In my quest to find an authentic biography of Muhammad, I avoided, modern sanitized, apologetic acounts which ignore or whitewash some of the more controversial events of his life. I also avoided the more polemic accounts written by right-wing evangelicals who want to demonize him. After doing some web surfing, I found what seems to be the oldest biographical account of Muhammad translated into English and available to the general public.
Ibn Ishaq was commissioned by a caliph in the 8th century to write a history of creation which included the Sirah (life journey) of Muhammad. Ishaq collected oral traditions handed down by eyewitnesses. Ishaq’s work became the basis for some of the other earliest accounts of Muhammad, including Ibn Hisham’s widely heralded biography. However, Hisham edited much of what Ishaq wrote. Ishaq was a devout Muslim and as a man of his time and culture probably felt that victory in battle and supremacy over one’s enemies was a sign of “god’s” favor.
Alfred Guillaume, an Oxford scholar who specialized in Arabic language and the study of Islam, translated Ishaq’s work, comparing it with other early Arabic accounts. Guillaume’s translation was first published in 1955, long before Islam became associated with modern terrorism. His middle eastern colleagues who helped him translate the work as well as reviewed and edited it, did not seem to have any issues with it.
What impressed me about this book was its meticulous attention to detail in recording the names of the sources of information and the chain of individuals who handed it down. Ishaq also recorded the names of Muslim martyrs killed in battle as well as the tribes they came from. This makes for tedious reading but lends credibility to his work.
Muhammad is portrayed in his early years as a misunderstood visionary who suffered persecution and humiliation from leading members of his clan and community in Mecca which forced him and his earliest followers to emigrate to Medina.
Reading between the lines, Muhammad must have had tremendous charisma which enabled him to have a Svengali-like influence on his followers who had a cultic devotion to him. Although his followers didn’t worship him, they never questioned the divine authority he claimed was bestowed upon him and they blindly obeyed him…(p.406) “When he gives an order, we do not examine it…our desire is to obey him in all that he wants.” This blind devotion enabled him to do thing which shock modern sensibilities.
Throughout this review, I refer to Muhammad’s god as “god” because I have too much respect for GOD to legitimize the monstrosity which Muhammad has made of him. Muhammad’s “god” told Muhammad what Muhammad wanted to hear.
Since Muhammad was guided by “god” he could conveniently excuse his failures. Nobody could question Muhammad’s orders to fight since “god” himself said, “He who turns his back except in manuevering or intending to join another section, incurs the wrath of ‘god’ and his destination is hell.” (p.322). Muhammad’s lavish praise and venerarion of martyrs killed in his battles as well as the promises of a sublime otherworldly paradise was another ruse he used to make his followers overlook his failures.
Muhammad exploited and bastardized Jewish and Christian scriptures to justify himself as a prophet. Muhammad often reminded Jews and Christians who rejected him that they were disobedient to their own faith since he was written into their holy books. For example (p.104), one tradition identifies Muhammad as the Comforter or Paraclete who Jesus promised in the Gospel of John. On (p.182) Muhammad had a visionary experience of being in the Temple in Jerusalem where he met Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and a company of prophets and acted as their prayer leader (imam).
This account portrays Muhammad as a megalomaniacal brigand. He could also be compared to a powerful organized crime boss who ordered assassinations of his enemies. He was compassionate, generous and magnanimous to his adoring followers but brutal to his enemies. It seems that his followers loved the wealth he bestowed upon them which he obtained by plundering his enemies.
If you think I’m being prejudiced and Islamophobic, I will let the book speak for itself.
The following passages illustrate Muhammad’s intolerance:
(p.186) Muhammad disdained children born out of wedlock. During a visionary experience through hell, “Then I saw women hanging by their breasts. These are those who had fathered bastard on their husbands”…”Great is ‘god’s’ anger against a woman who brings a bastard into her family. He deprives the true sons of their portion.”
(p. 364) Muhammad said, “O you who believe, take not Jews and Christians as friends.”
(p.523) Muhammad decreed that two religions should not be allowed to remain on the (Arabian) peninsula and advised the Jews to emigrate.
The following passages illustrate Muhammad’s cruel, vindictive nature and his lack of mercy:
(p.267) Muhammad ordered two Jews caught in the act of adultery to be stoned to death.
(p.308) Muhammad ordered a captive, Uqba, killed. when Uqba pleaded with him saying, “But who will look after my children, O Muhammad!” Muhammad replied, “Hell” and had him killled.
(p.367) Muhammad ordered the death of Ibnu’l-Ashraf who had insulted him.
(p.387) Upon seeing his dead uncle, Hamza, Muhammad said, “If ‘god’ gives me victory over Quraysh in the future, I will mutilate 30 of their men.”
(p.551) Muhammad ordered the execution of two women who sang satirical songs about him. (one of them survived)
(p.675) Muhammad sent Salim b. Umayr to kill an enemy, Abu Afak. When Asima d. Marwan spoke out against Islam due to this assassination, Muhammad ordered her to be killed as well. After Umayr performed the deed, Muhammad said, “You have helped ‘god’and his apostle O Umayr.”
(p.678) Muhammad sent Kurz b. Jabir to capture some men who had killed his slave (yes, Muhammad was a slaveholder) and stolen his camels. When they were brought to Muhammad, he cut off their hands and feet and gouged out their eyes.
The following passages describe Muhammad as a brigand sanctioned by “god” to plunder his enemies:
(p.287) Regarding a plundered caravan…1/5 of the booty went to Muhammad. “god” would give it to them as prey.
(p.304) After the battle of Badr, Muhammad thanked “god” for the head of Abu Jahl, one of his enemies. Then Muhammad ordered the dead enemies thrown into a pit and divided the spoil among his followers.
(p.321) According to a revelation from “god”,…”They will ask you about the spoils, say ‘The spoils belong to ‘god’ and his apostle”.
(p.326) Muhammad claimed, “booty was made lawful to me as to no other prophet before me.”
(p.327) “god” told Muhammad, “So enjoy what you have captured as lawful and good.” (an example of “god’ telling Muhammad what Muhammad wanted to hear).
(p.438) The Jews from B. Al-Nadir were exiled from their homes and left their property to the apostle to dispose of as he wished. Their date palms “were cut down by ‘god’s’ order; it was not destruction, but vengeance from ‘god'”.
(p.571) To settle a dispute, Muhammad said anyone who killed a foe could have his spoil. One Muslim took all the spoil from one he had killed and bought a small palm grove with it. (How nice!)
(p.672) Ibn Hadrad (a Muslim) brought a large number of plundered camels and sheep to Muhammad along with the head of an enemy, Kifa’a b. Qays. As a reward, Muhammad allowed him to keep 13 of the stolen camels which enabled him to pay the dowry for his marriage. (How nice!)
The following passages illustrate Muhammad’s use of fear, intimidation, and terror:
(p.322) “god is quoted as saying, “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve, so strike off their heads and cut off all their fingers becaused they opposed ‘god’ and his apostle”.
(p.326) “god” told Muhammad to strike terror into unbelievers and make an example of them as a warning to future generations.
(p.368) One of Muhammad’s followers said, “Our attack upon ‘god’s’ enemy cast terror among the Jews, and there was no Jew in Medina who didn’t fear for his life”.
(p.369) Muhammad said, “Kill any Jew that falls into your power”. Subsequently, one of his followers killed a Jewish merchant with whom he had done business. When his older brother (a non-Muslim) rebuked him, the killer replied, “Had he (Muhammad) ordered me to cut off your head, I would have done so”. (Needless to say, the older brother became a Muslim).
(p.523) When the men of Fadak heard about the Muslims’ brutal raid on Khaybar, “god” struck terror in their hearts and they offered peace on condition that they be allowed to keep half their produce.. “Thus Fadak became his (Muhammad’s) private property”.
(p.547) A conquered enemy, Abu Sufyan, was taken to Muhammad who said, “Isn’t it time you recognize that I am ‘god’s’ apostle?” When Abu Sufyan expressed doubt, one of his Muslim captors told him, “Submit and testify that there is no god but ‘allah’ and that Muhammad is the apostle of ‘god’ before you lose your head”. (Needless to say, Abu Sufyan became a good and obedient Muslim).
(p.618) Muhammad made the proclamation, “When the sacred months are passed, then kill the polytheists wherever you find them, and seize them and beseige them and lie in wait for them in every ambush. but if they repent and perform prayer and pay the poor tax, let them go their way”.
(p.645) Muhammad sent Khalid b. Al-Walid to the B. Al-Harith inviting them to accept Islam before he attacked them. (Needeless to say, they accepted Islam). When they came to Muhammad, he told them, “If Khalid had not written to me that you had accepted Islam and had not fought, I would throw your heads beneath your feet”.
Muhammad’s use of captured women as property can be found in these passages:
(p.490) Regarding the raid on the B. Al-Mustaliq, “god” put the B. Al-Mustaliq to flight and killed some of them and gave the apostle their wive’s children, and property as booty.
(p.493) One of the capured wmen from the B. Al-Mustaliq, Juwayrira, described as a “most beautiful woman”, Muhammad claimed for his wife.
In addition, “god” would not allow captured women who converted to Islam to return to their husbands. (It didn’t matter, the other women were used as slaves and concubines).
Perhaps the most egregious example of Muhammad’s cruelty and depravity, as illustrated in this book, is the raid in the B. Qurayza, a settlement of Jews in Medina with starts on page 461. After the B. Qurayza surrendered, Muhammad appointed one of his followers, Sa’d to pass judgement on them which was met with Muhammad’s approval and carried out on his orders. They had their property taken and their wives and children were taken, (Muhammad took one of the women, Rayhana, as his wife). The men, numbered between 600 and 700 were taken to a trench where they had their heads cut off.
Another egregious example of Muhammad’s cruelty and depravity, as illustrated in this book, is the expedition to Khaybar. The women of Khaybar were distributed among the Muslims. Muhammad took one of them, Safiya, as his wife.
(p.515) Safiya was the wife of Kinana who had custody of the treasure of the B. Al-Nadir (who the Muslims previously conquered and plundered). When Kinana refused to disclose the location of the treasure, Muhammad ordered him to be tortured until he revealed its location. A fire was kindled on his chest until he was nearly dead. Muhammad had his head cut off. (This was probably a mercy killing).
Another horrific example of brutality was committed by Muhammad’s followers during a raid which he ordered against the B. Fazara. A prominent elderly woman, Umm Qirfa, was captured and put to death by having each leg tied to a camel and “driving them until they rent her in two”.
This book may give us a better understanding of radical Islam. The plundering, kidnapping, and head cutting of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL is no different than what Muhammad and his followers did in the 7th century. We may have to face the truth that radical Islam is the Islam of Muhammad. If this portrayal is accurate and if we wonder why so many psychopaths are attracted to Islam, we need look no further than its founding prophet.