Muhammad and Morality
An on-line discussion with my Muslim readers
By: Harry Foundalis
In times past, people used to write their thoughts often in the form of figurative “dialogues”, in which the author’s reasoning would be represented by a logically-speaking and rationally-sounding main character (who in most cases monopolized the dialogue, turning it into a monologue), whereas any possible objections would be raised by the author’s imaginary adversary (who was often reduced to simply agreeing with the main character, answering with short phrases such as: “Indeed,” “It must be so,” “This at least is clear,” and so on).
In our times, in which — thanks to electronic communication — everybody can discuss with everybody in the world, such dialogues do not need to be invented; they take place in reality, and are sometimes very interesting, because one can see in them the so-called “clash of civilizations”: the different ways of thinking among people who were raised in different cultures.
I would like to present to you, below, one such “real” dialogue that I’ve had with a Muslim. But I put “real” in quotes, not only because I have edited it heavily, eliminating the roundabout ways in which my interlocutor would often go before he could admit some logical conclusion — so as to avoid boring you, dear reader — but also because I had this dialogue with more than one person. So, in what I present as a dialogue, below, in some instances I made an amalgam out of the answers of two or three of my interlocutors together, so as to present to you the essence of whatever they were trying to say, excluding irrelevant parts. (That’s why their answers might often appear short, “fat free”.) Thus, my interlocutor was not just “a Muslim”, as I wrote above, but several Muslims, who I fused together into one. I’ll use “Mustafa” as the name of this several-in-one Muslim, although in reality this was the name of none of my interlocutors. (One of them was a Syrian woman; still, for the sake of coherence with the name of “Mustafa”, I’ll use “he”, below, hoping she won’t feel too bad if she reads this text and recognizes some of her thoughts in Mustafa’s sentences.)
The discussion invariably started with Mustafa reading my article on “Science in the Qur’an”, and wanting to tell me that my article was perhaps a “nice try” at examining the scientific merits of his Holy Book — often congratulating me for having read the entire Qur’an — but that it didn’t really succeed in convincing him. I, having developed enough experience from such discussions to know that we would be led nowhere because we started off from a completely different cultural foundation and hence a very different way of thinking, tried to make him agree on a minimal basis of moral principles on which we should base our discussion, as well as agree on the use of logic, and common sense.
To persuade Mustafa that we should use logic and common sense was a piece of cake; he would immediately agree that, yes, logic should reign supreme in any discussion. But to show him that our foundations of our moral principles differed was quite hard. In trying to do this, I’d bring examples from Muhammad’s life, and my examples disturbed Mustafa. Here is what he stated. (I’ll continue in the form of a dialogue now, using my real name, “Harry”, when I speak, and the nickname “Mustafa” when my interlocutor speaks.)
Mustafa: Our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)(*) was indeed the greatest man among all human beings that ever lived and shall live on the face of this earth. You should know that those ancient Islamic narrations [the “ahadith”] that tell us he did something wrong are not trustworthy.
Harry: It always amuses me no end when I hear that those narrations that describe some deeds of Muhammad that are questionable (this is an understatement — I would like to remain polite) are precisely those that you deem “untrustworthy”; whereas those narrations that do not speak badly of him, are immediately and happily accepted as “trustworthy” by your scholars, and you, the pious Muslims. First, let me assure you that I am very familiar with the notion of degrees of authenticity — hence, trustworthiness — assigned to narrations by Islamic scholars. But to make progress in our discussion, I agree that we examine first a narration that comes from one of the most authoritative authors in Islam, one that practically all you Muslims agree on his authenticity: Sahih al-Bukhari. After all, “Sahih” means “Authentic”. So, my dear Mustafa, let’s examine the following narration:
In the above narration, dear Mustafa, your prophet Muhammad — in your words, “the greatest man among all human beings that ever lived and shall live on the face of this earth” — first asked: “Who is ready to kill” another person (Kaab bin Ashraf). This means he asked his companions to commit a murder! And then — according to your own authentic Islamic texts — he allowed Muhammad bin Maslama, who volunteered to be the murderer, to actually go and kill that person. A murder for an insult. Is this how the “greatest man” should act, in your opinion? Like a mafia godfather?
The murder of Kaab bin Ashraf, ©
Mustafa: First off, dear Harry, Kaab bin Ashraf did not just spread insults against Muhammad (PBUH). He was urging other Jews, members of his tribe, to go and kill Muhammad (PBUH). So Muhammad (PBUH) had to defend himself. He was at war with Kaab bin Ashraf and his tribe. And there is a verse in the Holy Qur’an, verse 5:33, which states very clearly what should happen to those who wage war against Allah and His Apostle:
So, dear Harry, I don’t understand why you mentioned that narration from Sahih al-Bukhari. The glorious Qur’an is very clear. As you can see, our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) acted very justly, according the the Qur’anic verse 5:33!
Harry: Now, wait a minute, Mustafa. You said we’ll be using only trustworthy narrations. As far as I know, the information that Kaab bin Ashraf was urging his tribe’s people to kill Muhammad is in no trustworthy source of narrations — find it, please, if there is one, and make it known to me. But, for the sake of argument, let’s suppose that this was true: Kaab bin Ashraf was urging his tribe’s people to kill Muhammad. However, he didn’t commit any murder. If someone, today, instigates people to go and kill someone else, do we kill him? Of course not! Even in countries or States that allow the capital punishment, never is someone executed because he wished the death of someone else. The reasoning is that he didn’t commit a murder himself, so you can’t equate a “wished-for murder” with an actual, real murder. You are advocating a “preemptive murder” as punishment for a “wished-for” one. Committing a preemptive murder is a barbaric way to deliver justice in a modern State. Such barbaric acts belong to our uncivilized past. Muhammad, however, did commit the murder. His “right hand”, Muhammad bin Maslama, went and killed Kaab bin Ashraf, and the other members of the gang beheaded him, and brought his cut-off head to Muhammad, who said: “I give thanks to Allah because Allah’s enemy has been slain”, as we learn from other narrations. Is this how your “greatest man among all human beings that ever lived and shall live on the face of this earth” should behave? Even if we grant him that he was in self-defense (a disputable thesis), did he not stealthily send one of his gang members, Maslama, to murder Kaab bin Ashraf?
Mustafa: It was not a murder! Qur’an 5:33 justifies the killing of Kaab bin Ashraf. He was executed!
Harry: Is your entire moral justification of the killing of Kaab bin Ashraf based on Qur’an 5:33 then?
Mustafa: Of course! The Holy Qur’an is the Word of Allah, which is final, unchangeable, and 100% correct!
Harry: So, let’s make this clear: for you, everything written in the Qur’an is morally correct by definition. That is, if you wonder whether something is morally correct, and you find it in the Qur’an, then you conclude that it must be morally correct, am I right?
Mustafa: Naturally, because Allah said it!
Harry: Mustafa, I respect your beliefs. Do you respect my right to remain a non-Muslim during our discussion?
Mustafa: Why, of course! What kind of question is this? We Muslims respect all other religions!
Harry: Yes, but mine is not a religion. I am an atheist — I believe in no religion.(*) As an atheist, I have my own moral principles that I follow. You said you respect my right to remain non-Muslim, at least during our discussion. I want to remain an atheist. So you respect that. Now, there is one moral principle, in particular, that stands at the foundation of my morality. It is called the “Golden Rule of Morality”, and states the following:
You might also see its so-called negative version: “You should not treat others in ways that you would not like to be treated”. This has slightly different moral implications, but I will not insist on their difference.
Instead, in what follows I want to refer to a consequence of the Golden Rule, which states this:
Now, since I am not a Muslim, the Qur’an cannot be the basis of my morality. Instead, the Golden Rule is at the basis of my morality. Can you respect this belief of mine?
Mustafa: The Qur’an defines morality for everyone.
Harry: Even for non-Muslims?
Mustafa: Maybe non-Muslims do not want to follow the Qur’an, but the Qur’an gives the only foundation of morality.
Harry: From your point of view Mustafa, not mine. You said you respect my right to remain non-Muslim, so you must respect my beliefs that, by definition, are contrary to Islam. (If they weren’t contrary to Islam, I would be a Muslim.) So, in my belief system, which is non-Islamic, the Golden Rule lies at the foundation of my morality. Do you have any objection?
Mustafa: I agree that you have the right to have a different belief. In Islam, “there is no compulsion in religion” (Qur’an 2:256).(*)
Harry: So you agree that my moral foundation can be not the Qur’an, but the Golden Rule.
Mustafa: Although you are mistaken, you have the right to be mistaken.
Harry: Whether I am mistaken or not is the whole point of our discussion. You cannot draw this conclusion without having argued for it yet. After all, just as you believe that I am mistaken, I too believe that you are mistaken. But I’m not hurrying to announce this to you without evidence and logic. I am asking you to put aside your belief that I am mistaken, keep it in the back of your mind (just as I keep in the back of my mind the belief that you are mistaken), and ask you to respect my right to base my morality on the Golden Rule (among other rules — it’s not the only one) and not on the Qur’an.
Mustafa: All right, I respect your right to believe whatever you want. That doesn’t make your beliefs correct, but you have that right, and I respect it.
Harry: Excellent. Given that the Golden Rule is at my moral foundation, I am asking you now to understand how the killing of Kaab bin Ashraf is judged when seen from my moral perspective.
Mustafa: Why should I be interested in your incorrect judgment that arises from your point of view?
Harry: Because my judgment is incorrect from your point of view. From my point of view it is correct. Aren’t you interested in knowing the point of view of others? After all, why did you start this discussion with me? If you want to close your ears and talk only to other Muslims, fine. But it was you who initiated this discussion. How can you ever understand how non-Muslims think about your religion if you don’t ever hear what they say, and know how they think?
Mustafa: All right, I can listen, but I don’t have to agree with you. Tell me how you think.
Harry: Not just how I think in general, but how I judge Muhammad’s killing of Kaab bin Ashraf in particular, based on my moral foundation. Well, here is how:
According to the most trustworthy information that we have, Kaab bin Ashraf did not commit a murder; he only used language against Muslims — to scorn Muhammad, according to Sahih al Bukhari, or to instigate his people to kill him, according to less trustworthy sources. On the contrary, Muhammad did commit a murder, by sending his men to do it, according to trustworthy narrations. And because an actual murder is a punishment exceeding in severity the crime of using hostile language, Muhammad is guilty of violating the Golden Rule. Yes, from my point of view, but I don’t need to add this qualification every time, since you agreed to listen to my point of view.
In other words, from any non-Muslim’s point of view (who shares my moral foundation), Muhammad is a murderer.
We agreed to use logic. Let me summarize my logical conclusion in different words, so that you assimilate it:
They may not tell you this directly, because when you hear it you explode with wrath, turn red like a rotten tomato, froth comes out of your mouth, and often you attack and kill the “blasphemer” of your “greatest man among all human beings” (essentially committing the same crime as Muhammad: a murder for the hostile use of language). But the fact of the matter is that that’s what non-Muslims conclude after examining the facts: that Muhammad was a murderer, plain and simple.
Mustafa: You know, Harry, my patience has some limits. There are some limits up to which I can go on reading such hurtful things as that Muhammad (PBUH) was a murderer!
Harry: Do you feel hurt when you learn that the Sun is actually smaller and less luminous than practically every star that we can see with the naked eye, and the only reason the stars appear tiny and faint is their vast distances from the Earth?
Mustafa: No, why should I? And how is this relevant?
Harry: You don’t feel hurt, because you have no sentimental attachment to the Sun. That the Sun is little compared to the stars that we see is a fact. We accept facts as they are, without emotions. Likewise, that non-Muslims see Muhammad as a murderer is a fact. That you attach emotions to this particular fact is a problem for you, I understand, but that doesn’t make it any less of a fact. The truth is that as long as there are non-Muslims in this world (who accept the Golden Rule), they will see Muhammad as a murderer. Take this as a fact, without emotions.
Mustafa: So what if I take it as a fact without emotions that you, non-Muslims, see our Prophet (PBUH), our most beloved person who ever lived on this earth, as a murderer? That’s your point of view. How does this change anything in our point of view?
Harry: It has some consequences, that you probably aren’t aware of. Tell me, does every baby who comes to this world, up to the age of, say, three, have some religion? Does a toddler believe in some religious ideas?
Mustafa: If he was born in a Muslim family, he is automatically a Muslim.
Harry: I didn’t ask what religion you “automatically” assign to your babies. I asked whether they have any religious beliefs by themselves, at that age. And, by the way, why did you use “he”? Babies are also girls, not just boys.
Mustafa: Because I have to use a pronoun in English, so I used “he”. I could have used “she”, it makes no difference.
Harry: It does make a difference in the context of Islam, a belief system that considers women as properties of men. But let’s not be sidetracked arguing about the position of women in Islam. When speaking about a person in general, of unknown sex, I use “they”, “them”, “their”, “theirs”, etc., for the personal and possessive pronouns, even if I talk about a single person — which is one of the common practices in English when we don’t want to favor one sex over the other. Anyway, my question was: does a baby as little as three years old have any religious belief by themselves?
Mustafa: No, he (or she) doesn’t believe in anything, of course, because he or she doesn’t have the ability to believe, yet.
Harry: Exactly, they don’t have the mental capacity to do it. So, a baby “born in Islam”, as you like to say — which means, born in a Muslim family and growing up in a Muslim society — will become Muslim (with a very high probability) because their parents and society will guide them to become a Muslim. But, likewise, a baby born in a non-Muslim society will not become a Muslim (again, with a very high probability), because they will receive non-Islamic education from family and society alike. Conclusion: babies born “outside of Islam”, being non-Muslims, are bound not to have the Qur’an as their moral foundation; and, after growing up, if they examine the facts, they’ll conclude that Muhammad was a murderer. It is only babies “born in Islam” and raised with the notion that whatever the Qur’an says is moral who believe — according to verse 5:33 — that Muhammad did the right thing when he killed Kaab bin Ashraf.
Mustafa: So? I don’t see your point.
Harry: So, whether Muhammad was a murderer or not is not something absolute, independent of human belief, but it depends on whether one is raised in this or that kind of society and religion.
Mustafa: Our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was the most gentle person that ever lived in the world, and this is an absolute truth. I am 100% convinced about that.
Harry: Because you were born and raised in a society of Muslims. But it could be that you, Mustafa, the very same person who is having this discussion with me, were one of the people who consider Muhammad a murderer.
Mustafa: What?? How could I ever do that? God forbid! You sound like you don’t know what it means to be a Muslim, a “mumin” in Islam! I was born in Islam, and was raised a Muslim! How could I ever think badly of our beloved Prophet (PBUH)??
Harry: Yes, it so happened that you were raised a Muslim. But it could alternatively happen that when you were a one-month-old baby some bad people snatched you from your baby cart when your parents were looking away, and then took you out of your country and sold you — through their criminal network of baby trafficking — to an Italian couple, a man and a woman who had no idea that you had normal and living parents, and instead thought you were an orphan. Thus, in this alternative scenario of your life, you were raised in a little Italian town, in a Christian family within a Christian society. You’d be the same person, with the same genes, only your name wouldn’t be “Mustafa”, and your attire and manners would be all Western-like; and you’d be absolutely convinced that Muhammad was a murderer — assuming you learned about Muhammad’s moral conduct and accepted some version of the Golden Rule in your moral foundation. Can you imagine it, Mustafa? You, the very same person, would consider Muhammad a murderer! It all depends on where one is raised during childhood.
Mustafa: Your mental exercises leave me cold, because I know you are on the wrong side.
Harry: And I know you are on the wrong side. Does this lead us anywhere? Is the purpose of a discussion to simply announce to the other party that they are on the wrong side, closing our ears to what they say? Or is it, rather, to understand how the other party thinks?
Mustafa: Let’s say we’re having this discussion to understand how the other party thinks. But, wait a minute Harry, you are being extremely unjust! You, non-Muslims, judge our beloved Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) from just one of his deeds: how he treated Kaab bin Ashraf. You ignore, however, all his good deeds, and especially his sense of Justice! The life of our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is a perfect example and a model for us to follow! You can learn about how our Prophet (PBUH) lived his life morally and justly by reading some web pages:
Harry: So, Muhammad simply didn’t let his personal debt to Sakhr prevail over the misdeeds that Sakhr did to other people. Should we congratulate Muhammad for not choosing to act in a morally wrong way? That’s what you are doing: you praise him not for doing some morally good deed, but for avoiding to do a morally wrong deed. Do you expect me to be impressed? Besides, the moral debt that he had to Sakhr was for the siege of Taaif. Do you understand what a siege is, Mustafa? It means war. It means surrounding a fortified town, killing its defenders, causing little children, women, and others who were helpless there, to die of starvation or of diseases, making the remaining children orphans, and their mothers sexual slaves of his men. Here’s what Muhammad could have said to Sakhr immediately after the bloodshed in the sacked town: “Thank you, my friend, for letting me kill some of those in Taaif who resisted being conquered by me, and for enslaving their wives and children, giving them to my men to satisfy their sexual urges. You are a good man, Sakhr. A good killer. May Allah be pleased with you!” Mustafa, why are you conveniently forgetting the slaughter, the deaths that Muhammad’s siege of Taaif implies, and you concentrate on some later insignificant events? Why do you “strain out a gnat but swallow a camel”, as Christians say in such cases, quoting from the words of Jesus Christ?
Mustafa: It’s not me who wrote the above, I just made it known to you from a page. But I see that you can’t be pleased with anything, dear Harry. There is more, however, don’t hurry to issue your judgment! I continue my copying from the same source:
Harry: What “state revenues”? You mean the money he and his men had stolen out of the neighboring tribes that they attacked and conquered, or out of the caravans of peaceful merchants who were crossing the desert, and Muhammad and his men attacked, killing the merchants, enslaving their wives and children (most of who they’d sell in the slave-markets of Arabia), and stealing their merchandize. How do you think the “state revenues” were collected Mustafa? Out of cultivating roses and selling them in the bazaars of Arabian towns?
Mustafa: I ignore your deeply insulting comments and continue, knowing that there is no hope for you in the afterlife. May Allah have mercy on you. Keep reading:
Harry: And so — whack! — went the woman’s hand, chopped off by the scimitar of one of Muhammad’s men. Mustafa, don’t you understand how barbaric such punishments as chopping off of human body parts sound to us, today?
Mustafa: The punishment of cutting hands and feet (from opposite parts of the body) for a theft is prescribed in verses 5:33 (which I quoted earlier) and 5:38 of the Holy Qur’an.
Harry: Which makes the Qur’an all the more barbaric! This punishment is objectively barbaric, because stolen goods can be returned to their owners, but a chopped-off hand or foot cannot be returned to its owner. You may ask the thief, since we assume they were caught, to pay back the money, and be confined to a place for some time, to make them understand that they shouldn’t do this again. But by cutting off a limb you are causing permanent damage to that person’s body. This punishment exceeds in severity by far the severity of the committed crime, the theft. And the blood that gushes forth from the cut-off limb adds to the barbarity of such a punishment. If you cannot understand that blood implies barbarism, then it is because you’re a barbarian yourself. But if you can understand this, having arrived at the modern age — welcome! — then how can you accept that this barbarism is prescribed in your “Holy Book”? How can a book be “Holy” if it prescribes brutal punishments for human beings, punishments including amputations, floggings, beheadings, with blood gushing forth from the bodies of people? How can Allah be such a cruel, blood-thirsty barbarian, if he was the true author of the Qur’an?
Mustafa: One more accusation against Allah, or our Holy Qur’an, the most perfect book that has ever been written in this world, and I will interrupt this discussion!
Harry: Because you have no arguments. You understand the brutal nature of “blood as punishment”, but you cannot explain how such brutal commands are found in your “most perfect” book. Just as with Muhammad, you assign a label like “most perfect”, but then you shy away from looking at the facts, because you’d see anything but perfection; you’d see skeletons in the closet.
But with those examples that you quoted from that web page you managed to derail our discussion from our main point, which was Muhammad’s morality, not Muhammad’s sense of justice. Mustafa, there is no doubt that Muhammad could act as a judge among the quarreling tribes. But we are interested in his moral character. You Muslims say, again and again, that Muhammad was the “most perfect” human being that walked on earth. Really? “Most perfect”? Take a look at the following drawing, please.
Mustafa: What is this? A cartoon of our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)? Are you trying to insult me?
Harry: It’s not a cartoon of Muhammad. Why are you so easy to be insulted? You Muslims are the most “insultable” people in the world! This cartoon depicts simply a man, perhaps belonging to a tribe of the Arabian desert, judging from his attire. His angry look suggests that he must have committed some murder, because he holds a scimitar and his white robe is not quite white — it’s stained with human blood. My question to you is: Would you ever choose to say: “This man’s robe is perfectly white and clean!”?
Mustafa: What is this, a trick question? His robe is full of blood, everybody can see this.
Harry: Yes, but do you think I am right if I say: “But look! His robe has so many white, clean spots! Can’t we call this a perfectly white and clean robe, for all those clean spots that it has?”
Mustafa: I think I see where you’re heading at, although you’re wrong.
Harry: Will you please answer my question?
Mustafa: No, this is not a perfectly clean robe, if that’s what you want to hear.
Harry: It’s not just that I want to hear it, it’s a factual observation that nobody can deny: once the robe is stained (with blood, to boot), it cannot be called a “perfectly white and clean robe” anymore. Similarly, once Muhammad’s moral behavior is stained (with at least one murder), he cannot be called a “most perfect human being that walked on the face of this earth” anymore. He cannot serve as a model of morality, having committed murders. If Muhammad were to stand trial for his murders, and admitted that he killed some people, think if he would convince the judge that he was innocent by defending himself like this: “Your Honor, I may have committed some murders, but please take into account that at other times I helped scores of people who were in need!” Which judge would choose to ignore that man’s murders in the verdict, and acquit him because of the man’s good deeds at other times? In that case, every murderer could avoid punishment because at some point in his life he might have done some good deeds.
Mustafa: Previously you were complaining about Kaab bin Ashraf’s punishment, now you talk about “some murders”! Are they many? Please decide Harry, don’t let your biased judgment make you sound so ridiculous!
Harry: Yes, of course, Muhammad’s murders are many! Indeed, more than just “many”. That’s why I use the plural.
Mustafa: And you want me to take you seriously?
Harry: You don’t need to believe me, just because I say it, but you need to believe your most trustworthy ahadith. Do you know that Muhammad committed at least one genocide?
Mustafa: Did he use a nuclear bomb, too?
Harry: Fortunately, he was raised among tribes that knew the use of camels, not of nuclear reactors, so humanity was spared from his toying with dangerous technology. But he did eradicate at least one whole tribe, between 600 and 900 people, even without a nuclear bomb. That, today, is called a genocide. I’ll remind you about it, because I’m sure you’ve heard of it, only you haven’t realized its moral implications. It happened right after the so-called “Battle of the Trench” (all very well documented in trustworthy ahadith, just follow the previous link in Wikipedia for the details). Here is a brief description of the event.
As all you Muslims know, after Muhammad attempted to change the religion of the people of Mecca and failed, he was expelled from the city. So he went to Medina (the event of Hijrah, a.k.a. Hegira in English, in the year 622 AD), where there already were a few of his followers. Once he established himself in Medina, he started enlarging his group of devout believers in the city that accepted him as a refugee. Muhammad’s plan was to do in Medina what he failed to do in Mecca, i.e., convert all of its residents to his own religion. As in Mecca, several of the people of Medina — many of whom were Jews — rejected his newfound religion. But this time Muhammad was better prepared, having the experience of Mecca. He waited until his followers became sufficiently many, and then, at Muhammad’s orders, they started attacking their hosts, the Jews of Medina, who were either killed or forced to leave their city. (Keep a note on morality here please, noting the word “ungratefulness” in your moral dictionary: attacking your hosts who accepted you in their city as a refugee. Muhammad is indeed a great role model of morality, isn’t he? But let’s continue.) It was in this context that the Jewish poet Kaab bin Ashraf was killed and beheaded, as I mentioned earlier.
Among the Jews who escaped death in Medina there were at least two tribes: the Banu Nadhir, and the Banu Qurayza. (“Banu” means “tribe”.) The Banu Qurayza stayed in Medina, living in a different part of the city, separate from the Muslims. But the Banu Nadhir were forced to flee from their own city, and by the end of 626 AD they made a confederation with the Arabs of Mecca, intending to attack Muhammad’s army and take revenge for their earlier expulsion from Medina. Indeed, Arabs and Jews gathered an army of around 10,000 men, the “Confederates”, and went to attack Medina — the Arabs to conquer it, the Banu Nadhir Jews to take it back. Medina was defended by around 3,000 Muslim warriors, but not by the Banu Qurayza Jews, who opted to wait in their quarters of the city and see what would happen.
The Muslims dug a trench along the northern side of the city only, because the other sides were protected by rocky hills and a dense forest, where the enemy could not come from. No actual battle took place, because the Confederates stopped at the trench and were hindered from advancing by it — their cavalry rendered useless. They kept besieging the Muslims for 27 days, in January and February of 627 AD, losing only three people, whereas the Muslims lost only five. (Those were all the casualties of the “battle”.) Inside the fortified region of Medina, the Banu Qurayza Jews made a pact of “no attack” with Muhammad. However, during those 27 days, men from the Confederates approached the Banu Qurayza (probably walking through the forest), and tried to persuade them to break their treaty with Muhammad. Indeed, the Banu Qurayza were eventually persuaded to break the treaty. But before they could do anything at all (please note this), the Confederates finally lost their morale, having been worn out by the lack of food and the strong cold, and withdrew their armies. Back in Medina, the Muslims now besieged the quarters of the Banu Qurayza, and soon captured them all.
Thus, let us recapitulate: the Banu Qurayza did not do any physical harm to the Muslims of Muhammad. They only changed their minds, having decided to break the treaty with Muhammad. For this “crime”, Muhammad exterminated them. And he did it as follows: he asked a Jewish leader of another tribe (one that was allied with the Qurayza), what the punishment for losing a battle is, according to the Jewish law (as if Muhammad didn’t already know, and as if the Qurayza had done any battle against him). The Jewish leader answered: “Death for men, enslavement for women and children.” So, Muhammad said, let the Banu Qurayza be punished according to their law. You understand, of course, that he purposefully applied the wrong law: “losing a battle”, when it should be “deciding to break a treaty, but not acting on that decision yet” — did you say anything about his “sense of justice”?
Thus, Muhammad had another trench dug in the central square of Medina, where the market place was, and brought the men and boys above 14 or 15 years of age of the Banu Qurayza in batches at that place, decapitating them, their heads dropping into the trench. Batch after batch, anywhere between 600 and 900 men and boys had their heads chopped off, with Muhammad watching the spectacle together with the most favorite among his many wives, Aysha. As we learn from ibn Ishaq’s biography of Muhammad, a woman of the Banu Qurayza had a great time there with Aysha, the two of them chatting and laughing while watching the gruesome event. Perhaps the Jewish woman thought that in this way her life would be spared — maybe Aysha could ask that she be exempted. But a little later the woman’s name was called and her head was chopped off, too. Such were the morals of the people around Muhammad.
The genocide of the Banu Qurayza, ©
Mustafa: All this is known, Harry, it is ancient Islamic history. The Banu Qurayza were punished according to their own law, and the punishment was decided by one of their own people, an old Jewish man. This is all affairs within the context of war, applying the war laws of those times. It is meaningless to talk about “morality” in the context of war.
Harry: First off, no war actually took place. No battle was conducted by the Banu Qurayza who, as I mentioned earlier, were punished by Muhammad for merely changing their minds and deciding to side with his enemy. But there are much more serious implications in the extermination of a tribe. Do you know how the members of the tribe were separated into “men” and “boys”? The following wise procedure was used: the Muslims examined the genitals of the Jewish boys, and every boy that was found to have developing pubic hair was called a “man”, was led to the trench, and his head was chopped off.
Do you understand what this means, Mustafa? Even a 14-year-old kid can have a developing pubic hair. What was the “crime” of a boy of that age for which he should be beheaded? That he belonged to the Banu Qurayza tribe, that’s what his “crime” was! At that age, most of those boys were completely clueless about the disputes of the adults, battles, and wars. A 14 or 15 year old boy doesn’t have the time to think seriously about anything, not even the mental capacity to understand the adult affairs. Imagine your own son, or yourself as a 14 year old. You have only spent time playing with your friends and with your cell phones up to that age, when one day a neighboring army comes, grabs you, strips you off of your clothes, finds pubic hair developing around your private parts, calls you a “man”, and leads you to a trench, were your head will soon be chopped off and sent to meet the other beheaded corpses of your compatriots. Is this fair? I repeat, what was your crime? None. No crime. Your young, innocent boy’s head will be chopped off because you belong to an enemy nation! That is the definition of genocide, and an application of unspeakable injustice. That is what Muhammad committed: a genocide, a brutal act of racism, and of unspeakable injustice. He killed in a most barbaric way scores of innocent children, merely because they were children of his enemies.
I repeat: Muhammad is guilty of killing scores of innocent children after the “Battle of the Trench”. Do you have something to say in defense of your “greatest man among all human beings that ever lived and shall live on the face of this earth”? In particular, why should “Peace Be Upon” a killer of children?
[At this point I should mention that my question was never answered. One of my “Mustafas” told me he was very busy and would come back to me later, but he never did. Another one told me he would examine this question of genocide and discuss it with an elder in his mosque — again, no answer. Others had already disappeared earlier. Their non-answer was my main motivation for writing up this article, so that perhaps other Muslims would like to come to the defense of their “most perfect human being”. Therefore, I’ll now conclude this article in a monologue format.]
Dear “Mustafa”, I’m sorry to say this, but there are more disturbing facts concerning your “perfect” prophet.
There is information, always highly trustworthy (from Sahih al-Bukhari), that reveals the monster that Muhammad hid underneath the hood of the “just” ruler. Read, please (the emphasis is mine):
What kind of psychopathic behavior is this? He was a perverted torturer! All right, the “group of eight men” murdered a shepherd before stealing the camels, so according to the Golden Rule one of them (the one, or ones, who did the killing) deserved to be executed, the rest to receive heavy penalties as accomplices to the murder. But... torturing them?? Cutting off their hands and feet?? Passing red-hot nails over their eyes and blinding them?? What kind of sick, perverted psychopath must a person be to torture human beings — yes, even murderers! — in such inhuman ways? What I conclude from such incidents is that Muhammad had only a façade of a just, gentle leader. When the situation presented itself, his subconscious brutal, savage nature came to the surface, and then he’d torture people in inhuman ways. It is not I who says this, it is your trustworthy ancient Islamic texts. And the above is not the only piece of evidence that Muhammad was a brutal torturer. Here is another one (again, the emphasis is mine):
The brutal torture of Kinanah, ©
Do you know why the Messenger, “the most gentle person that ever walked on this earth”, savagely tortured Kinanah by slowly roasting him alive? Because he wanted the money of Kinanah’s tribe! Kinanah was the treasurer of his tribe, which Muhammad had just subdued, killing all “men” and enslaving the young women for sexual purposes (as usual), and wanted to rob the tribe of its valuables, which Kinanah had hidden away. And the Messenger wanted to steal the valuables! What is the punishment, again, for the thieves, according to your “glorious” book? Can you remind me, because I forgot? Ah, but wait! Let me guess: hands and feet are cut off of thieves if they belong to others, not to our “most gentle” one! Our “most perfect” man can never be a thief (let alone a brutal torturer)! Our “role model” didn’t steal, because all the wealth of the world belonged to him, and if others didn’t want to give him what was his anyway, so much the worse for those others: they deserved to be roasted alive, by our gentle role model.
If that is how you think, sorry to break the news to you, but your mind is malfunctioning. You are in a dangerous mental state in which you deny the facts, reverse reality, and accept the most disgustingly immoral behavior as moral, which makes you dangerous for the rest of humanity — a potential terrorist–jihadist (assuming you are not one already). You need mental repair, urgently.
But if you do see black as black, theft as theft, torture as torture, and immorality as immorality, there’s still some hope for you.
Now, I want to tell you some things about slavery in Islam. And, to tell you the truth, it does seem a bit inappropriate to me to complain now about Muhammad having slaves, such a “minor” offense compared to his decapitations of innocent children, roasting of people alive in order to steal their valuables, passing red-hot nails in people’s eyes, and so on. (I hope you read about these above, and didn’t arrive directly here because of the picture that follows. Yes, I have it there partly as a “read bait”, but at least read what I wrote so far.) However, I must talk about slavery, because it touches a very sensitive raw nerve of the rest of humanity, the morally normal non-Islamic world, as it highlights one of the major differences where Islamic morality conflicts with Universal morality.
“The Arab Slave Market”, a 1910 painting by Otto Pilny
You are aware, of course, that Muhammad had slaves. There is ample evidence in several of your ahadith, where slaves of Muhammad are casually mentioned. Here is one example, one out of many (my emphasis):
Here is one narration in which we see that Muhammad considers slavery as something natural, the normal state of affairs:
Quite unsurprisingly, the Qur’an agrees completely with Muhammad (it always does — surprise-surprise!), mentioning slaves that are possessed by Muslims as a normal state of affairs, usually using the circumlocution: “those that your right hand possesses”. Allah seems to have no problem with the idea that some human beings (non-Muslims) are property of some other human beings (Muslims).
And that’s where the moral problem arises. You see, one person owning another person implies inequality between the two of them; implies that there is a superior–master, and an inferior–slave. This conflicts with a fundamental human principle, which is included in the International Bill of Human Rights, and says this: “Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and human rights.” And (always my emphasis): “Article 2: Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status.”
Do you understand? Muhammad and his Qur’an conflict with one of the most basic principles that concerns human dignity: that we are all equal in rights, and that there should be no distinction among us based on race, religion, national origin, etc. The principle that “We are all equal in rights” follows as a consequence of the Golden Rule, by the way, since “You should not treat others in ways that you would not like to be treated” implies that you should not possess slaves, since you would not like to be a slave of others. Let’s write this down in a frame.
It is not so difficult to see that Muhammad’s (and the Qur’an’s, hence Allah’s) distinction into masters and slaves is immoral. It is the Islamic view which is in error, not the Universal one, which is part of the Universal Human Rights. Let’s see why.
Suppose you adhere to your Islamic view of inequality: Muslims are superior than non-Muslims, hence Muslims are allowed to subdue the inferior non-Muslims and turn them into their slaves.
All right. However, just as you have this “superior wins” morality, the others, the non-Muslims, are entitled to share the same morality: “superior wins”, and dominates the inferior. And suppose that, it so happens, that one nation among those non-Muslims is militarily superior to you. (This is not a science fiction scenario; you know very well that scores of non-Muslim nations are indeed superior to Muslim ones in military power.) So, by applying your own “superior wins” principle, they may attack you, destroy your nation, and turn you, your family, and all your loved ones into their slaves.
And yet, even though those well-known non-Muslim nations are militarily many times stronger than your nation, you see that they don’t attack you to conquer you and turn you into their slaves. What do you think prevents them? Is it Allah?
If it was Allah, you would see them at least attempting to conquer you, and failing because Allah would protect you. But they don’t even try. Why? Because they adhere to the principle of equality! They believe that “human beings should not be distinguished into masters and slaves” (consequence of the Golden Rule), so they let you live your own lives as equals to them, not as slaves. And that is their moral superiority!
Please don’t be confused with this talk about superiority – inferiority. There are no superior or inferior human beings, according to the Universal morality. But there are superior and inferior moralities!
For example, the morality of a thief (let alone that of a murderer, or of a genocidal killer) is inferior to the morality of a person who does not steal (let alone kills, or commits genocides). That’s because if we all followed the thief’s morality and stole from each other, soon we would all die of starvation because there would be no production of goods, since we’d all be busy stealing goods instead of producing them. The thief might think that his moral behavior is good for him, but because the rest of us disagree, he ends up in jail and lives a not-so-comfortable life. (Depends on the kind of thief, of course. I’m thinking of petty thieves.) So:
It’s similar with the Islamic “superior wins” morality:
I know: it is hard for you to admit that your morality, the Islamic “superior wins”, is inferior to the Universal one. Well, the “superior wins” morality has another name: it is also known as the fascist morality. It was tried and crushed in the 2nd World War. Universal morality won (fortunately). To live peacefully in a world without masters and slaves, the world must get rid of the fascist morality. Due to the common core shared between Islam and fascism (which is precisely the “superior wins” idea), the rest of the world has come up with the term “Islamofascism” to describe with a single word your morality. Islamofascism must be deleted, taken out from the minds of people. And an important first step toward its deletion is that you realize that this inferior morality is simply the brainchild of Muhammad the warlord, not of God for whom all human beings are supposed to be equally his children. A true God could never have decided that some of his children will live their lives as slaves, and others as masters. Would you ever wish this for your children? If you did, could anyone say that you are a good and just parent? Think about it.
Dear Mustafa, to conclude, I have the following two questions for you:
Why should Allah choose as his “last prophet” a man who was a warlord, exterminated entire tribes in acts that today we call genocides, killed innocent children, turned their mothers into his sexual slaves, and brutally tortured some others? Couldn’t Allah choose a more peaceful person among the millions that existed on Earth back then? One who was no warlord, and who couldn’t be accused later by non-believers of having committed heinous crimes, and even crimes against humanity?
Why does the Qur’an contain such barbaric punishments that cause blood to gush forth from the bodies of human beings, for such crimes as theft and adultery? Why does it consider the enslavement of human beings by their conquerors as something natural?
There is a very simple answer: the Qur’an is not the word of Allah, or of any God, but of Muhammad, who put into it all the barbaric nature of the warlord that he was, plus all his cluelessness about the natural world, as I discuss in my “Science in the Qur’an” article.
If you disagree with this, it is because ever since you were a child and opened your eyes into this world, you opened them into an Islamic world. You were brainwashed (by your parents and your society) into seeing only one side of morality, the Islamic morality, which in many of its aspects is seen as immoral by the rest of the world. If you don’t understand that Muhammad cruelly killed innocent children in his many sieges of tribes, robberies of caravans, and revengeful attacks, it is because you have only heard about him as “perfect human being” and “role model”, characterizations that you parrot thoughtlessly, never using your mind to question what Muhammad actually did. (If, on the other hand, you converted to Islam without first being raised in an Islamic society, you know, the world is full of foolish people — one more or less won’t make a difference.)
And if you don’t understand that your Qur’an is barbaric, immoral in nature (reflecting its creator’s character), it is only because you haven’t seen anything else, any religious book other than the Qur’an. I may be an atheist, but I have read both the Qur’an (in its entirety), and the New Testament, which is the book of the Christians. And I can assure you that the New Testament does not include even a single gory command that results in bloodshed, as the Qur’an does. Nowhere in the New Testament will you find the God of the Christians imposing any such barbaric punishments as lashings, amputations, or beheadings. Read the New Testament, just as I read the Qur’an, if you don’t believe me, and see for yourself. Try to find a single verse in it that involves blood — except where Jesus is tortured by his Roman captors and finally crucified.
Do you see what is going on? Ever since your childhood, you have been conditioned into regarding the barbarism that pervades your holy book and the heinous acts of Muhammad as normal. They tell you that Muhammad did such-and-such “just” thing, when the context is that previously he had annihilated the people of some tribe! Your Islamic upbringing blinds you, you can’t see Muhammad’s atrocities even though they stare you in the face, and you learn to look at his other acts, thinking that all this is normal. But it’s not normal, it’s objectively barbaric. You, my dear, are morally a bit of a barbarian, and this will dawn on you only if you read and learn the moral foundations of other, non-Islamic cultures, and compare your mentality with theirs. The truth of the ugliness of your morality will hurt you. But it is better to be hurt and know the truth, and become a morally upright person, rather than remain morally a Neanderthal, seeing black as white, and being in a position — you Muslims — to cause great harm to humanity by your lack of understanding of proper, Universal morality.
|Footnotes (clicking on the caret (^) on the
left of the footnote brings back to the text)
(^) For those readers who are unfamiliar with this: whenever Muslims write the name of Muhammad, they follow it by the acronym “PBUH”, which stands for “Peace Be Upon Him” — thus showing their respect to Muhammad. But they do it completely mechanically, not just once, but every time Muhammad’s name appears in a sentence. This makes me always wonder if they think they’ll be punished in the afterlife if they neglect it once and omit the “PBUH”. But perhaps what they do is completely analogous to the Orthodox Christians mechanically doing the sign of the cross on their chests every time they pass by any church.
(^) Some people claim that atheism is just another religion, because “belief in no God” is belief in something, anyway. This stretches the definition of “religion” to an extent that makes it unrecognizable. Obviously, not every belief can be called a religion. (Consider the belief in the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial beings, for example.) A belief system must include certain characteristics to be called a religion. For instance, there must be belief in the supernatural; there must be rituals performed regularly by the members of the belief system; there must be specialized individuals (priests, imams, shamans, etc.) who perform those rituals; there must be a felt communication between the religious (“praying”) individual and supposed supernatural beings; there often is a Holy Book, or something of that sort, in which the beliefs of the religion are written down and are codified. Last, but not least, a religious believer is usually 100% certain about the truth of his belief. Nothing of all that is true in atheism. Atheism does not satisfy any of the criteria by which (in their totality) we would give some degree of “religiosity” to a belief system.
(^) In Islam, there is something I would call a “Silver Rule”, or, more appropriately, an “Islam Self-serving Rule”, stated in a trustworthy narration:
(The word “brother” in Islamic parlance means “fellow Muslim”.) This is a very selfish rule, hence morally inferior to the Golden Rule, which does not restrict the range of people over whom it is applied. The above rule, as stated by Muhammad, has no higher moral value than the rule of a Mafia godfather who says to his fellow gang members: “None of you will be a good gangster till he wishes for his fellow gang-brother what he likes for himself.” It follows that gang-members should not harm each other (since they wouldn’t want to be harmed), but what they can do to people outside of the gang is a completely different issue.
(^) Qur’an 2:256 may be saying: “There should be no compulsion in religion”, but Muhammad himself stated exactly the opposite in a very trustworthy narration:
You be the judge.
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