and he was disgusted, for he thought Muhammad the newcomer to Medina was a trouble—maker and divisive. Kab had the gift of poetry, and after the Battle of Badr he traveled down to Mecca, apparently stopping by Badr, witnessing the aftermath. Arriving in Mecca, he wrote a widely circulated poem, a hostile lament, over the dead of Mecca.
Angered by the poems and now able to strike back after the Battle of Badr, Muhammad had had enough. He asked, 'Who would rid me of [Kab]?' Five Muslims volunteered, one of whom was Kab's foster—brother named Abu Naila. They informed him, 'O apostle of God, we shall have to tell lies.' He answered, 'Say what you like, for you are free in the matter.'
After deceitfully gaining Kab's trust over time, a Muslim yelled to the four other murderers, 'Smite the enemy of God!' Though outnumbered, Kab mounted a strong defense, so their swords were ineffective. Finally, one of the conspirators remembered his dagger, stabbed Kab in the belly, and then bore it down until it reached his genitals, killing him.
They made it back to Muhammad. They saluted the prophet as he stood praying, and he came out to them. They told him that the mission was accomplished. Early Muslim historian Tabari (d. 923) reports that the five Muslim thugs severed Kab's head and brought it to Muhammad. 
In revenge for an ambush on some Muslim missionaries, Muhammad sent Amr bin Umayya and a companion to assassinate Abu Sufyan, a leader of the Meccans. This shows that the Prophet could get caught up in the cycle of violence that went on endlessly in seventh—century Arab culture. Umayyah failed in his attempt, and he had to flee under pursuit, hiding in a cave, murdering a man named Ibn Malik along the way. As the pursuit was dying down, a tall, one—eyed, unnamed Bedouin entered the cave, driving some sheep. Umayyah and the Bedouin introduced each other. After they settled down, the shepherd sang a simple two—line song in defiance of Muslims and Islam.
Unfortunately for this Bedouin, he was in the cave with a radical Muslim, who said: 'You will soon see!' The Bedouin fell asleep, snoring. Umayyah recounts what he did: . . . 'I went to him and killed him in the most dreadful way that anybody has ever been killed. I leaned over him, stuck the end of my bow into his good eye, and thrust it down until it came out of the back of his neck.' He fled back to Muhammad, who said, 'Well done!' The account ends: The prophet 'prayed for me [Umayyah] to be blessed.' 
After Muhammad conquered Mecca in early AD 630, a conquest that saw some bloodshed of twenty—eight Meccans, he showed amnesty to the newly conquered. But on the list of those excluded from amnesty was not only Abdullah b. Katal, collector of legal alms, who had killed his slave for incompetence, apostatized from Islam, and took the money back to Mecca. But his two singing—girls who sang satirical verses about Muhammad, which Abdullah had composed, were also excluded from the list. He was killed, even though he was clinging to the curtain of the Kabah shrine. And one of the girls was killed, but the other ran away until she asked for pardon from Muhammad, who forgave her. 
Confident with the victory over Mecca, Muhammad returned to Medina a hero and firmly in charge of the southwest of the Arabian Peninsula. In this context Muhammad nearly murdered another poet who satirized Muhammad and Muslims, Kab bin Zuhayr (here called Zuhayr to distinguish him from Kab bin al—Ashraf, above, no. 4). Zuhayr's brother wrote him that Muhammad had killed a number of satirical poets during his conquest of Mecca, but that the Prophet would forgive a poet who came to him in repentance, which really meant becoming a Muslim. His brother told him that the poets who were left had fled in all directions.
Finding no way out, Zuhayr wrote a letter extolling Muhammad. Soon afterwards, he traveled up to Medina to ask for security as a Muslim. Muhammad was saying his morning prayers, and a friend took Zuhayr into Muhammad's presence. 'Would you accept him as such if he came to you?' his friend asked. The Prophet said he would.
As Zuhayr came into the Prophet's presence, one of the Ansars (helpers or native Medinans who helped Muhammad after his Hijrah) leaped upon Zuhayr and asked Muhammad if he could behead the enemy of God, for some of Zuhayr's verses mocked the Ansars, too. The apostle said to leave him alone, for Zuhayr was breaking free from his past. The implication is clear: if Muhammad had caught Zuhayr before his repentance, Muhammad would have allowed him to be beheaded. Either he converts or he dies—for writing derogatory poetry.
What is remarkable about the anecdote is how the morning prayer provides the setting for a Muslim leaping on a poet and threatening to cut his head off, as if this is an ordinary day and act. 
Murder of ordinary mockers
Two examples of murder demonstrate that Muhammad did not like mockery even by non—poets. Any ole insulter is vulnerable in original Islam.
Narrated Abdullah Ibn Abbas:
Thereupon the Prophet . . . said: Oh be witness, no retaliation is payable for her blood. 
The last line of this hadith shows Muhammad not allowing even blood—wit (compensation for bloodshed) to be paid on her behalf. Apparently, she was worth nothing, even though she bore the blind man two sons.
Narrated Ali ibn Abu Talib:
This hadith communicates that a Jewish woman is worth nothing. In early Islamic sources, Jews too often appear as extra—bad. Who was killed? Who is a murderer? A Jew? That's no big deal. Of course. That's to be expected. So what else is new?
Is it any wonder why so many Muslims who are educated in their source documents hate Jews? How can Muhammad and his sacred texts tell them to stop?
Regardless, in both murder cases, no one was arrested or executed, like—for—like. No one was even scolded. The murderers were let go on the grounds that insulting the Prophet deserves death. The translator of Abu Dawud informs us that all Jews or any non—Muslims who insult the Prophet should also be killed (vol. 3, note 3800).
Muhammad uses a satirical poet
Muhammad is fresh off a victory against a coalition of 10,000 Meccans and their allies in AD 627. After they depart, the last remaining major tribe of Jews, the Qurayza, is left alone, without allies. During Muhammad's twenty—five—day siege of this tribe, which resulted in the slaughter of the men and pubescent boys and the wholesale enslavement of the women and children, he employed a poet to abuse them.
This shows how valued poetry was in seventh—century Arabia. In the absence of mass media, gathering around and listening to poets was an opportunity to persuade, smear, mock, praise, and otherwise influence large numbers. Now that Muhammad has the power, he employed a satirical poet without fear of reprisal. In fact, he refers to the Jews as brothers of monkeys, citing a legend that he believed, namely, that God turned some disobedient Jews into apes. (see also Ibn Ishaq pp. 461—62).
While it is true that Muhammad forgave a satirical poet and a singing girl (see no. 7 in 'Assassination of satirical poets,' above), he murdered more than he forgave. Omitting the violent episodes in the Prophet's life, the spokespersons for Islam act irresponsibly in their television appearances. Possibly their strategy is to make Islam and its Prophet seem only peaceful and loving, perhaps so that the uninformed may be drawn to this religion or at least not be turned off by it.
However, aggressive Islam is on the march. The riots over the cartoons are only one symptom. The stakes are high. Thus, the peaceful spokespersons' partial presentation of Islam is misleading at best and dangerous at worse. When or if Islam gets a foothold in a region on the basis of 'peace and love,' what happens when the hard line and traditional (not to mention nonviolent and violent fanatics) Muslims come to the region later and impose all sorts of violent laws and policies and practices in the Quran and hadith? Honesty demands full historical and scriptural disclosure, even if it hurts.
 Go here for more information, and scroll down to no. 3, looking for a critique of Karen Armstrong. The transcript is available by purchase only. Here is a video clip of the discussion between Foukara, Rose, and others.
 Source: Ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, (trans. A. Guillaume, Oxford UP, 1955, 2004), pp. 136, 163, 181, 262, 308. Reputable historians today consider Ibn Ishaq to be a reliable source of early Islam, though they may disagree on his chronology and miraculous elements.
 Ibn Ishaq, p. 306
 Bukhari, Spoils of War (online source); Muslim nos. 4421, 4422, and 4424; These are parallels in Bukhari about taunting the dead: here and here. Ibn Ishaq, pp. 306—08. Muslim is also a reliable collector and editor of the hadith (records of the words and deeds of Muhammad outside of the Quran).
 Ibn Ishaq, pp. 675—76.
 Bukhari, Military Expeditions (online sources: here; see also the one below); this one and this one show Muhammad giving permission to his assassin to say anything, i.e. lie; Muslim no. 4436 ; Ibn Ishaq pp. 364—69 ; Tabari, The History of al—Tabari, Vol. 7, (trans. by M.V. McDonald and annotated by W. Montgomery Watt, SUNYP, 1987), pp. 94—98. Reputable historians today consider Tabari to be a reliable source of data on early Islam, though they may not agree on his chronology or miraculous elements.
 Tabari, vol. 7, pp. 149—50; A later editor incorporated some of Tabari's account into Ibn Ishaq's biography, pp. 674—75.
 Bukhari, Military Expeditions, (Online source) ; Ibn Ishaq, pp. 550—51.
 Ibn Ishaq, pp. 597—602. Some Muslim polemicists consider him to be unreliable mostly because he preserves so many traditions that portray Muhammad as violent. But here the prophet is forgiving, so now Ibn Ishaq's reliability cannot be doubted.
 Abu Dawud no. 4348 (he is another reliable hadith collector and editor)
This article contrasts the reactions of Jesus and Muhammad when they were insulted and threatened.
This short analysis discusses the similarities between assassinations in early Islam and the ones today.
This analysis examines the many causes of assassinations of journalists and intellectuals in several Islamic countries, notably Algeria, but the analysis fails to go back to the ultimate source: Muhammad himself.
In November 2004, Theo Van Gogh was assassinated by a Muslim because the descendant of the brother of the famous artist had made a film that depicted a Muslim woman who was forced into an arranged marriage, abused by her husband, and raped by her uncle. These two articles examine the assassination of the filmmaker Theo van Gogh in light of the assassinations in early Islam.
James M. Arlandson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.