About Mohammed II: Debunking Three Myths

February 4, 2021 Category: Religion

The Mohammedan Seizure of Mecca: A Case of “Nolo Contendere”

A common myth is that the Mohammedan seizure of Mecca c. 630 illustrated the peaceful nature of the movement; which explains why the event involved few casualties.  

The almost-bloodless conquest of Mecca is often touted by MoM-fetishists as evidence that their hero was magnanimous.  Such a rosy characterization couldn’t be further from the truth.  Let’s look at what the record says.

As we saw in the previous section, the Quraysh had never actually been cruel to MoM in his pre-Hijra days; they simply rejected his evangelism.  Though chided for his grandiose claims, he was never persecuted.  Though mocked, he was never punished.  So there was no pressing need to exact vengeance upon the Quraysh once he had the upper hand.

The only grudge MoM may have harbored would have been the Meccans’ reluctance years earlier to entertain his proclamations.  Yet he surely would have also recognized the USE the city’s sheiks would have been to him were they to be coopted.

The virtual bloodless-ness of the Mohammedan army’s seizure of the city reflected the fact that there was little resistance.  To repeat: There WOULD HAVE been much blood had the Meccans resisted.  Therefore it was the MECCANS’ decision to make the encounter a bloodless one; not some pre-established (magnanimous) plan on the part of MoM.  The warlord of the arriving army was undoubtedly prepared to do whatever he had to do.  He didn’t bring 10,000 armed warriors with him to hand out olive branches.

When a bully’s adversary throws in the towel without putting up a fight, this does not attest to the magnanimity of the bully.

The picture was not ENTIRELY rosy when it came to the Mohammedans’ seizure of Mecca.  Indeed, the “displease me and you’re dead” protocol remained in full effect.  Bukhari’s Hadith stipulates that, after he had taken over Mecca and asserted his authority, those who mocked MoM were summarily killed (ref. 1/4/241).

A comparison is in order here.  Fast-forward 1,308 years.  During the “Anschluss”, the Nazis incursion into Austria was ALSO bloodless.  But there was a reason for that; and it certainly had nothing to do with magnanimity on the part of the Wehrmacht.  To conclude from the non-violent nature of the Nazi seizure of Austria that Nazism was a non-violent movement is, of course, bonkers.

The parallels are instructive.  We might start with a newly-powerful charismatic leader returning to his birthplace (from which he’d been alienated) in order to subjugate it.  The difference is that Austrians were already primed for adoption of the arriving ideology simply because Austria–Hitler’s home country–was every bit as fascist as was Germany at the time.  Indeed, part of what enabled the Third Reich to make incursions in Austria with almost no resistance is that there were many in Austria already sympathetic to the cause.  (Who’s to say that Mecca did not already have residents–partial to monotheism–who were sympathetic to the Mohammedan cause?)

The LACK of bloodshed in the Mohammedan takeover of Mecca can no more be attributed to magnanimity than the bloodless seizure of Austria during the “Anschluss” can be attributed to magnanimity on the part of the Nazis.  The salient factor is the recognition–on the part of the domestic population–of the futility of putting up a fight against massively superior forces.  The decision was made on the part of the less powerful party to minimize–or completely avoid–civilian casualties.

The scenario boils down to what is called in legal jargon, “nolo contendere” [no contest]; which has little to do with whether or not the weaker party is copacetic with the stronger party’s prosecution.  Even as the former capitulates to the demands of the latter, it is not a matter of concordance–as though all were simpatico.  Rather, it is a matter of acceding to those in a more privileged position, as resistance would be in vain.  The phrase effectively intimates: “I don’t agree with you, but I will go along with you; as I have surmised that challenging you would be futile; and only cause more arm before my inevitable surrender.”  The decision is born of practicality, not of endorsement.

The “Anschluss” is a well-known example of bloodless take-over.  However, one can find analogues in Islamic history as well.

Just nine years later (in 639; after MoM had died), the Egyptian city of Alexandria ALSO surrendered to the Mohammedans without a fight.  This was not because the denizens of the city were eager to be ruled by Arabian invaders…let alone to convert to Islam. {7}  When the Mohammedan forces arrived at the city gates, the situation was promptly deemed “nolo contendere”.  The city’s rulers acted accordingly (probably to save their own hides).  To take their surrender-without-a-fight as a sign of diffidence (an indication that they found Mohammedanism APPEALING) is to completely misread the event.

As it happened, similar occurrences happened again in Mecca…on NUMEROUS occasions:

  • In 1803, hostile Wahhabis (under military commander, Saud ibn Abd al-Aziz) seized Mecca from Ottoman vassals with minimal–if any–violence.
  • The same was the case a decade later when military commander Tusun “Pasha” seized the city BACK on behalf of the Ottomans.
  • It then happened AGAIN when the Wahhabis retook the city five years after THAT.  

No bloodshed.  No bloodshed.  No bloodshed.  In fact, there has NEVER been a violent battle at Mecca when a change-of-hands occurred. (!)  Ignominiously, throughout history, the worst assaults on Meccans have never come from non-Muslims.  (Notable, casualties have been incurred come from from pilgrims trampling each other and from cholera outbreaks during the Hajj.)

There were several other instances of the phenomenon. In 1516, after the Ottoman Turks had decisively defeated the Mamluks at Marj Dabiq, Ottoman Sultan Selim “the Grim” seized both Aleppo and Damascus without any resistance from the Mamluk rulers of either city.  This was not because the Mamluks welcomed the Ottoman Turks with open arms; it was because they found themselves in a “nolo contendere” situation.  They simply pleaded “no contest”…pragmatically yet begrudgingly.  In 1832, Aleppo and Damascus ONCE AGAIN capitulated without a fight, this time to Egyptian military commander, Ibrahim “Pasha”.

“Nolo contendere” is a real thing.  When Napoleon seized Cairo in 1798, there was almost no resistance from the Mamluks.  Surrender happened after a 45-minute shock-and-awe display (by the French infantry) made the reality of the situation quite clear to the indigenous population.  There was nothing bizarre about this.  Here are five more examples:

  • The take-over of England by Prince William of Orange in 1688 (whereby Protestants overthrew a Catholic regime).
  • The “Harakah at-Tashihiyah” [Corrective Movement] led by general Hafez al-Assad overtook Syria in 1970 (whereby authoritarian forces engaged in a coup d’etat).
  • The Carnation Revolution in Portugal in 1974 (whereby democratic forces overthrew an authoritarian regime).
  • The Velvet Revolutions in Bohemia–as well as its counterpart in Bulgaria–in 1989 (whereby democratic forces usurped Soviet control)
  • The Russian take-over of the Crimea in 2014 (whereby Vladimir Putin used the military to seize the peninsula from the Ukraine).

History offers many notable examples of (almost) bloodless take-overs.  In none of the cases above were the conquered seeking to be bosom-buddies with the conquerers.

Sometimes coups are non-violent.  Rarely does this attest to the moral integrity of those doing the overthrowing.

The parallels here pertain to the logistics of the incursion; not to the ideology of the conquerers.  Indeed, transitions of power can occur irrespective of what, exactly, is being imposed.

Such acquiescence has zero correlation with the legitimacy of the arriving force.  It may be the case irrespective of the credence of that which is being imposed, or of the moral status of the prosecution.  In such cases, the indigenous population’s acquiescence is a calculated decision to not risk the dire consequences of refusing to “go along”.  Acceding to the demands of the superior force is pragmatic, not a show of endorsement.

In taking over Mecca, MoM naturally preferred that civilians convert–that is: rather than be eradicated.  After all, his goal was to increase his movement’s numbers.  He would have been cutting off his nose to spite his face had he carried out an extermination in that particular city.  Indeed, doing so would have been completely gratuitous; and possibly deprived the movement of vital resources.  Surely MoM recognized this.

Even in their beleaguered state, the Quraysh were numerous and had been very influential throughout Arabia for quite some time; so bringing them into the fold would only serve to amplify MoM’s burgeoning power.  Wiping them out would have been very, very bad PR; and a missed opportunity.  ANY savvy opportunist would have acted just as MoM did.

Good PR was as much a concern for MoM as brute conquest.  Indeed, once word spread that even the Quraysh were now “on board”, MoM’s laurels would have seemed–to many Arabians–to be unimpeachable: a clear sign of divine favor.  Surely, MoM understood this fact, as would have any astute conquerer. {8}

The significance of this development cannot be overstated.  Not slaughtering the population of an entire city–arguably, the KEY city in the entire campaign–was not an act of mercy; it was a political strategy; and a very shrewd one at that.  MoM’s treatment of Mecca was perfectly in keeping with one of the most infamous verses in the Koran: 9:29.  This verse sheds light on the nature of the Meccan seizure as well as much of the subsequent activity.  “Demand submission.  If they submit, then let them be.” {9}

To reiterate: The lack of resistance was more a grudging resignation than it was an eager embrace.  Confusing capitulation with approbation is an elementary mistake, as anyone can tell you who has lived in a police State.  Indeed, submission is not always volitional; it is often just a matter of GIVING UP (as anyone who has tapped out in a Brasilian jiu-jitsu bout can attest).

Another key factor was the financial interests of the Meccan merchants.  Under the circumstances, the city’s wealthiest business-owners would have been incentivized to go along with the new leadership if they saw–in the transition–an opportunity for financial gain.  The Hadith recounts that MoM bribed the city’s more influential tribal sheiks with camels, silver, and other wares.  In many ways, falling in line with a hegemonic regime–the modus operandi of which was plunder of anyone outside the dominion–would have seemed rather enticing for those who FELL WITHIN the dominion.  The ultimatum was simple: Either be “on board” with the plunders; or be the plundered.  The choice was obvious.  “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” is the rationalization of any business owner who succumbs to a mafia or cartel.  The most prudent option is to “get with the program”, and become part of the protection racket.

This brings to mind a passage from Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation and Empire”, where an astute observer said of an unstoppable hegemonic conquerer (the “Mule”, who’d just overtaken the galaxy’s trade federation…without anyone having put up much of a fight): “The Mule has been politic enough to promise to safeguard the property and profits of the great Merchant Traders; and they have gone over to him.  It is apparently an insurmountable temptation to give up endangered political power if that will maintain your hold over economic affairs.”  As is well-known even today, business trumps rectitude–as per the most elementary Machiavellian schemes.  Mecca’s tribal sheiks surely cared far more about lucre than they did about the details of theology; so it would have been a cinch to buy them off. {10}

And as for those who displeased the new demagogue…well, THEY were executed.  (So much for a bloodless coup.)  This is attested in the most vaunted (“sahih”) Hadith (those of Bukhari and of Muslim); as well as in the “sunan” Hadith of Abu Dawood.  It is also attested in the earliest biography (“sirah”) of MoM: that of Ibn Ishaq.  How many people did MoM order to be executed?  At least ten: six men and four women:

  • Habbar ibn al-Aswad al-Ansi (murdered after he fled to Yemen)
  • Abdullah ibn Sa’d ibn Abi Sarh (MoM’s former scribe, decapitated for apostasy)
  • Miqyas ibn Sababah [alt. Hubaba] al-Laythi (a polytheist accused of killing the man who murdered his brother)
  • Huwayrith ibn Nuqaydh Wahb Qusayy (killed by Ali–at MoM’s instruction–for his irreverence)
  • Abd Abbah ibn Hilal ibn Khatal al-Adrami
  • Ikrimah ibn Abi Jahl
  • Hind bint Utbah
  • Sarah {11}
  • Fartana bint al-Zibra and Qurayba (slave girls of Abdullah ibn Khatal of the Banu Taym, who was also killed) {12}

We find corroboration of this in Ibn Sa’d’s “Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir”.  The most likely explanation for this was not blood-lust, but savvy PR.  For while MoM opted not to slaughter the townspeople, he saw the utility of making an example out of certain individuals.  Thus: “I’ll let you live; but if you should ever cross me, THIS shall be your fate.”  Suffice to say: Forbearance was hardly the over-riding principle.

But how can this be reconciled with Islamic theology?  48:24 offers a simple answer: It was GOD (of course) who stayed the Meccans’ hand against the Mohammedans, and thus the Mohammedans’ hand against the Meccans.  Translation: “You didn’t need to slaughter them because I caused them to not resist.”  It then adds that this was only after [god] gave YOU the upper hand [enabling you to triumph].”  Thus what occurred is explained in Providential terms.

If MoM’s refrain from slaughtering the Meccans had been an act of beneficence, there surely would have been some sort of pronouncement expressing as much in the Hadith record.  No such pronouncement exists.

The lesson here is relatively straight-forward: Due to the overwhelming power wielded by MoM by c. 630, the vast majority of Meccans agreed to submit–thereby averting a grimmer fate.  The purported “restraint” on MoM’s part was not a matter of him being beneficent; it was a matter of him being pragmatic.  Had the Meccan leaders opted to resist, the seizure of the city would have surely been a very bloody affair.

In sum: To suppose the bloodlessness of the Mohammedans’ seizure of Mecca was a mark of magnanimity is a grave misreading of history.

MoM’s Ignominious Death:

It is widely believed that MoM’s death must have been as divinely ordained as the events of his life.  Yet is involved about as much Providence as anything he did or said while he was alive: none whatsoever.  He was, after all, the victim of an eminently worldly affliction: toxin.

The woman who murdered the prophet of Islam was a Jewess named Zaynab bint al-Harith–who’s husband and father MoM had recently had executed.  It was during a visit to Khaybar that she poisoned him with lamb. {13}

Oddly, the Abrahamic deity did not see fit to warn MoM of the toxic mutton served to him by his new slave-girl.  Moreover, it did not occur to MoM to be suspicious of being given food by a woman who’s family he had just killed.  Did she covertly finagle her way into the position of food-server…or had MoM carelessly assigned her the role?  Lord only knows.  Either way, a fatal misstep was made by the self-proclaimed prophet. {14}

Interestingly: In the Koran, 3:144 stipulates “IF [MoM] should die, or be killed…” as opposed to “WHEN MoM dies…” or “After MoM is dead…”  This is intriguing phrasing…if, that is, we were to assume that the “Recitations” are timeless, and composed by an omniscient source.  For this verse was written as a contingency; and was clearly intended explicitly for a contemporaneous audience.  Did the Koran’s protagonist not know that MoM would be killed?  Evidently.

As it turns out, god works in mysterious ways–including allowing his last prophet to be assassinated at the peak of his supremacy.

There has been much revisionism, mostly to elide the ignominious nature of MoM’s passing.  Take, for example, his so-called “Farewell Speech”: a sermon he purportedly gave in Mecca just before his unexpected death.  At the time, nobody–including MoM himself–could have possibly known that he would soon thereafter be fatally poisoned by a Jewish woman, who was avenging her family’s death.

The primary sources for the account of MoM’s murder are the two most vaunted (“sahih”) Hadith: Bukhari (no. 2617 and 4428) and Muslim (no. 5430).  Also see the “sunan” hagiography of Abu Dawood of Sistan c. 888 (vol. 45; no. 4498 and no. 4512-13), where it TWICE stipulates that MoM perished due to poisoned mutton…which “cut off his aorta.”  The account was corroborated by Al-Tabari in his hagiography.

The fact that such highly-esteemed sources admit that this is what happened is rather remarkable–considering how embarrassing it was (and still is).  It seems not to have occurred to these writers that the account would serve as evidence against virtually everything else they wrote about…or, at the very least, seriously undermined the credence of MoM’s putative status (namely: that he was chosen and protected by god).

It seems not to have occurred to the Creator of the Universe to warn his last “rasul” of the impending danger.  This means that not only didn’t MoM see his death coming when it did; the Creator of the Universe didn’t see it coming either. (!)

MoM’s humiliating death is incongruent with the proposition that MoM was the appointed messenger of the Abrahamic deity–commissioned to deliver the Final Revelation to mankind.  For if that were the case, we can only presume that god would have sought to protect him from a resentful Jewess.

And what of MoM’s failure to arrange for a clear plan of succession?  He seems not to have gotten around to this crucial task; which means he was not expecting to die quite so soon.  While receiving all these importune communiques from god, he was never notified that he needed to attend to this pressing matter.  This dereliction led to “fitna” within Dar al-Islam that endures to the present day.

But wait.  It gets worse. 10:26 promises that ignominy will not befall true Muslims.  Considering the nature of MoM’s death (not to mention how grueling it was), it seems that either this promise was broken or MoM was not a true Muslim.  If we take 10:26 seriously, those are the only two alternatives.

Surely, such an unflattering account would not have survived for so long in the “isnad” (chain of narration; via a series of approved amanuenses) and deemed to be “mutawatir” (trustworthy) had it been seen as fallacious.  And there would have been no incentive to confabulate such an humiliating bit of apocrypha.  So, per the principle of “embarrassment”, it’s probably true.

But here’s where it gets REALLY interesting.  In virtually every account, as he died, MoM described himself as suffering from a “cut-off aorta [alt. life-artery]”.  This is a peculiar choice of wording; as it just so happens to fulfill an omen stated in the Koran.  In 69:44-46, it is proclaimed that if MoM were a “false prophet”, god would “cut off his aorta.”  In other words, MoM died in exactly the manner Islam’s holy book said he would die if he was a false prophet.

What, exactly, does the relevant verse say?  A false prophet would perish via “la-qata’a-naa min-hu al-wateena” (by having his aorta cut off).  That this foreboding prophecy is stipulated in a book that is unimpeachable creates quite the theological pickle for Islamic apologists.

Sure enough, in Bukhari’s Hadith (5/59/713; no. 4428), Aisha reported: “In his ailment by which he died, the prophet used to say, ‘O Aisha! I still feel the pain caused by the food I ate at Khaybar.  And at this time I feel as if my aorta has been cut off from that poison.” {15}  Essentially, if we are to take him seriously, MoM HIMSELF conceded that he was fraudulent (by implication); and did so on his own death-bed.

The fact that this phrasing was left in both the Hadith account AND the Koran is rather odd considering it is so incriminating.  It seems that those who compiled the Hadith accounts (esp. those based on an “isnad” which qualified as “mutawatir”) and those who compiled the Koran failed to connect the dots on this matter.

Thus Mohammedan lore sets up its starring character for a strikingly ironic demise: Dying in precisely the manner that he himself predicted he would die if we was a fraud.  (The irony of being outwitted by a Jewish woman speaks for itself.)

It might be noted that the toxic mutton also killed MoM’s companion, Bashir ibn al-Bara ibn Murar “al-Ansar[i]” [the Helper], who was present at the same meal.  The record of that fatality bolsters the plausibility of the overall account.

Shortly after consuming the deadly meat, MoM realized what had happened.  When asked why she had done it, Zaynab plaintively responded: “If you are really the prophet of god, then you will not die.” {16}  MoM agreed.

They were both right.

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