570 - Born in Mecca
576 - Orphaned upon death of mother
595 - Marries Kadijah - older, wealthy widow
610 - Reports first revelations from angel at age of 40
619 - Protector uncle dies
622 - Emigrates from Mecca to Medina (the Hijra)
623 - Orders raids on Meccan caravans
624 - Battle of Badr (victory)
624 - Evicts Qaynuqa Jews from Medina
624 - Orders the assassination of Abu Afak
624 - Orders the assassination of Asma bint Marwan
624 - Orders the assassination of Ka'b al-Ashraf
625 - Battle of Uhud (defeat)
625 - Evicts Nadir Jews
627 - Battle of the Trench (victory)
627 - Massacre of the Qurayza Jews
628 - Signing of the Treaty of Hudaibiya with Mecca
628 - Destruction and subjugation of the Khaybar Jews
629 - Orders first raid into Christian lands at Muta (defeat)
630 - Conquers Mecca by surprise (along with other tribes)
631 - Leads second raid into Christian territory at Tabuk (no battle)
632 - Dies
To understand Islam, you must understand the harsh circumstances into which the religion was born. The Arabian Peninsula at the time of Muhammad (b.570 AD) was a barren and desolate region with a scorching sun and oppressive heat by day, and a chilling cold at night. There was little vegetative growth, and the nomadic inhabitants lived between jagged rocks and shifting sand dunes.
While Europe and much of the Middle East was transitioning from the Roman to the Byzantine Empire, with roads, irrigation canals, aqueducts, and a culture that included philosophical discourse and theater, the Arabians lived short and brutal lives in warring tribes with little to offer the rest of the world beyond their own harsh existence.
This partly explains the inherent hostility within the religion to music and art, which some extremists, such as the Taliban, take quite literally. Islam does not encourage the pursuit of knowledge outside of itself, and it has sometimes been referred to as “the religion which has produced nothing but religion” (from Oriana Fallaci, The Rage and the Pride)
The inhospitable climate protected the peninsula from conquest and cultural influence, although the Persians did manage to impose a written language along the coastal edges of the region, which is the origin of Arabic. No foreign army felt that sheep and goats were worth taking from the desert fighters and the area was remarkably isolated. The renaissance of knowledge that the rest of the world had been experiencing since the Greek revival was largely missed out on by the Arabs, whose entire energies were devoted to daily survival against the ruthless environment and other tribes.
For these people, morality was dictated merely by necessity, and obligations did not extend beyond one’s tribe. This is a critical basis for the development of the Islamic attitude toward those outside the faith, including the moral principle that the ethics of any act are determined only by whether or not it benefits Muslims.
There were pagan religious traditions in Arabia, particularly among those based in the trading centers, such as Mecca, where Muhammad was born. Some of these towns had Kaabas - cube-like structures that would attract pilgrims during holy months. The Kaaba at Mecca housed various idols, including the black meteorite that remains to this day.
In addition to the black rock, Muhammad's Quraish tribe worshipped a moon god called Allah. Other gods were recognized as well and the town of Mecca was renowned for religious tolerance, where people of all faiths could come and pray at the Kaaba. (This would later change once Muhammad gained the power to establish his authority by force).
Islam was created both from these crude pagan practices and from the basic theological elements of Christianity and Judaism as Muhammad understood them (often erroneously - his inaccurate interpretation of Christianity, for example, is often attributed to an early experience with fringe cults in the Palestinian region, then known as Syria).
Early Life at Mecca
Muhammad was born around 570 AD to a widowed mother who died just six years later. He grew up poor and orphaned on the margins of society, which was controlled by tribal chiefs and trading merchants. He worked for his uncle, Abu Talib, as a camel herder. Although his uncle had some standing in the community, Muhammad himself did not rise above his lowly station until he was 25, when he met and married a wealthy widow, Khadija, who was 15 years older.
His wife's trading business gave Muhammad the opportunity to travel and acquire knowledge that was not as accessible to the local population. He would later use this to his advantage by incorporating the stories that he had come across into his "revelations" from Allah, particularly the tales from the earlier religions, Judaism and Christianity.
Having attained a comfortable lifestyle and the idle time that wealth affords, Muhammad would wander off occasionally for periods of meditation and contemplation. One day, at the age of 40, he told his wife that he had been visited by the angel Gabriel. Thus began a series of "revelations" which lasted almost until his death 23 years later. TheQur’an is a collection of words that Muhammad attributed to Allah. The Hadith is a collection of narrations of the life and deeds of Muhammad. The Sira is his recorded biography. The Sunnah is said to be Muhammad's way of life, on which Islamic law (Sharia) is based.
With his wife’s influence and support, Muhammad proclaimed himself a prophet in same "lineage" as that of Abraham and Jesus, and began trying to convert those around him to his new religion. He narrated the Qur'an to those who believed him, telling them that it was the word of Allah (heard only by himself, of course). Curiously, Allah seemed preoccupied with making sure Muslims knew to obey Muhammad's every earthly wish - repeating this mandate at least 20 times in the narration of the Qur'an.
In the beginning, Muhammad did his best to compromise his teachings with the predominant beliefs of the community’s elders, such as combining all 300 of their idols under the name “Allah.” His amalgamation of Judeo-Christian theology and pagan tradition grew more sophisticated over time. He also used his "revelations from Allah" to repeatedly affirm his own position. Even if he did not remember all of the Biblical stories correctly, for example, each one was conspicuously modified to incorporate a common theme: "Believe in the Messenger (Muhammad) or suffer the consequences."
Preaching and Persecution at Mecca
According to early Muslim historians, the Meccans did not mind Muhammad practicing his religion, nor did they feel threatened by his promotion of it. This changed only after the self-proclaimed prophet began attacking their religion, including the customs and ancestors of the people (Ibn Ishaq 167). This was enough to stir up the resentment of the influential leaders of Mecca, who then mocked his humble background against his pretentious claims. (See also MYTH: Muhammad was Persecuted for Preaching Islam)
Still, Mecca at the time was a remarkably tolerant society. Muhammad was allowed to attack the local customs for thirteen years, even though the town's economy depended on the annual pilgrimage attended by visiting pagans, whose religion he actively disparaged.
At first, Muhammad was only successful with friends and family. After thirteen years, “the street preacher” could boast of only about a hundred determined followers, who called themselves Muslims. His first convert, outside of his wife, was his young cousin Ali (who would later become his son-in-law and the fourth caliph of Islam). Another early convert was Abu Bakr, a wealthy merchant whose money and credulous acceptance of Muhammad can be credited with the survival of the fledgling cult.
Relations with the Meccans turned particularly sour after an episode known as "the Satanic Verses," in which Muhammad agreed to recognize the local gods in addition to Allah. This delighted the Meccans, who generously extended their welcome. But Muhammad soon changed his mind after seeing his own people begin to lose faith in him. He claimed that Satan had spoken through him, and he rescinded recognition of the Meccan gods (Tabari 1192, Qur'an 22:52 & 53:19-26).
The locals intensified their mockery of Muslims and made life particularly difficult for some of them. Although Muslims today often use the word "persecution" to describe this ordeal (justifiably, in some cases), it is important to note that the earliest and most reliable biographers (Ibn Ishaq and al-Tabari) record the death of only one Muslim during this period, an older woman who died from stress.
To deal with this unpleasant truth, sympathetic narratives of the early Meccan years usually exaggerate the struggle of the Muslims with claims that they were "under constant torture." They may also include apocryphal accounts that are unsupported by earliest and most reliable historians (see MYTH: Persecution of Muslims at Mecca - Many Deaths).
Modern storytellers and filmmakers (such as those behind 1976's The Message) have even been known to invent fictional victims of Meccan murder, either to dramatize their own tale or to provide justification for what followed. But, in fact, the only Muslim whose life was truly in danger was that of Muhammad - after 13 years of being allowed to mock the local religion. (See also MYTH: Muhammad was Tortured at Mecca).
The Hijra - Flight from Mecca to Medina
The death of his uncle, Abu Talib, in 619 left Muhammad without a protector against the Meccan leadership, which was gradually losing patience with him. The true agitator in this situation, however, is quite clearly Muhammad himself, as even Muslim historians note. Consider this account of what happened at Abu Talib's deathbed, as the Meccans implored him a final time for peace with his nephew:
Abu Sufyan, with other sundry notables, went to Abu Talib and said: "You know the trouble that exists between us and your nephew, so call him and let us make an agreement that he will leave us alone and we will leave him alone; let him have his religion and we will have ours."(Ibn Ishaq 278)
Muhammad rejected the offer of peaceful co-existence. His new religion was obviously intended to dominate the others, not be on equal standing with them. Meanwhile, the Muslims were beginning to become violentwith the people around them.
Muhammad's search for political alliance led him to make a treaty of war against the Meccans with the people of Medina, another Arab town far to the north (Ibn Ishaq 299-301). This was the last straw for the Meccans, who finally decided to capture Muhammad and put him to death. (see also MYTH: Muhammad and his Muslims Fled Mecca because of Persecution)
Although this sounds harsh against Western standards, it is important to note the contrast between the Meccan reaction and that of Muhammad when he had the opportunity to deal with perceived treachery in Medina at a later date.
The Meccans limited their deadly aggression to Muhammad himself. This is quite clear from the episode in which Muhammad escapes his home by using his son-in-law, Ali, to trick his would-be assassins into thinking that they had him trapped (Ibn Ishaq 326). No harm was done to Ali or his wife, both of whom subsequently remained in the city for several days to complete the transfer of Muhammad's family business to Medina.
Compare this to the episode of the Banu Qurayza (below), in which Muhammad slaughtered an entire tribe of people based on their leader having switched loyalties in a conflict in which none of them even participated.
The year that Muhammad fled Mecca for Medina was 622, which marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar.
Medina and the Origin of Jihad
Stinging from the rejection of his own town and tribe, Muhammad's message quickly become more intolerant and ruthless - particularly as he gained power. Islam's holiest book clearly reflects this contrast, with the later parts of the Qur'an adding violence and earthly defeats at the hands of Muslims to the woes of eternal damnation that the earlier parts of the book promises those who will not believe in Muhammad.
It was at Medina that Islam evolved from the relatively peaceful religion (that had thus far been borrowed from others) to the military force that it became during the last ten years of Muhammad's life, in which infidels were evicted or enslaved, converted upon point of death, and even rounded up and slaughtered.
Revelations "from Allah" were conveniently provided to Muhammad which allowed his people to murder innocent drivers and steal in his service (Ibn Ishaq 426). The people around him gradually developed a lust for things that could be taken in battle, including material comforts and captured women and children. (See also MYTH: Muhammad Raided Caravans to Retrieve Stolen Property).
Often the people captured in battle would be brought before the self-proclaimed prophet, where they would plead for their lives, arguing, for example, that they would never have treated the Muslims that way. The traditions are quite clear in portraying Muhammad as largely unmoved by their pleas, and ordering their deaths anyway, often by horrible means. In one case, he orders a man slain, telling him that “Hell” will take care of the poor fellow’s orphaned daughter (Ishaq 459). (See also MYTH: Muhammad Never Killed Captives)
The raids on caravans preceded the first major battle involving a Muslim army, the Battle of Badr. This was the spot where the Meccans had sent their own army to protect their caravans from Muslim raiders. Although, Muslims today like to claim that they only attack others in self-defense, this was clearly not the case in Muhammad's time. In fact, he had to compel his reluctant warriors with promises of paradise and assurances that their religion was more important than the lives of others. (See also MYTH: The Battle of Badr was Defensive).
The Consolidation of Power
Muhammad defeated the Meccan army at Badr, which emboldened him to begin dividing and conquering the three local Jewish tribes at Medina. Their mistake was to accept the Muslim presence, but reject Muhammad's claim that he was in the line of Jewish prophets. His stories from the Torah simply did not agree with their own. (Muhammad's recited version of Bible stories sounds more like fairy tales with the same moral - believe in his personal claim to be a prophet or else).
How these three tribes, the Banu Qaynuqa, the Banu Nadir, and the Banu Quyrayza met their fate is insightful into the Muslim mindset, which employs an inherent double standard in its relations with those outside the faith.
First, to try and gain their favor, Muhammad briefly preached that Christians and Jews could attain salvation through their own faith. In fact, he changed his followers' direction for prayer from Mecca to Jerusalem, which prompted the Jews' tolerance of him while he worked surreptitiously for the power to evict them. These earlier concessions and teachings were later revoked by Muhammad, since the Jews ultimately refused his religion. The rare early verses of tolerance in the Qur'an are abrogated by later verses such as 9:29.
The Jews' knowledge of the Torah naturally threatened Muhammad's credibility, since they were able to easily refute his claims to prophethood and show where his own narrations contradicted established scripture. On the other hand, the Arab polytheists converted to Islam in large numbers, which soon gave Muhammad the power to make his intentions clear to the Jews:
While we were in the Mosque, the Prophet came out and said, "Let us go to the Jews" We went out till we reached Bait-ul-Midras. He said to them, "If you embrace Islam, you will be safe. You should know that the earth belongs to Allah and His Apostle, and I want to expel you from this land. So, if anyone amongst you owns some property, he is permitted to sell it, otherwise you should know that the Earth belongs to Allah and His Apostle." Bukhari 53:392
Since they chose to hold on to their religion (and their property) Muhammad looked for reasons to go to war against the Jews at Medina. According to some Muslims, the first tribe, the Qaynuqa,were driven from their homes and land on the pretext that one of their own had harassed a Muslim woman. Although the offender was killed prior to this by a Muslim, the Muslim was also killed by Jews in retaliation for the first murder.
After laying siege to the entire community and defeating the tribe, Muhammad wanted to put every male member to death, but was talked out of it by an associate - something that Allah later "rebuked" him for. The Qaynuqa were forced into exile and the Muslims took their possessions and property, making it their own. Muhammad personally reserved a fifth of the ill-gotten gain for himself (a rule that he was sure to include in the Qur'an).
This episode helped ingrain within Islam the immature principle of group identity, whereby any member of a religion or social unit outside of Islam is just as guilty as any of their peers who insult or harm a Muslim - and just as deserving of punishment. (Muhammad's punishments usually did not fit the crime).
Members of the second tribe, the Banu Nadir, were accused by Muhammad of plotting to kill him. What is most intriguing about this episode is that it occurred after the Muslims had killed several prominent Jews on Muhammad's order, including a leader of the Banu Nadir (named Ka'b al-Ashraf). (See also MYTH: Muhammad Never Approved of Murder)
When the prophet of Islam learned that he might be targeted in retaliation (something that he claimed was "revealed" to him by Allah), he promptly laid siege to the Banu Nadir community. After forcing them to surrender, these original inhabitants of Medina were then banished from their homes and land by the Muslim newcomers, who again started to take as much as they could for themselves (Ibn Ishaq 653). (To the disappointment of his people, this time Muhammad produced arevelation from Allah that allowed him to confiscate the entire portion for himself).
In a critical example of how deception is sanctioned under Islam, a surviving contingent of the Banu Nadir (under Usayr ibn Zarim) was later tricked into leaving their fortress by promise of peace talks. The contingent of Muslims sent by Muhammad to "escort" them, however, easily slaughtered the victims once they let down their guard (Ibn Ishaq 981). (See also MYTH: Muhammad always Disapproved of Dishonesty).
The Qurayza Massacre
By the time the Banu Qurayza met their fate, Muhammad was wealthy and powerful from his defeat of the other two tribes.
The Jews of the Banu Qurayza tasted Muhammad's wrath after their leader half-heartedly sided with the Meccan army during a siege of Medina (the Battle of the Trench). By then, Muhammad had evicted the other Jews and declared that all land at Medina belonged to him, so the original constitution of the town was no longer in effect. It is important to note that the Qurayza did not attack the Muslims, even after switching loyalties (contrary to another popular myth).
Although the Qurayza surrendered peacefully to the Muslims, Muhammad determined to have every man of the tribe executed, along with every boy that had reached the initial stages of puberty (between the ages of 12 and 14). He ordered a ditch dug outside of the town and had the victims brought to him in several groups. Each person would be forced to kneel, and their head would be cut off and then dumped along with the body into the trench.
Between 700 and 900 men and boys were slaughtered by the Muslims after their surrender.
The surviving children of the men became slaves of the Muslims, and their widows became sex slaves. This included the Jewish girl, Rayhana, who became one of Muhammad's personal concubines the very night that her husband was killed. The prophet of Islam apparently "enjoyed her pleasures" (ie. raped her) even as the very execution of her people was taking place.
In some ways, women were much like any other possession taken in battle, to be done with however their captors pleased. But Muslims found them useful in other ways as well. In fact, one of the methods by which Islam owed its expansion down through the centuries was through the reproductive capabilities of captured women. In addition to four wives, a man was allowed an unlimited number of sex slaves, with the only rule being that any resulting children would automatically be Muslim.
Muhammad ordered that a fifth of the women taken captive be reserved for him. Many were absorbed into his personal stable of sex slaves that he maintained in addition to his eleven wives. Others were doled out like party favors to others. (See MYTH: Muhammad was an Abolitionist)
At one point following a battle, Muhammad providedinstructions on how women should be raped after capture, telling his men not to worry about coitus interruptus, since "Allah has written whom he is going to create." (See also MYTH: Muhammad Never Approved of Rape)
Following the battle against the Hunain, late in his life, Muhammad's men were reluctant to rape the captured women in front of their husbands (who were apparently still alive to witness the abomination), but Allah came to the rescue with a handy "revelation" that allowed the debauchery. (This is the origin of Sura 4:24 according to Abu Dawud 2150).
The Origin of Islamic Imperialism
The tribes around the Muslims began to convert to Islam out of self-preservation. Those that didn’t were gradually defeated in battle in a pattern that became the blueprint for the successful establishment of Islam as a world religion. Typically, the enemy’s trust would be gained by non-intrusive measures in which the Muslims would insert themselves into the foreign community while professing their respect for local traditions and political structures. As they began to gain power, however, they would divide loyalties and exercise violence to acquire local hegemony.
The excuse for military campaign began to shrink to the point that it hardly existed at all. Muhammad openly attributed his own success to terror (Bukhari 52:220) and told his followers that Muslims were meant to rule over other people. This became the drivingforce behind Jihad (see also MYTH: Muhammad Waged War Only in Self-Defense) and Jihad became the driving force behind Islam.
The brutal conquest of the people of Khaybar, a peaceful farming community that was not at war with the Muslims, is a striking example of this. Muhammad marched in secret, took them by surprise and easily defeated them. He had many of the men killed, simply for defending their town, enslaved women and children, and had surviving men live on the land as virtual serfs, paying Muslims an ongoing share of their crops not to attack them again.
Muhammad suspected that the town's treasurer was holding out and had his men barbarically torturethe poor fellow by building a fire on his chest until he revealed the location of hidden treasure. (See also MYTH: Muhammad Never Approved Torture).
Afterwards, the prophet of Islam beheaded the man and "married" his wife on the same day that she became a widow (she was forced to first pass through the hands of one of his lieutenants). Given that the woman's father was also killed by Muhammad, it isn't much of a stretch to say that true love had very little to do with this "marriage."
A Life of Hedonism and Narcissism
Muhammad's personal life became the picture of hedonism and excess, all justified by frequent “revelations.” (See also MYTH: Muhammad was a Brave Warrior who Trusted in Allah to Protect him). In his later years, he frequently used his influence for purely personal goals, including sex, wealth and power. Allah's authority for him to pursue these earthly ambitions were even immortalized in the Qur'an.
For example, the man, who earlier in his career had justified his claims as a prophet by sayingthat he "asked for no reward" from others, reversed course and began to demand a fifth or more of all booty taken from conquered tribes. According to his biographers, he became fatfrom living off this enormous share of ill-gotten gain.
In the span of a dozen years, he married eleven women and had access to an array of sex slaves (see MYTH: Muhammad Married Multiple Women as a Favor to them). When he wanted a woman, even if she were the wife of another man, his own daughter-in-law, or a child as young as 6-years-old (see MYTH: Muhammad Condemned Pedophilia), Muhammad was able to justify his lust and inevitable consummation with an appeal to Allah’s revealed will for his sex life- which was then preserved forever in the Qur'an, to be faithfully memorized by future generations for whom it has no possible relevance.
The first verse of Sura 66 is a good example of this. It was narrated by Muhammad to his wives shortly after two of them pressured him into not visiting a favorite sex slave:
O Prophet! why do you forbid (yourself) that which Allah has made lawful for you; you seek to please your wives; and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful (Quran 66:1)
Allah (according to Muhammad) was so upset with his prophet for denying himself an afternoon of pleasure with the concubine that Allah had provided for him that it was a good thing for Muhammad that Allah was a forgiving and merciful god!
(For the Muslim faithful, it must surely be a source of embarrassment that Allah evidently had more interest in Muhammad's personal sex life than he did about tolerance or universal love. The god of Islam encourages sex with slaves in several other places as well).
The prophet of Islam was also an extremely superstitious person, leaving many bizarre rules for Muslims to follow, including which direction they should defecate and how many stones they should wash their anus with afterwards (any odd number... for those curious). (See also MYTH: Muhammad did Away with Superstition). Sketchy hygiene apparently left him with an annoying lice infection.
Muhammad had personal critics executed as well, including poets. One of these was a mother of five children, who was stabbed to death by Muhammad's envoy after a suckling infant was removed from her breast (see MYTH: Muhammad Never Killed Women). Other innocent people were killed merely because they were of a different religion, sometimes including children (see MYTH: Muhammad Never Killed Children).
The double standards of Islam that are so recognizable today were ingrained by the prophet of Islam during his lifetime. An example would be the death of Umm Qirfa, an elderly woman who had the bad fortune to be the member of a tribe targeted by Muhammad's raiders.
Muhammad's adopted son tied the woman's legs separately to two camels, then set the camels off in opposite directions, tearing the woman's body in two. He also killed her two sons - presumably in gruesome fashion. (See also MYTH: Muhammad Never Killed the Elderly).
Today's Muslims inherit this legacy of self-consumption and disregard for those outside the faith. They may or may not agree with terrorist attacks on non-Muslims, but they are nearly united in their belief that the victims have no right to strike back, even if it is in self-defense.
The Qur'an distinguishes Muslims from others, bestowing the highest praise for believers while heaping the vilest condemnation on those outside the faith. Islam is a true supremacist ideology. (See also Is the Qur'an Hate Speech?)
The Taking of Mecca
Though many of the Arab and Jewish tribes were eliminated and absorbed through military victory and forced conversion, the city of Mecca remained.
In 628, six years after fleeing, Muhammad’s followers were allowed to re-enter the city under an agreement whereby he set aside his title as “Prophet of Allah.” This was a temporary ploy that enabled him to gain a political foothold in the city through the same “fifth column” activities that are still used today by organizations such as the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), which use their host’s language of religious tolerance to disguise an ulterior agenda that includes systematic discrimination against non-Muslims.
Many of his followers were disappointed that Muhammad had made concessions to the Meccans, not understanding how it actually fit perfectly with his ultimate agenda of domination. It was during this time that he led the campaign against the Khaybar, to assuage their lust for blood and looting.
Technically, Muhammad was the first to break the treatywith the Meccans when he violated the portion of it that restricted him from accepting members of the other tribe into his camp. His own people also staged deadly raids on Meccan caravans (see MYTH: The Meccans were the First to Break the Treaty of Hudaibiya). Although he evidently had no personal obligation to the treaty, the prophet of Islam held the other party to the letter of the law, particularly after he amassed the power to conquer in overwhelming fashion.
The excuse that Muhammad eventually used to march his armies into Mecca was provided when a tribe allied to the Meccans conducted a raid on a tribe allied with the Medinans. Although a true man of peace would have heeded the fact that his enemy did not want war, and used non-violent means to resolve the tension while respecting sovereignty, Muhammad merely wanted power and vengeance. (See also MYTH: Muhammad always Chose Peace over War).
In just under a decade, Muhammad had evolved from trying to sell himself as a Judeo-Christian prophet, seeking followers, to an Arab warlord, seeking subjects, slaves and total dominance. The early Qur'an (of Mecca) tells unbelievers to 'follow the example' of Muhammad or suffer Hell. The later Qur'an (of Medina) tells unbelievers to 'obey' Muhammad or suffer death.
Following Mecca's surrender, Muhammad put to death those who had previously insulted him (see also MYTH: Muhammad was a Forgiving Man). One of the persons sentenced was his former scribe, who had written revelations that Muhammad said were from Allah. The scribe had previously recommended changes to the wording that Muhammad offered (based on some of the bad grammar and ineloquent language of "Allah") and Muhammad agreed. This caused the scribe to apostatize, based on his belief that real revelations should have been immutable.
Although the scribe escaped death by "converting to Islam" at the point of a sword, others weren't so lucky. One was a slave girl who was executed on Muhammad's order because she had written songs mocking him.
In what would also become the model for future Muslim military conquests, those Meccans who would not convert to Islam were required to accept third-class status. Not surprisingly, almost the entire city - which had previously rejected his message - immediately "converted" to Islam once Muhammad came back with a sword in this hand.
Those who would not convert to Islam were banned from the city a few months later - again underscoring the dual ethics of Islam. When Muhammad was previously banned from Mecca, he described it as a "persecution" that justified his "slaughter" of those who prevented him from performing the Haj. Yet, when he attained power, he immediately chased anyone who would not convert to Islam from Mecca and prevented them from performing the Haj.
To this day, people of other religions are barred even from entering Mecca, the city where Muhammad was free to preach in contradiction to the established religion. Islam is far less tolerant even than the more primitive Arab religion that it supplanted. A person preaching the original Arab polytheism on the streets of Mecca today would be quickly executed.
Jihad and Jizya
Tellingly, some of the most violent verses in the Qur'an were handed down following Muhammad's ascension to power, when there was no threat to the Muslim people. The 9th Sura of the Qur'an exhorts Muslims to Jihad and dominance over other religions:
"Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Messenger have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book, until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection." (9:29)
The verse that follows curses Christians and Jews by name and says"May Allah destroy them" (as with other sections of the Qur'an, it is unclear whether it is Allah or Muhammad speaking).
Before his death, Muhammad ordered 30,000 men to march on Christian lands (which were Byzantine at the time). It is possible that he believed false rumors of an army amassed against him, but there is absolutely no evidence of such a force having been assembled. Instead, Muhammad subjugated the local people and extorted "protection" money from them - something that has come to be known as the jizya (a tax that non-Muslims pay to Muslims).
Another episode from this period that offers insight into the legacy of Muhammad is the forced conversion of the al-Harith, one of the last Arab tribes to hold out against Muslim hegemony. Muhammad gave the chief of the tribe three days to accept Islam before sending his army to destroy them.
Not surprisingly, the entire people immediately embraced the Religion of Peace!
Most Arab tribes recognized Muhammad's quest for power and wisely pledged their political allegiance without a fight. This quickly presented a problem for his core band of followers, however, since they had become used to living off of what could be stolen from others via raids and battle.
Since it was against the rules to attack fellow Muslims, Muhammad began demanding tribute from his new "converts" instead, but this proved to be less profitable than the jizya - not to mention that it carried the risk of internal resentment and strife.
Khaybar, the remote Jewish city that had been turned into a sharecropper state on behalf of its Muslim masters was a more preferable economic model for a growing Islamic empire that had become dependent on extortion justified by religious superiority.
Years before attacking Christian and Persian lands, Muhammad wrote to governors in each, telling them, "embrace Islam and you will be safe." There was no mention of oppression or liberation cited as a justification. The only threat these people faced would be from Muslim armies. (Only six years later, 4,000 peasants in the modern-day Palestinian region would be slaughtered for defending their homes).
At the time, the wealth of other nations was an open source of envy among Muhammad's followers, which he promised to rectify. The subsequent military expansion that he set in motion may have been sanctioned by Allah and powered by religious zealotry, but the underlying motives of money, sex, slaves and power were no less worldly than any other conqueror of the time.
The Legacy of Islamic Imperialism
Muhammad died of a fever in 632 at the age of 63, with his violent religion now firmly rooted in the Arab lands. Through his teachings, his followers viewed worldly life as a constant physical battle between the House of Peace (Dar al-Salaam) and the House of War (Dar al-Harb). Muslims are instructed to invite their enemies to either embrace Islam, pay jizya (protection money), or die.
Over the next fourteen centuries, the bloody legacy of this extraordinary individual would be a constant challenge to those living on the borders of the religion’s hegemony. The violence that Muslim armies would visit on people across North Africa, the Middle East, Europe and into Asia as far as the Indian subcontinent is a tribute to a founder who condoned subjugation, rape, murder and forced conversion in the cause of spreading the rule of his religion.
In Muhammad's words: "I have been ordered to fight the people till they say: 'None has the right to be worshipped but Allah.' And if they say so, pray like our prayers, face our Qibla and slaughter as we slaughter, then their blood and property will be sacred to us and we will not interfere with them..." (Bukhari 8:387)
It is certainly the basis not just for modern day terror campaigns against Western infidels (and Hindus and Buddhists) but also the broad apathy that Muslims across the world have to the violence, which is an obvious enabler.
As Indonesian cleric, Abu Bakar Bashir recently put it, "If the West wants to have peace, then they have to accept Islamic rule."