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.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Muhammad and the Natural Law: Safiya and the Law of Booty

THE SHEER NUMBER OF MARRIAGES, CONCUBINES, and other kinds of relationships with women that might or might not be classified strictly as marriage in which Muhammad engaged offers sufficient evidence of a man who did not conform himself to the natural moral law in regard to marriage and family life. Apologists for Muhammad's life find themselves in losing battles trying to justify this aspect of their alleged prophet's life.

To deflect from any criticism that Muhammad's penchant for women was not driven by simple undisciplined lust, they suggest, for example, that Muhammad's marriages were driven by noble reasons, such as providing for women who otherwise would have no support, or for political reasons such as binding tribes in alliances. Be all that as it may, the ends do not justify the means. Moreover, other methods of financial support or political union could have been easily gained by an institution or relationship that did not give Muhammad sexual access to the women. Muhammad was a genuine reformer: he established religious and political institutions, modified many other existing religious and political institutions, and banned existing religious and political institutions. In some ways, in fact, he appears to have modified relationships between men and women to correspond with his own changing proclivities. He lived a life of clear monogamy with his first wife Khadija, but subsequently engaged in relationships with other women of a variety of categorizations, but all of which appear to have given Muhammad the rights of sexual access to these women. Thus, according to Montgomery Watt, Qur'an 33:50 suggests various levels of relationships with women which Muhammad had, all of which appear to have allowed for sexual access. Watt distinguishes between: (i) wives to whom he paid ujur (أُجُورَ) [dowry or hire] (ii) those "whom your right hand possesses--whom Allah has given to you," meaning captives of war or slaves, (iii) the daughters of paternal and maternal uncles and aunts (i.e., cousins), (iv) those who emigrated with Muhammad, (v) believing women who gave themselves to the prophet, provided the prophet wanted to marry them, and (vi) a privilege special for Muhammad apart from the other believers, the khalisatan la-ka min dun al-mu'minin ( خَالِصَة ً لَكَ مِنْ دُونِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ ).

To suggest that Muhammad was only motivated by reasons other than sexual desire would appear disingenuous in light of the evidence to the contrary. Muhammad seems to have been afflicted with a voracious sexual appetite or perhaps merely delusions associated with it. For example, we might cite to the hadith evidenced in Sahih Bukhari and related by Muhammad's wife Aisha: 07.71.660: "Magic was worked on Allah's Apostle so that he used to think that he had sexual relations with his wives while he actually had not . . . ." There is evidence, however, that there was something that mere magic here and mere delusions. In Sahih Bukhari (01.05.268) we read (as narrated by Qatada) that Anas bin Malik said with regard to Muhammad: "'The Prophet used to visit all his wives in a round, during the day and night and they were eleven in number.' I asked Anas, 'Had the Prophet the strength for it?' Anas replied, 'We used to say that the Prophet was given the strength of thirty (men).' And Sa'id said on the authority of Qatada that Anas had told him about nine wives only (not eleven)." Something similar is attested to in 01.05.282 as narrated by the same Anas bin Malik: "The Prophet used to visit all his wives in one night and he had nine wives at that time." Of course, his view of Paradise appears to have been infected by his sexual cravings.

Muhammad's Name in Arabic Calligraphy

There is evidence that Muhammad lacked control in the area of the sexual urges. Three hadith found in Sahih Muslim suggest impulsivity. As reported by Jabir, Muhammad once saw a woman who sexually fascinated him and captivated his heart, "retiring in the shape of a devil." So he went home to his wife Zainab as she was tanning leather and had sexual intercourse with her. His instructions to his Companions were that when any of them were to have such an urge he "should come to his wife, for that will repel what he feels in his heart." 08.3240, 08.3241, 08.3242. Muhammad is said to have loved women, perfume, and food, and, once he assumed the power and wealth to satisfy his penchant for these he seemed to have had little self-discipline to curb his desires for them, given the number of women in his life, the number of ahadith dealing with perfume and toiletry, and some ahadith that suggest that Muhammad became rather corpulent.

Muhammad's sexual behavior and his multiple marriages are unedifying to say the least, but some of his sexual behavior and treatment of women were clearly abhorrent under any standard of civility and morality, modern or ancient. The story of Muhammad's relationship with his wife Safiya bint Huyayy ibn Akhtab is one such story. Safiya was a seventeen-year-old Jewess who lived in the town of Khaibar with her recently-wedded husband Kinana bin al-Rabi' bin Abu'l-Huqayq. After Muhammad's troops captured the city of Khaibar, Muhammad ordered Kinana to be tortured to death* to make him reveal where the treasure of the town was kept. According to the Muslim biographer of Muhammad Ibn Ishaq, Safiya would have been led past the bodies of her Jewish tribesmen, which would have included the mutilated and decapitated body of her husband, Kinana.* She displayed tremendous control and behaved stoically, unlike her cousin whose sorrow so consumed her that she was inconsolable, and Muhammad, irritated by her crying, called her a she-devil and asked her to be taken away from him.*

It might be noted that this was not the first time Muhammad had ruined Safiya's peace. Safiya's father, Huyayy ibn Akhtab had been one of the chiefs of the Jewish Banu al-Nadir tribe, and was, moreover, an implacable foe of Muhammad who suffered death at Muhammad's bloody hand. Similarly, her uncle Abu Yasir suffered death at Muhammad's sanguinary hand. Huyayy and Yasir and their tribe, which would have included Safiya, had been forced to emigrate from Medina and settled at Khaibar. Eventually, Huyayy was captured, taken to Medina, and, bound hand and neck by rope and in a tattered flowered robe, put to death (by decapitation) along with between 600 to 800 of his fellow tribesmen, including her uncle and other of Safiya's male kinsmen.** Safiya's relationship with her father and her uncle had been close, as based upon her testimony, she was the favorite of both her father and her uncle:

'Abdulla b. Abu Bakr b. Muhammad b. 'Amr b. Hazm told me that he was told that Safiya d. Huyayy b. Akhtab said "I was the favourite child of my father and my uncle Abu Yasir. When I was present they took no notice of their other children. When the apostle [Muhammad] was staying at Quba with the B. 'Amr b. 'Auf, the two went to see him before daybreak and did not return until after nightfall, weary, worn out drooping and feeble. I went up to them in childish pleasure as I always did, and they were so sunk in gloom that they too no notice of me.

I heard my uncle say to my father, 'Is he, he? Do you recognize him, and can you be sure?'
'And what do you feel about him?'
'By God I shall be his enemy as long as I live!'
Life,* 241-42.

The enmity between the Jewish leaders and Muhammad, the cause of so much suffering for Safiya, was thus intimately brought home to her from a young age by those whom she loved and who loved her. According to Sahih Bukhari 2.14.68, Safiya was captured at the battle of Khaibar and alloted to Dihya al-Kalbi, but the nearly sixty-year-old Muhammad made arrangements to have this young seventeen-year-old to be given to him, apparently being struck with her great beauty. See Sahih Muslim 8.3329, Sahi Bukhari 3.34.437. Safiya is an example of how Muhammad had different categories of relationships with women. Originally, his sexual rights over her were as a result of her being a captive. She was one of those whom his right hand possessed. Qur'an 33:50. Subsequently, she became one of Muhammad's wife, apparently his ninth, her freedom or manumission being considered the dowry or mahr (مهر‎) since all her family was slewn. Sahih Bukhar 5.59.524, 1.8.367. Although it is not clear when Muhammad married her, it was shortly after his conquest of Khaibar. This means that he would have had sexual relations with Safiya by right of capture prior to that marriage, and while the death of her husband and his beheaded and burnt corpse was fresh on her mind. It is impossible to believe that the seventeen-year-old captive Safiya engaged in sexual relations with the nearly sixty-year-old Muhammad, murderer of her father, her uncle, and husband, of her own free will and happily. It is not likely that her marriage (and her conversion to Islam) was much of a choice either. Muhammad's behavior toward Safiya is nothing less that exploitative and arguably a form of rape. Indeed, Ibn Ishaq relates how there was initially some fear for Muhammad's life from this relationship, though Muhammad seemed oblivious to it. On the night of her marriage to Muhammad, the faithful Abu Ayyub stood guard outside the tent of Muhammad, and when Muhammad saw him and inquired why Abu Ayyub did so, the latter replied: "'I was afraid for you with this woman for you have killed her father, her husband, and her people, and till recently she was in unbelief, so I was afraid for you on her account.'"*

Particularly abhorrent is Muhammad's self-justification, nay, self-adulation regarding his treatment of Safiya. Apparently, the nearly sixty-year-old Muhammad believed that in emancipating the seventeen-year-old Safiya (a woman whose father, uncle, and husband he had caused to be killed, who his men had captured, and whom he then traded for and treated as a captive over whom he had sexual rights) and in marrying her he was building himself two rewards in Paradise. Abu Musa reported according to Sahih Muslim 8.3327, that Muhammad maintained that he who freed a slave woman and then married her would obtain two rewards.

Lucky Safiya who was to have the moon fall into her lap,** and whose secret longing to be wed to Muhammad--the slaughterer of her father, uncle, husband, male kinsmen and tribesmen, and the capturer and trader of her female cousins and friends, as if chattel, among the ravenous Muslim warriors hungry for human booty--was so wonderfully fulfilled. But when it comes to booty Allah knows best, اللهُ أعلم, the natural law notwithstanding.

*A. Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ibn Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2006), 515-17. He was tortured by having a fire lit on his chest and then killed by decapitation.
**The reference is to an alleged dream of Safiya who had such a dream which her husband Kinana interpreted as a secret longing for Muhammad, and so struck her.

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