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Oh look, a depiction of Muhammad.
Party Like It's 632
Icon islam.svg
Turning towards Mecca
That Muhammad could predict certain events does not prove that he was a prophet: he may have been able to guess successfully, but this does not mean that he had real knowledge of the future. And certainly the fact that he was able to recount events from the past does not prove that he was a prophet, because he could have read about those events in the Bible and, if he was illiterate, he could still have had the Old Testament read to him.
—Abu 'Isa al-Warraq, 9th-century Arab skeptic scholar.[1]

Muhammad, Mohammed, or Mahomet (various spellings are used in English for the Arabic محمد‎‎) (circa 570-632 CE) was an Arabian merchant, warlord, and religious leader who founded the Islamic religion. According to the doctrine of the religion he created, Muhammad was the final prophet of God, placing him in the same category as people like Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, all of whom are also revered by Muslims as prophets.

He was born around 570 CE in the city of Mecca, and he spent much of his early years as a wealthy trader. However, around age 40, Muhammad claimed to have received a vision from the Archangel Gabriel ordering him to spread the word of God to the pagan peoples of the Arabian peninsula.[2] Muhammad did just that, although he faced great resistance from the pagans of his hometown, Mecca. Forced out of Mecca, Muhammad's early Muslim followers fled with him to Mecca's historic rival, the city of Medina. There given shelter, Muhammad was able to start spreading Islam to both the city people as well as much of Arabia. Eventually, Muhammad marshaled the warriors of Medina and its allied tribes and marched on Mecca, seizing it with little opposition due to his overwhelming superiority. Shortly after that, he died, having unified much of the Arabian peninsula under the banner of Islam.

Muhammad had an enormous influence on world history, as his followers later spread Islam through much of the world through their conquests. The revelations he supposedly received from God throughout his later life were later collected in the Quran, regarded by Muslims as the literal word of God. Records of his adventures make up the Hadith, a significant source of Muslim religious law and teaching, while his writings and observations make up part of the Sunnah, a body of literature which describes the expected social and legal customs that Muslims should follow. His birthplace, Mecca, is the holiest city in Islam, while his tomb lies in Medina, the second-holiest city in Islam. The third holiest city, Jerusalem, is where Islamic legend says that Muhammad was taken into Heaven by angels and shown more revelations from God.[3] In fact, Muslims originally faced Jerusalem for their prayers before Muhammad decided that Mecca would be more appropriate.

Muslims do not consider him "divine", but "divinely inspired". However, Muhammad is perhaps best known in the West for his lack of facial features, as seen on many Islamic drawings which leave off his face, mostly due to a relatively recent Sunni rule that any depictions of the Prophet are considered blasphemous, whether they portray him positively or negatively. A movie based on his life got around this by shooting it from his point of view. In 2005, cartoons in a Danish newspaper, depicting Muhammad and linking him with militant Islamist extremist violence and terrorism, provoked international outcry from the Muslim community.

While the historicity of Muhammad is debated, there is general consensus among historians that he was a real person.[4] Whether the historical Muhammad's life and personality matches the depiction in the Qur'an and Hadiths is much less certain (if knowable at all), as even the earliest records of his life (and earliest examples of the complete Quran) were written well after his death.[5]

Historicity of Muhammad[edit]

Page from an Eleventh Century Persian Quran, written in early Arabic script.
On the one hand, it is not possible to write a historical biography of the Prophet without being accused of using the sources uncritically, while on the other hand, when using the sources critically, it is simply not possible to write such a biography.
—Harald Motzki, scholar of Islam.[6]

Part of the problem when discussing Muhammad is that there are two Muhammads: the man who actually existed and the man described in Islamic scriptures. There's relatively little material about Muhammad's life which can be said to be useful to historians. Pro-tip for history majors, sources written about a subject long after their death should be taken with a grain of salt. Religious sources ought to be taken with a jumbo container of salt. And sources which describe events that are not physically possible should be taken with a whole dump truck's worth of salt.

Unfortunately, those last two categories describe most of what was written about Muhammad. Here, the Quran is actually most unhelpful because not only is it a religious text, but it actually says very little about Muhammad as he lived.[7] Most of the verses are provided by the book without any real historical context.

There were various biographies written about Muhammad by Arab scholars, but most of them were written more than a century after the man died.[8] These biographies, or sira were also significantly edited by Medieval-era Arab scholars who admitted to doing so in order to remove material that "would distress certain people."[9] Most objective modern scholars accept these works as authentic but not necessarily accurate.[10] The sira are far more useful when learning about legal matters than historical ones. Finally, the Hadith accounts of Muhammad's life, despite being collected several generations after his death, are generally and cautiously considered to be mostly reliable historical sources.[11]

Narratives on Muhammad's life have been checked against other contemporary sources. Jewish and Christian communities living in the Middle East have also written materials which seemingly confirm Muhammad's existence, but these were also written long after the time in which he supposedly died.[6] It is also difficult to know how their biases and prejudices may have influenced what they wrote, the same way it's difficult to know how accurate Arab sources were.

Much as the lack of historical evidence for Jesus has led a vocal minority in the historical community to question his very existence, doubts about the actual existence of Muhammad have its advocates amongst legitimate (non-crank) historians. Richard Carrier has pointed out that Muhammad's historicity is a valid historical question because: Muhammad is hardly mentioned in the Qur'an, the lack of contemporary sources and the literature that does exist about his life contains many historical inconsistencies and events not recorded anywhere else. Carrier concludes "No literature about Muhammad, that adds information not in the Quran, appears to have been written (or if written, none survives) until a century or more after his purported death, a situation in fact worse than for Jesus"[12].

Basically, we know that Muhammad was a guy who existed. And that's about all we know for sure.

Muhammad's life (as far as anyone can tell)[edit]

Muhammad places the Black Stone in the Kaaba.

His early years[edit]

Muhammad was probably born around the year 570-ish CE in Arabia, specifically the city of Mecca. He was a member of the Banu Hashim clan, which was one of Mecca's prominent families.[13] Muhammad lost most of his family members to various causes, and he spent his later childhood and early teen years accompanying his uncle on his merchant ventures.[14] He allegedly had a pretty good reputation among his acquaintances and customers, being known as cheerful and honest.[15] He was actually nice enough to attract the attention of a widowed 40 year-old woman named Khadija bint Khuwaylid, whom he married and stayed married monogamously to for 25 years.[16]

According to legend, or perhaps legitimate history, Muhammad was later given the honor of setting the sacred Black Stone in the wall of the Kaaba shrine in Mecca.[17] The Black Stone is to this day considered an important Islamic relic, and religious dogma holds that it dates from the days of Adam and Eve.[18] The relic and the Kaaba shrine existed well before the advent of Islam, as they were both revered by Arab pagans.

Speaking of Arab pagans, it's probably useful to get a good idea of the environment in which Muhammad spent these early years. The Arabian peninsula was not dominated by Islam at the time, which only makes sense because Islam didn't exist yet. Arabia was just about as inhospitable in Muhammad's time as it is in ours. It had two major cities, Mecca and Medina. Mecca was the business and financial hub of the peninsula, basically the New York City of the ancient desert, while Medina was a major agricultural settlement.[19] Arabs were mostly a tribal people who migrated in search of water and food for their livestock, occasionally stopping by in the cities to conduct trade. Some tribes settled down to farm and establish communities, which is how places like Mecca and Medina got started.

At the time, Arabia was predominantly pagan, with tribes worshiping individual protector gods as well as personification deities of oases and trees and such.[20] There were also supposedly "Hanifs", pre-Islamic Arabs who still professed a monotheistic belief in Allah; Islamic tradition holds that Muhammad himself was a Hanif.[21] By Muhammad's time, the religious landscape in Arabia was causing serious social problems. Foreign religions were making significant inroads in Arabia, with Judaism taking root in what is now Yemen and Christianity sprouting up along the Persian Gulf.[22] As tends to happen, these religions' followers started fighting each other and the pagans.

Seeing things[edit]

A weirdly glum-looking Muhammad meets the Archangel Gabriel.

Muhammad was a deeply religious man, and he developed a habit of spending several weeks each year meditating in a cave on Mount Hira near Mecca. According to Islamic tradition, around the year 610 CE, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to him to reveal the first surah of what would become the Quran:[23]

Proclaim! (or read!) in the name of thy Lord and Cherisher, Who created — Created man, out of a (mere) clot of congealed blood: Proclaim! And thy Lord is Most Bountiful, — He Who taught (the use of) the pen, — Taught man that which he knew not. (Qur'an 96:1-5)

Muslims today disagree on how Muhammad initially reacted to the sudden voice from the void. Most Muslims hold that Muhammad was very concerned about what this all meant for his own sanity and kept everything to himself for a while, while Shias hold that Muhammad was immediately inspired and immediately started spreading the word.[23] Muhammad was apparently also worried that his friends and neighbors would think he was possessed by demons.[24] Eventually, however, the visions resumed. At that point, Muhammad decided that this was all part of some kind of pattern and that he ought to listen and do what the visions say. The visions then commanded him to start spreading monotheism throughout Arabia.

When Muhammad did start talking about his visions, most people in Mecca naturally mocked or ignored him. His first followers, the ones who believed him, were his wife Khadija and then his close friend Abu Bakr.[23] Muhammad started preaching to Mecca's public, attracting mostly the dispossessed and desperate as his followers.[25] Although the Meccans didn't appreciate Muhammad's activities, they weren't exactly eager to start attacking him. Mecca was, at that point, a multi-religious hub whose tolerance allowed business and trade to occur. That all changed when Muhammad started preaching against idolatry and condemning Arabic polytheism.[26] Wealthy merchants and politicians first tried to bribe Muhammad into giving up his preaching, then started using intimidation tactics. Sumayyah bint Khabbat, a slave woman to a rich merchant, became Islam's first martyr when she was murdered for refusing to give up the faith.[27] Bilal ibn Rabah, another slave, suffered torture at the hands of his master for refusing to renounce Islam, although he survived and later became one of Muhammad's first hand-picked mosque leaders.[28] At Muhammad's urgings, many of his followers fled to Ethiopia to seek refuge among the Christians.[29] Meanwhile, the leaders of two important Arab clans declared a boycott against the Banu Hashim clan to pressure it into expelling Muhammad from family protection.[30] At this point, Mecca was so dangerous that Muhammad could only go out preaching during the holy months when Arabs were forbidden from attacking each other.

Sightseeing in Jerusalem[edit]

The Dome of the Rock, where Muhammad allegedly ascended to Heaven.

According to Islamic legend, in 620 CE, Muhammad went on a magical journey led by the Archangel Gabriel to reach Jerusalem in a single night. This journey is outlined in the al-Isra surah of the Quran beginning with:

Glory to Him who journeyed His servant by night, from the Sacred Mosque, to the Farthest Mosque, whose precincts We have blessed, in order to show him of Our wonders. He is the Listener, the Beholder. (Qur'an 17:1-2)

Muhammad is said to have flown there on a Buraq, which is a mythical beast from Arabic mythology, a horse with wings and a human head.[31] Muhammad then went on a pretty enviable sightseeing tour, getting to visit Medina, Mount Sinai, and Bethlehem.[32] He got to go see some cool places while traveling on a flying horse that zips around faster than a NASCAR. Sounds awesome.

The Buraq then carried Muhammad up to Heaven to speak with the prophets who came before him, kinda like Avatar Aang speaking to his past selves in Avatar: The Last Airbender. The other prophets, Moses, Jesus, and all of the others, met Muhammad while Gabriel explained that these prophets had also experienced great trials during their quest to spread the word of God.[32] The other prophets then prayed with Muhammad and acknowledged him as their leader.[32] Muhammad finally met God Himself, who told him to order all Muslims to pray 50 times a day. If that seems pretty unreasonable to you, at least Moses thought so too and sent Muhammad back to bargain God down to the now-famous five prayers per day.[32] That's right, Moses and Muhammad haggled God Himself.

The Al-Aqsa Mosque, where Muhammad arrived in Jerusalem.

This story is enormously significant in the Islamic religion, and that makes it significant to current world affairs. It is, for instance, why Jerusalem is the third-holiest site in all of Islam and why many Muslims are so pissed off that it's currently controlled by Israel. The Al-Aqsa Mosque marks the location where Muhammad supposedly arrived in Jerusalem, and until Muhammad's exile to Medina, this is the location Muslims turned to during prayer.[33] The Dome of the Rock, meanwhile, was built atop the site of the former Second Jewish Temple, and it is intended to mark the place where Muhammad ascended into Heaven.[34] Both of these structures are ancient and magnificent examples of Islamic architecture.

Exile to Medina[edit]

Things started to go badly for Muhammad, as his wife Khadijah and his uncle Abu Talib both died in the same year, beginning the prophet's "Year of Sorrow."[35] Although it sucked that his wife died, his uncle's death actually placed Muhammad in immediate mortal danger. Said uncle had been the leader of the Banu Hashim, and his death meant that Muhammad's much less friendly uncle Abū Lahab got to be in charge. Abū Lahab promptly kicked Muhammad out of the family, meaning that Muhammad would not be protected from his enemies.[36] This is why the Quran does not look very kindly upon Abū Lahab.

With Muhammad in so much danger, his Muslim converts assembled with him and made a pledge stating, "Blood is blood and blood not to be paid for is blood not to be paid for. I am of you and you are of me. I will war against them that war against you, and be at peace with those at peace with you."[37] Shortly thereafter, Muhammad recieved word that some important city officials were planning to assassinate him.[38] Realizing that his followers were too few to fend off an entire hostile city, Muhammad chose to flee his home town and seek refuge in Medina, historically the rival of Mecca.

The twelve most important clans of Medina sent a delegation to ask Muhammad to mediate in the growing tribal conflicts occurring with more frequency and violence for the better part of the past century. They offered him and his followers protection in return for his aid, and Muhammad promptly used the opportunity to create a government which he would lead. Muhammad drafted the Constitution of Medina, which specified the rights and duties of all citizens and significantly established protections for Jews and Christians.[39] Of course, this did not mean that Medina was a secular state. Far, far from it. Jews and Christians were free to hold their own religions, but they were not allowed to question the orders and teachings of Muhammad.[40] But although Muhammad ruled a theocracy, the constitution demonstrates that he at least tried to do so fairly, and the document's protections for religious minorities guided later Islamic rulers in dealing with their own conquered subjects.[40]

With Muhammad in charge, the folk of Medina agreed fairly rapidly to convert to his fancy new religion. Once again, it was the downtrodden who converted first, those tribal clans which had suffered military defeats and were on the outs.[41] The rest of Medina followed, and the city became the backbone of Muhammad's new caliphate.

Muhammad also got himself some new wives from among his Muslim followers. His second wife was Sawda bint Zamʿa, a middle-aged widow who was apparently not that attractive.[42] His most infamous wife was the third, Aisha bint Abu Bakr, whose age at the time of her betrothal to Muhammad is often cited by people wanting to claim that he was a pedophile. Long, long story short, some modern scholars believe for various reasons that Aisha was past puberty when she and Muhammad first, uh, consummated their relationship.[43] The Hadiths, meanwhile, disagree- That's part of why this page's first body section exhorts you to read the Hadiths' histories critically.

War against Mecca[edit]

Muslim war council before the Battle of Badr.

The Meccans seized the property of the Muslims remaining in Mecca and left them destitute with no source of income.[44] In retaliation, the Muslims began launching raids against Meccan caravans, which naturally led to an outright war against Mecca. At the outset of the conflict, Muhammad claimed yet more supposed revelations from God, permitting them to fight against those who would persecute their religion.[45] These statements from Muhammad eventually became the oft-quoted Qur'an 22:39-40.

The Battle of Badr[edit]

Muhammad, leading the armies of Medina, met the Meccans in an open field of battle during the Battle of Badr. This became one of the key military victories in early Islam, with the Muslims smashed the Meccan force with superior tactics despite being heavily outnumbered.[46] The Muslims very quickly attributed their victory to divine intervention, and this helped solidify Muhammad's position as leader of Medina. Seventy Meccan soldiers were taken prisoner, and Muslim sources claim that most of them were treated quite well before eventually being released for ransom payments.[46]

The Battle of Uhud[edit]

Realizing that they needed a victory of their own to stay in the war and maintain morale, Mecca marshaled its forces for a great invasion of Medina. They put together an army of about 3,000 men, which was a pretty damn big number for the time period and location.[45] In fact, it was three times the size of the army Muhammad had defeated at Badr. Once again, Muhammad decided to meet the Meccan host in open battle, and once again things went well especially Hamza ibn Abdul-Muttalib, Muhammad's uncle became a well-known martyr of Islam thus truly royally pissing off the Muslims to fight back in somewhat of a “I’ll avenge you, comrade” frenzy, this cause the Meccans to fearfully rout in large numbers [45] [47]; However, when all seemed won, the Muslims managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by breaking formation to raid the Meccan war camp.[45] [48] Luckily for Muhammad, the Meccans had not taken advantage of their battlefield victory. Instead, they swaggered back home to declare defeat because they hadn’t kill the Prophet. This was a mistake for them. Meanwhile, Muhammad went back home with his troops where he explained that the defeat was God's way of testing their determination.[45]

Expansion of the Islamic caliphate during Muhammad's rule.

The war dragged on for eight more years, although it was mostly a boring stalemate. Muhammad spent these years of war spreading the new Islamic religion across Arabia. Meanwhile, the Meccans had not been idle. They assembled an even larger army, this time about 10,000 strong, and marched on Medina with the intent to seize it. Once again outnumbered, Muhammad took the advice of one of his subordinates and dug a defensive trench through the battlefield to negate Mecca's cavalry advantage.[49] The Meccans could not sustain a prolonged siege in the desert, and their army dissolved.

The Meccans had tried to win the support of the Banu Quarayza, a Muslim-aligned tribe of Arab Jews during the campaign to take Medina. The Muslims were apparently convinced that the Jews had betrayed them, and Muhammad's forces betrayed the alliance with the Jews and slaughtered them, killing between 600-900 men and selling the women and children into slavery.[50][51]

Years later, around 630 CE, Muhammad was able to assemble a massive army of his own: 10,000 faithful Muslim converts.[45] He marched them on to Mecca, intending to take his enemies' city and end the war once and for all. With overwhelming military superiority, the Meccans had little chance to resist. The conquest of Mecca allegedly went quite smoothly and peacefully, as the Meccans didn't dare try to fight back.[45] After the end of the war, Muhammad pardoned most of the citizens of Mecca and then ordered his followers to clear out all of the pagan idols and shrines in the city. Mecca then converted to Islam.

Unifying Arabia[edit]

The fall of Mecca did not end things, however. More of Muhammad's enemies assembled 20,000 soldiers and marched against him, but the Muslims won a decisive victory called the Battle of Hunayn and seized much wealth.[52] Muhammad then continued moving north to subdue the northern part of the Arabian peninsula and bring it under his rule.[53] He then moved east and subjugated many Bedouin tribes, allowing them to keep their ancestral traditions but forcing them to adopt Islam. At the end of his conquests, much of Arabia became part of his new theocratic state.

Farewell and death[edit]

Muhammad's Farwell Sermon.

In his final years of life, Muhammad embarked on the so-called "Farewell Pilgrimage", where he journeyed from Medina to Mecca to participate in holy rituals. This journey and ritual became the model of the Hajj, one of the pillars of Islam.[54] Muslims to this day visit Mecca and follow Muhammad's every action and gesture. Of course, there were probably fewer human stampedes in Muhammad's day.

At Mount Arafat, which is east of Mecca, Muhammad spoke to his followers in an event called the Farewell Sermon. In the sermon, Muhammad allegedly abolished tribal blood feuds, and ordered men to be good to their wives by disciplining them "with kindness".[55] That last part's a little shitty, but the first order is actually pretty good.

A few months after this, Muhammad came down with a deadly illness, as tends to happen in the Seventh Century. By this point, Muhammad had 10(!) wives, and he moved around between their apartments in an attempt to care for them all equally.[56] Surely there could have been a reality TV show in there. When Muhammad became too sick to keep doing that, his various wives agreed to let him stay with his youngest wife, Aisha, in Medina. He asked her to get rid of his last possessions, seven coins. Then he died.

He was buried where he died, in Aisha's house. Much later, the Umayyad Caliphs expanded the Prophet's Mosque to include his tomb, which was then marked with a distinctive green dome.[57] Sadly, the rise of the Saud dynasty and the transformation of Arabia into Saudi Arabia saw a wave of destruction aimed at historic Islamic structures and tombs.[58] It was iconoclasm taken to the most extreme level, and Muhammad's tomb just barely escaped the carnage. Today, the Saudis have calmed down a bit, and they now grudgingly permit religious pilgrims to visit the Prophet's Mosque.[59]

The Prophet's Mosque in Medina, Muhammad's purported burial place.


See the main article on this topic: Muhammad cartoons

Depicting Muhammad is a sensitive issue in Islam. Though not ruled out by the Quran, some hadiths rule that no living being should be depicted, and others prohibit depiction of Muslim prophets, including Jesus. To formally comply with this ban, some paintings leave off the face of the prophet. Generally, Sunni Muslims (the majority) believe that depictions of Muhammad are forbidden and blasphemous, and Shia Muslims believe they are permitted. The Sunni prohibition only arose between the 16th and the 17th century, and there is a great amount of Islamic art from earlier periods, as well as more modern Shiite art, which depicts Mohammad in full.[60]

As depicted in Islamic art[edit]

Perceptions, controversies, and interpretations[edit]

Muhammad and his character, teachings and deeds have been interpreted in many different ways.

Jewish perception[edit]

During even his own lifetime, Jewish scholars often referred to Muhammad as ha-meshuggah, which means "madman" or "the possessed".[61][62][63]

Medieval Christianity[edit]

Dante's Inferno casts Muhammad as an inhabitant of Hell, reflecting his negative image in the Christian world at the time. Here, in one of William Blake's illustrations of Inferno, Muhammad is shown pulling his chest open which has been sliced by a devil to symbolize his role as a "schismatic" (one who brings religious division), because of the then-common belief that Islam was simply an offshoot of Christianity.

Islam was quick to spread throughout the Middle East. Medieval Christian authors sought to examine and deal with this growth by studying Muhammad in detail.[64] Initially, Muhammad was considered by Christian scholars to be divinely inspired. However, they later concluded that he was a heretic, and his teachings by association were heretical.[65] The politics of power likely played a large role in this; Islam was gaining new converts rapidly, and the Church's power was threatened. The idea of Muhammad as a pseudo-Prophet was first forwarded over five hundred years ago by Johannes Damascus.[64]

Mohammed was often referred to as "MahoundWikipedia" or "Mahoun", a portmanteau of "Mahomet" and "hound".

Child wife[edit]

Or: "Oh, Allah, I'm sick of writing about this and I hope it will go away," as the subject of Aisha is referred to by many Muslim scholars. According to the Sunni Hadith, Aisha was six years old when Muhammad claimed God told him they must be married, and Muhammad supposedly asked for her hand in marriage, and he consummated the marriage when the girl was a mere nine years of age. [66] This is disputed by some modern Muslim scholars; firstly because the Hadith was first transcribed over 200 years after Muhammad's death.[67] If the age of Aisha is calculated based on the more detailed information known about her sister some conclude that she could not have been less than ten years old at the time of her marriage and could not have been less than 15 years old at the time of consummation. [68]

The inherent problem with these "corrections"? They all but state that parts of the Hadith (and indirectly the Quran) are wrong, and contain exaggerations, embelishments, or other fabrications. If the age of Aisha is incorrect and was made up for political purposes, what else in the Hadith and Quran is a fabrication?

Another massive problem for the apologists is the fact that the fourth verse of the 65th chapter of the Quran ("Surah at-Talaq") seems to imply the consummation of marriages to pre-pubescent girls, and this is how virtually all Muslim scholars have interpreted it.[69]

Daughter-in-law wife[edit]

Less known in the West than Aisha but more controversial was Mohammed's marriage to Zaynab bint Jahsh. Mohammed had owned a slave that he later adopted, Zayd, and Zayd had married a widow, Zaynab. Zaynab and Zayd would soon divorce, and Mohammed would marry Zaynab almost immediately after. There were two legal problems with this, though. First, in Arab culture adopted sons were for all intents and purposes full sons, so even if Zaynab and Zayd divorced, Zaynab was Mohammed's daughter in law. Second, Mohammed would later give a revelation to the people that men were only permitted 4 wives, yet Zaynab was his 5th living wife. Oh and much less severe but arguably third, Zaynab was Mohammed's first cousin on his mother's side, and while cousin marriage isn't strictly forbidden it typically took the form of the Father's Brother's Daughter and not the Mother's Sister's Daughter.

To solve this, Mohammed gave a revelation that full adoption didn't exist in Islam[70] and that men are permitted to marry their adopted sons' ex-wives[71]; Zayd was no longer known as Zayd ibn Mohammed but would be known as Zayd ibn Harithah, thus Zaynab was not his daughter in law. Second, he gave a revelation that the limit of four wives has the lone exception of, purely coincidentally, himself.[72]


Muhammad's view of women has been debated endlessly. From the Hadith, the teachings of Muhammad, is the Prophet's belief about the worth of a woman's testimony:

The Prophet said "Isn't the witness of a woman equal to half of that of a man?" The women said, "Yes." He said, "This is because of the deficiency of a woman's mind."
—The Hadith, Volume 3, Book 48, Number 826

However, Muhammad also worked for his first wife in a courier capacity, so we really don't know what to think vis-à-vis his views of their 'deficiencies.' Here is what he saw while on his miraculous journey with Gabriel:

Narrated 'Imran bin Husain: The Prophet said, "I looked at Paradise and found poor people forming the majority of its inhabitants; and I looked at Hell and saw that the majority of its inhabitants were women."
—The Hadith, Volume 4, Book 54, Number 464

Woah. We ain't touching that one with a ten foot barge pole.

But wait, we have to, dammit, we're RationalWiki! It's our (non-paid) job to inquire, to look deeper, to illuminate the cloudy depths of the collective unconscious. Okay, here's Muhammad's rationale behind women making up the majority of Hell's population:

The people asked, "O Allah's Apostle! What is the reason for that?" He replied, "Because of their [women's] ungratefulness." It was said. "Do they disbelieve in Allah (are they ungrateful to Allah)?" He replied, "They are not thankful to their husbands and are ungrateful for the favors done to them. Even if you do good to one of them all your life, when she seems [sic] some harshness from you, she will say, "I have never seen any good from you.'"
—The Hadith, Volume 7, Book 62, Number 125

Yeah, our first choice was the correct one. Presumably his wife at least one of his wives was not forthcoming in bed at the time of that "revelation".

But! Maybe these double standards don't appear in the Qur'an, which is distinct from the Hadith in that it is supposedly Allah's final revelation. Let's have a look at Allah's view of some good man lovin':

If two men among you commit indecency [sodomy] punish them both. If they repent and mend their ways, let them be. Allah is forgiving and merciful.
Qur'an 4:16

Okay. And of a woman's sexual transgression:

If any one of your women is guilty of lewdness ... confine them until death claims them.
Qur'an 4:15

Then things get kind of confusing;

"O mankind! Reverence your Guardian-Lord, who created you from a single person, created, of like nature, his mate, and from this pair scattered (like seeds) countless men and women. Reverence Allah, through Whom you demand your mutual (rights), and reverence the wombs (that bore you); for Allah ever watches over you."
Qur'an 4:1

So… respect moms?

"For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who fast, for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allah's praise, for them has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward."
Qur'an 33:35

Wait, women do go to Paradise?

"The more civil and kind a Muslim is to his wife, the more perfect in faith he is."

These contradictions are mindboggling to some (although not anymore so than what's found in the Bible), although some can be explained by changes over time within the Qu'ran itself, or from the telephone game that are the hadiths.

Historical changes[edit]

Bringing up some of the more *ahem* dubious things said of women and the not-dubious does need a bit of context. He lived at a time when women were property. He changed that status giving them rights to their own body. He lived at a time when women could be killed by their father, their lover, or their son legally. Despite his claim about how to beat a wife (and the modern honor killings which are dubiously considered a strictly Islamic thing in the west despite being Older Than Jesus and having numerous fatwas against it[73]), Muhammad changed that view. Women were not allowed to be killed by their family for any reason. Though women only got ⅓ of a man's share in inheritances, prior to Mo's teaching they were not allowed any share. In fact they were lucky to be considered part of the share. So while he clearly did not see women as equal to men, he was the first in his culture to recognize that they are, in fact, people.


See the main article on this topic: Slavery

Rodney Stark writes: "|the fundamental problem facing Muslim theologians vis-à-vis the morality of slavery is that Muhammad bought, sold, captured, and owned slaves." Altogether, Muhammad owned approximately 50 slaves (16 were female, 34 were male), his adopted son Zayd was among their number. The girls/women were concubines or wet nurses.[74]

Medina and Jewish tribes[edit]

Muhammad is accused of manipulating the Jewish tribes for his own advantage and developing a nasty habit of literally stabbing them in the back when their usefulness was exhausted. Ibn Ishaq claims that Muhammad ordered the beheading of some 600-900 individuals who surrendered unconditionally after a siege that lasted several weeks. The surviving women and children were sold into slavery.[75] The Jews in turn were accused of violating their covenant with Muhammad.

External links[edit]


  1. Hecht, Jennifer Michael (2003). Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson. Harper San Francisco. ISBN 0-06-009795-7.
  2. Muhammad Mustafa Al-A'zami (2003), The History of The Qur'anic Text: From Revelation to Compilation: A Comparative Study with the Old and New Testaments, pp. 26–27. UK Islamic Academy. ISBN 978-1-872531-65-6.
  3. Why Is the City of Jerusalem Important in Islam?. Learn Religions.
  4. See the Wikipedia article on Historicity of Muhammad.
  5. See: "The Socratic problem" in Socrates for a similar quandary.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Nigosian, Solomon Alexander (2004). Islam: Its History, Teaching, and Practices. Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-21627-3. p. 6.
  7. Clinton Bennett (1998). In search of Muhammad. Continuum International Publishing Group. pp. 18–19. ISBN 978-0-304-70401-9. Archived from the original on 30 September 2015.
  8. See the Wikipedia article on Prophetic biography.
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  13. Buhl, F.; Welch, A.T. (1993). "Muḥammad". Encyclopaedia of Islam. 7 (2nd ed.). Brill. pp. 360–376. ISBN 978-90-04-09419-2.
  14. Watt, W. Montgomery (1953). Muhammad at Mecca. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-577277-7. ASIN: B000IUA52A. p. 8
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  16. See the Wikipedia article on Khadija bint Khuwaylid.
  17. Muhammad Mustafa Al-A'zami (2003), The History of The Qur'anic Text: From Revelation to Compilation: A Comparative Study with the Old and New Testaments, p. 24. UK Islamic Academy. ISBN 978-1-872531-65-6.
  18. See the Wikipedia article on Black Stone.
  19. Watt, W. Montgomery (1953). Muhammad at Mecca. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-577277-7. ASIN: B000IUA52A. p. 1-2
  20. See the Wikipedia article on Religion in pre-Islamic Arabia.
  21. Ueberweg, Friedrich. History of Philosophy, Vol. 1: From Thales to the Present Time. Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 409. ISBN 978-1-4400-4322-2.
  22. Christian Julien Robin (2012). Arabia and Ethiopia. In The Oxford Handbook of Late Antiquity. OUP USA. p. 302. ISBN 978-0-19-533693-1.
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 Muhammad Biography.
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  27. See the Wikipedia article on Sumayyah bint Khabbat.
  28. See the Wikipedia article on Bilal ibn Rabah.
  29. See the Wikipedia article on Migration to Abyssinia.
  30. Peters, Francis Edward (1994). Muhammad and the Origins of Islam. SUNY Press. ISBN 978-0-7914-1876-5. p. 96
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  32. 32.0 32.1 32.2 32.3 Why is Isra’ Mi’raj Important to Muslims?. BeliefNet.
  33. See the Wikipedia article on Al-Aqsa Mosque.
  34. See the Wikipedia article on Dome of the Rock.
  35. See the Wikipedia article on Year of Sorrow.
  36. See the Wikipedia article on Abū Lahab.
  37. See the Wikipedia article on Second pledge at al-Aqabah.
  38. Muhammad Mustafa Al-A'zami (2003), The History of The Qur'anic Text: From Revelation to Compilation: A Comparative Study with the Old and New Testaments, pp. 30–31. UK Islamic Academy. ISBN 978-1-872531-65-6.
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  40. 40.0 40.1 The “Constitution of Medina” and Muhammad. Understanding Islam.
  41. Flight from Mecca to Medina. Lumen Learning.
  42. See the Wikipedia article on Sawda bint Zamʿa.
  43. Spellberg, Denise (1994). Politics, Gender, and the Islamic Past: the Legacy of A'isha bint Abi Bakr. Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0231079990. p. 39–40.
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  46. 46.0 46.1 See the Wikipedia article on Battle of Badr.
  47. See the Wikipedia article on Hamza ibn Abdul-Muttalib.
  48. See the Wikipedia article on Hamza ibn Abdul-Muttalib.
  49. See the Wikipedia article on Battle of the Trench.
  50. Kenneth Cragg, The Call of the Minaret (1956), p. 79. William Muir (2003), The life of Mahomet, Kessinger Publishing, p. 317, ISBN 9780766177413.
  51. Peterson, Daniel (2007). Muhammad, Prophet of God. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. ISBN 978-0-8028-0754-0. p. 126
  52. See the Wikipedia article on Battle of Hunayn.
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  59. Clinton Bennett (1998). In search of Muhammad. Continuum International Publishing Group. pp. 182–83. ISBN 978-0-304-70401-9.
  60. Mohammed Image Archive
  61. Norman A. Stillman (1979). The Jews of Arab lands: a history and source book. Jewish Publication Society. p. 236. ISBN 978-0-8276-0198-7. Retrieved 26 December 2011. 
  62. Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said's Orientalism By Ibn Warraq Page 255
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  65. Stephen Hotz: "Mohammed and his teaching according to the accounts of the occidental authors from the late 11th to the middle of the 12th centuries: continuing and changing aspects, sources and tendencies."
  70. Sura 33:5
  71. Sura 33:37
  72. Sura 33:50-51
  74. Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery, p. 338, 2003, Princeton University Press, ISBN 0-691-11436-6
  75. See the Wikipedia article on Banu Qurayza.