American aid worker Kayla Mueller was regularly raped by the head of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in the months between her capture by ISIS in August 2013 and her death last February. The Western media have been quick to claim that the 26-year-old’s ordeal was due to a particularly perverted, un-Islamic ideology of al-Baghdadi and his group. According to The New York Times (August 14), “the ISIS leadership has emphasized a narrow and selective reading of the Quran and other religious rulings to not only justify violence, but also to elevate and celebrate each sexual assault as spiritually beneficial, even virtuous.”
There is nothing “narrow or selective” to be read. In the attack against the tribe of Banu-‘l-Mustaliq in 626, Muhammad’s followers slaughtered many tribesmen and looted thousands of their camels and sheep; they also kidnapped some of their “excellent women.” The night after the battle, according to the Hadith, Muhammad and his followers staged an orgy of rape. As one Abu Sa’id al-Khadri remembered, a problem needed to be resolved first: In order to obtain ransom from the surviving tribesmen, the Muslims had pledged not to violate their captives.
We . . . desired them, for we were suffering from the absence of our wives, but at the same time we also desired ransom for them. So we decided to have sexual intercourse with them but by observing ‘azl [coitus interruptus]. But we said: We are doing an act whereas Allah’s Messenger is amongst us; why not ask him? So we asked Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him), and he said: It does not matter if you do not do it, for every soul that is to be born up to the Day of Resurrection will be born. (Sahih Muslim, Book 8, No. 3371)
In telling his companions to go ahead and rape their captive married women without practicing al-‘azl, the only contentious issue was whether the victims’ ransom value would be diminished or lost completely if they were returned pregnant to their husbands. Muhammad’s revelations had already sanctioned the rape of captive women, and the above hadith explicitly references Kuran:
And all married women are forbidden unto you except those captives whom your right hand possesses. It is a decree of Allah for you. Lawful unto you are all beyond those mentioned, so that you seek them with your wealth in honest wedlock, not debauchery. (Kuran, 4:24)
In early 627, Muhammad repelled an attack by the Meccan coalition against Medina. In the flush of victory he attacked the last Jewish tribe in Medina, Banu Qurayzah, which he accused of disloyalty. Some 900 men were decapitated at the ditch, in front of their women and children. “Truly the judgment of Allah was pronounced on high” was Muhammad’s comment. “And He has caused to descend from their strongholds the Jews that assisted them,” Allah added. “And he struck terror into their hearts.” (Kuran 33:25) The women were subsequently raped. Muhammad chose as his own concubine one Raihana bint Amr, whose father and husband were both slaughtered before her eyes only hours earlier; such treatment had already been sanctioned by prophetic revelation. As for the captured husbands, fathers, sons, or brothers, the messages now grew ever harsher: “Take him and fetter him and expose him to hell fire. And then insert him in a chain whereof the length is seventy cubits.” (Kuran 69:30-37)
Muhammad admitted that two things in the world, women and perfume, attracted him—so much so that, flushed with success, he departed from his own laws and claimed his privilege as a prophet in pursuit of the former. Contrary to his own regulations, he had at least fifteen wives, some sources claim up to twenty-five. The youngest of them was Aisha, who was seven years old “and with the dolls” when Muhammad – 44 years her senior – “married” her, and two years later he consummated the marriage. According to Islam’s own impeccably orthodox sources which are not a matter of dispute, Muhammad (53) started having regular penetrative intercourse with Aisha when she was a pre-pubescent minor (9).
Some years later an Egyptian Christian slave girl, Maryah, aroused Muhammad’s passion for nights on end, which provoked a rebellion in his harem. Divine assistance was in the end needed to restore order in the household, with the Kuranic verse approvingly telling Muhammad not to restrain himself from “that which Allah has made lawful to you,” only for the sake of pleasing his wives. (Kuran 66:1-3) Thus authorized, Muhammad repudiated his disobedient wives for a month and dedicated himself to taking full advantage of his ownership over Maryah.
Aisha was a “wife,” slave women are property, but in terms of their use as objects of carnal pleasure the difference is entirely notional. The Kuran is unambiguous: “Men are in charge of women because Allah has made the one of them excel the other.” (4:34) It is for the woman to act as her husband asks, since he is a step above her. (2:228) According to Allah’s message to men, “Your wives are as a soil to be cultivated unto you; so approach your tilth when or how ye will.” (2:223) Muhammad saw Hell, and the majority of its dwellers were women, because “they are not thankful to their husbands.” (Al-Bukhari, Vol. 7, p. 96) Allah commands that disobedient wives be admonished at first, then beaten. (4:34) The husband’s sexual needs have to be satisfied immediately and unquestioningly: “When a man calls his wife to his bed, and she does not respond, the One Who is in the heaven is displeased with her until he is pleased with her . . . When a man invites his wife to his bed and she does not come, and he (the husband) spends the night being angry with her, the angels curse her until morning.” (Sahih Muslim II, p. 723)
Not all Muslims can afford several wives, let alone young slave girls, but they are therefore offered, in the hereafter, the joys and glories of paradise which are tangible and eminently sensual. The charms of resplendent and ravishing girls—houris—will eclipse all earthly glories. “But the pious shall be in a secure place, amid gardens and fountains, clothed in silk and richest robes, facing one another: Thus shall it be: and we will wed them to the virgins with large dark eyes.” (Kuran 44:51-54) Their breasts are kawa’eb—swelling and firm, not sagging. To enjoy them in full, Allah will give each Muslim 72 houris and the manliness of a hundred mortals in this heaven of perpetual youth and copulation, “all that they desire.” (25:15-16)
While both the Old and New Testaments recognized slavery, the Gospels do not treat the institution as divinely ordained. The slaves are human, and all men are equal in the eyes of God regardless of their status in this life: “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” Slavery was to early Christians a fact of life, and a thing of men. The Kuran, by contrast, not only assumes the existence of slavery as a permanent fact of life, but regulates its practice in considerable detail and therefore endows it with divine sanction.
Muhammad and his companions owned slaves, or acquired them in war. Muhammad’s scripture recognizes the rights of the former over the latter. (Kuran 16:71; 30:28) Of course a Muslim slave-owner was entitled by law and divine command to the sexual enjoyment of his slave women. The Kuran assures the Muslim the right to own slaves (to “possess their necks”) either by purchasing them or as bounty of war. (58:3) Muhammad had dozens of them, both male and female, and he regularly sold, purchased, hired, rented, and exchanged slaves when he became independently wealthy in Medina after the confiscation of Jewish property. Divine sanction of slavery means that disobedience carries everlasting punishment.
There is no “broad” or “narrow” reading of the Kuran, as The New York Times and countless other organs of Western Islamophilia would have us believe. A Muslim is not free to believe or do what he wishes. The basis of the social and legal order and obligation in Islam is the Kuran, the final and perfect revelation of Allah’s will that is to be obeyed by all creation. (4:105) The Islamic law, the Shari’a, is not a supplement to the “secular” legal code, it is the only such code and the only basis of obligation, because a Muslim’s only true allegiance is to Allah, and to Muhammad: “He who obeys the Messenger, obeys Allah.” (Kuran 4:8) Islam is a revealed religion, strongly focused on its grounding in history, in the historical person of Muhammad, his revelation and his example. Events as they happened, with all recorded or alleged words and deeds of the Prophet, are the foundation of the faith, law, and social convention. Even his apparently trivial actions and utterances were passed on as rules and mode of conduct, in accordance with the Kuranic statement that Muhammad is “a beautiful pattern (of conduct).” (Kuran 33:21) His sayings and acts guide the lives of all true Muslims to this day, including his rape of enslaved girls and women and his rape of a prepubescent “wife.” Muhammed offers the eternal model of behavior for every little detail of everyday life for all time.
That Muhammad’s actions and words, as immortalized in the Kuran and recorded in the Traditions, are frankly shocking by the standards of our time and punishable by its laws goes without saying. There are hundreds of contemporary Western apologists, however, who argue that we must not extend the judgmental yardstick of our own culture to the members of other cultures who have lived in other eras. Even in the context of seventh century Arabia, however, Muhammad had to resort to divine revelations as a means of suppressing the prevalent moral code of his own milieu. Indulging with considerable abandon one’s sensual passions was so fundamentally at odds with the moral standards of his own Arab contemporaries that only the ultimate authority could, and did, sanction it.
As an Edwardian author put it in the blunt language still allowed in his time, the problem with Muhammad’s behavior is not that he was a Bedouin, but that he was a morally degenerate Bedouin. His moral degeneracy makes Islam what it is, what has been through history, and what it will always be unless it becomes something else. That it is the only religion that positively condones and regulates slavery and rape is but one of its many unpleasant distinctions.
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