By David Wood
Heinrich Heine once wrote a clever poem titled "Marie Antoinette," in which the ghost of everyone’s favorite French queen entertains her guests with "strictest etiquette." The irony of the poem is that neither Antoinette nor her guests realize that their heads are missing. They were all beheaded during the French Revolution, but without their heads, they don’t have the brains to acknowledge their headlessness.
Islam is currently in a similar situation. Muhammad’s empire of faith has managed to thrive in the modern world for one simple reason: Muslims have kept Muhammad’s dark past a secret. Indeed, they have gone beyond keeping it a secret; they have somehow convinced themselves (and many others) that Muhammad was an outstanding moral example, perhaps even the greatest moral example of all time. Perpetuating this fraud has been, in my opinion, the most stupendous deception in world history.
True, there are plenty of instances in Muhammad’s life that one could view as the deeds of a moral individual, and Muslims are quick to point out his acts of charity and his dedication to prayer. However, in assessing the overall character of a man, we must take into accountall of his actions, not just the ones that support our feelings about him. For instance, suppose I become convinced that the greatest person in history was a man named John Gacy. I could point to his charity work at local hospitals, to his activities in the Boy Scouts and the Jaycees, to his patient endurance of numerous physical ailments, to his community activities such as neighborhood barbecues and other social gatherings, to his generosity to others, to his dedication to his family, and to his outstanding work ethic, which made him one of the pillars of his local business community. Yet, if I am to make a case for the moral superiority of Mr. Gacy, I must not leave out the fact that he raped, tortured, and murdered more than thirty boys and buried them under his house.
I bring this up because of the peculiar tactic employed by Muslims whenever the character of Muhammad is challenged. When someone argues that Muhammad was a robber or a murderer, Muslims suddenly cry out in one accord, "But he was merciful and kind! He started Islam, and Islam is good! God revealed the Qur’an through him! How dare you say something bad about him!? He was the greatest prophet ever! Stop being so intolerant!" The difficulty here is that, no matter how loudly a Muslim shouts these objections, they have no power to overcome the historical fact that Muhammad was a robber and a murderer. Yet, to a Muslim who already believes that Muhammad was a prophet, the Islamic line of reasoning apparently makes sense. Nevertheless, to anyone who is not a committed Muslim, any claim to moral superiority will be an empirical issue, that is, a matter of examining and weighing the evidence.
Tragically, examining the evidence is something that most Muslims seem unwilling to do. In fact, Muslims have been so persistent in ignoring the facts about their prophet that the Muhammad now proclaimed by Islam bears little resemblance to the man who preached in Arabia more than thirteen centuries ago. For example, Abul A’la Mawdudi presents the following picture of Muhammad:
He is entirely different from the people among whom he is born and with whom he spends his youth and early manhood. He never tells a lie. The whole nation is unanimous in testifying to his truthfulness. . . . He is the very embodiment of modesty in the midst of a society which is immodest to the core. . . . He helps the orphans and the widows. He is hospitable to travelers. He harms no one . . . [He] is such a lover of peacethat his heart melts for the people when they take up arms and cut each other’s throats. . . . In brief, the towering and radiant personality of this man, in the midst of such a corrupted and dark environment, may be likened to a beacon-light brightening a pitch-dark night or to a diamond in a heap of dead stones. . . . [After he begins to deliver the message of Islam the] ignorant nation turns against him. Abuses and stones are showered at his august person. Every conceivable torture and cruelty is perpetrated upon him. . . . Can anyone ever imagine a higher example of self-sacrifice, brotherliness and kind-heartedness towards his fellow beings than that a man would ruin his happiness for the good of others, while those very people for whose betterment he is striving should stone him, abuse him, banish him, and give him no quarter even in his exile, and that, in spite of this all, he should refuse to stop working for their well being? . . . When he began preaching his Message, all of Arabia stood in awe and wonder and was bewitched by his wonderful eloquence and oratory. It was so impressive and captivating that his worst enemies were afraid of hearing it, lest it should penetrate deep into the recesses of their hearts and carry them off their feet making them forsake their old religion and culture. It was so matchless that the whole legion of Arab poets, preachers, and speakers of the highest caliber failed to bring forth its equivalent. . . . This reserved and quiet man who, for a full forty years, never gave any indication of political interest or activity, suddenly appeared on the stage of the world as such a great political reformer and statesman that without the aid of radio, telephone and press, he brought together the scattered inhabitants of a desert extending across twelve hundred thousand square miles. He joined together a people who were warlike, ignorant, unruly, uncultured, and plunged in self-destructive trivial warfare—under one banner, one law, one religion, one culture, one civilization, and one form of government. . . . He accomplished this feat not through any lure, oppression or cruelty, but by his captivating manner, his winsome personality, and the conviction of his teaching. With his noble and gentle behavior, he befriended even his enemies. He captured the hearts of the people with his boundless sympathy and human kindness. . . . He did not oppress even his deadly enemies, men who had sworn to kill him . . . He forgave them all when he triumphed over them. He never took revenge on anyone for his personal grievances. He never retaliatedagainst anyone for the wrongs perpetrated on him. . . . It was he who turned the course of human thought away from superstition, the unnatural and the unexplainable, towards a logical approach illustrating a love for truth and a balanced worldly life. . . . In the cavalcade of world history, the sublime figure of this wonderful person towers so high above all the great men of all times that they appear to be dwarfs when contrasted to him. . . . Can anyone cite another example of a maker of history of such distinction, another revolutionary of such brilliance and splendor?
This is actually a very condensed version of Mawdudi’s reverent depiction of his beloved prophet, but it accurately reflects the Islamic conception of Muhammad. The problem, of course, is that this conception is horribly inaccurate. The historical Muhammad (that is, the Muhammad we can know about through history) was psychologically unstable, brutal towards his enemies, and, according to some, sexually perverted. This isn’t to say that Muhammad was all bad. He wasn’t, and Mawdudi is correct in maintaining that Muhammad’s character played a role in converting people to Islam. Even so, while Muhammad may have had many redeeming features, some of his less admirable characteristics are difficult to ignore. Consider the following facts about the life of Muhammad, which can be gathered from the reports of his earliest followers:
Fact #1: When Muhammad began receiving his revelations, his first impression was that he was possessed by demons.
The "angel" who appeared to Muhammad choked him almost to the point of death. Muhammad concluded that he was demon-possessed and quickly became suicidal. This wasn’t the first time a person thought that Muhammad was under demonic influence, however. Ibn Ishaq tells us that Muhammad’s childhood nurse also believed that he was demon-possessed. Thus, both the woman who raised him and Muhammad himself held (if only for a short time) that he was possessed by demons. Further, throughout his life, Muhammad believed that he was the victim of magic spells cast by his enemies, who were somehow able to torment God’s chosen prophet through their incantations:
Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) narrated: Magic was worked on Allah’s Apostle (may the blessing and peace of Allah be upon him) so that he used to think that he had had sexual relations with his wives while he actually had not. Then one day he said, "O Aisha, do you know that Allah has instructed me concerning the matter I asked Him about? Two men came to me and one of them sat near my head and the other sat near my feet. The one near my head asked the other: ‘What is wrong with this man?’ The latter replied, ‘He is under the effect of magic.’ The first one asked, ‘Who has worked magic on him?’ The other replied, ‘Labid bin Al-Asam, a man from Bani Zuraiq who was an ally of the Jews and was a hypocrite.’ The first one asked, ‘What material did he use?’ The other replied, ‘A comb and the hair stuck to it.’"
(For more on Muhammad, magic, and demons, see "The Bewitched Prophet.")
Fact #2: Muhammad supported his fledgling religion by robbing people.
The early Muslims could have maintained Islam through hard work, frugal spending, and the donations of admirers. Yet Muhammad chose robbery as his chief source of income, and greed soon became one of the primary factors in people’s rapid conversion to Islam. Indeed, Muhammad deliberately used the spoils of war to lure people to Islam. When he was criticized for the way he distributed his newfound wealth, he replied, "Are you disturbed in mind because of the good things of this life by which I win over a people that they may become Muslims while I entrust you to your Islam?" Given the prospect of untold riches, it’s no wonder so many people committed themselves to Islam. Muhammad guaranteed that Allah "will admit the Struggler in His cause into Paradise if he is killed, otherwise He will return him to his home safely with rewards and war booty." This message must have sounded extraordinary to the poor of Arabia.If they died in the cause of Allah, they would go to Paradise and be rich. If they survived, they would plunder their enemies and be rich. Either way, their situation would be much better upon embracing Islam.
(For more on Muhammad’s use of riches to win converts, see "Don’t Lose Your Head!")
Fact #3: Muhammad was often ruthless towards his adversaries.
Punishments for taking a stand against Muhammad included torture and death. Both men and women were brutally killed for criticizing Muhammad. Hundreds of Jewish men were beheaded for standing against him, while their wives and children were sold into slavery. Some early Muslims who apostatized were killed after Muhammad gave the command to kill all who turn away from Islam. Modern Muslims often claim that Muhammad only killed when he was attacked by his enemies, but history shows that he murdered numerous people whose only crime was writing poems against him. Given the facts, it’s difficult to understand how Muslim writers such as Mawdudi could have the audacity to claim that Muhammad "never took revenge on anyone for his personal grievances."
(For more on Muhammad’s brutality, see "Murdered by Muhammad.")
Fact #4: Muhammad had far more wives than even his own revelations allowed.
The Qur’an allows Muslims to have up to four wives: "And if you fear that you will not deal fairly with the orphans, marry women of your choice, two or three or four; but if you fear that you cannot deal justly (with so many), then one only, or (the captives) that your right hands possess" (4:3). We know that Muhammad had at least thirteen wives during his life, and that he had at least nine wives at one time. Of course, he did receive a Qur’anic revelation telling him that he alone could exceed the four-wife limit: "O Prophet! We have made lawful unto you your wives whom you have paid their dowries, and those whom your right hand possesses of those whom Allah has given as spoils of war, . . . a privilege for you only, not for the (rest of) believers" (33:50). Nevertheless, since Muhammad was the one receiving revelations that allowed him to transgress rules that applied to everyone else, many people have concluded that he was inventing revelations to justify his hypocritical behavior.
(For more on Muhammad’s wives, see "Why Did Mohammed Get So Many Wives?")
Fact #5: Muhammad consummated a marriage to a nine-year-old girl.
Muhammad’s courtship of Aisha began when she was only six. Muhammad had a dream about her, which led him to believe that God wanted him to marry the young girl. (own addition: That at that time she didn’t still have her first menses is attested by own Islaic scriptures…) Among her earliest duties as Muhammad’s wife was the task of washing semen stains off his clothes: "Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) narrated: I used to wash the semen off the clothes of the Prophet (the blessing and peace of Allah be upon him) and even then I used to notice one or more spots on them."
(For more on Muhammad’s relationship with Aisha, see "Was Muhammad a Pedophile?")
Fact #6: Muhammad had a contemptible opinion of women.
Muslim apologists often argue that Muhammad raised the status of women, and they are entirely correct in saying this. However, the status to which he raised them is almost as shameful as their status in pre-Islamic Arabia. According to Muhammad, women’s minds are so deficient that the testimony of a woman is worth only half that of a man. Given this lack of intellectual ability, women have to be kept under control by other means. Thus the Qur’an sanctions the beating of women: "As for those [women] from whom you fear disloyalty, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and beat them (lightly, without visible injury). Then if they obey you, seek not a way against them" (4:34). Notice the parenthetical remarks that the beating should be a light one. These words do not occur in the Arabic; apparently, even Muslim translators have a problem with this verse and do what they can to water it down. Notice also that the beating is done to bring the wives into submission. Muhammad repeatedly warned women about disrespecting their husbands: "The Prophet (the blessing and peace of Allah be upon him) said: ‘I was shown the Hell-fire and that the majority of its dwellers were women who were thankless.’" Hell, then, is composed primarily of ungrateful women (perhaps their husbands hadn’t beaten them enough). However, even Heaven is a bleak prospect for women, for, according to Muhammad, women will spend eternity standing in the corners of Paradise, waiting for the men to come and have sex with them.
(For more on Muhammad’s opinion of women, see "Banish Them to Their Beds and Scourge Them!")
Fact #7: Muhammad is unique among prophets in that he is the only one to receive a revelation, proclaim it as part of God’s message to man, and later take it back, claiming that it was actually from Satan.
According to the earliest extant biography of Muhammad, he eventually became so sad about his countrymen’s rejection of his prophethood that he began longing for some verses that would bring them to Islam. He soon received what he was looking for—a revelation saying that the intercession of three other gods was acceptable. Muhammad presented the revelation to the people, and his countrymen were overjoyed to hear that they could continue praying to al-Lat, al-Uzza, and Manat. A mass-conversion to Islam followed, but in time Muhammad received another revelation, which told him that the former verses had been given to him by Satan. God told him not to be too disturbed over the matter, for, according to the new revelation, all prophets occasionally receive ideas from Satan:
The apostle was bitterly grieved and was greatly in fear of God. So God sent down (a revelation), for He was merciful to him, comforting him and making light of the affair and telling him that every prophet and apostle before him desired as he desired and wanted what he wanted and Satan interjected something into his desires as he had on his tongue. So God annulled what Satan had suggested and God established His verses, i.e. you are just like the prophets and apostles. Then God sent down: "We have not sent a prophet or apostle before you but when he longed Satan cast suggestions in his longing. But God will annul what Satan has suggested. Then God will establish his verses, God being knowing and wise."
(For more on this, see "The Bewitched Prophet.")
These are just some of the facts that Muslims have been keeping secret, but they are enough to make any reasonable person doubt the validity of Islam. Muhammad was guilty of countless murders and of torturing his victims. He robbed caravans and participated in the slave-trade. His persecution of the Jews bordered on genocide. His polygamy went beyond that which even his own revelations permitted (though he did receive a revelation saying that this was okay for him). One of his wives was a nine-year-old girl, whose earliest duties in Muhammad’s house included the constant task of washing the semen stains off his clothes. At times he believed he was demon-possessed or under the effect of magic. He was known to be suicidal. He admittedly received a message from Satan and delivered it to the people as if it were from God. He declared that women have half the intellectual ability that men have, that it is okay for men to beat their wives, that most of the inhabitants of hell are women, and that, even if a woman somehow makes it to heaven, her eternity will consist of standing in a corner, waiting for men to sexually enjoy her.
These details about Muhammad raise a very important question: What does a prophet have to do before Muslims will be willing to question whether he is truly the greatest moral example in history? Normally, when we say that someone is a moral person, we mean that he doesn’t commit acts such as robbery and murder. Yet Muhammad did all these things and much more. It appears, then, that Muslims are using the term "moral" in a very unique way. In this uniquely Muslim sense of the term, the word "moral" is defined as "whatever Muhammad does." Thus, if Muhammad were to chop off the heads of hundreds of people (which he did), this act would still be defined as a moral act, since Muhammad did it, and anything Muhammad does is, by definition, moral.
But this raises another important question. If God’s greatest prophet is free to take part in murder, robbery, genocide, and slave-trading, can we really point a finger at people like Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein and say that they are evil? They killed many innocents, but so did Muhammad. Saddam tortured countless people, but so did Muhammad. In fact, one could make a case that Osama bin Laden is morally superior to Muhammad, for, while bin Laden killed thousands of people, he didn’t sell their wives and children into slavery, or have sex with a little girl, or marry more than a dozen women.
The truth about Muhammad has been one of the world’s best-kept secrets. For centuries, it has been virtually impossible to raise objections about the character of Muhammad in Muslim countries, for anyone who raised such objections would (following the example set by Muhammad himself) immediately be killed. Outside the Muslim world, there has been little interest in Islam, and those who have been interested have typically relied on modern Muslim reports about Muhammad, such as the above passage from Mawdudi. But things have changed. Now many people are interested in Islam, and Muslims aren’t able to silence everyone. Moreover, with the advent of the Internet, it is now impossible to keep Muhammad’s life a secret. The facts about the founder of Islam are spreading very rapidly, and Muslims are frantically scurrying to defend their faith. But the information superhighway is paving over the ignorance that has for centuries been the stronghold of Islamic dogma. In the end, Islam will fall, for the entire structure is built upon the belief that Muhammad was the greatest moral example in history, and this belief is demonstrably false.
On sources used. I have appealed to several sources for early information about the life of Muhammad. The Life of Muhammad (Ibn Ishaq) is the earliest biography of Muhammad. TheSahih Muslim and the Sahih Al-Bukhari are considered by most Muslims to be the most reliable sources of information about the life of Muhammad. All Qur’an verses are from The Glorious Qur’an translation.
1 Muslims object to having their religion called "Mohammedanism"; however, by "Mohammedanism" I mean only the Islamic beliefs about Muhammad. Thus, the term is appropriate in this context.
2 "The Jaycees" is an organization that helps young people develop various skills for success, in areas such as business development, leadership, and management. The organization places much emphasis on community service.
3 Before anyone misunderstands me here, I must note that I am not comparing Muhammad to John Wayne Gacy. My point is that, if I claim that someone is the greatest moral example ever, I cannot ignore all the details that prove me wrong. If a husband cheats on his wife on Saturday evenings but remains faithful to her the rest of the week, no one would claim that he is an excellent husband because he is faithful to his wife most of the time. A Saturday evening adulterer is still an adulterer. Similarly, when Muslims claim that Muhammad was the greatest of prophets, they cannot simply select the facts that support their view.
4 Abul A’la Mawdudi, Towards Understanding Islam (Islamic Circle of North America, 1986), pp. 52-67.
5 Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, (The Life of Muhammad), A. Guillaume, tr. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), p. 106.
6 Ibid., pp. 71-72.
7 Sahih Al Bukhari, Dr. Muhammad Matraji, tr. (New Delhi: Islamic Book Service, 2002), Number 5765.
8 Ibn Ishaq, p. 596.
9 Sahih Al-Bukhari, Number 2787.
10 See, for instance, Ibn Ishaq p. 368 and p. 676.
11 See Ibid., p. 464.
12 See Ibid., pp. 550-551. See also Sahih Al-Bukhari 3017: "[T]he Prophet said: ‘If somebody discards his religion, kill him.’"
13 See, for example, Ibn Ishaq, pp. 675-676, where Asma is murdered in her house for writing a poem against Muhammad. In Ibid., pp. 364-368, Ka’b is murdered for writing poems against Islam. Ibid., pp. 550-551, states that Muhammad gave orders to kill (1) al-Hawayrith for insulting him, (2) a woman named Sara who had once insulted him, and (3) Abdullah’s two singing girls for singing songs about Muhammad. One of the singing girls survived and was given immunity; the others were killed in obedience to Muhammad’s commands.
14 Sahih Al-Bukhari, Number 3894.
15 Ibid., Number 3895.
16 Ibid., Number 232. See also 229, 230, and 231.
17 See Sahih Muslim, Abdul Hamid Siddiqi, tr., Number 142.
18 Sahih Al-Bukhari, Number 29.
19 Ibid., Number 4879.
20 Ibn Ishaq, pp. 165-166.
21 Sahih Al-Bukhari, Number 4879.