In Indianapolis a billboard was recently put up that has caused quite a stir.
It has been denounced as an “anti-Islam” billboard, because it lists six things about “the Perfect Man” (a clear reference to Muhammad, known in Islam as al-insan al-kamil, the Perfect Man), who (I quote verbatim the billboard): “1) married 6-year old 2) slave owner and dealer 3) rapist 4) 13 wives, 11 at a time 5) beheaded 600 Jews in one day 6) tortured and killed unbelievers.”
The Board of Rabbis of Indiana was outraged by this billboard, and produced a collective letter denouncing it:
The Indiana Board of Rabbis denounces the anonymously posted billboard on Interstate 465, which attacks Islam by denigrating its prophet. We repudiate the billboard’s reference to Jews as a justification for its disparaging message.
Jewish tradition recognizes the vast power of words to create or destroy. The Jewish sages of old likened “the evil tongue” to murder. The right to free speech in America does not give license to the dissemination of hatred.
We call for the billboard’s immediate removal. We stand in solidarity and friendship with our Hoosier sisters and brothers who are Muslim. And we will continue to promote tolerance, understanding and good will among all the faith communities in our state.
So the rabbis, while self-righteously declaring that “We stand in solidarity and friendship with our Hoosier sisters and brothers who are Muslim,” did not address any of the six charges made against Muhammad, nothing about their falsehood or their truth, did not try to refute even one, as if to do so were unnecessary. But they did “call for the billboard’s immediate removal,” a nice demonstration of their commitment to free speech. And there was this bizarre claim: “We repudiate the billboard’s reference to Jews as a justification for its disparaging message.” The reference to Jews was this: Muhammad “beheaded 600 Jews in one day.” That was indeed the case, as everyone who has read the passages about the Banu Qurayza in Ibn Ishaq’s biography, or in the sahih (authentic) hadiths, knows. In Yathrib (Medina), Muhammad had 600 to 900 male members of the Banu Qurayza, a Jewish tribe, bound and then beheaded, all in one day. He was present throughout.
The rabbis interpreted the mention of a massacre of Jews as something it clearly wasn’t intended to be — they described it as being exploited as “justification for its [the billboard’s] disparaging message.” No, it wasn’t meant as “justification” It was an important example of Muhammad at his murderous worst. Why shouldn’t it be mentioned? These rabbis must believe that one should never overlook antisemitic murders — except, it appears, if the murders are ordered by Muhammad, who was surely one of history’s most influential antisemites. What would they have thought if someone listing Muhammad’s deplorable acts had left out any mention of his anti-Jewish atrocities? Would that have pleased them? Wouldn’t such an omission have outraged the rabbis of Indiana? Or are they so far gone that any mention of Muhammad’s anti-Jewish acts would have infuriated them, as “not helpful under the present circumstances of rampant islamophobia”?
What those rabbis did not do is claim that they had carefully looked into the claims on the billboard,, and found them without foundation, nor did they give any indication that they would be interested in finding out whether those charges were true. It was the mere making of them that provoked their outrage. Perhaps they assumed that they all had to be false, for how could Muslims revere as the “Perfect Man” someone who had done the following: married a six-year old; had a total of 13 wives, 11 of them at one time; committed rape; beheaded (or had beheaded) 600 Jews; owned slaves; tortured and killed unbelievers? If those charges were true, what would that lead any sensible person to conclude about Islam? Still, one would like to know why those deeply distressed rabbis thought they had no responsibility, before calling for the billboard to be taken down, to do some research themselves, to see if one or more of those charges were true. Apparently they listen to a Higher Authority — and that Higher Authority is Muslim.
So let’s do what neither the rabbis, nor the reporters for the IndyStar, appear to have thought it necessary to undertake: that is, to find out what evidence, if any, there is for the six charges.
The first charge: did he “marry a 6-year-old”? Most Sunni scriptural sources accept that Aisha, the daughter of Muhammad’s friend Abu Bakr, was married to Muhammad when she was six, but continued to live with her parents until the age of nine, when she went to live with Muhammad and the marriage was consummated — that is, nine-year-old Aisha had sexual intercourse with Muhammad when he was 53. There are many sources in the Hadith for this. The most authoritative of all collections, the Sahih (authentic) Bukhari, states that Aisha was six years old when she married Muhammad, and nine years old when they consummated the marriage (Sahih al-Bukhari, 7:62:64). Do the indignant rabbis even know who Bukhari was, or why his mention of Aisha’s marriage carries such great weight? Does their ignorance make them at all uneasy? Or do they not care?
The second charge is that Muhammad had a total of 13 wives, with eleven of them the most he had at any one time. The main source for this is the Sira (biography of Muhammad) of Ibn Ishaq. All Muslim authorities agree that Muhammad had at least eleven wives. See, for example, Anas bin Malik, who testified that “the Prophet used to visit all his wives in a round, during the day and night and they were eleven in number.” But in total, over his lifetime, he had at least two other wives. Some Islamic sources even claim he had a total of fifteen wives. But the main point has been made. Muhammad took many wives (and in addition to his wives, he had several concubines at any one time), and allowed himself many more wives than he allowed his followers who, while polygamous, had to stop at four. The word “misogyny” comes to mind. And so does the word “hypocrisy.”
The third charge is that Muhammad committed rape. Is there evidence to back this up? It’s hard not to think that the only word for what he did when he forced himself on his slave girls, those women “whom his right hand possessed,” who were always available, is “rape.” But let’s consider just one such case, that of the beautiful Jewish girl, Saafiya, who was part of the booty Muhammad took when he raided the Khaybar Oasis. The same day that her father and uncle had been killed by Muhammad’s men, and her husband tortured to death in front of her, and all of her other male relatives also put to death, Muhammad had sexual intercourse with her. It’s related in the hadith of Muslim (who with Bukhari is considered to be the most trustworthy of hadith scholars): “That [same] day Saafiya’s husband was tortured and beheaded in front of her eyes, her father and brothers were killed, her sisters, cousins, and mother were given away to jihadis as booty and then Mohammed still wearing bloody clothes with the blood of her relatives, had sex with her.”
Would anyone describe what Muhammad did to Saafiya as consensual sex? Of course not. Yes, Muhammad raped Saafiya, and we can find in the hadith and sira other examples of his having non-consensual intercourse with women “whom his right hand possessed.” Muhammad was a rapist many times over. And how should we describe Muhammad’s intercourse with a nine-year-old girl? Was she capable of giving “consent” to that intercourse, or should we describe what he did with little Aisha as “rape”? Did the good rabbis of Indiana bother to look into this charge or did they regard it as so implausible — how could “the Perfect Man” also be a rapist? — that they felt there was no need to do so? What do they make of the story of Saafiyah? Or that of nine-year-old Aisha and 53-year-old Muhammad? Anything? Nothing?
The fourth charge on the billboard is that Muhammad “beheaded 600 Jews in one day.” This is a reference to the killing of all the adult males of the Jewish tribe of the Banu Qurayza in Yathrib (Medina). The Banu Qurayza had taken no side in the fight between Muhammad and the Meccans who besieged his forces in Medina. Nonetheless, once the siege was lifted, with the Meccans having withdrawn — thereby depriving Muhammad of the chance of booty — he ordered that the inoffensive Banu Qurayza be attacked. For 25 days Muhammad’s forces besieged the Jewish tribe until it finally surrendered. Muhammad then ordered that all males who had reached the age of puberty should be seized, bound with rope, and beheaded. Between 600 and 900 were killed. There is some evidence that Muhammad personally engaged in the slaughter. Not only does the earliest narrative bluntly say that the apostle “sent for them” and “made an end of them,” but there is also support for this in the Qur’an. Qur’an 33:26 says of the Qurayza, “some you slew, some you took captive.” The “captives” were the women and girls, taken as sex slaves. The Arabic “you” is in the plural, but the Quran is supposed to be Allah’s conversation with Muhammad, so it makes no sense that he would be excluded. In any case, to make the point again, just as we can say that “Saddam Hussein killed 182,000 Kurds” without meaning that he did so personally, it is perfectly understandable to say that Muhammad “beheaded 600 Jews” (Abu Dawud 4390). And in fact, over his life, Muhammad was responsible for the deaths of far more Jews than just those of the Banu Qurayza.
The fifth charge on the Indianapolis billboard is that Muhammad “tortured and killed unbelievers.” By that is clearly meant that he ordered that certain people be tortured and killed, not that he did it himself. One example of this is from an authoritative hadith collection, the Sahih Muslim:
“They were caught and brought to him (the Holy Prophet). He commanded about them, and (thus) their hands and feet were cut off and their eyes were gouged and then they were thrown in the sun, until they died.” (Sahih Muslim 4131). This account is also confirmed by at least three other narrations.
Another such example is that of Kinana of Khaybar, a Jewish man from whom Muhammad wanted to extract information about hidden treasure. Some of the treasure was given up by Kinana. But Muhammad suspected that more was hidden, and he ordered one of his followers to torture Kwinana until he revealed where the treasure was hidden: “‘Torture him until you extract what he has.’ So he [the follower] kindled a fire with flint and steel on his chest until he was nearly dead. Then the apostle [Muhammad] delivered him to Muhammad b. Maslama and he struck off his head, in revenge for his brother Mahmud.”
And there are so many other assassinations ordered by Muhammad, particularly of those who had mocked him, such as the poetess Asma bint Marwan, or sown doubt about him, as did the 120-year old Jewish poet Abu ‘Afak, or appeared to be disloyal to him, like still another Jewish poet, Ka’b ibn al-Ashraf — all three of them killed on Muhammad’s orders. The list of those he ordered to be murdered is very long (Bukhari 56:369, 4:241). So it’s true: Muhammad did have men and women killed, and some tortured as well. Would the rabbis of Indiana wish to exculpate Muhammad because he merely ordered people to be tortured and killed, and didn’t do it all himself? Didn’t we hear something of the sort from Adolf Eichmann?
The sixth charge is that Muhammad owned and traded in slaves. Could that possibly be true? Why, yes it could. In one famous hadith, he trades two black slaves he owned for one white slave whom he wanted to free:
There came a slave and pledged allegiance to Allah’s Apostle on migration; he (the Holy Prophet) did not know that he was a slave. Then there came his master and demanded him back, whereupon Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) said: Sell him to me. And he bought him for two black slaves [whom Muhammad owned] , and he did not afterwards take allegiance from anyone until he had asked him whether he was a slave (or a free man) (Sahih Muslim 3901).
He also gave sex slaves to three followers who later succeeded him as caliph: “The apostle gave Ali a girl called Rayta; and he gave Uthman a girl called Zaynab; and he gave Umar a girl whom Umar gave to his son Abdullah.” (The two sources for this are Ibn Ishaq’s biography of Muhammad, and Ibn Kathir, the author of a celebrated commentary to the Qur’an). He encouraged his men to rape enslaved women (Abu Dawood 2150, Quran 4:24) and to take as many sex slaves from captured women as they wanted.
And even when Muslims concede that Muhammad was a slave-owner, in his defense they say that he urged better treatment for slaves, or they “contextualize” the slavery by saying that “it was the common practice of those times.” That may well have been, but it does not refute the charge that he bought, sold, traded, and captured slaves, without the slightest moral qualms.
Muhammad’s life was a succession of warfare, plundering, and killings. In the last ten years of his life, he engaged in 65 military campaigns and raids. He murderously practiced what he murderously preached: “Fight everyone in the way of Allah and kill those who disbelieve in Allah.” (Ibn Ishaq 992). He ordered the killing of captives taken in battle (Ibn Ishaq 451). He took female captives as sex slaves. He ordered the killing of those who mocked or spoke against him. He ordered the torture, before killing, of Kinana of Khaybar. He was ferociously against the Jews. What do the rabbis make of this history? I don’t think they make anything of it. I think they are deliberately refusing to learn about Muhammad, for fear of what they might find out. It’s an unbearable thought, that they might then have to take issue with, beg to differ from, even question entirely, the received version of Islam fed them by their “Hoosier sisters and brothers who are Muslim.”
Where does this leave us? It leaves us with all six of the charges leveled at Muhammad having textual support in one or more of the Islamic texts — Qur’an, Hadith (especially the “authentic” hadith of Bukhari and Muslim), and the Sira (the biography by Ibn Ishaq, as set down by Ibn Hisham), the history of Al-Tabari, the tafsir (commentary) of Ibn Kathir, and other islamically authoritative sources.
When the rabbis decided to publish their letter, demanding that the billboard be taken down, what did they know, and when did they know it?