The Character of Muhammad
1. A REVIEW OF MUHAMMAD'S PERSONALITY
A GENERAL ASSESSMENT OF HIS CHARACTER
No one can study the life of Muhammad without being impressed with his rise from a mere citizen of Mecca to the undisputed role of the leader of the Arabs throughout the Arabian Peninsula. Yet even here a general historical perspective is insufficient. It is not just a dominant figure that is under consideration but one who claimed to be the last and greatest of all God's prophets for all humanity from the beginning to the end of time. He has to be assessed from a religious as well as an historical viewpoint and it is perhaps appropriate to make such an evaluation at this very point before examining his prophetic convictions in more detail.
The Muslim world draws an absolute conclusion here without further ado. Muhammad was the greatest of all the prophets, indeed Allah's universal messenger to all mankind, and an example of human conduct and behaviour without reproach. He was sinless, though not without human failings, but irreproachable in his role as His choice representative on earth. The Christian view, however, has been very different and has generally perceived him to be, on the one hand, a great leader and reformer who led the Arabs out of pagan darkness, to the other extreme, namely that he was a demon-possessed impostor whose deliberate purpose was to lead the world astray and to darken the minds of millions of men from seeking the light of the Gospel of Christ.
There are a number of ways in which Muhammad's prophetic course can be fairly assessed. He can be appraised purely on the merits of his own character, he can be evaluated in the light of his reputation among his immediate contemporaries and, as a claimant to divine prophethood, he can be compared with Jesus Christ, the founder of the world's other universal monotheistic faith. In evaluating his character firstly, it does not appear proper to prejudge him or to approach him negatively as a matter of course. An objective perspective will reveal his true temperament and it is important to let his words and deeds speak for themselves.
Muhammad did not deny that he had faults of his own. Some of these are mentioned in the Qur'an, such as the reproach he receives for turning away from a man purely because he was blind (Surah 80:2). He nowhere appears as the kind of pretender one would otherwise expect who would find no fault in himself but be concerned only to project himself as a perfect example. Indeed a charge of deliberate imposture or falsehood appears to be untenable when his singleminded devotion to his purpose, at times in the face of great odds, is genuinely appreciated.
He believed quite sincerely that he was called by Allah to turn his people away from pagan distractions to the worship of the one Supreme Being. In this pursuit he hardly wavered despite, as has been seen, numerous occasions where he found himself almost alone in his quest and facing severe persecution. The journey to at-Ta'if was perhaps the lowest point in his fortunes yet even here there was no disillusionment or doubting regarding his purpose. At one point he declared that, if the sun was arrayed on his right hand and the moon on his left, he would not renounce his call as long as his Lord should command him. Even when he might have been tempted to make some claim to the proof of his mission, such as the power to perform miracles, he did not and sustained his charge that the Qur'an itself was a miracle and a sufficient proof of his vocation.
Most importantly, and perhaps even extraordinarily, he not only kept his course but also retained a clearly defined understanding as to its limits. He was no more than a human being, no different to the messengers of Allah who preceded him and just as prone to passing away at any time as they did (Surah 3:144). His prime concern was that his hearers should follow the way of his Lord (Surah 25:57). Although mocked and rejected as possessed with madness he was to see himself solely as a warner to call his people back to the truth (Surah 7:184).
The simplicity of his life also testifies to his personal sincerity. In all his years of opposition at Mecca he lived frugally and continued to do so even when he was enjoying increasing success in Medina with the whole of Arabia gradually coming under his control. To his death he was still willing to sweep his own bed chamber, do his own regular chores, and fit in with the general lifestyle of his companions. At no time did he ever project anything like the image or pomp of a king and when he died he had to be buried in one of the simple chambers of his wives, having no home or quarter of his own. If it be said that he aimed at universal dominion it has to be conceded that it was the dominion of Allah as the eternal sovereign over the hearts of Muslim believers. He never saw himself as anything but a simple mediator to achieve this goal.
Even in the religious realm there is likewise a keen sense of the spirit of a man aware of his place in a greater scheme of things. Islam did not come as a new thing to supplant all that had preceded it but only as a confirmation of previous revelations. The Muslims were called to follow the faith of Abraham the upright and to respect the contributions of the great prophets of former times (Surah 2:135-136). Muhammad came only to redefine the path of Allah, not to set out a new course with his own personal imprint on it.
Those Christians who seek to degrade the Prophet of Islam and demonise him in every possible way have never seriously tried to evaluate him in the light of his own generation. From any objective point of view he stands out as one of the giants of human history, but in the context of his own era, arising as he did out of the obscure wastelands of Arabia at a time when virtually no attention was given to this part of the world, he has to be acknowledged as a truly remarkable man. No Christian will be able to really understand what motivates the dedicated faith of hundreds of millions of Muslims in the world to this day unless he first discerns the impact that the personality of Muhammad himself had on that early generation of believers. It will be appropriate at this point to see precisely how his contemporary followers saw him in the light of their daily interactions with him in all spheres of life.
THE TESTIMONY OF MUHAMMAD'S COMPANIONS
Perhaps the best test of a man's sincerity is the witness of his closest associates. In Muhammad's case it seems that those who knew him most intimately and would have been most aware of his weaknesses are also those who believed in him most implicitly. There are a few records of apostasy, in particular from some of his scribes who queried the divine inspiration alleged to be behind the delivery of the Qur'an, but they tend to be exceptions and not the rule. In general it must be acknowledged that he was genuinely persuaded that he was called to be the Messenger of Allah to the worlds and his overall character and lifestyle were sufficient to persuade his household and close followers of his credibility.
The integrity of many of his most prominent companions is also not seriously open to doubt. Abu Bakr and `Umar, his two immediate successors, were men of great character and they would have detected any inconsistency in his profession had his public image not accorded with the man they knew in private. Abu Bakr in particular, who had earned the nickname as-Siddiq ("the Trustworthy"), maintained an intense devotion to Muhammad and kept faith with him during his years of struggle when it must have seemed at times that he would never gain general acceptance among his people. Abu Bakr's presence with him in the cave near Mecca at the time of the Hijrah testifies further to the unwavering loyalty that Muhammad was able to gain from his followers for it would have been the ideal time, had he distrusted the Prophet's sincerity, to quietly distance himself from his cause rather than so obviously risk his life.
Even when Muhammad made an extraordinary claim to have visited Jerusalem and even the inner sanctuaries of heaven itself one night in a nocturnal vision at the very time when Meccan opposition was at its most hostile, Abu Bakr did not question his integrity. He is recorded as standing by him even when some of the Quraysh tried to stone him.
The little knowledge we have of his personality before the time when he came to public prominence nonetheless also witnesses to his general integrity of character. He was known to be trustworthy in all his actions and dependable in business dealings. Khadija, a wise woman with much experience in such affairs, took to him very quickly and he was not given the title al-Amin ("The Faithful") for nothing. Judged relatively by the standards of his day and by his overall disposition he appears worthy of much respect and a man of a generally unimpeachable character. Yet the Christian cannot rest his assessment here, however, for the man under consideration did not claim just to be a likeable person with an agreeable manner. Anyone who projects himself as the finest and greatest of all God's messengers in history immediately exposes himself to the most exacting scrutiny to prove his claims. The decision cannot rest on a favourable subjective test of his own convictions, nor can he be judged purely by the relative standards of his day as is often suggested in biographies of the Prophet.
A RELATIVE OR AN ABSOLUTE STANDARD OF JUDGMENT?
In seventh-century Arabia polygamy was regarded as perfectly acceptable and caravan-raiding was often looked on as a natural pursuit. The wise man did not question the morality of such activity, he simply sought to defend himself and protect his property as best he could and with the assistance of his tribe or clan. Muhammad passed no judgments on either of these two facets of Arabian life and it has often been suggested that it is improper to critically evaluate him against the background of standards in the traditional Christian world.
Muhammad cannot be allowed to escape such analysis. He openly projected himself as a universal messenger to the whole of mankind (kaaffatan-linnaasi) to give them glad tidings and warnings (Surah 34:28), the Qur'an states that Allah himself and all the angels of heaven send down blessings upon him (Surah 33:56), he is described as a mercy to all the worlds (rahmatan-lil'aalamiin) sent by Allah himself, and the seal of all the prophets (khaataman-nabiyyiin) and the Apostle of Allah (Surah 33:40). These are all claims to universal leadership and example and, in making them, he must be judged by absolute standards.
In consequence of such claims it is hardly surprising to find Muslims themselves using absolute language to describe him. He is said to have led a life, dedicated from first to last, to the service of humanity; a life which is the noblest and most faithful ever lived. It is boldly asked whether there was ever another life to compare with his which has withstood the fire of the world and come out unscathed, despite numerous trials and temptations. When such claims are made it cannot fairly be said that he should be assessed purely by the standards of his own time or solely in the light of his own personal sincerity.
Other great men like Gautama Buddha and Confucius can possibly be evaluated purely in the light of their own personalities and teachings but the Prophet of Islam, who claimed to be the last and greatest in a line of messengers divinely commissioned which included the person of Jesus Christ, cannot be exempted from a more searching analysis. Indeed it has always been a fundamental tenet of Christian faith that Jesus Christ was not only the greatest man who ever lived but a perfect man with a human character par excellence. He was sinless, faultless in his conduct, with all the virtues of his personality consistent with divine standards of absolute perfection. Muhammad invites comparison with him when he claims that he is his equal as appears from the following record:
Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: I am most akin to Jesus Christ among the whole of mankind, and all the prophets are of different mothers but belong to one religion and no Prophet was raised between me and Jesus. (Sahih Muslim, Vol.4, p.1260)
When Muhammad not only claims match Jesus Christ but even to displace him at some points, he again invites history to judge him by the most precise standards. A typical example of such a claim, where he is again found to be projecting himself as the foremost of all men in human history, is found in this record of his teachings:
Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: I shall be pre-eminent among the descendants of Adam on the Day of Resurrection and I will be the first intercessor and the first whose intercession will be accepted (by Allah). (Sahih Muslim, Vol.4, p.1230)
An analysis of his treatment of his enemies, in particular his relationships with the Jews and Christians of Arabia, as well as his many marriages will show to what extent his claims prove to be valid or not.
ABU SUFYAN'S WIFE EATS THE LIVER OF HAMZAH AT UHUD
[ image to be supplied ]
Hind, the wife of Abu Sufyan, fulfils a vow as she eats the liver of Muhammad's uncle Hamzah after the Battle of Uhud. Hamzah was only two years older than Muhammad and was one of his closest followers.
2. HIS TREATMENT OF HIS ENEMIES
THE ASSASSINATION OF KA`B IBN ASHRAF
The Battle of Badr was Muhammad's first direct military confrontation with the people of Mecca. It also initiated a new perspective on both sides which resulted in each treating the other no longer as a troublesome adversary but as a sworn enemy. It was not long before Muhammad himself had to deal with this situation as some of his opponents within Medina, whom he had hitherto treated as irritating antagonists, became serious foes whose influence had to be checked.
The first of these was one Ka`b ibn Ashraf, a Jew who was resident in Medina and who had long been a nuisance to the Prophet in composing satirical verses against him. After the Battle of Badr he became a real threat as he visited Mecca and stirred up the Quraysh to mount a reprisal raid against the Muslims in the hope of neutralising their gains and nullifying the increased prestige Muhammad had obtained in his new city. He composed poems lamenting the leaders of the Quraysh who had been slain at Badr and, when Muhammad learnt of his plans, he made it clear to his followers that he wanted him out of the way. What followed is narrated in many of the early traditions.
Narrated Jabir: The Prophet said, "Who is ready to kill Ka`b ibn Ashraf?". 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". The Prophet replied, "I do". (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol.4, p.168)
It is clear from this narrative that Muhammad not only sanctioned the murder of his opponent but also permitted his followers to use whatever deception they considered necessary to achieve their purpose. In another tradition Muhammad ibn Maslama's statement "allow me to say what I like" is interpreted to mean that he should be allowed to say a "false" thing to deceive Ka`b (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol.5, p.248). This was the first occasion that Muhammad, now in a state of actual warfare with those who withstood him, had to prescribe a policy in dealing with them and his licence to his companions to not only assassinate but also to deceive them became a precedent in his future attitudes towards his foes. An early biographer is quite emphatic in his record of this commission:
The apostle said, "All that is incumbent upon you is that you should try". He answered, "O apostle of God, we shall have to tell lies". He answered "Say what you like, for you are free in the matter". (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasulullah, p.367)
It cannot be denied that this was a direct order to one of his followers to murder one of his opponents and to use any manner of lies to achieve his purpose. It is hardly surprising to find that his companion of the same name duly took advantage of his commission to despatch the offending Jew and kill him under the cover of darkness:
Muhammad b. Maslama came to Ka`b and talked to him, referred to the old friendship between them and said: This man (i.e. the Holy Prophet) has made up his mind to collect charity (from us) and this has put us to a great hardship. When he heard this, Ka`b said, By God, you will be put to more trouble by him. Muhammad b. Maslama said: No doubt, now we have become his followers and we do not like to forsake him until we see what turn his affairs will take. (Sahih Muslim, Vol.3, p.991)
Muhammad's companion had only persuaded Ka'b to leave the security of his home by deceiving him into thinking that his group was disillusioned by Muhammad's intention to financially burden the Muslims. As Ibn Maslama was of the Aus tribe who were resident in Medina, he succeeded in convincing him that he meant him no harm. His own foster-brother Abu Na`ilah who was also one of the group was even more persuasive in using dishonest tactics to lure him unsuspectingly into the darkness:
He said: I am Abu Na`ilah, and I have come to inform you that the advent of this man (the Prophet) is a calamity for us. The Arabs are fighting with us and they are shooting with one bow (i.e. they are united against us). We want to keep away from him (the Prophet). (Ibn Sa`d, Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, Vol.2, p.36)
The same biographer records that these men had claimed that they had come to visit him purely to purchase dates and food. When Ka`b was lured into talking freely with them and was "pleased with them and became intimate with them" (op.cit., p.37), they came closer to him on the pretext that they wished to smell his perfume. Drawing near to him, they suddenly drew their swords and thrust him through and, having killed him, they immediately returned to Muhammad uttering the takbir ("Allahu Akbar" – Allah is Most Great). Muhammad's reception of them is recorded in this narrative:
When they reached the Apostle of Allah, Allah bless him; he said (Your) faces be lucky. They said: Yours too, O Apostle of Allah! They cast his head before him. He (the Prophet) praised Allah on his being slain. When it was morning, he said: Kill every Jew whom you come across. The Jews were frightened, so none of them came out, nor did they speak. They were afraid that they would be suddenly attacked as Ibn Ashraf was attacked in the night. (Ibn Sa`d, Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, Vol.2, p.37)
This whole affair has an atmosphere of conspiracy and intrigue, of deception and treachery, of murder and assassination. Muslim writers, in trying to clear Muhammad of blame in the whole sordid affair, have used a number of arguments in his defence. At times Muhammad's own part in it has been totally ignored and it has been suggested that it was solely the reaction of some of his companions to Ka`b's false accusations against the Muslim women of Medina that led to the offence while others have argued that Ka`b was legally "executed" by the Prophet for treason against him. Legal terminology has been used to justify his action by saying that a just sentence had been performed upon a traitor who, of necessity, was summarily despatched in a swift and secret execution. The clandestine murder of the poet under cover of darkness is rationalised as an attempt to execute him silently and without any fuss rather than in a public execution which might attract unwanted attention. It has also been argued that Muhammad had already decreed that deception was an art in warfare and, as Ka`b had declared war on the Muslims by stirring up opposition to them, the lies of his murderers were vindicated as a legitimate strategy in disposing of him.
It is hard to view the incident as anything other than a coldblooded murder to further the aims of a man who, at this stage, was anything but the undisputed ruler of Medina. The lies which accompanied it, sanctioned as they were by the Prophet, merely aggravate his culpability and the defences raised by Muslim writers seem to be nothing more than expedient attempts to acquit him from what otherwise appear to be severe blemishes on his character. The band of assassins creeping through the darkness to unleash their swords against an unsuspecting foe hardly fit the role of executioners legally commissioned to despatch a criminal properly condemned after a proper trial in the spirit of true justice.
Yet another defence of Muhammad's action has been raised, namely that a traitor is no more than an outlaw who can be killed by anyone without any special authority. When one considers that Ka`b never swore allegiance to Muhammad's cause at any time it is hard to see how he could be accused of being a traitor. Nonetheless the licence to all and sundry to lynch anyone suspected of being a renegade does tend to give a more realistic picture of what really happened that night than the legal euphemisms of others who would acquit the Prophet of Islam of being an accomplice in murder and falsehood.
THE SLAUGHTER OF OTHER OPPONENTS OF THE PROPHET
The story of Ka`b ibn Ashraf does not stand alone. Numerous other Arabs who ventured to withstand Muhammad were cunningly murdered once he had an opportunity to despatch them. Another Jew named Abu Rafi, who was one of the chiefs of a Jewish tribe, the Banu Nadhir, was also killed in much the same way. After being exiled from Medina he moved to Khaibar north of the city and what happened to him is once again set out in bland language in the early records of Islam. This account is one of many in the Hadith literature outlining the event:
Narrated Al-Bara: Allah's Apostle sent Abdullah bin Atik and Abdullah bin Utba with a group of men to Abu Rafi (to kill him) ... (Abdullah said) "I called, ‘O Abu Rafi!’ He replied ‘Who is it?’ I proceeded towards the voice and hit him. He cried loudly but my blow was futile. Then I came to him, pretending to help him, saying with a different tone of voice, ‘What is wrong with you, O Abu Rafi?’ He said ‘Are you not surprised? Woe on your mother! A man has come to me and hit me with a sword!’ So again I aimed at him and hit him, but the blow proved futile again, and on that Abu Rafi cried loudly and his wife got up. I came again and changed my voice as if I was a helper, and found Abu Rafi lying straight on his back, so I drove the sword into his belly and bent on it till I heard the sound of a bone break." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol.5, pp.253,254)
The story has much the same character as the assassination of Ka`b ibn Ashraf. Once again the coldblooded murder of Muhammad's enemy was accomplished with pretence and deceit. Another record of the incident adds that, when Abu Rafi's wife enquired who they were, they replied that they were simply a group of "Arabs in search of supplies" (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasulullah, p.483).
It is significant to find that most of the individuals despatched at Muhammad's instance were those who had composed satirical legends against him or had invented poetic passages to rival the text of the Qur'an. It seems that the Prophet of Islam could not tolerate a challenge to his claim to be a divinely-inspired messenger. Mention has already been made of An-Nadr ibn al-Harith who was put to death after the Battle of Badr for having formerly ridiculed the Qur'an and reciting Persian legends in their stead which he claimed were more beautiful that Muhammad's oracles. Although the Qur'an boldly invites anyone who challenges its authenticity to produce similar passages to rival it (Surah 11:13), Muhammad appears to have been severely troubled when some of his opponents set out to do just that.
Al-Harith ibn Suwayd ibn Samit was another opponent murdered at Muhammad's instigation. This set off something of a chain reaction. One Abu Afak, annoyed at the incident, composed a satire defending the ancestors of those who were disaffected at the Prophet which prompted him to respond "Who will deal with this rascal for me?" at which another of his companions, Salim ibn `Umayr, went forth and slaughtered him. (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasulullah, p.675). In reply to this `Asma bint Marwan, another resident of Medina disenchanted with Islam, composed a satire charging her fellow-townsmen of the Aus and Khazraj "You obey a stranger who is none of yours ... Is there no man of pride who would attack him by surprise and cut off the hopes of those who expect aught from him?" When Muhammad heard this he said "Who will rid me of Marwan's daughter?" at which `Umayr ibn `Adiy al-Khatmi immediately crept into her house and murdered her. On his return he confirmed that he had killed her at which Muhammad was greatly pleased and said to him "You have greatly helped God and his Apostle, O `Umayr!" (op. cit., p.676).
After the conquest of Khaibar a local traitor cowardly told Muhammad that he knew where his master Kinana had a large sum of money concealed. The search yielded only a little at which the Prophet weakly allowed az-Zubayr to torture him to disclose the place where the rest was hidden. Two pieces of very hot wood were applied to Kinana's chest so forcefully that he fainted from the ordeal. The pressure did not result in the disclosure of the rest of the money, however, and when the Prophet saw that nothing was being gained he had him decapitated.
Little argument is needed to persuade an objective reader that the Prophet of Islam thought little of murdering his opponents in clandestine circumstances and using deceitful means to achieve his aims. Muslims have done all they can to vindicate him but, from a Christian perspective, he cannot escape the most severe censure. During his own lifetime Jesus addressed this sort of behaviour quite unambiguously when, considering the devil, he said:
"He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, because he is a liar and the father of lies". John 8:44
The records of most of these incidents state that the murders of such opponents of the Prophet usually took place at night. On each occasion the assassins did everything they could to keep their identity hidden and their actions concealed. The Christian Bible states its own impressions as to why such deeds are performed under cover of darkness:
Men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. John 3:19-20
It is a shame even to speak of the things that they do in secret. Ephesians 5:12
Muslim writers often argue that such actions were typical of those practised by most military leaders in wartime as understood by the nations of the world. This leads, however, to a key question. Is the Prophet of Islam to be judged (and acquitted) purely by the standards of his own time or, having boldly claimed to be the greatest of all divinely commissioned men throughout all human history, is he to be assessed by the absolute standards set forth by the human figure of Jesus Christ who preceded him? It does appear that Muhammad's designs on his enemies can only be justified by relative standards and that he cannot escape the censure of Christian morality.
When Muhammad discovered that neither the Jews nor the Christians were going to respond to his claims he became very angry with them and the Qur'an declares Qaatalahumullaah meaning "Allah curse them!" (Surah 9:30) Jesus was also confronted often with people who would not receive him yet, when his disciples wanted to call down fire from heaven to consume a group of Samaritans who had refused to receive him, he replied:
"You do not know what manner of spirit you are of, for the Son of man came not to destroy men's lives but to save them". Luke 9:55
Jesus taught that love for one's fellow-man was to be so impartial that it was to extend even to one's foes: "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you" (Luke 6:27-28). Indeed when Jesus chose to show just what true love is in a parable just after this, he chose a Samaritan as the hero of the story (Luke 10:33). Most importantly Jesus himself put his own teaching into practice and, when he was finally unjustly crucified by his staunchest foes, instead of seeking to condemn them, he prayed "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).
For all his greatness Muhammad's character is very seriously compromised by the stories in the earliest works of Islamic tradition which disclose, in simple narrative form, how he deviously sanctioned the slaughter of his enemies, especially those who did him no other harm than to irk him with their poetic satires. Many of the prophets of Old Testament times can be shown to have acted just as callously at times but this does not exonerate Muhammad. Between those prophets and his era stands a new dawn in human history when the man Jesus Christ projected a perfect human character and fulfilled God's revealed purposes for mankind once and for all. Muhammad shows himself to be as much in need of the redeeming work of God's Saviour as any other person in history – he cannot really be compared with him as God's final representative on earth.
FURTHER SCENES FROM MUHAMMAD'S NOCTURNAL ASCENT
[ image to be supplied ]
A fiery halo envelops Muhammad as he prostrates himself in the Islamic prosture known as sajdah before the great throne of Allah in Paradise.
[ image to be supplied ]
Three angels visit Muhammad and offer him wine, milk and honey. He takes the milk at which they commend him for his prudence and wisdom.
3. HIS RELATIONSHIPS WITH JEWS AND CHRISTIANS
THE PROPHET AND THE PEOPLE OF THE BOOK
One of the remarkable things about Muhammad's mission was his conviction that he had been called to be a prophet in the line of the great prophets of old who established the Judeo-Christian heritage. This required a deliberate break from the general pagan idolatry of the Arabs and, as has been seen, he found his own people bitterly opposed to him for many years. Yet to him the Jews and Christians had something the Arabs had never possessed – a scripture sent from God. The Jews had the Tawraat, the "Law" which he presumed was a book sent to Moses, while the Christians had the Injil, the "Gospel" which he likewise believed was a book sent to Jesus. He called them both Ahl al-Kitab, the "People of the Book" and considered himself to be the final prophet who had received his own scripture, al-Qur'an, "the Recitation".
Muhammad's conviction that he was called into the line of the true prophets sent from God as recorded in these scriptures was so strong that he accepted their teachings and prophecies without doubting their basic contents. The numerous records of wondrous signs and miracles in these scriptures was not questioned, even though he was sorely pressed when challenged by the pagan Arabs at Mecca to work a few wonders himself. When their persecution grew particularly severe at the time of his exile to Medina he changed the direction of prayer (the qiblah) from Mecca to Jerusalem and made his followers keep the same fasts as the Jews, in particular the fast of Ashura. He did not doubt that they had been specially favoured of God in former times, a fact to which the Qur'an constantly calls attention in words reminiscent of Paul's summary in Romans 9:4-5:
O Children of Israel! Remember my favour towards you and fulfil your covenant with me. Surah 2:40
We gave the Children of Israel the Scripture, and the Command and the Prophethood, and provided them with good things, and favoured them above the nations. Surah 45:16
Having sided with them it was his deepest wish that they should recognise him as God's chosen messenger and confirm his prophetic mission. It seems he was totally unaware that the Jewish scriptures had always taught that God's complete revelation, right down to the coming of the Messiah himself, would be revealed exclusively through their line and that he, being an Arab, could not qualify in terms of their own expectations. He was also obviously ignorant of the many differences between his stories of the lives of the former prophets as recorded in the Qur'an and the similar records in their own scriptures.
Shortly after he arrived at Medina, having at first expected the large Jewish contingent there to follow and endorse him, he discovered that their opposition to him was destined to be far more damaging and a more challenging threat to his credibility than that which he had experienced in Mecca. There the people simply reviled and abused him, here they called the whole integrity of his mission into question. Muhammad was frustrated as he could not read their scriptures and the Jews took keen advantage of this, provoking him with their knowledge while at the same time concealing things from him with subtle twists and phrases which he could not detect but which entertained the Jewish bystanders.
In Exodus 24:7 the Israelites at Sinai are said to have answered Moses "All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient" but the Qur'an states that, when they were called on to obey God's law on the Mount, they responded "We hear and we disobey" (Surah 2:93). It was only sometime later that Muhammad found that he had been misled at this point and the Qur'an rebukes them for their deception:
Of the Jews there are those who displace words from their places and they say "We hear and we disobey". Surah 4:46
It was too late, however, to remedy the error that they had been instrumental in introducing to the text of the Qur'an and incidents like these tried Muhammad sorely so that his attitude towards them became intensely hostile. By claiming that there were factual errors and false statements in the Qur'an the Jews threatened to undermine the whole foundation of his mission and his recourse was to drive them out of Medina and attack them with invectives from the Qur'an. A typical example of his response to their charges reads:
The Jews say "God's hand is tied up". May their hands be tied up and may they be cursed for what they declare ... Among them we have placed enmity and hatred to the Day of Judgment. Every time they light the fire of war, Allah does extinguish it for they always strive to do evil on earth, and Allah does not love evildoers. Surah 5:67
You will find those strongest in hostility to the believers to be the Jews and the Hypocrites. Surah 5:85
Throughout Muhammad's final years at Medina the mutual hostility between him and the Jews constantly increased. Many of the records of the Jews in the early biographies disclose this enmity quite openly. One biographer has a tradition that, while Muhammad was still in his childhood, the Jews tried to kill him because they feared he would become a prophet. (Ibn Sa`d, Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, Vol.1, p.125). Another similar record reviles them equally emphatically:
About this time the Jewish rabbis showed hostility to the apostle in envy, hatred and malice, because God had chosen His apostle from the Arabs. (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasulullah, p.239)
A brief survey of the manner in which Muhammad dealt with the three Jewish tribes settled in the environs of Medina will show just how deep the enmity was.
MUHAMMAD'S CONFLICT WITH THE JEWS AT MEDINA
Muhammad's victory at the Battle of Badr gave him an opportunity to move against the Banu Qaynuqa who were settled near the city. He boldly challenged them in the marketplace to acknowledge that he was God's chosen prophet to prevent a similar disaster coming on them as that which befell the Quraysh. They replied that he should not deceive himself because he got the better of an ignorant people. They were real men which he would soon discover if he fought them. Undaunted he accused them of breaking their agreements with him and besieged their quarter until they surrendered unconditionally. `Abdullah ibn Ubayy came and pleaded with him not to put them summarily to death and he finally relented, forcing them instead to leave the city. (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasulullah, p.363).
After the Battle of Uhud Muhammad moved in similar fashion against the Banu Nadhir, another Jewish tribe living in their own quarter near Medina. He claimed that they were plotting to kill him and, mindful of the fate of the Banu Qaynuqa, they prepared to leave as well until `Abdullah ibn Ubayy and others persuaded them to stay, promising them their support. Fifteen days siege resulted with no assistance, however, and the Prophet ordered his companions to cut down their datepalms. The Jews in the quarter cried out to him:
"Muhammad, you have prohibited wanton destruction and blamed those guilty of it. Why then are you cutting down and burning our palm-trees?" (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasulullah, p.437)
In fact Muhammad's action was directly contrary to the command of God in the Bible to his people never to wield the axe against the trees of any city they might be warring against or besieging. They were allowed to eat the fruit of these trees but not to cut them down (Deuteronomy 20:19). It appears that he was aware of this passage as a tradition records that, immediately after cutting down the datepalms at a place called al-Buwaira, a verse of the Qur'an was revealed justifying the action (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol.5, p.242). The text reads:
Whether you cut down the tender palmtrees or left them standing on their roots, it was by leave of Allah to shame the transgressors. Surah 59:5
The Banu Nadhir were exiled like their compatriots and they settled at the Jewish stronghold of Khaibar to the north of Medina. The Banu Quraydhah were the last to go, once again being dealt with shortly after one of Muhammad's major confrontations with the Quraysh from Mecca, this time the ill-fated Battle of the Ditch. While Medina was being besieged by the Confederate army the Jews from this tribe on the eastern side of the city entered into an agreement with the Quraysh to allow them access to the city through their quarter. The Muslims succeeded in sowing distrust between them as the siege continued and, when the Quraysh withdrew, the Jews were helplessly exposed.
Muhammad immediately surrounded their quarter and, after a siege lasting nearly a month, they surrendered, expecting to be exiled as the other two tribes had been. Just as `Abdullah ibn Ubayy had successfully interceded with Muhammad on behalf of the Banu Qaynuqa so al-Aus, an Arab from the tribe to whom the Jews had been allied, pleaded with the Prophet to spare them. Muhammad, however, asked whether they would be satisfied if one of their own tribe pronounced their fate and they agreed. He then appointed one Sa`d ibn Mu`adh who was one of the few Muslims injured in the siege of Medina, a subtle choice in the light of the circumstances. He enquired of the Jews whether they would covenant with Allah to accept his judgment and, when they consented, he asked the same of Muhammad. He then gave his decree: "I give judgement that the men should be killed, the property divided, and the women and children taken as captives" (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasulullah, p.464). Another record of what happened reads as follows:
The Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, authorised Sa`d ibn Mu`adh to give a decision about them. He passed an order: He who is subjected to razors (i.e. the male) should be killed, women and children should be enslaved, and the property should be distributed. Thereupon the Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, said: You have decided in confirmation to the judgement of Allah, above the seven heavens. The Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, returned on Thursday 7 Dhu al-Hijjah. Then he commanded them to be brought into al-Madinah where ditches were dug in the market. The Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, sat with his Companions and they were brought in small groups. Their heads were struck off. They were between six hundred and seven hundred in number. (Ibn Sa`d, Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, Vol.2, p.93)
There is no other record of such a wholesale slaughter of prisoners by the Prophet of Islam and the story's historical credibility has sometimes been challenged by Muslim writers. There is evidence from Ibn Sa`d as well, nonetheless, that he may have intended the same fate for the Banu Qaynuqa as he is said to have tied their hands behind their backs in preparation for beheading before Abdullah, then still too influential to be ignored, dissuaded him (Vol.2, p.32-33). It is perhaps the sheer horror of considering the decapitation and mass burial of so many (the executions are said to have gone on until evening) that makes some Muslims recoil at the record of the event, though others who accept its veracity argue that it was the divine command of Allah against a traitorous people that vindicated their fate. The Qur'an states that it was indeed Allah himself who cast terror into their hearts so that the Muslims might kill them and take possession of their lands, houses and goods (Surah 33:26).
Not long after this he attacked the Jewish fortress at Khaibar and although he did not conquer it, he brought it into subjection to his rule. At the end of his life he gave instructions to `Umar, his second successor, to ensure that all Jews were expelled from the Arabian Peninsula and, in due time, the Caliph duly drove them out.
MUHAMMAD'S CONTACTS WITH THE CHRISTIANS OF ARABIA
His contacts with the Christians of the Hijaz were infrequent compared with his regular interactions with the Jews. They were far fewer in number and were loosely scattered in small groups throughout the Arabian Peninsula. His experience with the Negus of Abyssinia made him far more favourable towards them and for a long time he regarded them as potential friends and allies. Indeed the Qur'an states, in contrast with its attitude toward the Jews:
Nearest among them in love to the believers will you find those who say "We are Christians", because among them are men devoted to learning, those who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant. Surah 5:85
The Qur'an often takes a most favourable attitude towards the Christians. It predicted a Byzantine victory over the Persians which would "make the believers rejoice" (Surah 30:4), it brings forward the early Christians and others recently killed at Yemen as examples of faithful men, it commends many of their monks and priests and rejoices at the preservation of monasteries and churches from destruction "where Allah's name is ceaselessly invoked" (Surah 22:40).
As time went on, however, Muhammad's good pleasure turned into deep antagonism as the Christians, like the Jews, refused to accept him as a prophet and challenged the authenticity of the Qur'an. A gathering from the Christian settlement at Najran openly queried certain difficulties in the book, in particular the title given to Mary, the mother of Jesus. The Qur'an states that her companions addressed her as Ya ukhta Harun – "O Sister of Aaron!" (Surah 19:28). The Qur'an gives her the same name, Maryam, as the Bible gives to the real sister of Aaron, namely Miriam (Exodus 15:20) and the confusion of the two names led this party to confront Muhammad with serious errors in the content of his book.
Mughira ibn Shu'ba reported: When I came to Najran, they (i.e. the Christians of Najran) asked me: You read "O sister of Harun" (i.e. Hadrat Maryam) in the Qur'an, whereas Moses was born much before Jesus. When I came back to Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) I asked him about that, whereupon he said: The people (of the old age) used to give names (to their persons) after the names of Apostles and pious persons who had gone before them. (Sahih Muslim, Vol.3, p.1169)
Nothing irritated the Prophet more than a challenge to his own prophetic credibility. It seems he had only a limited knowledge of Christianity and neither he nor his companions appears to have had a grasp of basic Christian doctrines. The crucifixion of Jesus is mentioned only once in the Qur'an as an insult of the Jews (Surah 4:157) and there is not a hint in the book of the Christian belief in the atonement arising from it. Yet the Qur'an freely gives Jesus the title al-Masih – "the Messiah" (Surah 4:171) without any explanation of it, least of all an awareness of its atoning character. As time went on Muhammad must have experienced similar frustrations with the Christians to those which he had with the Jews and the Qur'an's approach to them becomes quite hostile at times:
O you who believe! Do not take the Jews and the Christians as your friends and protectors, they are but friends and protectors to each other ... do not take for friends and protectors those who make a mockery or sport of your religion, whether from those who received the Scripture before you or from those who reject faith. Surah 5:54,60
In his final years, as his armies clashed with Byzantine forces to the north of Medina, Muhammad's hostility towards the Christians reached its peak. The Qur'an reviles them as speaking kufr (blasphemy) against Allah for believing in the divinity of Christ and for a belief in a threefold deity (Surah 5:75-76), a charge usually directed only at pagan idolaters. The Prophet's last recorded words reveal the intensity of his rejection of the People of the Book by the end of his life:
It has been narrated by `Umar b. al-Khattab that he heard the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) say: I will expel the Jews and Christians from the Arabian Peninsula and will not leave any but Muslims. (Sahih Muslim, Vol.3, p.965)
`Umar b. Abd al-Aziz reported that the last statement made by the Apostle of Allah (may peace be upon him) was: O Lord, perish the Jews and the Christians. They made churches of the graves of their Prophets. Beware, there should be no two faiths in Arabia. (Muwatta Imam Malik, p.371)
The die was cast between Islam and the other two faiths to whose heritage it attached itself. To this day the Muslim attitude towards both faiths remains one of suspicion, distrust and general hostility. Perhaps Muhammad never understood the cause of their refusal to recognise him and as a result of this Islam historically has established itself in opposition to its predecessors rather than alongside them.
MUHAMMAD AGREES TO THE MARRIAGE OF `ALI AND FATIMA
[ image to be supplied ]
Muhammad consents to the marriage between his cousin `Ali and his daughter Fatima. The faces of the Prophet and his daughter are not portrayed according to custom and they are both depicted with halos.
4. EVALUATING MUHAMMAD'S MANY MARRIAGES
THE WIVES OF THE PROPHET AT MEDINA
Shortly before his emigration to Medina Muhammad lost Khadija, his only wife at Mecca. The marriage had been a sound and happy one and had lasted twenty-five years. Her death, however, was to cause a total change in his home life so that a growing number of wives were to be added until there were at least nine at the time of his death in his adopted city some twelve years later.
His first new marriage was to Sauda bint Zam`ah, a woman who had a son and who had escaped to Abyssinia during the persecution of the early Muslims in Mecca. She was already more than thirty years of age and by the standards of her day was regarded as beyond the years when most women would marry but, as Muhammad was already over fifty, she was young enough for him. At this time he also attached himself to the very young Ayishah who was said to be only nine years old at the time. She was the daughter of his close companion Abu Bakr and the arrangement may have been made partly to cement their close ties according to Arab custom. Nonetheless she became his favourite wife and was the only one of his wives not to have been previously married. She was, despite her youth, a fiery woman who became the source of a minor scandal at Medina. She was left behind during a journey back to the city and was eventually brought in alone by one the Prophet's companions, Safwan of Mecca. The mere association of one of his wives with another man created suspicions and rumours and even the Prophet himself kept aloof from her for a while. It took a revelation in the Qur'an (Surah 24:11-20) to justify her innocence but she was considerably displeased at her husband's initial reluctance to stand by her. As time went on she grew in stature and was said to be a highly intelligent woman. A great number of the early traditions of the Prophet are attributed to her and one of the early Muslims is said to have described her character in these words:
I have not seen anyone having more knowledge of the sunnah (practice) of the Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, than Ayishah, nor more intelligent in opinion if her opinion was sought, or having better knowledge of the verses as to what they were revealed about, or in calculating the fara'id (inheritance). (Ibn Sa`d, Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, Vol.2, p.481)
His next wife was Hafsah, once again the daughter of one of his closest companions, in this case `Umar. Her husband was one of the few Muslims who had been killed at the Battle of Badr and the marriage once again seems to have been one motivated not by desire but by consideration for her personal circumstances. She and Ayishah, both by far the youngest of his wives, became close friends. His next two wives were Umm Salamah and Zaynab bint Khuzaymah, the latter passing away within three months of her marriage. Then followed Juwayriyah of the Banu Khuza`ah. Her whole tribe had been captured in a raid and it was only her marriage which resulted in the tribe being released without any consequences. By this time Ayishah was becoming disturbed at the increasing number of marital apartments being added to the Prophet's common home and she was obviously persuaded that in this case the cause of the marriage was the natural attraction of a man to a good-looking woman. She commented:
She was a most beautiful woman. She captivated every man who saw her. She came to the Apostle to ask his help in the matter. As soon as I saw her at the door of my room I took a dislike for her, for I knew that he would see her as I saw her. (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasulullah, p.493)
Ayishah, whose tongue was as sharp as her wit, concluded "I do not know a woman who was a greater blessing to her people than she". After this Muhammad married Zaynab bint Jahsh and Mariyah, an Egyptian slave woman of Coptic origins. Then came the daughter of Abu Sufyan, Umm Habibah and a Jewess Safiya whose father Huyayy, husband Kinanah and both her brothers were killed by the Muslims at Khaibar. His last marriage was to a woman named Maymunah though it is possible he was also married to another Jewess Rayhanah, one of the survivors of the Banu Quraydhah who is known to have "shown repugnance towards Islam when she was captured and clung to Judaism" (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasulullah, p.466). Muslim writers often claim that all Muhammad's marriages were the result purely of the Prophet's compassionate desire to protect women bereft of their husbands and they required a personal sacrifice on his part. It should be remembered that his two Jewish consorts only became widows because their husbands had been butchered by the Muslims.
Of all his marriages, however, none evoked more comment than that to his cousin Zaynab bint Jahsh. She was originally the wife of Zaid ibn Haritha, his adopted son, but it appears the marriage soured and Muhammad soon expressed a keen interest in her. Zaid was prepared to divorce her but the Prophet initially dissuaded him. Things did not improve, however, and soon after their separation Muhammad married her, giving her by far the biggest wedding-feast he had given for any of his wives. A scandal soon arose as the Arabs considered a marriage between a father and his adopted son's wife as tantamount to incest. Once again a timely revelation in the Qur'an justified Muhammad's actions:
Behold! You said to one who had received Allah's grace and your favour: "Keep your wife and fear Allah". But you hid in your heart what Allah was about to manifest. You feared the people but you should have feared Allah. Then when Zaid was legally separated from her We joined her to you in marriage in order that the believers may have no difficulty when marrying the wives of their adopted sons when they have properly parted from them. And Allah's command must be fulfilled. Surah 33:37
It appears that there was no censure of the Prophet for marrying a divorced woman even though the prospect of her being his wife arose even before she separated from Zaid. Jesus plainly taught that such a union was adulterous in God's eyes (Luke 16:18) and he is also recorded as saying that no man should separate couples whom God had joined together (Mark 10:9). The Bible views divorce as something God has permitted but which he intensely dislikes and Muhammad himself is said to have endorsed this view:
Ibn `Umar reported the Prophet (may peace be upon him) as saying: Of all the lawful acts the most detestable to Allah is divorce. (Sunan Abu Dawud, Vol.2, p.585)
Nonetheless the Qur'anic decree that it was Allah himself who had willed the marriage was sufficient to satisfy Muhammad's companions and it is said that Zaynab used to taunt his other wives with the retort that her marriage alone to the Prophet was said by the Qur'an to have been made in heaven.
THE JEALOUSY OF MUHAMMAD'S WIVES
Although the Qur'an only allows Muslims to have up to four wives at a time (Surah 4:3) and only on the condition that they be treated equally, Muhammad was given permission to take as many as he chose until a revelation finally forbade him to have any more (Surah 33:52). Muslim writers justify their Prophet's polygamy by not only claiming that his marriages were all of convenience to protect weakened women but also by saying that he always treated them with equal care and respect. One would not expect to find any jealousy between them if this were so but the records of his life include a number of incidents where it is clear that they often clashed with one another.
It appears that his marriage with Zaynab bint Jahsh was the chief cause of jealousy between them and an incident is recorded in his life where Ayishah and Hafsah are said to have colluded in obliging him to decrease the attention he was paying to her. The narrative reads:
Narrated Aisha: Allah's Apostle used to drink honey in the house of Zainab, the daughter of Jahsh, and would stay there with her. So Hafsa and I agreed secretly that, if he come to either of us, she would say to him: "It seems you have eaten Maghafir (a kind of bad-smelling resin), for I smell in you the smell of Maghafir". We did so and he replied "No, but I was drinking honey in the house of Zainab, the daughter of Jahsh, and I shall never take it again. I have taken an oath as to that, and you should not tell anybody about it". (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol.6, p.404)
The Prophet is said to have greatly appreciated perfumes and sweet-smelling spices but despised garlic and other similar herbs, so their complaint must have been very sensitive to him. Bukhari states that this incident was the cause of a later revelation in the Qur'an which gave Muhammad the right to revoke such oaths:
O Prophet! Why to forbid what Allah has made lawful to you? You seek to please your wives. But Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. Allah has already ordained for you the dissolution of your oaths, and Allah is your Protector, full of knowledge and wisdom. Surah 66:1-2
It seems appropriate to comment on the concession made to the Prophet in the Qur'an at this point. The Bible regards the taking of oaths as a matter of great seriousness as it is the very appeal to God himself as a witness that makes a testimony credible. "When you make a vow to the Lord your God you shall not be slack to pay it; for the Lord your God will surely require it of you, and it would be sin in you" (Deuteronomy 23:21-23). This verse in the Qur'an appears to be a convenient relaxation of this principle purely to enable the Prophet to change his mind.
The same verse is also said to relate to another incident where `Umar boldly challenged his daughter on hearing that there were times of considerable friction and tension between the Prophet and his wives. `Umar had been arguing with his own wife one day and was particularly annoyed that she had the temerity to interfere and give him advice contrary to his own opinion. Her retort led to him discovering that Muhammad himself was being challenged by his own wives and that they thought nothing of openly expressing disagreement with him whenever occasion arose to do so:
She said, "How strange you are, O son of al-Khattab! You don't want to be argued with whereas your daughter, Hafsa surely, argues with Allah's Apostle so much that he remains angry for a full day!" 'Umar then reported how he at once put on his outer garment and went to Hafsa and said to her "O my daughter, Do you argue with Allah's Apostle so that he remains angry the whole day?" Hafsa answered "By Allah, we argue with him". `Umar said "Know that I warn you of Allah's punishment and the anger of Allah's Apostle. O my daughter! Don't be betrayed by the one who is proud of her beauty because of the love of Allah's Apostle for her (i.e. Aisha)". (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol.6, p.406)
This story indicates that, notwithstanding their close friendship and their inclination at times to jointly conspire against Muhammad's other wives, there was even jealousy between Ayishah and Hafsah. Ayishah was known to be his favourite wife and `Umar was most concerned that his daughter should not envy her. In addition to this, however, they are even found conspiring against Muhammad himself on occasion and the Qur'an speaks quite sharply against their intrigues:
And when the Prophet disclosed a matter in confidence to one of his wives and she disclosed it and Allah made this known to him, he confirmed a part of it and repudiated a part of it. ... If the two of you turn in repentance to Him, your hearts are indeed so inclined, but if you conspire together against him, truly Allah is his Protector. Surah 66:3-4
Ibn Abbas, one of Muhammad's companions, stated that he had hardly finished asking `Umar who these two were who had backed each other against the Prophet when he replied that they were Ayishah and Hafsah (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol.6, p.408). Indeed the tension between the Prophet and his wives was so great at times that it appears that on one particular occasion he even gave thought to divorcing them all at once. The Qur'an warns them:
It may be, if he divorced you all, that Allah would give him in return wives much better than you, who are submissive, who are truly faithful, devout, repentant, who worship and are willing to travel and fast, whether previously married or not. Surah 66:5
This verse is said to have confirmed `Umar's own statement to them that they should not think they could back each other against their husband and think they could escape the consequences. If Allah so wished, he could allow the Prophet to divorce them all and give him better wives in their place (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol.6, p.410).
On another occasion the Qur'an again sanctioned a desire on Muhammad's part to change his mind about a practice he had hitherto very strongly observed. To treat his wives equally he used to visit each on in turn, spending the whole of each succeeding day with only one of them. A revelation gave him the right to abandon this sequence:
You may defer any one of them as you please, and you may receive any one of them as you please, and there is no blame on you if you invite one whom you have previously set aside. Surah 33:51
Some time earlier Ayishah had expressly complained of her jealousy towards those women who had "offered themselves to Allah's Messenger" (Sahih Muslim, Vol.2, p.748) and who had gradually increased the size of the household as Muhammad duly took them as wives under Qur'anic authority (Surah 33:50). It is probable that she specifically had Juwayriyah and Zaynab bint Jahsh in mind. These additions meant that her own days to enjoy his company grew further apart and, when he claimed divine sanction to revoke his custom and take whomever he wished each day, her frustration made her chasten him with this cutting remark:
"I feel that your Lord hastens in fulfilling your wishes and desires". (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol.6, p.295)
Muhammad's many marriages have long been a source of critical evaluation by Western and Christian scholars. Muslims on the other hand have projected him as the ideal husband, a perfect example and role model who always treated his wives absolutely fairly and justly. They presumably could have had no valid cause of complaint against him at any time yet a brief study of his relationships with them shows that there were ongoing dissensions, conspiracies and jealousies between them all. Far from being an example of how polygamy can work harmoniously the story of Muhammad's marriages tends to reinforce the Biblical ideal of monogamy. It is not a question of whether a man can treat his many wives equally with other, the real question is how he can treat them equally with himself. A wife is called to devote herself with unreserved loyalty to her one husband (Genesis 3:16). In the same manner the husband is called to show an equal spirit of undivided love and devotion to his one wife (Ephesians 5:25-31). It surely goes without saying that a husband cannot truly reciprocate his wife's total devotion to him if he has to divide his own affections between a host of consorts.
Ayishah's own frustrations and jealousies, notwithstanding her own role as Muhammad's favourite wife, are perhaps the best evidence that he could not treat his wives equally. Her grievances and subtle retorts were motivated, perhaps only subconsciously, by her regret that she was not his only wife. There is evidence that she rather than Sauda bint Za`mah was the first woman he married after the death of Khadija (Sahih Muslim, Vol.2, p.748) and if this is so, then her disappointments are readily understandable. She was the only wife of Muhammad who had never been married to anyone else and she obviously regretted that she could not experience and enjoy the same undivided affection she was prepared to give him. Paradoxically her privileged pride of place as Muhammad's favourite wife is also evidence that he did not treat all his wives equally.
There is more than enough evidence in his own marital affairs to suggest that the Biblical ideal of monogamy must be preferred to Muhammad's example of polygamy.
MUHAMMAD RECEIVES A REVELATION OF A QUR'ANIC TEXT
[ image to be supplied ]
The Angel Jibril appears to the Prophet and delivers a portion of the Qur'an to him. There is no record of him ever being handed a written passage as such but perhaps the painting symbolises the general theme.