Tag Archives: verse of the sword

Alfred Guillaume’s Life of Muhammad


Since the Koran is incomprehensible without external references and the Hadiths are a massive jumble of often contradictory tales, the Sira (biographies of Mohammed) must be the best available source of information about Mohammed’s character and career.

The principal biography is that of Ibn Ishaq, which only exists in partial form in other Muslim histories but Alfred Guillaume brought the remnants together and translated them in The Life of Muhammad.

Apart from anything else it provides a damning counterview to the claims we often hear about Mohammed the benign ruler. For instance, Dr John Andrew Morrow promotes a fantasy version of Mohammed based on his book about the almost certainly fake Covenants of Mohammed. In an interview Morrow said:
“Traditional, true Islam is a religion of love, peace and understanding. We do not torture, kill, kidnap and, sure as hell, we do not rape. Those who do act against Allah!”
However, if we have our Life of Muhammad handy and turn to pages 511 and 515-517 we see Mohammed do all four in the space of a few days. He had Kinana tortured and killed, and kidnapped and raped his wife Safiyah (admittedly after marrying her but consent was clearly not an issue).

Similarly, it is instructive to compare those pages with the version in Karen Armstrong’s biography Muhammad. She tells us only that Safiyah had been widowed during the Khaybar campaign, which tells you everything you need to know about Armstrong’s approach to her subject.

If you have only an hour to spare here is an abridged version. If you have only ten minutes to spare here are edited highlights. But nothing gives the full flavour of the brutal times and Mohammed’s brutal actions like the full Life of Muhammed.

The book’s index gives only the briefest indication of particular events so here is an expanded guide to the contents which I hope may be helpful. The page number of the text is given plus the electronic page number (eg 99/432) for speed of locating sections:

p.82 (65/432)  Khadija
Mohammed marries Khadija, a wealthy merchant woman.

p.106 (77/432)  Gabriel
Archangel Gabriel appears to Mohammed in a dream. Mohammed thinks he has become an ecstatic poet or possessed, and decides to throw himself off the mountain but Gabriel stops him, telling him he is Allah’s apostle. Khadija convinces him that he is not possessed and hopes he will become a prophet.

p.165 (106/432)  The Context of Sura 109
A party of the Quraysh (Mohammed’s tribe in Mecca) propose merging his monotheistic religion with their polytheistic one. Mohammed rejects the proposal saying “I do not worship what you worship, and you do not worship what I worship…you have your religion and I have mine”.
This statement is often deceptively presented as an example of Mohammed’s religious tolerance rather than simply a rejection of syncretism. In fact later scholars regarded the crucial verse 6 as being abrogated by 9:5 the “Verse of the Sword”.

p.165-167 (106-107/432) The Satanic Verses affair
Mohammed agrees to venerate three goddesses of the Quraysh, then realising he has gone back on his strict monotheism, receives a revelation from Gabriel explaining that the message did not come from him but Satan who tricked Mohammed.

p.181-187 (114-117/432)  The Night Journey and the Ascent to Heaven
Mohammed flies to Jerusalem on a donkey and climbs a ladder to heaven where he meets the prophets and haggles with Allah over the number of daily prayers required. He is given a glimpse into hell where he sees women hanging by their breasts because they had “fathered bastards on their husbands”.

p.198-199 (123/432)  The First Pledge at Aqaba (near Mecca)
Mohammed forms a peaceful alliance (ie the pledge of women) with members of the Aus and Khazraj tribes of Medina. They become known as the Ansar (ie helpers).

p.201-204 (124-126/432)  The Second Pledge at Aqaba
Mohammed and the Aus and Khazraj enter into a military alliance. Mohammed says “I will war against them that war against you and be at peace with those at peace with you”.
One tribesman says “Oh men of Khazraj, do you realize to what you are committing yourselves in pledging your support to this man? It is to war against all and sundry”. They accept Mohammed on these conditions but ask what they will get in return. Mohammed promises them paradise.

p.212-213 (130/432)  The Order to Fight
Allah gives Mohammed permission to engage in retaliatory warfare against his enemies of the Quraysh in Mecca.

p.223-228 (134-137/432)  The Hijra
The Meccans plan to kill Mohammed but he escapes to Medina, followed by his followers in Mecca (the muhajirun).

p.231-233 (138-139/432)  The Charter of Medina
Mohammed draws up an agreement between the various tribal and religious groups in Medina.

p.250-251 (148/432)  The Jews do not accept Mohammed’s prophethood
In a commentary on Sura 2 Allah is quoted as telling the Jews “Do not conceal the knowledge which you have about My apostle”.
The claim that Jews know that Mohammed was prophesied in the Torah but they deny it is a theme which runs through the book, as detailed HERE.
Mohammed reminds Jews of the time when Allah transformed some of them into apes for their sins.

p.256 (151/432)  Letter to the Jews of Khaybar
Mohammed writes to the Jews of Khaybar calling them to Islam.
He says:
‘God says to you O scripture folk, and you will find it in your scripture “Muhammad is the apostle of God”…’
‘Do you find in what He has sent down to you that you should believe in Muhammed? If you do not find that in your scripture then there is no compulsion on you, “The right path has become plainly distinguished from error” so I call you to God and his prophet’.
Therefore the famous “no compulsion in religion” statement in Koran 2:256 is only conditional here, and since that condition has not been met compulsion is not proscribed.

p.267 (156/432)  Mohammed has adulterers stoned
Mohammed revives the lapsed injunction in the Torah to stone adulterers. “And when the Jew felt the first stone he crouched over the woman to protect her from the stones until both of them were killed”.

p.286-289 (168-169/432)  The first caravan raid
Mohammed sends his men to attack a Meccan caravan, which they do but before the Sacred Month has elapsed. Everyone is unhappy but Allah obliges with a helpful revelation. Mohammed establishes the rule for dividing booty, four fifths for those who Allah allowed to take it and one fifth for Allah and his Apostle.

p.299-305 (174-177/432)  The Battle of Badr
Mohammed leads an expedition to attack a Meccan caravan, leading to a decisive victory for the Muslims, partly due to the assistance of an army of of angels.

p.363-364 (206-207/432)  The Banu Qaynuqa
Mohammed besieges the Qaynuqa, one of three Jewish tribes of Medina, until they surrender unconditionally. The leader of the Khazraj tribe prevails on Mohammed to spare them and Mohammed gives them to him. Other sources report that the Qaynuqa were then expelled from the region.

p.364-369 (207-209/432)  The killing of Ka’b b. al-Ashraf
Mohammed orders the assassination of Ka’b b. al-Ashraf for composing insulting verses about him. Members of the Aus tribe carry it out.

p.369 (209/432)  The killing of Ibn Sunayna
Mohammed orders “Kill any Jew that falls into your power”. Muhayyisa kills Ibn Sunayna and Muhayyisa’s brother Huwayyisa upbraids him for killing someone who had benefited him so much. Muhayyisa replies that if ordered by Mohammed he would have killed Huwayyisa who is so impressed that he converts.

p.370-391 (210-220/432)  The Battle of Uhud
An inconclusive victory for the Meccans.

p.437-438 (243-244/432)  The Banu Nadir
Mohammed defeats the Nadir, the second Jewish tribe of Medina, confiscates their property and expels them from the region.

p.450-460 (250-255/432)  The Battle of the Ditch (or Trench)
Mohammed orders a ditch to be dug as a defence against an alliance of Jews and Quraysh. Mohammed strikes a rock with a pick, producing three sparks. He explains “the first means that Allah has opened up to me the Yaman; the second Syria and the west; and the third the east”. The alliance eventually withdraws after the siege fails.

p.461-466 (255-258/432)  The Banu Qurayza
Mohammed lays siege to the Qurayza, the third Jewish tribe of Medina, addressing them thus “You brothers of monkeys, has God disgraced you and brought His vengeance upon you?”
They surrender after 25 nights. Mohammed has 600-900 men beheaded and the women and children sold into slavery, except Rayhana who he selects for himself.

p.482-483 (266/432)  The killing of Sallam Ibn Abu’l-Hayquq
The Khazraj, jealous that the Aus had killed Ka’b b. al-Ashraf, ask permission to assassinate Sallam Ibn Abu’l-Hayquq, an opponent of Mohammed in Khaybar. Mohammed grants permission and they carry out the murder.

p.504-507 (277-278/432)  The Treaty of Hudaybiya
Mohammed agrees a 10 year truce with the Meccans.

p.510-511 (280/432)  The Expedition to Khaybar
Mohammed marches against Khaybar, conquering forts and taking captives. He selects Safiya, the wife of Kinana b. al-Rabi for himself.
p.515 (282/432)
Mohammed has Kinana tortured with fire in order to find out where the Jews’ treasure is hidden then has him beheaded.
p.516 (283/432)
A captured woman attempts to poison Mohammed but does not succeed.

p.549-552 (299-301/432)  The Occupation of Mecca
Mohammed enters Mecca with no resistance and destroys 360 idols around the Ka’ba.

p.566-572 (308-311/432)  The Battle of Hunayn
Mohammed wins a decisive battle against the Hawazin tribe.

p.588 (319/432)  Poetry
Before the capture of Al-Ta’if, Ka’b b. Malik sums up the ethos of the Religion of War in these lines:
“Till you turn to Islam, humbly seeking refuge,
We will fight not caring whom we meet…
They came at us thinking they had no equal
And we cut off their noses and ears
With our fine polished Indian swords
Driving them violently before us
To the command of God and Islam…
And he who cannot protect himself must suffer disgrace”

p.609 (329/432)  A rival mosque
Mohammed orders an independently set up mosque to be burned, while people are worshipping in it

p.618 (334/432)  The Verse of the Sword
Mohammed revokes treaties held with polytheist tribes and pronounces Koran 9:5, giving permission to attack unbelievers solely for religious reasons…“And when the sacred months are passed, then kill the polytheists wherever you find them, and seize them and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush…”

p.650-652 (350-351/432)  The Final Sermon
Mohammed gives what has become known as the Final Sermon. If women defile men’s beds or act with open unseemliness…“God allows you to put them in separate rooms and beat them, though not with severity…Lay injunctions on women kindly for they are prisoners with you, having no control of their persons”.

p.652 (351/432)  Out of Arabia
Mohammed orders an expedition to Syria and Palestine, the first outside Arabia.

p.652 (351/432)  Neighbouring rulers called to Islam
Messengers are sent to neighbouring kings calling on them to accept Islam.
p.659 (354/432)
To Badhan, governor of Yaman, Mohammed makes the offer “If you submit I will give you what you already hold and appoint you king over your people in Yaman.”

p.659-660 (354-355/432)  A Summary of Mohammed’s battles
Mohammed took part in 27 raids and fought in 9 of them.

p.664-665 (357/432)  The killing of Umm Qirfa
Zayd, Mohammed’s adopted son, raids the Banu Fazara and has their leader, an old woman called Umm Qirfa, killed “cruelly by putting a rope to her two legs and to two camels and driving them until they rent her in two”.

p.669 (359/432)  Abu Bakr thinks there is compulsion in religion
Abu Bakr, later to become the first caliph, tells a convert “God sent Muhammed with this religion and he strove for it until men accepted it voluntarily or by force”.

p.672 (361/432)  “Kill those who disbelieve in God”
At the raid on Dumatu’l-Jandal Mohammed gives ‘Abdu’l-Rahman b. ‘Auf the standard and tells him “Fight everyone in the way of God and kill those who disbelieve in God”.

p.675-676 (362-363/432)  The killing of Asma d. Marwan
Mohammed orders the killing of mother of five, Asma d. Marwan of the Banu Khatma, for writing an insulting verse about him. Umayr carries it out. Mohammed says “You have helped God and his Apostle”. When Umayr asks if he will have to suffer any evil consequences, Mohammed replies “Two goats won’t butt their heads about her”.
“The day after Bint Marwan was killed the men of Banu Khatma became Muslims because they saw the power of Islam”.

p.677-678 (363-364/432)  Revenge for the Killing of Yasar
Mohammed allows some sick tribesmen to drink the milk and urine of his camels but they kill the shepherd Yasar and drive off the camels. They are captured and Mohammed orders their hands and feet to be cut off and their eyes to be gouged out.

p.682 (366/432)  The Death of Mohammed
Mohammed dies, nursed by A’isha. Umar, later to become the second caliph, declares Mohammed is not dead but has just gone to spend time with Allah and threatens to cut off the hands and feet of those who claim otherwise.

p.687 (368/432)  Abu Bakr makes his position clear
Abu Bakr is chosen as Mohammed’s successor, the first caliph. He tells the believers “If a people refrain from fighting in the way of God, God will smite them with disgrace”

p.689 (369/432)  Last words
It is reported that Mohammed’s last words were “Let not two religions be left in the Arabian Peninsula”.
It is later reported that A’isha used to say “When the apostle died the Arabs apostatized and Christianity and Judaism raised their heads and disaffection appeared. The Muslims became as sheep exposed to rain on a winter’s night through the loss of their prophet until God united them under Abu Bakr”.
This refers to the Brutal Ridda or Apostasy wars conducted by Abu Bakr against reneging tribes. The majority of the tribes were willing to regard Mohammed as their prophet but Abu Bakr insisted on them also paying the zakat tax.


Slay the idolaters….but which idolaters?


In the counter-jihad world it is widely taken as unquestionable that the jihad verses of the Koran sanction eternal warfare against non-Muslims until the whole world is converted or subjugated. This is because they are open ended and therefore refer to you and me in London and New York today just as much as they do to Mohammed’s tribal enemies in Mecca in 630 AD. That is what I find when discussing it with counter-jihadists anyway, and it is what I believed until I had a long and bitter debate with someone making the case that mainstream Islam is not unavoidably supremacist because those verses should be interpreted contextually.

It was only some time after that I looked more closely at the jihad verses, and those surrounding them, and realised to my horror that she was right. Or half right anyway. Right that they can very plausibly be interpreted contextually but wrong that Islam is therefore not inherently and unavoidably supremacist. How come?

Imagine that Islam never spread out of Arabia, that perhaps the Persian and Byzantine empires rallied and squashed it, never to be heard of again. Then imagine coming across this strange old book in the loft of a church or synagogue in the one-camel town of Mecca 1400 years later. What would you make of it? I suggest that you would probably think it a collection of tales and motivational sermons from some cult leader to his followers in their bid to take over Mecca and the surrounding area. Would you see anything in it that suggests any ambitions beyond that, anything that clearly mandates eternal application over the whole world?

Take the infamous verse 9:5:

Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then leave their way free. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

Which idolaters is it referring to? There is nothing which identifies all idolaters for all time. Looking at the previous verses:

In verse 1 and verse 3 Allah is giving Mohammed permission to annul the treaty he made with neighbouring idolaters. In verse 4 Allah makes an exception of those of the idolaters who have abided by the terms of the treaty. So who are the idolaters to be ambushed as instructed in verse 5? Presumably the idolaters who supposedly broke the treaty. Jihadis (and counter-jihadists) claim that the verse refers to all idolaters for all time but they have to derive that interpretation from elsewhere because it is clearly not in the text.

Moreover, the sacred months referred to were a specifically local custom, tying the verse even more firmly to its context. Mohammed got so much grief for carrying out his first caravan raid during that time that Allah was obliged to send down a special revelation to get him off the hook.

Likewise with 9:29:

Fight against such of those who have been given the Scripture as believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, and forbid not that which Allah hath forbidden by His messenger, and follow not the Religion of Truth, until they pay the tribute readily, being brought low.

In verse 25 and verse 26 Allah is addressing those Muslims who took part in the Battle of Huneyn. In verse 28 he is referring to those idolaters, necessarily within reach of Mecca, who must not be allowed near the Inviolable Place of Worship, ie the Kaaba in Mecca.

But 9:29 means Jews and Christians everywhere and forever? Really? What would William of Occam (he of the razor) say?

Even with 8:39, one of the two most apparently supremacist verses in the Koran:

And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is all for Allah

the standard translations say nothing about everywhere and forever. The verse could plausibly be read as being fulfilled when Mohammed marched into the Kaaba and destroyed the 360 other gods.

Verse 34 talks of the Meccans who kept the Muslims from the Kaaba.
Verse 41 is about establishing Mohammed’s cut of the loot.
In verse 42 Allah reminisces about the Battle of Badr.

Who are the unbelievers who must be fought until religion is all for Allah, all unbelievers forever and everywhere or just the Meccans? I see nothing about holy war “without limit of time or space”, just a very specific campaign over control of the Kaaba and booty.

It took Hilali and Khan, the Saudi government’s own translators, to turn it into:

And fight them until there is no more Fitnah (disbelief and polytheism: i.e. worshipping others besides Allah) and the religion (worship) will all be for Allah Alone [in the whole of the world]

Likewise, they turned 8:60 from the 7th century:

Make ready for them all thou canst of (armed) force and of horses tethered, that thereby ye may dismay the enemy of Allah…

into the decidedly 21st century:

And make ready against them all you can of power, including steeds of war (tanks, planes, missiles, artillery, etc.) to threaten the enemy of Allah…

Admittedly it is the Hilali-Khan translation which is to be found in all those Saudi funded mosques around the world, influencing generations of Salafis, but that adds nothing to its validity, only to its malign effect.

The other most apparently supremacist verse, 48:28, is much the same:

He it is Who hath sent His messenger with the guidance and the religion of truth, that He may cause it to prevail over all religion. And Allah sufficeth as a Witness.

The previous verses are clearly about the Muslims’ campaign for control of Mecca and the Kaaba (verse 24, verse 25 and verse 27). That being so, is there any reason to suppose that “all religion” was intended to refer to all religion in the entire world rather than all the religion practised in the vicinity of Mecca?

We could go on but you get the point. I have been through all the 160 or so jihad verses, conveniently highlighted in mauve here, (and their surrounding verses) and can find none which clearly point to a place or time beyond Mohammed’s military campaigns. If you can I would be grateful to hear of them.

Surprisingly, it is a non-jihad verse which seems to provide the strongest support for the supremacist view albeit indirectly, 33:21:

Verily in the messenger of Allah ye have a good example for him who looketh unto Allah and the Last Day, and remembereth Allah much.

Much hangs on this verse. The Sunnah is the example of Mohammed and Sunnis are those who follow it. So what do we find in the example of Mohammed? Some people manage to concentrate on the benign parts of Mohammed’s example but to jihadis (and to those among us who unaccountably harbour an irrational fear of Islam) the example of Mohammed is indisputably red in tooth and claw.

Is it reasonable to think that Allah meant Mohammed’s good example should cease to be taken as such after his death? General examples of any kind are usually regarded as being without an expiry date, probably more so when given by entities who were supposedly there at the beginning of the universe and who will be there at the end.

What then might someone who strives to follow Mohammed’s example make of it in Cardiff or Sydney today (literally today, 2nd May 2017 as an unexceptional example)? Even if Mohammed’s rampages were only ever local, it would be difficult to argue with those who come to the conclusion that Allah would approve of their playing out his murderous example on a larger stage until all unbelievers are converted or subjugated.

On the other hand there are two good pieces of contemporary evidence for Mohammed’s supremacism outside the Koran:

Firstly, there is the documentary evidence of his threatening letters to surrounding kings and even emperors. As far as I know they are undisputed, at least John Andrew Morrow who goes to heroic lengths to whitewash Mohammed in his book about the Covenants of Mohammed accepts them as genuine. The fact that Mohammed had the chutzpah to write to emperors in such terms is highly persuasive of his limitless ambitions but also, look how direct he is with the smaller fry in his neighbourhood:

“Be informed that my religion shall prevail everywhere (to Haudha bin Ali, governor of Yamama).

“Allah has sent me as a Prophet to all His creatures“ (to Jaifer, King of Oman).

Secondly, there is the circumstantial evidence of the actions of Mohammed’s immediate successors who, as his companions in life, presumably knew his intentions best. Did they settle down and turn Arabia into a model theocracy, happy to let the surrounding infidels get on with their thing? No they consolidated their power with the brutal Ridda Wars then took Islam from Spain to India (and not by knocking on doors). They stopped there not because they had spread the word of Allah far enough but because opposing armies halted them.

Leaving the 7th century behind us, more than 100 years after Mohammed’s death Ibn Ishaq tells us in his biography, which is the foundation of the Sira, that it was Mohammed himself who sent jihad beyond Arabia by ordering an attack against Byzantine Syria from his deathbed.

Ibn Ishaq also tells us that after hitting a stone with his pickaxe during preparations for the Battle of the Trench Mohammed said:

“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.”

Another 100 years after that we see this sort of thing in the Hadiths:

“Allah drew the ends of the world near one another for my sake. And I have seen its eastern and western ends. And the dominion of my Ummah would reach those ends… Sahih Muslim (41:6904)

I would not want to be convicted on evidence passed down by word of mouth over 200 years but the point is that Mohammed’s supremacism becomes ever more entrenched in Islam. The process is augmented with the great mediaeval commentaries, for instance:

“Allah the Exalted and Most Honored said, while delivering the glad tidings to the believers that the Messenger will triumph over his enemies and the rest of the people of the earth. Tafsir of Ibn Kathir.

And by the various schools of Islamic Law, for instance:

“Among the things that entail apostasy from Islam are…to deny that Allah intended the Prophet’s message (Allah bless him and give him peace) to be the religion followed by the entire world. The Reliance of the Traveller.

What can we conclude then?

1. The jihad verses do not show that Mohammed was supremacist – ie globally and eternally supremacist.
2. There is good evidence elsewhere that he was, and this has been amplified over the centuries in Islamic scriptures.

I submitted my findings to some knowledgeable people and they said with one voice “So what? Try telling that to Muslims”.

But I do not want to persuade Muslims that Mohammed was not supremacist. I want to persuade non-Muslims that he was, and that Islam is, in order to alert them to the danger we face. As things stand it is too easy for people who know only the Koran to dismiss the jihad verses as merely contextual and to wrongly conclude that Mohammed wasn’t supremacist and therefore Islam isn’t.

They are of course encouraged in this mindset by the many deceptive Islamic apologists (Mehdi Hasan and Reza Aslan come to mind) and by Western (not Eastern) imams. Those people know that there is more to Islam than the Koran but why disturb the infidels’ comfortable illusions? Think beekeepers, smoke, bees.

No, the claim that Mohammed’s supremacism is demonstrated by the jihad verses is not a defensible position. By insisting on something which can be so easily debunked we are undermining our own credibility and reinforcing the preconceptions of a generation who have been told that only phobes and worse challenge the “Religion of Peace” story. Better to abandon it and concentrate on pointing out the evidence elsewhere for both Mohammed’s and Islam’s lust for dominion “without limit of time or space”. Who knows, perhaps the odd rejecter of the counter-jihad message may be persuaded…one less of them, one more of us.

UPDATE 11/5/2017
After all this time and trouble I’ve just come across a verse which does appear to unambiguously declare Allah/Mohammed’s universally supremacist intent:

Allah hath promised such of you as believe and do good work that He will surely make them to succeed (the present rulers) in the earth even as He caused those who were before them to succeed (others)… (24:55)

This seems to be a conclusive rebuttal to the contextual argument, ie that there is no Koranic support for Islamic supremacism beyond the Mecca/Medina area of 630 AD.

Ibn Kathir, in his commentary on sura 24, makes his understanding of verse 55 clear:

“This is a promise from Allah to His Messenger that He would cause his Ummah to become successors on earth, i.e., they would become the leaders and rulers of mankind, through whom He would reform the world and to whom people would submit”.

What would those who claim that Islam can live permanently as equals with other religions, without the aim of eventual domination, make of the verse? I never hear them tackle it.