In this article, I will investigate the question of whether Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, was an assassin. Many critics of Islam have called Prophet Muhammad an assassin, but Muslims and defenders of Islam have firmly rejected that accusation interpreting the stories of Muhammad’s assassinations in a way that suits their position. In this reexamination of the accusation of Muhammad being an assassin, I will rely mostly on Hadith narrations. As there are Muslims who rejects hadiths, I will devote a section in this article to examine the question: Can Hadiths be trusted? And the article will end with a substantive conclusion.
Can Hadiths be trusted?
It is true that there are Hadiths that cannot be trusted. There are methods of analysis that the Hadith reader can use for examining the reliability of a Hadith. One such method of assessment relies on analyzing certain elements in the hadith’s subject matter that will lead to a decision about the authenticity of that Hadith. It is probably best to give an example. This article, Slanders regarding Holy-Prophets, uses the following hadith from the “Tabaqat” of Ibn Sa’d to defend Muhammad against the charge of raping Safiyya:
When Safiya came to the Holy Prophet (pbuh), he said to her; ‘Among the Jews your father did not stop in his enmity towards me until Allah destroyed him.’ She said: ‘O Allah’s Messenger! Indeed Allah says in His book, ‘No one will take anyone else’s burden’. So the Holy Prophet (PBUH) said to her: ‘Make your choice, if you will chose Islam I’ll select you for myself and if you chose Judaism, I’ll set you free and send you to your people.’ She said; ‘O Allah’s Messenger indeed I longed for Islam and testified for you even before you gave me this invitation when I came to you. I have no guardian among the Jews, neither father nor brother and I prefer Islam over disbelief. Allah and His Messenger are dear to me then freedom and to return to my people.” (Ibn Saad 8/123)
For assessing whether or not this hadith is authentic, one has to do a critical analysis of its elements. Here we have Muhammad who had just invaded Khayber and was the victor. He killed a lot of the adult men including Safiyya’s husband on the very same day (even had killed her father on the Qurayza massacre day). She had just seen the dead-body of her husband lying in dirt among the corpses of many other men of her family and tribe. With that understanding of the hadith’s background, let us analyze its subject matter:
- Safiyya was Jewish. And the Quran was not yet in the book form, but only in fragments kept in the custody of Muhammad and his followers. So, Safiyya or any other non-Muslims have very little idea about the Qur’an at the time. Is it realistic to see her saying “Oh Allah’s Messenger! Indeed Allah says in his book,’ No one will take anyone else’s burden”. The question is how did she know the Qur’an? And her being a Jewish, does she consider Muhammad a Messenger of God? The answer is a definite “No”.
- In this Hadith, Muhammad gives her a choice between Islam and Judaism. Muhammad is even generous to give her the freedom to go join her people. Well, Muhammad took over all of the Khayber forts. There are no people that she could go back to.
- Muhammad tells Safiyya that he will choose her for himself if she accepts Islam. We know from other hadiths that this was not the case. Muhammad had chosen her as his own slave and she had to serve him sex anyway. She was a very pretty young woman and this is why he desired her. So, we know that her accepting Islam was not an issue for him. He just wanted her for sex, plain and simple. Plus, Muhammad had just killed her husband. Is it realistic to expect a woman desiring to marry you or have sex with you if you had just killed her husband?
- Safiya tells Muhammad that she had “longed for Islam”. Now, let us think for a minute here. Muhammad killed her father in Medina. He beheaded her father on the day of Qurayze along with about 700 or 800 men. So, Safiyya ended up being exiled from Medina and went to Khayber. She marries one of the young leaders of the Jews of Khayber. Now, while being a newly wed bride, Muhammad comes and attacks Khayber and takes over all of the Jewish properties there. My question now is: would such actions by Muhammad and the Muslims make safioyya “long for Islam”? Off course not. If anything, Muhammad destroyed this young lady’s world and life.
It is clear then that certain important elements in this hadith are not trustworthy. Therefore, this Hadith is not authentic in its entirety. When it was compiled a few hundred years after the actual event, the narrator probably added elements in it from his personal moral judgment and social ethics of the time so as to hold Muhammad’s moral integrity in good esteem.
Another matter I would like to mention here is that if a similar story is mentioned in multiplicity of Hadiths, then this gives more weight to the authenticity of such hadiths. For example, there is a large number of hadiths narrating the story that Muhammad married Ayesha when she was six years old, and had sex with her when she became nine. Such a large number of hadiths render credence to the story’s authenticity.
Why do some Muslims reject Hadith? Hadiths contain many embarrassing stories about Muhammad and the Sahaba. In the past, such stories were not easily accessible to most people. With the widespread availability of internet access globally, such stories are today accessible to most people. Translations of the Hadiths in large number of languages also highly expand their access to people across the globe. Many of the embarrassing stories about Muhammad and the Sahaba in Hadiths have recently been pointed out or even condemned by many critics in recent years. And many conscientious Muslims, who until now had no access to those stories or never bothered to study them, naturally feel uncomfortable about those stories. And they see those stories in the so-called Sahih (authentic) Hadith books that have been revered by the Ummah for many centuries ever since their compilation. So, if they are to defend Islam, they only can do so by completely rejecting the Hadiths from the body of Islam, and stick to the Qur’an alone. But the problem is: Islam becomes inoperable without the hadith. Hadiths are Islam’s “How to” manual. Details for performing the Hajj ritual, prayer rituals, etc. are all found in the Hadith, not in the Qur’an. Muslims will know almost nothing about their prophet without the hadith. Shari’a law and its applications rely on the Hadith as much as on the Qur’an. Even certain Sharia laws are exclusively based on the Hadith, for instance the stoning of adulterers punishment, which is not found in the Quran. The stoning verse was lost, but Shari’a law relies on it even though it is not in the Qur’an, but in Hadith. The question of if Muslims can reject Hadith intrigued me and I wrote to Dr. Ali Sina asking him: “What would you say to a Muslim who rejects Hadith?” Dr. Sina wrote in his answer to me:
There can be no Islam without hadith. Unlike the Bible that is a self-standing book, the Quran cannot be understood without commentaries, which are based on hadith. Without hadith Muslims would not even know who is their prophet and where did he come from. They are just self-deceiving. Their prayer, fasting, the rituals of hajj and all other aspects of their religion that are considered pillars of their faith can only be found in the hadith. (Personal email correspondence, Feb. 2014)
So, the sum of it is that a Muslim cannot reject completely hadith. However, as I showed earlier, a critical analysis of a certain hadith may render it completely or certain elements of it unauthentic and untrustworthy.
It goes without saying that Muhammad is morally responsible for any assassinations he ordered. The fact that he did not commit the crime with his own hands does not give him a clean slate. Even if the assassination is ordered by the Qur’an, Muhammad still bears the final moral responsibility if he is the one who initiated it. I will discuss some of Muhammad’s assassinations here. I claim no comprehensive effort regarding Muhammad’s assassinations.
Ka’b Bin al-Ashraf
In Sahih al-Bukhari we find many hadiths telling the same story. Here are some of them:
a. Narrated Jabir bin 'Abdullah: Allah's Apostle said, "Who would kill Ka'b bin Al-ashraf as he has harmed Allah and His Apostle ?" Muhammad bin Maslama (got up and) said, "I will kill him." So, Muhammad bin Maslama went to Ka'b and said, "I want a loan of one or two Wasqs of food grains." Ka'b said, "Mortgage your women to me." Muhammad bin Maslama said, "How can we mortgage our women, and you are the most handsome among the Arabs?" He said, "Then mortgage your sons to me." Muhammad said, "How can we mortgage our sons, as the people will abuse them for being mortgaged for one or two Wasqs of food grains? It is shameful for us. But we will mortgage our arms to you." So, Muhammad bin Maslama promised him that he would come to him next time. They (Muhammad bin Maslama and his companions came to him as promised and murdered him. Then they went to the Prophet and told him about it. (Book #45, Hadith #687)
b. Narrated Jabir bin 'Abdullah: The Prophet said, "Who is ready to kill Ka'b bin Al-ashraf who has really hurt Allah and His Apostle?" Muhammad bin Maslama said, "O Allah's Apostle! Do you like me to kill him?" He replied in the affirmative. So, Muhammad bin Maslama went to him (i.e. Ka'b) and said, "This person (i.e. the Prophet) has put us to task and asked us for charity." Ka'b replied, "By Allah, you will get tired of him." Muhammad said to him, "We have followed him, so we dislike to leave him till we see the end of his affair." Muhammad bin Maslama went on talking to him in this way till he got the chance to kill him. (Book #52, Hadith#270)
c. Narrated Jabir: The Prophet said, "Who is ready to kill Ka'b bin ashraf (i.e. a Jew)." Muhammad bin Maslama replied, "Do you like me to kill him?" The Prophet replied in the affirmative. Muhammad bin Maslama said, "Then allow me to say what I like." The Prophet replied, "I do (i.e. allow you)." (Book #52, Hadith #271)
d. This is the full story:
Narrated Jabir bin 'Abdullah: Allah's Apostle said, "Who is willing to kill Ka'b bin Al-ashraf who has hurt Allah and His Apostle?" Thereupon Muhammad bin Maslama got up saying, "O Allah's Apostle! Would you like that I kill him?" The Prophet said, "Yes," Muhammad bin Maslama said, "Then allow me to say a (false) thing (i.e. to deceive Kab). "The Prophet said, "You may say it." Then Muhammad bin Maslama went to Kab and said, "That man (i.e. Muhammad demands Sadaqa (i.e. Zakat) from us, and he has troubled us, and I have come to borrow something from you." On that, Kab said, "By Allah, you will get tired of him!" Muhammad bin Maslama said, "Now as we have followed him, we do not want to leave him unless and until we see how his end is going to be. Now we want you to lend us a camel load or two of food." (Some difference between narrators about a camel load or two.) Kab said, "Yes, (I will lend you), but you should mortgage something to me." Muhammad bin Mas-lama and his companion said, "What do you want?" Ka'b replied, "Mortgage your women to me." They said, "How can we mortgage our women to you and you are the most handsome of the 'Arabs?" Ka'b said, "Then mortgage your sons to me." They said, "How can we mortgage our sons to you? Later they would be abused by the people's saying that so-and-so has been mortgaged for a camel load of food. That would cause us great disgrace, but we will mortgage our arms to you." Muhammad bin Maslama and his companion promised Kab that Muhammad would return to him. He came to Kab at night along with Kab's foster brother, Abu Na'ila. Kab invited them to come into his fort, and then he went down to them. His wife asked him, "Where are you going at this time?" Kab replied, "None but Muhammad bin Maslama and my (foster) brother Abu Na'ila have come." His wife said, "I hear a voice as if dropping blood is from him, Ka'b said. "They are none but my brother Muhammad bin Maslama and my foster brother Abu Naila. A generous man should respond to a call at night even if invited to be killed." Muhammad bin Maslama went with two men. (Some narrators mention the men as 'Abu bin Jabr. Al Harith bin Aus and Abbad bin Bishr). So Muhammad bin Maslama went in together with two men, and sail to them, "When Ka'b comes, I will touch his hair and smell it, and when you see that I have got hold of his head, strip him. I will let you smell his head." Kab bin Al-ashraf came down to them wrapped in his clothes, and diffusing perfume. Muhammad bin Maslama said. " have never smelt a better scent than this. Ka'b replied. "I have got the best 'Arab women who know how to use the high class of perfume." Muhammad bin Maslama requested Ka'b "Will you allow me to smell your head?" Ka'b said, "Yes." Muhammad smelt it and made his companions smell it as well. Then he requested Ka'b again, "Will you let me (smell your head)?" Ka'b said, "Yes." When Muhammad got a strong hold of him, he said (to his companions), "Get at him!" So they killed him and went to the Prophet and informed him. (Abu Rafi) was killed after Ka'b bin Al-ashraf." (Book #59, Hadith #369)
The same story is repeated in Sahih Muslim:
It has been narrated on the authority of Jabir that the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said: Who will kill Ka'b b. ashraf? He has maligned Allah, the Exalted, and His Messenger. Muhammad b. Maslama said: Messenger of Allah, do you wish that I should kill him? He said: Yes. He said: Permit me to talk (to him in the way I deem fit). He said: Talk (as you like). So, Muhammad b. Maslama came to Ka'b and talked to him, referred to the old friendship between them and said: This man (i. e. the Holy Prophet) has made up his mind to collect charity (from us) and this has put us to a great hardship. When be heard this, Ka'b said: By God, you will be put to more trouble by him. Muhammad b. Maslama said: No doubt, now we have become his followers and we do not like to forsake him until we see what turn his affairs will take. I want that you should give me a loan. He said: What will you mortgage? He said: What do you want? He said: Pledge me your women. He said: You are the most handsome of the Arabs; should we pledge our women to you? He said: Pledge me your children. He said: The son of one of us may abuse us saying that he was pledged for two wasqs of dates, but we can pledge you (cur) weapons. He said: All right. Then Muhammad b. Maslama promised that he would come to him with Harith, Abu 'Abs b. Jabr and Abbad b. Bishr. So they came and called upon him at night. He came down to them. Sufyan says that all the narrators except 'Amr have stated that his wife said: I hear a voice which sounds like the voice of murder. He said: It is only Muhammad b. Maslama and his foster-brother, Abu Na'ila. When a gentleman is called at night even it to be pierced with a spear, he should respond to the call. Muhammad said to his companions: As he comes down, I will extend my hands towards his head and when I hold him fast, you should do your job. So when he came down and he was holding his cloak under his arm, they said to him: We sense from you a very fine smell. He said: Yes, I have with me a mistress who is the most scented of the women of Arabia. He said: Allow me to smell (the scent on your head). He said: Yes, you may smell. So he caught it and smelt. Then he said: Allow me to do so (once again). He then held his head fast and said to his companions: Do your job. And they killed him. (Book #019, Hadith #4436)
The Sira in pages 364-369 tells the full story of the assassination. Ka’b went to Mecca after the battle of Badr to mourn his friends that were killed by the Muslims at Badr. He composed poetry against Muhammad and the Muslim women. This was a good enough reason for Muhammad to assassinate him. Muhammad was a very vindictive man. He assassinated, or attempted to assassinate, people who criticized him.
There are many Hadiths telling of this assassination. I quoted above some of them. Sira narrates the same story. A Muslim cannot deny this assassination story. Muhammad bears the final responsibility for the death of Ka’b bin al-Ashraf. If it wasn’t for Muhammad, Ka’b would not have been assassinated.
Sallam Bin abi’l-Hoqayq
The men who killed Ka’b bin al-Ashraf belonged to the Aws tribe. This matter, supposedly, gave them favor in the eyes of Muhammad versus the Khazraj, another group that wanted to look good in the eyes of the prophet in his earlier years in Medina. Some Khazraj men got ‘jealous’ of the special favor the Aws tribe received in Muhammad’s eyes through Ka’b’s assassination. To please Muhammad and to even the score with the Aws, they wanted to assassinate another important person that Muhammad desired to get rid of.
The story, although may sound somewhat bizarre, continues that those ‘jealous’ men went to Muhammad for his permission to assassinate Sallam Ibn Abu’l Huqayq, a Jewish leaders in Khaybar. The prophet, being kind-hearted by nature, did not want to frustrate his followers and ‘agreed’ to let them go and assassinate Sallam (He actually gave them permission). However, the prophet made sure to tell them not to kill any women and children in the process. What a kind-hearted man Prophet Muhammad is! It is okay to assassinate Sallam, but leave the women and young ones unharmed.
Five men left Medina on this mission. While leaving, Muhammad appointed Abdullah Bin Atik their leader. Upon reaching Khayber, the assassins went to Sallam’s house at night. His wife came to the door, and they told her that they were Arabs in search of supplies. She let them in. Once she realized they are up to no good, she warned her husband, who was in bed. They ran to him with their swords, and inflicted many fatal wounds on him; then ran out like the cowards they are. They went out and hid themselves in a water channel. Khayber residents, who went out in search of them, gave up on finding them after a while. Sallam died from his injuries, and the killers went to Muhammad with the ‘good news’. (Sira, pp.482-3)
Abu Afaq and Asma Bint Marwan
During the early years in Medina, Muhammad managed to kill al-Harith bin Suwayd bin Samit. Reacting to that incident, Abu Afak, who was a very old man, said some poetry criticizing Muhammad (Sira, p.675). Muhammad, a vindictive man indeed, heard about what abu Afaq said. So, he says to some of the men around him: “Who will deal with this rascal for me?” Salim bin Umayr, a Muslim, offered his services and went and killed abu Afak (Sira, p. 675).
Upon hearing that Abu Afak was killed by Muhammad, she blamed Islam and its followers for such a killing. She said that in poetry. Asma was a mother of five children. The youngest was still nursing. When Muhammad heard about what she said, he said “Who will rid me of Marwan’s daughter?” Umayr bin Adiy al-Khatmi hears the prophet, and offers his services. That same night he went to her house and killed her. (Sira, p.676) In the morning he went to Muhammad and told him that he killed Asma bint Marwan. Muhammad said to Umayr:” You have helped God and his apostle, O ‘Umayr!”
Ymayr must have felt some guilt for killing a mother of five. After all, there are five children she hade to take care of. So, he asks Muhammad that morning: Would I bear any evil consequences because of killing this mother.” Muhammad assured him in the negative and told him “Two goats wont butt their heads about her” (Sira, p. 676). Meaning that no one cares that she is dead. She was worthless in Muhammad’s eyes.
Because of Muhammad’s psychological illnesses, he was not able to feel the pains of others. The reader is advised to read Ali Sina’s book “Understanding Muhammad and Muslims” to appreciate and understand the impact of Muhammad’s psychological illnesses on his own mind and life.
Abu Sufyan – A failed assassination attempt
Muhammad did not spare even his relatives in Mecca from his assassination attempts. He sent Amr bin Omayya and an Ansari man to go and assassinate Abu Sufyan in Mecca. The attempt was a failure. However, Amr managed to kill a Qurayshi harmless man and and another man. The events of the attempt can be found in the Sira (p. 673-4).
We have evidence from multiple sources that Muslims accept as authentic. Such evidence proves that Muhammad was indeed an assassin. Muhammad bears the final moral responsibility for the death of those individual who faced their brutal end at his hands through such assassinations.