Groups such as Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's...and Abu 'Abd Allah al-Hasan bin Mahmud's...justify the decapitation of prisoners with Qur'anic scripture.

Sura (chapter) 47 contains the ayah (verse): "When you encounter the unbelievers on the battlefield, strike off their heads until you have crushed them completely; then bind the prisoners tightly."

- Timothy Furnish,
Middle East Quarterly

"As the Prophet Muhammad said, Jihad is the pinnacle of Islam"

- Sheik Abdallah Basfar

"…[U]nder Islamic law, non-Muslims are deemed unfit to touch the Qur'an. That much is generally known. What is not usually considered is the reason:

According to the Islamic law, we are unclean. The term is "najis." On the multilingual Web site of the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, the leading Iraqi Shi'ite cleric, there is a catalogue of Islamic laws…

On the "najis" list with urine, feces, etc., are the pig, the dog and the "kafir." That means the Christian, the Jew, the unbeliever in Islam."

- Jeff Jacoby

[Mohammed] Taheri-azar, 23, is accused of driving a sport utility vehicle through a crowd of UNC students last March.

...During today's hearing, Taheri-azar yelled "death to America" as he entered the Orange County courtroom. "I hate all Americans," he said. "All Jews. May they all burn in hell. Death to Israel," yelled Taheri-azar...

Taheri-azar pleaded not guilty to 19 counts attempted murder and assault charges.

- ABC Local

PATTANI, Thailand, Feb. 22 - Some are already calling it war, a brutal Muslim separatist insurgency in southern Thailand that has taken as many as 2,000 lives in three years with almost daily bombings, drive-by shootings, arson and beheadings.

…A new policy of conciliation in the past four months has been met by increased violence, including a barrage of 28 coordinated bombings in the south that killed or wounded about 60 people on Feb. 18.

- New York Times

The practice of beheading non-Muslim captives extends back to the Prophet himself.

Ibn Ishaq (d. 768 C.E.), the earliest biographer of Muhammad, is recorded as saying that the Prophet ordered the execution by decapitation of 700 men of the Jewish Banu Qurayza tribe in Medina for allegedly plotting against him.

...Saudi executions are swift, completed in one sword blow. Zarqawi and his followers have chosen a slow, torturous sawing method to terrorize the Western audience.

- Timothy Furnish,
Middle East Quarterly

"One day the black flag of Islam is going to be over 10 Downing Street, whether Tony Blair likes it or not. What role are you going to play? ...You need to play an active role."

…"[W]hen someone sees the enemy suffering you should not be surprised there are people who express their pleasure. We do not like non-Muslims. We are required not to like them because they reject Allah and his messengers."

- Abu Waleed on Britain's
Channel 4, People


Islam and jihad
5) Who was Muhammad?
part 2: from Medina to his death


"The ambassador answered us that [the right to piracy] was founded on the Laws of the Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have answered their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners, and that every [Muslim] who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise."

-- Thomas Jefferson addressing the U.S. Congress, 1786

"Filipino Muslims display a banner, which reads 'Behead Those Who Insult Islam,' and t-shirts with a wanted sign during a rally Wednesday March 7, 2007, at a downtown Manila square, to protest recent televised preaching by a Christian sect leader Eli Soriano, who alleges that Muslims are killers."

- Associated Press, 3/9/07

Muhammad of Medina

Immediately upon Muhammad's escape to Yathrib (or Medina) in 622, the very first masjid or mosque was begun. In Islamic calendars, this is appropriately designated as Year 1 A.H. (After Hijrah). It is here Muhammad began an entirely new social order devoid of all former loyalties such as blood ties; loyalties which had so painfully failed him in Mecca with his own Quraysh tribe. Instead, Muhammad's new order would be based solely on absolute allegiance to him, Muhammad, and to Allah for whom Muhammad claimed authority to collect all financial tribute.

Muslim writer/apologist Reza Aslan observes

...[In Yathrib], Muhammad finally had the opportunity to implement the reforms he had been preaching to no avail in Mecca. By enacting a series of radical religious, social, and economic reforms, he was able to establish a new kind of society, the likes of which had never been seen before in Arabia.

For instance, whereas power in the tribe was allocated to a number of figures, none of whom had any real executive authority, Muhammad instead united all the pre-Islamic positions of authority unto himself. He was not only the Shaykh of his community, but also its Hakim [judge], its Qa'id [war leader], and, as the only legitimate connection to the Divine, its Kahin [prophet]. His authority as Prophet/Lawgiver was absolute.

Also, while the only way to become a member of a tribe was to be born into it, anyone could join Muhammad's community simply be declaring, "There is no god but God, and Muhammad is God's Messenger." The shahadah [creed] was thus transformed in Yathrib from a theological statement...into a new version of the oath of allegiance, the bay'ah, which the tribe gave to its Shaykh. And because neither ethnicity nor culture nor race nor kinship had any significance to Muhammad, the Ummah, unlike a traditional tribe, had an almost unlimited capacity for growth through conversion.

For the next year and a half, the Muhajirun began enforcing this new religious order. If it was not Allah's will that Muhammad merely offer his leadership, as was tried in Mecca and failed, it seemed now it was Allah's will he impose it. Yet in doing so, Muhammad found Medina offered a completely different obstacle than did Mecca.

The large numbers of Jewish and Christian Arabs around Medina flatly refused to renounce their beliefs for Muhammad's. Unlike the largely illiterate pagans of Mecca, Jews and Christians had biblical texts and, within them, scriptural qualifications for true prophets and for the nature of God. Measured against the previously revealed Word of God through the Old and New Testaments (words which Muhammad was on record as having supported), Jews and Christians could demonstrably prove Muhammad did not fit the bill of prophet or divine messenger nor did his claims of Allah.

This new level of rejection it seemed was too much. Muhammad's resentment of Jews for their role in Jesus' death, combined with Jewish and Christian resistance to taking part in his economic theocracy, Muhammad boldly and bitterly turned against his Medinite Jewish and Christian hosts. This is evidenced by his quranic recitations during this period and as evidenced by history.

Allah's patience was about to run out on Judaism and Christianity, and it was now time for his self-appointed messiah-king Muhammad to begin judging the earth and purging it of unbelievers, reluctant givers, and all the disobedient.


From patience to jihad

It is during this Medina period that Muhammad's divine recitations now take a completely different tone than what was previously the case in Mecca. Now Allah's will is to revile unbelievers, and no longer to tolerate them. Now friendship with Christians and Jews is forbidden. Now Allah has no patience for those who reject Muhammad's complete authority. Now the moral order is to force conversion on the reluctant and to tax them, or to kill them and take their possessions. And so Muhammad and the Muhajirun did.

Ghazwa, lethal violence already deemed honorable in Bedouin eyes, became a divine imperative to be exacted against Muhammad's enemies.

Just like certain Roman Catholic popes would do six hundred years in the future, Muhammad took it upon himself to determine who were the enemies of Allah who needed to be destroyed. For ten bloody years, the Muhajirun exercised this throughout the countryside pressing for submission (islam) to their beliefs, and making brutal raids on major trade caravans.

Muhammad's prior merchant experience likely provided useful tactical insight contributing greatly to the success of his trade route assaults. It cannot be stressed enough what an impact caravan raiding had on Arab communities. Recall the bleak geography of Arabia, the lack of resources, and precarious existence many desert communities had. Larger trade caravans were such that they may have carried an entire community's investment or purchase for an entire season. Loss of that caravan would be financially devastating, and might mean a city's ruin. Thus the economic attractiveness of appeasing Muhammad versus opposing his fearsome raiders began to grow. This in turn grew his army and influence, and as those grew, financial appeasement and theological capitulation grew faster still.


Muhammad the military tactician

As a military tactician Muhammad proved brilliant, at least at the key Battle of Badr in 624. The story reads as good as any Hollywood movie, and probably would be if any image or portrayal of Muhammad didn't carry the death sentence. It's success is often regarded as the formal birth of Islam, Muhammad's ascendancy to that of a regional power, the first commemorative jihad, and the progenitor of beheading one's enemy while screaming praise to Allah. (Refer to chapter nine of Vernon Richards' E-book "Islam Undressed" for an excellent and detailed account of the battle and its implications.)

Richard Bell relates what would ensue:

Shortly after the Battle of Badr a Jewish tribe, the Bani Qainuqa, were deprived of their goods, and expelled from Medina. The Bani Nadir were similarly expelled some two years later, and finally the Bani Quraiza were besieged, and, after capitulation at discretion, were slaughtered, their goods confiscated, their women and children enslaved.

That particular slaughter is not ignored by apologist Aslan as he attempts to mollify it by conveying that it "was neither illegal nor immoral according to the tribal ethic of the time." He also offers Norman Stillman's belief that the failure of nearby Jewish communities to speak out against or prevent the massacre demonstrates their tacit approval of such slaughters themselves. (I find that conclusion equivalent to believing that Jews who successfully hid from the Gestapo happily supported the execution of Jews who got caught. The reason you didn't prevent your neighbor's murder is not limited to the conclusion you must have been for it; especially when the murderer was a large and well-equipped army.)

Starting here and elsewhere, Muslims began purging their region of unbelievers. Medinite Christian communities throughout northern Arabia would fare no better than their Jewish counterparts when they resisted.


The spread of Islam

Relieving Jews, Christians, and pagans of their lives and wealth proved not only profitable but quite an effective vehicle for making converts and spreading Islam. To that end, Muhammad assured raiders it was Allah's pleasure that they each keep eighty percent of anything they stole while warring for Islam, be it property, possessions, or slaves. The remaining twenty percent of booty was to be given back to Allah, naturally in care of Muhammad.

At least measured by effectiveness at attracting new members, this doctrine of stealing and killing was well received. The final result was a large and wealthy army, at one point 30,000 strong, sometimes able to "convert" entire villages without bloodshed merely by encircling them. As the Qur'an records and some Muslims assert, such encircled villagers were under "no compulsion" to believe.

An amended practice would come into being around AD 630 that didn't demand conversion, but allowed non-believers to avoid slaughter by instead paying a heavy protection tax (the jizya) and giving up many of their rights. Forced converts had to pay a tax as well (the zakat or purification tax), but could at least retain former rights to the extent they matched those of quranic law. Protection in either case was revocable and expired after ten years unless renewed. (Paying of the zakat is the second pillar of Islam, and has alternately been dedicated towards either funding the army or helping other Muslims. The zakat is forbidden from being given to non-Muslims; hence when natural disasters strike places like Haiti, not one penny is given in charitable help.)

On the personal side, Muhammad had nine to twelve concurrent wives by this point, one of them controversially young. It is noted that the girl was so young that there was public concern about her youth even at that time. Muhammad reacted by keeping her completely veiled, thus concealing her age from further scrutiny. Only later would the following words be written into Islam's sacred books:

"Narrated Aisha: The Prophet engaged me when I was a girl of six (years). We went to Medina and stayed at the home of Bani-al-Harith bin Khazraj… [My mother] entrusted me to [some Ansari women] and they prepared me (for the marriage). Unexpectedly Allah's Apostle came to me in the forenoon and my mother handed me over to him, and at that time I was a girl of nine years of age."

- Volume 5, Sahih Bukhari 58: 234

Conquest of Mecca

Having accrued a sufficient army after a decade of raiding and looting, Muhammad finally attacked his own Quraysh clan; the Quraysh troops defending Mecca. However, his attempt to conquer the protectors of his former hometown failed. Faced with superior numbers and with his own forces now in tatters, Muhammad proposed and signed a ten-year peace treaty with them - the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah.

Eighteen months later, however, during the Holy Truce months, Muhammad marshaled his then revitalized army and surprise attacked; successfully defeating the defensive forces outside Mecca. By another account, it was Quraysh guards that initiated the skirmish, but Muhammad was providentially nearby with an armed force of 10,000 that scattered the handful of Quraysh aggressors practically without a fight. This is celebrated in Islam as the 'deceptive peace treaty' or the first hudna.

The victorious Muhammad purposed to turn Mecca into the spiritual and financial hub of his Islamic empire, to retain the Meccan's revered Ka'ba (less all the idols but two) and retain a time of Holy Truce (later adapted as Ramadan). All this plus the fact the now-undefended Meccans had no choice translated into the city's acquiescence of Muhammad's return. This return is something Muhammed "prophecied" he would do, and its fulfillment is lifted up as proof that Allah is the true god and Muhammad his greatest prophet. (Fasting during the daylight hours of the month of Ramadan is the third pillar of Islam; meant as a collective reminder of the suffering that Islam's enemies wish upon all Muslims.)

Yet the unrescinded Meccan death threat may also have come to pass when Muhammad suddenly died in 632, attributed by some to poisoning by a Jewish servant girl (indirectly Sunnah 5:59:551 and 26:5430). Having died so quickly and unexpectedly, he left no clear successor or transition plan. Within about 100 years, there would no longer be a single Caliph (Islamic leader) over all Muslim peoples (umma).

Bitter disagreement as to how succession should proceed split Islam into factions, several of which continued to the present. The Shi'a (dominant in Iran) believe successors should be of Muhammad's bloodline, whereas Sunnis (dominant globally) believe the choice of leader may be politically influenced. An early murder between the two groups seems to have permanently set them at odds.

Additionally, in the wake of Muhammad's death certain Muslims expressed a kind of 'absolute power corrupts absolutely' fear about consolidating both religious and governmental power in a single leader. However, beatings and death threats eventually won the debate against Muhammad's son-in-law Ali ibn Abi Talib and quelled opposition to Muhammad's disciple Abu Bakr assuming power over both roles. Bakr became the new Caliph.

Muslim tradition now says of Muhammad that it was he of whom John the Baptist foretold, that he was the one upon whom Christ's church would be built, that it was he who David said would be seated at the right hand of God, he the scepter of Judah, he the rightful holder of the title "Son of Man", he the conquering military leader that Jews were looking for but did not find in Christ, and he, Muhammad, the 'great comfort' promised by Christ (that Christians have supposedly mistaken to be the Holy Spirit).



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NEXT: The Qur'an


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It is by Muhammad's life and teachings, and those of his successors, that Muslims interpret the world and steer their lives - be those lives of peace or violence.

This covers the second half of Muhammad's ministry beginning in Medina after he was rejected and threatened with death by his own Quraysh clan in Mecca.

1. Muhammad of Medina
2. From patience to jihad
3. The military tactician
4. The spread of Islam
5. The conquest of Mecca