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,
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 license 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
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 this companion of the same name duly took advantage of his commission to dispatch 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 defense. 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 dispatched 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 cold blooded 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 defenses 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 dispatch a criminal properly condemned after a proper trial in the spirit of true justice.
Yet another defense 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 license 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 dispatch 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 cold blooded 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 dispatched 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.
A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE OF MUHAMMAD'S INTRIGUES
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 hum 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 practiced 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.
Back to Home Page