Saturday, December 9, 2017

"Is the Trinity consistent with the Old Testament?" Jonathan McLatchie vs. Yusuf Ismail

I recently engaged in a public moderated debate in South Africa with Muslim criminal defense lawyer and apologist, Yusuf Ismail. Our subject was the concept of God in the Hebrew Bible -- specifically, whether God reveals Himself as Triune in the Old Testament. Here is the recording of the debate.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Muhammad and the Poor Widows

Part 3

by Tara MacArthur
Anas ibn Malik said, “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.” [Another narrator said] that Anas had told him about nine wives only.[1]

Early Muslims boasted about their Prophet’s sexual prowess without any fear that this behaviour might disgust anyone. Only in recent times have Muslim historians felt the need to explain Muhammad’s appetite for women in terms other than lust.

The rationale behind these marriages is clear. Many were performed to rehabilitate divorced and widowed women, especially widows of companions who had been killed in the early battles … Some were done as an act of compassion toward a conquered foe.[2]

We have already studied Muhammad’s first eleven marriages without discovering a single wife who was poor or unprotected. We also saw above that historians were confused about exactly how many wives he had. That is because he continued to acquire women for the rest of his life. We wonder if any of them were vulnerable or poor. Let us find out.

Muhammad’s twelfth wife was Maymuna, a widow of 36. She was living in Mecca under the protection of her brother-in-law, Abbas, a wealthy spice-merchant and banker. Maymuna apparently had some wealth of her own, for she brought at least three servants into her new home in Medina.[3]

Soon after this, Muhammad took Mariya, a household slave, as his concubine. Since she was a diplomatic gift from the Governor of Egypt, we can be certain that she was young and a virgin; and Aïsha was jealous of her beauty. Unlike Muhammad’s official wives, Mariya was poor. She possessed nothing of her own but was herself property. Nevertheless, her poverty does not explain why Muhammad made her a concubine. She lived in his household, receiving food and shelter at his expense, for over a year before he started sleeping with her. If she was performing domestic duties in exchange, there was no particular reason why she needed to add sex to her services.[4]

When Muhammad conquered Mecca in January 630, he married Mulayka, a pretty girl deemed “too young to know her mind”. Although her father had been killed in the battle, she had plenty of other relatives, including a cousin who wanted to marry her; so she was not in need.[5] 

In March he married the pretty Fatima al-Aliya, who was his only Medinan wife. Her father worked in the Islamic army and civil service. He was certainly not a poor man, for he made Muhammad a present of Mantle, “the prettiest camel in the world”. It was after Muhammad divorced Fatima that she became poor. She set up a business collecting camel-dung, drying it in the sun and selling it as fuel.[6] If no pleasanter career was available, we know that neither her ex-husband nor her father was sharing his wealth with her.

In June or July Muhammad agreed to marry Asma, the daughter of a Bedouin nobleman who was anxious to avoid a war with Medina. Asma was a widow but she is described as “beautiful and youthful”. Her wealthy father hinted that he found Muhammad’s standard 400 dirhams a “stingy” dower; but he was obliged to accept that this was all his daughter would be paid.[7]

Later that year, Muhammad married Amra, who had been recently divorced from a teenager. Nothing is known about her family beyond the fact that she had some relatives living. Perhaps they were poor. Nevertheless, Muhammad failed to save Amra from destitution, for he divorced her on their wedding night.[8]

Muhammad also took another of his household slaves as his concubine. Tukana was a war-captive from the Qurayza tribe, so she was only a slave because Muhammad had enslaved her. He did not need to sleep with her in order to save her from poverty, for she had been living at his expense as a domestic maid for some time before he noticed her and called her to his bed.[9] Since a slave had no legal right to refuse her master’s advances,[10] Tukana might have felt more preyed-upon than protected. Before we ask why she needed to become Muhammad’s concubine in order to earn the right to eat, we should ask why Muhammad had needed to attack and destroy her tribe.

Muhammad acquired yet another concubine just one month before he died. Nafisa was given to him as a present. Nothing is known about her beyond the obvious fact that she was a slave.[11] Once again, we need to ask how Muhammad showed compassion and provision for his slaves by sleeping with them instead of setting them free or offering them honest labour.

Muhammad attempted to acquire even more wives than these, but the remainder of his marriages did not last long. He married a princess from Iraq, but she died on her journey to Medina. He then married her aunt in substitute, but she too died before Muhammad could meet her. He divorced one girl because she insulted him on the wedding day and another, sight unseen, when he became annoyed by her father’s boasting. A widow from Medina broke off their engagement before they had finalised the contract; and a newly-ransomed war-captive refused his proposal because she wanted to return to her husband. He accepted the proposal of an attractive widow living off a pension from Khaybar, then divorced her on the wedding day when he saw that she was “old” (although she was certainly younger than he was).[12] What all these brides had in common was social security. Not all were rich, but all had strong family connections and a source of income.

In April 632 Muhammad married Qutayla, a Jewish princess from Yemen. Two months later, she was still on her journey to Medina when she heard that she need not proceed, for Muhammad had just died. Qutayla and her brother immediately declared their apostasy from Islam and returned to Yemen with great joy. The Apostasy Wars had begun.[13]

Among all Muhammad’s wives, we have not found a single one who was poor or friendless. Though some endured considerable distress as a result of marrying him, not one married him as a relief from distress. Nor did he pretend otherwise. He chose women who were young and beautiful, with political or financial advantages being optional.

This is not news. In the words of the missionary-scholar William Gairdner, who worked among Muslims in Egypt:

It is high time that the ignorant or hypocritical statements of neo-Mohammedan writers, to the effect that all Mohammed’s marriage and demi-marriage connections were made for humanitarian or political (etc., etc.) reasons, and that the women in question were elderly or otherwise unattractive, should be put a stop to. These statements are becoming stereotyped among apologist writers both of the west and the east. But they are false; and they are made either ignorantly of falsely. … We hope we shall now hear no more of the neo-Moslem pretence.[14]

It is a hundred years since Gairdner hoped, yet the falsehoods are still being heard. Perhaps the internet will change that. Never before has it been so easy to spread the truth.

The story of Fatima al-Aliya has a happy ending. You can read more about her, as well as all the others, in my book Unveiled.

[1] Bukhari 1:5:268.
[3] Ibn Ishaq 113, 114, 309-310, 312-313. Waqidi 364. Ibn Saad 8:94. Ibn Hajar, Tahdhib 12:13898.
[4] Ibn Ishaq 653. Ibn Saad 8:136-137, 148-149. Tabari 8:98; 39:193-195.
[5] Tabari 8:187; 39:165.
[6] Ibn Ishaq 577-579, 590-591. Waqidi 477. Ibn Saad 1:587; 2:201. Tabari 9:39, 136; 39:187-188. Ibn Kathir 4:421.
[7] Ibn Ishaq 177. Ibn Saad 8:101-104. Tabari 39:188-191.
[8] Guillaume, A. (1960). New Life on the Light of Muhammad, p. 55. Journal of Semitic Studies, Monograph 1. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Ibn Saad 8:100, 101. Muslim 5:2347. Tabari 39:188. Ibn Kathir 4:427.
[9] Ibn Kathir 4:435. Majlisi 2:1180
[10] Ibn Saad 8:94.
[11] Ibn Hanbal 6:26908. Ibn Kathir 4:435.
[12] Ibn Saad 8:106-113, 116. Tabari 9:136-139.
[13] Ibn Saad 8:105. Ibn Kathir 4:424-425.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Muhammad and the Poor Widows

Part 2

by Tara MacArthur

Then [Muhammad] emigrated to Medina and began spreading the word of Allah. Thereafter, he married eight women, all of them widows or divorcees, all old or middle-aged … He had married many of them in order to give them protection and safeguard their dignity. It was hoped that the Muslims would follow his example and provide protection to aged women, widows and their orphaned children … Thus do we see that each of these marriages had some solid reasons behind it; passion and lust were not among them.[1]
This is a popular explanation for why Muhammad resorted to polygyny. If it is an accurate assessment, we would expect his eight new wives to be mature-aged matrons whom the wars had left poor and vulnerable. Let us check the facts.

After Muhammad married Aïsha, he ordered fourteen military attacks on other tribes and he also had to fight twice in defence. Sixteen Muslim men, or about 4% of the total, were killed in these battles.[2] Muhammad was not well placed to care for new family-members, for he was still poor. Aïsha said that they never ate bread for more than three successive days, and sometimes the family had nothing to cook for two months on end.[3]

In January 625 Muhammad married Hafsa, a widow of 19.[4] Her father Umar gladly accepted the honour of being the Prophet’s father-in-law;[5] but he warned Hafsa never to ask her husband for money. “If you need anything,” he said, “come and ask me,”[6] for he was “one of the richest of the Quraysh.”[7]

The following month, Muhammad married Umm al-Masakin, a widow in her late twenties. She had plenty of protectors to hand, for she had three brothers and two brothers-in-law living in Medina. Since she was childless, she would not have been much of a burden on the combined resources of these relatives. She died, however, only eight months after marrying Muhammad.[8]

The wars continued. Muhammad launched nine more attacks and was placed three more times on the defensive, which cost him the lives of at least 134 more Muslim warriors.[9] Nevertheless, by 627 the Muslim community was the whole of Medina, so deaths in battle never exceeded 5% of the total fighting stock.[10] Given how frequently women died in childbirth, it is unlikely that this created a gender-imbalance. After Muhammad took over the property of the Nadir tribe in September 625, he was no longer poor,[11] so he could afford new wives.

In April 626 Muhammad married Hind. This attractive widow was 28 and had four young children.[12] She does not sound poor. Her response to her first husband’s death was, “I shall hire a mourning-party that will be the talk of the town!” as if money were no obstacle.[13] She inherited two businesses from her husband, a tannery and half a date-orchard.[14] She was not worried about how she would manage these enterprises alone, for she had six slaves to help her.[15] She refused marriage proposals from two other suitors and she refused Muhammad twice before accepting him.[16] After their marriage, he asked her to tone down her display of gold jewellery and musk, for silver and saffron were more appropriate to a Mother of the Faithful.[17]

In March 627 Muhammad married his cousin Zaynab, who was 37 and very alluring to men.[18] She was not poor, for she was also a tanner, and her business was doing so well that she gave away all her profits to charity.[19] Nor was she alone in the world, for her brother lived next door to Muhammad.[20] In fact she was not even single, for she was the wife of Muhammad’s adopted son. Zaynab had no need to find a new husband; rather, her existing husband had to divorce her to enable her marriage to Muhammad. Although this caused quite a scandal around Medina, Muhammad was by this time powerful enough not to care.[21]

Two months later, Muhammad married a beautiful war-captive named Rayhana. Her first husband had been one of the 600 men of Qurayza who were beheaded at Muhammad’s order. Therefore Rayhana was only a widow because Muhammad had killed her husband; and she was only poor because Muhammad had appropriated her property. In fact Rayhana did not need to remarry to survive, for she was only a Quraziya by marriage; her blood-relations were the Nadir.[22] The Nadir tribe were desperately searching the Arabian slave-markets for their Qurazi friends, and they bought back as many of the women and children as they found there.[23] Of course they would have bought Rayhana, who was Nadir-born, if Muhammad had been willing to sell her. But he had already selected her for himself.[24]

It is likely that the influx of female slaves from 627 onward changed the gender-balance of Medina. There was now some justification for the claim that these “excess women” were unable to marry monogamously. Let us see if the widows whom Muhammad married after this date were the ones who would have otherwise been left destitute.

The sixth widow whom Muhammad married in Medina was Juwayriya. Twenty years old and fabulously beautiful, she was only a widow because the Muslim raiders had killed her husband in battle. Her father, the tribal chief, was a wealthy man. He was willing and able to pay the hefty ransom set on his daughter’s head so that he could bring her home. It was Muhammad who, after accepting this payment, insisted that Juwayriya had already agreed to marry him. The dower that he paid his bride was only worth one-ninth of the ransom that he had just received from her father.[25]

A few weeks later, Muhammad proposed to Ramla, an attractive widow of 34.[26] She was one of the Muslims who had emigrated to Ethiopia, where they made a comfortable living selling leather. It is possible that Ramla was not herself a tanner and that the death of her husband left her unable to continue his business. However, the successful Muslim community included two of her first cousins, so they had a duty to care for her. If she had wanted to remarry, the community boasted twelve single men (including one of the cousins) and no other single women under 65, so Ramla had her choice of suitors without needing to resort to polygamy. These Muslims were under the direct protection of the Emperor of Ethiopia, who not only underwrote Ramla’s dower but carelessly added an extra zero to the usual amount.[27] It does not sound as if he would have left her to starve.

If Muhammad had wanted to open his home to poor widows exiled in Ethiopia, perhaps he should have proposed to the other two widows, who were elderly and of the peasant class.[28] However, he never mentioned them. Muhammad’s real motive for marrying Ramla seems to have been political. She was the daughter of his arch-enemy, Abu Sufyan, so her marriage, a public exhibition of her loyalties, was a snub to him.

At the same time, Muhammad married Safiya, whom he captured in his war against Khaybar. She was 16 years old and of dazzling beauty. She was only a widow because Muhammad had murdered her husband, and she was only poor because Muhammad had appropriated her family’s wealth for himself. Nevertheless, her poverty had not reached the level of absolute destitution, for many of her relatives were still alive in Khaybar. They had persuaded Muhammad to let them remain on the land and farm the dates in exchange for giving him half the revenues.[29] If Safiya had remained in Khaybar, she too could have farmed dates.

Muhammad’s extended family lived off the wealth of Khaybar for the rest of their lives. Since Safiya was the First Lady of the ruling family of Khaybar,[30] there was a very real sense in which Muhammad’s whole clan was living at her expense. Muhammad was not providing for Safiya; it was she who provided for him.

These were the eight women whom Muhammad married in Medina. Only one part of our lead prediction has been proved correct: they were all matrons. None was poor. None lacked a male protector. None was elderly. We must look for some other reason why Muhammad chose to marry them. It may well be relevant that he married the first two when there was a shortage of women while the other six were noted for their beauty.

Another aspect of our lead prediction is wrong: this is not the end of the list of Muhammad’s wives. In the last four years of his life, eight more women entered his household. So this analysis is to be continued.

One question we have not addressed here is why all these women agreed to marry Muhammad. There are some answers to that question in my book Unveiled.

[2] Ibn Ishaq 281-364, 369, 659-660.
[3] Muslim 42:7083, 7084, 7085, 7086, 7087, 7089, 7092, 7093, 7097, 7098.
[4] Ibn Saad 8:56, 58.
[5] Bukhari 5:59:342.
[6] Bukhari 7:62:119.
[7] Ibn Ishaq 216.
[8] Ibn Ishaq 218. Ibn Saad 8:82.
[9] Ibn Ishaq 370-482, 659-662, 666, 673-675. Ibn Saad 2:42-76, 80-96, 115-117.
[10] Waqidi 256.
[11] Ibn Ishaq 438.
[12] Ibn Saad 8:61, 66-67.
[13] Muslim 4:2007.
[14] Waqidi 186-187. Ibn Kathir 3:123.
[15] Malik 37:6:5. Bukhari 5:59:613; 7:62:162; 7:72:775. Bukhari, Mufrad 9:184. Muslim 26:5415, 5416; 32:6186. Abu Dawud 29:3921. Tirmidhi 1:2:381. Tabari 9:145. Ibn Kathir 4:480.
[16] Ibn Saad 8:61-65.
[17] Ibn Hanbal 6:26681 (Cairo).
[18] Tabari 39:9, 180-182.
[19] Ibn Saad 8:74, 77.
[20] Tabari 39:168.
[21] Tabari 39:9, 180-182.
[22] Ibn Ishaq 463-468. Tabari 39:164-165.
[23] Waqidi 257.
[24] Ibn Ishaq 466. Waqidi 255-256.
[25] Ibn Ishaq 490, 493. Ibn Hisham #739, 918. Tabari 39 :182-184.
[26] Ibn Saad 8:68-69. Muslim 31:6095. Tabari 9:133. Ibn Hajar, Isaba 7:11185.
[27] Ibn Ishaq 146, 148, 527-529. Ibn Saad 8:68-69. Tabari 6:98; 9:133.
[28] Ibn Ishaq 179, 526-528
[29] Ibn Ishaq 514-515, 521-523. Waqidi 349. Ibn Saad 8:88, 89, 90. Muslim 8:3329. Tabari 39:184.
[30] Ishaq 437-438. Bukhari 1:8:367.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Muhammad and the Poor Widows

by Tara MacArthur

Part 1
We say that the bent of thy Master’s life doth not answer to the boast that he “was sent a Mercy and Blessing to the human race.” On the contrary, his chief object and concern was to take beautiful women to wife; to attack surrounding tribes, slay and plunder them, and carry off their females for concubines. His chief delights were, by his own confession, sweet scents and women—strange proofs these of the prophetic claim![1]
With these words, a ninth-century Christian decried the character of Muhammad. A thousand years later, another Christian expressed similar disdain for Muhammad’s unchastity, for he
gratified the passion for fresh espousals, which was becoming a characteristic feature of his advancing years … The numerous marriages of Mahomet failed to confine his inclinations within the ample circuit of his harem. Rather its multiplied attractions weakened restraint, and stimulated desire after new and varied charms.[2]
By this time, the Christian missionaries had made inroads to the Muslim world, and Muslims could no longer ignore Christian criticisms of their Prophet.
Some critics of Islam … have reviled the Prophet as a self-indulgent libertine. They have accused him of character failings which are hardly compatible with being of average virtue, let alone with being a prophet and God’s last Messenger and the best model for all mankind to follow.[3]
The Muslims had to discover a defence of Muhammad’s polygamy that sounded reasonable to Christian ears. By far the most popular argument was that polygamy provided for poor widows.
With the solitary exception of A’ishah, the women whom the Rasool married were all elderly widows, homeless and friendless … As the war continued, the small community had neither the time nor the resources to provide home and subsistence to the widows and orphans.[4]
He had married many of them in order to give them protection and safeguard their dignity. It was hoped that the Muslims would follow his example and provide protection to aged women, widows and their orphaned children …[5]
This explanation has been accepted without much question even by Western historians.
… many were political marriages to cement alliances. Others were marriages to the widows of his companions who had fallen in combat and were in need of protection.[6]
But is it true? Although everyone today “knows” that Muhammad married poor widows to rescue them from a life of destitution, it is a relatively new idea. Muhammad himself was apparently unaware of his own generosity, for his idea of how to choose a wife was:
A woman is married for four things: her wealth, her family status, her beauty and her religion. So you should marry the religious woman (otherwise) you will be a loser.[7]
So were his wives poor widows, or did he marry them for some other reason? We will pass over his first wife Khadija, “a merchant of dignity and wealth”;[8] since their marriage was monogamous,[9] Khadija is not relevant to the question of polygamy.

Khadija died in April 620.[10] At that time, the Muslims had not fought a single battle, so no men had died in the war; and the only Muslim who had died in the persecution had been a woman.[11] Further, the lists of early Muslim converts consistently name far more men than women.[12] It is very unlikely that there were not enough Muslim men to marry the available women. Rather, it seems that there were still not enough women to go around the men even some years after the Muslims fled to Medina.[13] Muhammad’s problem in 620 was not how he might provide for a few widows but whether there were any available Muslim women at all.

At that time Muhammad was not an eligible bridegroom. He was not well placed to care for new family members, for he had no money of his own and Khadija had apparently died bankrupt.[14] He was unpopular around Mecca.[15] The only asset that he offered a woman was his divine status as the Prophet of Allah.

Yet within three weeks of Khadija’s death, Muhammad abandoned monogamy. He proposed to two women on the same day.[16]

Neither of his brides needed rescuing. The first, Aïsha, was only a little girl.[17] Her father, Abu Bakr, was a “a man of means,”[18] “a merchant of high character.”[19] He had to break Aïsha’s existing engagement to another man before he could marry her off to Muhammad.[20]

The other bride, Saowda, was newly widowed. Her father gave her a free choice to accept or reject Muhammad’s proposal; if she had refused, she could have continued living in her father’s house. When she accepted, her brother doused his head with dust;[21] apparently he would have rather paid his sister’s expenses for the rest of her life than seen her married to his enemy. Besides having a family, Saowda was a tanner and perfume-mixer who was quite able to support herself with her labours.[22] In fact, we wonder whether Muhammad kept her or she kept him.

Neither Saowda nor Aïsha “needed” to marry Muhammad for economic reasons. Therefore we must ask, not only why he married both of them, but why he bothered to marry either of them.

The suggestion that he wanted Saowda as a housekeeper is weak, for Muhammad’s house was already being kept by his middle-aged daughter-in-law and two teenaged daughters.[23]

The suggestion that he married Aïsha to strengthen his bond with her father Abu Bakr only raises the question: why did he not marry her sister Asma? Asma was about twenty years old[24] and not engaged to anyone. She could have strengthened the bond with Abu Bakr, moved in immediately to run the household and (as her future proved) given birth to healthy sons.[25] Muhammad would not have needed to marry Saowda or Aïsha if he had chosen Asma.

A possibly relevant observation here is that Asma and Saowda were both morbidly obese.[26] It looks suspiciously as if Muhammad really only wanted Aïsha, who was pretty;[27] but, knowing she was too young to move in immediately, he wanted an extra woman for the meantime. Since he could not marry two sisters at once,[28] marrying Asma would mean never marrying Aïsha, so he chose Saowda. He would tolerate the fat woman as his housekeeper and bedfellow until Aïsha reached puberty. Then Aïsha would become his companion, and what might happen to Saowda afterwards was not his present concern.

So it was. Muhammad married Saowda immediately.[29] He consummated his marriage with Aïsha three years later.[30] Why he did not bother waiting until Aïsha hit menarche,[31] and why he subsequently considered divorcing Saowda,[32] are topics for another day. You can find the answers to these questions in my book Unveiled.

[2] Muir, W. (1861).The Life of Mahomet, Vol. 3, pp. 151, 228. London: Smith, Elder, & Co.
[3] Gulen, F. “The Prophets reasons for his various marriages.” Jannah: Islam the Path to Eternal Peace.
[6] Esposito, J. L. (1988). Islam: The Straight Path, pp.19-20. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
[7] Bukhari 7:62:27.
[8] Ibn Ishaq 82.
[9] Tabari 9:128
[10] Ibn Saad 8:12.
[11] Ibn Ishaq 145.
[12] E.g., Ibn Ishaq 115-117, 146-148, 214-218. E.g., Suyuti 112.
[13] For the apparent difficulty in finding a wife, see Quran 4:25 (which belongs to the year 625) and Bukhari 1:1:1; 1:2:51. For a concession to this problem, Ishaq 509-510 shows that Muslim men were allowed to marry polytheistic women until as late as 628.
[14] Ibn Ishaq 160. Ibn Hanbal 6:24908 (Cairo). Ibn Saad 1:241.
[15] Ibn Ishaq 161, 191. Ibn Saad 1:232, 243-244.
[16] Tabari 9:129.
[17] Tabari 39:171.
[18] Ibn Ishaq 223.
[19] Ibn Ishaq 114.
[20] Tabari 9:129-130.
[21] Tabari 9 :130.
[22] Nasaï 4:4245. Tirmidhi #3108.
[23] Ibn Saad 8:13, 26, 157.
[24] Asma’s age is disputed. Ibn Hajar’s Isaba 7:1098 implies she was born in 595; Ibn Asakir 8:69 suggests 600; Dhahabi 2:143 gives a range between 595 and 601.
[25] Ibn Saad 8:176.
[26] Bukhari 6:60:318. Dhahabi 2:143.
[27] Ibn Ishaq 495. Bukhari 3:48:829; 5:59:462; 6:60:435; 7:62:145.
[28] Quran 4:23.
[29] Tabari 39:170
[30] Ibn Hisham #918. Ibn Saad 8:44. Bukhari 7:62:88, 90. Muslim 8:3309, 3310, 3311. Abu Dawud 41:4915, 4917. Ibn Maja 3:9:1877. Tabari 9:130-131.
[31] Bukhari 8:73:151.
[32] Ibn Saad 8:40.