[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]
The Conquest of Mecca, and Beheading for Apostasy and Insult
John C. Rankin
Muḥammad advances on Mecca, engages in a skirmish where twelve or thirteen polytheists are killed.
“The apostle had instructed his commanders when they entered Mecca only to fight those who resisted them except a small number who were to be killed even if they were found beneath the curtains of the Ka‘ba. Among them was ‘Abdullah b. Sa‘d, brother of the B. ‘Āmir b. Lu’ayy. The reason he ordered him to be killed was that he had been a Muslim and used to write down revelation; then he apostatized and returned to Quraysh and fled to ‘Uthmān b. ‘Affān whose foster-brother he was. The latter hid him until he brought him to the apostle after the situation in Mecca was tranquil, and asked that he might be granted immunity. They allege that the apostle remained silent for a long time till finally he said yes. When ‘Uthmān had left, he [Muḥammad] said to his companions who were sitting around him[,] ‘I kept silent so that one of you might get up and strike off his head!’ One of the Anṣār said, ‘Then why didn’t you give me a sign, O apostle of God [Allāh]?’ He answered that a prophet does not kill by pointing.”
Muḥammad has his agenda for specified revenge that trumps the power of protection Abū Sufyān is given to offer the Quraysh. First, Muḥammad violates the long standing promise of sanctuary inside the Ka‘ba, that which he has come to restore to Allāh. And second, apostasy means death. Islām is a one-way religion, and no reconsiderations are allowed after saying the shahāda. Here, too, Ibn Isḥāq brings us an example where Muḥammad deals with a question or issue, not by receiving a Qur’ān in the exigency, but through his own opinion as the ordained prophet of Allāh. So a long period of silence is uninterrupted while ‘Uthmān’s request for immunity is on the table. In Muḥammad’s mind, not only is apostasy worthy of death, but also the liability of death applies to those who aid the one who commits apostasy. Yet he does not do so directly or indirectly. He does not want ‘Uthmān to live, but awaits an unspoken delegation to be perceived by one of his companions – he wants one of them to stand up and strike off ‘Uthmān’s head right then and there. Which is to say – there is no waiting for a Qur’ān to come down, and no explicit command on his part for which he is publicly accountable. No one interprets his subtlety, Muḥammad is not happy about it, and is thus cornered into giving the immunity.
“Another was ‘Abdullah b. Khaṭal of B. Taym b. Ghālib. He had become a Muslim and the apostle sent him to collect the poor tax in company with one of the Anṣār. He had with him a freed slave who served him. (He was a Muslim). When he halted he ordered the latter to kill a goat for him and prepare some food, and went to sleep. When he woke up the man had done nothing, so he attacked and killed him and apostatized. He had two singing-girls, Fartanā and her friend[,] who used to sing satirical songs about the apostle, so he [Muḥammad] ordered that they should be killed with him.”
‘Abdullah b. Khaṭal is opportunistic, in that after he murders the Muslim freed slave with him, in treating him as still a slave, he seeks to escape accountability by apostatizing. And in Muḥammad’s giving of the death sentence accordingly, apostasy is viewed as more serious than murder. No mention concerning bloodwit for the murdered man is mentioned. But to ratchet up the revenge and punitive nature further, the two singing girls are ordered to be killed, not for apostasy as stated, but because they make fun of Muḥammad in song. Verbal insults directed against Muḥammad deserve death, even for two girls.
“Another was al-Ḥuwayrith b. Nuqaydh b. Wahb b. ‘Abd b. Quṣayy, one of those who used to insult him in Mecca. Another was Miqyas b. Ḥubāba because he had killed an Anṣārī who had killed his brother accidentally, and returned to Quraysh as a polytheist. And Sāra, freed slave of one of the B. ‘Abdu’l-Muṭṭalib; and ‘Ikrima b. Abū Jahl. Sāra had insulted him in Mecca. As for ‘Ikrima, he fled to the Yaman. His wife Umm Ḥakīm d. al-Ḥārith b. Hishām became a Muslim and asked immunity for him and the apostle gave it. She went to the Yaman in search of him and brought him to the apostle and he accepted Islam. ‘Ikrima used to relate, according to what they said, that what turned him to Islam when he had gone to the Yaman[,] was that he had determined to cross the sea to Abyssinia and when he found a ship the master said, ‘O servant of God [Allāh], you cannot travel in my ship until you acknowledge that God [Allāh] is one and disavow any rival to Him, for I fear that if you do not do so we should perish.’ When I asked him if none but such persons was allowed to travel in his ship, he replied, ‘Yes, and he must be sincere.’ So I thought: Why should I leave Muhammad when this is what he has brought us? Truly our God [Allāh] on the sea is the God [Allāh] on the dry land. Thereupon I recognized Islam and it entered into my heart. ‘Abdullah b. Khaṭal was killed by Sa‘īd b. Hurayth al-Makhzūmī and Abū Barza al-Aslamī acting together. Miqyas was killed by Numayla b. ‘Abdullah, one of his own people. Miqyas’s sister said of his killing:
” ‘By my life, Numayla shamed his people and distressed the winter guests when he slew Miqyas. Whoever had seen a man like Miqyas who provided food for young mothers in hard times.’
“As for Ibn Khaṭal’s two singing-girls, one was killed and the other ran away until the apostle, asked for immunity, gave it her.”
The death penalty for apostasy again trumps, and likewise for mere insult by a freed slave-girl. The assassination order for ‘Ikrima does not relate to apostasy or insult, but merely because he has been a relentless foe of Muḥammad. And then his submission to Islām is accomplished by de facto coercion of the ship master, as ‘Ikrima, at the seashore, has nowhere else to turn and get out of reach of Muḥammad’s assassins.
Muḥammad’s agenda for revenge against those who oppose him as the prophet of Allāh has percolated for a season, and now that he has the power, he executes his vengeance as a first priority.