TheReligionofPeace.com Presents:

The Myths of Muhammad

The Myth:

The Muslims were Under Persecution
from the Meccans While Living at Medina

The Truth:

This myth may owe its origin to the need for Muslim apologists to justify the more violent passages of the Qur’an’s second chapter, which was “revealed” shortly after Muhammad arrived in Medina following the hijra.  Passages from this chapter encourage believers to violence within the context of ending “tumult,” “oppression,” and “persecution.”  Because of this, contemporary Muslim readers usually apply their personal definitions to these terms and assume that the Muslims in Medina must have been under attack at the time.

Unfortunately, what Muhammad meant by “persecution” is well-defined within the historical record, and it is quite different from the popular modern-day view.  In fact, it was the Meccans who were generally acting in their own defense during this time.

Historians do not record any act of aggression by the Meccans against the Muslims during the time at which the second sura was narrated by Muhammad.  There were no armies marching against them, nor any plans for such.  The Meccans had no influence in this far-away town, and Muslims were not under persecution at the time by any stretch of the term as it is popularly understood today.  According to the sequence of events in the Sira (biography), the Meccans were quite content with leaving Muhammad alone following his eviction (even though he had made a pledge of war against them).

Common sense also tells us that had the Muslims been under actual attack then it would not have been necessary to inspire them to war.  If someone has broken into your home and is in the process of savaging your family, you do really need a formal command from Allah telling you to act in self-defense?

Muhammad's pride was hurting from his ouster, and his credibility as Allah's chosen one was damaged.  He wanted revenge.  He used his "revelations from Allah' to redefine persecution in order to convince his followers that they were under it.  He wanted them to believe that the mere fact that the Meccans had evicted them to Medina and prevented their return was grounds for marching back with a vengeful army (ie. 2:193 – “persecution is worse than slaughter”).

But it was entirely reasonable for the Meccans to evict Muhammad and prevent his return.  In the first place, the prophet of Islam had declared himself to be an armed revolutionary against them.  What town would invite a sworn enemy back within its own gates?  (Indeed, the Meccans were foolish enough to do exactly that a few years later and paid for it with the loss of their city and way of life).

The second reason that the Meccans did not want Muhammad anywhere near their town was that Islam was intolerant of other faiths and demanded sole possession of the Kaaba, the common worship area.  In other words, it wasn’t that the Meccans had a problem with Muslims circling the Kaaba, it was that Muslims wanted to bar everyone else from doing so.  This is confirmed in the Quran (Sura 9:18-19), which ordered the eviction of anyone at Mecca who refused to convert to Islam following the city's capture by Muhammad in 630.

Against this reality, the words of Sura 2 take on a different meaning:

“And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter.  And fight not with them at the Inviolable Place of Worship until they first attack you there, but if they attack you (there) then slay them.  Such is the reward of disbelievers… And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah. (Sura 2:191, 193)
Although apologists are fond of claiming that this passage is limited to matters of self-defense, the actual historical context firmly contradicts this.  Instead the verse is a justification for aggression in the cause of advancing Islamic rule.

As we have pointed out, Muhammad and his Muslims were not under attack by the Meccans.  They were not being slaughtered, hence the obvious distinction in the verse between “persecution” and slaughter.

“Persecution” thus means that Muslims living 300 miles away in Medina were simply barred from visiting Mecca and thus entering the “sacred mosque” (the Kaaba).  Muhammad was trying to convince his people that this (non-lethal) policy was justification for attacking and slaughtering the Meccans in the name of religion.

[Note: There is evidence from the Sira that Muslims were allowed to conduct pilgrimages from Medina during these years - with the exception of Muhammad.  This makes the justification for warfare all the thinner.]

The only possible reason for marching on Mecca at the time would have been to capture the Kaaba and evict the pagans (note “until religion is for Allah”).  Within its true context, the passage is therefore a manifesto for aggressive warfare against the Meccans, not a case of the Muslims being under real persecution so many miles away.

There is obvious irony in the fact that the “persecution” spoken of by Muhammad in this verse (to justify slaughter) is exactly the same sort of persecution that the Muslims were planning to impose on their adversaries… and did.  To this day, anyone who is non-Muslim is forbidden to enter the city of Mecca merely on that basis.

 

Additional Notes:

Chronology according to Muslim historians:

There is absolutely no record of Meccan aggression against the Muslims at Medina in the first three years after their arrival in 622.

Muhammad ordered the first raids against the Meccans a year after the hijra in February of 623, which eventually proved deadly.  There is no record of Meccan aggression during this time.

Word of an impending Muslim attack on a particularly rich caravan, prompted the Meccans to send an army out in defense, where they were goaded into battle and routed by the Muslims at Badr in March of 624.

The Meccans avenged their loss at Badr (and the hostages that were cruelly executed by Muhammad) by routing the Muslims at Uhud, near Medina, in March of 625.  If their ultimate objective had been to kill Muhammad and his followers, then they surely would have invaded the defenseless city and defeated them.  They obviously did not have any interest in doing this.

Muhammad behaved himself with the Meccans for one year, choosing to support himself instead by evicting local Jewish tribes and confiscating their property.  Then he began attacking caravans in April of 626.

After a year of renewed Muslim aggression, the Meccans responded by sending an army to Medina a year later in April of 627, where they failed in a siege that is known as the 'Battle of the Trench.'

As can be seen, the historical record provides absolutely no evidence that the Muslims were being threatened in any way by the Meccans, and fully supports the view that it was the latter who were acting in self-defense.  The Meccans had no interest in Muhammad and simply wanted to live in peace and pursue their commerce.  At each turn, the prophet of Islam unnecessarily harassed them with deadly and provocative actions that eventually forced battles on several occasions.

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