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Rice University’s Craig Considine and fantasy of Islam

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Rice University’s Craig Considine and fantasy of Islam

Rice University’s Craig Considine and fantasy of Islam

Dr. Stephen M. Kirby

Dr. Craig Considine is a Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at Rice University, a private university in Houston, Texas. According to the university’s website, it “is ranked among the nation’s top 20 universities by U.S. News & World Report.”

In July 2020 Considine’s new book, The Humanity of Muhammad: A Christian View, was published. A Rice University book review described this book:

A new book from a Rice University sociologist explores the life and impact of the Prophet Muhammad and his deep commitment to humanity, a side often misrepresented in mainstream depictions and media narratives…[the book] offers a research-based analysis of the prophet’s teachings and example.

Unfortunately for readers who know little if anything about Islam, Considine’s book not only misrepresents “the life and impact” of Muhammad, but it is based on Considine’s version of Fantasy Islam.

Let’s look at some examples of Considine’s Fantasy Islam found in the book. We’ll start off looking at one of Considine’s “favorite stories about Muhammad” that he has told in presentations made “around the world.”

The Christians of Najran

On pp. 24-25 Considine wrote about the Christians of Najran visiting Muhammad in Medina in the year 631 and that it

…represents one of the first examples of Muslim-Christian dialogue, but more importantly, one of the first acts of religious pluralism in Islamic history.

Considine wrote that this was one of his “favorite stories about Muhammad” and a topic he had “covered in many speeches and lectures around the world” (p. 33). The reality is that Considine has created a false story by mixing together two separate incidents and leaving out significant information about each one. Let’s look at that false story.

According to Considine (pp. 34-36), around June 631 Muhammad sent Khalid ibn al-Walid to “preach” to the Christians of Najran. Al-Walid stayed with those Christians and ultimately asked them to embrace Islam. Muhammad dispatched another Muslim, Mughira ibn Shu’ba with a letter inviting those Christians to visit Muhammad in Medina. The delegation arrived and Muhammad “welcomed” them to his mosque where Christians and Muslims “openly discussed matters of governance, politics, and theology.” Considine wrote that, according to the Muslim scholar Ibn Hisham, the Christians asked to leave the conversation and walk out of the mosque so they could engage in their prayers. Muhammad told the Christians they were already in a house of God and they could conduct their prayers inside the mosque. The Christians did so, and Considine wrote:

Providing the Najranis a place to pray showed Muhammad’s vision for the umma, one that was anchored in freedom of religion and freedom of conscience, as well as hospitality and care for strangers and guests.

Considine pointed out that the Christians did not accept Muhammad’s invitation to become Muslims, but they left …with a covenant with Muhammad, who agreed to protect their life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.

This is certainly a story that warms the hearts of those hearing it. The only problem is that it is fictitious.

Let’s start off with Khalid being sent to “preach” to those Christians. In June/July of 631 Muhammad sent Khalid ibn al-Walid, already known as the Sword of Allah, with a force of 400 Muslims to the Banu al-Harith b. Ka’b in Najran. Khalid was ordered to spend three days inviting them to Islam. If they accepted, he was to stay with them and teach them about Islam. If they declined, he was to fight them. The Banu al-Harith chose not to fight and accepted Islam.

Khalid provided the following information in a letter he sent to Muhammad after the Banu al-Harith had accepted Islam:

You sent me to the Banu al-Harith b. Ka’b and ordered that, when I came to them, I should not fight them for three days and that I should invite them to Islam. [You also ordered that] if they accepted it, I should accept it from them and teach them the requirements of Islam…If they did not accept Islam, I was to fight them…They have surrendered and did not fight, and I am staying in their midst…

Muhammad responded:

Your letter has reached me via your messenger with the news that the Banu al-Harith surrendered before they fought and responded to your invitation to Islam.

In January 632, at Muhammad’s request, Khalid returned to Medina with a delegation from the Banu al-Harith. When the delegation met him, Muhammad said:

If Khalid had not written to me that you had accepted Islam and had not fought I would throw your heads beneath your feet.

So according to authoritative Muslim scholars, Khalid was sent to Najran not to “preach” about Islam but rather at the head an army of 400 Muslim warriors to give a non-Muslim tribe the choice of converting to Islam or fighting.

It is interesting that the above correspondence between Muhammad and Khalid, and Muhammad’s statement to the delegation of the Banu al-Harith, is found in the very source and on the very same pages that Considine listed in Endnote 13 on p. 154 of his book. But Considine simply ignored this information.

What about the Christian delegation from Najran that arrived and prayed in Muhammad’s mosque? In 631 Muhammad sent a letter to the Prelate of Najran “inviting” the people of Najran to convert to Islam, pay the Jizyah, or fight. Here is what Muhammad wrote:

“In the Name of the God of Ibrahim, Ishaq and Ya’qoob. From Muhammad, Allah’s Messenger, to the prelate and to the people of Najran; if you accept Islam then I will give praise to the God of Ibrahim, Ishaq and Ya’qoob. I am inviting you to the worship of Allah away from the worship of slaves; I invite you to the Authority of Allah away from the authority of slaves. However, if you decline, then it is incumbent on you to pay the Jizyah. If you reject, then I warn you of a war.”

After consulting with his advisers, the Prelate decided to send a delegation to meet with Muhammad. When the delegation arrived in Medina, they entered the Prophet’s Mosque where Muhammad was praying. It was also the time for the Christians to pray, and Muhammad allowed them to pray in the Mosque. However, Muhammad refused to meet with the delegation at that time because they were dressed in fine clothes. The delegation consulted with some high-level Muslims and were advised to change into “journey clothes.” The delegation did so, and Muhammad then agreed to meet with them. Muhammad asked the delegation to convert to Islam, but they declined to do so. After a certain amount of theological discussion, the delegation declined again to accept Muhammad’s invitation to become Muslims. Instead, they agreed to a treaty in which Muhammad “ordered them to pay Al-Jizyah.” Here are excerpts from that treaty:

In the name of Allah, the compassionate, the merciful. The following is what the Messenger of Allah, Muhammad, wrote to Najran, at whose disposal were all their fruits, their gold, silver and domestic utensils, and their slaves, but which he benevolently left for them, assessing on them two thousands robes each having the value of one aukiyah, one thousand to be delivered in [the month of] Rajab every year, and one thousand in [the month of] Safar of every year…It is also binding on them to offer as loan thirty coats of mail, thirty mares and thirty camels, in case of war in al-Yaman…Najran and their followers are entitled to the protection of Allah and to the security of Muhammad the Prophet, the Messenger of Allah.

The delegation then left Medina.

Considine has gone “around the world” talking about the delegation from Najran visiting Muhammad and how this was “one of the first acts of religious pluralism in Islamic history.” The reality is that Considine has mixed together two different events. In doing so, he left out the fact that in the first event the non-Muslims converted to Islam after being confronted by 400 Muslim warriors and given the choice of converting to Islam or fighting. And in the second event Muhammad had offered the non-Muslims the choice of converting to Islam, paying the jizyah, or war; their choice was to pay the jizyah. The facts about both of these events are readily available, and some are even listed in a source Considine noted. But unfortunately Considine has gone around the world presenting his fantasy version and misinforming his audiences.

The People of the Book are “believers”

On p. 114 Considine wrote this about the “People of the Book”:

The Holy Qur’an provides Jews, Christians, and Muslims with this honorable title that effectively unites monotheistic believers into a “super-religion,” or perhaps we should call it a “super-tribe.”

The Koran does not give this “honorable title” to Muslims; the People of the Book are Jews and Christians. Muhammad was specific about this:

It was narrated from ‘Amr bin Shu’aib, from his father, from his grandfather, that the Messenger of Allah ruled that the blood money for the People of the Book is half of that of the blood money for the Muslims, and they are the Jews and Christians.

And here is some of what the Koran has to say about the People of the Book:

Many of the People of the Book have enmity and hatred toward Muslims (2:109); the People of the Book mix truth with falsehood and conceal the truth (3:71); the People of the Book know that Islam is the true faith but they reject it anyway and hinder those seeking to follow Islam (3:98-99); Allah commands the People of the Book to believe in Islam and Muhammad, or he will “efface faces and turn them hindwards” (4:47); Muslims are commanded to fight the People of the Book until those People pay the jizyah “with willing submission and feel themselves subdued” (9:29); and, if the People of the Book don’t believe in Islam, then they are among the worst of creatures and they will abide in the Fires of Hell (98:6).

Considine was also wrong to claim that Christians and Jews are considered “believers” by Muslims. In Islam “believers” are Muslims, and there are numerous Koran verses and teachings of Muhammad differentiating between “believers,” and Christians and Jews. Here are some Koran verses that specifically state that Christians and Jews (People of the Book/Scripture) are not “believers”; I have not included the entire verse but have just noted the differentiations being made):

2:62 – “those who believe,” and “Jews and Christians”;

2:120 – the “religion” of “Jews” and “Christians,” and that of Muhammad;

3:99 – “people of the Scripture” and “those who have believed”;

3:110 – “had the people of the Scripture believed, it would have been better for them”;

5:51 – “O you who believe! Take not the Jews and Christians as Auliya’”;

5:65 – “And if only the people of the Scripture had believed”;

5:69 – “Surely those who believe, and those who are the Jews and the Sabians and the Christians”;

5:82 – “Surely you will find the strongest among men in enmity to the believers the Jews…the nearest in love to the believers those who say: ‘We are Christians”;

22:17 – “Verily, those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Sabians, and the Christians”

For more information showing that Christians and Jews are not “believers” from the Muslim standpoint, see my article “The Fantasy Islam of the University of Chicago’s Fred Donner, Part 1.”

Benjamin Franklin cited Muhammad’s merciful approach toward combatants

On p. 57 Considine wrote that in the 1760’s Benjamin Franklin had criticized the Paxton Boys, a frontier militia group, for killing American Indians in what became known as the Conestoga Massacre. Franklin had contrasted this to the actions of Muhammad when Khalid bin al-Walid had ordered the killing of prisoners who had surrendered and laid down their arms. Khalid killed some of the prisoners, but some of his men would not follow his orders to kill their prisoners. Franklin claimed that Muhammad “applauded the men for their humanity” and condemned the actions of Khalid. According to Considine, this showed Franklin’s “respect for Muhammad.”

Franklin had the general story about Khalid’s actions correct. But both Franklin and Considine apparently failed to look into the the details of that story. Had they understood those details, they would have understood the real reason for Muhammad’s reaction. Here are those details.

In January 630 Muhammad sent a 350-man detachment under Khalid bin al-Walid to invite the Banu Jadhimah to Islam. When confronted, the Banu Jadhimah said they were already Muslims and laid down their weapons. The Muslims bound them and later beheaded many of them because Khalid did not think they were really Muslims. When Muhammad heard about this, he sent an envoy to pay “blood money” and compensation for property that had been taken. Here is why Muhammad ordered the payment of “blood money” and compensation:

Narrated Salim’s father: The Prophet sent Khalid bin Al-Walid to the tribe of Jadhima; and Khalid invited them to Islam but they could not express themselves by saying: “Aslamna (i.e., we have embraced Islam),” but they started saying: “Saba’na! Saba’na (i.e., we have come out of one religion to another).” Khalid kept on killing (some of) them and taking (some of) them as captives.

Muhammad was upset with Khalid because it turned out that the Banu Jadhimah had earlier converted to Islam, just as they were claiming. So Khalid had actually killed fellow Muslims, which is forbidden in Islam.

However, when it came to killing non-Muslim prisoners Muhammad had no qualms, as we can see when in 627 he supervised the beheading of 600-900 captured Jewish males, combatants and non-combatants, of the Banu Qurayzah tribe. Although one could argue that Muhammad did show them some “consideration.” Because it was a hot summer day, Muhammad felt some compassion for those waiting to be beheaded:

The Messenger of God said, “Be good to your captives. Let them rest; quench their thirst until they are cool. Then, kill those who remain. Do not apply both the heat of the sun and the heat of the weapons.” It was a summer’s day. They let them rest. They quenched their thirst and fed them. When they were cool the Messenger of God began to kill those who were left.

After the men were executed, Muhammad divided the Jewish women and children among his Muslim warriors, while keeping some of the women back to be later sold for horses and weapons.

Muhammad was angry when Khalid killed fellow Muslims, but he had no problem with beheading Jewish captives and distributing their women and children among the Muslims.

This is the “humanity” of Muhammad.

In Part 2 we will learn more about Considine’s Fantasy Islam.

Dr. Stephen M. Kirby is the author of six books about Islam. His latest book is Islamic Doctrine versus the U.S. Constitution: The Dilemma for Muslim Public Officials.

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