Freedom of expression, Liberals, Islam
Strangulating Freedom of Expression: Prophet’s Footprints Reach the West
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Mr. Tahir Aslam Gora, driven out of Pakistan for his critical-of-Islam writings, wrote in The Hamilton Spectator December 13 that the freedom of expression has deteriorated even in the liberal West from what it was in Mecca during Prophet Muhammad’s time 15 centuries ago. Referring to the example of hounding of Bangladeshi humanist author Taslima Nasrin by an unruly Muslim mob and an Islamic death-fatwa on her head, in Hindu-majority secular India, he wrote:
“Prophet Muhammad exercised his rights of freedom of expression in his full capacity by challenging the prevailing beliefs of the time and calling them mere lies. Despite the opposition to his claims, he had open and huge support from his allies. But today, in a so-called liberal and enlightened world, challenging some Islamic beliefs is not that easy.”
Mr. Gora is absolutely correct in stressing that Muhammad enjoyed a high degree of freedom of expression, but he fails to mention that Muhammad had killed other rights to freedom of expression at the same time. Mr. Gora is correct that Muhammad took full freedom in saying whatever he wanted about the religion, custom and forefathers of the Pagan Quraysh of Mecca. Muslim chronicler Baihaki records (in Proof of Prophecy) Muhammad’s disciple Amru ibn al Aas’s testimony of Quraysh leaders’ discussion about Muhammad: “Never have we had to tolerate from anyone what we have had to tolerate from this man. He slanders our fathers, criticizes our religions and divides our people, and blasphemes our gods. Such grievous things have we tolerated from this man…” The Prophet who was nearby and hearing this conversation, he responded, “Men of Quraysh! I will surely repay you for this with interest.”
Islamic historian al-Zuhri adds: “The unbelievers of the Quraysh did not oppose what he [Muhammad] said. If he passed the place where they sat together, they pointed to him and said: “This young man of the tribe of Abd al-Muttalib proclaims a message from heaven!” This they continued to do until Allah began to attack their gods…, and until He proclaimed that their fathers who died in unbelief were lost [to hellfire]. Then they began to hate the Prophet and show their enmity to him.”
In trying to prevent Muhammad’s insults, the Quraysh sat with him in their sacred shrine of Ka’ba in 615 and requested him to desist from reviling and speaking evilly of their Gods. They offered to worship his God for one year, if Muhammad would reciprocate by worshipping theirs for the same period. In rejection, he responded [Q 109:1-6]: “Oh unbelievers, I worship not that which ye worship… To you your religion and to me my religion.”
In sum, Prophet Muhammad preached his religion in Mecca for 13 years insulting their Gods, customs, and ancestors and never did he receive any physical assaults of serious nature if at all. In 622, seeing no hope of progress of his stagnated mission in Mecca, the Prophet emigrated with all his disciples to Medina where his creed was making brisk progress.
After his relocation, Muhammad called the treatment of his community by the Quraysh “tumult and oppression,” which was in turned deemed “worse than slaughter.” In revenge, the Islamic deity revealed a series of verses, sanctioning Holy war against the Quraysh [Q 2:190-193], until the religion was Allah’s [Islam] alone. Muslims must slay the idolaters [the Quraysh] wherever found [2:193]. They must fight the infidels even if they did not like it, because Allah only knows what is best for them [Q 2:216]. They must “fight in Allah’s cause, and slay and be slain” [Q 9:111].
With Allah’s sanction of Holy wars against the Quraysh, Prophet started sending Muslim horsemen to raid caravans of the Quraysh, starting in the seventh month after his relocation. After three failed attempts by his disciples, the Prophet himself commanded three expeditions, which also went in vain. In the eighth attempt, they achieved success at Nakhla, in which, one Meccan attendant of the caravan was killed; two were taken prisoners; and the fourth escaped. This first successful Jihad raid brought much-needed booty. The prisoners brought more revenue through ransom. The Prophet, being the leader of the bandit, took 1/5 share for booty.
The following month, the Prophet led another expedition to plunder a rich caravan returning from Syria under the care of Meccan leader Abu Sufian. This led to the famous battle of Badr, in which the Quraysh suffered a heavy defeat. They lost 70 men and another 70 were captured as prisoners, while Muhammad’s party lost only 14 Jihadists.
A few of the prisoners were cruelly beheaded at Muhammad’s instruction. One of them was the Meccan poet Al-Nadr bin al-Harith, who distrusting Muhammad’s messages, used to say: “By God, Muhammad cannot tell a better story than I, and his talk is only of old fables which he has copied as I have.” Instead of ransoming him like other prisoners, Muhammad ordered his execution.
This massive bloodbath, rare in Arabia―that too, of their own kinsfolk―caused much revulsion among the people. Abu Afak, an elderly poet of 120 years of age, wrote poetic verses condemning the cruelty of Muhammad. Muhammad ordered the poet’s execution. One of Muhammad disciple slyly entered Afak’s house at night and dispatched him in his sleep [Ibn Ishaq, Oxford, Karachi, p675].
In condemnation of the elderly poet’s death, Asma bte Marwan, a poetess and mother of five, wrote verses denouncing Muhammad’s heinous act. Muhammad ordered her execution, too. His blind disciple named Umayr, belonging to Asma’s tribe, entered her house one night, removed her suckling baby from her bosom and plunged his sword into her breast with such force that it got stuck onto the couch. Prophet thanked Umayr for the job well-done [Ibn Ishaq, p675-6]: “You have helped God and His apostle, O ‘Umayr.” The blind assassin for his great service received the honorific, ‘Umayr the Seeing.’
Another famous poet to fall pray to Muhammad’s sword was Ka’b ibn Ashraf, a Jew. Hearing about Muhammad’s victory at Badr, he traveled there. Witnessing the ghastly bloodbath, he traveled down to Mecca, and wrote a poem, lamenting over the dead Quraysh. The poem sought to inspire revenge against the unjustified barbarity.
Once reached Muhammad’s ear, he said [Ibn Ishaq, p367]: “Who would rid me of [Ka’b] Ibnu’l-Ashraf?” Muhammad’s disciple Abu Naila, a foster brother of Ka’b, volunteered for the job. The assassin, with permission from Muhammad, befriended Ka’b by saying bad things about the Prophet. Then on one moonlit night, Abu Naila went to Ka’b house calling him to come out to devise some plan to counter Muhammad. Ka’b's newly married wife warned him: “By God, I can feel evil in his voice.” Ka’b answered to his wife: “Even if the call were for a stab, a brave man must answer it.” Then he went out with Abu Naila, who enticed him to go walking around while talking about their plan. A pleasant little proposal on a moonlit night as it was, Ka’b came along. Once gotten at the right place, Abu Naila and his four accomplices fell upon the naïve poet with their swords and dagger and butchered him.
When Muhammad captured Mecca in 630 CE and destroyed the idol Gods of Ka’ba, he ordered execution of 10-12 men who had criticized, apostatized from, or overtly opposed his creed. Among them, were two singing girls, who had composed songs ridiculing Muhammad’s messages during his preaching in Mecca (610-622).
Ibn Ishaq [p368] adds that the “attack upon God’s enemy [Ka’b] cast terror among the Jews, and there was no Jew in Medina who did not fear for his life.” Indeed, it had struck terror in the hearts of the poets and critics. No one, who lived within his reach and aware of these incidents, probably never dared composing anything critical of the Prophet thereafter.
The Prophet took utmost liberty of the tolerant Arab society in disparaging the religions, customs and ancestors of the Quraysh in any way he liked and still enjoyed complete safety in Mecca for 13 years. He freely converted the citizens of Mecca, but he ordered execution of the ones who apostatized from his creed.
In Medina as a refugee, he tried to attract the powerful and wealthy Jews to his creed. Once rejected, he took the liberty of disparaging their creed, calling it perverted and canceled by Allah and still enjoyed complete safety. But just for a poem of Ka’b, he ordered his execution.
The next day, he announced an open order to kill the Jews [Al-Tabari, Vol. VII, p97]: “Whoever of the Jews fall into you hand, kill him.” One unfortunate Jewish merchant named ibn Sunayna happened to fall on the way of Muhayyisah―a convert to Muslim from the same tribe. Muhayyisah’s family was dependent on the generosity of ibn Sunayna. Still, the fanatic barbarian fell upon the unfortunate merchant and killed him. When his elder brother confronted him citing the generosity of the merchant and coming hardship to their family, the mindless fanatic warned the brother to kill him too, had the Prophet had instructed so.
Muslims of our civilized world today take the freedom and liberty and proudly distribute, in the idolatrous country of India, their holy book, which demand killing the idolatrous Hindus, wherever they are found [Q 2:191; 9:5]. But when a poet or writer another book criticizing the unacceptable content of the book; her/his life is there for taking by the Muslim mob. Even when Taslima Nasrin says softly point out the obvious fact that Islam oppresses the women, her life is threatened by blood-thirsty Muslim mob.
Muslim refugees of the Western country take all the liberty and freedom to preach Islam, and distribute their holy book among the Christians and Jews of those countries that calls the scriptures of the latter to be corrupted, perverted and cancelled. It denies and condemns many percepts of the Bible, including the divinity of Jesus ― the central belief of the Christians. Quran also urges unconditional war against and subjugation of the Jews and Christians to subhuman dhimmi subjects [Q 9:29].
But when a critic, Salman Rushdie for example, writes a book doubting the claims of Muhammad, his life is there for taking. If a Hindu, Jew or Christian openly tries to preach their creed to Muslims in countries like Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Iran or any other Muslim country ― he/she faces death, assaults and jail by the authority or the Muslim mob.
Muhammad had killed the freedom of expression of the highly tolerant Arab society, save his own, 14 centuries ago. After his death, Muslims have killed freedom of expression of others wherever they have gone. Like their refugee Prophet in Medina, the supersensitive and intolerant Muslim refugees are successfully undermining the freedom of expression at every step in Western countries ― the only frontier which allows it by law today.
Alamgir Hussain (PhD) is researcher and a contributor in Beyond Jihad: Critical Voices from Inside Islam (2006). He has completed writing a new book, The Real Islam: An Investigation of Its Theology, Genesis and History.