Saturday, October 06, 2018

The Religion of Peace, TROP: "Myths of Muhammad: The Muslims were Attacked by the Meccans at Medina"

The Myth:

The Muslims were 
Attacked by the 
Meccans at Medina

"Our Prophet (peace be upon him) and his people were constantly harassed and attacked by the polytheists after the hijra to Medina." 

The Truth:

This myth owes its origin to the need Muslim apologists have to justify Muhammad's attacks on the Quraish, as well as the more violent passages of the Quran’s second chapter, which was narrated shortly after Muhammad arrived in Medina following the hijra.  

Passages from this chapter encourage violence within the context of ending “tumult,” "oppression," and "persecution."  Contemporary Muslim readers usually apply their personal definitions to these terms and assume that the Muslims in Medina must have been under attack at the time. 

Unfortunately, what Muhammad meant by “persecution” is well-defined within the historical record, and it is quite different from the popular modern-day view.  In fact, it was the Meccans who were generally acting in their own defense during this time. 

Historians do not record any act of aggression by the Meccan Quraish against the Muslims during the time at which the second sura was narrated by Muhammad.  There were no armies marching against them, nor any plans for such.  The Meccans had little influence in this far-away town, and Muslims were not under persecution at the time by any stretch of the term, as it is understood today. 

According to the sequence of events in the Sira (biography), the Meccans were quite content with leaving Muhammad alone following his eviction (even though he had made a pledge of war against them).  Ibn Kathir narrates one of the adversaries as saying, "Once he has gone, we shouldn't care where he ends up or what happens to him. So long as he is gone, we'll be rid of him and we'll be able to restore our affairs as they were before." (Vol.2 p.152).  And they did... or tried to, anyway.

Muhammad's pride was hurting from his ouster, and his credibility as Allah's chosen messenger was damaged.  He wanted revenge.  He used "revelations" from Allah to redefine persecution in order to convince his followers that they were under it.  He wanted them to believe that the mere fact that the Meccans had evicted him to Medina and prevented a return was grounds for marching back with a vengeful army (ie. 2:193 – “persecution is worse than slaughter”). 

But it was entirely reasonable for the Meccans to evict Muhammad and prevent his return.  In the first place, the prophet of Islam had declared himself to be an armed revolutionary against them.  What town would invite a sworn enemy back within its own gates?  (Indeed, the Meccans were foolish enough to do exactly that a few years later and paid for it with the loss of their city and way of life). 

The second reason that the Meccans did not want Muhammad anywhere near their town was that Islam was intolerant of other faiths and demanded sole possession of the Kaaba, the common worship area.  In other words, it wasn’t that the Meccans had a problem with Muslims circling the Kaaba, it was that Muslims wanted to bar everyone else from doing so.  In fact, after Muhammad eventually returned to capture the city in 630, he ordered the eviction of anyone who refused to convert to Islam (Quran, 9:18-19).

Against this reality, the words of Sura 2 take on a different meaning:
“And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution (fitna) is worse than slaughter.  And fight not with them at the Inviolable Place of Worship until they first attack you there, but if they attack you (there) then slay them.  Such is the reward of disbelievers… And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah (Sura 2:191, 193)
Although apologists are fond of claiming that this passage is limited to matters of self-defense, the historical context does not agree.  Instead the verse is a justification for aggression in the cause of advancing Islamic rule. As we have pointed out, Muhammad and his Muslims were not under attack by the Meccans.  They were not being slaughtered, hence the obvious distinction in the verse between “persecution” and slaughter.

Sura 47 was also "revealed" at this time... and it is quite revealing:
Verily, those who disbelieve, and hinder (men) from the Path of Allah (i.e. Islam); then die while they are disbelievers, Allah will not forgive them. So be not weak and ask not for peace while you are having the upper hand. (Quran 47:34-35)
So, far from being persecuted, Muslims actually had the upper hand.  Many wanted to live in peace, but Muhammad told them that Allah wanted them to go capture caravans instead (this pertained to the Battle of Badr).  Only two rationales are given: the unbelief of the disbelievers and that they are "hindering men from the path of Allah."  There is nothing about self-defense or (non-religious) capital crimes on the part of the intended victims.

“Persecution” thus meant simply that Muslims living 300 miles away in Medina were barred from visiting Mecca and entering the “sacred mosque” (the Kaaba).  Muhammad was trying to convince his people that this (non-lethal) policy was justification for attacking and slaughtering the Meccans in the name of religion.

Making this rationale all the thinner is the fact that that Muslims in Medina were allowed to conduct pilgrimages to Mecca.  Muhammad's bloodlust for revenge was so intense that he even vowed to kill those Quraish who were kind enough to host the Muslim pilgrims: 
Sa`d bin Mu`adh came to Mecca with the intention of performing `Umra [the haj], and stayed at the house of Umaiya bin Khalaf Abi Safwan... [an argument later ensues with a third party]... Umaiya kept on saying to Sa`d, "Don't raise your voice." and kept on taking hold of him. Sa`d became furious and said, (to Umaiya), "Be away from me, for I have heard Muhammad saying that he will kill you." Umaiiya said, "Will he kill me?" Sa`d said, "Yes,." Umaiya said, "By Allah! When Muhammad says a thing, he never tells a lie."(Sahih Bukhari 56:826)
The only possible reason for later marching on Mecca was to capture the Kaaba and evict the resident non-Muslims (note the Quran says to fight "until religion is for Allah").  Within its true context, the passage is therefore a manifesto for aggressive warfare against the Meccans, and not a case of the Muslims being under real persecution so many miles away.

There is obvious irony in the fact that the “persecution” spoken of by Muhammad in this verse (to justify slaughter) is exactly what he planned - and did - to his adversaries.  To this day, anyone who is non-Muslim is forbidden to enter the city of Mecca merely on that basis.

Additional Notes:
Chronology according to Muslim historians:
There is absolutely no record of Meccan aggression against the Muslims at Medina in the first three years after their arrival in 622.

Muhammad ordered the first raids against the Meccans a year after the hijra in February of 623, which eventually proved deadly.  There is no record of Quraish aggression during this time.

Word of an impending Muslim attack on a particularly rich caravan, prompted the Meccans to send an army out in defense, where they were goaded into battle and routed by the Muslims at Badr in March of 624.

The Meccans avenged their loss at Badr (and the hostages that were cruelly executed by Muhammad) by routing the Muslims at Uhud, near Medina, in March of 625.  If their ultimate objective had been to kill Muhammad and his followers, then they surely would have invaded the defenseless city and defeated them.  They obviously did not have any interest in doing this.

Muhammad behaved himself with the Meccans for one year, choosing to support himself instead by evicting local Jewish tribes and confiscating their property.  Then he began attacking caravans in April of 626.

After a year of renewed Muslim aggression, the Meccans responded by sending an army to Medina a year later in April of 627, where they failed in a siege that is known as the 'Battle of the Trench.'
As can be seen, the historical record provides absolutely no evidence that the Muslims at Medina were being oppressed or threatened in any way by the Meccans, and fully supports the view that it was the latter who were acting in self-defense.  The Meccans had no interest in Muhammad and simply wanted to live in peace and pursue their commerce.  At each turn, the prophet of Islam unnecessarily harassed them with deadly and provocative actions that eventually forced battles on several occasions.

Further Reading:

These articles are a response to the apologist argument of persecution at Medina and provide a more detailed examination of each claim:
Myths of Muhammad Index

Myths of Muhammad

Muslims often complain of "misconceptions" about their religion, yet few seem to know all that much about the true history of Islam and its founder, Muhammad.  As a result, the biggest misconceptions about Islam are often those propagated by Muslims themselves.

Here, we refute the contemporary mythology of Muhammad by referring to the earliest and most reliable Muslim historians, who based their writings on those who actually knew their revered prophet. 

The historical compilations of Ibn Ishaq (compiled by Ibn Hisham), al-Tabari, Bukhari and Sahih Muslim are greatly respected in the Muslim academic community as a priceless source of biographical information and the details of Islam's origin and rise to power.  These writings also provide the context for the Quran. 

The Hadith (traditions), Sira (biography of Muhammad) and the Quran provide the true Islamic counterpart to the Christian Bible and Jewish Torah.  The Quran is simply the purported words of Allah arranged in no particular order.  It makes little sense outside of the context provided by the other two sources.

Articles posted here will occasionally be revised, and new ones will be added.  Readers not familiar with the life of Muhammad may want to approach these myths through our brief article on the history of his life: The Life of Muhammad: An Inconvenient Truth.  It has been updated to include most of the links found below, and it will help place these debunked myths into historical context - as it was written from the Muslim point of view.

... (TROP) is a pluralistic, non-partisan site concerned with Islam's political and religious teachings according to its own texts. The purpose is to counter whitewashing and explain the threat that Islam truly poses to human dignity and freedom, as well as the violence and dysfunction that ensues as a direct consequence of this religion's supremacist ideology.