Robert Spencer: Did Muhammad Approve of Torture?

Did Muhammad approve of torture? For Ahmadi Muslim leader Qasim Rashid, the answer is “no” – a “no” so unequivocal that Rashid holds up Muhammad as an example for the U.S. – newly sullied, in his view, by the just-released torture report – to follow in its treatment of prisoners of war.

This all sounds like a mainstream media dream: a moderate Muslim invoking Muhammad to rebuke the U.S. for its torture practices. The only problem with this gloriously multicultural scenario is that Qasim Rashid is a relentlessly disingenuous writer. Previously he has whitewashed the reality of jihad violence and Sharia oppression; dissembled about the Qur’an’s sanction of deception of unbelievers; lied about the presence of violent passages in the Qur’an; lied about the Qur’an’s sanction of beating disobedient women; lied about the nature of Sharia; and called for limitations on the freedom of speech and expression to outlaw behavior and speech some Muslims may find offensive. When challenged about the “facts” he has presented, he (like virtually all other Islamic supremacists) responds with furious ad hominem contempt, but no substance.

But he tells the mainstream media establishment what it wants to hear and fosters the complacency and ignorance of non-Muslims regarding jihad terror, and so his abject inability to defend his preposterous claims is of no import: he continues to be given a platform all over. Here he takes advantage of the controversy over the just-released torture report to claim that Muhammad rejected torture — while cynically refraining from mentioning all the evidence to the contrary.

In “5 Lessons From Prophet Muhammad to Stop Torture” in the Huffington Post (of course) last Wednesday, Rashid claimed:

…Were the world to adopt Muhammad’s example of compassion, tolerance, and civility, such a torture report would not exist, because torture itself would not exist.

Yes, because Muhammad would never have approved of harsh interrogation techniques, would he? Well, let’s see: Muhammad’s earliest biographer, Ibn Ishaq, records that when Muhammad was trying to determine whether or not his favorite wife, Aisha, was guilty of adultery, he asked a slave, Burayra: “So the apostle called Burayra to ask her, and Ali got up and gave her a violent beating, saying ‘Tell the Apostle the truth.’” (Ibn Ishaq 734) Muhammad is not recorded as having rebuked Ali for violently beating this woman.

Nor was that an isolated incident, as we shall see.

Rashid continues:

Here are five lessons the CIA, ISIS and humanity at large can learn from Prophet Muhammad on how to stop torture.

1. Stop engaging in pre-emptive war

Prophet Muhammad forbade pre-emptive war, all forms of terrorism, violently revolting against a government no matter how unjust, and even went to the extent of forbidding civil disobedience lest it lead to violence.

All forms of terrorism? But Muhammad is reported as having said: “I have been sent with the shortest expressions bearing the widest meanings, and I have been made victorious with terror…” (Sahih Bukhari 4.52.220). One may argue that he didn’t mean modern-day terrorism, but given the other incidents that I will recount in this article, the claim that he forbade “all forms of terrorism” is fanciful in the extreme.

While not mentioning that hadith or the Qur’an verse telling Muslims to “strike terror into the hearts of the enemies of Allah” (8:60), Rashid plows on:

When Muslims faced incessant and brutal persecution in Mecca from 610-620, Muhammad forbade any violent or incendiary response to the governing authorities. He offered his companions three options — remain and bear the persecution, try to change laws through peaceful argumentation, or leave.

Many Muslims left — some to Abyssinia where they sought and received refuge under the righteous Christian King Neghus. Others left to Medina, where they forged a peaceful alliance with the Jews and soon established a unified secular state governed by the Charter of Medina. Fighting was then only permitted in self-defense once Muslims were pursued and attacked, just as the Qur’an 22:40allows: “Permission to fight is given to those against whom war is made, because they have been wronged — and Allah indeed has power to help them.” Once in defensive war, the Qur’an only permits killing active combatants, as elaborated next.

Rashid omits all mention of the Qur’an’s teaching on offensive fighting. Ibn Ishaq explains the progression of Qur’anic revelation about warfare. First, he explains, Allah allowed Muslims to wage defensive warfare. But that was not Allah’s last word on the circumstances in which Muslims should fight. Ibn Ishaq explains offensive jihad by invoking a Qur’anic verse: “Then God sent down to him: ‘Fight them so that there be no more seduction,’ i.e. until no believer is seduced from his religion. ‘And the religion is God’s’, i.e. Until God alone is worshipped.” The Qur’an verse Ibn Ishaq quotes here (2:193; cf. also 8:39) commands much more than defensive warfare: Muslims must fight until “the religion is God’s” — that is, until Allah alone is worshipped.

The great medieval scholar Ibn Qayyim (1292-1350) also outlines the stages of the Muhammad’s prophetic career: “For thirteen years after the beginning of his Messengership, he called people to God through preaching, without fighting or Jizyah, and was commanded to restrain himself and to practice patience and forbearance. Then he was commanded to migrate, and later permission was given to fight. Then he was commanded to fight those who fought him, and to restrain himself from those who did not make war with him. Later he was commanded to fight the polytheists until God’s religion was fully established.”

In other words, he initially could fight only defensively — only “those who fought him” — but later he could fight the polytheists until Islam was “fully established.” He could fight them even if they didn’t fight him first, and solely because they were not Muslim.

Nor do all contemporary Islamic thinkers believe that that command is a relic of history. According to a 20th century Chief Justice of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh ‘Abdullah bin Muhammad bin Humaid, “at first ‘the fighting’ was forbidden, then it was permitted and after that it was made obligatory.” He also distinguishes two groups Muslims must fight: “(1) against them who start ‘the fighting’ against you (Muslims) . . . (2) and against all those who worship others along with Allah . . . as mentioned in Surat Al-Baqarah (II), Al-Imran (III) and At-Taubah (IX) . . . and other Surahs (Chapters of the Qur’an).” (The Roman numerals after the names of the chapters of the Qur’an are the numbers of the suras: Sheikh ‘Abdullah is referring to Qur’anic verses such as 2:216, 3:157-158, 9:5, and 9:29.)

As an Ahmadi, Rashid may reject this understanding of the Qur’an and jihad, but it does exist, and he must know it exists. To ignore it entirely and give the impression that it doesn’t exist is cynical and deceptive.

And his cynicism and deceptiveness don’t end there. He continues:

2. Stop justifying collateral damage

Drone strikes, indiscriminate bombing, and collateral damage have each sadly become part of the American military experience. Prophet Muhammad categorically condemned any act of violence in which civilians, property, or places of worship were harmed.

Following Muhammad’s guidance, Abu Bakr the first Khalifacommanded to the Muslim army about to embark on battle,

“O people! I charge you with ten rules; learn them well… for your guidance in the battlefield! Do not commit treachery, or deviate from the right path. You must not mutilate dead bodies. Neither kill a child, nor a woman, nor an aged man. Bring no harm to the trees, nor burn them with fire, especially those which are fruitful. Slay not any of the enemy’s flock, save for your food. You are likely to pass by people who have devoted their lives to monastic services; leave them alone.”

As history’s first major figure to condemn collateral damage in word and in deed, Prophet Muhammad demonstrated a high precedent that even the most advanced nations today cannot match. Today’s leaders can end the war atrocities engulfing our world by following Muhammad’s example of justice and compassion.

Collateral damage: “It is reported on the authority of Sa’b b. Jaththama that the Prophet of Allah (may peace be upon him), when asked about the women and children of the polytheists being killed during the night raid, said: They are from them.” (Muslim 4321)

There is still more. Rashid says:

3. Stop indefinite detention for POWs

The Afghan and Iraq wars are long over. Yet, America continues to maintain numerous POWs in Guantanamo Bay, and likely in other undisclosed locations. Prophet Muhammad categorically condemned this practice. After permitting Muslims to only fight in self-defense, the Qur’an 47:5 next commands Muslims to release POWs immediately as war comes to an end.

Actually, Qur’an 47:5 says: “Soon will He guide them and improve their condition.” That is not in any clear sense a command to release POW’s immediately as war comes to an end. Ibn Abbas in his commentary on this verse explains: “He will give them success to perform righteous deeds (and improve their state) and improve their condition and intention; it is also said that this means: He will save them in the Hereafter and improve their state and accept their works on the Day of Judgement.” To whom is Ibn Abbas referring? Not to prisoners of war, but (according to his gloss on 47:4) to “those who are killed in obedience of Allah on the Day of Badr, referring here to the prophetic Companions.” Ibn Kathir interprets the verse in a similar way, without any reference to freeing prisoners of war at the end of the war.

Without mentioning this anomaly, Rashid goes on:

Maintaining POWs well after the war has ended creates distrust and animosity among allies and enemies alike, and is beneath the standard of a civilized country. Rather than usurp human rights with indefinite detention, rather than provide propaganda material to extremists, rather than violate its own Constitution and international law, we should all learn from Prophet Muhammad’s example, and justly release POWs.

4. Stop mistreating POWs

POWs, during and after the war must be treated with the dignity all human beings deserve. Historian Sir William Muir well records how Prophet Muhammad commanded his companions to treat POWs:

The Refugees had houses of their own, received the prisoners with kindness and consideration. “Blessings on the men of Medina!” said one of these in later days: “they made us ride, while they themselves walked afoot; they gave us wheaten bread to eat when there was little of it, contenting themselves with dates.” It is not surprising, therefore, that some of the captives, yielding to these influences, declared themselves Believers, and to such their liberty was at once granted. The rest were kept for ransom. Such as had nothing to give were liberated without payment; but a service was required… To each were allotted ten boys, to be taught the art of writing; and the teaching was accepted as a ransom.

Mind you, this was at a time in Arabia when Muslims captured during battle suffered the fate of torture and death. Yet, in response, Muslims demanded the ransom of education, fed POWs with their own food and sheltered them with their own shelter. Once war ended, Muhammad immediately released all POWs. This is how he brought lasting peace to a former Arabian wasteland engulfed in constant war.

Mistreating POW’s: “When Muhammad saw Hamzah he said, ‘If Allah gives me victory over the Quraysh at any time, I shall mutilate thirty of their men!’ When the Muslims saw the rage of the Prophet they said, ‘By Allah, if we are victorious over them, we shall mutilate them in a way which no Arab has ever mutilated anybody.” (Al-Tabari, vol. 7, p. 133; cf. Ibn Ishaq 387)

And: “Anas reported: Eight men of the tribe of ‘Ukl came to Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) and swore allegiance to him on Islam, but found the climate of that land uncogenial to their health and thus they became sick, and they made complaint of that to Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him), and he said: Why don’t you go to (the fold) of our camels along with our shepherd, and make use of their milk and urine. They said: Yes. They set out and drank their (camels’) milk and urine and regained their health. They killed the shepherd and drove away the camels. This (news) reached Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) and he sent them on their track and they were caught and brought to him (the Holy Prophet). He commanded about them, and (thus) their hands and feet were cut off and their eyes were gouged and then they were thrown in the sun, until they died.” (Sahih Muslim 4131)

Rashid concludes with a dishonest coup de grace:

5. Stop justifying torture

Nothing justifies the torture the CIA meted out to those 119 human beings. Indeed, in response to those arguing safety, the report concludes that America was not made any safer as a result of these barbaric practices. This was just one among many reasons Prophet Muhammad categorically forbade torture.

For example, as recorded in Sahih Muslim, “Hisham ibn Hakim passed by some people in Syria who had been made to stand in the sun and had oil poured over their heads. He asked, “What is this?” It was said,

“They are being punished for not paying taxes.” Hisham said: I heard Prophet Muhammad say: “Verily, Allah will torture those who torture people in this world.” Likewise, Jabir ibn Abdullah reported that Prophet Muhammad commanded: “Do not torture the creation of Allah the Exalted.”

Indeed, Prophet Muhammad’s compassion extended beyond humans as he also specifically forbade torturing animals, declaring, “A woman was punished because of a cat she had imprisoned until it died; thus, she entered Hellfire because of it. She did not give it food or water while it was imprisoned, neither did she set it free to eat from the vermin of the earth.”

Muhammad, according to Islamic tradition, didn’t just justify torture. He ordered it: “Kinana b. al-Rabi`, who had the custody of the treasure of B. al-Nadir, was brought to the apostle who asked him about it. He denied that he knew where it was. A Jew came (T. was brought) to the apostle and said that he had seen Kinana going round a certain ruin every morning early. When the apostle said to Kinana, ‘Do you know that if we find you have it I shall kill you?’ he said Yes. The apostle gave orders that the ruin was to be excavated and some of the treasure was found. When he asked him about the rest he refused to produce it, so the apostle gave orders to al-Zubayr b. al-Awwam, ‘Torture him until you extract what he has,’ so he kindled a fire with flint and steel on his chest until he was nearly dead. Then the apostle delivered him to Muhammad b. Maslama and he struck off his head, in revenge for his brother Mahmud.” (Ibn Ishaq 515).

After his tour de force of disingenuousness, Rashid concludes:

It is not a lack of intelligence, but a lack of morality that permitted this barbaric act of torture to occur at all. The CIA, ISIS, and indeed the world at large can learn volumes about compassion, justice, mercy, and morality from Prophet Muhammad, the man who successfully brought peace to a warring world.

The world is warring all over today because of Muhammad’s teachings. It is a peculiar lack of morality that would create this deceptive piece, with its calculated omissions and frankly false conclusion. If Rashid is asked about this post, he will sneer that it is not peer-reviewed; he will not answer any of its substantive refutations of his dishonest claims. He cannot do so — both because the traditions about Muhammad don’t bear out his claims, and because of his own intellectual and moral dishonesty.

Qasim Rashid apparently doesn’t want the world to know that Muhammad commanded and approved of torture. He wants people to think that he forbade it. The effect of this will be to foster ignorance and complacency about the jihad threat. The blood of the next victims tortured by Islamic jihadists will cry out to Qasim Rashid from the ground on which it is spilled.