Mohammed without Camouflage:
The ISLAMIC REVIEW — the monthly organ of the Woking cult — leads off its 1917 volume with what it calls "OUR PROPHET'S BIRTHDAY NUMBER"1 This number from end to end consists of panegyrics on the Founder of Islam from the pens of various persons, not all of them (apparently) within the Islamic fold, but all of them of one mind in attributing every excellence to Mohammed, and disclaiming for him every fault above a negligible magnitude. The Mohammedan writers further claim for him the position of perfect human exemplar and final ethical standard.
We have meditated for some time on this remarkable number, and the following article represents some of our meditations.
First, we wish to protest with all our might against the way in which our Moslem friends practically force us into a position in which we appear to be that poor thing, the advocatus diaboli. If the question were nothing more than the estimating of the character of a great historic personage, a great reformer, enthusiast, statesman, what you will, then we could let it go at that, and with the ringers ring the changes on his greatness and his merits, mentioning manifest blots without any particular emphasis, as things appertaining to his times and environment. Nay, we have often enough done so. For, prate our detractors as they will, we believe and dare to assert that the sketches or biographies of Mohammed which have shown most seriousness, most sympathetic insight, and most concern of all aspects of the subject-matter, are some by Christian missionaries or missionary supporters. The secular Christian writers are too worldly, often too scornful: they miss the mark by trying to treat secularly of what was fundamentally religious. On the other hand, the works of modern Mohammedans and Islamophils are incorrigible in their glozing over of plain but uncongenial facts, and they invariably topple over into fulsomeness. But is Muir wanting in either religious sympathy or truth? Who has convicted him of untruth or even of inaccuracy? He simply reproduces the sources as they stand, and the grounds of his verdicts are stated with perfect clearness and candour.
This being so, we greatly resent being exhibited as mere detractors, or being forced into appearing as such. For two things do seem often to force us, against our will, into apparently taking that position: namely, the downright untruthfulness in the way of concealment and evasion; and, secondly, the fact that so much more is claimed for Mohammed than the right to be called a great and good man. No, he must be the best; the perfect fruit of humanity; the man par excellence: the blameless exemplar! And, per contra, the figure of Jesus in the Gospels must (in the polite productions of the Islamic press) be held up to many a delicate insinuation of inferiority2, to a patronizing hardly concealing its real total want of sympathy; or (in the writers of the lewder sort) to the grossest forms of self-defamatory attack. In short Ecce Homo is to be transferred from the Nazarene to the Arabian.
Obviously those who make these claims and set up these comparisons render silence impossible, and, unfortunately, make the work of Mohammed-criticism, for mere truth's sake, inevitable. But when there is no option, then the work is not that of an advocatus diaboli, but an advocatus Dei. This reckless tampering with ethical values must be prevented at any cost. And the criticisms thus wrung from us, based directly as they are on the facts taken straight from the Arabic authorities, must not and shall not be cried down as "bigotry", nor yet deprecated because such criticism offends the dangerous element of the Moslem public. The latter plea, by the way, would be particularly cowardly if it came from the protected serenity of a mosque-precinct in England.
The view we shall substantiate is, we submit, that "Our Prophet's Birthday Number" gives us a Mohammed-cum-lavender-water: that the true Mohammed was really an Arabian of the seventh-century, with (it may be) all the virtues of his time and some in which he was beyond his time; also with many of the violence and sins of his time and environment: and that therefore the claims made for him (but not by him) to be humanity's beau-ideal and consummate example for ever, is a pernicious one, and in the name of the God of Truth must be rejected and resisted - wa la mu'akhadha fi dhalik.
The comments on the life of the Founder of Islam which we think are demanded by truth and right shall not be our own. They are drawn straight from the records of the Moslem chroniclers themselves. Further, they will not be vague generalities, still less vulgar abuse: they will consist of the citation of specific instances drawn from the said chronicles, and these (we are told in the editorial to the number under examination) are reliable: "the record of the acts and sayings of the Prophet Mohammed himself is exceptionally complete, faithful, and correct" (p. 3). So be it. We hope that after this we shall have no attempt to get rid of embarrassing incidents by means of an absolutely arbitrary "criticism". We do not want to hear now from these people that a traditionalist like al-Bukhari, an historian like Ibn Hisham, or a favorite biographer like al-Halabi are incomplete, unfaithful, or incorrect". As a matter of fact, the incidents in question are just the sort which a criticism of al-Bukhari, Ibn Hisham, and al-Halabi — and needless to say such a criticism is inevitable — would leave untouched; for they occur in what might be called the prosaic parts of the biography; they are the incidents which were the most complete, sharply defined and easily remembered; and therefore likely to be most faithfully recorded and handed down, — the ordinary historic stuff which, in the life of any man, is least likely to be intentionally or unintentionally twisted. And, besides, what would it boot to meet us with a feeble, arbitrary, subjective criticism of the sources of these three books? Two (al Bukhari and al Halabi) are among the two most popular and universal in the Dar al Islam. The incidents recorded therein have been accepted by the general mind of billions of Mohammedans for over a thousand years, — moulding their thoughts and ideals into a public opinion that is absolutely perdurable and permanent. For a millennium the universal conscience of Islam has approved of the things chronicled in these books; has found in them nothing to censure but on the contrary everything to esteem and admire. From the viewpoint therefore of "Mohammed as Moral Ideal" these incidents are all of equal importance, and for a Mohammedan to raise at this time of day the question of the historical actuality of this or that incident is to commit an absolute irrelevance. Apart from all which, as already said, the question cannot be raised by Mohammedans in virtue of any genuine critical apparatus possessed by them. The fact is that it only can be and only is raised a priori, by those who, when they find themselves among Christians and in a Christian atmosphere, jib at many things in the sira which have not caused, and which do not cause, so much as one qualm in a truly Mohammedan environment. Such ‘historical’ scruples are therefore simply a convincing tribute to the moral and spiritual superiority of the Catholic-Christian ideal, and to the serious and felt defectiveness of the Catholic-Islamic one. We welcome them as a sign that truth will surely conquer; and we pass on3.
Mohammed and the "Morals of War".
For special pleading and assumed superiority it would be hard to beat the following:
"If God had to come as the ‘ideal representative and guide of humanity’, as it is said he did in the person of Jesus, we could have been more benefited if God had appeared as a king or a statesman. He could have left better rules for the guidance of Christian kings and statesmen in Europe, and the world would have been saved this terrible conflagration with which is has been thrown under ambition and self-assertiveness. Christendom wanted a God in the person of a general and an emperor rather than in a "Prince of peace", to guide Christian nations in their recent slaughter of humanity. He could have taught then the morals of war4. Perhaps His precepts and action in this respect might have proved a better check in this war and all that has created in Europe a long and sombre procession of cruelty and suffering and a most deplorable and tragic spectacle of bloodshed and destress."
As if the spirit of Christianity had not been steadily evolving an international code of decency and practicable humaneness in war, the deliberate scrapping of which by some is just what is raising up the whole world in it defence! As if "rule for guidance" can ever avail where spirit and principle have been denied! As if either rules or principle stopped a single Ottoman conqueror in Hungary, or a Mahmoud or Timur in India, from committing slaughters and atrocities! As if, from the days of the fathers of Islam until now, either Koran or Sunna had ever eliminated the "ambition and self-assertiveness" which have caused the countless wars between Mohammadans from the days of 'Uthman down to those of Mulai Hafiz! As if Mohammed himself, at all times and on every occasion, taught by his example the highest "morals of war"! But to proceed.
"Hague Conventions" of the Seventh Century.
The passage before us, and others in the number, appears to censure Prussian methods. But is there not a real analogy between the way in which Prussia has washed out the old European-Christian conventions and codes, and the resolute way in which Mohammed ignored and destroyed some of the most sacred conventions which embodied the public conscience of Arabia at that time, and represented the best and noblest to which the Arabs had been hitherto able to rise?
For example, one of the holiest articles of "international" i.e. inter-tribal morality in Arabia was that in all wars and raids the date-palms should be spared. At the raid on the Bani Nadir, however, in A.H. 4, Mohammed "had the date-palms of the Nadirites" — their pride, glory, and chief means of sustenance — "burned or cut down." The narrative is from Ibn Ishaq, the oldest biographer of Mohammad5, who continues: "Then they cried, O Mohammed, have you not punished forbidden acts of destructiveness, and censured whoever commits such? How then can you have these date-palms cut down and burnt?"6
No answer was reported! What answer could there have been — except "military necessity"!7
This was not the only time where the consciences of his own followers caused outspoken disapproval of something for which Mohammed gave permission (rakhkhas, see Muslim vol. ii p. 220). But it was of no avail. Muslims (loc. cit.) tells us what happened on one such occasion. "He got so angry hat his anger was visible on his face"! And the scruples were dashed aside by the assertion that he was the most god-fearing of them all.
A still holier law than the one prohibiting the destruction of date-palms, — the one, in fact, which made social life possible in Arabia at that time, — was the Truce of God which forbade all fighting during the four "sacred months." Only an anarch or an outlaw ever dreamed of infringing this law. Yet in one of the earliest raids launched from al Madina on the Quraishites this law was flagrantly broken. The story can be found in any of the biographies in the chapter about the raid on the Kinana in the sacred month of Rajab. But a most interesting addition to it has been discovered in the traditions collected by Ahmed b. Hanbal. From this it appears that Sa'd b. Waqqas was the original leader. Sa'd's own account will be found translated in Margoliouth's Life, page 243 8. Not all the details are clear — in fact, to leave some of them obscure was necessary. Also, the whole incident has formed the subject of controversy, and much sophistry. But no obscurity and no sophism can explain away the following facts: (1) Mohammed sent Sa'd out on a warlike operation during Rajab. (2) The recently Islamised Junaiha were scandalized. (3) Sa'd and his party themselves believed that they were out to fight during that month, — not to wait till the next. (4) When nevertheless they returned empty-handed the Prophet went "red with rage." (5) He immediately appointed the unscrupulous 'Abdallah b. Jahsh, who left with sealed orders, the text of which contained definite instructions to attack a party who were going without escort under cover of the sacred month, though the precise command to do so in that month was wanting (litera scripta manet!) (6) This was done, and blood was shed, during the truce. (7) The act was, finally, expressly justified by Mohammed, in the name of Allah and the scandal which it created9 was thus silenced.
The manifest desire of some apologists to show that Mohammed did not order the Truce to be violated is valuable as showing their opinion of such an act. Unfortunately, for them, the facts are against them, and him.
Rapes by Moslem Troops
So much for the violation of conventions deemed sacred by the conscience of that time. But there were also violations of laws of humanity itself. We have heard with shuddering of the wholesale rapes during the present campaign: what will the public think, and what will Woking say, when it is known that troops composed of the first Mohammedan saints and martyrs and commanded by Mohammed in person, committed rape on the field on at least one occasion and under peculiarly shocking circumstances? The occassion was after the overthrow of the Bani Mustaliq at the wells of Marasi', when many of the two hundred captured women of the tribe (expressly said to be free women and not slaves, kara'im al 'Arab Halabi ii 296) were raped by Mohammed's men with his full consent10! There can be no doubt about the facts; they are narrated by all the most reputed of the Traditionalists, and by at least two of the historians11: so much so that a certain point in the Shari'a itself is settled by reference to the incident12. The violated wives had actually still to be bought back by their husbands. We refrain from translating the passage in full, for the simple reason that it is really unprintable. The prejudiced Muir and other Christian historians (until "Caetini"!) have.... kept silent on the incident! Let not their generosity however be now represented as a silent verdict on their part that the incident is spurious. The authority is far too strong, as we saw. And who would have invented such things? And even supposing the incident is spurious, it was and is accepted by Islam as absolute truth, — except of course when Christians are in the neighborhood.
Nor was this an isolated incident. The very fact that on at lest two occasions, Khaybar13 and Hunain14, Mohammed had to regulate what might be done with women taken on the field shows this sufficiently. It was at Hunain that he definitely enacted, against the scruples of some of his followers, that capture on the field ipso facto dissolved previous (heathen) marriages (see Koran iv 22); and that married wives (not merely virgins and slave-girls), their husbands being living and most likely present, might be passed to the immediate15 use of their conquerors, provided that certain precautions were taken against pregnancy. Are we to add these prescriptions to the universal "morals of war"?
Deportation, and an Execution En-Masse
Again, wholesale deportations of defenseless people have lately excited the indignation of humanity. But this deporting was done without scruple and on a large scale in the wars conducted from the City of Mohammed. We must not judge the practice and conditions of that time from the standpoint of the present day? But we thought that the whole point of the "Birthday Number" was to show that "Our Prophet's" example and practice was to standardise morality, (and especially "the morals of war") for all time?
The wealthy, prosperous Jewish tribe of the Qainuqa' had to purchase dear life itself by submitting to this wholesale deportation. They went off in the direction of Syria, where they vanish from history. For ought we know, or any Moslem cared, they may have perished as the deported Armenians have. Their goods were confiscated. It is utterly impossible to assert that the special occasion justified such fearful severity, for the whole matter was occasioned by a private brawl. The real cause was the impossibility of winning over that Jewish tribe to the new order of things16.
The plea of the apologists is that Mohammed was the de facto ruler of Madina and that he, in agreeing with the patrons of these Jewish tribes, had virtually agreed with the tribes, so that their opposition was treachery. We only remark (a) the "Kitab" of A.H. was a rescript not an agreement; (b) one of the tribes definitely denied the existence of any agreement with Mohammed (la a 'qda bainana wa baina Muhammadin wala 'ahd) and the two Sa'ds did not in reply appeal to the kitab (Hisham p. 675); and, (c) the Qainuqa' had admittedly not got further than foolish boastings and taunts (Hisham p. 545). Does the perfect human ethic approve of the designed slaughter of the manhood of a tribe for this?
As a matter of fact, these Qainuqa' only owed their escape from wholesale massacre to the pertinacity of the temporiser 'Abdullah ibn Ubayy, not to the humanity of Mohammed. It is explicitly stated by Tabari that "they came down for the judgment of the Prophet: then they were bound, he being determined on their slaughter17". Then 'Abdullah intervened. But for this, their "700 warriors" would have shared the horrible fate the ultimately overtook the men of the Bani Quraiza18. As it was 'Abdallah's desperate persistence "made the Prophet wroth, so that his countenance became quite dark." He was furious at being obliged to spare those hundreds of human lives.
In just the same way the Bani Nadir were expelled from their country and nearly the whole of their goods were plundered. The excuses for this proceeding, indeed for the whole campaign against them, were of the flimsiest and will not stand a moment's analysis. For example, the charge of treachery, which ostensibly occasioned and justified the original attack was tacitly dropped. It is not so much as mentioned in the Koran (Surah 58).
This bad business of deportation was later given up, because it was found to be bad economics, and the "more profitable practice of constituting the subject-tribe as tribute paying dhimmis was instituted." Thus the tribe of Khaybar was not deported but made tributary19.
A darker fate overtook the Bani Quraiza, the fate that the Qainuqa' only just avoided. These people had certainly waged actual war with the Mohammedans and had helped to put Madina in great danger. But then, they had seen the fate of the Qainuqa' and the Bani Nadir! At any rate their punishment was horrible, and that though they capitulated in the apparently satisfactory hope that their lives would be spared. It is perfectly clear, however, that this time Mohammed had decided that no meddling 'Abdallah should stop the blood from flowing20, though with unworthy want of candor he employed a transparent device, by which the fatal decision should appear not to be his but that of the umpire who was agreed on between him and the Jews themselves. Between 600 and 900 men were beheaded over a trench in a single night! The women and children were treated as booty. "Our Propher's Birthday Number" would have us adopt this also, we presume, as a sample of the perfect ethics of war, and as an element in the human beau-ideal.
The umpire who gave the fatal decision (Sa'd) was extravagantly praised by Mohammed21. Yet his action was wholly and admittedly due to his lust for personal vengeance on a tribe which had occasioned him a painful wound. In the agony of its treatment he cried out,—M "O God, let not my soul go forth ere thou has cooled my eye from the Bani Quraiza"22. This was the arbiter to whose word the fate of that tribe was given over. His sentiments were well-known to Mohammed, who appointed him. It is perfectly clear from that that their slaughter had been decreed.
What makes it clearer still is the assertion of another biographer23 that Mohammed had refused to treat with the Bani Quraiza at all until they had "come down to receive the judgement of the Apostle of God." Accordingly "they came down"; in other words put themselves in his power. And only then was the arbitration of Sa'd proposed and accepted, — but not accepted until it had been forced on him by Mohammed; for Sa'd first declined, and tried to make Mohammed take the responsibility, but was told "qad amarak Allahu an tahkuma fihim" "Allah has commanded you to give sentence in their case"24.
From every point of view therefore the evidence is simply crushing that Mohammed was the ultimate author of this massacre. His own thin attempt to conceal this fact, and the neo-Moslems' attempt to shift the responsibility on to Sa'd, merely prove that neither his conscience not theirs have been at rest over the dark affair.
The milder fate of the Khaybarites has already been mentioned. Yet the campaign against them was marked by two very shocking individual incidents.
(1) One of the surrendered Jews, Kinana, was believed to have a certain treasure which he had refrained from handing over. He denied it existence, but Mohammed asked him whether he might kill him if it was found. He assented. A renegade then revealed the cache where part of it was hidden and then, at Mohammed's bidding, the wretch was tortured "till he should give up the whole." He was plied with fire-brands thrust on to his breast, till be was near death, when Muhammad gave him over to Ibn Maslama who slew him for his brother Mahmoud25. All this, be it observed, after the entire surrender of the tribe had taken place; and over a question of booty, pure and simple. Such was another piece of "frightfulness" to which the first saints of Islam were introduced by their leader. Are we to adopt these methods also as an article in "the ethics of war", and also weave the action into our ideal for a perfect human character?
(2) The wife of the man thus tortured to death, the beautiful Safiyya (whose father and brother had also perished at the hands of Mohammed) become nevertheless within a few days his wedded wife! That she was willing to do this thing, (as she was), merely arouses astonished disgust towards her26. But it has nothing to do with the verdict which the incident calls for. The thing took place because Mohammed conceived a passion for the woman. It is high time that the ignorant or hypocritical statements of neo-Mohammedan writers, to the effect that all Mohammed's marriage and demi-marriage connections were made for humanitarian or political (etc., etc.) reasons, and that the women in question were elderly or otherwise unattractive, should be put a stop to. These statements are becoming stereotyped among apologist writers both of the west and the east. But they are false; and they are made either ignorantly of falsely. To take the present case only — and from it the cases of Raihana and Zainab may also be judged27: the records make the matter perfectly plain. The woman's beauty was well-known, and it made an instant impression. When it was announced "Oh Apostle of God, there has fallen to the lot of Dahya a beautiful damsel", the Apostle of God immediately (we are told) "purchase her."28 The marriage was hastened on with a speed that set at defiance even the decent (and sacred) law of 'idda29; and, finally, there were several special circumstances that showed the extreme complacency of the bridegroom, — which as usual occasioned tears in the hareem. In view of these facts, and of the case of Juwairiyya (see footnote), the remarks of Mr. S.H. Leeder in B.N. p. 31 reach the very nadir of ineptitude and soft untruth.
"Mohammed was compelled to wage wars, but never a sword was drawn but as a last resort to defend human life and secure safety to it." Thus Mr. Sadr ud Din in the "Birthday Number", p. 23.
Is this in the least true? The biographers30 make it perfectly clear that the earliest object of the very first warlike raids planned by Mohammed was to cut off and capture Makkan caravans[Appendix]. There is not the least hint in these accounts of anything else, nor of the existence of any necessity for instituting defensive operations. Ibn Sa'd, for instance, leads off his account of the Wars of the Prophet (al maghazi) with the words kharaga Hamza ya'iarid li'ir quraish, "Hamza went out to intercept the caravan of the Quraish which had come from Syria making for Makka.31" Ibn Ishaq is equally explicit. According to him32 the first expedition was so militarily and strategically planned that it had in view not merely the Quraish but the perfectly neutral Bani Damra, the position of whose territory vis-a-vis of Makka was strategically important. The document promulgated by Mohammed shortly after his arrival in Madina makes clear in its 20th article that he regarded himself and all his people as in a state of de facto hostility with the Quraish of Makka.33 The sending of cutting-out expeditions followed as a matter of course; and the swords of cutting-out expeditions do not usually abide in their sheaths. And so blood inevitably flowed. Later on, as success grew, the object of the Holy War became the right to worship at the Ka'ba in the way of Islam. And finally, or course, it became the conquest of Arabia (and later the whole world) for Islam. There is not the smallest piece of concrete evidence that the Makkans meditated hostilities on the Moslems after having once relieved Makka of their uncongenial presence. With the fullest knowledge of all the Arabic sources34 Caetani in a note on this subject (vol. i. p. 423) is crushingly conclusive: "Qui (i.e. in the first expedition) abbiamo vera e propria aggressione meditata: nessuna attenuante per necessità di difese: i Qurays non si davano alcun pensiero di molestare il Profeta in Medina." [Here we have true and properly meditated aggression: no attenuating for the need of defense: the Quraish did not give any thought to annoy the Prophet in Medina.]
Compare these plain facts now with the windy remark of Mr. Sadr ad Din quoted above. The Neo-Moslems do not tell the truth: that is the trouble.35
So much for the earliest raids; in which, it is especially recorded (Ibn Sa'd i 3), the first arrow shot was shot by a Moslem (Sa'd ibn Waqqas), and the first blood shed was shed by a Moslem (in the raid in the Sacred Month, see above). After this point it became unprofitable to pursue the enquiry as to who was provoker and who provoked. When the whole of a history is written up by the conquerors it is easy to show the conquered as invariably in the wrong. Imagine the history of the invasion of Serbia written by Austrian historians A.D. 2050, all Serbians having disappeared or been absorbed! Nevertheless, it is often possibly to see that there was no provocation or that the provocation was itself provoked, so indifferent are the Moslem historians to casus belli in such cases, trained as they were to think that the whole world was Dar ul Harb and that the non-Islamism of any state was the one real and sufficient casus belli. We have seen that a mere private brawl occasioned the expatriation, which almost included the decimation, of the Bani Qainuqa'; and that the Bani Nadir also were attacked for reasons which, even as stated, will not bear a moment's examination. But in other cases, one act of violence became the cause, and even the justification, of the next. For the weak are always, and of necessity, in the wrong.
Take for instance the affair of Khaybar. Caetani to whom Mr. S. Khuda Bukhsh would have us appeal, states roundly and very strongly that this attack was utterly unmotivated, and that it is an instance of the most purely arbitrary aggression36. This is morally true; but it would be more accurate to say that it is an instance where an aggression was a natural and inevitable result of previous ones. Consider the following train of circumstances.
(1) The Bani Nadir are attacked and exiled, as we have seen, without cause.
(2) A party of them, under a declared rebel Abu Rafi', settle among their kindred, the tribe of Khaybar, a somewhat distant settlement in the opposite direction from Makka. Note that the departing Nadirites had not been discouraged from settling there or elsewhere. They were perfectly free in this matter.
(3) The presence of Abu Rafi' now "justifies" an expedition under 'Ali (without notice) against the tribe of Khybar, with no result.
(4) The sudden assassination of Abu Rafi' is next procured by Mohammed. The assassin was 'Abdallah ibn Unais.
(5) It is related by Waqidi that the immigrant Nadirites now begin to engineer from Khaybar a league with the Quraish for the subversion of Islam. Supposing it true, it is rather naive in Waqidi not to give the smallest suggestion that an unprovoked campaign, and the assassination of a guest in the bosom of the host-tribe, might justifiably have something to do with the hostility of the Khaybarites! But up to this time it is only the exiled Nadirites who are as a matter of fact mentioned in this connection. The awakening of the Khaybarites came after the Quraiza massacre.
(6) Waqidi reports37 though here again not a single other historian or biographer bears him out, that the appalling news of the Bani Quraiza massacre reached Khaybar where an indescribable consternation was created. At a meeting of these Bani Nadirites and the Khaybarites it was then proposed "as it is certain that Mohammed will next attack Khaybar, to anticipate him." This was agreed to38.
(7) The successor of Abu Rafi', Usair, is also suspected and his assassination is determined on, but it is not found to be feasible. Nevertheless he and his followers are subsequently destroyed, while unarmed and under safe-conduct, under most dubious circumstances (see below), and by the almost professional assassin 'Abdallah ibn Unais.
(8) No more is reported from Khaybar. But the Khaybarites are next attacked suddenly and in fullest strength, six months later. They are totally despoiled; their rich possessions are divided among the conquerors.
We think that a candid examination of the above train of circumstances, which are here brought together for the first time, will show clearly how hopeless was the position of a tribe like Khaybar, which originally, no doubt, simply wanted to be left in peace. To the very end of the chapter no semblance of a negotiation was carried on with the Khaybarites themselves. The blow fell, when it fell, like lightening, a surprise attack without either declaration of war or even remonstrance. Yet "never" a sword was drawn but "as a last resort", etc., etc., (Mr. Sadr ud Din); and we are to see in all this an example of "the morals of war" — and we presume of diplomacy also! The fact is that the theory "I will destroy you because I fear, or pretend to fear, you will attack me", with which also we have been familiarized of late, is a ruinously dangerous one in the hands of anyone who from the beginning determines to be on top. And, observe, when the weaker begins to think of acting on the same theory (if Waqidi's account is to be trusted), his action is to be considered a piece of unqualified aggression, and the counterstroke becomes an act of merest defence! So impossible is it for the weaker under such circumstances ever to be right, or the stronger ever to be wrong. It is further to be noticed that the Khaybarites had not the smallest doubt as to Mohammed's principles and practice in these matters. And their plot, if there was a plot, was simply the result of the despair engendered by the knowledge. Not even Waqidi asserts that there had been any previous ill-will39.
It were unprofitable to follow out any further the justifiability or unjustifiability of the many campaigns of the period, or to study them from the viewpoint of "the morals of war." But just to show how far the Moslems had got by this time from all pretence of waiting for provocation, we might mention the expeditions against the Christians of Duma, and against Midyan, both in the far north of Arabia, distant many days journey. The authorities do not so much as trouble to mention the cause of offence. In fact there were none. In the case of the latter raid40, totally unprovoked as we have said, many women and children were captured and brought away to Makka, where they were all sold into slavery. (The Mohammedan saints were going to have sold the mothers and their children separately, but here the prophet intervened.) Now, we ask, in what single respect was this proceeding distinguishable from a vulgar slave-raid?" Are we to work it also into our "morals of war"? And where is now the man who "never drew a sword but as a last resort to defend human life and secure safety to it"? What would have been the comment of the husbands of these Midyanite women on this bland remark? We wish Woking could have heard it.
Government by Assassination
Kipling somewhere wisely remarks, of a certain Ameer, that, like other heads of states, he governs not as he would, but as he can. By some such axiom the various atrocities connected with the government of Mohammed are usually justified. It is represented that there was no settled government in Arabia, no constitution, no international code, no legislature and no judicature. A man who became powerful enough in any given district was ruler de facto and therefore de jure, and it was henceforth the business of those about him to be subject, or take the consequences. Hostility, even on the part of those who had never desired his rule, was high-treason, and might be punished in any way whatsoever.
In other words, Mohammed was a son of his time and by his time must his actions be justified. Agreed. This fact, as we said at the very outset, might and would make us excuse and justify an ordinary man, the story of whose life is being told relatively to his times; and were Mohammedans consistent in taking this line, there would be the less to be said. But how would this be consistent with the position of the Birthday Number, that the Prophet's life is all beautiful, not relatively but absolutely; that it is a human ideal for all time and times; and that from it we may construct our ethics, not only of war, but the true ethic itself?
It is, therefore, just when we are asked to invest this Makkan with a perfect human light, that his government by assassination appears hideous. His use of this method for governmental purposes41 is clear enough — indeed the fact is not denied. But ... government by assassination!. When it comes to giving the method its name, one is permitted to regret that the human ideal for all time lived in Arabia.
We pass over the first of the series, — the assassination of the sleeping woman42 with a baby at her breast, and the Prophet's brutally contemptuous remark about the matter when he enthusiastically commended the assassin. We pass over also the assassination of the bridegroom, called by treachery, unarmed, from the presence of his bride. And we pass by a largish number of other "executions".
It is understood that legal procedure as conducted in Arabia was necessarily deficient, and that justice, disencumbered of bandage and scales, had to yield to one and the same man, the exceptional facilities of being assurer, crown-counsel, judge, and (through his followers) executioner, at one and the same time. The method certainly made for despatch. But is it permissible to whisper another word to the Woking enthusiasts, — Justice?
But even so, there are some things that make one catch one's breath. What is to be thought, for example, of the "execution" of Usair (see above) with all his thirty men, all unarmed, riding to Madina under safe-conduct, each behind a Mohammedan ambassador? These ambassadors had come under the white flag and under the white flag they were riding away. Their leader, an approved assassin, had already "executed" the former chief of the tribe, Ibn Rafi' yet he had the impudence to say that the slaughter of this whole unarmed band was committed because he felt Usair feeling stealthily for his ('Abdallah's) sword as he rode behind him through the night. Now this is really rather too thin; for (1) Waqidi and Ibn Sa'd43 state explicitly that Mohammed had just offered the man peace and the secure headship of the tribe, and that the man himself wanted peace; (2) supposing he had overmastered 'Abdallah, how about the other thirty armed Moslems?! And (3) to crown all, Waqidi tells us that 'Abdallah, himself said to his son, "I was mending my bow when I came and found that my comrades had been ordered out against Usair. The Prophet said ‘May I never see Usair.’ He meant that I should kill him!44
Waqidi merely makes explicit what is clearly writ between every two lines of this unhallowed story. And, in fact, the popular biography of Halabi (III pp 207, 208) makes it absolutely patent that Mohammed was designing Usair's death from the start. Government by assassination! And it thirty others have to fall, as well as the assumed offender, and that under the white flag, what of it? As the prophet remarked, they were well rid — by Allah of course — "of an unrighteous people."45
Well, it may have been good enough for Arabia in the Seventh Century. But we were talking, we thought, of humanity for all time?
And even the Arabian stomach occasionally turned quest when even its low records were further lowered by the innovators. Many years after the event, the death of Ka'b was being discussed in Madina, and a converted Nadirite Jew-Moslem, named Benjamin, roundly asserted that Ka'b had been treacherously assassinated. The assassin (Mohammed b. Muslima, then a very old man) was present and was furious, and shouted, "Dost thou ascribe to the Apostle of God a treachery?; for only at his direct order did we compass his death." And he threatened the speaker so that he would assassinate him, and very nearly accomplished his threat too. This attitude of the original hero of the piece is what we should expect; it is the attitude of Benjamin that gives food for thought. Many must have had similar scruples which were never expressed, or which if expressed have not broken their way through into tradition. The saints were not slow to follow the leader's lead. One of them, finding his sister by the sea shore, killed — we suppose we must say "executed" — her on the spot for satire against the prophet. Islam, at that time at any rate, completely obliterated natural ties. The was sometimes, in fact, a bloodthirsty competition to show sincerity by the assassination of father46, relative 47, or friend48.
But the word "executed" would have to be stretched to an impossible tenuity to cover the following instance. After the assassination of Ka'b (see above) — in fact the next day — Mohammed gave the astounding order to kill all Jews wherever found50! (It must be remembered that these were still early days. Badr had only just been fought and only the first of the Jewish tribes, al Quainuqa', had offended and paid the penalty.) Accordingly one of the Mohammedans slew a Jewish trader, actually a man with whom he had most friendly commercial dealings, which had been highly profitable to him. The motive of the deed was purely mercenary — to get his benefactor's goods. A blacker murder in short, (for God's sake let us occasionally call a thing by its real name,) was never committed. It was too much for the brother of the murderer (not being yet a Moslem). He cried shame on his brother saying: "You enemy of God, have you murdered a man from whose goods most of the fat in your carcase came?51 It is needless to say the act was never disclaimed or even criticized, by Mohammed. It was in fact directly due to his own fatal proscription. Let Woking appeal to the universal conscience of humanity as to whose instinct was the sounder, the unconverted brother's or the Moslem assassin's. The heavens would fall — we say, the very heavens would fall — if the verdict were to be given to the latter.
Forgiveness of Enemies
"‘Love your enemy’ did not pass beyond the domain of dream in Christianity, but Mohammed — peace be on him — has shown us how love for the enemy may be shown in practice."
The Birthday Number rings the changes upon this theme. It is one of the great discoveries of Neo-Islam that poor Sayyidna 'Isa was all very well in his way (see the whole on p. 22), but never had the chance to show real forgiveness, i.e. in an hour of actual triumph. This Mohammed actually did. Such is the theme.
We are far from asserting that Mohammed was a radically inhumane or radically vindictive man, though he once punished some of his enemies by cutting off their hands and feet, blinding them, and then impaling the sightless trucks till life ebbed. But this was an isolated and exceptional incident, and the men were themselves murderers and mutilators, and were being punished in kind52.
So far from Mohammed's being specially cruel or specially vindictive the contrary is the case, if we confine ourselves to Arabia. He was magnanimous, and also had with his magnanimity that coolness of head which showed him clearly where and when magnanimity paid; especially at the capture of Makka, when the tide had clearly turned, and where to have ruined his winning cause by acts of vindictiveness would have been the absurdist of blunders. And other conquerors have been as clear-sighted, and, let us gladly add, as magnanimous. But the challenge of the Birthday Number cannot be allowed to pass so tamely. We have seen Mohammed's intense vindictiveness in regard to one special type of offence, satire; we have seen the assassinations that followed this with every circumstance of horror, over which, to do him justice, and to put it mildly, no crocodile's tears were shed, for the deaths caused him the keenest pleasure, if in the shades Abu Lahab has access to the Birthday Number, these parts of it must amuse him considerably. The ferocious vindictiveness of the prophet in his case could not even be kept out of the Koran. Another uncle, Abu Jahl, with others of the slain at Badr, were pitched into a pit, to the accompaniment of opprobrious remarks from the prophet. One Nawfal was among the prisoners hacked down after Badr, and Mohammed's keen relish there at is specially commented on53. The look which he fastened on al Nadr was so black that a bystander whispered that death was in it. The implacable and angry pitilessness shown, after the surrender of the Bani Quraiza (see the case of Thabit, and Mohammed's comment on the judgment of Sa'd) we have already seen; also the soulless spirit of unmercifulness in which the sentence of mercy for Qainuqa' was extorted from him. But
"Mohammed was the last of the race, and all those Divine moral attributes which were still undeveloped in men found their proper Epiphany in him. Forgiveness being one of them had its own occasion as well as its use. It found no occasion in the life-time of Jesus; and if others had it, they did not utilize it. But Mohammed had the rare occasion, and did not fail to use it. His enemies, when utterly fallen; entreated him to treat them as a noble-minded person would do. The appeal was most opportune, and made to the right man, and was readily accepted. (B.N. p. 23.)
We have seen the very considerable qualification which such extravagant words need. And what shall we say to the following as a commentary upon them? When 'Uqba was ordered out to be executed after Badr he asked why he should be treated with such special rigour? "Because of your enmity to Allah and his prophet," answered Mohammed. And then a gleam of human pathos suddenly illuminates the gloomy record, as the condemned man cried out, "Who will look after the children, Mohammed?" To which the reply was, "Hell!" and he was cut down54. Another historian adds that the prophet went on: "Wretch that thou wast, and persecutor.. I give thanks to the Lord that he hath slain thee, and comforted mine eyes, thereby." — The "Epiphany of the Divine moral attributes" had something to learn from the Sermon of the Mount, after all — nay, he had something to learn even from the despised heathen Quraish, who, according to the Birthday Number, "deserved every imaginable punishment to be devised of human ingenuity! (p. 22). For when al-Nadr (see above) was led out to execution — though his ransom would have been accepted by his captor — he said to Mus'ab, "Had the Quraish made thee a prisoner, they would never have put thee to death"; to which came a reply, somewhat unfortunate in this connection, "I am not as thou art: Islam has broken the pacts." And at this precise moment the command to strike off his head was interposed by Mohammed, who had been watching what had passed. And it was instantly done by 'Ali55.
The plain fact is that Mohammed though above the men of his time and place in many things, was, to put it mildly on their own level in others. It is not to later lavender-watering traditions produced by humaner Syrians and Persians, still less to milk-and-watery idealizations like this Birthday Number, that one must look, but to records which are evidently contemporary. What the real attitude of this Arabian was in this matter of vengeance and forgiveness is admirably shown up — with naive unconsciousness moreover — by the contemporary poet Ka'b b. Zuhair, an Arab of the Arabs. That attitude thoroughly appealed to Ka'b, but we do not see why it should arouse the enthusiasm of the mild gentlemen responsible for the Birthday Number. It was expressed by the said poet in his famous poem, the Banat Su'ad. We should premise that he also had been dabbling in the perilous game of satire, and that it was represented to him that the fate of the other Ka'b and sundry male and female members of the satirical profession would inevitably be his. He therefore made his submission in the following words:
Slanderers worked their way to Su'ad and repeated other "Thou are dead man, O K'ab!"
And every friend in whom I hoped said to me "I will not meddle with thee, I have no time for thee"56:
Until I pledged my troth to the Man of Vengeances whose word is law.
Verily when it was said to me 'Thou are being charged and asked after', he was more terrible to me than a lion of the forest."
There is a good deal of Araby, but precious little of Woking, in all this.
Slaughter of Prisoners
The Birthday Number writers do not specially say that the slaughter of prisoners is barbarous under any circumstances, but it is to be imagined that they would say so in no unmeasured terms, especially if they had come across any such incident in "Christian" wars. But such deeds occurred after some of Mohammed's battles. After Badr, especially, the greatest vindictiveness and bloodthirstiness were manifested. Many prisoners were slaughtered in cold blood, at least two of them at the personal instance of Mohammed who had a special grudge against them. The most famous Companions (except Abu Bakr) were then the most truculent. One of them was for burning the prisoners alive en masse!57 The Prophet checked these excesses. But the very words in which he did so, the very limits set up, show clearly that defenseless prisoners might always be slaughtered in cold blood if they could not get anyone to redeem them58.
The Sura produced after the event (viii 68) explicitly commands the slaughter of prisoners on occasions when it is advisable to make an impression by "frightfulness": on such occasions the sin would be to grow rich by accepting ransoms! And there is a whole series of traditions (quoted by Muir, Life p. 231) which make out that the "leniency" shown at Badr was a sin, that Mohammed had been against that sin, that humane Abu Bakr was the chief offender, and that had that sin been punished, only the whole-hoggers who had urged the slaughter of all the prisoners ('Umar and Sa'd) would have escaped!
The same Sura however gives signs that Mohammed already saw that the Badr policy was not for universal application. And as Islam developed, the terrible Badrian alternative was modified. For one thing, as we have already seen, the practice of selling war-captives became common (Are we, by the way, to regulate our practice by this also when the Governments turn their attention to the prisoners after the present war?): and, as the Birthday Number says, the Koran itself recommended the ransoming of war-captives as a form of charity suitable for rich Moslems. But the Badr alternative is always there in the background, and on suitable occasions may always be brought into the foreground. The prisoner of war is mubah damuhu: his life is essentially forfeit. Are we to ask the coming Hague convention of the new world to adopt this into its code of ethics for international war?
The subject of the "execution" of prisoners of war leads insensibly to forced conversions, about which some nonsense has been written by Christians, and a good deal more by Moslem apologist. It is quite true that some Christian writers have written as if the whole Moslem propaganda might be depicted exclusively by a Moslem standing over a non-Moslem with the sword in one hand and the Koran in the other. In regard to Christians and Jews this idea was in any case absurd and false, for the law from the beginning — or at any rate since Khaybar — has been that Christians and Jews (Peoples of the Book) have been free to reject Islam and hold to their own faith on condition of becoming tributary59 Zimmiyyun. And most of the best-known wars of Islam have been against peoples of a Book, for even the Persians were from the first included practically under the term. In consequence of which, the plea to regard Islam as an exceptionally tolerant religion has lately gained more and more recognition, and in some respects perfectly rightly so.
But not in all. It seems to be forgotten, and we may be sure that the Birthday Number does not remind us of it, that the Arabian heathen had by law no benefit whatever of protection without Islamising. For them and the "apostatates" the law from the beginning was Islam or death. And it was at the beginning that that law was most rigorously carried out. Moslems are very naive, and what has prevented them from seeing that this fact is constitutive of forced conversion is their idea that the deliberate presence of "conversion" to death is not a forced conversion! (It is notorious that neither Mohammed nor any who came after ever troubled about motives for profession; and so every conversion is a conversion wis salam.) They forget that the very real alternative was death. True, most preferred to escape death; but that proves, not disproves, our point. What of those who refused?
Sura IX is of course the locus classicus for the above facts. After the pilgrimage of A.H. 9 there was to be no quarter for heathen (in particular at least.) It was to be for them Islam of death. And the alternative was enforced. And note that the text makes the alternative most explicit: "When the sacred months are past (viz, the time of grace allowed at the Pilgrimage of A.H. 9), kill the polytheist wherever you find them ... but if they repent and perform the prayer and bring alms, let them go their way." None of these conformists, then, were instances of "forced conversion"! They all, of course, "repented"! No, it will not do. How about their almost unanimous apostasy (ridda) the moment the terrible Quraishite passed from the scene?
We shall not go into the question whether these proscriptions referred only to contemporary Arabs or to pagans all down the centuries60, for our theme is Mohammed. And it would seem to be a sufficient answer to the following challenge to have shown that by the command of the Prophet many thousands were as a plain matter of fact converted by force. The challenge is this:
If the sword was drawn to force these to conversion, why were the prisoners released at the end of each war and allowed to go to their home without being converted to Islam? Can any person refer to a single conversion which was secured through compulsion? (B.N. 24).
Most assuredly any person can. We should have thought that a Ka'b preferring Islam to the continual menace of the assassin's sword would have been a sufficient instance for most people. But here the apologists are to some extent helped by the incurable naivete of the Arab mind, which saw in such arguments real signs that so lusty a religion was from Allah — or at any rate was to be subscribed to: in practice the two things came to the same thing: only Allah knoweth the hearts.
But the matter cannot be so lightly dismissed.
Does Woking know, or merely conceal the fact, that any one of those "executed" hundreds of the Bani Quraiza Jews could have bought life be "conversion"? One, Jabal did so61. Was his case, or was it not, a conversion which was secured through compulsion? And the remaining hundreds? Is it not a fact that they only escaped "conversion" by resisting the "compulsion," and paying for their constancy with their lives?
Similarly the picket captured in the Marasi' expedition. He was first questioned, but refused to make any reply. Mohammed then offered him Islam. He refused. The Prophet then ordered 'Umar to cut off his head, which that cheerful headsman most readily did62. If that man had preferred to Islamise and save his neck, it would not have been, it seems, a forced conversion!
It may be objected that in this instance the man was a spy, and a spy's life was forfeit, and that the offering Islam to him was a gratuitous mercy. And somewhat similarly the Bani Quraiza. But this is beside the mark. Our subject is enforced conversion; and if the "conversion" of a man at the sword's point, whatever be the circumstances, is not to be called a forced conversion, then words have lost their meaning.
But all doubts are dispelled by the following incident63. Another spy was captured at Khaybar, but on this occasion the man was induced to talk, and his life was secured to him on Mohammed's express word. In consideration of this promise, Mohammed (remarks the historian) refrained from ordering 'Umar to cut his head off64. Latter on however "He had him brought before him in Khaybar and offered him Islam, with the remark that if on the third time of asking he did not accept it the rope should only depart from his neck after swinging65 (i.e. he should hang). That worked." No doubt it did. We waive enquiry into the honorableness or the morality of the threat66 after what had occurred at the outset. The point is that here we have the clearest possible example of a forced conversion, — Islam or the halter.
Then we have Mohammed's words to 'Ali before Khaybar67 "Fight them till they witness that there is no God except Allah and that Mohammed is the apostle of Allah: for if they do this, the they will have kept their blood and goods from you, — but only at the price of the same, and their reckoning is on God." We are asked to believe that a "witness" under these conditions was not a forced witness!
And "Apostles"? Whether their apostasy was from honest conviction, or motivated, or whether it was due to the fact that their original Islamising was a hypocritical farce as it obviously often was, matters not. The alternative for them was to be, Islam or death. If they chose Islam, would this or would it not, be a forced conversion?
And what comment is needed by the following candid narrative from Ibn Hisham? After the acts of frightfulness against the Jews which we have already mentioned, numbers of Jews "pretended to have embraced Islam. They adopted it in order to escape being killed"68.
Let the facts speak for themselves.
We must now bring this investigation to a close. And in closing it we would emphatically repeat what was said at the outset, namely that when and if admirers of Mohammed are content to regard him historically as a great Arabian, who had a real and strange sense of propherical call, and through this and his immense natural genius, singular gifts, and many virtues, accomplished a stupendous life-work, then we join with the admirers. Who with a grain of historic sense and appreciation would not? The worst enemies of Mohammed are not his opponents, but his friends, who will have it that the character of this Arabian giant is the very type of perfected humanity; that all his actions apart from trifles were perfect; that no great wrong can be attributed to him; that his moral splendor throws that of Jesus completely in shade; and that his example and precept make the best foundation not only for codes of conduct but for national and international law! Worst offenders of all are the Neo-Moslems who have assumed the task of dishing up the Biography to suit the taste of the Christian West; omitting here, explaining away there; challenging this (against the sources) and glozing that. It is not our business to estimate the sincerity of these men, nor of their Christian supporters. Some of these latter have been inspired to their self-appointed task through the indignation of an honest reaction against former exaggerations, or misrepresentation, or under-estimations; and some are merely officious and mealy mouthed. We have nothing to do with that. All we know is that these men one and all, are doing a disservice both to truth and to their idol. For they as little give the world the whole truth as did the old-time wholesale obloquist; and they simply force those who see in these assertions a gross offence against the fact, and a definite attack on the perfection and universality of the Man Christ Jesus, to rise up and show from the sources that the real Mohammed, the Mohammed of the sources and of the Agreement of Islam, the only Mohammed who counts, because the Mohammed of thirteen dead centuries and three hundred million living Moslems, will not fit the role in virtue of which the human race in invited to travel from Bethlehem to Mekka, from the Mount of the Beatitudes to the Mount of 'Arafat.
The following are the editions quoted in the article:—
Tabari, the Leyden (1st edition.)
Ibn Hisham, Wüstenfeld's edition (Leipzig.)
Halabi, Cairo, 1320.
Sira Nabawiyya, on the margin of Halabi.
Waqidi, Wellhausen's translation.
Ibn Sa'd ed. Sachan (Leyden.)
Note on page 15.
That it was Mohammed who took the offensive from Medina is quite frankly stated by the author of the Sira Nabawiyya. The mealy-mouthedness of these moderns would have seemed unintelligible, or perhaps somewhat contemptible, to him. He says: "The first thing which the Prophet set about was to intercept the caravans of the Quraish so as to capture their goods, in order that that might be an occasion for the opening of hostilities, and in order that the hearts of his companions might be inured to hostilities little by little; and in order that they might profit from what should accrue to them from the spoils which they carried off from those caravans, and thus get relief."69 Quid plura? the author of this sira merely brings out clearly what is written is not very invisible ink over all these early proceedings.
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