Tag Archives: ibn Ishaq

ibn Ishaq, Hadiths and early non-Muslim sources

A prime exhibit for the prosecution against Islam is ibn Ishaq’s early biography of Mohammed, Sirat Rasul Allah (Life of the Messenger of God). Extant only in partial form in later works, it provides the principal source for the group of biographies known as the Sira. Alfred Guillaume compiled and translated it as The Life of Muhammad (here are edited highlights if you don’t have the time).

This is the verdict of the David Margouliath, the distinguished scholar of early Islamic history (or Orientalist, depending on your point of view), as expressed 100 years ago in the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics:

       “The character attributed to Muhammad in the biography of Ibn Ishaq is exceedingly
        unfavourable. In order to gain his ends he recoils from no expedient, and he approves of similar
        unscrupulousness on the part of his adherents, when exercised in his interest. He profits to the
        utmost from the chivalry of the Meccans, but rarely requites it with the like. He organises
        assassinations and whole-sale massacres. His career as tyrant of Medina is that of a robber
        chief, whose political economy consists in securing and dividing plunder….This is a disagreeable
        picture for the founder of a religion, and it cannot be pleaded that it is a picture drawn by an
        enemy; and though Ibn Ishaq’s name was for some reason held in low esteem by the classical
        traditionalists of the third Islamic century, they make no attempt to discredit those portions of
        the biography which bear hardest on the character of their Prophet.”

This last point no longer held by the time Margouliath was writing. He adds, regarding defences of Mohammed’s character which started appearing in the late 19th century:

       “These apologists endeavour to discredit the biography of Ibn Ishaq where it shocks the European

This is also the case today. I have found that whenever I raise ibn Ishaq in discussion with Muslims, or sometimes even with non-Muslims, they immediately cry foul because, so they claim, ibn Ishaq cannot be trusted. They object that it is unfair to blacken Mohammed’s name with unreliable stories of atrocities ordered by him.

In this blog post I do not aim to prove ibn Ishaq correct in all his accounts; that would be impossible. Rather, I want to show that the picture he provides, of Mohammed as a cruel, merciless warlord, is consistent firstly with the Hadiths and secondly with the earliest independent accounts of him.

1. The Hadiths

In this document a defender of Mohammed’s good name called Ehteshaam Gulam brings forward a selection of the charges made against ibn Ishaq’s reliability including the two that always crop up, that he used reports from Jewish sources (which were likely to be both hostile and fabricated) and that the isnads (chains of transmission) for his stories about Mohammed are defective.

a. In Section #4 Gulam provides 9 stories of killings on Mohammed’s orders which appear in ibn Ishaq but not in the sahih (ie reliable) Hadith collections. He also adds the story of Kinana, whose killing is not denied but only the torture by fire before his decapitation (in terms of mitigation that must rank alongside “I shot the Sheriff but I did not shoot the deputy”).

Personally, I wouldn’t put any credence on stories, either from the Hadiths or the Sira, which had been handed down by word of mouth over a minimum of 125 years. Anyone who has played a game of Chinese whispers around a dinner table will understand why. But Muslims take a different view. As Gulam says “Muslims follow the Quran and the Hadith 100%”. That being so, let us compare the Hadiths and ibn Ishaq in terms of the brutality which Muslims claim should not be ascribed to Mohammed.

WikiIslam is an ex-Muslim run site which is a mine of information about the Islamic scriptures. Islamic apologists will automatically scoff at the mention of it but I find it to be scrupulous in its attributions, something I rarely find from those apologists themselves. Here is WikiIslam’s complete list of killings ordered or supported by Mohammed, with sources. You can even look up the individual Hadiths concerned via the links provided.

b. In the WikiIslam list we find 13 such stories which figure in both ibn Ishaq and the sahih Hadith collections.

As a representative example, number 5 in the list is the assassination of Ka’b ibn al-Ashraf. Here we can see Bukhari and Muslim (the two most trusted of sahih Hadith collectors), the historian al-Tabari, and ibn Ishaq combining to tell the kind of tale which engenders revulsion for Mohammed in normal people.

Number 12 is the infamous slaughter of 600-900 captured men of the Banu Qurayza tribe. WikiIslam does not cite ibn Ishaq directly but you can find it in Guillaume on pp461-466.

Number 42 is the torture and killing of Kinana.

c. In the WikiIslam list we also find 9 such stories which figure in the sahih Hadith collections but not in ibn Ishaq.

Number 15 surpasses even the story of Kinana in horror. Eight men from Ukil stole some camels from Mohammed. He ordered their hands and feet to be cut off. Their eyes were branded with hot metal and they were left in a desolate place to die.

The rest are everyday assassinations and executions apart from number 43 in which Mohammed sends a force to destroy the Kaaba of Yemen, killing 300 tribesmen in the process.

What are we to make of all this?

We can see that the stories which only appear in ibn Ishaq are no worse than the stories which appear in both ibn Ishaq and in the Hadiths, or those which appear only in the Hadiths. They consist, largely, of assassinations and executions of those who crossed Mohammed or mocked him. The Perfect Man appears to have been remarkably thin skinned and vengeful, just like Allah in fact.

The two exceptions are the stories involving torture. Gulam writes:

       “That a man [Kinana] should be tortured with burns on his chest by the sparks of a flint is too
        heinous a deed for a Prophet (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) who had earned for
        himself the title of Rahma’lil Alamin (Mercy for all the worlds)”.

Yet the hideous torture of the eight men of Ukil cannot be too heinous a deed for him because it is attested to by Bukhari. If I ever bump into Ehteshaam Gulam I will ask him how he reconciles these two accounts of the Mercy for all the worlds.

I think the above shows that ibn Ishaq is entirely consistent with the Hadiths regarding Mohammed’s cruelty, and that the crucial difference between the two is only that ibn Ishaq is more coherently presented as a narrative. That means it will be more likely to convince the general reader and therefore represents a greater threat to Mohammed’s reputation. There must then be a greater incentive for Islamic apologists to attempt to counter the likely effect of the message by undermining the messenger.

2. The Early Sources

The following are the three earliest accounts of Mohammed given by non-Muslims. I believe they speak for themselves.

a. The Didaskalia of Jacob, otherwise known as the Doctrina Jacobi, is a Greek Christian tract set in Carthage in 634 AD. According to the ground-breaking scholars of the origins of Islam, Patricia Crone and Michael Cook, it was written in Palestine shortly after that date.

The Sneakers Corner channel explores the tract’s background and supports its claimed credibility in this video.

Here is the text itself, and this is the relevant passage for our purposes (p99-100):

        ….Abraham my brother has written to me that a deceiving prophet has appeared: “For at the
        time when (Sergius) the Candidatus [ie Byzantine general] was slaughtered by the Saracens I was
        in Caesarea”—Abraham says—”and I went out by boat to Sykamina. And they said: the
        Candidatus was slaughtered. And we Jews rejoiced greatly. And they said that a prophet
        appeared, coming with the Saracens and he is proclaiming the arrival of the coming Anointed
        One and Christ. And when I went out into Sykamina I communicated it to a certain very
        scriptural old man and I said to him: ‘What do you say to me about this prophet who is
        appearing with the Saracens?’ And with a great groan he said: ‘He is a deceiver. Do prophets
        come with swords and chariots? Really these are works of disorder set in motion today, and I
        fear that the Christ who came earlier, whom the Christians worship, was the one sent by God
        and instead of him we shall accept Hermolaos [ie the anti-Christ]. For Isaiah said that we Jews
        have a mistaken and hardened heart, until all the land is made a desert. But go forth, Mr.
        Abraham, and learn about this prophet who is appearing.’ And I, Abraham, thoroughly
        investigating, heard from those who met him that you find nothing true in this so-called prophet,
        except shedding human blood. For he says that he has keys of Paradise which is unbelievable.

b. The Fragment on the Arab Conquests

This consists of fragmentary notes that were written on the blank front pages of a Syriac Christian manuscript of the Gospel of Mark around the year 636 AD.

Here is what Sneakers Corner has to say on the Fragment. This is the actual text which concerns us:

        In January {the people of} Ḥomṣ took the word for their lives and many villages were ravaged by
        the killing of {the Arabs of} Mūḥmd and many people were slain and {taken} prisoner from
        Galilee as far as Beth…

        On the tw{enty-six]th of May the Saq{īlā}ra went {…} from the vicinity of Ḥomṣ and the Romans
        chased them {…}

        On the tenth {of August} the Romans fled from the vicinity of Damascus {and there were killed}
        many {people}, some ten thousand. And at the turn {of the ye}ar the Romans came. On the
        twentieth of August in the year n{ine hundred and forty-}seven there gathered in Gabitha
        {a multitude of} the Romans, and many people {of the R}omans were kil{led}, {s}ome fifty

Note that the curly brackets denote illegible or nearly illegible words. Also that the Fragment places Mohammed in Palestine in year 947 of the Seleucid Greek calender, or 636 AD, whereas Muslim histories claim that he died in 632 never having broken out of Arabia.

c. Thomas the Presbyter

Thomas the Presbyter (ie the leader of a congregation) was a monophysite Christian whose manuscripts are preserved in the British library of Syriac Manuscripts.

Sneakers Corner introduces the account in the first three minutes here. The rest of the video concerns a scholarly spat which is of no direct interest to us.

This is the relevant text:

        In the year 945 [ie 634 AD], indiction 7, on Friday 4 February at the ninth hour, there was a battle
        between the Romans and the Arabs of Muhmd in Palestine twelve miles east of Gaza. The
        Romans fled, leaving behind the patrician bryrdn, whom the Arabs killed. Some 4,000 poor
        villagers of Palestine were killed there, Christians, Jews and Samaritans. The Arabs ravaged the
        whole region.

        In the year 947 [ie 636 AD], indiction 9, the Arabs invaded the whole of Syria and went down to
        Persia and conquered it. The Arabs climbed the mountain of Mardin and killed many monks
        there in [the monasteries of] Qedar and Bnata. There died the blessed man Simon, doorkeeper of
        Qedar, brother of Thomas the priest.

(As an aside, it seems Mohammed’s forces at Mt Mardin didn’t get the memo about protecting and defending Christians in general and monks in particular. See here for further details).


We see that ibn Ishaq, the sahih Hadiths and the earliest independent sources are all aligned in portraying Mohammed as a brutal, rampaging warlord.

When Islamic apologists next complain about my bringing forward ibn Ishaq as evidence, I shall ask them to explain how the character of Mohammed presented in his biography differs from the one we find in the Muslim sources (which they believe) and the non-Muslim sources (which I believe). In the meantime I feel justified in regarding the Sirat Rasul Allah as a reliable part of the Islamic tradition.

ibn Ishaq – edited highlights


The Sirat Rasoul Allah [Life of the Messenger of Allah] was the earliest biography of Mohammed, written 100 years after his death by ibn Ishaq. It survived, only in partial form, in the later works of ibn Hisham and al-Tabari. This abridged version provides some fascinating insights into the character and career of Mohammed. Here are some highlights for those who have not yet come across it:

Chapter 1. Early Life

A strange encounter:

Later, the apostle of Allah himself described what had happened. ‘Whilst I and my milk brother were pasturing some animals in the rear of our house, two men came to us dressed in white garments and bearing a golden platter full of snow. They took hold of me, opened my belly, extracted my heart, split it open and took out of it a black lump of blood which they threw away. Then they washed my heart and belly with snow, until they had purified them. Then one of them said to his companion, “Weigh him against one hundred of his people.” And he weighed me with them, but I proved heavier than they. Then he said, “Weigh him with one thousand of his people.” This he also did, and I was again found more heavy. After that he said, “Leave him; for if you were to weigh him against his whole nation, he would outweigh it.”

Chapter 3 The Revelation

A chilling prophesy:

There was also a Syrian Jew who paid a visit to the Banu Qurayza,a Jewish tribe, several years before the establishment of Islam and settled down among them….As his death approached, he said, ‘Why do you think I came away from the land of abundance to the land of misfortune and famine? I have come to this country to await the arrival of a prophet, whose time is near at hand; and it is to this country that he will flee. I hoped he would be sent during my lifetime, that I might follow him. His time is near at hand. Do not allow others to forestall you in believing in his mission; for he will be sent to shed the blood, and to capture the children and women, of those who oppose him; but let not this hinder you from following him.’ Years later, when the apostle of Allah besieged the Banu Qurayza, the friends of the dead Jew said, ‘By Allah! This is the prophet foretold to us. This is he according to his description!

A vision of the Angel Gabriel, or just a migraine aura (coloured patterns before the eyes – note that Gabriel is wherever Mohammed looks) + pareidolia (the tendency to read significance into random stimuli)?:

Afterwards I went out, and when I was on the centre of the mountain, I heard a voice from heaven, saying, “O Muhammad! Thou art the prophet of Allah, and I am Gabriel.” I raised my head to look at the sky, and lo! I beheld Gabriel in the shape of a man with extended wings, standing in the firmament, with his feet touching the ground. And he said again, “O Muhammad! Thou art the apostle of Allah, and I am Gabriel.” I continued to gaze at him, neither advancing nor retreating. Then I turned my face away from him to other parts of the sky, but in whatever direction I looked I saw him in the same form.

Chapter 5. The Night Journey

Mohammed flies to Jerusalem on a donkey:

And lo! There I saw a beast, white in colour, resembling part mule and part donkey, with two wings covering its hind legs, and with its forelegs placed as far as its sight could reach. [This was Buraq, the animal on which all prophets before Muhammad had been conveyed.] When I approached the beast to mount, it became restive, but Gabriel placed his hand on its mane and said, “Art thou not ashamed, o Buraq? No servant of Allah has yet ridden thee who is more favoured than Muhammad!” Then the beast became steady, and I mounted it.’….The apostle of Allah, accompanied by Gabriel, was transported to Jerusalem…

…then climbs to heaven:

‘When I had ended my visit to Jerusalem a ladder was brought to me, the like of which for beauty I had never seen before. This is the ladder which the dead yearn to see brought forth [that they may mount to heaven on the day of the last judgement]. Gabriel made me ascend this ladder until we arrived at that gate among the gates of heaven which is called The Gate of the Keepers.

…and haggles with Allah over the number of daily prayers required:

…they arrived in the seventh heaven, where the Apostle met his Lord, who made fifty daily prayers incumbent upon him.

The apostle of Allah continued his story. ‘Then I began my return. When I passed near Moses, who was a good friend to man, he asked, “How many prayers have been made incumbent upon thee?” and I replied, “Fifty prayers every day.” Moses said prayer is heavy, and thy people are weak. Go to thy Lord and ask Him to lighten it for thee, and for thy people.” Accordingly I returned to my Lord and asked Him to alleviate it for me and for my people. And He deducted ten. I went away again and passed near Moses, who repeated what he had said before. So I returned and asked my Lord, who once more deducted ten; and I went back to Moses, who sent me many times to Allah with the same injunction, until so many prayers were deducted that only five prayers remained for each day and night.

Chapter 6. Permission to wage war

Allah authorises defensive (or retaliatory) war:

Allah therefore permitted Muhammad to fight and to aid his against those who tyrannized over them. The first verse which came down permitting him to wage war and to shed began, ‘Permission is granted unto those who fight they have been oppressed, and Allah may aid those who have been driven from their homes merely for saying “Our Lord is Allah”.

Chapter 8. Medina

Muslims come first:

No Believer shall kill another for the sake of an infidel nor aid an infidel against a Believer. Verily, the protection of Allah is indivisible and extends to the meanest Believer of all; and each must befriend other Believers above all men.

Chapter 9. The Quibla

Allah is not a multiculturalist:

Some Muslims tried to keep up connexions with the Jews because of the alliance which had existed between them during the years of ignorance; but Allah revealed the following verse, prohibiting this kind of association. ‘Contract no friendships except among your own number. Others would certainly corrupt you. They desire your humiliation; their hatred is clear enough in what they say, but what their hearts conceal is even worse. You have more right to hate them than they you…’

Chapter 10. Rajam

Mohammed insists on the letter of the law:

Early in Muhammad’s stay at Medina the rabbis had met to judge a married man who had committed adultery with a Jewish woman who was also married. They said, ‘Send this man and this woman to Muhammad, ask him for a judgement of the case, and let him prescribe the penalty….he went to where the priests sat, and said to them, ‘Bring me your learned men!” They brought him Abdullah b. Suriya, who was the most learned, though one of the youngest, among them. The apostle talked alone with him and had him confirm on oath that according to the Torah, Allah condemns to stoning the man who commits adultery after marriage’ ….Then the apostle went out and ordered the culprits to be stoned in front of the mosque. When the man felt the first stone he bent over his mistress to protect her from the stones, until they were killed.

…and reacts badly to a reasonable question:

On another occasion a company of Jews came to the apostle ‘Allah has created creation, but who created Allah?’

And the apostle became so angry that his colour changed, and he leapt up in zeal for his Lord. But Gabriel came and quieted him, and said, “Calm thyself, Muhammad!” Gabriel brought a reply from Allah to what they had asked him. ‘Say “He is the one god! Allah is self generating! He begetteth not, nor is begotten! And there is none equal.”

Chapter 11. The Trinity

Allah orders offensive war:

A year after his arrival in Medina , and thirteen years after his ‘call’, the apostle of Allah prepared himself for war in obedience to the command of Allah that he should attack the idolaters. He was then fifty three years old.

Chapter 12. The First Caravan

Mohammed makes an inauspicious start to his career as a caravan raider:

This took place on the last day of the sacred month Rajab [October]. Abdullah and his companions conferred among themselves: ‘If we allow these people to continue and reach sacred territory tonight, they will be safe from us; but if we attack them now, we profane the sacred month.’ And they vacillated and hesitated to attack, but at last mustered up their courage and agreed to slay as many of the Quraysh as they could, and take possession of what they had with them. So Waqid shot an arrow and killed one of the Quraysh, two others were made prisoner, and the fourth fled.

Then Abdullah, with his companions, the caravan, and the prisoners, returned to Medina , saying, One fifth part of our plunder belongs to the apostle of Allah.’

…It’s all Abdullah’s fault but Mohammed gets the blame:

In Mecca , the Quraysh were saying: “Muhammad and his companions have violated the sacred month; they have shed blood in it, and taken booty, and captured prisoners.’ The Jews interpreted the event as a bad omen for the apostle.

…but Allah rescues the situation with a helpful revelation:

When speculation on the subject became widespread Allah revealed these words to His apostle: ‘They will ask thee about the sacred month and the fighting. Say “To fight in the sacred month is a matter of grave import, but to obstruct the worship of Allah and not to believe in Him, to prevent men from entering the holy mosque or to drive them out of it, these are of even graver import.” ‘

Chapter 13. The Battle of Badr

Allah encourages the believers and makes clear his attitude to unbelievers:

Allah said, ‘I shall aid you with a thousand angels in serried ranks.’ . . . And Allah instructed His angels, ‘I shall throw terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off their fingers, because they have resisted Allah and His apostle and Allah is severe in His punishment.’

…and underlines it:

Then He called the Muslims to unite and made the Helpers and the Emigrants friends in religion, and declared infidels of all creeds to be alike excluded from the friendship of Muslims. ‘Unless you do this, there will be doubt on earth and great corruption.’

Chapter 17. The Trench

Mohammed reveals his ultimate ambitions:

Salman the Persian told how ‘I was digging in a portion of the Ditch and found it hard. The apostle was near me, and when he saw how troublesome the spot was, he came down, took the pick¬axe from my hand, and struck the soil thrice. And each stroke brought forth a spark. Then I said, “Thou art to me as my father and mother, o apostle of Allah! What was this lightning I saw under the pickaxe when thou struck the soil?” He asked, “Didst thou really see it, Salman?” and I said, “Yes.” He told me, “The first spark means that Allah has promised me the conquest of Yemen ; the second that Allah has granted me the conquest of Syria and the West; and the third that Allah has bestowed upon me victory over the East.”

Chapter 18. The Banu Qurayza

Mohammed shows how to deal with those troublesome Jews:

The apostle of Allah imprisoned the Qurayza in Medina while trenches were dug in the market place. Then he sent for the men and had their heads struck off so that they fell in the trenches. They were brought out in groups, and among them was Kab, the chief of the tribe. In number, they amounted to six or seven hundred, although some state it to have been eight or nine hundred. All were executed. One man turned to his people and said, ‘It matters not! By God’s will, the children of Israel were destined for this massacre!’ Then he seated himself and his head was struck off.

Now the apostle distributed the property of the Banu Qurayza, as well as their women and children, to the Muslims, reserving one fifth for himself. Every horseman received three shares, one for himself and two for his steed, and every foot soldier one share. There were thirty six horses present on the day of the Qurayza. The apostle dispatched an emissary to Najd with the prisoners, to barter them as slaves in exchange for horses and camels.

The apostle of Allah selected one of the Jewish women, Rayhana, for himself, and she remained with him as his slave until she died.

Chapter 20. Khaybar

Mohammed meets Safiya, and shows his sensitive side:

The apostle occupied the Jewish forts one after the other, taking prisoners as he went. Among these were Safiya, the wife of Kinana, the Khaybar chief, and two female cousins; the apostle chose Safiya for himself. The other prisoners were distributed among the Muslims. Bilal brought Safiya to the apostle, and they passed the bodies of several Jews on the way….The apostle reprimanded Bilal, saying, ‘Hast thou lost all feelings of mercy, to make women pass by the corpses of their husbands?’

Sadly, it does not extend to Safiya’s husband:

Kinana, the husband of Safiya, had been guardian of the tribe’s treasures, and he was brought before the apostle, who asked where they were hidden. But Kinana refused to disclose the place. Then a Jew came who said, ‘I have seen Kinana walk around a certain ruin every morning.’ The apostle asked Kinana, ‘Art thou prepared to die if we find thou knewest where the treasure was?’ And he replied, ‘Yes.’ So the apostle ordered the ruin to be dug up, and some of the treasure was found. After that Kinana was asked again about the remainder, but he still refused to tell. The apostle of Allah handed him over to al Zubayr, saying, ‘Torture him until he tells what he knows’, and al Zubayr kindled a fire on his chest so that he almost expired; then the apostle gave him to Muhammad b. Maslama, who struck off his head.

Mohammed escapes justice:

After the apostle of Allah had rested, the captive woman Zaynab brought him a roasted sheep. She had asked what portion of the sheep the apostle of Allah most enjoyed and, having been told that it was the leg, she put much poison into it, although she also poisoned the whole sheep. When she placed it before the apostle he took a bite, but did not swallow; Bishr likewise took a piece, but he did swallow. Then the apostle of Allah spat his out, saying, ‘This bone informs me that it is poisoned.’ He summoned the woman, who confessed what she had done, and asked, ‘What made thee do this?’ She replied, ‘It is no secret to thee, what my people feel towards thee. I said to myself, “If he be only a king, we shall be delivered of him; but if he be a prophet, he will know of the poison and guard himself.”‘ The apostle released her, but Bishr died of the piece he had eaten….During his last sickness, years later, the apostle said, ‘I feel the vein of my heart bursting from the food I ate at Khaybar’

Chapter 25. Tabuk

Mohammed does not tolerate competition:

Before the apostle had left for Tabuk he had been approached by some men who said, ‘We have built a mosque for the sick and the needy, for wet and for cold nights, and we are anxious that thou shouldst come and pray therein.’ He had replied, ‘I am on the verge of leaving, but when we return, we shall, if Allah willeth, pay you a visit and pray in the mosque.’ When he alighted at Dhu Awan, an hour’s ride from Medina , on his return, information was sent down to him from Allah about the mosque. He called two of his followers and said, ‘Go to this mosque, whose people are unrighteous; destroy it; burn it.’ So they departed in haste and took a blazing date branch to the mosque. Although there were people in it, they burned and destroyed it. This was the verse of the Koran revealed concerning this matter: ‘And those who erected a mosque out of opposition and unbelief and to cause a schism among the Believers they will say “We desired nothing but good”. Allah knows they lie. Enter no such mosque.’

Chapter 26. The Last Illness

Mohammed sends jihad beyond Arabia from his death bed:

While the apostle was sick the people delayed the expedition he had commanded, but he said, ‘Carry out the expedition to the Syrian border’, and the people hastened their preparations.

Umar, who later became the second Caliph, defies reality:

Now Umar rose before the people and said, ‘Some Hypocrites say that the apostle of Allah is dead! He has not died, but has departed to his Lord, just as Moses left his people for forty days, and returned to them when it was rumoured he was dead. By Allah! The apostle will return just as Moses did, and the hands and feet of the men who have said that the apostle is dead will be cut off!’

The scene is set for the first Caliph Abu Bakr’s brutal Ridda (Apostasy) Wars to subjugate reluctant Muslims, an example currently being followed by the modern Abu Bakr, the self declared Caliph of ISIS:

When the apostle of Allah died many Arabs relapsed into idolatry; Judaism and Christianity rose again, and Hypocrisy became common, so that the Muslims seemed like a flock of sheep on a wintry night, because of the loss of their prophet. Then Allah roused them again under Abu Bakr.’


A short story

The grisly stories that feature in the Hadiths and the Sira (biographies of Mohammed) were not written by his enemies but by devout followers. When confronted about events which reflect badly on Mohammed there is a tendency for Islamic apologists to cast doubt on the sources but in this case, of the murder of a Jewish poet who had insulted Mohammed, we have four of his greatest admirers combining to relate one episode.

Sahih Bukhari 4:52:271
“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.’ [ie lie] The Prophet replied, ‘I do (i.e. allow you).’ ”

Sahih Muslim 19:4436
….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.”

al-Tabari 7:94
“Ashraf suspected no evil when Maslama cried, ‘Smite the enemy of Allah!’ So they smote him, and their swords clashed over him. Maslama said, ‘I remembered my dagger and I seized it. I thrust it into the lower part of his body. I bore down upon it until I reached his genitals. Allah’s enemy fell to the ground.’ ”

“We carried Ka’bs head back to Muhammad during the night, saluted the Prophet as he stood praying, and cast Ashraf’s head before his feet. The Prophet praised Allah that the poet had been slain, and complimented us on the good work we had done in Allah’s Cause. Our attack upon Allah’s enemy cast terror among the Jews, and there was no Jew in Medina who did not fear for his life.’ ”

al-Tabari 7:97
“The morning after the murder of Ashraf, the Prophet declared, ‘Kill any Jew who falls under your power.’ ”

“Thereupon Mas’ud leapt upon Sunayna, one of the Jewish merchants with whom his family had social and commercial relations and killed him. The Muslim’s brother complained, saying, ‘Why did you kill him? You have much fat in you belly from his charity.’ Mas’ud answered, ‘By Allah, had Muhammad ordered me to murder you, my brother, I would have cut off your head.’ Wherein the brother said, ‘Any religion that can bring you to this is indeed wonderful!’ ”