Speaking of Muhammad's Image...
Yesterday, I posted a message from "Muslim" along with my response. In his message, "Muslim" suggested this:
Moreover, why not write about our prophet peace be upon him from true sources? if you really learn about this Prophet, you will see what a mercy he was to mankind.I replied:
I have read enough of the life of Muhammad to persuade me that "merciful" is not the adjective to choose for describing many of his actions.I didn't, however, elaborate ... but since "Muslim" did request that I write about Muhammad from "true sources," I'll provide an Islamic story from the Prophet Muhammad's time in Medina, when he was just on the tipping point of grasping power.
Because I'm lazy, and short on time, I'll just copy and paste a passage from a presentation that I gave at Hanshin University in South Korea on the first anniversary of September 11. My talk (available here but more easily read cached) was titled "Striving to Understand 9/11: Religious Dimensions of the Attack," and I attempted to understand how Islamists might turn to Islamic traditions to justify their attacks upon 'infidels':
Doubtless, [in this time of grasping power,] Muhammad would have felt his movement threatened by those he perceived as enemies, and his reported treatment of the Banu Quraizah [-- a Jewish tribe whose mature males were beheaded, its women and children enslaved --] demonstrates an apparent willingness to deal ruthlessly with such enemies. We see this as well in traditional reports of his seeming acquiescence in violence against his critics when his power in Medina was beginning to grow. After an elderly Medinan man named Abu Afak had been killed by a Muslim because he had written poetry that satirized Mohammad, a female poet named Asma' Bint Marwan wrote an angry, even shocking poem to criticize some of the clans and tribes of Medina for following Muhammad:My source was Maxime Rodinson, Muhammad (New York: Pantheon Books, 1971), 158–159. Rodinson is quoting from Ibn Hisham, Sira, Das Leben Muhammeds, edited by F. Wüstenfeld (Göttingen, 1859/60), 995 (see: Rodinson, Muhammad, 318, n. 2; 321, n. 6). Ibn Hisham was a student of the Muslim historian Ibn Is'haq, who died about 768. Ibn Hisham published his teacher's biography of Muhammad, which became a classic among Muslim histories (Rodinson, Muhammad, 336). For the specific footnotes to my passage, go to Hanshin website linked to above.
F**ked men of Malik and of Nabit
And of 'Awf, f**ked men of Khazraj:
You obey a stranger who does not belong among you ....
Do you, when your own chiefs have been murdered, put your hope in him
Like men greedy for meal soup when it is cooking?
Is there no man of honour who will take advantage of an unguarded moment
And cut off [Mohammad]?
Let us clearly and frankly note that Asma' Bint Marwan fully intended her words to incite someone to kill Muhammad, and in the shame-and-honor culture whose values Muhammad and his enemies shared, poetry could be a powerful medium of both praise and insult. Bint Marwan's words had heaped shame upon Muslims and raised a mortal threat against Muhammad that would be difficult for him to leave unanswered.
For his part, Muhammad would appear to have taken that threat seriously. Rodinson, again drawing upon Muslim sources, describes what is reported to have occurred:
[Muhammad] said aloud: "Will no one rid me of this daughter of Marwan?" There was a man present who belonged to ... [her] clan. His name was 'Umayr bin 'Adi .... That very evening, he went to ... [her] house. She was sleeping with her children about her. The youngest, still at the breast, lay asleep in her arms. He drove his sword through her, and in the morning he went to Muhammad.
"Messenger of Allah," he said, "I have killed her!" "You have done a service to Allah and his Messenger, 'Umayr," was the reply. Then 'Umayr asked: "Shall I have to bear any penalty on her account, O Messenger of Allah?" He answered: ["Two goats won’t butt their heads about her."] . . . Then 'Umayr returned to his own clan which was in a great uproar that day on account of the daughter of Marwan. She had five sons. 'Umayr said: "Banu Khatma! I killed the daughter of Marwan. Decide what is to be done with me, but do not keep me waiting."
No one moved. The [Muslim] chronicler continues:
That was the day when Islam first showed its power over the Banu Khatma. 'Umayr had been the first among them to become a Muslim. On the day the daughter of Marwan was killed, the men of the Banu Khatma were converted because of what they saw of the power of Islam.
The move had succeeded. . . . [This a]ssassination . . . is listed by [Muslim] chroniclers among Muhammad's [military] "expeditions."
If this Muslim chronicle is accurate, then Muhammad would seem to have (correctly) understood Asma' bint Marwan's words as a threat to his life and mission, and the fact that the earliest Muslim sources report this and other assassinations that were traditionally considered to have been approved by Muhammad suggests that they shared this assessment of the threat.
I've attempted to put this story into a context that makes sense of it in terms of Muhammad's shame-and-honor culture, but I don't extend my approval. Basically, as I see it, Muhammad incited and approved the murder of a nursing mother because she had insulted him in a poem.
From reading stories such as this one from early Islam, I replied to "Muslim" in yesterday's blog entry "that 'merciful' is not the adjective to choose for describing many of ... [Muhammad's] actions."
Incidentally, the image in the upper right (from here), whose illustrator was more careful about portraying the Prophet, is also available on the Muhammed Image Archive, which says:
This is a miniature from Siyer-i Nebi, ... [a] Turkish religious biography of Mohammed completed in 1388 and later lavishly illustrated with 814 miniatures under the reign of Ottoman ruler Murad III, being completed in 1595. Many of the miniatures depict Mohammed, and this particular one shows Ali bin Abu Taleb beheading Nasr bin al-Hareth in the presence of Mohammed and his companions.Ali bin Abu Taleb was the cousin (some sources say uncle) and son-in-law of Muhammad and the fourth Caliph of early Islam, but I don't know of the unfortunate Nasr bin al-Hareth. If anyone could identify him, I would appreciate it.