Monday, February 06, 2006

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:

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.
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.

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.


At 7:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You write: "Basically, as I see it, Muhammad incited and approved the murder of a nursing mother because she had insulted him in a poem."

This is certainly not merciful. But you also take pains to place the murder in the context of the culture. You say that this was not merely a poem, but a sincere attempt at inciting the murder of Muhammad. As such, it was a direct challenge to Muhammad's power and Islam's legitimacy. Without endorsing her murder, I think you would agree that her action amounted to more than insulting the Prophet in a poem.

At 8:40 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

True, and I anticipated that someone would note that. Packed into the term "insulted" is its implicit meaning in a shame-and-honor culture.

But there might have been other ways to deal with the insult and the implicit threat. Muhammad didn't turn to other ways because he was set on obtaining power and already had blood on his hands.

The problem for us today is that Muhammad is still seen as both an exemplar for Muslims and as a taboo object. Thus the Islamist threat and threats.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I am not mistaken this is also the same leader of the 'Religion of Peace' that negotiated a peace treaty with a large group of Jews and then, when they were en route back home, massacred them on the road.

At 2:27 AM, Blogger mal said...

wow...thanks for the enlightment and the references

At 3:39 AM, Blogger mal said...

just spent some time perusing Muslims blog. Interesting that he does not invite comments

At 4:03 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Gabe, thanks for visiting again. I don't recall that specific story. Do you have a source for it?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:12 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Mallory, thanks for visiting. You must be one of Jessica's friends.

I hadn't noticed that "Muslim" doesn't allow comments, but he doesn't seem especially committed to blogging anyway.

He seems to be going around leaving similar messages on various blogs. For instance, see his comment at A Deeper Look.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This site has quite a number of specific atrocities. The slaughter at Khaybar, I believe, is the one that I'm thinking of.

At 1:10 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

HJH, I may have identified Nasr bin al-Hareth, the unfortunate beheadee in that miniature.

From R.V.C Bodley, The Messenger: The Life of Mohammed (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday and Co., 1946), pp. 190-191:

* * *
During the fight at Ohod one of Mohammed's men, Al Harith by name, had taken advantage of the general confusion of the battle to settle a blood feud by killing one of his own side. This was noticed and reported to Mohammed. Mohammed took no immediate action, but when everything was quiet again he rode over to Kuba, where Al Harith lived. Al Harith came unsuspectingly to pay his respects to his general. Mohammed quickly accused him of murder. When Al Harith confessed, he had him as quickly beheaded.

In the midst of all the staggering things which were happening, this may seem a trivial matter. But it was important. A real leader must be just, he must be impartial, he must be strong. Mohammed had few enough followers and needed every able-bodied man desperately. Nevertheless he could not afford to let any of them think they could make their own laws merely because they happened to belong to the elect of Islam.

All generals who have been great have followed this principle. Hannibal, Julius Caedar, Napoleon, Wellington made examples of officers and men who committed the smallest breaches of discipline in time of war. The same standard was maintained throughout the Moslems' victorious campaigns. It was a great deal due to this that they were successful.

* * *

I can't guarantee that I've located the right story or the correct al-Harith. The Encyclopedia of Islam covered several al-Hariths, but apparently not this one, unless he's known by another name, and translated Islamic texts about the life of Muhammad. I didn't have a ton of time at the library today, but I hope this is a useful start.

At 2:44 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Jeff. That certainly seems to fit. I'll look into it myself when I get more time.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:59 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

Whoops--sorry, didn't complete a sentence: I meant to say that translated texts about the life of Muhammad that had various al-Hariths in their indices came up empty too.

At 5:29 AM, Blogger Saur♥Kraut said...

thanks for another great - and informative - post.

At 6:01 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Saur, you're welcome.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:24 AM, Blogger masoom_najiyah said...

first of all jeff you dont know anything about Islam and the Prohet Muhammad(pbuh), if you did you would know that Muhammad (pbuh) suffered torturing from Jews and non-Muslims but when they came to seek for forgivness without any questioning he forgave them all. Muhammad (pbuh) gave women the biggest fredom of all the chance to live, in many countries 1500yrs ago family used to kill babys if they were girls cause they were to expensive with weddings ect, but Muhammad(pbuh) stopped that. now you tell me any thing that can compare that! err you cant. Islam mean peace. and that is the message that all our Prophets from Adam (pbuh) to Muhammad(pbuh) spread! oh and FYI Muslims ARENT BEHIND 9/11 all the facts pointing to president bush. you want a Muslim to argue with you got one! ill put all your facts straight!cause at the moment your dont have a clue!

At 7:39 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Masoom Najiyah, I doubt if "Jeff" will see your comment since this isn't his blog, and several months have passed since he left his comment.

But if you do intend to engage anyone in dialogue on this blog, then keep your comments to the topic at hand and avoid ad hominem.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:45 AM, Blogger masoom_najiyah said...

i really dnt care if its seven years that have past! this is your blog horace 'jeff' so ill put you straight on your facts!

At 7:57 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

In that case, Masoom Najiyah, you don't mean "Jeff." You mean me, "Jeffery."

Since you mean me, then my answer is no, I'm not looking for a Muslim to argue with. Discussion, yes; argument, no.

If you have some fact to correct in my post, then please do explain what is incorrect, and then, suggest how to correct it.

I am sure that there is a lot that I don't know, and I am always willing to learn. I do know, however, that the word "Islam" does not mean "peace." It literally means "submission."

At any rate, whatever corrections you post must be stated with courtesy. Please avoid ad hominem.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:59 AM, Blogger masoom_najiyah said...

didnt think you would have anything to say Horace, because you've never been challaged by a Muslim before.

At 8:07 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I've spoken with Muslims before and had courteous discussions despite disagreements.

As I said, I'm willing to discuss, but I have no interest in an argument.

By the way, I go by "Jeffery."

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 8:14 AM, Blogger masoom_najiyah said...

ok Jeffery seeing as you do not want an arguement i shall not give you one but i will always stand up for my religion. Islam does mean peace- through submission of Allah. Islam dose not promote vilonce unless defending Islam! you wrote '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.'
how do you no. you as a non-Muslim will choose to listen and learn from those who are anit-Islam. i dont no were you got your stories from cause if your got them from the right place you would realise what the Prophet(pbuh) was all about!
what Religion are you then

At 8:40 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

The stories of Asmā bint Marwān and Abu 'Afak are recorded in Sirat Rasoul Allah, by ibn Ishaq.

I don't know Arabic, so I've had to read these stories in translation. Thus, I've relied on Maxime Rodinson, Muhammad (New York: Pantheon Books, 1971), 158–159.

Translations can be problematic, I agree, so if you know a better translation of the Asmā bint Marwān story, I'd be happy to look at it.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:56 AM, Blogger masoom_najiyah said...

why such interest in one story? the story you read was true Prophet (pbuh) did have her killed, read what she said "I despise Banu Malik and al-Nabit
and Auf and Banu al-Khazraj.
You obey a stranger who is none of yours,
One not of Murad or Madhhij. {1}
Do you expect good from him after the killing of your chiefs
Like a hungry man waiting for a cook's broth?
Is there no man of pride who would attack him by
And cut off the hopes of those who expect aught from him?"
she blamed Islam and hated the followers.
like i said before vilonce can only be used to defend Islam.

At 4:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Whoops! You just proved Jeffery's point. She made fun of Muhammad so he had her killed.

May the peace of Christ be upon you. I hope that one day you may come to know the true love of God and not be fooled my the earthly ambitions of such a vindictive man.

At 6:03 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

That was the unintended irony in Masoom Najiyah's comment, wasn't it. I figured that people would see it, as you did.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:30 AM, Blogger Jay Kactuz said...

I was just doing a periodic search for "Asma bint Marwan" on GOogle and this site came. It is an old post but about a very relevant subject (Islamic tolerance). It is a good site and I will add it to my list.

I collect Asma Marwan excuses. I have found over 20 different stories on Muslim sites. It is pathetic and sad at the same time. A women is murdered and all Muslims can do is make silly, vile excuses.

Here is the page:

You will notice that even the best excuses that Muslims have do not stand up to simple research. I guess they think that nobody cares or will check their sources.

You people take care and watch events. The future will not be nice and folks like Masoon here don't understand basic human rights and values. According to Muslims like him, all that MOhammad did was good and anything that says otherwise is misunderstood or a lie, and PBUH and you are going to be sorry if you don't shut up.

Bad times are coming.


At 5:44 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

John aka Kactuz, thanks for the comment. This is an old post, but even old posts occasionally get comments.

Yes, I fear that bad times are coming, with a lot of conflicts ahead. Although many moderate Muslims do exist, the Islamists seem to have the upper hand in the intra-Islamic debates.

Thanks again for the comment.

Jeffery Hodges

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