Muhammad: The Example of Ethical Behavior

From WikiIslam, the online resource on Islam
Jump to: navigation, search

Introduction[edit]

Islam teaches that Prophet Muhammad is the best example of proper ethical and moral behavior for mankind. Indeed, Muhammad is the model against whom our conduct is to be measured. In other words, if Muhammad did it, so should we.

Ye have indeed in the Messenger of Allah a beautiful pattern (of conduct) for any one whose hope is in Allah and the Final Day, and who engages much in the Praise of Allah.

If the Qur'an is true and Muhammad is the model of "a beautiful pattern of conduct," we should be able to examine his life and see what this pattern of conduct (sunnah) looks like, so we can also model it.

The following accounts are just a small sample of how Muhammad reacted in a number of ethical situations. We have categorized them somewhat, though many of the examples quoted would fall into multiple categories. Most of these examples are taken from the earliest biography of Muhammad by ibn Ishaq.[1]

Muhammad's Behavior[edit]

Abuse[edit]

Muhammad could not tolerate any kind of abuse against him. The penalty for abusing him was death, as in the case of Ka’ab bin Ashraf who had been assassinated on the order of Muhammad.[2] Hypocritically, Muhammad had no qualms about being abusive towards non-Muslims.

  • Before besieging the Banu Qurayza to slaughter them, Muhammad approached their forts with insults. Calling them "brothers of monkeys."[3]
  • Muhammad also encouraged his followers to do likewise and abuse them with their poems.[4]

Anger[edit]

We find in the life of Muhammad numerous instances of anger, many of which resulted in physical violent actions carried out by the prophet of Islam. For a small sample of the many accounts of violent angry outbursts by Muhammad, consider the following:

  • A group of Jewish rabbis laughed and scoffed at Islam and the Muslims. Muhammad ordered them ejected from the mosque, whereupon some were dragged from the mosque by the hair on their heads and given a severe beating. [5]
  • Muhammad ordered the killing of two girls, Fartana and her friend, for singing songs of a satirical nature about him. [6]
  • Another young girl named Sara was mercilessly trampled to her death by a mounted soldier dispatched by Muhammad after she insulted him.[6]
  • A woman named Asma bint Marwan was brutally murdered with Muhammad’s full knowledge, again for writing poetry deriding Muhammad. Muhammad solicited from among his men for someone to kill her, and one of his men volunteered. When told of the murder the following morning, Muhammad said “two goats will not butt their heads over her death.” This woman left five sons as orphans.[7] According to other accounts of this same incident, the soldier who killed Asma first removed a suckling infant from her breast before plunging his sword into her.

Thus, we see that Muhammad did not deal with anger in accordance with the norms of a civil society.

Stealing/Theft[edit]

  • Muhammad caught word of a trade caravan from Syria coming to Mecca. He dispatched some of his followers to intercept the caravan to plunder its money and merchandise, saying “perhaps God will give it as a prey.”[8] The sole purpose of raiding the caravan was to steal property which was not his and distribute it to his followers to earn their loyalty.
  • Muhammad admitted to a certain woman that the material wealth, which we can assume was the result of similar caravan raids and the plundering of nearby tribes in war, was used to attract unbelievers to Islam.[9]

Murder[edit]

Muhammad set the example for his followers, and his example shows him to be a cold-blooded murderer. This likely does not sit well with devout Mulsims, but his biography records many instances of Muhammad either participating directly in the murder of his adversaries or the explicit endorsement of such, at times for deeds as insignificant as writing insulting poetry. Consider the following.

  • Muhammad gave thanks to Allah when the head of one Abu Jahl was delivered to him. Abu Jahl’s crime was making a mockery of Ibn Mas’ud, one of Muhammad’s followers.[10]
  • Ka’b bin Al-Ashraf composed poetry of an insulting nature against Muslim women. For this deed, Muhammad solicited from among his men volunteers to kill Ka’b. They lured Ka’b into the night for a friendly discussion, and at a suitable place killed him.[11] Ibn Warraq adds that Ka’b’s head was delivered to Muhammad who praised their good works in the cause of God.[12]
  • After the death of Ka’b, Muhammad ordered the indiscriminate murder, for any reason or no reason at all, of any Jew.[13]
  • Al-Harith b. Sawayd was considered a hypocrite after initially embracing Islam and later rejecting it. For this Muhammad ordered Umar to kill him if he found an opportunity to do so.[14]
  • Muhammad sanctioned the murder of Amr b. Jihash, who had plotted to kill Muhammad by throwing a rock from a rooftop. But even more disturbing is that an unnamed man was given money to kill b. Jihash, a paid murder along the line of today’s paid mafia hits.[15] Even if one agrees that b. Jihash deserved what he got for his involvement in plotting to kill Muhammad, is this a superior example of what one ought to do with one's enemies?
    • Side note: The story of Amr. B. Jihash b. Ka’b volunteering to throw a rock from the roof when Muhammad and his companions arrived at Banu Nadir stronghold is evidently a later addition made by Muhammad. Because from Ibn Ishaq’s account of the incident, we understand it was Gabriel who told Muhammad about this plan while he was sitting with Abu Bakr and his other companions. None of Muhammad’s companions could sense it and Muhammad needed his alter ego to invent the plot. It tells us the attempted murder was a made up story by Muhammad. [For more details see Ibn Ishaq: 652]
  • Muhammad personally approved the murder of Sallam ibn Abu’l-Huqayq whom it was said had enmity toward Muhammad.[16]
  • Muhammad viewed Abdullah bin Sa’d as an apostate after initially embracing Islam but later abandoning it. Muhammad wanted Sa’d murdered, but did not want to take responsibility for his murder, hoping that one of his helpers would volunteer for the deed.[17]

Thus, Muhammad sanctioned, condoned, and even personally ordered the murder of others, at times for even the most miniscule of insults against either Muhammad himself or Islam in general. Clearly, the example set by Muhammad should not become normative for society, lest we find ourselves in constant fear of our lives with no guarantee for life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness.

Vengeance[edit]

Most civilized societies live by something akin to what is known as the "Golden Rule:" To do unto others as you would have others do unto you. The example of Muhammad is just the opposite in this regard. His actions speak for themselves. Here are just a few examples from his biography.

  • During the battle of Uhud, one of many battles during which Islam was spread by the sword, Muhammad’s uncle Hamza was killed. A woman named Hind d. ‘Utba mutilated the body of Hamza, cutting off his nose and ears, and cutting out his liver to exact vengeance for the loss of her father, brother, and her first-born son in the battle of Badr.[18] In response, Muhammad expressed an overwhelming desire to personally mutilate 30 men of the Quraysh tribe. His expressed desire incited his own men to state that in future battles, "we will mutilate them as no Arab has ever mutilated anyone."[19] While this sort of a response by Muhammad may seem justified in terms of human reasoning, it seems quite out of character for the prophet of a god who is said to be "most gracious, most merciful."
  • In a fit of extreme anger and retribution at the end of the Battle of the Ditch, Muhammad personally beheaded up to 900 Jews in one night, tossing their headless bodies in a ditch dug around Medina. The women, children, and personal possessions of these 900 men were divided up between Muhammad and his followers.[20]
  • Muhammad plotted to attack the people of Lihyan to avenge the death of some of his men at who were killed at al-Raji, though the surprise attack failed when the people of Lihyan heard about Muhammad’s plans and made preparations.[21]
  • Muhammad ordered the flogging of some of his men who were accused of spreading rumors about his wife Aisha having an illicit relationship with a man who found her lost in the desert after her caravan left her behind.[22]

It is clear from these few examples that Muhammad was a very vengeful man who demonstrated to his enemies not patience, or love, or compassion, but anger and hostility which led in some cases to extreme violence from Muhammad. This sort of behavior is certainly not one of the foundations of civilized society.

Lust, Incest and Adultery[edit]

There is evidence that Muhammad engaged in lust, incest, and possibly illicit relationships. Muhammad’s adopted son Zaid had a wife named Zaynab who was Muhammad's paternal cousin[23] and apparently quite attractive. History records that Muhammad went to visit Zaid one day, but he was gone and Zaynab, dressed very revealingly, greeted Muhammad at the door. Muhammad apparently excused himself for fear of succumbing to his carnal desire for her. His followers noted that Muhammad was captivated by Zaynab’s physical attractiveness, and it was noted that Muhammad desired to have her as his own wife. Zaid, wanting to remain faithful to Muhammad and do everything to please him, divorced Zaynab so that Muhammad could marry her. In modern societies, marrying one’s daughter and cousin would be viewed as incest. Clearly, the evidence points to the fact that Muhammad’s desire for Zaynab was based purely on lust and carnal desire for her.

Furthermore, there is at least the suggestion in the Hadith that Muhammad was perhaps engaging in illicit behavior with Zaynab before he married her. Abu Dawud records a woman named Hamnah, a sister of Zaynab, who one day sought Muhammad for counsel and found him and Zaynab alone at her house. One can only speculate why Muhammad would place himself in a situation where he knew he would be tempted to engage in carnal activity with Zaynab, alone in her home and away from the view of anyone else.

Deceit[edit]

Muhammad approved of deceit and condoned lying, as a means to an end. In his biography we find:

  • Three tribes had gathered together to do battle with Muhammad: the Qurayza, Quraysh, and Ghatafan. One of the new converts to Islam, from the Ghatafan tribe, approached Muhammad to inquire how he might help in the battle effort. Since they were still unaware of his conversion Muhammad dispatched him among these three tribes with the explicit instruction to deceive them with a believable story, because war is deceit. The story worked, and distrust was sowed among the three tribes so that the battle against Muhammad’s people was averted.[24] While some may argue that this was a smart, strategic decision on Muhammad’s part to avoid what was sure to be overwhelming odds against the three tribes combined, it nevertheless underscores that Muhammad was not averse to using deceit to his advantage.
  • In another situation, one of Muhammad’s converts had a significant sum of money scattered among the merchants of Mecca that he wished to collect. If he told these merchants the truth about his relationship with Muhammad, he would never recover his money. He approached Muhammad with permission to retrieve his money, and confessed to Muhammad, “I must tell lies.” Muhammad’s response was, “Tell them.”[25]

Thus, once again we find Muhammad less than an ideal example of ethical and moral behavior.

Conclusion[edit]

After this brief examination of a few specific examples of moral and ethical behaviors of Muhammad, we must conclude that Muhammad does not provide the standard of moral excellence to which every person should aspire.

The moral characteristics we find exemplified in the life of Muhammad typically are found in power hungry despots whose interests are of a purely selfish nature.

After achieving political power in Medina, Muhammad’s life became a picture of unbridled power, which he used to fulfill every desire he had, from plundering nearby tribes just to take possession of their wealth, to influencing his followers to give up their wives so he could have them.

As the British historian Lord Acton said, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Such was Muhammad.

See Also[edit]

  • Muhammad - A hub page that leads to other articles related to Muhammad

References[edit]

  1. Ibn Ishaq's work Sirât Rasûl Allâh was translated into English in 1955 by A. Guillaume and is available in book form known as The Life of Muhammad.
  2. Sahih Bukhari 3:45:687
  3. Ibn Ishaq 684 When the apostle approached their (Banu Qurayza) forts, he said. “You brothers of monkeys, has God disgraced you and brought his vengeance upon you?” They (Banu Qurayza) replied “O Abul Qasim (Muhammad) you are not a barbarous person”
  4. Sahih Bukhari 5:59:449
  5. Muhammad ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, A. Guillaume, translator (Karachi, Pakistan: Oxford University Press, 1967), pp. 246-247.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Muhammad ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, A. Guillaume, translator (Karachi, Pakistan: Oxford University Press, 1967), p. 551
  7. Muhammad ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, A. Guillaume, translator (Karachi, Pakistan: Oxford University Press, 1967), p. 676
  8. Muhammad ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, A. Guillaume, translator (Karachi, Pakistan: Oxford University Press, 1967), p. 289
  9. Muhammad ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, A. Guillaume, translator (Karachi, Pakistan: Oxford University Press, 1967), p. 639
  10. Muhammad ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, A. Guillaume, translator (Karachi, Pakistan: Oxford University Press, 1967), p. 304
  11. Muhammad ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, A. Guillaume, translator (Karachi, Pakistan: Oxford University Press, 1967), p. 368
  12. Ibn Warraq, Why I Am Not a Muslim (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2003), 94.
  13. Muhammad ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, A. Guillaume, translator (Karachi, Pakistan: Oxford University Press, 1967), p. 369
  14. Muhammad ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, A. Guillaume, translator (Karachi, Pakistan: Oxford University Press, 1967), p. 384
  15. Muhammad ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, A. Guillaume, translator (Karachi, Pakistan: Oxford University Press, 1967), p. 438
  16. Muhammad ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, A. Guillaume, translator (Karachi, Pakistan: Oxford University Press, 1967), p. 482
  17. Muhammad ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, A. Guillaume, translator (Karachi, Pakistan: Oxford University Press, 1967), p. 550
  18. Muhammad ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, A. Guillaume, translator (Karachi, Pakistan: Oxford University Press, 1967), pp. 385-386
  19. Muhammad ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, A. Guillaume, translator (Karachi, Pakistan: Oxford University Press, 1967), p. 387
  20. Muhammad ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, A. Guillaume, translator (Karachi, Pakistan: Oxford University Press, 1967), p. 464
  21. Muhammad ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, A. Guillaume, translator (Karachi, Pakistan: Oxford University Press, 1967), pp. 485-486
  22. Muhammad ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, A. Guillaume, translator (Karachi, Pakistan: Oxford University Press, 1967), p. 497
  23. Maududi (1967), Tafhimul Quran, Chapter Al Ahzab
  24. Muhammad ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, A. Guillaume, translator (Karachi, Pakistan: Oxford University Press, 1967), pp. 458-459
  25. Muhammad ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, A. Guillaume, translator (Karachi, Pakistan: Oxford University Press, 1967), p. 519