Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Muhammad and the Natural Law: Murder for Prophet-The Case of Abu 'Afak

“WHO WILL DEAL WITH THIS RASCAL FOR ME?” were Muhammad's words regarding the poet Abu 'Afak. In this post, we shall assess Muhammad's role in the murder of the Jewish poet Abu 'Afak (أبو عفك‎). The event is evidence of Muhammad's intolerance, and is evidence further of Muhammad's willingness to dispense with his personal, political, or religious foes (Muhammad did not distinguish between the three) through assassination, setting the stage for the imitation of intolerance and murder as virtues for his followers. What one may perhaps excuse in a political leader is not something one would excuse in the perfect man, the supposed al-Insan al-Kamil (الإنسان الكامل).

The Jew Abu 'Afak was an old man, reputed to be 120 years old, a member of the Banu Ubayda tribe. He was a poet, and refused to convert to Islam or acknowledge Muhammad as a legitimate prophet. Abu 'Afak was upset with Muhammad's role in killing al-Harith bin Suwayd bin Samit, and so he had the temerity to lampoon Muhammad through his poetry. The event, and Muhammad's response to it, is related in the Sirat Rasul Allah, the preeminent traditional biography of Muhammad by Ibn Ishaq.

Abu 'Afak was one of the B. 'Amr b. 'Auf of the B. Ubayda clan. He showed his disaffection when the apostle killed al-Harith b. Suwayd b. Samit and said:

Long have I lived but never have I seen
An assembly or collection of people
More faithful to their undertaking
And their allies when called upon
Than the sons of Qayla* when they assembled,
Men who overthrew mountains and never submitted,
A rider who came to them split them in two (saying)
"Permitted", "Forbidden", of all sorts of things.**
Had you believed in glory or kingship
You would have followed Tubba'.***

The apostle said, "Who will deal with this rascal for me?" Whereupon Salim b. 'Umayr, brother of B. 'Amr b. 'Auf, one of the "weepers", went forth and killed him. Umama b. Muzayriya said concerning that:

You gave the lie to God's religion and the man Ahmad [variant of Muhammad]!
By him who was your father, evil is the son he produced!
A hanif gave you a thrust in the night saying
"Take that Abu 'Afak in spite of your age!"
Though I knew whether it was man or jinn
Who slew you in the dead of night (I would say naught).†

The story is also found in the Kitab al Tabaqat al Kabir:
"Then occurred the sariyyah [raid] of Salim Ibn Umayr al-Amri against Abu Afak, the Jew, in [the month of] Shawwal in the beginning of the twentieth month from the hijrah [immigration from Mecca to Medina in 622 AD], of the Apostle of Allah. Abu Afak, was from Banu Amr Ibn Awf, and was an old man who had attained the age of one hundred and twenty years. He was a Jew, and used to instigate the people against the Apostle of Allah, and composed (satirical) verses [about Muhammad].

Salim Ibn Umayr who was one of the great weepers and who had participated in Badr, said, "I take a vow that I shall either kill Abu Afak or die before him." He waited for an opportunity until a hot night came, and Abu Afak slept in an open place. Salim Ibn Umayr knew it, so he placed the sword on his liver and pressed it till it reached his bed. The enemy of Allah screamed and the people who were his followers, rushed to him, took him to his house and interred him.††
What sort of man is this Muhammad?

The whipping of King Henry II for his role in the murder of St. Thomas Becket
Would that it would have happened to Muhammad for the killing of Abu 'Afak!

The story of Muhammad and Abu 'Afak is redolent of King Henry II and the murder of St. Thomas Becket when the latter refused to assent to the Constitutions of Clarendon and the King's efforts to gain control over the Church. "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?" is what the King is supposed to have said in an unguarded moment. To which careless statement the King's loyal knights Reginald FitzUrse, Hugh de Morville, William de Tracy, and Richard le Breton, thinking the King had authorized his enemy's murder, set out to rid King Henry II of his erstwhile-friend-become pest.

Henry II repented of his indirect role in encouraging the murder of Thomas Becket, and suffered to be whipped by the monks of Canterbury by order of the Pope. Muhammad suffered no such remorse, and suffered no such penance for his role in encouraging the killing of Abu 'Afak.

Under the natural law, a King can do wrong, but he can also do right. There is a law above the King to which he, like all men, is answerable. Under Islam, however, Muhammad can do no wrong and can only do right. There is no law above Muhammad. So when Muhammad kills or encourages the killing of his political enemies, it becomes the rule, it becomes canonical. Muhammad's behavior is normative even when it violates the natural moral law, which is to say even when it violates the law of God. And this is because, in Islam, الله ورسوله أعلم, Allah and his messenger know best, the natural law notwithstanding.

*Qayla was the putative ancestress of the Banu Aus (or Banu Aws [Arabic: بنو أوس‎]) and the Banu Kharaj (or Banu al-Khazraj [Arabic: بنو الخزرج‎]), the two great Arab tribes of the town of Medina.
**A gibe at the language of the Qur'an.
***i.e., "You resisted Tubba' who, after all, was a king in fact and a man of great reputation, so why believe in Muhammad's claims?" Tubba' (تُبَّع) refers to the Kings of Yemen. See Islamic Encyclopedia, s.v. "Tubba'"
†A. Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ibn Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2006).
††Ibn Sa'd, Kitab al-Tabqat al-Kabir, II.31.

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