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, Emeritus Professor at Marquette University, is the author of twenty-five books on German philosophy, ethics, political philosophy, and religion, and over a hundred articles in scholarly journals, print magazines, online magazines, and op-eds. He was a recipient of an NEH fellowship for 1977-8, and Fulbright fellowships in Germany for 1980-1 and 1987-8. His website is at Marquette University.