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The “Perfection” of Mohammed

The recent developments in Paris are indeed sad. The satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, went to extremes, as satire often does, in criticizing Christianity, Judaism, Islam and other religions. But cartoons about Mohammed are, of course, verboten around the world, and twelve staff members paid with their lives for overstepping that red line.

Satire, although useful at times for puncturing over-inflated egos of politicos, celebrities, and others, is not the best way to get information across – particularly as regards a person like Mohammed, about whom so little is known. As I mentioned in a previous column, the best antidote to the alarming popular ignorance about this prophet of Islam might be a movie dramatizing the main points in his life.

But whether through a movie or a biography, it is important to know the truth about the “holy Prophet” of Islam. The bare facts may offer a more shocking exposé than satirical treatment. If you have formed a concept of a “prophet” from the Old Testament, the following details will disillusion you:

  • Claiming a revelation from the angel Gabriel, Mohammed established a monotheistic religion in Mecca, with some pragmatic concessions to polytheism, which were later attributed to Satan (the so-called “Satanic verses”).
  • After very middling successes in Mecca, and opposition from some tribes there, he fled to Medina (the “hegira” in A.D. 622) and became immensely influential and successful in spreading his religion. But according to a 1985 biography, Twenty-Three Years by Ali Dashti, he then underwent a change of personality: “After the move to Medina he became a relentless warrior, intent on spreading his religion by the sword, and a scheming founder of a state. A Messiah was transformed into a David. A man who had lived for more than twenty years with one wife became inordinately fond of women.”
  • He acquired great wealth by banditry, which could be called a “common occupation” at that time. Arab tribes used raiding parties to rustle camels; and after they combined their forces, they were able to conquer more territory, seize more booty, and acquire desirable women.
  • In the face of considerable opposition to his calls for conversion to Islam, Mohammed, throughout the Qur’an, is told by Allah to kill or subdue Jews and Christians and all unbelievers (see especially Suras 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9,17, 33, 47, 48, and 69). These were brutal times. According to Daniel Pipes, Mohammed engaged personally in seventy-eight battles, of which just one (the Battle of the Ditch) was defensive. He became an immensely successful warlord. The Qur’an stipulated that one-fifth of the booty from the raids and battles should be given to Mohammed.
  • Mohammed occasionally made treaties, but the treaties were fragile. The right to make treaties for temporary advantage and break them when Muslims get stronger is called Hudaybiyya (named after Mohammed’s 10-year truce with the Meccans, broken after two years during the holy month of Ramadan). The right to do this was confirmed in Sura 2:217, in which Allah assures Mohammed that the Meccans’ refusal to accept Islam was a worse transgression than breaking the treaty with them.
  • Mohammed did not tolerate dissent or opposition very kindly. The poet ʻAṣmāʼ bint Marwān, the poet Ka’b bin al-Ashraf, and two other poets, were murdered for criticizing him. To avenge a hijacking he sent his adopted son Zaid, who tied a female gang member between two camels to tear her apart. The Jewish Qurayzah tribe, towards the end of Mohammed’s life, was particularly resistant. Mohammed’s forces responded by decapitating 600-800 men in front of their women and children, and then raping the widows. Mohammed took one young newly-created widow, Reihana, to bed the same night. She refused his offer to become a wife, but became one of his concubines.
  • Mohammed’s harem was a model of diversity. Although other Muslims were restricted to four wives (not including slave girls), Mohammed himself was allotted by Allah an unrestricted number of wives for his own purposes (33:50). Among his
  • fifteen wives were included his daughter-in-law, Zeinab (Zaid divorced her to please the Prophet – an arrangement approved by Allah himself in Sura 33:37-38); a 17-year-old Jewish girl, Safiyyah, whose husband had just been beheaded for not revealing the location of his treasure to Mohammed; and his favorite wife, Aisha, whom Mohammed married when she was six years old, consummating the marriage when she turned nine. Outside the regular wives, an Egyptian slave girl, Maria, caused temporary protests because of her nightly trysts with Mohammed, until Allah in Sura 66:1-3 reassured the wives.
When images were permitted: Mohammed and the angel Gabriel by Rashid-al-Din Hamadani (c. 1300)
When images were permitted: Mohammed and the angel Gabriel by Rashid-al-Din Hamadani (c. 1300)

After Mohammed’s death, his followers continued to spread the faith by conquests and/or occupation of countries in Asia, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean – including Spain, Portugal, Greece, Sicily, Serbia, Hungary, Rumania and Bulgaria.

There were other, less controversial sides to Mohammed and Islam, of course. But since MohammEd is considered by faithful Muslims as being the “perfect man” (al-Insan al-Kamil), the perfect model to imitate, one can appreciate the serious difficulty Muslim religious men, young and old, may have in this present age in imitating such a life!

Because the largely non-Muslim Western world has progressed so far beyond them in technology and modern weaponry, the conquest of “infidels” has had to undergo adaptations – guerrilla warfare, massacres with beheadings, etc.

And to imitate Mohammed in his sex life becomes prohibitively difficult, if you “do the math.” For if large numbers of devout Muslim males have multiple wives, there will be a demographic scarcity of eligible women; and with the legal prohibition of slavery, it is almost impossible in most countries, aside from a few places in Africa, Egypt, Syria, etc., to find suitable female sex slaves.

So it is not entirely surprising that some “extremists,” spurred on by the promises in the Qur’an for unremitting sexual escapades in the Muslim heaven for “martyrs,” would resort to suicidal violence, especially in secular societies, which have little reverence for Mohammed. But these are just misguided attempts to imitate the “perfection” of the Prophet.

Howard Kainz

Howard Kainz

Howard Kainz is emeritus professor of philosophy at Marquette University. His most recent publications include Natural Law: an Introduction and Reexamination (2004), Five Metaphysical Paradoxes (The 2006 Marquette Aquinas Lecture), The Philosophy of Human Nature (2008), and The Existence of God and the Faith-Instinct (2010).

  • Bro_Ed

    An interesting article. I hope you do a follow-up on what happened after his death and the family break-up that resulted in the various forms of Islam (Sunni, Shite, etc.) that we deal with today. Would you recommend a good, historical history of Mohammed geared to the average reader?

    • Howard Kainz

      I would recommend Ali Dashti’s “Twenty-Three Years.” He was an Iranian who decided to do a respectful but critical investigation of the life of Mohammed, at a time when this would not automatically mean a death sentence. The early biographies by Bukhari and Ibn Ishaq, which are respected by Muslims, are hagiography.

      • JGradGus

        Any movie about Mohammed will also be hagiography. Two already exist – “The Message” (originally released as Mohammad, Messenger of God) and a PBS documentary, “Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet.” He is portrayed as a holy prophet in both. Any movie about any ‘legendary figure’ about who little is actually known is going to have a point of view that is either positive or negative.

        It’s not that hard to see why Muhammad’s message was so readily accepted given where he lived, the times in which he lived, and the culture of the people – mostly ignorant people trying to live in a desert worshipping Egyptian gods. He offered people a reason for existence and a new way of living that beat the heck out of what they had. History is replete with examples of ignorant people accepting false prophets and leaders who promise them a better way. What’s sad is that the religions the false prophets offer continue to spread. People are still willing to accept “alternatives” to Catholicism or Christianity because the alternatives fit what they want to believe.

        • Howard Kainz

          A movie is being prepared on Mohammed by Ali Sina. See I’ve read the script, and it’s Mohammed with all the warts — not hagiography.

          • Howard Kainz

            Ali Sina has a website. Check Google. The web address was deleted after “See” in my above message. (Editorial rules.)

          • Rosemary58

            I just read that Islamic scholars translated the Catechism into Farsi (approved by the Vatican) because they want to know more about Christianity from the source. To me, this is news!

          • jaybird1951

            That is truly news and the first I have heard of it. Can you supply a source for more info?

          • Apod Nasa

            The pressure will be enormous not to make this film. Anyone remember “The Innocence of Muslims”?

  • Howard Kainz

    I reviewed Spencer’s book in Crisis Magazine, June, 2012, “Robin Hood, King Arthur, Muhammad.” I think someone existed, then over a century later efforts were made to put together who he was and what he did.

  • Patti Day

    Thomas Carlyle called Islam a confused form of Christianity. His
    point was not that it reflected Christian doctrines as much as Islam
    could have never been conceived without Christianity coming along
    beforehand. But Islam is not Christianity. As
    Carlyle says, “The sublime forgiveness of Christianity, turning of the
    other cheek when the one has been smitten, is not here: you are to revenge yourself. . . “

  • Gail Finke

    There was something remarkable about Joseph Smith and Brigham Young too, that doesn’t mean they received revelations from God. People frequently confuse charisma with genius or holiness. But charisma can accompany madness, ordinariness, lack of artistic talent, and nastiness… it’s a completely independent quality, which seems to be difficult for most people to figure out, perhaps because it’s so rare and striking when one DOES find it.

    • Rosemary58

      charisma often reveals narcissism, too.

  • DeaconEdPeitler

    So why would you bother yourself with a site that identifies itself as “a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary?” Peculiar behavior, indeed.

  • I can’t get over that act of John Paul II. It was a terrible affront done to all the thousands upon thousands of people murdered by that sect.

    • RainingAgain

      “Love your enemies”. And not all followers of the sect are murderers and most victims of those who do murder are members of it. John Paul’s act wasn’t his most prudent, but he may have seen it as a first approach to a people he presumably wished to convert. I would recommend reading the text of what Sisi addressed to that meeting with the imams. If Islam could be directed down the road he seems to wish it to go, it might well become much more amenable to conversion, with much goodly help from the Holy Spirit, of course. In the event of such a miracle, that kiss would be seen as a starting point-we are stuck in a mere moment.

      • Rosemary58

        A kiss is not necesarily a starting point. It is a stamp of approval, a confirmation, an affirmation. A kiss can lead to scandal. Only the Gospel is the starting point. If an imam or mullah also kissed the Bible, I would then think that is a starting point.

    • JaneSeymour

      With all respect, Pope John Paul II, was rather a populist. The current Pope is walking on his steps, sure with more liberal and secular agenda.
      Only Pope Benedict had the conviction and moral courage to express his views on Islam. The main reason for expansion of Islam is that Christians have become lukewarm about their faith. We, in the west, have lost our Christian identity and instead of revealing the falsehood of Islam by intelligent tools, we retreat to cheap cartoons.

  • RainingAgain

    I wouldn’t over-think that action; it was just a sign of respect, directed at Mohammedans not Mohammedanism and not necessarily anything more. It doesn’t seem so inappropriate in the context of President Sisi attending Christmas eve mass in Cairo. Can we reach an accommodation with some of them? And if not?

    • DeaconEdPeitler

      If you want to show respect to a Mohammedan, shake his hand but don’t show respect to the code he lives by if you find that objectionable (presuming you do find it objectionable). Gestures matter.

      • ericdenman

        DeaconEdPeitler…”Gestures matter”… I could not agree more. Our popes should not be kissing korans, a gesture of respect we reserve for the Holy Bible and popes should not be worshipping in mosques. A simple tour of a mosque is respect enough.
        “I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt not have strange gods before thee.”

  • RainingAgain

    I think he’s too evil not to be true.

  • Mary Diane

    Knowing the truth about the “holy prophet” of Islam is not my question but related to it. In the aftermath of the deadly attacks in Paris, the USCCB sent out an email. The USCCB attributed the violence as “under the guise of religious fundamentalism.” These acts were a result of Islamic fundamentalism, weren’t they? The USCCB reminds Catholics to “recommit ourselves to the transforming power of dialogue and encounter.” How are we to imagine having a dialogue with someone who’s holding an AK-47?

    • HowardRichards

      Please point to the part of the USCCB’s statement that asks you to recommit yourself to the dialogue with someone holding an AK-47. Or, in your imagination, are all Muslims armed terrorists?

      How long has it been since you have complained about all Catholic priests being portrayed as pedophiles? If it is OK to portray all Muslims as terrorists, how can it be wrong to portray all priests as pedophiles?

      The problem with Islam is not that it has odious adherents or even adherents that commit crimes. The same is true of Christianity. The problem with Islam is that it is false.

  • Chris in Maryland

    Yes, we Christians believe, along with Isaac Newton and Galileo and Francis Collins, per Dante, that there is “a Love that moves the sun and the stars.”
    You mark yourself as pig-headed, by suggesting that you are not gullible, in comparison to, for starters, the 4 men named above.
    Or perhaps you believe that it is a matter of “first principles” that your position is not gullible?

  • Guest

    Howard; This is a great column. Thank you for providing it.it really helps in understanding how devout muslims engage in such barbarity. Personally, i think moderate muslims are the problem. There have now been some 25,000 attacks since 9/11. This evil has provoked no reflection across the Muslim world. Al Sisi in Egypt may be a recent exception. I mean if people were taking young girls as sex slaves, were shooting up malls, newspaper offices,cafes etc, were killing children in their classrooms, were immolating themselves and other by flying planes into towers, were setting pressure cooker bombs at the Boston marathon and were yelling” Jesus Loves You” while they were committing these atrocities wouldn’t you question your beliefs? There is no hope that Islam can ever be anything other than a murderous cult. To imitate its founder is to be a barbarian. To imitate Jesus is to be a saint.

  • Charlie6

    The Cross is foolishness to those who are under the mistaken assumption that they are wise.

  • Tanyi Tanyi

    As someone from Africa who has lived with Muslims, I find it difficult to understand why the Catholic Church is wasting its time trying to make Islam look good! It was greatly disturbing that Pope Francis wrote in the Joy of the Gospel that Islam is a religion of peace! Without political power and the guns, Islam would not have survived a day! How many bishops did they not slaughter in North Africa? Westerners are quick to point to the Crusades. I tell them over and over again that the crusades were a reaction to the jihads of the Muslims. The truth is that Westerners have lost confidence in their own religious heritage, and the false sense of diversity and so-called tolerance will continue to undercut the West from within. What Benedict XVI said at Regensburg will be prophetic in the West, unless they rethink the place of God in the West, and not just any kind of God, but the God of Jesus Christ.

  • justejudexultionis

    We must at all costs resist the Islamic Antichrist. Here in Europe, as recent events in Paris have shown, we are fighting an increasingly horrific war against savages who will stop at nothing (and I mean nothing) to spread their religion of hatred and oppression. Help us to fight the Islamic death cult and secure Europe for Jesus Christ. We cannot, and will not, submit to a religion whose founder was a paedophile mass murderer and denier of the divinity of our Lord and Saviour.

  • NDaniels

    Christ became the Sacrificial Lamb in order that we may receive The Gift of The Holy Spirit, Salvational Love, God’s Gift of Grace and Mercy. The Sacrifice of The Cross Is The Sacrifice of The Most Holy, The Blessed Trinity.

  • NDaniels

    Christians do not worship the same God as Muslim’s do.

  • Adoration Servants

    You suggest someone make a movie about the life of “the prophet.” That was done and Hillary Clinton said that person should be punished for doing so.

    • Howard Kainz

      This was not a movie but a controversial anti-Islamic video “trailer” of a movie that Clinton objected to. The alleged movie has never been made publicly available.

  • Adoration Servants

    There is a lot of “what should be done” insinuations in the comments. What Catholics should do is start 24/7 Eucharistic Adoration at their home parishes as St John Paul II hoped for. Doing this would make the exhortations of Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium reality.

  • JaneSeymour

    I think that Sultan was the famous Saladin who captured Jerusalem after he defeated Richard, the Lion Heart. I have also heard that he in fact, in his heart converted to Christianity after his talks with Saint Francis, but considering his position, he could not possibly confess it publicly.
    Yes, there is great difference between that Francis and Pope Francis. Maybe he has chosen that name to make people assume that he is very humble.

    • jaybird1951

      I think you may be wrong about it being Saladin. I think it was a Muslim ruler in Egypt. The part about an inner conversion sounds like a pious myth.

    • John S.

      Saladin captured Jerusalem before Richard went on Crusade. It was, in fact, the fall of Jerusalem which initiated a new crusade. In battle neither could gain the advantage over the other. They negotiated a new treaty allowing Christians to visit but recognizing Saladin control.

      • JaneSeymour

        My point was that St. Francis talked to Saladin who has been Sultan and a great warrior. His empire included both the Middle East and Africa. It just indicates how courageous St. Francis was.

        • John S.

          Never let facts stand int the way of a good story. For example, Richard=3rd Crusade, Francis=5th Crusade. Saladin = not Sultan not meeting Francis. Sultan Malek al-Kami = meeting Francis, as the Sultan of Egypt. And it goes on.

  • John S.

    Might I recommend “In the Shadow of the Sword” by Tom Holland?

  • PiccoloFiori

    When the Popes have commented on Allah, calling Islam a monotheistic religion, was it one “god” or one God? Allah can’t possibly be God. God can not condone evil. After researching the name Allah, I found there were no references to this name for their god until about the time Mohammed used it, also learned the Christians did use it but changed it to Allah al ab to differentiate themselves from the Muslims.

    • Howard Kainz

      There are still Arabic Christians who use “Allah” for God, but, as you say, some Christians try to differentiate themselves from the Islamic understanding of God.

      • bodica

        What do you mean ‘try.’ We have nothing to do with the evil, destructive, satanic death cult of islam.

  • bodica

    Francis was challenged by the ‘imam’ and the Sultan ordered them both to walk through fire. The ‘imam’ backed down, but St.Francis walked calmly through,unscathed.

  • bodica

    His reputation probably preceded him and his savagery was essentially mythologized, understandably terrifying anyone who came into contact with him. Thomas Carlyle is using some literary license there. Does someone stand up to cobble shoes or clout a cloak? Wonder about Carlyle’s psyche now. English boarding school?