Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog


By Silas

Recently Bill O’Reilly discussed Muhammad and Islam with Wafa Sultan and Harris Zafar on his television show, the “O’Reilly Factor.”  Mrs. Sultan is a harsh critic of Islam, in part because she endured and witnessed severe female abuse in her native country Syria.  She could be described as a cultural, not a religious, Muslim.  Mr. Zafar is an Ahmadiyya Muslim.  The Ahmadiyya are a sect of Islam founded in the late 1800s and are a tiny minority of Muslims worldwide.  More importantly, they are considered heretics by Sunni and Shia Muslims which constitute the overwhelming majority of Muslims.  Ahmadiyya doctrine differs greatly from established Islamic doctrine in key aspects and for that reason they’ve suffered violent persecution by the Shia and Sunni Muslims.  They continue to be persecuted, massacred, and bombed by Muslims in Pakistan, Iran, and elsewhere.

On Tuesday, March 29th, Wafa Sultan was a guest and they discussed the abuse of women under Islamic rule (*).  Mrs. Sultan made several strong charges and O’Reilly responded with the following statement:

I find it hard to believe that the prophet Muhammad would preach a doctrine, a religious doctrine, where woman can be abused at any time by any Muslim man and the man can be, you know, not held accountable in heaven or hell.

O’Reilly is correct.  Muhammad did not preach a doctrine where a woman “can be abused at any time by any Muslim man and the man not held accountable”.  Although Islam subjugates women and allows disobedient wives to be beaten there are limitations and guidelines that must be obeyed.  (For example, while men are beating and bruising their wives they are not to strike them on the face or break their bones.)  Because of Sultan’s criticisms O’Reilly offered to give airtime to a Muslim to rebut her.

Harris Zafar appeared on O’Reilly’s next show to offer an Islamic response to Mrs. Sultan (*).  He was a very poor choice because the Ahmadiyya do not represent traditional Islam; they do not hold the doctrines or values of real Islam.  I doubt whether O’Reilly’s team knew the difference.

During their discussion O’Reilly quoted the Quran, 4:34, in which Allah commands Muslim men to beat their disobedient wives.  O’Reilly read from Yusuf Ali’s translation of the Quran in which Ali added words, like “lightly” to soften the text for a Western audience.

Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband's) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them Means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, great (above you all).1

A better, more accurate, translation is Dawood’s:

Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because God has guarded them. As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them. Then if they obey you, take no further action against them. Surely God is high, supreme.2

Note the Quran’s statements here regarding the relationship of the sexes:  men have authority over women, men are superior to women, good women are obedient to their husbands, husbands are to beat disobedient wives.

In response to the charge of wife beating, Zafar responded:

“… it's really talking about the guardianship because a man is considered the head of the household and the overall, is responsible for the protection and the sustenance of the family which includes the wife and the mother as well.”

Bill O’Reilly challenged Zafar to at least admit that the Quran does teach men are to beat disobedient wives, but then gave Zafar an easy out by saying, “you know that this is going to be used by people who are ignorant and sadistic, you know that”.

O’Reilly unwittingly set the spin table for Zafar by implying that only “ignorant and sadistic” Muslims would beat their wives, i.e. normal, good Muslims would not be required to obey the Quran and beat their disobedient wives.  This pre-set spin was used by Zafar to make a standard apology for the Quran:

“We have to take the whole Quran in its entirety to understand this and what this is really referring to is the absolute extreme when it talks of rebellion if you look at the actual word “rebellion” its not just a wife is disobeying her husband, it’s an extreme form of rebellion that actually causes chaos and disorder not just in the family, but in the society as a whole.  And it talks about, you know, the escalation process and in nowhere does it say “beat your wife”. It talks about the escalation of how to deal with it.”

But Zafar spun too far and O’Reilly challenged his incorrect statement “in nowhere does it say “beat your wife”” and made the point that the Quran states “no matter what the degree of infraction by the woman, it says that beating them and scourging them is permissible.

O’Reilly scored the point and this case was closed.

O’Reilly then took his challenge against Islam to a deeper level and referenced a hadith related to the treatment of female slaves.  The hadith are a collection of anecdotes and stories that reference Muhammad’s actions and sayings, and along with the Quran are part of the Islamic source texts.  There are many different collections of hadith and some are considered to be more trustworthy and reliable than others.  The two top hadith collections in Sunni Islam are the collections of Bukhari and Muslim.  These are considered to be “sahih”, i.e. trustworthy, reliable, accurate.  In this case, “Muslim” is the actual name of the man who compiled a collection of hadith and it was named after him.  O’Reilly referenced Sahih Muslim, Book 8, Number 3432, which allows the rape of captive or enslaved women.

Abu Sa'id al-Khudri reported that at the Battle of Hanain Allah's Messenger sent an army to Autas and encountered the enemy and fought with them. Having overcome them and taken them captives, the Companions of Allah's Messenger seemed to refrain from having intercourse with captive women because of their husbands being polytheists. Then Allah, Most High, sent down regarding that:" And women already married, except those whom your right hands possess (iv. 24)" (i.e. they were lawful for them when their 'Idda period came to an end).3

This hadith and the Quranic verse it cites allow Muslim men to use their female slaves for sex.  Islamic doctrine states that female slaves are property and are allowed to be used by their owners for sex.

To this Zafar responded:

“No that’s not a valid hadith.  As you know, there are so many, hadith, that have been used, or misused or even made up and, that’s why there are books of authenticity.  Now what the prophet did say is the fair treatment of women.  And when it comes to the allegation of a women who is raped that she needs four witnesses to prove that she’s been raped, that’s actually the complete opposite of what the Quran says.  Chapter 24:5 clearly says that if a man, if somebody accuses a chaste women of having extra-martial affairs and cannot bring forth four witnesses to prove that, then that accuser must be punished for slander.  Nowhere in the Quran does it say the reverse, which is that a women who is raped needs to bring four witnesses to prove it.  I mean where’s the justice in that?

O’Reilly then asked, “Alright, do you believe that the Quran is not a book that can be used to abuse women?”

Zafar responded,

“Absolutely not.  If anything the Quran mentions in verse, chapter 66:13, that you need to be fair to women that you should follow the example of Mother Mary to be a true believer, and that’s the message that we’re trying to get across.

Here is the verse Zafar referenced:  (Most Qurans have this verse as 66:12, not 13.)

And Marium, the daughter of Imran, who guarded her chastity, so We breathed into her of Our inspiration and she accepted the truth of the words of her Lord and His books, and she was of the obedient ones. Quran, 66:12 4

Zafar’s quote from 66:12 was out of context.  That verse instructs women to follow Mary’s example in regard to chastity and faith but the context of the discussion on the TV show was how the Quran instructs men to treat women.  I suspect he was just trying to score points and identify with O’Reilly’s audience by making a flattering reference to Mary.

Zafar got the last word in and Mr. O’Reilly thanked him and ended the conversation.


1)  I appreciate Bill O’Reilly’s effort here.  It is not often that major pundits, on the left or on the right, bother to go deeper into Islamic themes.  On the left I can only think of Bill Maher making strong criticisms of Islam, and that based on his observations, not on a study of Islamic source texts.  Mr. O’Reilly went to some length to quote the wife-beating verse from the Quran and to reference a hadith which allows the rape of female slaves.  O’Reilly is to be applauded for going a step deeper into Islamic teaching than most of the liberal media feathers on the stage today.

2)  Zafar used the word “guardianship” to describe the husband’s rule over the wife.  That’s a valid word to use depending on one’s definition.  However, the Islamic definition of guardianship allows men to use their physical authority over women to bring them into obedience.  We’ll see from some of the following examples that an Islamic “guardian” may not be what you want your daughter or sister to marry.

3)  Zafar’s eagerness to present a whitewashed Quran led him to make a questionable, if not inaccurate, statement:  “in nowhere does it say “beat your wife.””  Perhaps Zafar was playing a semantics game.  If so, he certainly was not being forthright but rather playing the audience.  The passage’s context teaches clearly that men are to beat their disobedient wives.  You’ll be hard pressed to find any real Islamic scholar say otherwise.  Time and time again I’ve found embarrassed Muslims practice deceit for the sake of “dawa”, i.e. their witness to non-Muslims.  They are quick to deny what the Quran teaches even if the words are right in front of them because they know the listening audience would disapprove of the Quran’s teachings.  In this case Mr. O’Reilly caught Zafar’s error and corrected him.


The format for Mr. O’Reilly’s show does not allow the two questions that O’Reilly raised to be explored fully.  I would frame these questions as 1) “Does Islam teach and allow the abusive action of wife beating?”  and, 2) “Does Islam allow the rape of female slaves?”   Let’s take a deeper look.


You can find in depth examinations of this question in these articles:

To answer the question we’ll draw only from the primary Islamic source texts, the Quran and hadith.  I’ve bolded certain statements.

Again, from the Quran, 4:34:

Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because God has guarded them. As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them. Then if they obey you, take no further action against them. Surely God is high, supreme.

The command to beat disobedient women is seen clearly.

Here is an actual example of Islamic wife beating from Bukhari’s hadith collection vol. 7, #715.  This account describes a beaten wife and Muhammad’s support of the husband:

"Narrated Ikrima: 'Rifaa divorced his wife whereupon Abdur-Rahman married her. Aisha said that the lady came wearing a green veil and complained to her (Aisha) and showed her a green spot on her skin caused by beating. It was the habit of ladies to support each other, so when Allah's messenger came, Aisha said, "I have not seen any woman suffering as much as the believing women. Look! Her skin is greener than her clothes!” When Abdur-Rahman heard that his wife had gone to the prophet, he came with his two sons from another wife. She said, "By Allah! I have done no wrong to him, but he is impotent and is as useless to me as this," holding and showing the fringe of her garment. Abdur-Rahman said, "By Allah, O Allah's messenger! She has told a lie. I am very strong and can satisfy her, but she is disobedient and wants to go back to Rifaa." Allah's messenger said to her, "If that is your intention, then know that it is unlawful for you to remarry Rifaa unless Abdur-Rahman has had sexual intercourse with you." The prophet saw two boys with Abdur-Rahman and asked (him), "Are these your sons?" On that Abdur-Rahman said, "Yes." The prophet said, "You claim what you claim (that he is impotent)? But by Allah, these boys resemble him as a crow resembles a crow.""5

Note three details here: 1) The Muslim lady had green bruises from her beating, 2) Aisha said that the Muslim women were being abused more than the non-Muslim women, and 3) Muhammad accepted her beating and did not rebuke the husband for bruising her because the husband stayed within the wife-beating guidelines.

So, does this sound like “guardianship” to you?  He exercised his physical authority over her and beat her.  Rifaa was bruised to such an extent that Aisha exclaimed that the non-Muslim women were treated better than the Muslim women!  Obviously, the Muslim women were being treated roughly.  Why?  Because Muslim men were allowed to beat their wives. 

Is this the type of “guardian” you want for your daughter, sister, mother, or yourself?  Is this the type of religious system you would want them to marry into?

Another example from the hadith of Muslim, Book 9, Number 3526:

… So I informed him [Muhammad]. (By that time) Mu'awiya, Abu Jahm and Usama b. Zaid had given her the proposal of marriage. Allah's Messenger said: So far as Mu'awiya is concerned, he is a poor man without any property. So far as Abu Jahm is concerned, he is a great beater of women, but Usama b. Zaid ... She pointed with her hand (that she did not approve of the idea of marrying) Usama. But Allah's Messenger said: Obedience to Allah and obedience to His Messenger is better for thee. She said: So I married him, and I became an object of envy.

Abu Jahm was a “great beater of women” and under Islamic law he excelled in beating them.  He was the Islamic “guardian.”  Muhammad knew what he was doing but did not command him to stop.  More significant is that this hadith shows, that in contrast to what Zafar claimed, the justification for wife beating is in the eyes of the husband.  The husband decides when the wife has been disobedient enough to warrant a beating.  There is no community decision on whether or not the wife deserves a beating; instead, the husband is both judge and executioner.  Minor disobedience to some husbands might be considered extreme to others.

Again, is this the type of “guardian” you would want for your daughter, sister, mother, or yourself?

Another hadith on wife beating, from the hadith collection of Abu Dawud, #2142 further strengthens the primary point that the sanction for wife beating is in the eyes of the husband and no one else:

Umar reported the prophet as saying: "A man will not be asked as to why he beat his wife."6

As the Islamic head of the household the husbands determine when the wife’s disobedience warrants a beating.  As her “Islamic guardian” he has the authority to discipline her.  He is not accountable to any community council, rather he is the judge and executioner of the sentence for his wife’s disobedience.  Certainly under Islamic law he is not to break bones or strike her face but he is allowed to bruise her elsewhere.

There are many more hadith that describe Islamic wife beating and at least one collection has a short chapter entitled “On Beating Women.”  The fact that the hadith address this topic so frequently corroborates Aisha’s testimony and highlights widespread wife beating throughout the Islamic community during and following Muhammad’s time.

1a)  A related sub-point here is that Zafar was allowed to post his response on Fox’s website and there he made a claim that Muhammad never struck his wives (*).

He had disagreements with his wives, but he never raised his hand against them.

This is inaccurate.  There is a recorded instance of Muhammad striking his child-wife Aisha.  (He married her when she was six years old and sexually consummated his marriage with her when she was 9 year old.) This is found in Sahih Muslim #2127:

… When it was my turn for Allah's Messenger to spend the night with me, he turned his side, put on his mantle and took off his shoes and placed them near his feet, and spread the corner of his shawl on his bed and then lay down till he thought that I had gone to sleep. He took hold of his mantle slowly and put on the shoes slowly, and opened the door and went out and then closed it lightly. I covered my head, put on my veil and tightened my waist wrapper, and then went out following his steps till he reached Baqi'. He stood there and he stood for a long time. He then lifted his hands three times, and then returned and I also returned. He hastened his steps and I also hastened my steps. He ran and I too ran. He came (to the house) and I also came (to the house). I, however, preceded him and I entered (the house), and as I lay down in the bed, he (the Holy Prophet) entered the (house), and said: Why is it, O 'Aisha, that you are out of breath? I said: There is nothing. He said: Tell me or the Subtle and the Aware would inform me. I said: Messenger of Allah, may my father and mother be ransom for you, and then I told him (the whole story). He said: Was it the darkness (of your shadow) that I saw in front of me? I said: Yes. He struck me on the chest which caused me pain, and then said: Did you think that Allah and His Apostle would deal unjustly with you? …

Clearly, Muhammad struck and hurt Aisha, perhaps because her shadow frightened him.

Another similar example is when Muhammad encouraged the fathers of two of his wives to strike them:  Sahih Muslim, #3506

Jabir b. 'Abdullah reported: Abu Bakr came and sought permission to see Allah's Messenger. He found people sitting at his door and none amongst them had been granted permission, but it was granted to Abu Bakr and he went in. Then came 'Umar and he sought permission and it was granted to him, and he found Allah's Apostle sitting sad and silent with his wives around him. He (Hadrat 'Umar) said: I would say something which would make the Holy Prophet laugh, so he said: Messenger of Allah, I wish you had seen (the treatment meted out to) the daughter of Kharija when she asked me some money, and I got up and slapped her on her neck. Allah's Messenger laughed and said: They are around me as you see, asking for extra money. Abu Bakr then got up went to 'Aisha and slapped her on the neck, and 'Umar stood up before Hafsa and slapped her saying: You ask Allah's Messenger which he does not possess. They said: By Allah, we do not ask Allah's Messenger for anything he does not possess …

Guardian!  Guardian!  Call him “Abuser!” he is no guardian!

These examples show that Muhammad struck his wife Aisha and had Umar and Abu Bakr strike their daughters – his wives.  Therefore, the Quran, hadith, and Muhammad’s example establish that wives can be beaten.

The answer to the question “Does Islam teach and allow the abusive action of wife beating?” is a resounding “Yes!”


This question is investigated more fully here.

Earlier, O’Reilly referenced Sahih Muslim, Book 8, Number 3432, and stated that Muhammad allowed the rape of captive married women.  Zafar responded “That’s not a valid hadith.

Zafar’s reply, “that’s not a valid hadith,” is a standard knee-jerk Muslim response when they are confronted by the bizarre or abusive statements found throughout the hadith.  Few of them know how to distinguish between true or false hadith.  Muslims play the denial card in order to avoid the embarrassment and shame that accompanies the truth of what Muhammad actually said and did.

There are numerous hadith that allow the rape of female slaves, married or not, and these hadith are found in many different collections.  Most importantly, the Quran establishes that men are allowed to have sex with their female slaves.  This is due to the fact that the slaves are the men’s property and are allowed to be used for their sexual gratification.

Here are related quotes from the Quran (words in brackets are not author’s additions, rather they are the actual Quranic text):


"who restrain their carnal desire (save with their wives and their slave girls, for these are lawful to them:  he that lusts after other than these is a transgressor..."


"... who restrain their carnal desires (except with their wives and slave girls, for these are lawful to them ..."


"And all married women are forbidden unto you save those captives whom your right hand possess. It is a decree of Allah for you."


Here is Muhammad’s example showing his female slaves were property and were allowed to be used to satisfy sexual desires.  Muhammad had a slave girl named Mariyam and the "Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir", page 151, describes his sexual intercourse with her:

"He [the Lord of Alexandria] presented to the prophet Mariyah, her sister Sirin, a donkey and a mule which was white....The apostle of Allah liked Mariyah who was of white complexion and curly hair and pretty.... Then he cohabited with Mariyah as a handmaid and sent her to his property which he had acquired from Banu al-Nadir."7

Commenting on this relationship, Tabari's History, volume 39, page 194, states that Muhammad was allowed to use Mariyam for sex because she was his property.  My words are in ( ) parenthesis.

"He (Muhammad) used to visit her (Mariyam) there and ordered her to veil herself, [but] he had intercourse with her by virtue of her being his property."8

Adding to the Quran’s teaching and Muhammad’s example are a selection of hadith:

Bukhari, vol. 3, #432:

Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri that while he was sitting with Allah's messenger we said, "Oh Allah's messenger, we got female captives as our booty, and we are interested in their prices, what is your opinion about coitus interruptus?"  The prophet said, "Do you really do that?  It is better for you not to do it.  No soul that which Allah has destined to exist, but will surely come into existence."

Bukhari, vol. 5, #637:

Narrated Buraida:  The prophet sent Ali to Khalid to bring the Khumus (part of the war booty) and I hated Ali, and Ali had taken a bath (after a sexual act with a slave girl from the Khumus).  I said to Khalid, "Don't you see this (i.e. Ali)?  When we reached the prophet I mentioned that to him.  He said, "O Buraida!  Do you hate Ali?"  I said, "Yes."  He said, "Do you hate him for he deserves more than that from the Khumus."

Muslim, vol. 2, #3371

Abu Sirma said to Abu Said al Khudri:  "O Abu Said, did you hear Allah's messenger mentioning about al-azl (coitus interruptus)?"  He said, "Yes", and added:  "We went out with Allah's messenger on the expedition to the Mustaliq and took captive some excellent Arab women; and we desired them for we were suffering from the absence of our wives, (but at the same time) we also desired ransom for them.  So we decided to have sexual intercourse with them but by observing azl" (withdrawing the male sexual organ before emission of semen to avoid conception).  But we said:  "We are doing an act whereas Allah's messenger is amongst us; why not ask him?"  So we asked Allah's messenger and he said:  "It does not matter if you do not do it, for every soul that is to be born up to the Day of Resurrection will be born".

The summary of these hadith is that the Muslims made war upon and captured non-Muslims.  They enslaved these people and Muhammad gave the females to his soldiers as the spoils of war.  These slaves were property and allowed to be used to satisfy the owner’s sexual desire.  The Muslim men had to wait until their slaves had their period which proved they were not pregnant.  Once they had their period the Muslims used them for sex.  The reason the Muslims practiced coitus-interruptus was because they wanted to sell the women in the slave markets but they were not allowed to sell them if they were pregnant.

Islamic law makes matters worse.  If these female slaves were sold their new Muslim owner could use them for his sexual satisfaction.  Slave women could potentially have dozens of Muslim owners who used them for sex.  This was allowed because the women were property.

We’re talking about rape.  Slavery continues in the Muslim world to this day and female slaves continue to be abused.

Imagine the outcry if Muslim women in the world today were treated as Muhammad treated non-Muslim women!  There would be no end to the riots, killings, destruction, and so forth.  Muhammad’s standards were far below most societal standards in the world today.  Muslims hold Muhammad up as a great example but in this case Muhammad’s example is criminal.

What would you think if President Obama gave sanction to soldiers enslaving and raping female prisoners?  Abu Ghraib would pale in comparison.  Yet this is exactly what Muhammad allowed.


Mr. O’Reilly is surely a patriot and he is learning slowly about Muhammad and his doctrines.  While he may not be an expert he has made an effort to learn more and talk more about the abuses of Islam.  I appreciate that effort.

Because Allah made men superior to the women in terms of strength, intelligence, and discipline Allah gave men the authority and responsibility to manage and discipline women.  As the superior head of the household men are required to discipline both the children and the wife.  As 4:34 says, “Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other, …

The Islamic context for “guardian” is not one of being the family’s protector primarily, but rather one who controls or manages his wife.  Islam places females between children and adult males.  Muhammad said during his “farewell address” that women have no self-control, that they are “wards” under their husbands.  Therefore, husbands are required to manage and control them.  If they act up men are to beat them to bring them back into control.  If a Muslim woman refuses to wear the hijab her husband can beat her.

The point is not that all Muslim women are abused and beaten.  I have Muslim friends who have strong, happy marriages and the wives are treated very well.  The point is that Islam sanctions the abuse of wife beating and throughout the Islamic world today Muslim women are abused by their husbands.  Wafa Sultan and many others have testified to this abuse.

We’ve seen that the Quran, hadith, and Muhammad’s example allows wives to be beaten and abused.  Further, the Quran, hadith, and Muhammad’s example allows females slaves to be used for sex because they are property.  These slaves could be raped and that is acceptable in Islam because they are property.

Yes, Islam, real Islam, Muhammad’s Islam, allows for the abuse of women.



1 Ali, Yusuf, “The Holy Quran”, published by Amana, Beltsville, Maryland.

2 Dawood, N. J., “The Koran”, Penguin, London, England, 1995

3 Muslim, Abu’l-Husain, “Sahih Muslim”, International Islamic Publishing House, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 1971, translated by A. Siddiqi

4 Shakir, M. H., “The Quran”, Tahrike Tarsile Quran, Inc., Elmhurst, NY, 1993

5 Bukhari, Muhammad, “Sahih Bukhari”, Kitab Bhavan, New Delhi, India, 1987, translated by M. Khan

6 Abu Dawud, Suliman, “Sunan”, al-Madina, New Delhi, 1985, translated by A. Hasan

7 Ibn Sa'd, (d. 852 A.D.), "Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir", (Book of the Major Classes), translated by S. Moinul Haq, Pakistan Historical Society.

8 Al-Tabari, “The History of al-Tabari”, (Ta'rikh al-rusul wa'l-muluk), State University of New York Press

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