Muhammad and the Meccans:

Who Antagonized Whom?

Examining Muslims’ Justification for Muhammad’s Atrocities

Sam Shamoun


Oftentimes, when Christians and other individuals mention atrocities committed by Muhammad, such as the raiding of caravans and the brutal murdering of people, Muslims seek to justify these heinous crimes by claiming that Muhammad was only attacking those who first persecuted him and his followers. For instance, Muslims attempt to justify Muhammad’s raids on Meccan caravans on the basis that the Meccans were the ones who first attacked Muhammad and the Muslims, and had driven them away from their homes and properties. Thus, Muhammad’s attacks on the caravans were intended to regain some of the property which had been wrongfully stolen from the Muslims by the pagans.

It is our intention to show in this paper that the claim that the pagans were the ones who first persecuted Muhammad is not supported by the Islamic data. We will see that the Islamic evidence actually shows that it was Muhammad who first attacked and antagonized the pagan Meccans by assaulting their religion and family values, thereby igniting the anger of the Meccans and instigating their subsequent retaliation against Muhammad and his followers.

Another point worth emphasizing is that it is the Islamic sources themselves that do not support the common Muslim theory that the pagans were the ones who antagonized Muhammad. For nearly every conflict in this world, whether wars between nations or arguments between individuals, if one were to ask one of the parties involved, one will almost always get the answer that the other side started it. The others are guilty that this confrontation ever went so far. It is common sense that in order to determine the truth, one needs to look at the arguments from both sides. History is usually written by those who were victorious. That does not necessarily mean that their view of things is objectively true.

If the Islamic sources were saying that the pagans started to persecute the Muslims without cause, this would be expected, but it would be questionable, since it is common to put all the blame on the opponents. In this case, the amazing fact is that even the Islamic sources do not support the popular position that the pagans instigated the hostility towards Muhammad. As so often, in this case, we do not have the opinion and/or documentation of those who were conquered, of those who did not embrace Islam. We only have sources written from the view of the Muslims, i.e. the viewpoint of those who prevailed. But even based on this one-sided collection of documents, they still show that things went differently than what Muslim apologists want to tell us today.

The Evidence

The following citations are taken from the monumental historical work on Islam written by renowned Muslim historian and Quranic commentator, al-Tabari, titled The History of al-Tabari. We will also be using Alfred Guillaume’s English translation of Ibn Ishaq’s biography of Muhammad’s life, Sirat Rasulullah, titled "The Life of Muhammad" (Oxford University Press, Karachi, tenth impression 1995).

In regard to Muhammad’s early preaching in Mecca, Al-Tabari notes:

Ibn Humayd- Salamah- Ibn Ishaq: The Messenger of God proclaimed God’s message openly and declared Islam publicly to his tribesmen. When he did so, they did not withdraw from him or reject him in anyway, as far as I had heard, UNTIL he spoke of their gods and denounced them. When he did this, they took exception to it and united in opposition and hostility to him, except for those of them whom God had protected from error by means of Islam. The latter were few in number and practiced their faith in secret. His uncle Abu Talib was friendly to him, however, and protected him and shielded him from them. The Messenger of God continued to do God’s work and to proclaim his message, undeterred by anything. When Quraysh saw that he would not give them any satisfaction, they objected to his departing from their ways and denouncing their gods, and seeing that Abu Talib protected him, shielded him from harm, and would not hand him over to them, a number of the nobles of Quraysh, consisting of such men as ‘Utbah b. Rabi‘ah, Shaybah b. Rabi‘ah, Abu al-Bakhtari b. Hisham, al-Aswad b. al-Muttalib, al-Walid b. al-Mughirah, Abu Jahl b. Hisham, al-‘As b. Wa’il and Nubayh and Munabbih, the sons of al-Hajjaj, went to Abu Talib and said, "Abu Talib, your nephew has reviled our gods, denounced our religion, derided our traditional values and told us that our forefathers were misguided. Either curb his attacks on us or give us a free hand to deal with him, for you are just as opposed to him as we are, and we will deal with him for you." Abu Talib gave them a mild answer and declined courteously, and they left him. The Messenger of God continued as before, proclaiming the faith of God and summoning people to it.

After this, Muhammad was estranged from the Quraysh, and they withdrew from him and harbored a secret hatred for him. They talked about him frequently amongst themselves and urged one another against him. Eventually they went to Abu Talib once again. "Abu Talib," they said, "we hold you in respect among us on account of your age, your nobility and your standing. We asked you to forbid your nephew TO ATTACK US, but you did not do so. By God, we can no longer endure this vilification of our forefathers, this derision of our traditional values and this abuse of our gods. Either you restrain him or we shall fight both of you over this until one side or the other is destroyed," or words to that effect. Then they left. This breach and enmity with his tribe weighed heavily on Abu Talib, but he could not reconcile himself to surrendering the Messenger of God to them or deserting him.

Muhammad b. al-Husayn- Ahmad b. al-Mufaddal- Asbat- al-Suddi: A number of men of the Quraysh gathered together with a number of other shaykhs of the Quraysh, and said to one another, "Let us go to Abu Talib and speak to him about Muhammad, so that he will give us justice against him and order him to desist from reviling our gods and we will leave him to the god whom he worships for we fear that this old man may die and we may do something which the Arabs will reproach us for and say, ‘They let him alone until his uncle died, and then they laid hands on him.’"

They sent one of their number, whose name was al-Muttalib, to Abu Talib to ask permission for them to enter. He said, "Here are the shaykhs and nobles of your tribe asking permission to visit you." He told him to ask them to come in, and when they had done so they said, "Abu Talib, you are our elder and our chief, so give us justice against your nephew and order him to desist from reviling our gods, and we will leave him to his god."

Abu Talib sent for the Messenger of God, and when he came in he said, "Nephew, here are the shaykhs and nobles of your tribe. They have asked for justice against you, that you should desist from reviling their gods and they will leave you to your god." "Uncle," he said, "shall I not summon them to something which is better for them than their gods?" "What do you summon them to?" he asked. He replied, "I summon them to utter a saying through which the Arabs will submit to them and they will rule over the non-Arabs." Abu Jahl said from among the gathering, "What is it, by your father? We would give you it and ten like it." He answered, "That you should say, ‘There is no deity but God.’" They took fright at that and said, "Ask for anything rather than that!" But he said, "If you were to bring me the sun and put it into my hand, I would not ask you for anything other than this."

They rose up to leave in anger and said, "By God, we shall revile you and your god who commands you to do this!" "The chiefs among them hurried about, exhorting; Go and be staunch to your gods! This is a thing designed…" to the words "naught but an invention." (The History of al-Tabari: Muhammad at Mecca, translated and annotated by W. Montgomery Watt and M. V. McDonald [State University of New York Press, Albany 1988], Volume VI, pp. 93-95; bold, capital and underline emphasis ours)

Abu Kurayb and Ibn Waki‘- Abu Usamah- al-A‘mash- ‘Abbad- Sa‘id b. Jubayr- Ibn ‘Abbas: When Abu Talib fell ill, a number of Quraysh visited him, among them Abu Jahl, who said, "Your nephew is reviling our gods and doing and saying all sorts of things. Why do you not send for him and forbid him to do this?"… Abu Talib said to him, "Nephew, how is it that your tribe are complaining of you and claiming that you are reviling their gods and saying this, that and the other?" They showered accusations upon him, and then the Messenger of God spoke and said, "Uncle, I want them to utter one saying. If they say it, the Arabs will submit them and the non-Arabs will pay the jizyah to them." They were perturbed at this utterance and said, "One saying? Yes, by your father, and ten! What is it?" Abu Talib said, "What saying is it, nephew?" He replied, "There is no deity but God." They rose up in alarm, shaking the dust off their garments and saying, "Does he make the gods one god? This is indeed an astounding thing." Then came the revelation beginning with the words just spoken by these men and ending "they have not yet tasted my doom." These are the exact words of Abu Kurayb’s account…

When Quraysh discovered that Abu Talib had refused to abandon the Messenger of God and to hand him over, and was determined to break with them on this issue and become their enemy, they brought ‘Umarah b. Walid b. al-Mughirah to him, and said, I have been told, "Abu Talib, this is ‘Umarah b. al-Walid, the bravest, most poetically gifted and most handsome young man in Quraysh. Take him, and his intelligence and his support are yours. Take him as a son, and he is yours; and hand over your nephew who has opposed your religion and the religion of your forefathers, who has sowed discord among your tribe and who has derided their traditional values, and we shall kill him. A man for a man." …

After this, the situation deteriorated, hostility became more bitter, and people withdrew from one another and showed open hatred to one another. Then the Quraysh incited one another against those in their various clans who had become Companions of the Messenger of God and had accepted Islam with him. Every clan fell upon those of its members who were Muslims, tormenting them and trying to force them to leave their religion. God protected his Messenger from them by means of his uncle Abu Talib who saw what the Quraysh were doing among the Banu Hashim and the Banu al-Muttalib and called on them to follow him in protecting and defending the Messenger of God…

‘Ali b. Nasr b. ‘Ali al-Jahdami and ‘Abd al-Warith b. ‘Abd al-Samad b. ‘Abd al-Warith- ‘Abd al-Samad b. ‘Abd al-Warith- Aban al-‘Attar- Hisham b. ‘Urwah- ‘Urwah: He wrote to ‘Abd al-Malik as follows, referring to the Messenger of God: When he summoned his people to the guidance and light which had been revealed to him and for which God had sent him, they did not withdraw from him at the beginning of his preaching, and were on the point of listening to him. When, however, he spoke of their idols, some wealthy men of Quraysh who had come from al-Ta’if took exception to this and reacted strongly against him, not liking what he said… (Ibid., pp. 95-98; bold, italic and underline emphasis ours)

Abu Ja‘far (al-Tabari): When those of the Messenger of God’s Companions who emigrated to Abyssinia had departed, the Messenger of God remained in Mecca preaching in secret and openly, protected by God through his uncle Abu Talib and by those of his clan who answered his call for support. When Quraysh saw that they had no means of attacking him physically, they accused him of sorcery, soothsaying, and madness, and of being a poet. They began to keep away from him those whom they feared might listen to him and follow him. The most serious step which they are reported to have taken at that time was the following.

Ibn Humayd- Salamah- Muhammad b. Ishaq- Yahya b. ‘Urwah b. al-Zubayr- his father ‘Urwah-‘Abdallah b. ‘Amr b. al-‘As: I said to him, "What was the worst attack you saw by Quraysh upon the Messenger of God when they openly showed their enmity to him?" He replied, "I was with them when their nobles assembled one day in the Hijr and discussed the Messenger of God. They said, ‘We have never seen the like of what we have endured from this man. He has derided our traditional values, abused our forefathers, reviled our religion, caused division among us, and insulted our gods. We have endured a great deal from him,’ or words to that effect. While they were saying this, the Messenger of God suddenly appeared and walked up and kissed the Black Stone. Then he passed by them while performing the circumambulation, and as he did so they made some slanderous remarks about him. I could see from the Messenger of God’s face that he had heard them, but he went on. When he passed the second time they made similar remarks, and I could see from his face that he had heard them, but again he went on. Then he passed them the third time, and they made similar remarks; but this time he stopped and said, ‘Hear, men of Quraysh. By Him in whose hand Muhammad’s soul rests, I have brought you slaughter.’ They were gripped by what he said, and it was as though every man of them had a bird perched on his head; even those of them who had been urging the severest measures against him previously spoke in conciliatory ways to him, using the politest expressions they could think of, and said, ‘Depart in true guidance, Abu al-Qasim; by God you were never ignorant.’

"The Prophet left, and the next day they gathered in the Hijr, and I (‘Abdallah b. ‘Amr b. al-‘As) was again present. They said to one another, ‘You were talking about the unpleasantness which you have endured and the things which Muhammad has done to you, but when he openly said something disagreeable you shrank from him.’ While they were saying this, the Messenger of God suddenly appeared, and they leapt upon him as one man and surrounded him, saying, ‘Is it you who says this and that?’ repeating what they had heard of his denunciation of their gods and their religion. The prophet said, ‘Yes, I am the one who says that.’"

"Then I saw one of them grabbing his cloak, but Abu Bakr stood in front of him weeping and saying, ‘Woe upon you all! Would you kill a man because he says, My Lord is God?’ Then they left him, and that is the worst thing I ever saw Quraysh do to him." (Ibid., pp. 101-102; bold and underline emphasis ours)

The Quran says:

And do not abuse those whom they call upon besides Allah, lest exceeding the limits they should abuse Allah out of ignorance. Thus have We made fair seeming to every people their deeds; then to their Lord shall be their return, so He will inform them of what they did. Surah 6:108 Shakir

Renowned Muslim commentator Ibn Kathir provides the historical background for the preceding passage:

The Prohibition of Insulting the False gods of the Disbelievers, So that they Do not Insult Allah

Allah prohibits His Messenger and the believers from insulting the false deities of the idolators, although there is a clear benefit in doing so. Insulting their deities will lead to a bigger evil than its benefit, for the idolators might retaliate by insulting the God of the believers, Allah, none has the right to be worshipped but He. `Ali bin Abi Talhah said that Ibn `Abbas commented on this Ayah [6:108]; "They (disbelievers) said, `O Muhammad! You will stop insulting our gods, or we will insult your Lord.' Thereafter, Allah prohibited the believers from insulting the disbelievers' idols ...

<lest they insult Allah wrongfully without knowledge.>" `Abdur-Razzaq narrated that Ma`mar said that Qatadah said, "Muslims used to insult the idols of the disbelievers and the disbelievers would retaliate by insulting Allah wrongfully without knowledge ..." (Source; bold and underline emphasis ours)

As does Ibn Ishaq:

Abu Jahl met the apostle, so I have heard, and said to him, 'By God, Muhammad, you will either stop cursing our gods or we will curse the God you serve.' So God revealed concerning that, 'Curse not those to whom they pray other than God lest they curse God wrongfully through lack of knowledge.' I have been told that the apostle refrained from cursing their gods, and began to call them to Allah. (Alfred Guillaume, p. 162)

Summary Analysis

The preceding data leads us to make the following observations. When Muhammad preached Islam and invited people to his god, the Meccans showed no hostility towards him, and were even listening to him. The Meccans only began showing hostility towards Muhammad after he had started attacking their gods, their religion and their traditional values. Being fed up with the insults to their religion, the pagans threatened to ridicule Muhammad’s god in return. Only then does Allah intervene by "sending down" a verse telling the Muslims to refrain from insulting the idols so as to prevent the pagans from abusing him.

Thus, initially, it was not the Meccans who attacked Muhammad and his followers, but it was Muhammad who antagonized the people of Mecca by ridiculing and insulting their gods.

At first, the Meccans sought peaceable means in which Muhammad and they could come to terms, trying to avoid any division and hostility between them. Instead of acquiescing, Muhammad tries to bribe the Meccans by promising them rulership over the peoples, both Arabs and non-Arabs alike. Muhammad also threatens them with punishment if they refuse to accept Islam. Note, for instance, the following quotation from al-Tabari:

Ibn Humayd- Salamah- Muhammad b. Ishaq- Yazid b. Ziyad- Muhammad b. Ka‘b al-Qurazi: They gathered against him, and among them was Abu Jahl b. Hisham, who said, while they were waiting at his door, "Muhammad claims that if you follow him in his religion, you shall be the kings of the Arabs and the non-Arabs, that after your death you shall be brought back to life and your lot shall then be gardens like the gardens of Jordan. He also claims that if you do not do this, you shall meet with slaughter after him, and that after death you shall be brought back to life, and your lot shall then be a fire, in which you shall burn."… (Al-Tabari, pp. 142-143; bold emphasis ours)

Interestingly, when other groups asked if they would be given the command for embracing Islam, Muhammad says that rulership is not up to him to grant, but up to Allah:

Ibn Humayd- Salamah- Muhammad b. Ishaq and Muhammad b. Muslim b. Shihab al-Zuhri: He went to the Banu ‘Amir b. Sa‘sa‘ah, called them to God and offered himself to them. One of them called Bayharah b. Firas said, "By God, if I could take this young man from Quraysh I could conquer all the Arabs with him." Then he said, "Do you think that if we follow you and God gives you victory over your opponents we shall have the command after you?" He replied, "Command belongs to God, who places it where He wills."… (Ibid., p. 121; bold emphasis ours)

It is rather intriguing that Muhammad could know that Allah would give the Meccans, specifically his Quraysh tribe, the kingship over all the peoples, but couldn’t tell whether the Banu Amr would be given rulership for embracing Islam and for supporting Muhammad! This strongly suggests that Muhammad would just about do and say anything to win over his tribe to Islam, even making promises which he did not make to other groups and clans.

The evidence from Islamic sources quite clearly shows that it wasn’t the Meccans who first persecuted and attacked Muhammad. Rather, Muhammad antagonized them by insulting their gods, ridiculing their traditional values, threatening them physically with slaughter, and with the threat of hell fire as the judgment of God if they refused to accept his religion. In light of the foregoing, we now turn our attention to Muhammad’s raids.

Muhammad’s Raids on the Caravans

Ibn Ishaq records that Muhammad, after having settled in Medina, would either lead or send his Companions out on raids with the intention of enriching both himself and his followers from the plunder that would be gained from these expeditions. Ibn Ishaq wrote:

The apostle had not been given permission to fight or allowed to shed blood BEFORE THE SECOND ‘AQABA. He had simply been ordered to call men to God and to endure insult and forgive the ignorant. The Quraysh had persecuted his followers, seducing some from their religion, and exiling others from their country. They had to choose whether to give up their religion, be maltreated at home, or to flee the country, some to Abyssinia, others to Medina.

When Quraysh became insolent towards God and rejected His gracious purpose, accused His prophet of lying, and ill treated and exiled those who served Him and proclaimed His unity, believed in His prophet, and held fast to His religion, He gave permission to His apostle to fight and to protect himself against those wronged them and treated them badly.

The first verses which sent down on this subject from what I have heard from ‘Urwa b. al-Zubayr and other learned persons: ‘Permission is given to those who fight because they have been wronged. God is well able to help them,- those who have been driven out of their houses without right only because they said God is our Lord. Had not God used some men to keep back others, cloisters and churches and oratories and mosques wherein the name of God is constantly mentioned would have been destroyed. Assuredly God will help those who help Him. God is Almighty. Those who if we make them strong in the land will establish prayer, pay the poor-tax, enjoin kindness, and forbid iniquity. To God belongs the end of matters.’ The meaning is: ‘I have allowed them to fight only because they have been unjustly treated while their sole offence against men has been that they worship God. When they are in the ascendant they will establish prayer, pay the poor-tax, enjoin kindness, and forbid iniquity, i.e. the prophet and his companions all of them.’ Then God sent down to him: ‘Fight them so that there be no more seduction,’ i.e., until no believer is seduced from his religion. ‘And the religion is God’s,’ i.e. Until God alone is worshiped.

When God had given permission to fight AND THE CLAN OF THE ANSAR HAD PLEDGED THEIR SUPPORT TO HIM IN ISLAM AND TO HELP HIM AND HIS FOLLOWERS, AND THE MUSLIMS WHO HAD TAKEN REFUGE WITH THEM, the apostle commanded his companions, the emigrants of his people and those Muslims who were with him in Mecca, to emigrate in Medina and to link up with their brethren the Ansar. ‘God will make for you brethren and houses in which you may be safe.’ So they went in companies, and the apostle stayed in Mecca waiting for his Lord’s permission to leave Mecca and migrate to Medina. (Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad, pp. 212-213; capital emphasis ours)

After his companions had left, the apostle stayed in Mecca waiting for permission to migrate. Except for Abu Bakr and ‘Ali, none of his supporters were left but those under restraint and those who had been forced to apostatize. The former kept asking the apostle for permission to emigrate and he would answer, ‘Don’t be in a hurry; it may be that God will give you a companion.’ Abu Bakr hoped that it would be Muhammad himself.

When the Quraysh saw that the apostle had a party and companions not of their tribe and outside their territory, and that his companions had migrated to join them, and knew that they had settled in a new home and had gained protectors, they feared that the apostle might join them, SINCE THEY KNEW THAT HE HAD DECIDED TO FIGHT THEM. So they assembled in their council chamber, the house of Qusayy b. Kilab where all their important business was conducted, to take counsel what they should do in regard to the apostle, FOR THEY WERE NOW IN FEAR OF HIM. (Guillaume, p. 221; capital emphasis ours)

Then the apostle prepared for war in pursuance of God’s command to fight his enemies and to fight those polytheists who were near at hand whom God commanded him to fight. This was thirteen years after his call. (Ibid., p. 280)

Al-Tabari states:

According to Musa b. Harun- ‘Amr b. Hammad- Asbat- al-Suddi: "They question thee with regard to warfare in the sacred month. Say: Warfare therein is a great (transgression), but to turn (man) from the path of Allah…." This was revealed because the Messenger of God sent a detachment of seven men under the command of ‘Abd Allah B. Jahsh al-Asadi, consisting of ‘Ammar b. Yasir, Abu Hudhayfah b. ‘Utbah b. Rabi‘ah, Sa‘d b. Abi Waqqas, ‘Utbah b. Ghazwan al-Sulami the confederate of the Banu Nawfal, Suhayl b. Bayda’, ‘Amir b. Fuhayrah and Waqid b. ‘Abd Allah al-Yarbu‘i the confederate of ‘Umar b. al-Khattab. He wrote a letter (which he gave) to Ibn Jahsh, ordering him not to read it until he halted at Batn Malal. When he halted at Batn Malal, he opened the letter, which read, "March until you halt at Batn Nakhlah." He said to his companions, "Whoever desires death, let him go on and make his will; I am making my will and acting on the orders of the Messenger of God." He went on, and Sa‘d b. Abi Waqqas and ‘Utbah b. Ghazwan, who had lost their riding-camel, stayed behind. They went to Buhran in search of it, while Ibn Jahsh went to Batn Nakhlah. Suddenly he encountered al-Hakam b. Kaysan, ‘Abd Allah b. Mughirah, al-Mughirah b. ‘Uthman, and ‘Amr b. al-Hadrami. They fought and took al-Hakam b. Kaysan and ‘Abdallah b. al-Mughirah captive, while al-Mughirah escaped and ‘Amr b. al-Hadrami was killed by Waqid b. ‘Abd Allah. This was the first booty taken by the companions of Muhammad. When they returned to Medina with the two captives and the property they had taken, the people of Mecca wanted to ransom the two captives. The Prophet said, "Let us see how our two companions fare." When Sa‘d and his companion returned, he released the two captives on payment of a ransom. The polytheists spread lying slander concerning him, saying, "Muhammad claims that he is following obedience to God, yet he is the first to violate the holy month and to kill our companion in Rajab." The Muslims said, "We killed him (in the previous month) Jumada." Some say it was on the first night of Rajab, and some say it was on the last night of Jumada and that the Muslims sheathed their swords when Rajab began. God revealed in rebuke of the Meccans, "They question thee with regard to warfare in the sacred month. Say: Warfare therein is a great (transgression)…."

… They met Ibn al-Hadrami and killed him, not knowing whether that day was in Rajab or Jumada. The polytheists said to the Muslims, "You have done such-and-such in the sacred month." They came to the Prophet and told him the story, and God revealed: "They question thee with regard warfare in the sacred month…." up to "…. for fitnah is worse than killing." The word fitnah here means polytheism. (The History of Al-Tabari: The Foundation of the Community, translated by M. V. McDonald, annotated by W. Montgomery Watt [State University of New York Press, Albany 1987], Volume VII, pp. 21-23; bold emphasis ours)

According to ‘Ali b. Nasr b. ‘Ali and ‘Abd al-Warith b. ‘Abd al-Samad b. ‘Abd al-Warith- ‘Abd al-Samad b. ‘Abd al-Warith- his father- Aban al-‘Attar- Hisham b. ‘Urwah: ‘Urwah wrote to ‘Abd al-Malik b. Marwan as follows:

You have written to me asking about Abu Sufyan and the circumstances of his expedition. Abu Sufyan b. Harb came from Syria at the head of nearly seventy horsemen from all the clans of Quraysh. They had been trading in Syria and they all came together with their money and their merchandise. The Messenger of God and his companions were informed about them. This was after fighting had broken out between them and people had been killed, including Ibn al-Hadrami at Nakhlah, and some of Quraysh had been taken captive, including one of the sons of al-Mughirah and their mawla, Ibn Kaysan. Those responsible were ‘Abd Allah b. Jash and Waqid, the confederate of the Banu ‘Adi b. Ka‘b, together with other companions of the Messenger of God whom he had sent out with ‘Abd Allah b. Jash. This incident had provoked (a state of) war between the Messenger of God and Quraysh and was the beginning of the fighting in which they inflicted casualties upon one another; it took place before Abu Sufyan and his companions had set out for Syria.

Subsequently Abu Sufyan and the horsemen of Quraysh who were with him returned from Syria, following the coastal road. When the Messenger of God heard about them he called together his companions and told them of the wealth they had with them and the fewness of their numbers. The Muslims set out with no other object than Abu Sufyan and the horsemen with him. They did not think that these were anything but (easy) booty and did not suppose that there would be a great battle when they met them. It is concerning this that God revealed, "And ye longed that other than the armed one might be yours."

When Abu Sufyan heard that the companions of the messenger of God were on their way to intercept him, he sent to Quraysh (saying), "Muhammad and his companions are going to intercept your caravan, so protect your merchandise ..." (Ibid., pp. 28-29; bold emphasis ours)

Summary Analysis

Let the reader recall that according to Ibn Ishaq, Muhammad was given the command to fight against his persecutors only AFTER the pledge at the Second Aqabah had been given. For those not familiar with what this pledge of Aqabah was, this refers to the promise given by converts from Medina to protect Muhammad and help him and his followers against the Meccans. These became known as the Helpers, or Ansar.

Does it not strike the readers as somewhat amusing that Muhammad just so happened to receive a "revelation" to defend against his enemies right around the time that the Ansar pledged to defend him with their own lives? It seems quite obvious to those of us who are not Muslims that the command of Allah to fight the unbelievers right around the time of the second Aqabah is no mere coincidence. It was a deliberate maneuver on Muhammad’s part to justify his going to Medina and prepare for war against the Meccans now that he had people who were willing to support his cause. The Meccans, therefore, had a very good reason to be afraid of Muhammad and his companions since it wasn’t for peace that Muhammad fled to Medina, but for war.

It is rather obvious that the reason why Muhammad did not attack the pagans while in Mecca is because he did not have the man-power to fight and prevail. It wasn't until Muhammad knew for certain that Arab tribes from Medina would be willing to help him fight and conquer the Meccans did he then conveniently receive "revelation" that it was okay for him to fight.

Some Muslims actually admit that the reason why Muhammad did not attack the pagans while in Mecca was specifically due to his weak state. For example, a modern Muslim scholar, Dr. Sobhy as-Saleh, cites al-Suyuti's work, Itqan Fi 'Ulum al- Qur'an, who wrote:

The command to fight the infidels was delayed until the Muslims become strong, but when they were weak they were commanded to endure and be patient. (Sobhy as-Saleh, Mabaheth Fi 'Ulum al-Qur'an [Dar al-'Ilm Lel-Malayeen, Beirut, 1983], p. 269)

Dr. Sobhy also quoted a Muslim scholar, Zarkashi, who said:

Allah the most high and wise revealed to Mohammad in his weak condition what suited the situation, because of his mercy to him and his followers. For if He gave them the command to fight while they were weak it would have been embarrassing and most difficult, but when the most high made Islam victorious He commanded him with what suited the situation, that is asking the people of the Book to become Muslims or to pay the levied tax, and the infidels to become Muslims or face death. These two options, to fight or to have peace return according to the strength or the weakness of the Muslims. (Ibid., p. 270)

The Muslim sources also tell us that Muhammad sent some men out on a raid during a time when fighting would be prohibited. Muhammad’s men attacked a Meccan caravan at a time when the pagans expected to be safe, since it was the Arab custom to cease from hostilities and wars during the so-called sacred months. Thus, this premeditated attack on the caravan was an act of treachery and sacrilege in the eyes of the Arabs. Muhammad conveniently received a "revelation" justifying this act of treachery and bloodlust greed. Ibn Ishaq reports:

When they came to the apostle, he said, ‘I did not order you to fight in the sacred month,’ and he held the caravan and the two prisoners in suspense and refused to take anything from them. When the apostle said that, the men were in despair and thought that they were doomed. Their Muslim brethren reproached them for what they had done, and the Quraysh said, ‘Muhammad and his companions have violated the sacred month, shed blood therein, taken booty, and captured men… but God turned this against them, not for them, and when there was much talk about it, God sent down to his apostle: ‘They will ask you about the sacred month, and war in it. Say, war therein is a serious matter, but keeping people from the way of God and disbelieving in Him and in the sacred mosque and driving out His people there from is more serious with God.’ i.e. If you have killed in the sacred month, they have kept you back from the way of God with their unbelief in Him, and from the sacred mosque, and have driven you from it when you were its people. This is a more serious matter with God than the killing of them whom you have slain. ‘And seduction is worse than killing.’ i.e. They used to seduce the Muslim in his religion until they made him return to unbelief after believing, and that is worse with God than killing. ‘And if they will not cease to fight you until they turn you back from your religion if they can.’ i.e. They are doing more heinous acts than that contumaciously. (Guillaume, pp. 287-288)

Muhammad’s claim that he hadn’t commanded them to attack the caravan in the sacred month is nothing more than a lame excuse since he was the one who had sent them out at a time in which he knew the sacred month was close at hand. It is little wonder that this caused the Meccans to be angry to the point that they were now forced to go to war with Muhammad and his companions to save honor.

In other words, Muhammad again is the one who instigated the fight between the Meccans and himself by doing something considered shameful and despicable in the eyes of even some of his own companions.

There is, in fact, a Muslim website devoted to establishing a Caliphate system which unashamedly admits that it was Muhammad who attacked the Meccan caravans. They say this in the context of trying prove that Jihad is not just defensive, but also offensive in nature:

As for his (Salalahu Alaihi Wasallam) actions, they are full of actions that show Jihaad is to start the fighting. So when he went out to Badr to take the caravan belonging to the Quraysh, this was going out to fight, this is offensive - as Muhammad (Salalahu Alaihi Wasallam) INITIATED THE ACTION BEFORE THE QURAYSH. Likewise, when Muhammad (Salalahu Alaihi Wasallam) invaded Hawazin in the battle of Hunayn, when he (Salalahu Alaihi Wasallam) seiged Ta'if and the battle of Mutah to fight the Romans and the Battle of Tabuk - all of these are evidences to show that Jihaad is to start fighting kuffar (offensive). This should clarify the erroneous view that in origin Jihaad is defensive. (JIHAD, Section responding to the claim Jihad is defensive only, source; bold and capital emphasis ours)

A Few Examples of Islamic Brutalities

Our final section deals with the manner in which Muhammad and his followers treated some of their enemies. No greater example for the barbaric nature of the first Muslims could be given than the following event:

In this year a raiding party led by Zaid b. Harithah set out against Umm Qirfah in the month of Ramadan. During it, Umm Qirfah (Fatimah bt. Rabi‘ah b. Badr) suffered a cruel death. He tied her legs with rope and then tied her between two camels until they split her in two. She was a very old woman.

Her story is as follows. According to Ibn Humayd- Salamah- Ibn Ishaq- ‘Abdallah b. Abi Bakr, who said: The Messenger of God sent Zayd b. Harithah to Wadi al-Qura, where he encountered the Banu Fazarah. Some of his companions were killed there, and Zayd was carried away wounded from among the slain. One of those killed was Ward b. ‘Amr, one of the Banu Badr [b. Fazarah]. When Zayd returned, he vowed that no washing [to cleanse him] from impurity should touch his head until he had raided the Fazarah. After he recovered from his wounds, the Messenger of God sent him with an army against the Banu Fazarah. He met them in Wadi al-Qura and inflicted casualties on them. Qays b. al-Musahhar al-Ya‘muri killed Mas‘adah b. Hakamah b. Malik b. Badr and took Umm Qirfah prisoner. (Her name was Fatimah bt. Rabi‘ah b. Badr. She was married to Malik b. Hudhayfah b. Badr. SHE WAS A VERY OLD WOMAN.) He also took one of Umm Qirfah’s daughters and ‘Abdallah b. Mas‘adah prisoner. Zayd b. Harithah ordered Qays to kill Umm Qirfah, AND HE KILLED HER CRUELLY. He tied each of her legs with a rope and tied the ropes to two camels and they split her in two ... (The History of Al-Tabari: The Victory of Islam, translated by Michael Fishbein [State University of New York Press, Albany 1997], Volume VIII, pp. 95-96; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Sadly, this wasn’t the only older person which Muslims savagely killed. As Islam spread, Muslim barbarism wasn’t just directed towards the Meccan pagans and their nearby allies, but extended throughout Arabia and non-Arab territories as well. Muslims became known as evil, barbaric butchers, and Islam came to be viewed as an evil religion:

Among them were many Christians who had accepted Islam, but when dissension had developed in Islam had said, "By God, our religion (din) from which we have departed is better and more correct than that which these people follow. Their religion does not stop them from shedding blood, terrifying the roads, and seizing properties." And they returned to their former religion. Al-Khirrit met them and said to them, "Woe unto you! Do you know the precept (hukm) of Ali regarding any Christian who accepts Islam and then reverts to Christianity? By God he will not hear anything they say, he will not consider any excuse, he will not accept any repentance, and he will not summon them to it. His precept regarding them is immediate CUTTING OFF THE HEAD when he gets hold of them." Al-Khirrit continued thus until he had united them and duped them (into following him). Those of the Banu Najiyah and others who were in that district came to him, and many men joined him.

According to ‘Ali b. al-Hasan al-Azdi- ‘Abd al-Rahman b. Sulayman- ‘Abd al-Malik b. Sa‘id- Abu Janab- al-Hurr- ‘Ammar al-Duhni- Abu al-Tufayl: I was in the army that ‘Ali b. Abi Talib sent against the Banu Najiyah. We came to them and found them split in three groups. Our commander said to one of these groups, "What are you?" and they replied, "We are a Christian people who do not consider any religion to better than ours, and we hold fast to it." Our commander said to them, "Be off with you (i‘tazilu)!" He said to another band, "What are you?" and they said, "We were Christians, but we accepted Islam and we hold fast to our Islam." He said to them, "Be off with you!" Then he said to the third group, "What are you?" and they said, "We are a people who were Christians. We accepted Islam but we do not think, that any religion is better than our previous one." He said to them, "Accept Islam!" but they refused. He said to his men, "When I rub my head three times, attack them and kill the fighting men and make captive the dependents." (The History of Al-Tabari: The First Civil War, translated by G. R. Hawting [State University of New York Press, Albany 1996], volume XVII, pp. 187-188; bold emphasis ours)

Of his [al-Khirrit] men, 170 were killed in the battle, and the remainder fled in all directions. Ma‘qil b. Qays sent the cavalry after them to the baggage camp and took prisoner those he caught up with. He captured a large number of men, women, and children and examined them. The Muslims he let go after taking the oath of allegiance from them, and he allowed them to keep their families. To the apostates he offered (reacceptance of) Islam, and they came back to it and he let them go together with their families. But there was AN OLD MAN among them, a Christian called al-Rumahis b. Mansur, who said, "By God, the only error I have made since attaining reason was abandoning my religion, the religion of truth, for yours, THE RELIGION OF WICKEDNESS. No by God, I will not leave my religion and I will not accept yours so long as I live." Ma‘qil brought him forward AND CUT OFF HIS HEAD.

Ma‘qil gathered the (defeated) people together and told them, "Bring with you the sadaqah you owe for these years," and he took two years’ payment (‘iqlayan) from the Muslims (among them). He turned to the Christians and their dependents and immediately dragged them away. The Muslims (among those who had supported al-Khirrit) came with them, to accompany them, but Ma‘qil ordered that the Muslims should be sent back. When they turned away, they clasped their hands and wept, and the men and women wept with each other.

(‘Abdallah b. Fuqaym said:) I bear witness that I never felt such compassion for anyone before or after.

Ma‘qil b. Qays wrote to ‘Ali:

I inform the Commander of the Faithful about his army and his enemies. We pushed on to our enemy on the seashore and found there tribes strong in number, violent and earnest. They had been gathered against us and made common cause against us. We summoned them to obedience and community, to the authority (hukm) of the Book and of the precedent (sunnah), we read out loud to them the letter of the Commander of the Faithful, and we raised aloft to them a flag of safe-conduct. A group of them inclined toward us, while another group remained hostile. We accepted those who came forward and we fought against those who turned away. God put them to flight and gave his oath of allegiance to the Commander of the Faithful, and took possession of the sadaqah that was due from them. For anyone who had apostatized, we offered return to Islam or else death. They all returned apart from one man, WHOM WE KILLED. As for the Christians, we made them captive and led them off so that they might be a warning for those of the protected peoples who come after them not refuse the jizyah and not to make bold against our religion and community, FOR THE PROTECTED PEOPLE ARE OF LITTLE ACCOUNT AND LOWLY IN STATUS. May God have mercy upon you, Commander of the Faithful, and award to you gardens of delight. Peace be upon you.

(Ibid., pp. 191-192; capital emphasis ours)

It is rather evident that Muhammad’s religion, if followed sincerely and correctly, produces violent, hate-filled murderers who think that their murdering sprees and persecutions of the so-called infidels are pleasing to the one true God of heaven.

As the following quote amply attests:

"... We are the Helpers of God and the viziers of His Messenger, and we fight people until they believe in God. He who believes in God and His Messenger has protected his life and possessions [from us]; as for one who disbelieves, we will fight him forever in the cause of God AND KILLING HIM IS A SMALL MATTER TO US. I say this and ask God's forgiveness for myself and the believing men and the believing women. Peace be upon you." (The History of Al-Tabari: The Last Years of the Prophet, translated and annotated by Ismail K. Poonawala [State University of New York Press, Albany 1990], Volume IX, p. 69; underline and capital emphasis ours)

Concluding Remarks

What have we seen thus far? Well, we have seen from the Muslim sources that when Muhammad started preaching his message, the pagans did not show any hostility initially. We read that Muhammad instigated the hostility by disparaging and ridiculing the gods worshiped by the Meccans.

The Meccans, at first, sought a peaceful resolution by beseeching Muhammad to refrain from insulting their religion and their gods, a request which Muhammad refused. Instead, Muhammad offered them the world, claiming that both the Arabs and non-Arabs would be subject to them, if only they embraced his religion. The Meccans would have nothing to do with a new religion promulgated by a man whom they had known all their lives and who, until recently, happened to be like them.

Seeing that peaceful resolutions weren’t working, the pagans threatened to curse and insult Muhammad’s god as payback for his ridiculing their gods. Muhammad conveniently receives a "revelation" commanding him and the other Muslims to cease from assaulting the Meccan deities, so as to avoid causing the unbelievers from cursing Allah. Muhammad was obviously more concerned with preventing his god and his goals from being attacked than with whether his comments were hurting the feelings of his fellow tribesmen and neighbors.

We were told that Muhammad, as long as his followers were in the minority and he didn’t have the man-power to mount a strike against his adversaries, patiently endured the antagonism which he himself had caused. Yet, when Muhammad received the pledge from the converts of Medina that they would accept him as their prophet, embrace his religion, and do everything they could to help and protect him, Muhammad claimed that Allah had now permitted him to fight his enemies. It is rather evident that Muhammad’s intention in going to Medina was to build up a fighting force strong enough to take over the very city in which he experienced his greatest disappointments and persecutions.

Thus, Muhammad needed some justification for changing his position from tolerating the abuses of the Meccans, which he himself caused, to one that now permitted the fighting and killing of those who oppressed Muslims and refused the religion of Islam. He conveniently found such justification from the so-called source of his alleged revelations, Allah.

Muhammad’s desire for dominance over his enemies led him to plan raids, to the premeditated murders of his enemies, as well as to barbaric acts of violence, acts which carried over into the lives of his followers after him.

Muslims may argue that Muhammad’s attacks on the pagan gods were justified on the assumption that God had commissioned him to do so. "After all", the Muslim reasons, "didn’t the prophets of the Bible do the same?"

This line of reasoning doesn’t work, nor can it be used to justify Muhammad’s antagonistic approach and brutalities against his enemies, and for a very simple reason. Muhammad never really proved that he was truly a prophet of God.

In fact, all the evidence points against his being a true prophet of the true God. Muhammad fails all the biblical tests for prophethood. First, Muhammad’s teachings contradict the core message of the prophets who came before him. Second, Muhammad made several false predictions proving that God wasn’t the source of the revelation.

Third, Muhammad provided no supernatural verification that God had commissioned him to preach the so-called religion of truth.

This is unlike the true prophets of God who provided supernatural verification that they were speaking on behalf of God. For instance, when God sent Moses to Pharaoh to tell the latter to let God’s people go, Moses was empowered by God to provide Pharaoh with supernatural signs and wonders so that he would have no doubt that God had truly sent him.

God supernaturally empowered the Apostles of Christ in order to prove that they were acting on behalf of God:

"God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured AND THE EVIL SPIRITS LEFT THEM. Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, 'In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.' Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. [One day] the evil spirit answered them, 'Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?' Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding. When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor." Acts 19:11-16

"I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done - by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ." Romans 15:18-19

Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard? Galatians 3:5

"how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will." Hebrews 2:3-4

Since Muhammad could not provide the supernatural evidence for his prophetic aspirations, he had no right to impose his religious views and claims upon his contemporaries, threatening them with death and eternal punishment if they failed to believe his message. He had no right to condemn the gods of his tribe on the basis that he was God’s prophet who had been authorized to do so. Muhammad needed to first prove that he was God’s prophet before he could make threats and condemn other peoples’ religious views and ways of life.

We must therefore say that, in light of the above, the claim made by Muslims that the Meccans were the ones who attacked and antagonized Muhammad first, leading eventually to Muslims having to take up arms against them, is blatantly false. It was clearly Muhammad that first antagonized the Meccans.

And because of this fact, Muhammad was wrong for insulting and antagonizing the Meccans, wrong for mustering up an army to conquer Mecca, wrong for creating a religion that has ensnared billions of lives throughout the centuries, and which has caused countless deaths and sufferings till this very day.

Recommend Reading

The following articles provide further documentation for Muhammad terrorizing his opponents and for him failing all the biblical tests of prophethood:

Articles by Sam Shamoun
Answering Islam Home Page