I.I. = Ibn Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, page numbers listed according to A. Guillaume's translation as The Life of Muhammad, Oxford University Press, Third impression 1970.
Q = Qur'an, surah and verse listed
Hadith and Tafsir references are listed longhand
- Mohammed orders the assassination of Asma, daughter of Marwan, who was then killed in her house at night. Mohammed praises her killer. (I.I. pp. 675-676)
- After some of the Aus tribe had assassinated Ka`b on Mohammed's orders, the rival Khazraj tribe wanted to have equal claim of service to Islam and so named Sallam in the Khaybar as another enemy of God. Asking and obtaining Mohammed's permission to assassinate him, they killed him in his bed at night. (I.I. pp. 482-483)
- Mohammed orders the execution of two slave girls who had sung satirical songs about him1 (I.I. p. 551)
- Mohammed orders the execution of a man who had said (before Mohammed's rise to military power) that the Qur'an was full of fables of the ancients (I.I. pp. 136, 162-163, 360)
- Mohammed claims beautiful girls from among the conquered women as his own property (I.I. p, 466, p. 490, pp. 516-517)
- Mohammed's male followers lust after their female captives but wonder if using them would diminish the ransom; they take their proposed solution (coitus interruptus) to Mohammed. Mohammed comments on how God's will for a conception affects the effectiveness of contraception.2 Sahih Muslim collection of hadiths: Book 8 #3371, which is in chapter 22
- Mohammed establishes the principle that captured women do not have the right to refuse sexual relations to their Muslim captors and it is legally and morally permissible to use them as the conquerors please (Q. 4:24, see also I.I. pp. 516-517)
- Mohammed is poisoned by a woman he had enslaved after having her husband, father and uncle killed; noted as a contributing cause to his death (I.I. p. 516)
- Mohammed's profits from the ransom of hostages taken by the Muslims (I.I. p. 309, pp. 311-314))
- Mohammed's profits from plunder in raids and conquests (I.I. p. 321, p. 360, p. 438, p.466)
- Mohammed orders his followers to burn down a hospital/shelter. Although the people who instituted the hospital/shelter had invited Mohammed to pray there, they were considered schismatic. (I.I. p. 609)
- Mohammed is defeated in battle and is himself injured3 (I.I. p. 380)
- Mohammed vows by God to bring slaughter on the Meccans (I.I. p. 131)
- Mohammed, attracted to his adopted son's wife, his attraction is known. This led to his adopted son divorcing his wife so that Mohammed could marry her.4 (Q. 33:36-37, and the Tafsir Al-Jalalayn's comments on Q. 33:36 and 33:37; I have also seen Zamakshari's comments on Q. 33:37 cited but have not been obtained access to Zamakshari in English)
- Mohammed orders the massacre of all men of a particular Jewish tribe, and the enslavement of their women and children (I.I. pp. 465-466)
- Mohammed's night journey to heaven and his wife Aesha's comment that he remained physically in place all night, that it was not a literal physical journey (I.I. pp. 183-184)
- Mohammed orders the execution of someone who had formerly been his scribe but had left Islam (I.I. p. 550)
- Mohammed and the so-called "Satanic verses"5 (I.I. pp. 165-167, see also notes there)
- Mohammed's plans for the conquest of Syria (I.I. p. 652)
- Mohammed's instructions to his followers regarding the conquest of Egypt (I.I. p. 4)
Is This Fair to Mohammed?
It is a fitting and pressing question whether these examples are a just representation of Mohammed's life. But before even attempting an answer, the question has an assumption that deserves notice: it assumes that the examples above include many examples of wrongdoing, things that are morally repugnant. Already we have a problem. According to Islam, none of the examples above include any wrongdoing by Mohammed or anything morally repugnant; they are holy examples that, under the right circumstances, can and should be repeated. I have written before that our "cultural diversity" has so far amounted to hoping that everyone is alike, and has not yet come to grips with the fact that different people have different ideas of right and wrong.
So again, is this fair to Mohammed? While I seek to make people aware of some very deep-seated differences between Christianity and Islam, the examples above are inevitably those which show the differences. Here are other examples that could have been chosen:
- Mohammed abolishes the practice of female infanticide
- Mohammed turns Arabian tribes from worship of rocks, stones, and idols
- Mohammed insists on chastity amongst his unmarried followers
- Mohammed insists on faithfulness within marriage
- Mohammed unites warring Arab tribes under one banner and one brotherhood with a common culture, a common cause, and a common goal
- Some sections of Mohammed's Qur'an are considered poetic masterpieces in Arabic
- Mohammed's system of laws bring first "rule of law" to even the most savage of the Arab tribes
- Mohammed prohibits the prostitution of female slaves
- Mohammed gives Arabia something it had scarcely had before: pride
I will also mention that a just assessment of Mohammed cannot have me, or you, or some other bit player as the final arbiter. I would submit that for Christians, the answer is to turn to Jesus' teachings and apply them here as best we can, as should be our practice in all things. If someone accepts Jesus as the word of God, then Mohammed must seem no prophet at all; Jesus' actions and teachings call many of Mohammed's actions and teachings evil, and Jesus' teachings on love of God, neighbor, and even enemies show Mohammed for a false prophet, as Jesus prophesied would come after him. After Jesus' powerful miracles to heal the sick and raise the dead, and even return to life himself, Mohammed's career of raiding and plunder cannot seem holy.
For Muslims, they allege that they accept Jesus as a prophet, and if it is so then they should check Mohammed's teachings against Jesus and see whether it is possible that Mohammed is really a prophet. Many things which Muslims have been taught about Christianity are not true; following Christ would never lead someone to be a polytheist.
Haven't Christians Done Wrong Things?
Anyone who is paying attention can tell you that Christians have done wrong things, so that should hardly be a question. It is, at best, a reminder: we have at times turned aside from following Christ and have been false to our religion.
But many use the argument that Christians have done bad things in order to silence Christians about the evil coming from Islam. But being silent about evil would be betraying our faith again. Our faults should teach us compassion for the evildoer, and humility about ourselves, and an appreciation of the deceitfulness of sin -- but it should never teach us to turn a blind eye to sin.
The objection that Christians have done wrong things too is also sometimes meant as something like this: if morality is a game of moral one-upmanship, then you've already lost. Well, bless you if that is your thought, Jesus has taken care of that for me. But just entertain this thought for a moment: what if morality has other purposes besides our nauseating games of moral one-upmanship? What if morality is for protecting the innocent and strengthening the good? What if morality is really about what is right and good? It may be true that if morality is a game of one-upmanship then we may as well stop now; but if morality is defending the good from attacks against it, then we ought to put aside our convenient moral confusion and get started.
Some things that Jesus said come to mind at a time like this:
He who is without sin cast the first stone.
In the account of the adultress, would the right response be, "I am sinful therefore I cannot execute you" or "I am sinful therefore I cannot say adultery is wrong"? We cannot refuse to call wrong "wrong" and evil "evil".
First remove the log from your own eye, then you can remove the speck from your brother's eye.
We should always check ourselves first, and re-check ourselves again. But that does not mean that we are not allowed to notice anything besides ourselves. One benfit of straightening out our own house, so to speak, is that we are in a better position to help other people. Taking the log out of our eye first does not nullify our obligation to help others, it just makes us more credible and more helpful.
Do not judge, lest you be judged, for with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.
Though it may not be a precise fit to the circumstances, we are inevitably reminded of this verse and ought to give it fair consideration even if the context is not a perfect fit. We Christians do not have a problem criticizing our own past when it contains unholy things; I do not see why we cannot condemn the same thing in other people which we condemn in ourselves. We are not asking for a double-standard, one for ourselves and one for someone else. We are not asking that the world ignore the wrong that has been done in the name of Christianity. It is on that basis that we can plainly condemn the wrong done in the name of Christianity that we can also, without hypocrisy, ask that the world plainly condemn the wrong that has been done in the name if Islam.
When viewing atrocities or objectionable histories on the Christian and Muslim record books throughout time, there is a difference that we are at risk of missing: whether those things are considered to be right or wrong, native to the religion or alien to it. Mohammed himself was the one who brought violence to Islam, and as the founder he cannot correctly be accused of hijacking the religion; it would have to be someone else's in order for him to hijack it. If someone were to argue that, on the Christian side, the worst evildoers ever to disgrace God's message by distorting it for their own purposes are no different than Mohammed, that may be logically valid but it is not an impressive defense of Mohammed.
The solution, in Muslim minds, is to use their favored tool (warfare) and conquer the Christians. But military conquest is not the purpose for which Jesus sent out his followers. Jesus sent us to teach repentance and forgiveness in his name, and to keep to all that he taught and make all nations his disciples. The solution, to a Christian, is to bring the Muslims to a true knowledge of God, and of right and wrong, so that they can see the evil which is being called good in Islam, have the log taken out of their eye, repent and believe the truth -- and know the love of God, who calls out to them as their Father. The solution is for us to become evangelists again, and complete the Great Commission.
1 - There is a distinction to be made between assassinations and executions. Since Mohammed had seized control of the city at this point and become the de facto government, it seems more reasonable to reckon these among the executions than among the assassinations.
2 - By modern standards this would count as rape, though under Islamic law it does not count as rape because captured women and female slaves do not have the legal right of refusal.
3 - By Jewish/Christian standards, this would imply that Mohammed was not a prophet because the real prophets knew whether or not God was on their side and would not go up against an enemy when God was not with them. Mohammed explained this in terms of God's testing.
4 - Interestingly, his adopted son Zayd had been one of Mohammed's slaves. While Mohammed kept slaves up to the day of his death, he had freed Zayd and adopted him as a son. By Christian standards, of course, desiring another man's wife is sinful, needing repentance.
5 - The "Satanic verses" are not about the Rushdie book of the same name. It dates back to a much-disputed event in the life of Mohammed. According to the earliest records, a short part of the Qur'an was "revealed" but was quickly replaced. The replaced verses had permitted limited idolatry to continue. It was alleged that Satan had dictated that part and Mohammed had not realized that his source of revelation for those veses was Satan. This episode of the Satanic verses is removed from later manuscripts of the biographies of Mohammed, though the early textual evidence supports its authenticity and there are other early witnesses to this.