Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Spinning Muhammad (Part 2)

Last night saw the broadcast of the second part of Rageh Omaar's documentary series "The Life of Muhammad" (UK viewers can watch here). Due the fact that it dealt almost exclusively with Muhammad's relations with his non-Muslim neighbours, it was perhaps even more prone to apologetic presentation of Muhammad's deeds than was the first episode.

The thing that most stands out about this episode, as with the one before it, is the way that Muhammad is always presented as the victim. According to Omaar, none of the confrontations he got himself into with the Quraysh or the Jewish tribes of Medina were of his own making - they were always caused by his neighbours attacking him and rejecting his message for no apparent reason. Inconvenient facts such as the Prophet's political assassinations of Jewish leaders on the pretext that they insulted him never get a mention.

I also thought there was an extremely ironic and unintentionally revealing moment about half way into the programme when a segment with Robert Spencer, in which he mentions Muhammad's dictum "War is deceit" (Bukhari v.4, b.56, no.3030, and others), is immediately followed by Tariq Ramadan claiming that jihad is only defensive in nature, without mentioning the offensive variety of jihad mandated by Qur'an 9:29 and reiterated by Islamic scholars and jurists throughout the centuries - an omission that is obviously calculated, deliberate and, above all, deceitful. I doubt that Omaar realised the irony.

The show devotes a small amount of time near the end to the massacre of the Banu Qurayza, who are again presented as malicious fiends who sided with Muhammad's enemies. In fact, their only crime was to remain neutral in a war that had nothing to do with them. The Prophet's biographer Ibn Ishaq recounts how the leader of the Qurazya tried his best to refuse the Quraysh's offers, but after much "wheedling" eventually agreed to what was essentially a neutrality pact:

The enemy of God Huyayy b. Akhtab al-Nadri [of the Quraysh] went out to Ka'b b. Asad al-Qurazi [of the Qurayza] who had made a treaty with the apostle. When Ka'b heard of Huyayy's coming he shut the door of his fort in his face, and when he asked permission to enter he refused to see him, saying that he was a man of ill omen and that he himself was in a treaty with Muhammad and did not intend to go back on his word because he had always found him loyal and faithful. Then Huyayy accused him of shutting him out because he was unwilling to let him eat his corn. This so enraged him that he opened his door. He said, 'Good heavens, Ka'b, I have brought you immortal fame and a great army. I have come with Quraysh with their leaders and chiefs which I have halted where the torrent-beds of Ruma meet; and Ghatafan with their leaders and chiefs which I have halted in Dhanab Naqma towards Uhud. They have made a firm agreement and promised me that they will not depart until we have made an end of Muhammad and his men.' Ka'b said: 'By God, you have brought me immortal shame and an empty cloud which had shed its water while it thunders and lightens with nothing in it. Woe to you Huyayy leave me as I am, for I have always found him loyal and faithful.' Huyayy kept on wheedling Ka'b until at last he gave way in giving him a solemn promise that if Quraysh and Ghatafan returned without having killed Muhammad he would enter his fort with him and await his fate. (p.453)

Muhammad's punishment of the tribe, which involved beheading up to 900 men and taking their wives and children as prisoners, is notably described by Omaar as a "horrific act of brutality" - but he immediately qualifies this statement by adding that the incident must be viewed in light of its historical context.

Sorry, but that won't wash. First of all, such a horrible slaughter is completely unbefitting of a Prophet of God - and indeed, of the God Himself - at any time. Secondly, Muhammad is viewed by all Muslims as al-insan al-kamil: "the Perfect Man". The Qur'an describes him as an "excellent example" of conduct for Muslims to follow (33:21), and Muslims are encouraged to emulate everything he did. The implications in this case are obvious and disturbing. Thirdly, while the Banu Qurayza were not massacred "just because they were Jews", as such - as the programme takes particular care to point out - Muhammad's hostile relationship with the Jews of Medina did go on to become one of the primary foundations of Muslim hatred of Jews in the centuries following Muhammad's death. For example, the ninth-century Iraqi polymath al-Jahiz noted that one of the main reasons the Muslims of that time and place hated Jews more than they hated Christians was because:

The Jews were the neighbours of the Muslims in Medina and other places...When the [Muslim] Emigrants [from Mecca] became the neighbours of the Jews [in Medina]...the Jews began to envy the Muslims the blessings of their new faith, and the union which resulted after dissension. They proceeded to undermine the belief of our [i.e. the Muslim] masses, and to lead them astray. They aided our enemies and those envious of us. From mere misleading speech and stinging words they plunged into an open declaration of enmity, so that the Muslims mobilised their forces, exerting themselves morally and materially to banish the Jews and destroy them. Their strife became long-drawn and widespread, so that it worked itself up into a rage, and created yet greater animosity and more intensified rancor...

Al-Jahiz then identifies as the "most potent cause" of Islamic antisemitism, the following verse from the Qur'an: "Strongest among men in enmity to the believers wilt thou find the Jews and Pagans...” (5:82) This leads us on, finally, to the programme's general depiction of Islamic antisemitism, which is completely divested of its Qur'anic dimension, and attributed solely to the modern dispute over Jerusalem, which in time-honoured BBC fashion is referred to as "the third holiest city in Islam", without ever being referred to as THE holiest city in Judaism. The statement by a British Muslim propagandist that there was a "Jewish Golden Age" in Muslim Spain is also allowed to pass completely unchallenged, when in fact thousands of Jews were murdered in pogroms during this period in 1013 and 1066 AD.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this detailed account and for watching this tosh so that the rest of us don't have to. I object to my licence fee paying for it.