There are few occasions in history where some violence is recorded from the companions of the prophet by his own command.
These are occasions like:
the command to kill a poetess
a man who was sentenced to death by the prophet only because he used to abuse the prophet and when the man says who will take care from my son the prophet replied, the hell fire.
Two men who killed the shepherd of the prophet and the prophet commanded to cut their hand and leg from opposite side and burn their face and let them suffer thirst in hot sun till die.
The problem is:
I as a Muslim believe that Mohammad (PBUH) was a Prophet so every thing he did was right. However when a Christian missionary remind me of these stories and compares them with the love and forgiving attitude of Jesus I am not sure how to defend my religion.
To fully understand such incidents, one needs to keep in mind the basic point that after the advent of a messenger of God in a people, all excuse of rejection is removed from these people. No one is left with any doubts or unanswered questions in his mind regarding the truthfulness of that messenger. As a result, the rejecters of that messenger, according to the law of God are punishable by death. The only exception to this rule is the people who ascribe to the belief of oneness of God and agree to live under the political subservience of the Muslim rule. However, if any of these people were to refuse accepting the political dominance of the Muslims or to live submissively under their rule, then he too was supposed to be subjected to the same punishment of death, as was the fate of the polytheists.
With the stated principle in mind, a look at the information provided in the books of history, shows that to begin with, the Prophet (pbuh) greatly honored the Jews and Christians living in and around Medinah and entered into an equitable contract – the Meesaq-e-Medinah – with them. Under the protection of this contract, the punishment of the Jews and the Christians1 was not implemented immediately. However, when a member of any of the communities which were a party to the referred contract was, in any way, guilty of going against any of the clauses of the contract, the immunity granted to him through the contract was also removed, thereby, once again qualifying him for the implementation of the punishment.
Keeping the foregoing explanation in perspective, there are two kinds of killings reported in the books of history. Firstly, there are those about which some background information is available and secondly, there are those about which adequate information has not been narrated. An examination of the first kind of incidents show that all of these individuals were in fact guilty of going against the provisions of the contract and were therefore rendered disqualified of the immunity granted them by the contract. As a result, the punishment from which the contract had thus far saved them was implemented upon them.
All of the incidents of the alleged killings ordered by the Prophet (pbuh) should be seen in the light of the foregoing explanation. However, your last cited incident is of a slightly different nature and relates to a punishment of a crime committed against the community. Explaining the law of punishments of the Shari`ah, I have written in one of my earlier responses:
An important aspect of the law of punishments of the Qur’an is that it classifies the crimes into two broad categories: 1) where the crime is committed in its simple form; and 2) where the same or a different crime becomes a crime against the whole society or the community, in general…
The Qur’an, besides mentioning the punishment for the crimes of the first category, has also mentioned the punishments for the crimes that fall in the second category (Al-Maaidah 5: 33, 34). In this case, the Qur’an has given four options for the person administering the punishment. Thus, in this case, the punishment may be severe or comparatively soft depending upon the nature of the crime committed and on the various conditions, variables and factors that surround the criminal. The punishments mentioned in the Qur’an , from among which one of the punishments shall be administered are:
Taqteel: Taqteel in the Arabic language means to kill in a very painful manner. One of the methods of taqteel, as adopted in the times of the Prophet (pbuh) was rajam or stoning to death. Other methods might include killing through the Electric chair etc.
Tasleeb: Tasleeb means to crucify. Crucifixion is the other option given by the Qur’an . Both taqteel and tasleeb are different methods that may be adopted to punish a criminal that in the eyes of the law deserves no mercy and should not be allowed to live in the society.
Amputation of one hand and one foot: The third option is to cut off a hand and a foot of the criminal. This option shall be administered if the judge feels that the criminal has committed such a heinous crime that even if he is allowed to live, he should be made an example for the other members of the society and should not be allowed to live a normal life.
Banishment: The fourth option given to the judge for punishing the criminals of the second category is to banish them from their land. This option shall be used for such criminals who, in the eyes of the judge have the potential of correction and who, only due to their bad company had committed a grave crime.
Keeping the stated explanation in mind, people who were subjected to the punishment of painful death were, in fact, guilty of a crime committed against the collectivity, rather than against an individual. These people had killed the shepherd of the Muslims – rather than the Prophet’s personal shepherd – and had stolen the camels from the Bayet al-Maal (treasury) of the Muslims – rather than the Prophet’s personal camels.
The foregoing paragraphs attempts to explain the reasons for the implementation of various punishments by the Prophet (pbuh). However, I do appreciate that this explanation can only be accepted IF Muhammad (pbuh) is accepted to be a true prophet of God. It may not be as easily acceptable for people who do not believe in the prophethood of Muhammad (pbuh). The important thing in this respect, therefore, is to concentrate on educating others about the basis of our belief in the prophethood of Muhammad (pbuh), after which most of his actions can be explained in the light of the divine guidance given to him. If, on the contrary, a person does not believe in the prophethood of Muhammad (pbuh), then it may not be as easy to understand these actions. To understand this point fully, consider the following passage from the Bible:
Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, “Who is on the Lord’s side? Come to me!” And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. He said to them, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Put your sword on your side, each of you! Go back and forth from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill your brother, your friend, and your neighbor.'” The sons of Levi did as Moses commanded, and about three thousand of the people fell on that day. (Exodus 32: 26 – 28)
Now, for a person who accepts Moses to be a true prophet of God, the cited directive is easily explained as a part of the divine law relating to messengers. However, if a person does not believe in the prophethood of Moses (pbuh), the referred directive is clearly oppressive in its nature.
As for the comparison between Jesus (pbuh) and Muhammad (pbuh), it is completely misplaced because of the differing socio-legal positions of the two prophets of God in their respective communities. Prophets of God, it must be remembered, are not anarchists and, therefore, they do not implement any social laws – including punishments or Jihad – without being bestowed with the legal authority for such implementation. In other words, prophets of God implement punishments and other social laws only after they become rulers of their respective communities. Thus, after the Prophet’s migration to Medinah, when he became the first ruler of Islam, he implemented these punishments as a ruling prophet of God. Jesus (pbuh), on the other hand, was not bestowed with the legal rule of his people during his life and was, therefore, never in a position to implement any of the social laws of God. For this particular reason, only the pre-hijrah times of Muhammad (pbuh) – before the time that the Prophet became the ruler of the Muslims – can be compared with the life and teachings of the prophet Jesus (pbuh). Nevertheless, if a comparison needs to be made with a prophet, Muhammad (pbuh) can be compared with Moses (pbuh)2, who, like Muhammad (pbuh), was bestowed with the rule of his people and who, also like Muhammad (pbuh), ordered the implementation of various punishments – including the death sentence – on his people, as is apparent from the cited part of Exodus.
I hope this helps.
July 28, 2002
- This punishment, according to the provisions of the Divine Law, was the complete acceptance of the political dominance of the Muslims, as both these groups ascribed to the belief of Tawheed – i.e. oneness of God. However, if they refused to accept the political dominance of the Muslims or to live submissively under their rule, then they too were to be subjected to the punishment of death. [↩]
- It should also be interesting to note that from the beginning of his ministry, the Qur’an had declared that Muhammad (pbuh) was a prophet like Moses (pbuh). [↩]