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Snopes Carries Water for Muhammad
“Mostly False” Indiana billboard is actually 100% true.
By Robert Spencer
The self-proclaimed fact-checker Snopes.com has been harshly criticized for its Leftist bias, and as is so often the case, a tilt to the Left also means a willingness to foster ignorance and complacency about the nature and magnitude of the jihad threat. After a billboard went up in Indiana pointing out six unsavory aspects of the life of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, Snopes labeled the billboard’s charges “Mostly False” – but that label applies far more accurately to the Snopes report than to the billboard.
Snopes’ falsehoods begin with its initial assertion that the billboard’s title, “the perfect man,” “is poor translation from an Arabic phrase in the Koran, which describes the Prophet as an excellent example.” In reality, the appellation “perfect man” is not a poor translation of a Qur’anic phrase; it is not a Qur’anic phrase at all. The Qur’anic phrase “excellent example” (33:21) is uswa hasana, while “perfect man” is al-insan al-kamil, a title ascribed to Muhammad in Islamic tradition.
Snopes goes on to state that “none of the items listed on the billboard appear in the Koran — they are historical events, and the accuracy of details surrounding them remain contested by scholars.” This is true, but irrelevant, since Muhammad’s status as the “excellent example” for Muslims, as well as the “perfect man,” make him a model for emulation for Muslims: if Muhammad did it, it is good, and Muslims should do it.
A scholar that Snopes cites as an authority, Ayesha S. Chaudhry, Associate Professor of Islamic Studies and Gender Studies at the University of British Columbia, “told us that all accounts of the Prophet’s life, which occurred 1,400 years ago in 7th-century Arabia, were written at least 200 years after his death, and their reliability for accuracy is shaky.” This unreliability is something Islamic apologists acknowledge only when confronted with unsavory aspects of Muhammad’s career as recorded in the earliest Muslim sources. Chaudhry doesn’t mention the fact that when Islamic scholars deem a statement or action by Muhammad to be authentic, it is normative for Islamic law, and all the statements on the billboard come from Islamic sources that Muslims deem authentic.
1. Married 6-year-old
Regarding the billboard’s charge that Muhammad married a six-year-old girl, Snopes claims that “the age of the young wife in question, Aisha Bint Abu Bakr, is contested — many believe she was actually in her late teens when she married Muhammad. Accounts contradict each other; while Aisha is quoted by one source saying she was six when she was married and nine when the marriage was consummated, another account describes Muhammad refusing offers from older men to marry his 9-year-old daughter because he thought her to be too young. Muhammad’s first wife, Khadija, on the other hand, was 15 years his senior and he remained married to her exclusively until she died.”
Denise Spellberg, history professor at the University of Texas at Austin, adds: “Most early accounts state Aisha was 6 or 7 at betrothal and 9 or 10 when the marriage was consummated. One later source in Arabic from the 13th century suggests 9 at the age of betrothal, and 12 at consummation. Child betrothal and marriage were not uncommon at this time in Arabia or throughout the pre-modern world. In Roman law, girls had to be 12, for example.”
In reality, few aspects of Islam that contradict Western laws and principles of human rights are more abundantly attested in Islamic law than the permissibility of child marriage. Islamic tradition records that Muhammad’s favorite wife, Aisha, was six when Muhammad wedded her and nine when he consummated the marriage: “The Prophet wrote the (marriage contract) with Aisha while she was six years old and consummated his marriage with her while she was nine years old and she remained with him for nine years (i.e. till his death)” (Sahih Bukhari 7.62.88).
Another tradition has Aisha herself recount the scene: “The Prophet engaged me when I was a girl of six (years). We went to Medina and stayed at the home of Bani-al-Harith bin Khazraj. Then I got ill and my hair fell down. Later on my hair grew (again) and my mother, Um Ruman, came to me while I was playing in a swing with some of my girl friends. She called me, and I went to her, not knowing what she wanted to do to me. She caught me by the hand and made me stand at the door of the house. I was breathless then, and when my breathing became all right, she took some water and rubbed my face and head with it. Then she took me into the house. There in the house I saw some Ansari women who said, ‘Best wishes and Allah’s Blessing and a good luck.’ Then she entrusted me to them and they prepared me (for the marriage). Unexpectedly Allah’s Apostle came to me in the forenoon and my mother handed me over to him, and at that time I was a girl of nine years of age. (Sahih Bukhari 5.58.234). Muhammad was at this time fifty-four years old.
Chaudhry doesn’t explain to Snopes why she rejects the testimony of Sahih Bukhari, the hadith collection that Muslims consider most reliable. Nor does she cite the sources that show that Aisha was older; in reality, they only do so indirectly, by making chronological statements that suggest she was older, without saying so explicitly. These sources are, moreover, much later than Bukhari and are considered much less reliable.
2. Tortured and killed unbelievers
Snopes then moves on to the billboard’s charge that Muhammad tortured and killed nonbelievers: “Chaudhry also told us she doesn’t know of any accounts of nonbelievers being tortured and killed, although Muhammad was engaged in warfare during his lifetime.” It quotes her: “Torturing and killing non-believers — I don’t know what they’re talking about. There were several battles that happen during his life and they’re complicated.”
How odd to find such ignorance in a professor of Islamic Studies! How about these?
“When Muhammad saw Hamzah he said, ‘If Allah gives me victory over the Quraysh at any time, I shall mutilate thirty of their men!’ When the Muslims saw the rage of the Prophet they said, ‘By Allah, if we are victorious over them, we shall mutilate them in a way which no Arab has ever mutilated anybody.” (Al-Tabari, vol. 7, p. 133; cf. Ibn Ishaq 387)
“Anas reported: Eight men of the tribe of ‘Ukl came to Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) and swore allegiance to him on Islam, but found the climate of that land uncongenial to their health and thus they became sick, and they made complaint of that to Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him), and he said: Why don’t you go to (the fold) of our camels along with our shepherd, and make use of their milk and urine. They said: Yes. They set out and drank their (camels’) milk and urine and regained their health. They killed the shepherd and drove away the camels. This (news) reached Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) and he sent them on their track and they were caught and brought to him (the Holy Prophet). He commanded about them, and (thus) their hands and feet were cut off and their eyes were gouged and then they were thrown in the sun, until they died.” (Sahih Muslim 4131)
Muhammad, according to Islamic tradition, didn’t just justify torture. He ordered it: “Kinana b. al-Rabi`, who had the custody of the treasure of B. al-Nadir, was brought to the apostle who asked him about it. He denied that he knew where it was. A Jew came (T. was brought) to the apostle and said that he had seen Kinana going round a certain ruin every morning early. When the apostle said to Kinana, ‘Do you know that if we find you have it I shall kill you?’ he said Yes. The apostle gave orders that the ruin was to be excavated and some of the treasure was found. When he asked him about the rest he refused to produce it, so the apostle gave orders to al-Zubayr b. al-Awwam, ‘Torture him until you extract what he has,’ so he kindled a fire with flint and steel on his chest until he was nearly dead. Then the apostle delivered him to Muhammad b. Maslama and he struck off his head, in revenge for his brother Mahmud.” (Ibn Ishaq 515).
Chaudhry laments: “The rape comment is just hateful. I don’t know what to do with that.” Says Snopes: “There are no known accounts of the Prophet committing rape — to the contrary, the image Muslims derive from the Koran is one of a compassionate person prone to mercy.”
No known accounts? Really? I know of a few. In two, Muhammad allows his followers to rape captive women: “The Apostle of Allah (may peace be upon him) sent a military expedition to Awtas on the occasion of the battle of Hunain. They met their enemy and fought with them. They defeated them and took them captives. Some of the Companions of the Apostle of Allah (may peace be upon him) were reluctant to have intercourse with the female captives in the presence of their husbands who were unbelievers. So Allah, the Exalted, sent down the Qur’anic verse: (Sura 4:24) ‘And all married women (are forbidden) unto you save those (captives) whom your right hands possess.’” (Sunan Abu Dawud 2150; see also Sahih Muslim 3433)
“O Allah’s Apostle! We get female captives as our share of booty, and we are interested in their prices, what is your opinion about coitus interruptus?” The Prophet said, “Do you really do that? It is better for you not to do it. No soul that which Allah has destined to exist, but will surely come into existence.” (Sahih Bukhari 34:432)
And in another hadith, Muhammad demands a captive girl for himself: “I drove them along until I brought them to Abu Bakr who bestowed that girl upon me as a prize. So we arrived in Medina. I had not yet disrobed her when the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) met me in the street and said: ‘Give me that girl.’” (Sahih Muslim 4345)
4. 13 wives, 11 at a time
Says Snopes: “Muhammad was an influential political figure during his lifetime. All of his wives, except Aisha, were either divorcees or widows, which Suleiman said denotes the strategic nature of marriage in those times. Some were widows of his allies, and marriage prevented them from falling to the economic fringes of society. Chaudhry added that in an era when polygamy was commonplace, the Koran limited it to four wives.” (Suleiman is Omar Suleiman, Islamic Studies professor at Southern Methodist University.)
While all that may be true, it does not refute, or even attempt to refute, the charge made on the billboard.
5. Slave owner & dealer
Here again, Snopes retails falsehoods: “In terms of slavery, it was a reality throughout Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities during Muhammad’s lifetime. But tradition holds he purchased slaves for the purpose of liberating them. Suleiman told us Muhammad purchased 63 slaves in order to set them free, and at the time of his death he owned no slaves. Some of them were elevated to authoritative social roles. For example, Bilal ibn Rabah became a trusted companion of the Prophet, who was given the role of calling people to prayer.”
In reality, the Qur’an has Allah telling Muhammad that he has given him girls as sex slaves: “Prophet, We have made lawful to you the wives to whom you have granted dowries and the slave girls whom God has given you as booty.” (Qur’an 33:50)
Muhammad bought slaves: “Jabir (Allah be pleased with him) reported: There came a slave and pledged allegiance to Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) on migration; he (the Holy Prophet) did not know that he was a slave. Then there came his master and demanded him back, whereupon Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) said: Sell him to me. And he bought him for two black slaves, and he did not afterwards take allegiance from anyone until he had asked him whether he was a slave (or a free man).” (Muslim 3901)
Muhammad took female Infidel captives as slaves: “Narrated Anas: The Prophet offered the Fajr Prayer near Khaibar when it was still dark and then said, ‘Allahu-Akbar! Khaibar is destroyed, for whenever we approach a (hostile) nation (to fight), then evil will be the morning for those who have been warned.’ Then the inhabitants of Khaibar came out running on the roads. The Prophet had their warriors killed, their offspring and woman taken as captives. Safiya was amongst the captives. She first came in the share of Dahya Alkali but later on she belonged to the Prophet. The Prophet made her manumission as her ‘Mahr.’” (Bukhari 5.59.512)
Mahr is bride price: Muhammad freed her and married her. But he didn’t do this to all his slaves: “Narrated Anas bin Malik: Allah’s Apostle was on a journey and he had a black slave called Anjasha, and he was driving the camels (very fast, and there were women riding on those camels). Allah’s Apostle said, ‘Waihaka (May Allah be merciful to you), O Anjasha! Drive slowly (the camels) with the glass vessels (women)!’” (Sahih Bukhari 8.73.182) There is no mention of Muhammad’s freeing Anjasha.
6. Beheaded 600 Jews in one day
Suleiman attempts to justify this, saying: “the bullet point that claims Muhammad ‘beheaded 600 Jews’ may well be an attempt to paint the prophet as an anti-Semite, but it is in regards to an incident known as the Battle of the Trench, which took place during a siege on Medina in 627. A number of Jewish tribes were allied with Muhammad’s forces — but one, Banu Qurayza, committed treason, allowing an attack to happen from the inside. An arbiter, Abdullah ibn Salam (who was a convert from Judaism to Islam) was selected to punish the tribe in keeping with the Torah — the men would be killed and women and children kept as captives.”
Once again, the incident is not disputed. Snopes does, however, dispute the number of Jews Muhammad killed: “But the number of men killed is again the subject of controversy. Suleiman said it may have been 100 to 200. Spellberg pointed to a source that said 400. Chaudhry said one prominent scholar, Ibn Hajar, who died in 1449, doesn’t believe the executions took place at all. Again, Chaudhry cited the fact the account was collected 200 years after the fact: ‘Muslims early on were disagreeing whether that actually happened. This is a really contested issue. It’s not part of the [Muslim faith’s] narrative.’”
Note the irony: Chaudhry disputes the number based on the fact that the source it comes from was written 200 years after the incident, but Snopes has no trouble citing other accounts that were written over 800 years after the fact to dispute the incident.
That sums up the apologetic nature of Snopes’ “fact-checking.” This isn’t fact-checking, this is Islamic apologetics.