KILLING FOR MUHAMMAD’S HONOR: THE HIGHEST EXPRESSION OF THE ISLAMIC FAITH
BY DARRELL PACK
republished below in full unedited for informational, educational and research
After 1400 years of Islam, many Muslims feel that Prophet’s Muhammad honor is part of their personal identity, and that any criticism directed at him encroaches on their honor.
First, some review of past events:
Theo van Gogh was murdered by a Dutch Muslim (in 2004), after producing a play that criticized Islam. The Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard who depicted Muhammad was attacked in his home by a Muslim, wielding an axe and a knife (2006), while thousands of Muslims rioted in the streets, protesting the cartoons, burning churches and slaughtering innocent people. Those horrific acts, as well as the Charlie Hebdo massacre (2012) of twelve journalists, at the hands of al-Qaeda operatives, shocked and deeply saddened my left-leaning Western friends. I shared their sadness, but I was certainly not shocked.
Westerners who lived in an Arab country, as I did, have likely seen books and booklets that promote this kind of violence. One is entitled As-Saif al-battar li man sab an nabi al mukhtar (The Sharp Sword for whoever Insults the Chosen Prophet). Another is the widely respected As-Sarum al-maslul ala shatim ar-Rasool (The unsheathed Sword for the insulter of the Apostle). This one in particular is an early work by the 14th century Muslim jurist Ibn Taymiyya, who is considered the most valued religious scholar for Salafi (and Wahhabi) theological interpretation.
I will translate and comment on some key concepts of Ibn Taymiyya’s book. They are directly relevant to how the Salafis’ interpretation influences Muslims to think they are morally required to protect the prophet’s honor. Murder and massacre are not only licit, but praiseworthy.
Ibn Taymiyya writes, “Whoever insults the prophet; whether a Muslim or an infidel must be put to death …” This is the first Muslim consensus among the Sahaba (early companions of Muhammad) and the Taba’een (second generation of followers). All agreed that the person who insults the Prophet must be killed if the insulter is a Muslim.
Ibn Taymiyyah goes on to say, “And the Judge Ayadh (an authority on Islamic jurisprudence) also claimed, ‘The Islamic Umma (nation) has reached consensus that the one who finds fault or insults him (i.e. Muhammad) is to be killed’.”
Ibn Taymiyya lists other esteemed Muslim jurists and theologians who assert that the earliest Muslims agreed that anyone who insults the prophet must be killed. He also cites Ibn Hanbal, one of the four founders of the schools of Jurisprudence in Sunni Islam, who said, “Anyone who insults or belittles the prophet, whether a Muslim or Infidel, must be killed. And any Dhmmi (Jew or Christian) who transgresses the covenant, in speaking in such a manner, is to be killed.
Ibn Taymiyya cites a hadith (narrative) by Muhammad. “There was a blind man who had a concubine through whom he had had two boys who were dear to him, and she was pregnant again. She was an unbeliever and she insulted Muhammad. Her blind husband warned her not to insult his prophet again, but she was not deterred and insulted Muhammad more. Her husband took a knife and ran her though; killing both her and the unborn child. The man reported the story to Muhammad and Muhammad simply said, ‘Bear witness, there is no blood money due for her’.” The Muslim man was not punished or even admonished for murdering his concubine.
Amazingly, this issue is still discussed among Muslims today. Go to an Islamic Q&A website and you will find discussion and even the suggestion that this act, or something very like it, may have happened many times in the history of Islam.
Ibn Taymiyya further presents the opinions of various other jurists and theologians. He indicates distinctions but no real differences, except whether a person who has insulted Muhammad could repent and avoid the death penalty. Some jurists say yes, others say no.
Concerning the Dhimmi (Jew or Christian who pays a poll tax or Jizya) in a Muslim society, Ibn Taymiyya makes it clear. The Dhimmi covenant is that the non-Muslim is subdued and in a state of subservience to the Muslim community. Insulting the prophet is a sign that the Dhimmi does not feel subdued, and therefore must be put to death, even if he claims that he had repented and became a Muslim.
Ibn Taymiyya added that if a Dhimmi insulted Allah’s book [the Quran], his religion [Islam], or the prophet, he/she transgresses the a’hd ad-dhimma (covenant with Muslims) and must be put to death. He wrote, “We must exert ourselves, exchanging our blood and wealth to make the word of Allah the highest.”
In order to prove his point, Ibn Taymiyyah cites the Quran (9:12): “But if they break their oaths after [making] their pact and assail your religion, then fight the leaders of unbelief – verily they have no [binding] oaths, so that they might desist.” To this Ibn Taymiyya says, “Criticism of our religion is a specific and stronger cause to fight them, this is the sunnah [way] of the prophet to fight anyone that harmed Allah or his messenger or anything in the religion.”
Thus, by connecting the matter of insulting Muhammad to an act of aggression against the Dar al-Islam (Islamic nation), ibn Taymiyya provides the theological rationalization for killings like those at Charlie Hebdo.
Note the connection. Ibn Taymiyya asserts that his view is nearly universally agreed upon by the jurists of the four schools of jurisprudence in Sunni Islam. Collaterally, he provides Quranic evidence in support of his view.
He writes extensively in the book about the apostate, the hypocrite, and Jihad. But he does not specifically clarify what to do with the infidel who insults Muhammad, but is outside of the Dar al-Islam (Islamic state). He leaves the impression that insulting Muhammed or Islam, wherever it happens, should be taken as harming Muhammad, Allah, and Muslims. It should be viewed as an act of aggression against Islam. Therefore, Muslims are required to oppose these acts by any means available.
According to a hadith, a Muslim’s faith is measured (by Allah) according to a Muslim’s reaction. It states, “Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart — and that is the weakest of faith.” The Prophet’s words explain that a violent reaction to insulting Muhammad is the highest expression of Islamic faith. Do not be shocked when they are obeyed.
Darrell Pack is an Arabist and a member of Islamic Reform Forum.