About Mohammed I: A Biopic

February 3, 2021 Category: Religion

According to the conventional hagiography, MoM was born to Amina bint Wahb c. 570 in the vicinity of Mecca.  This year of his birth is placed at 570 for two reasons.  First, to retroactively place his age at roughly forty years-old at the time of the delivery of the first revelation (on the Night of Power, c. 610).  Second, to get the year to roughly correspond to the so-called “Year of the Elephant” (i.e. the year that the Yemeni “negus”, Abraha unsuccessfully attacked Mecca).  He was purportedly sired by a man (retroactively dubbed “Abd-Allah”; grandson of a figure named Hashim ibn Abd Manaf via a man retroactively named “Mu-Talib”) who died before he was born.

Amina promptly relinquished her newborn (for reasons that remain vague), and the infant was purportedly reared in another tribe: the Banu Sa’d ibn Bakr.

The first forty years of MoM’s life are not pivotal to the Faith.  The most that might be said is that he grew up an orphan.  He was primarily raised by his uncle, Abu Talib, as a member of the Quraysh tribe, somewhere in the vicinity of the Hijazi municipality of Mecca (so the story goes; though there is evidence to question this as I discuss in my essay on “Mecca And Its Cube”). {4}  The Banu Quraysh was a sub-group of the Banu Kinana, said to have descended from the Abrahamic patriarch, Ishmael.  They transplanted the (Qahtanite) Banu Khuza’a–which hailed from Azd–as proprietors of the Meccan cube at some point in Late Antiquity.

The details of how MoM lost his biological parents are unclear.  He would have grown up speaking a local Hijazi dialect of Syriac, and was most likely illiterate (as attested in Bukhari’s Hadith). {5}

MoM did not claim to have received his first “revelation” (purportedly, a missive from the Abrahamic deity) until he was 40 years old (c. 610); and did not undertake his ministry until three years later.  That inaugural missive allegedly occurred on the outskirts of Mecca {6} during what came to be dubbed the “Laylat al-Qadr” (literally, “Night of Destiny”; though typically translated as “Night of Power”).  The importune missive, he claimed, was delivered by the same divine envoy that had visited Daniel in Babylon and the mother of Jesus of Nazareth (prior to her immaculate impregnation) in Galilee.  That envoy was the archangel Gabriel.

As the story goes, MoM was initially hesitant to believe the encounter was real.  When he reported the paranormal experience to his wife at the time, Khadijah, she encouraged her husband to pursue his prophetic charge.  To settle the matter, she recommended that MoM consult her cousin, an Ebionite / Nestorian (Christian) Qurayshi preacher named Waraka ibn Nawfal.  When MoM met with Waraka, the latter noted that Gabriel was surely an emissary of the Abrahamic deity–delivering the same law to the anxious Bedouin as had been delivered to Moses.  Therefore, MoM’s wife–and subsequently, MoM–concluded that the visitation must be genuine; and that he REALLY HAD been selected as a messenger of the the godhead. {7}

There can be little doubt that in the subsequent years, MoM would be very influenced by  Waraka–who likely peddled an anti-Trinitarian version of Abrahamic theology.  Egged on by his wife, and perhaps even importuned by Waraka, MoM would begin his ministry three years later–a campaign that would last almost two decades (613-632). (I discuss this influence in greater depth in my essay: “Syriac Source-Material For Islam’s Holy Book”.)

It should be noted that, by the time MoM would have come of age (in the late 6th century), the full compliment of pagan rituals would have already been established around the sanctified structure in the middle of town: a cube (“kaaba”) containing a pantheon of Arabian idols–chief amongst which was probably the moon-god, Hubal.  Such extant rituals included not only pilgrimage and a month of fasting, but circumambulation (“tawaf”), daily propitiations (ablutions, prostration, etc.), animal sacrifice, running between the Safa and Marwah hills, throwing stones at a stone structure (symbolizing Satan), drinking from the Zamzam well, and kissing a venerated black stone (“hajar al-aswad”). {8}

It is no surprise that, while phasing out much of the pagan theology, the first Mohammedans opted to appropriate virtually ALL of the extant pagan practices; as we can see to this day. {9}

Naturally, as he came of age, MoM became part of the local merchant culture. {10}  In the years prior to his ministry, MoM developed a reputation for being a savvy arbiter (so the story goes).  Locals who experienced him as a trustworthy mediator in mercantile affairs even nick-named him, “al-Amin” (the trusted one) and “al-Sadiq” (the truthful one).  It can be conjectured that this esteem may have gone to his head; which would help explain MoM’s decision to start devising grandiose claims.  (“If so many people trust me, well, then…”) {11}

MoM was, if nothing else, extremely ambitious.  Prior to his relocation to Yathrib (an oasis town 450 kilometers to the north), it can be surmised that MoM over-estimated his (limited) clout amongst the Quraysh; thereby parlaying what social capital he had accrued into verging ostracism.  That is to say, he frivolled away his limited prestige in Mecca with a slew of brazen petitions (of which his proselytizing was likely comprised).

However…MoM would never mis-play his hand ever again.  Once he caught wind that a potentially more receptive audience dwelled in a local to the north (Yathrib), he recognized serendipity when it befell him.  Greener pastures awaited elsewhere; an exigency on which MoM was quick to capitalize.

MoM’s first wife, an affluent elder named Khadijah bint Khuwaylid al-Kubra, died in 620.  Prior to making her acquaintance, MoM had been rebuffed by all other women he’d wooed.  So when given the chance to wed a woman of considerable means, though she was middle-aged, he jumped.  MoM’s betrothal to Khadijah would have conferred much-needed clout (and crucial financial wherewithal) on the aspiring prophet; as she had long been an esteemed business owner.  Indeed, the marriage would have bolstered MoM’s status in merchant circles, affording him the means to exercise influence.  (For more on this first marriage, and on the daughters’ nuptials, see Appendix 1.)

The degree to which such new funds (and stature) ENABLED MoM’s mantic enterprise (and, for that matter, encouraged his delusions) is difficult to ascertain; though it’s safe to assume that the socio-economic boost probably did not engender humility.  To reiterate: Khadijah was the one who encouraged the (allegedly) initially-reluctant MoM to heed the purported communiques from the Creator of the Universe.  The basis for Khadijah’s pivotal hunch is never explained.

By 622, with his first wife (Khadijah) and his foster parent (his widely-respected uncle, Abu Talib) deceased, and the larger community’s sympathy for MoM dying along with them, MoM had lost a major source of clout–as well as his remaining familial tie to Mecca.  (An only child, he’d alienated what remained of any other family members.  It bears worth repeating: Outside of Khadijah, the only quasi-sympathetic member, his uncle and foster father, Abu Talib, passed the same year.  It would be safe to assume that those last couple years in Mecca had become increasingly difficult.  The trying times following his highly-connected wife’s passing surely catalyzed the aspiring prophet’s decision to emigrate from his home town.

It is important to understand the circumstances that prompted MoM to seek greener pastures.  By making his audacious pronouncements (esp. that he’d been selected as the new mouthpiece for the Abrahamic deity), he had squandered the good will he’d garnered in Mecca during his days as “al-Amin”.  By 622, his pretensions were well-received by only a handful of tight-knit acolytes.  All other denizens of Mecca were incredulous…including his own uncles.

This point can’t be emphasized enough.  For it is very telling that the man who knew MoM the best–and for the longest–did not believe his grandiose claims: his own uncle / step-father.  It can be surmised that Abu Talib did not believe MoM in large part BECAUSE he knew him so well.  Conversely, had MoM been the “real deal”, Abu Talib would have been in a unique position to be the FIRST one to recognize that fact.  It speaks volumes that Abu Talib called his nephew’s bluff in spite of clear incentives to do otherwise.  Even as he strove diligently to keep MoM from harm, he couldn’t bring himself to believe the bold claims his foster son was making. {12}

In spite of his incredulity, as his step-father, Abu Talib felt obliged to protect MoM from those who meant him harm.  This speaks even further to Abu Talib’s good intentions; and to his objectivity.  He obviously harbored no ill will toward his nephew; and even cared about him enough to risk ostracism amongst the Quraysh by declining overtures to reprimand MoM for his feather-ruffling proselytization.  Indeed, even as he sought to protect MoM, Abu Talib STILL did not believe MoM’s tales of divine revelation.

As a foster parent, Abu Talib obviously cared for the well-being of MoM…EVEN THOUGH he did not believe his adopted son’s claims of prophethood [“nubuwwah”].  Short of believing his grandiose claims, Abu Talib went to bat for his nephew in every way he could.  Ergo his incredulity cannot be attributed to antipathy.

Abu Talib went so far as to plead with MoM to cease and desist in his brazen proclamations: “Spare me and yourself; and do not put a greater burden on me than I can bear,” he beseeched his adopted son.  Allegedly, MoM’s response to this plea was: “Oh, uncle.  By the Almighty, I swear, even if they should put the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left that I abjure this cause, I shall not do so until god has vindicated it or caused me to perish in the process” (ref. Muhammad Husayn Haykal’s “The Life of Muhammad”). 

Meanwhile, MoM’s OTHER uncle (Abu Talib’s brother, Abd al-Uzza) recognized MoM’s claims to be fraudulent as well; yet–not being in the capacity of a step-father–was NOT moved to protect him. {13}  The discrepancy between MoM’s two uncles’ handling of the situation, then, was not due to a disparity of belief.  (Both concurred that MoM was delusional.)  Rather, it was a matter of concern for MoM’s safety after he started alienating his fellow Quraysh with his ornery pronouncements.  (Unsurprisingly, Abd al-Uzza is condemned in Surah 111 of the Koran–where he is referred to by the epithet, “Abu Lahab”.)

And so it went: When, in 622, both MoM’s wife AND foster father passed, the aspiring prophet found himself without the two people who most cared about his well-being.  Without either Khadijah or Talib to stick up for him anymore, MoM was deprived of vital social assets; and was newly vulnerable…and socially isolated.

The aspiring prophet had clearly over-estimated the social capital he’d garnered via his savvy mercantile dealings.  Consequently, he ended up writing checks he couldn’t cash.  However, while his audacity backfired in Mecca, that same audacity would play in his favor in Yathrib (as we shall see).

The bottom line: The first decade of MoM’s ministry (613-622; pre-Hijra), Mecca was not primed for a Messianic figure.  Politically-speaking, it was not in need of a strong-man; unified as it already was.  Hence the denizens of the city–who had previously esteemed MoM for his fair dealing–largely turned against him after he started telling his tall-tales of “revelation”…and, to top it off, from a deity that they likely saw as a variation on their moon-god.  It was this unfavorable development that warranted MoM’s emigration to a Hijazi settlement to the north–a venue with a starkly different social dynamic.  Yathrib was a conglomeration of tribes–some Jewish–that also traded; but, unlike Mecca, would have been engaged in farming.

Note that, over the course of the next decade (622-632), MoM would marry at least a dozen women–some as young as 6 years old (Abu Bakr’s daughter, Aisha, whom MoM mercifully waited to start having sex with until she was 8 or 9). {14}  Hence the 4th verse of Surah65 in the Koran, which sanctions sex with pre-pubescent girls (defined in the Koran as those who have not yet menstruated).  The subsequent marriages started WITHIN DAYS of Khadijah’s passing–an eventuality that indicates that MoM’s refrain from polyandry during his first marriage had more to do with the dictates of his head-strong wife that with his own volition.  MoM learned his lesson: He would not allow his wives to have so much power ever again.  (His teachings would reflect this sentiment.)

It might be noted that, per her own testimony, on at least one occasion Aisha was physically assaulted by MoM (that is: struck hard enough to cause her significant pain and leave bruises [skin that turned green]; Muslim’s Hadith, vol. 4, no. 2127).  It should come as no surprise, then, that in the most vaunted Hadith collection, Aisha famously stated: “I have not seen any woman suffer as much as the believing women” (Bukhari’s Hadith, no. 5825).  Indeed, Aisha was known to express revulsion for her husband.  Most infamous of the passages that attest to this is her testimony in Bukhari’s Hadith (1/9/490): “The things which annul prayer were told to me.  They said, ‘Prayer is annulled by a dog, a donkey, or a woman.’  I said, ‘You have made us [women] dogs.’”  Aisha added: “I saw the prophet praying while I used to lie in my bed between him and the qibla.  Whenever I was in need of something, I would slip away; for I disliked having to face him.”

At one point, Aisha tried to flea her domineering husband.  According to the Hadith record, the aggrieved wife disappeared for several days before eventually being retrieved by a loyal servant of MoM.  Following to her insolence, Aisha’s life was only spared after extensive pleading on her part.  (She insisted to her master that she had not committed adultery during her unsanctioned absence.  Assured that he had not been dishonored, MoM refrained from killing her.)  This incident is likely what prompted the “revelation” concerning testimony about adultery (either one male or three females must witness the actual penetration–that is: witness it first hand).

So we know that on at least once, Aisha tried to run away from MoM.  (If you were a young girl who was raped by a man who was old enough to be your grandfather, who beat you whenever you were insubordinate, and who routinely had sex with other women, you’d probably try to run away too.)

By 630, MoM had at least eleven wives (he’d married at least TWELVE more times, but one had died three years earlier).  At least seven of them were young girls acquired in the course of just three years, usually from conquered tribes (as with the Jewish teen, Safiya bint Huyayy, discussed in Appendix 1 of my essay: “Debunking Three Myths”).  Such betrothals were certainly not done in the name of pluralism.  (It likely had to do with other appetites for variety.)

As luck would have it, MoM received special dispensation from god (via revelation 33:50), giving him–and only him–the right to have has many wives as he wanted (i.e. more than the four specified in 4:3).  It should be noted that this was not because god wanted him to be able to have more offspring (unless we suppose that god’s plan was completely thwarted).  For, pursuant to starting his ministry, MoM had no children that survived past a very young age.  Needless to say: This inability to procreate is an odd hindrance to have placed on someone who was supposed to be the most important person to have ever lived.  (I discuss this matter in Appendix 2 of “Debunking Three Myths”.)

The unique entitlement to a plethora of wives was a political maneuver, as acquiring wives from different (conquered) tribes was a means of diplomacy.  Such a rationalization is silly for reasons too obvious to explain.  There is no other conclusion than that this “special privilege” was about access to sex–pure and simple.  (I address this matter in my essay on special dispensations for cult leaders, and MoM’s ad hoc revelations.)  Alas, even with all these uteri at his disposal, MoM still couldn’t manage to procreate.

MoM insisted that his wives had unique obligations.  They should devote more time to praying.  They needed to remain more covered than other women.  They would not be allowed to ever be touched by another man (even after his death), that their transgressions were more grievous than those of other women–thus warranting more severe punishment.

And so it went: In 622, with minimal headway made with his ministry in Mecca (and with his first wife and uncle gone), MoM realized that he needed to employ a different strategy.  It had been almost a decade that he’d been proselytizing, and to minimal success.  It is worth reiterating: Even his foster father–with whom he was very close, and who had MoM’s best interests at heart–refused to believe MoM’s mantic claims.  So that year, the aspiring prophet opted to strike out; and try his luck in the town of Yathrib: a fortnight’s camel-ride from Mecca, through the deserts of the Hijaz.

(It is possible the journey lasted for TWO fortnights.  As the story goes, MoM and his companions made it as far as Quba, on the outskirts of Yathrib; and remained there for a fortnight in order to wait for Ali, who was delayed.  This indicates that the Yathribis were not eagerly awaiting MoM.  Rather, we might adduce that he did not want to go into the settlement until he had his closest companions with him, to make the kind of entrance he envisioned.)

With roughly 80 followers (certainly less than a hundred; i.e. all he had managed to convert in Mecca), MoM headed north in search of a more receptive audience.  It was at this juncture that there purportedly occurred the fabled “Night Journey” [“Mi’raj”]: a magical sojourn to the seven heavens (replete with negotiations with–and tutorials from–the godhead). {15}

The emigration from Mecca to Yathrib is now known as the “Hijra”, and marks YEAR ONE of the Islamic calendar. {16}

The transition to Yathrib proved to be a very shrewd decision.  For–unlike the Meccans–the denizens of Yathrib was prone to conversion to a newfangled Faith–that is: so long as it had the right inducements.  (Put more bluntly: Yathribis were ripe for exploitation by a savvy demagogue who offered what they were looking for.)  Being a largely Jewish municipality, many Yathribis were already familiar with Abrahamic monotheism–and so were open to the prospects of (charismatic) new prophet.  Not just any self-proclaimed Messianic figure; but a persuasive cynosure, ensconced in mystique, who claimed to speak on behalf of the Abrahamic deity…bringing a fresh vision for a wayward people.

The Yathribis were thus primed for a compelling narrative–that is, so long as it catered to their needs.  Violent incursions from the Byzantines in the past centuries had likely left a bad taste in their mouths with regard to Christianity; though their predilection for Abrahamic lore remained largely in tact.  So what better idea than a RE-VAMPED Abrahamic creed that had been customized to fit incipient theological preconceptions. {17}

Moreover, many Yathribis hoped to gain supremacy over Mecca, as they were most likely quite envious–perhaps even resentful–of Mecca’s preeminence in Arabian culture (if, that is, we are to assume the standard Islamic narrative about Mecca).  Therefore, a new monotheistic Faith that incorporated rights to the exalted “Kaaba” would have held significant appeal.  (It is quite possible that the origin of Mohammedism was NOT in the Hijazi location now called Mecca, but in Petra; which was to the north.  For more on this, see my essay: “Mecca And Its Cube”.)

Bear in mind: MoM grew up in Mecca (or, alternately, Petra), and regularly worshipped at the Kaaba–which included the precursor to the Mohammedan “Allah”.  (The most prominent statue was for the moon-god “Hubal”, which was the Nabataean moniker for the Canaanite deity, “Baal”; and seems to have been conflated with “Allah”.  See my essay on “The Syriac Origins Of Koranic Text”.)  So the appropriation of the coveted “cube” was likely on MoM’s agenda.

At the time of MoM’s ministry, the denizens of Saba (southern Hijaz) referred to their god-head as “El-Muqah” (alternately rendered “Al-makah”), which simply means “god the preserver”.  The Arabian godhead, “Allah” likely ALSO incorporated elements of the Sabaean god-of-mercy, Rahmaw / Rahman[an] (the Merciful), which was alternately rendered in the lingua franca of the region (Syriac) as “al-ilah” (the god)…which was itself derived from the word for “god” in Sabaean, Akkadian, and Phoenician: “El”. {18}

The strategy here was quite clever.  MoM could persuade those inclined to worship the Abrahamic deity that, well, “al-ilah” WAS that deity.  Meanwhile, he could persuade those with attachments to the pre-eminent deity of the pagan Bedouins, the moon-god (which was sometimes referred to as “al-ilah”) that this represented him as well.  Thus, in a way, all they were being asked to do was disregard the lesser pagan gods in favor of the most prominent one.  Such legerdemain was a masterstroke of casuistry which surely ingratiated MoM with his target audience.  (For more on this point, see “Syriac Source-Material For Islam’s Holy Book” as well as Appendix 3 of my essay, “Genesis Of A Holy Book”.)  For disheartened Yathribis, a novel movement that incorporated both extant (local) Hijazi traditions AND Abrahamic lore into its theology was just what the doctor ordered; especially since most were already aware of the god of the Jews.  Ergo the process of syncretism that yielded Mohammedan lore (and what would eventually become Islam).  A shrewd opportunist, MoM simply played to the crowd, as needed.

Equipped with a well-crafted Messianic message that hit all the right buttons, the task of courting the denizens of Yathrib posed little difficulty for a nascent panjandrum.  Regarding MoM’s schtick (claims of revelation from the Abrahamic deity), everything fell into place in short order.  MoM was nothing if not crafty.  He surely recognized: What better way to “fit the bill” than to offer a newfangled religion that transcended all internecine squabbles and established a common purpose?  This new theology co-opted all the elements that it needed–both pagan and Abrahamic–to sweeten the deal.

There was a festering, un-met need in Yathrib for a new zeitgeist.  The newcomer from Mecca wasted no time rising to the occasion.

In addition to ideological exigencies, there were political / logistical exigencies that worked in MoM’s favor.  Put plainly: Yathribis were in need of a strong man.  That is to say: They were desperate for someone (esp. an outsider who had no local baggage; no partialities) who could arbitrate the town’s (rather contentious) internal dealings.  

The record makes it clear that Yathribis yearned for a disinterested party to settle disputes and finally–at long last–unify the city’s eight factious tribes.  MoM fit the profile of such a “grand mediator”; so the stage was set for him to seize the reigns of power.  Sociologically, this all makes perfect sense: There was a power vacuum in need of filling; and the rogue Qurayshi merchant was primed to fill it.

Before too long, the self-proclaimed “rasul Allah” (messenger of god) proved himself savvy at arbitrating disputes amongst the town’s quibbling factions–employing skills he had cultivated in Mecca when overseeing Khadijah’s caravan business.  This is primarily how MoM managed to curry favor with so many people in that settlement.

And so it went: MoM was quick to accumulate prodigious cachet amongst quarreling parties by being the favored (municipal) power-broker.  Arbitration, it turned out, was one of his best talents (in part, because of his undeniable charisma); as he had already demonstrated in Mecca.  (Indeed, his Meccan days had afforded him ample time to refine his skills in that craft.)  As MoM became the “go to” guy for ameliorating Yathrib’s disagreements, he garnered a reputation that enabled him to unite all of the town’s tribes.  Such esteem would explain how he came to exercise so much influence in the locality within just a few years.  He was above partisanship; and so was uniquely positioned.

In sum: MoM had succeeded decisively in Yathrib in key ways he had not been able to succeed in Mecca.  This reflected more on the different climates of the two cities than on MoM himself.  Meccans did not have a pressing problem in need of solving; Yathribis did.

Naturally, once MoM managed to unite Yathrib, the town’s (highly superstitious) inhabitants were more inclined to listen to what he had to say–WHATEVER he had to say.  The aspiring prophet capitalized on such receptiveness by putting his “revelations” into overdrive.  In so doing, he offered a singular explanation for all their woes (“You’ve been subscribing to an errant theology!”)  MoM thus provided an enticing palliative for Yathrib’s tribulations: a re-vamped Abrahamic monotheism tailored to the sensibilities of Arabian pagans that would also comport with incipient Abrahamic partialities.

To reiterate: MoM’s prescription was primarily a theological one.  It was as if worshipping more than one deity were the biggest threat to human civilization; and that polytheism, above all else, was the ultimate source of all Arabians’ woes.  Such a straight-forward solution held tremendous appeal for simple-minded people seeking a “quick fix” for life’s otherwise inexplicable travails.  Just BELIEVE, and all your tribulations will vanish…and glory will be yours.

Here’s the key: MoM’s poignant ministry was the perfect way to parlay his newly-minted (lofty) reputation into political authority (a reminder that, even in the Dark Ages, celebrities would vie for political prominence).  Indeed, as he gained influence in Yathrib, MoM proved himself to be extremely crafty.  He was quick to establish ordinances to win over the city’s wealthy Jews; then promptly rescinded those ordinances once he had accrued sufficient power (and no longer needed their support).

This is a key point.  MoM changed his mind after certain decrees had served their initial purposes.  He even rescinded ACTUAL REVELATIONS (i.e. verses in the “Recitations”) after they were no longer needed in their original form.  For a discussion of the most infamous episode of such an “oops, on second thought…” reversal, note what occurred with the so-called “Satanic Verses”. {9}

Once the exigencies are understood, it should come as little surprise that MoM’s designs on the people of Yathrib were a resounding success.  The city was re-christened “Madinah-tun-Nabi” (“City of the Prophet”; later simply referred to as “Medina”), and MoM was anointed its undisputed potentate.

As is the case with any other cult activity, MoM had succeeded in bringing lots of people together (at least, those who went along with his program).  He did so at the expense of separating them from everyone else.  That is, after all, the how tribalism works.  For, while creating solidarity amongst a delimited community, it succeeds in Balkanizing mankind on a larger scale–erasing old divisions while creating new ones.  It is not so much “bringing people together” as it is re-defining the manner in which the global community is fragmented.  This is, after all, what EVERY demagogue does.

As far as his followers were concerned, the self-identified “Last Prophet” did a marvelous job bringing THEM together; only to pit them against everyone else.  (He “unified” the Arabian peninsula, which simply means he brought it all under the subjugation of one authority.  Such unification is a hallmark of imperialism; it is more a matter of re-formatting divisiveness than it is about global human solidarity.)

Eventually, MoM had a charter for the city written up; which would serve as a de facto “constitution” for the newly-minted municipality.  The document codified MoM’s official status as not only a religious leader, but also as a political leader–thereby consolidating the two stations (and, more importantly, merging the two realms).  Thus Mohammedism was an inherently political ideology, unlike most other religions (which are only OPTIONALLY theocratic).

In effect, the charter dealt with quotidian matters like trade, personal property, entitlements of citizens, civic obligations, adjudication of disputes, etc.  It thereby eradicated vigilante justice–establishing a system of local governance (for the first time: centralized, organized, and systematically enforced) to which everyone was beholden.  It was an iron-clad legal AND soteriological system–with MoM as the divinely-appointed, absolute sovereign.  The distinction between the political and theological was erased.

There is no surviving copy of this (fabled) Medinan “constitution”.  What we have now are re-creations made well over a century after MoM’s death.  So far as can be ascertained, the contents were utterly unremarkable–mostly ordinances for the day-to-day dealings of a small city.  Of two things we can be quite certain: It stripped women of their civil rights, which they’d had up until then in Arabia (see Appendix 1; as well as Appendix 2 of my essay, “Genesis Of A Holy Book”).  Recall that the “Revelations” were addressed explicitly to MEN.  Meanwhile, the new system put slavery into over-drive, something that had actually been quite rare in Arabia / Nabataea up until then (see my essays on “The Long History Of Legal Codes” and “The Universality Of Morality”).

In the earlier days, MoM’s ordinances were rather tolerant of diversity–accommodating the different tribes (rather than demanding complete conformity / submission).  One of the first things he was supposed to have done was segregate the markets: one place for the Jews; another place for his followers (per the “separate but equal” approach).  Thus local Gentiles were encouraged to conduct business only in the Mohammedan “souk”.  Of course, that conciliatory posture would soon change–and change dramatically–as MoM’s power grew.

“Let there be no two religions in Arabia,” MoM later declared.  According to Muslim’s “sahih” Hadith (no. 4366; alt. 32/75), the self-proclaimed prophet announced: “I will expel the Jews and Christians from the Arabian Peninsula and will not leave any but Muslims.”  According to Bukhari’s “sahih” Hadith (Book 8; no. 387), he announced: “I have been ordered to fight the people until they say, ‘None has the right to be worshipped but god.’  And if they say so, and pray as we pray, and face our qibla, and slay those we slay, then their blood and property shall be protected, and we will not interfere with their affairs except according to our laws.”

Suffice to say, the document was no Magna Carta.  This new political arrangement (top-down control; authority vested in a potentate claiming divine sanction; treatment of Jews, Mandaeans, Zoroastrians, and Manichaeans as subalterns) comports with Koranic passages like 3:32, 4:65/80, 5:19, 7:157, 24:63, 33:31-36, and 59:7, which present MoM as the divinely-appointed law-giver (that is: issuing edicts on behalf of the Abrahamic deity).

4:65 tells us that Islam is about completely submitting not only to the Abrahamic deity, but also to MoM’s commands (thereby arrogating absolute authority to this singular figure).  MoM’s judgement / example is the final word on all matters.  59:7 reads: “So take what the Messenger assigns to you, and refrain from what he withholds from you.”  Translation: This new cynosure calls all the shots.  Do what he says, lest you cross the Creator Of The Universe.)  It was textbook authoritarianism. {19}  

Initially, the (eventual) mandate for routine supplication (3 to 5 daily salat) was not in place.  This was a shrewd political concession (the uses for which would soon become obsolete). {20}  

This storied charter deemed the “Ummah” (community) to be synonymous with the “Ahl al-Kitab” (“People of the Book”; i.e. the community of all Abrahamic monotheists), not exclusively with Mohammedans.  To reiterate: Diplomacy was only needed in the early stages, then discarded the moment sufficient power had been consolidated.  Not coincidentally, the earliest “Recitations” were tailored to the sensibilities of MoM’s larger target audience.  For example, the new leader issued “revelations” that permitted his followers to raid Meccan caravans (22:39-40).  The city’s inhabitants were all-too-eager to oblige.  (“Legitimized piracy…exclusively for US, you say?”  Who could argue with THAT?)  Sweetening the pot with a promised “Garden of Pleasures” in “akhira” (for those who signed up for the program) was a nice added touch.  Note that the pleasures were geared to MEN: the intended audience.  (For more on this, see my essay on “A Brief History Of Heaven And Hell”.)

Meanwhile, quietly at first, MoM eliminated detractors–even if it was just people writing unflattering poetry.  This pogrom included the Jewish poet Ka’b ibn al-Ashraf (ref. Hadiths Bukhari 5/59/369 and Muslim vol. 19, no. 4436).  MoM had nothing but contempt for poets, who were the closest thing to civil rights activists at the time; and so were seen as a threat.  The Koran makes no secret of this draconian protocol vis a vis subversives (a matter I explore in part 1 of my essay: “The History Of Literature”).

There is an irony to MoM’s disdain for poets, as he was essentially just another (oral) poet HIMSELF–though, barring his winning delivery, not a very erudite one.  Rather than let his material rise or fall on its own merits, he was inclined to vanquish the competition (read: eliminate threats to his reputation as the only viable proselytizer).  His followers could then brag that nobody else could match his divinely-inspired oratory.  (It’s easy to win when you’re the only horse in the race.)  In a sense, it was not the heretical material that was MoM’s fear, it was (possibly superior, possibly compelling) competition with his own middling oration.

The stratagem was clear: If MoM’s fabulous narrative was to become a monopoly, he needed to bring it about by fiat.  His ample charisma (or, more accurately, his guile) would do the rest.  And so MoM convinced his Yathribi followers that the “revelations” he spouted were pearls of wisdom so eloquently articulated that they could not possibly have come from him.  Most likely, the literary standards at the time were quite low (as what later became Koranic text clearly attests); so such persuasion was not a Sisyphean task.  

The goal, then, was for MoM to be the only game in town; and so he made it so (with lethal force when necessary).  He was shrewd enough to strategically position himself as THE go-to guy for, well, EVERYTHING.  He became the analogue of a mafia king-pin: the undisputed lord of a burgeoning cartel.  Nothing happened without his say-so; and that’s exactly how he wanted it.

The gambit worked like a charm.  For, as it turned out, throughout much of the Hijaz, there was a hankering for a Messianic figure who would set things aright in a blighted desert landscape addled with chronic disputes.  Needless to say: When a swashbuckling, smooth-talking popinjay appeared from out of town, his pitch was fresh and new; and not easily dismissed.  It was a message of hope and validation; and promises of booty–lucre and women–for those who participated in the raids.

At the time, the Hijaz likely had its fair share of aspiring demagogues jockeying for prominence.  However, MoM seems to have boasted clout that was unmatched by other comers (at least, for the time being, in that particular region).  Like a savvy mob boss, he consolidated his power by eliminating competitors, and promising a cut of the spoils.  As with any charismatic leader, he galvanizing his target audience with soaring rhetoric, which was passed off as a message from the Creator of the Universe…directly directly AT THEM: the Ishmaelites.

MoM’s neo-Abrahamic stratagem surely resonated with disenchanted pagan Bedouins: people who likely had limited vested interest in the tediously antiquarian Arab polytheism that they’d inherited–by default–from their forebears.  Indeed, those with a less-than-marvelous lot in life may have felt forsaken by their traditional gods.  Where once the Saracens were, well, JUST Saracens (unassuming, nomadic desert-dwellers on the margins of civilization), they were now given an invitation to be proud of their Ishmaelite pedigree; and–now the focal point of the Creator of the Universe–to be at the center of the world.

As is usually the case, it was gravitas more than anything resembling objective merit that afforded MoM prodigious socio-political capital. {53}

So in a shrewd sort of theological arbitrage, MoM made use of nascent Abrahamic motifs, repackaged them, then sold it as a marvelous new-wave movement.  Like any charismatic leader, he offered a way for restive Bedouins to spruce up their lackluster lives, imbued with new meaning.  With the imprimatur of the godhead, ANYTHING GOES.  That is: “We’re doing god’s work” / “It’s god’s will” is a blank check one can cash for whatever agenda one might happen to have.  Once one is furnished with a casus belli (which can be put in the service of LITERALLY ANYTHING), there are no limits to one’s aspirations.

All the while, MoM kept his eye on the prize: Mecca.  For Mecca provided his followers with the most galvanizing of causes: a holy crusade (a phrase I use un-ironically).  More to the point, Meccans (qua non-Mohammedans) represented a common enemy; and thus an enticing prospect for glory.  (What better way to unify and mobilize a fragmented population than to posit a shared nemesis?) {21}

And so it went: In resolving some divisions (the internecine quarrels within Yathrib), MoM ended up stoking others (the grander Medinan-Meccan feud).  Strategically, via 2:136-147 (addressing “qibla”: the direction followers should pray) MoM established Mecca–instead of Jerusalem–as the NEW focal point of the Faith; castigating those who continued to bow toward Jerusalem after the change.  By inserting the pagan Kaaba into the newly appointed theology, MoM’s followers became convinced that they were ENTITLED to Mecca.  This inducement proved effective.  For it provided further rational for the Yathribis’ mounting enmity with the demonized Quraysh.  (Those pesky pagans were now desecrating hallowed ground!  They need to be stopped!)

MoM was careful to emphasize the fact that his new movement was primarily about accumulating booty (as with 4:94 and 8:1).  This added to its appeal amongst the restive denizens of the Hijaz–especially disenfranchised Bedouin searching for something glorious–and lucrative–of which to be a part.  The self-proclaimed messenger-of-god was not embarking on some grand humanitarian mission; he was accumulating myrmidons…and booty.  Those predisposed to sycophancy were easily brought into the fold.  Many of the rest–yearning for something to live for–were understandably swept up in the fervor.  The appeal of an opportunity for both glory AND a cut of the spoils was almost irresistible for poor Bedouins in desperate search of gainful employment.  Access to a steady supply of sex slaves was icing on the cake.  The Mohammedan cartel (effectively, an expanding posse of desert-pirates) soon became the best employer in the region. {54}

In 624, once he had accumulated adequate power and military might, MoM orchestrated the victorious “Battle of Badr” against a small band of Qurayshis (a victory that he cunningly attributed to the assistance of special “combat” angels).  The idea was simple: Intercept a Qurayshi merchant caravan (which was returning to Mecca from lands to the north) along one of its routine trade routes.  The plan was to ambush the merchants as they arrived at the wells located at Badr to replenish their water supply.

The point is worth emphasizing: The peaceable Meccan convoy posed no threat whatsoever to the Mohammedans, as it had actually gone out of its way to stay clear of Medina ON ITS WAY BY, heading southward, toward home.  But defense was not the point of the Mohammedan onslaught.  Glory (and plunder) was the motive.  PIRACY would be the new modus operandi.

Having caught wind of plans for a possible ambush, the Quraysh in Mecca sent a few hundred escorts to protect the caravan from attack.  (The legend embellishes this number, rendering it as much as a thousand.)  Alas, this was done to no avail, as–even with superior numbers (perhaps double the number of the Mohammedan pirates)–the caravan was unprepared for such militancy.  The Mohammedan assault prevailed, and the loot was seized. {22}

It is not for nothing that one of the longest chapters in the Koran is entitled “Spoils of War”.  The Surah was written according to the practice (plunder) on which the movement was originally based.  The raid on the (neutral) wells of Badr was the first martial conflict in the Mohammedan crusade: a harbinger of what was to follow.  Indeed, it set a decisive precedent for confrontation that would endure thereafter. {23}

Bedouins were only too happy to participate in this new cause (all in the name of the Abrahamic deity, of course) considering there was plenteous booty to be seized…including enough female captives to go around (ergo 33:50).  The incentives for men were hard to turn down: More sex during life; and more sex AFTER DEATH (that is: ON-DEMAND sex, for all eternity, with a bevy of buxom, wide-eyed, angelic virgins).  Such inducements were clearly designed for men; as MoM’s ideology was overtly patriarchal. {24}

MoM proved himself a maestro at galvanizing restive Bedouins, enticing them with the same things that had enticed men since time immemorial.  Piracy and evangelism thus took on a symbiotic relationship as his hordes burgeoned.

And so it went: The vicious raid on the merchant caravan at the wells of Badr was a rout.  Predictably, such a resounding military triumph conferred a veneer of credence on MoM’s germinating movement, dispelling any lingering doubts (regarding the movement’s viability) amongst the region’s disillusioned Bedouins.  Nothing succeeds like success. {25}  This would have been especially so amongst the existentially beleaguered denizens of the Hijaz. {26}

Everyone loves a winner; and so additional recruits–including aspiring marauders–flocked to the Mohammedan ranks.  Buoyed by these successes, emboldened by an ethos of triumphalism, and girded by an air of Providentialism, the bandwagon effect was quickly gaining momentum.

The point is worth emphasizing: A new vocation within a burgeoning force of brigands would have been extremely tempting for the common, disillusioned Bedouin.  Nothing like this had ever appeared before in Arabia.  By the time word of the triumph at Badr had spread, the movement had become more than a lucrative cartel; it had become a full-fledged cult (a cult, that is, that specialized in piracy).  The reaction seemed not to be, “Why did these men attack a peaceable merchant caravan?!”  Rather, the reaction was: “How can *I* get in on the action?!”

Another point is worth emphasizing: Prior to the later campaigns, which were primarily concerned with the conquest of land (replete with theocratic hegemony), illicit acquisition of booty was the primary focus of the fledgling movement.  For the wayward Bedouin, joining such an operation would have been VERY enticing–analogous to contemporary misfits opting to join the local mafia (or disenfranchised urban youth opting to join a city’s most powerful street-gang).  The prospects were tough to resist; for not only could they get a piece of this growing pie, they could be part of something PROVIDENTIAL. {27}

Pursuant to the successful Badr assault, MoM’s celebrity sky-rocketed amongst the non-Qurayshi sectors of the Hijaz.  Later, even when Mohammedan desert-pirates lost battles (as in the battles of Uhud and Mu’tah, or in failed attacks on the Banu Murra and Banu Layth, or in the faltering siege of Ta’if), MoM concocted “revelations” to rationalize the set-backs (e.g. 3:152).  The message was clear: Even when we FAIL, divine ordinance was at play.  No matter what happened, it was taken as confirmation of all that MoM said.

Thus, whatever occurred, MoM’s brazen pronouncements appeared to be validated; so his popularity continued to soar.  Aspiring bandits continued to rally to the movements growing ranks.

MoM was a humble, beneficent man?  The evidence paints a very different picture.  The self-proclaimed “rasul allah” was merciless.  When it came to subversives, MoM either banished them (e.g. the Jewish tribes of Qaynuqa and Nadir) or he had them massacred (e.g. the Qurayza and Uraina tribes).  The message was clear: If someone in any way disparages the cause, or stands in the way of the cause, they should be killed (see, for example, Bukhari Book 4, no. 241 and Book 56, no. 369; as well as Sunan Abu Dawood no. 4348-4349).  This precedent was in keeping with 8:12, 9:29, 33:57-61, 47:4, and 48:29 in the Koran.

The examples of this draconian protocol are legion.  I’ll mention the most notable ones here.

MoM proclaimed that seven men (including Abu Jahl, Utba ibn Rabi’a, Shaiba ibn Rabi’a, Al-Walid ibn Utba, Umaiya ibn Khalaf, and Uqba ibn Abu Muayt) should be severely punished because ONE of them (some say Abu Jahl, others say Uqba ibn Abu Muayt; and some even say it was MoM’s own despised uncle, Abu Lahab) placed camel viscera on MoM’s back while the latter was praying…as the others stood by and laughed at the prank (ref. Bukhari’s Hadith 1/4/241).  The culprit was executed for the prank.

It should go without saying that such reprisal reflects pettiness rather than beneficence.  Indeed, MoM’s petulance was legendary.  We might note the account given by his most celebrated wife, Aisha bint Abu Bakr (ref. Bukhari’s Hadith no. 6404) that MoM “only became angry when people transgressed the limits and boundaries of god.  In that case he exacted vengeance.”  No kidding.  (Says the sociopath: “I’m only violent when I feel crossed.”)

The bruises Aisha incurred from her husband’s temper attested to this plaintive observation.  The “I only punish you when you displease me” defense is the favorite of ANY abusive husband.  “He only gets VERY angry when I get out of line,” is what any battered housewife learns to say.  “But he really loves me.”  (Says the abusive husband to his cowering spouse: “I’m doing it for your own good.”) {28}

MoM’s tolerance for dissidence (read: lack of complete submission, or any disruption to his program) was virtually nil.  “Hits” were ordered even for those who merely offended him.  To reiterate: many of the targets for assassination were just POETS–that is: regular people who had the gall to simply write / recite critical things.  To name just a dozen documented cases:

  • Ka’b ibn al-Ashraf (mentioned above; beheaded–in front of MoM–for speaking out against the Mohammedan movement)
  • Asma bint Marwan (a pregnant woman assassinated while lying in bed with her children)
  • Al-Nadr ibn al-Harith (beheaded–in front of MoM–for reciting Persian folktales)
  • Abu Afak [an elderly Jewish man of the Banu Ubayda, who’s poem about MoM we still have] (slain for speaking out against MoM)
  • Jewish brothers, Sallam and Al-Rabi ibn Abu al-Huqayq of Khaybar [renown poets from the Banu al-Nadir] (both slain for speaking out against MoM in their verse) {29}
  • Abdullah ibn Ubayy ibn Salul al-Aufi (for speaking out against MoM)
  • Huwayrith ibn Nafidh [or ibn Nuqaydh] (for “insulting” MoM)
  • Sara [a freed slave of Abdul Al-Muttalib] (for “insulting” MoM)
  • Ka’b ibn Zuhayr ibn Abi Sulama of the Banu Muzaina [the circumstances of his death are disputed; as is the nature of his poetry]
  • Al-Harith ibn al-Talatil (a Meccan poet slain by MoM’s lieutenant, Ali)
  • Khalid ibn Sufyan al-Hathali of the Banu Lahyan (beheaded for speaking out against MoM)
  • The male slave of Abdullah ibn Khatal of Banu Taym [ibn Ghalib] (EVISCERATED for failing to slaughter a goat as ordered) as well as two slave-girls, Fartana and Quraybah (slain for singing satirical verses)

And on and on. {30}  Others were executed simply for refuting MoM’s claims–as with the dissident, Al-Nadr.  In his “Sirat Rasul Allah”, Ibn Ishaq relays that some marks were initially ordered executed, but then spared when they repented in desperation (e.g. Abdullah ibn Zib’ari).  Was this a sign of mercy, or a condition for remaining alive?  (I explore the effects MoM’s ministry–and the Mohammedan movement in general–had on free speech in part 1 of my essay on “The History Of Literature”.)

Bear in mind that all this is perfectly in keeping with myriad Koranic passages–notably 5:33-39, 9:61-63, 33:26/57-61, and 83:13.  If any of these people were being accused of treason (note that heresy and treason were equated), we might wonder why none of them were given a trial.  After all, treatment of so-called “subversives” defines how (un)civil a society happens to be.

(Helpful hint: It is a sign of strength when the powers-that-be tolerate both dissent and criticism.  I explore this matter in my essay: “In Defense Of Satire”.)

There were plenty more examples of people being killed for speaking out against MoM.  In Sunan Abu Dawood (vol. 2, no. 4361; then again in vol. 38, no. 4348), Abdullah ibn Abbas tells us that a blind man loyal to MoM executed his slave-girl (the mother of his child, and pregnant with a second) for disparaging MoM–prompting further accolades to the new leader.  In Bukhari 4/56/826, we hear from Abdullah ibn Masud about MoM directing his men to kill Umaiya ibn Khalaf Abi Safwan for speaking out.

Ibn Ishaq, MoM’s earliest biographer (via Ibn Hisham), tells of the execution of the female tribal chief, Umm Qirfa (of the Banu Fazara) after a raid on Wadi al-Qurra (under MoM’s lieutenant, Zaid ibn Harith).  How was Umm Qirfa executed?  In vol. 8, Al-Tabari explains that–under orders–a brigand named “Qays” tied each of her legs with a rope and tied the ropes to two camels.  The camels then split her in two.  Umm Qirfa’s young daughter was then sold into sex slavery. {31}

Suffice to say, forbearance was not MoM’s strong suit.  One can scour the volumes of ahadith in vain for an account of MoM undertaking a project in which he HELPED people–REGARDLESS OF THEIR FAITH.  No such account exists.  Amongst the massive compendium of Hadith records, one might expect to find at least a few descriptions of something resembling humanitarian outreach…or acts of magnanimity.  Yet there are none.  All that can be found is account after account after account of FIGHTING…and subjugation.

The only poets who were permitted during MoM’s ministry–and in the centuries following–were those who composed elegies / eulogies, or those who were charged with composing encomia / panegyrics (i.e. propaganda for the rulers; mostly by court poets).  That’s it.  If it was anything more than poetry for the deceased or tribute to MoM / the presiding kalifa, it was forbidden.  The early Mohammedans did not even appreciate the theretofore renown Arab poets (who were widely hailed prior to MoM’s ministry).  Indeed, the father of Arabic poetry, Imr al-Qays, was denounced as the infidels’ “leader on the road to hell.”  So much for that.

MoM personally employed his own panegyrist, and actively sought out and persecuted anyone who had the audacity to compose / disseminate poetry that dared mock him.  That is, he killed anyone who made him look bad.  In one case, not only was the writer of the offending poem (a satire) executed, the singing girl who had merely performed the poem was executed as well.

There were, of course, reasons for killing other than mere disparagement of the newly-anointed “nabi” and his burgeoning movement.  As mentioned above, MoM ordered Abdullah ibn Khatal executed for not following orders (regarding failure to perform a goat sacrifice while MoM was napping).  Transgressions that warranted execution included leaving the fold (per 3:86)–as with Al-Harith ibn Suwayd al-Ansari and Miqyas ibn Hubaba, each executed for apostasy.  In true Mohammedan fashion, they were both beheaded. {32}

If MoM had a compassionate bone in his body, it rarely showed.

Bear in mind: These accounts are all from sources that ROMANTICIZE MoM.  That is to say: The evidence on which the present bio is based was provided by those who had a staunch, vested interest in portraying MoM in as good a light as possible.  Apparently the early Muslim hagiographers thought these were all COMMENDABLE things; and so should be included in the romanticized accounts they composed.  I’m merely summarizing here what they went out of their way to advertise.

It is also well-attested that MoM ordered two men assassinated for claiming that they were (also) prophets: Musaylima[h] of Yamama and Tulayha ibn Khuwaylid ibn Nawfal of the Banu Asad.  The order was sustained even after they offered to work in alliance with MoM. {33}  At the end of his life, MoM ordered his lieutenant, Fayruz al-Daylami, to kill [Habbar] Al-Aswad al-Ansi of Najran (a.k.a. “Abhala bin Ka’b”), who had claimed himself prophet and amassed a following in Yemen.

Eliminating the competition was the name of the game.  As with most demagogues, MoM refused to share the mantle of exaltedness.  For MoM, cooperation wasn’t part of the plan; it had to be all about him, and him alone. {34}

Later, MoM had his former scribe–Abdullah ibn Sa’ad (ibn Abi Sarh)–executed for telling people that he’d caught the self-proclaimed “rasul” fabricating revelations during the dictation process.  On a few occasions, while taking dictation from MoM, he suggested alternate wording that MoM adopted.  This was suspicious insofar as MoM claimed to be channeling the exact wording of the Creator of the Universe.  Once the scribe started telling others about these episodes, he signed his own death warrant. (See my essay: “Genesis Of A Holy Book”.)

Under the new regime, heresy was a capital offense.  And making MoM look bad was the gravest heresy of all.

In addition to all this, there were many documented revenge killings ordered by MoM, per 83:13.  (For more on this, reference Ibn Ishaq’s “Sirat Rasul Allah” and various accounts throughout the “sahih” Hadith record.)  

As aspiring Hijazi bandits rallied to MoM’s cause (re-cast as “ghazi”), the “nabi” continued to ply them with a cut of the booty (“al-anfal”) from their raids (“ghazw”).  Persuading participants that they were doing everything in the cause of an all-powerful deity provided further motivation.  (The lure of banditry is all the more enticing when one is convinced it is in the service of a righteous cause.)  Within such an incentive structure, it would have been more surprising when a wayward Bedouin DIDN’T opt to sign up for the program. {35}

MoM carried out several massacres.  According the earliest biography (by Ibn Ishaq), when the (Jewish) Banu Qurayzah tribe surrendered pursuant to a Mohammedan siege of their village, MoM had all the men (apart from a handful of converts) beheaded.  Ibn Ishaq reported that as many as 900 men and boys were “brought out in batches,” ceremonially decapitated, and thrown into trenches that MoM had his men to dig for that express purpose (47:4).  Meanwhile, all the women and children were enslaved (in accordance with 4:24).  (Also reference 33:9-10/26 in the Koran; as well as Bukhari’s Hadith 4/52/68, 4/57/66, 5/59/459, and 7/62/137.)

The rational for the slaughter of almost a thousand civilians was simple: treason / heresy (the two were equated, as–either way–one was deemed an “enemy of god”.)  The rational for making sex slaves of female captives was simple: the age-old precedent of entitlement to the spoils of war (women were, after all, seen as PROPERTY) going back to the Hebrew Bible (Numbers 31:18; Deuteronomy 21:10-14, 22:28-29; Judges 21:10-14; 2 Samuel 8:2; etc.)  MoM was merely resuming what had been an ancient Abrahamic tradition.  Another verse (5:33) was eventually produced to legitimize such heinous practices (crucifixion, dismemberment, etc. for the “crime” of sacrilege).  Enslavement of captives was eventually enshrined in the Islam’s holy book.  So the conduct of the Mohammedan raiders (as “mu-jahideen”) made perfect sense when seen through the prism of god’s FINAL MESSAGE to mankind.

Meanwhile, per Bukhari’s Hadith (4/52/176-177 and 4/56/791; alt. no. 3593) and Muslim’s Hadith (vol. 41; no. 6981-6985), MoM himself had this to say about those pesky Jews: “The time [for the realization of our destiny] will not arrive until we [Muslims] prevail over the Jews; until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees–which will yell out, ‘Oh, Muslim!  There is a Jew hiding behind me.  Come and kill him!’”  (Yes, inanimate objects will help the servants of god…by TALKING.)

MoM’s enjoinder to seek out and kill “kuffar”–even if they are fleeing and hiding from you–was loud and clear.  (Even the rocks and the trees were in on the plan.)  It is–above all else–vindictiveness that drove most of MoM’s hostility toward those who did not follow him.  The evidence is conclusive on this point.  Once he had become sufficiently powerful, the self-proclaimed “nabi” was merciless against anyone who stood in his way.  Demonization of THE OTHER was standard operating procedure.

Today, the de rigueur depiction of Islam’s “nabi” as the paragon of beneficence is not only farcical, but a vulgar distortion.  Temperance and magnanimity were clearly not a part of his repertoire (pace his reticence to disturb slumbering cats).  He not only unabashedly urged his followers to militancy; he routinely exalted violence.  (To reiterate: Transgressions that warranted EXECUTION included having the audacity to sully MoM’s image; especially when done in poetry.)

This is not to say that the Quraysh were entirely innocent.  They saw a competitor (i.e. a threat), and–predictably–retaliated in kind.  So there did occur sporadic confrontations in which Mohammedans were simply defending their own turf.  But such a scenario was the exception; not the rule.

The ONLY case in which there was a major military confrontation in which the Mohammedans were in a defensive posture was the so-called “Ghazwah al-Khandaq” [“Battle of the Trench”], which wasn’t even an actual battle.  On this singular occasion, after repeatedly having their merchant caravans attacked by Mohammedan desert-pirates, the Meccans deigned to attack the Mohammedan stronghold (Medina).  Yet a trench that had been (preemptively) dug across the primary access point rendered Medina inaccessible; thereby precluding actual combat.  Unable to traverse the trench, and faced with inclement weather (a sandstorm), the Quraysh eventually gave up and departed, not a single sword unsheathed.

(If this event HAD involved combat, it would have been the only major instance of Mohammedans defending themselves in an actual battle.  As it turned out, not a single “ghazwah” occurred in which Mohammedans had to defend themselves from militant incursion.  Pursuant to the call for “jihad” [“holy war”], they were ALWAYS the aggressors.)

MoM was a gentle, kind-hearted man who regularly exercised forbearance?  The record tells a different story.  Once he had become sufficiently power, he was violent and ruthless.  Case in point: the celebrated Battle of Khaybar (628) was a massacre of Jews (the Banu Nadir).  Pursuant to that battle, MoM raped–then forcibly married–the young daughter of the (slaughtered) tribe’s chief, Huyayy ibn Akhtab: the 17-year old Safiya.  Her husband, Kenana ibn al-Rabi, who was the tribe’s treasurer, was also tortured and executed (see Appendix 2).  Pursuant to that particular massacre, a revelation (4:20) was promptly produced to establish MoM’s personal rights to the spoils.  Mohammedan raiders’ right to enslave / marry all female captives quickly became a matter of policy.

Recall that MoM insisted that ANYTHING and EVERYTHING he commanded was merely a decree channeled from the Abrahamic deity.  Ergo to obey MoM was simply to heed the will of god (and to disobey HIM was to thwart god’s will).  He essentially fashioned himself the Abrahamic deity’s proconsul on Earth.  He was the sole spokesperson for the Creator of the Universe, and so should NEVER be questioned.  (The refrain is familiar to anyone familiar with cult-leaders: “To question ME is to question GOD.”)  4:65 goes so far as to designate the self-proclaimed prophet as the ultimate arbiter in all matters.  This particular verse demands submission TO MoM HIMSELF.  This treatment of MoM as ultimate authority is corroborated by other Koranic passages (notably: 3:32, 4:80, 5:19, 7:157, 24:63, 33:31-36, and 59:7). {36}  And so it went that MoM was effectively seen as deity by proxy–if not explicitly, then implicitly.  Such is the nature of divinely-appointed mouthpieces. {37}

Regarding MoM’s teachings / example, this begs the question: If such instructions were so crucial, then why were they not included in the Koran itself?  There is a prophet who is–on the one hand–delivering the verbatim transcript of the Abrahamic deity (the “Recitations”); and–on the other hand–providing important guidance that is needed as a kind of SUPPLEMENT TO said transcript.  What’s going on here?  It seems that some things were deemed Koranic whilst other things were not; yet ALL of it is purportedly integral to the final message (and thus to the “Sunnah”).

Here’s the problem: The criteria for any given edict being articulated in one way as opposed to the other way turns out to be entirely arbitrary.  Each time MoM issued a decree, one would have had to have asked of the statement: “Ok.  But wait.  Is that a direct quote from god (and thus to be deemed part of the Koran) or is that just you teaching us (and thus to be considered part of the Sunnah)?”  If it’s all coming directly from god, what purpose would such a distinction serve? {38}

To recapitulate: On several occasions, an opportune revelation was suddenly produced that ended up being extremely beneficial for MoM PERSONALLY.  Most notable was one that enabled him to acquire the attractive wife of his adopted son, Zayd (by nullifying the status of adopted sons as legitimate sons). {39}

In 628, MoM tried to return to Mecca–ostensively, for the purpose of a pilgrimage to the “Kaaba”: a time-honored pagan tradition.  Predictably, he encountered resistance from the Quraysh.  Consequently, he was forced to stop short of the city and negotiate.

The result of the negotiations was the so-called “Treaty of Hudaibiya” (named after the town from which MoM conducted the negotiations).  The gist of the agreement was that the Mohammedans would be required to stop attacking Meccan caravans.  Once MoM satisfied that request, he was notified, his followers would be allowed to visit the Kaaba–unarmed, strictly as pilgrims–the following year.  This is an illustration that the Meccan’s primary bone to pick with MoM was his PIRACY.

MoM acquiesced to this year-long “probation” period; but would not be dissuaded from his larger agenda. {40}

To save face, MoM promptly produced a new “revelation” in which god pronounced the compromise a victory–thereby placating his frustrated followers.  In the end, assenting to the Hudaibiya treaty proved to be extremely shrewd on MoM’s part.  Once again, he demonstrated that he had an uncanny knack for picking his battles prudently (to wit: only when he was confident that he would win).  MoM may well have been the most savvy opportunist in world history.  He knew when to bide his time and when to act.

The next year (629), MoM used his sanctioned visit to Mecca to astounding aplomb.  It was not just the first pilgrimage (though not yet considered an official “Hajj”, since the Kaaba was still polytheistic); it was also a prime opportunity–a second chance–to garner support from WITHIN Mecca.  As it so happened, the sovereignty of the Quraysh in the city was on the wane by 629 (and may even have actually been waning for a few years by that point). {41}  The timing for this could not have been any better from MoM’s point of view.  Circumstance was playing right into his hands.

This highly-monitored visit turned out to be a resoundingly successful PR campaign for the Mohammedans.  Taking a temporary reprieve from their militancy, they behaved themselves.  This proved to be an extremely wise move.

Following the well-received Mohammedan pilgrimage of 629, the (resentful) Quraysh promptly shot themselves in the foot.  They did this by conducting an unprovoked attack on one of MoM’s allies.  This gambit proved to be a PR disaster for the Quraysh; and all but sealed their fate.  For, juxtaposed against the recent (and very publicly visible) peaceable Mohammedan pilgrimage to Mecca, the ill-advised assault made the Quraysh look mean-spirited–as if only THEY were the aggressors (and the Mohammedans the innocent victims).

The timing of this fatal mis-step could not have worked more in MoM’s favor.  He had refashioned his movement’s image (for the time being) as quasi-conciliatory; while the Qurayshi impresarios stigmatized themselves as bad-faith actors.

In 630, MoM went back to Mecca to seize it.  By this time, he had mobilized an army of over 10,000 men; so he posed a formidable threat to any possible resistance.  Unsurprisingly, the Mecca’s inhabitants capitulated quickly, thereby minimizing casualties.  For by then, the Quraysh (who were merchants above all else, not warriors) knew that resistance would have been utterly futile–nay: suicide.  They were–after all–primarily merchants; whereas the Mohammedans highly-practiced fighters.

It didn’t hurt that MoM also bribed the most influential tribal sheiks with camels and silver–an enticement to get them to go along with the new order.  Predictably, this worked.  For the sheiks did not really care one way or the other about theology; they were businessmen who coveted lucre.  MoM bought off anyone who may have had the power to intercede.  The entire campaign was a master-stroke.

Another leitmotif was recycled from antecedent Abrahamic lore at this point in the story.  Just as JoN is said to have ridden into Jerusalem on an ass, so too MoM was said to have ridden into Mecca on an ass.  In both cases, the exalted figure makes a triumphal–yet unassuming–entrance.  As it turns out, the leitmotif had been recycled by the authors of the Gospels as well.  In the Hebrew Bible, we encounter the use of an ass for the exultant–if not grand–entrance of the long-awaited ruler of Zion: triumphant yet humble (Zechariah 9:9 and 14:1-5).  The problem is that, while the “riding in on a donkey” shtick makes sense in the Gospels (as it is consummate with JoN’s mild-mannered nature; and is in keeping with his moral message), it is entirely incongruous with the character of MoM.  Needless to say, one does not show up with a legion of 10,000 warriors…only to awkwardly saunter into town on a donkey.

Use of this trite leitmotif in the Mohammedan legend was likely a post-hoc narrative emendation–a tid-bit of flattering apocrypha inserted so as to illustrate MoM’s (purported) good will.  Be that as it may, even the most effusive accolades about MoM don’t pretend that he was humble.

The fact that MoM abstained from carrying out what would have been a completely gratuitous massacre in Mecca is often cited by apologists as evidence (nay, conclusive proof) that MoM represented the quintessence of magnanimity.  This interpretation overlooks the fact that it was the MECCANS’ decision not to fight, not the Mohammedans’.  Had the Meccans opted to resist, then the Mohammedans were prepared to spill all the blood they needed to accomplish their mission.  The lack of bloodshed, then, is attributable more to the Meccans’ prompt surrender than to any design on MoM’s part to not hurt anyone.  I discuss this matter at length in my essay: “Debunking Three Myths”.

Moreover, such an interpretation conveniently omits the fact that there were at least six (pre-planned) targeted assassinations (of figures who were “causing mischief”) upon his seizure of the city.  This included two slave girls (“Fartana” and “Quraybah”).  Why kill slave girls?  For–you guessed it–reciting subversive poetry (satirical songs).  So much for magnanimity.  The girls’ crime was exercising free speech in a manner of which MoM did not approve.

It is safe to say that MoM was likely the most easily-offended demagogue in recorded history–a precedent that many Muslims follow to this day.  (It is no coincidence that MoM’s thin skin is reflected in the glaring insecurity of the protagonist of his magnum opus.) 

Pursuant to overtaking the city, those MoM had assassinated (in addition to those already listed) included Abd al-Uza ibn Akhtal (referenced in verse 68:4 of the Koran), Ikrimah ibn Abu al-Hakam, and Al-Huwayrith ibn Naketh ibn Wahab.  There were surely untold others critical of the Mohammedan movement who met the same fate.  (Already mentioned, the scribe who defected, Abdullah ibn Sa’ad ibn Abi Sarh, was the most famous case.) {42}

As it turns out, the self-proclaimed “nabi” was strikingly consistent in setting a precedent–one that did not even remotely resemble diplomacy.  It was a precedent that was diametrically opposed to the decorous “example” that Islamic apologists often tout.  Pace the panoply of saccharine anecdotes proliferating throughout Dar al-Islam, I have been unable to find EVEN ONE counterfactual to MoM’s stark pattern of truculence.  At no point did magnanimity characterize his modus operandi.  He was very easily angered, and ruthless in his response to interlopers.

It was immediately after Mecca was overtaken that MoM issued the notorious Koranic passage: 9:28-29.  Among other things, this rendered Mecca off-limits to non-Muslims forevermore.  (So much for pluralism.)  It also clarified the plight of mankind: a battle between Muslims and “mu-shrikun” (polytheists–a category that included Christians due to the doctrine of the Trinity).  Henceforth, all plights would be couched strictly in those Manichaean terms.

The Ummah was now ONLY professed followers of MoM.  No more were other “People of the Book” accorded equal esteem.  The utility for inclusiveness had run its course.

Thereafter, the violence resumed…to an ever-higher degree.

With his legions of “ghazi” (raiders) galvanized, MoM proceeded with an reinvigorated offensive across the deserts of Arabia–out of the Hijaz (eastern Arabia) and through the Nejd (central Arabia).  With his bolstered forces, he soon chalked up major military victories against the Hawazin and Thaqif tribes (in the Battle of Hunayn; c. 630), thereby completing his conquest of Arabia.

Rather than fight (and risk slaughter), some tribes simply surrendered (e.g. the “Banu Udhrah”), acceding to demands to convert, submit, or die.  Such a decision does not attest to the credence of Mohammedan theological declarations; it attests to the movement’s mounting domination at the time.  (For another example of the “convert, submit, or die” ultimatum, see: South American natives vis a vis Spanish Conquistadors…who, after all, were only “helping” the indigenous population by bringing god’s word to them.)

At this point, the wider geo-political exigencies came into play.  Regarding the Middle East, the time was ripe for a strong-man to come to power.  The two warring empires that skirted Arabia (the Sassanians on the eastern flank and the Romans on the western flank) were severely beleaguered; and had consequently lost control of their outer fringes. {43}  The faltering Byzantines had been enervated by FOUR CENTURIES of extremely costly, relentless conflict with the Persians, which had been especially debilitating during the 6th century; and reached a fever pitch by the early 7th century. {44}  Even worse, in the mid-6th century, the Eastern Roman empire had been afflicted with a massive black plague (which may have killed up to half of its population–eviscerating not only the military but the economy as well).

As Ian Morris put it: “The great Persian-Byzantine wars convulsed this Arabian periphery; and when the empires fell apart, Arabian strongmen battled over the ruins.  In western Arabia [i.e. the Hijaz], Mecca [read: the Quraysh] and Medina [read: the Yathribis] fought through the 620’s over trade routes–their war-bands fanning out across the [Najd] desert to find allies and ambush each other’s caravans.  Old imperial frontiers meant little in this game; and by the time Medina’s leader [MoM] took over Mecca c. 630, his raiders were already fighting in Palestine.” {45}  It also didn’t help the Sassanians that their great Emperor, Khosrow II, was assassinated in 628.

The aforementioned Koranic passage (9:28-29) explains why MoM sent an armed force under his fiercest general Khalid ibn al-Walid, to subdue the peaceable Banu Jazima [alt. “Jadhimah”].  It also explains the unprovoked invasion of Adummatu (a.k.a. “D[o]uma[t] al-Jundal”) in 626; ostensibly to subdue the population.  The modus operandi was crystal clear in almost all cases: hegemony.  The more attacks that succeeded, the more news spread of MoM’s triumphant movement, the more his ambition was bolstered.

Are we to suppose that MoM’s incursion into eastern Arabia was carried out “in defense” of his movement in the Hijaz?  The Hawazin and Thaqif tribes (to the east) had no designs on invading either Medina or Mecca.  Nor were the Ghassanids from the Byzantine-held Levant (to the northwest).  The same goes for the Syrian town of “D[o]uma[t] al-Jundal”, which was over 800 kilometers away from Medina, and clearly posed no threat.  Yet the Mohammedans sacked these places nevertheless.

Such distant locals were not disrupting MoM’s rule in the Hijaz; yet he was hell-bent on attacking all of them anyway.  Just glancing at a map reveals that hegemony, not protection, was the motivation for these invasions…unless, that is, we imagine Medinans magically incurred “persecution” from peaceable tribes located many hundreds of kilometers away, across barren desert.

In the aforementioned Battle of Hunayn, over 6,000 women and children were taken captive and raped (after the tribe’s men where slaughtered) thereby prompting the notorious verse, 4:24 (designating captive women as a form of booty). {46}  Such baleful conduct is, of course, perfectly in keeping with 2:191-193, 4:74/89-91, 5:33, 8:12/67, 9:5/29/73/111, 17:16, 33:61, 47:3-4/35, 48:29, and 66:9 (as well as no. 177 and 256 in vol. 52 of Bukhari’s Hadith).  Suffice to say: the spreading of good will was not part of MoM’s agenda.

Towering compassion?  The propagation of bonhomie?  Not for a moment did the Mohammedan movement exhibit these traits.  The Battle of Autas (also c. 630) was a decimation of non-Muslims in which many women and children were taken captive and raped (in accordance with 4:24), as recounted in Sunan Abu Dawood (21/50).  A pattern is hard not to notice.  Only by whitewashing such major events can MoM be characterized as anything less than a militant megalomaniac. {47}

In his last days, MoM set his sights on the Levant, attacking the Ghassanids (unprovoked) in what was called the “Battle of Mu’tah”.  Here MoM bit off more than he could chew, as that attack ended in a humiliating defeat.  (As it happened, the Ghassanids had the Byzantine Empire behind them.)

The last campaign of the Mohammedan rampage–while MoM was still alive–was the Battle of Tabouk.  There, the Mohammedan raiders engaged in a completely unprovoked attack on a garrison of Byzantines at the northern edge of Arabia, to little avail.

Suffice to say, there is no avuncular sage to be found anywhere in the earliest records of MoM’s life.  Indeed, it is difficult to imagine how MoM could have been any more belligerent.  His tenure as “god’s messenger” demonstrates with glaring clarity that he was driven far more by avarice than by, say, good will toward all mankind.  Yet the way the more unscrupulous Islamic apologists prattle on, whenever it comes to peaceable movements, Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. had nothing on this “Last Prophet”.  So far as they see it, MoM never took the life of a person that didn’t have it coming.  (“They deserved to die, so I didn’t do anything wrong” said every sociopath ever.)

In 632, with Arabia conquered, and untold thousands of civilians slaughtered and enslaved, MoM made his only “hajj” to Mecca.  It was then that he delivered a speech on Mount Arafat that would retroactively be labeled his “Farewell Sermon” (as, at the time, he had no idea he was about to be murdered).

In that last sermon, he tacitly admonished the audience to not take race into consideration when spreading Islam.  Clearly, he did not want his followers to discriminate based on skin-color during the assimilation process–as doing so would have entailed foregoing potential converts.  This was not a denunciation of racism; it was an evangelical strategy (see Appendix 4).

MoM clearly harbored biases against black-skinned Africans (raisin heads, as he called them).  He personally kept dozens of black slaves–including men named Nabtal ibn Al-Harith, Anjasha, and Mid’am.  According to Ibn Ishaq’s biography, MoM claimed that Satan resembled Nabtal ibn Al-Harith: a sturdy black man with inflamed eyes; dark, ruddy cheeks; and long, scraggly hair.  In chapter 66 of Sunan as-Sughra (a.k.a. “Sunan an-Nasai”) entitled “Selling Animals For Animals Of Different Amounts Or Quality”, we are told that MoM bought an Arab slave for two “zanj” (black slaves).  This not only meant that black slaves were considered animals (usable as currency), it meant that they were worth less than farer-skinned slaves.

The lesson of the anecdote is even more disturbing. It shows that MoM would not accept pledges of devotion from slaves.  In this case, MoM accepted the man’s pledge, yet didn’t realize he was a slave until later on. So MoM vowed to never accept the Shahadah until first asking if it came from a slave.

MoM’s audience being men (the teachings were not addressed to women), he also included (in the “Farewell Sermon”) the comment that you [men] can physically reprimand your wives for getting out of line; and that women are powerless captives in your households.

Just a few months later, while in Khaybar, he was poisoned by an aggrieved woman, suffered in agony for a few days, and died.

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5

CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 - 2010-2019 - masonscott.org
Developed by Malagueta/Br
Note to readers: Those reading these long-form essays will be much better-off using a larger screen (not a hand-held device) for displaying the text. Due to the length of most pieces on our site, a lap-top, desk-top, or large tablet is strongly recommended.


Download as PDF