[Excerpts, with occasional modest edits, from The Real Muḥammad: In the Eyes of Ibn Isḥāq, copyright 2013, TEI Publishing House. All quotations from the Sīrat Rasūl Allāh (“Life of the Messenger of Allāh”) are from the translation by Alfred Guillaume (Oxford University Press), copyright 1955. These stories are faithfully passed along from the most ancient, extant and authoritative biography of Muḥammad. All Muslims are called to imitate Muḥammad in their daily lives, and Muslim scholars know that Ibn Isḥāq is the best source for the historical Muḥammad, despite concern for various hon-historical material. The question is this: Can Muḥammad satisfy the Muslim thirst for freedom? How many people, of their own volition, would follow Muḥammad if they were free to choose otherwise? The same question is freely received by Muslims who would question Christians who follow Jesus as the Son of God]

Muḥammad Orders the Killing of Ka‘b b. Al-Ashraf

John C. Rankin

When the polytheist Ka‘b b. al-Ashraf learns of the battle of Badr, he mocks Muḥammad: “He began to inveigh against the apostle and to recite verses in which he bewailed the Quraysh who were thrown into the pit after having been slain at Badr.”

“Then he composed amatory verses of an insulting nature about the Muslim women. The apostle said – according to what ‘Abdullah b. al-Mughīth b. Abū Burda told me – ‘Who will rid me of Ibnu’l Ashraf?’ Muḥammad b. Maslama, brother of the B. ‘Abdu’l-Ashhal, said, “I will deal with him for you, O apostle of God [Allāh]. I will kill him. He said, ‘Do so if you can.”

In order to do so, Muḥammad b. Maslama says: “ ‘O apostle of God [Allāh], we shall have to tell lies.’ He answered, ‘Say what you like, for you are free in the matter.’ ”So a conspiracy is hatched where some allies of Muḥammad b. Maslama gain approach to Ka‘b b. Al-Ashraf when he is unsuspecting, drawing him out of his fort where he is in bed with his new wife, who senses evil at hand, engaging with them in a late night conversation while walking outside:

“They walked on farther and he did the same [running his hand through his hair] so that Ka‘b suspected no evil. Then after a space he did it for the third time, and cried, ‘Smite the enemy of God [Allāh]!’ So they [others with Ibn Maslama] smote him, and their swords clashed over him with no effect. Muḥammad b. Maslama said, ‘I remembered my dagger when I saw that our swords were useless, and I seized it. Meanwhile the enemy of God [Allāh] had made such a noise that every fort around us was showing a light. I thrust it into the lower part of his body, then I bore down upon it until I reached his genitals, and the enemy of God [Allāh] fell to the ground … Our attack upon God’s [Allāh’s] enemy cast terror among the Jews, and there was no Jew in Medina who did not fear for his life.’ ”

Here, mourning the dead of Muḥammad’s enemies, and then insult, leads Muḥammad to employ planned deceit in accomplishing an assassination, as he ratchets up the war against the Jews and other non-Muslims. This war is all encompassing and thus, all measures to succeed are his modus operandi. One Muslim poet, Ka‘b b. Mālik, celebrates the assassination of Ka‘b b. Al-Ashraf: “He beguiled him and brought him down with guile Maḥmūd was trustworthy, bold. Trustworthy in planning deceit, and the Jews in Medīna, knowing how Muḥammad has violated his treaty with the B. Qaynuqā‘, grow in fear.”

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