Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Did Mohammed Massacre the Banu Qurayza?


No. 2 in the series “Critics of Robert Spencer”

 By Igor Slamoff

This article is a partial rebuttal of the book review by Dr. Robert Dickson Crane: “Fascist-Islamophobia”: A Case Study in Totalitarian Demonization[1], which deals harshly with Robert Spencer’s book The Truth about Muhammad: Founder of the World’s Most Intolerant Religion[2]

Spencer’s book is largely based on Ibn Ishaq’s bio of Mohammed, written some 150 years after Mohammed’s death in 632 A.D.[3]

One crucial episode narrated by Ibn Ishaq and Robert Spencer was that in 624 A.D. Mohammed ordered the execution of several hundred male members of the Jewish Banu Qurayza tribe in retaliation for the Banu Qurayza’s cooperation with Mohammed’s foes, the Quraysh. Ibn Ishaq relates how Mohammed actively participated in the mass execution and seized for his personal use the widow of a man he himself had just beheaded.

Crane rejects the massacre allegation outright:

“This mythical genocide is the all-time classical example of demonization. In his book, The Truth about Muhammad, Spencer relates this apocryphal story …to support his thesis that the Prophet Muhammad set an eternal example for all Muslims by following both domestic and foreign policies based on shock and awe”.[4]

In other words Spencer charges Mohammed with setting the model for contemporary Mohammedan terrorists, who are thus the authentic interpreters of islam. Spencer argues that there is no moderate Islam and that islam has always been a terrorist ideology, a claim that I myself find plausible.

1. Crane’s aspersions against Ibn Ishaq

Crane calls the whole of Ibn Ishaq’s bio of Mohammed into question, largely on the authority of one Malik ibn Anis. He writes:

“Spencer admits that the accuracy of Ibn Ishaq’s life of Muhammad is questionable, and he admits on page 27 that “Malik called Ibn Ishaq ‘an Antichrist, yet he says on page 30 that Ibn Ishaq’s biography of the Prophet Muhammad is his principal source for much of his book.”

At another point Crane writes:

 “Unfortunately, [Spencer] relies heavily on sources that are either bogus or biased and reflect the strain of extremism that is found in every religion."[5]

However Malik’s critique is limited to Jewish issues: “Mālik rejected [Ibn Ishaq’s] stories of Muhammad and the Jews of Medina [including the Banu Qurayza] on the ground that they were taken solely based on accounts by sons of Jewish converts.”[6] Likewise other traditional criticisms of Ibn Ishaq that Crane vaguely alludes to are actually restricted to very specific issues.[7] Nonetheless Crane tries to present them as grounds for considering Ibn Ishaq an all-around liar. From what I have been able to gather from general sources like Wikipedia, however, Ibn Ishaq has a reputation for reliability among specialists, despite Crane’s aspersions.[8]

2.      Islamic law arguments

2.1 “Only the guilty are punished”

Crane, in questioning the veracity of Ibn Ishaq’s account of the alleged Banu Qurayza massacre, writes:

“… the strict rule in Islamic law is to punish only those who are responsible for the sedition.”

As Spencer retorted, the Banu Qurayza episode occurred at the very beginning of Islam’s history, before any such “strict rules” existed.

Furthermore many historical examples can be cited in which Mohammedans inflicted collective punishment on non-Mohammedan communities to avenge the misdeeds of individuals.

The most glaring example of this can be seen in the Pact of Omar. “According to many Muslim historians  the Pact of Umar (العهدة العمرية, Al-'Uhda Al-'Umariyya) (637 AD) is an agreement between a subdued Christian population and the Muslim invaders led by Umar Ibn Al-Khattab, the second Rightly-guided Caliph.”[9]

According to  Islamic tradition, the caliph added several sentences to the text of the treaty, including the following:

“If we [i.e. the conquered Christians, technically known as dhimmis] break any of these promises that we set for your benefit against ourselves, then our Dhimmah (promise of protection) is broken and you are allowed to do with us what you are allowed of people of defiance and rebellion.'"

According to this provision, if dhimmis break ANY OF THE PROMISES, then they consent to be treated like rebels. That means that even a very slight misdeed can warrant brutal reprisals. Not only is no limit set to the severity of the punishment, but punishment may be meted out to any or all members of the protected group, regardless of who the culprit was, provided the culprit belonged to the same protected group.

“According to Islamic theology, Umar is one of four 'Rightly-guided Caliphs. Therefore, he is considered by them to be a model Muslim leader.[42] His actions and this pact perfectly reflect the teachings of the Qur'an and the Hadith[43] (together forming Islamic sacred law, or Sharia).”[10] 

This utterly disproves Crane’s reckless claim that Islamic law scrupulously refrains from punishing the innocent.

2.2  “Prisoners of War are never killed”

“Equally important is the strict rule, never violated at the time of the Prophet, that prisoners of war must be either freed or allowed to be ransomed by their families.”

However, according to Ibn Ishaq, there is at least one other instance of Mohammed killing POWs, namely after the battle of Badr.

“At al Safra, on the return journey, the apostle ordered one of the prisoners, al Nadr, to be executed, and another, Uqba, later in the journey.”[11]

Unlike the Banu Qurayza, the captives in question were not Jews. Consequently the episode is not called into question by Malik ibn Anas. These two prisoners were executed because Mohammed bore each of them a personal grudge:

Nadr had supposedly remarked on the Mohammed’s revelations : ‘We have heard them. If we wanted, we could certainly compose the like of this. This is nothing but fables of the ancients.’“ (Koran 8:31)[12]

A Qur'an verse was revealed ordering the execution of Nadr bin Harith, He was one of two prisoners who were executed and not allowed to be ransomed by their clans because he mocked and harassed Muhammad and wrote poems and stories criticizing him. [13]

Uqba bin Abu Muayt was captured in the Battle of Badr and was killed instead of being ransomed, because he threw dead animal entrails on Muhammad, and wrapped his garment around Muhammad's neck while he was praying.[14]

Mohammed was in the habit of ordering the death of anyone who mocked or disagreed with him.[15] This habit of his was not based on any law but on his alleged status as a prophet. Nonetheless previous prophets are not known to have been so bloodthirsty.

2.3 Mohammed the scofflaw

Furthermore there are other instances of Mohammed flouting the law.

“Then Abdullah, with his companions, the caravan, and the prisoners, returned to Medina … When they arrived at Medina , however, the apostle said, 'I did not command you to fight in the holy month, and he walked away from the caravan and the prisoners, and refused to take anything from them.”[16]

Until now Mohammed was playing by the rules of tribal law. But then he changed his tune:

 “… Allah revealed these words to His apostle: 'They will ask thee about the sacred month and the fighting. Say "To fight in the sacred month is a matter of grave import, but to obstruct the worship of Allah and not to believe in Him, to prevent men from entering the holy mosque or to drive them out of it, these are of even graver import. ” So the apostle of Allah took possession of the caravan and the prisoners. ”

So for Mohammed, two wrongs make a right. Mohammed acknowledged that his followers had breached customary law by fighting during a holy month. But since the injured party, i.e., the Quraysh, had likewise breached the law, Mohammed felt entitled to do likewise. This argument is unsustainable in any legal system, since the second wrong did nothing to redress the first wrong, but was on the contrary completely unrelated to it.

But Mohammed’s reasoning had the additional peculiarity that, whereas Mohammed had breached standing customary law, the “law” that he reproached the Quraysh with breaching, namely an implied duty to believe in Allah, had been made up by Mohammed himself. Mohammed was a partisan of Allah, but the Quraysh were not and had never claimed to be.

In so reasoning, Mohammed was presuming to trump standing customary law on the strength of his own inchoate religious movement. This presumptuousness foreshadows the current islamic doctrine of supremacy of sharia over so-called “man-made” law.

Crane’s arguments rely on the assumption that Mohammed scrupulously abided by the law. I have repeatedly shown this assumption to be false. I conclude that Crane’s criticism of Ibn Ishaq and Robert Spencer is very weak indeed.

Mohammed’s conduct on these and many other occasions showed that, far from being law-abiding, he was an opportunist whose agenda allowed him to override any law whenever he found it convenient to do so, or out of a thirst for revenge.

2.4  “The alleged Banu Qurazya massacre was never cited as a precedent”

Crane’s final argument against the Banu Qurayza story is:

“The classical Islamic scholars have another clinching argument. If such a slaughter had actually occurred, it would have been used as a precedent for legal rulings, whereas, in fact, there have never been any such rulings.”

I must contradict Dr. Crane. Although Crane prudently restricts his argument to judicial proceedings, the same principle applies to any action by a Mohammedan political authority. On at least one occasion, a prominent Mohammedan leader expressly referred to the Banu Qurayza massacre to justify his own policies: the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran once threatened his political opponents with the same treatment that Mohammed had afforded the Banu Qurayza.

Khomeini mentions the "Jews of Banu Qurayza", who were eliminated by Muhammad, as an example of the sort of "troublesome group" that Islam and the Islamic state must "eliminate."[132] and explains that "from the very beginning, the historical movement of Islam has had to contend with the Jews.[17]

Reza Aslan, a noted contemporary scholar of Islam, accepts as true the massacre of the Banu Qurayza.  He merely disputes that they were killed for being Jews.
“The Banu Qurayza were not executed for being Jews. Non-Jews were also executed following the Battle of the Trench. "As Michael Lecker has demonstrated, a significant number of the Banu Kilab -- Arab clients of the Qurayza who allied with them as an auxiliary force outside Medina -- were also executed for treason." [135]
Other Jews did not protest or side with the Banu Qurayza, and these Jews were left alone.[18]

This incident confirms Spencer’s argument that today’s Mohammedan extremists merely re-enact Mohammed’s brutality of yore. The argument remains valid even if the Banu Qurayza actually got off Scot-free and were never really massacred. It suffices that there are Mohammedans in positions of authority who believe the massacre story.

3.      Mohammed’s hypocrisy

At other times, however, Mohammed feigned strict respect for the law. For example he asked a rabbi at Medina why the Jews no longer followed the Mosaic command to stone adulterers. The rabbi replied that on one occasion an adulterer’s elevated social rank had prevented his stoning, and since then no more adulterers had been stoned. Thereupon Mohammed ostentatiously ordered the stoning of an adulterous couple before the mosque[19], as if to prove that he obeyed Jewish law more strictly than the Jews themselves. This was part and parcel of Mohammed’s standard argument that Jews and Christians constantly deviated from their own scriptures and rules, and that accordingly his new-fangled religion was the legitimate successor of both Judaism and Christianity.

As the great Scottish philosopher of the Enlightenment, David Hume, remarked two centuries ago, “[Mohammed] … bestows praise on such instances of treachery, inhumanity, cruelty, revenge, bigotry, as are utterly incompatible with civilized society. No steady rule of right seems there to be attended to; and every action is blamed or praised, so far only as it is beneficial or hurtful to the true believers.”

To sum up, Dr. Crane’s attempts to call Mohammed’s massacre of the Banu Qurayza into question are easily refuted. Dr. Crane resorts to specious arguments whose frailness becomes readily apparent even after very cursory examination. Thus the alleged massacre of the Banu Qurayza remains as plausible as ever.



[1] Dr. Crane’s review appeared online in 5 parts on The American Muslim web site in 2007.
[2] I already dealt briefly with the same subject matter in my recent article "Critique of Robert Spencer”.
[3] Sirat Rasoul Allah, www.faithfreedom.org/library
[4] It is interesting that Dr. Crane resorts to the term “shock and awe” the same euphemism for “terrorism” used by President Bush II to describe his own methods when ordering the bombing of Baghdad in 2003.
[5] Here Crane is deploying the well-worn exculpatory refrain according to which all religions are equally terroristic.
[6] Wikipedia EN, Ibn Ishaq
[7] Ibid.
[8] For example, the bibliography of Wikipedia’s life of Mohammed cites Ibn Ishaq in first place, with nary a derogatory remark.
[9] Wikiislam, A Brief Analysis of the Pact of Umar
[10]  Wikiislam, A Brief Analysis of the Pact of Umar
[11] Sirat Rasoul Allah, chapter 13 . See appendix “Execution of prisoners after battle of Badr”


[12] Ibn Kathīr provides a brief biography of Nadr and his alleged misdeeds, plus an account of the palavers that preceded his execution in Tafsīr al-Qur’ān al-`Azīm, Beirut, Vol. II, p. 279, cited by Sayyid Qutb, In the Shadow of the Koran, volume 8 (sura 7) p 103
[13] List of Killings Ordered or Supported by Muhammad, in www.wikiislam.net
[14] Ibid.
[15] http://www.webcitation.org/query?url=http:/ /www.masud.co.uk/ISLAM/misc/alshifa/pt4ch1sec2.htm&date=2012-08-25
[16] Sirat Rasoul Allah, chapter 12
[17] Criticism of Islamism, Wikipedia
[18] Criticism of Islamism, Wikipedia
[19] Sirat Rasoul Allah, chapter 10

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