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Snopes and the
'Muhammad: Perfect Man'
Billboard

Fact-Checking the "Fact-Checker"


Snopes used to be a website that cared about getting it right.  It dispelled false rumors circulating the Internet and was a fairly reliable source of accurate information, particularly when it came to busting hoaxes.

My how times have changed. 

In 2017, a billboard went up in Indianapolis which many people found offensive because it made unflattering accusations about Islam's prophet Muhammad, namely that he:
  • Married a 6-year-old
  • Owned and traded slaves
  • Raped women
  • Beheaded 600 Jews in one day
  • Had 13 wives, including 11 at one time
  • Tortured and killed non-Muslims

Each of these is found in established and respected Islamic sources.  However, most articles in the mainstream media ignored this point and simply took the word of Muslim community leaders that the billboard is "cowardly," "outrageous," "bigoted," and "untrue."

One might expect better of Snopes.  Surely a website for which credibility is everything would do its homework and publish an accurate article with references to the Hadith and Sira... or would it? 

What Snopes produced instead was an article heavy on spin, light on truth.  The billboard's message was rated "mostly false" and "no where near accurate."  The only point conceded as "true" is that Muhammad had eleven wives.  The others were dismissed (mostly on the opinion of a Muslim apologist who "can't think" of any reason why they would be true).  

Here is how Snopes addressed each "False" or "Undetermined" point and why they are wrong:
 

Slaves

Snopes says that Muhammad "was known for freeing slaves, not dealing them."

Muhammad did free a few slaves.  He also made a lot more slaves out of people who weren't, such as the women and children of the tribes he conquered and/or had beheaded. This is beside the point, however.  As to whether Muhammad exchanged slaves for other slaves and material goods such as women and horses, it certainly isn't hard to verify.  Here is one example from the Sahih (authentic) Hadith:
A man decided that a slave of his would be manumitted after his death and later on he was in need of money, so the Prophet took the slave and said, "Who will buy this slave from me?" Nu'aim bin `Abdullah bought him for such and such price and the Prophet gave him the slave. Sahih Bukhari 34:351
It can't be any clearer than that.  Other examples of Muhammad's relationship with slaves, including owning and trading them, can be found here.


Rape

Snopes says that "there are no historical accounts of the Prophet committing rape."

Actually there are several accounts of Muhammad condoning and even encouraging rape.  Here is one which comes from the Sahih (reliable) Hadith:
The Apostle of Allah sent a military expedition to Awtas on the occasion of the battle of Hunain. They met their enemy and fought with them. They defeated them and took them captives. Some of the Companions of Apostle of Allah were reluctant to have relations with the female captives because of their pagan husbands. So, Allah the exalted sent down the Quranic verse “And all married women (are forbidden) unto you save those (captives) whom your right hand posses.” This is to say that they are lawful for them when they complete their waiting period. Abu Dawood 2150
If capturing a woman and then penetrating her (in front of her husband, no less) isn't rape to Snopes, then one has to wonder what they're on.  What part of this screams 'consensual sex' to them?

Raping women captured in battle was a fairly common practice of Muhammad's followers.  As the hadith indicates, his encouragement of it even became enshrined in the Quran, as was the keeping of women as sex slaves (4:24).

But perhaps sex slavery isn't rape to Snopes... hard to tell, since they pretend not to know about any of this.

(More about Muhammad and Rape here)

 

Torture

Again, Snopes claims that "there are no historical accounts of the Prophet torturing people."  (It's kind of surprising that they didn't tack on "peace be upon him").

Really?  No historical accounts of torture?  What about:

1) Beating a man who had drunk wine (Abu Dawud 4462)
2) Planting people in the ground and stoning them to death (Sahih Bukhari 93:633)
3) Cutting off hands and feet, and gouging eyes (Sahih Bukarhi 52:261)

These all come from Sahih Hadith, which is judged by Islamic scholarship to be reliable and authentic narrations of Muhammad's life.  (More accounts can be found here).

 

Married a 6-Year-Old

Snopes says Aisha's age is "undetermined."  This seems to be because, on the one hand, every reliable and authentic historical account says that Muhammad married her at age 6 and began having sex with her at age 9... but... on the other, a lot of Muslims really wish this weren't true.
Narrated `Aisha: that the Prophet married her when she was six years old and he consummated his marriage when she was nine years old. (Sahih Bukhari 62:65)
There are about a dozen authentic (sahih) hadith that faithfully record this shameful chapter of Muhammad's sex life.  This is more than enough to establish the reliability of the account, particularly since there are none from the Sahih Hadith that say otherwise.  By comparison, there is actually less support for some of the Five Pillars of Islam than the age of Aisha (not to mention the wives of Muhammad, which Snopes admits is "true"). 

The prime source that Snopes uses to "debunk" 1400 years of Islamic scholarship is an associate professor in Vancouver who happens to be a Muslim apologist!  This is sort of like accepting a character reference from an applicant's mother.  (Worse, this is the same "expert" who claims not to know of any historical accounts from Muhammad's life that involve rape, torture or slave-trading - even though these are all documented in the most prominent and respected sources of Islamic history).

While the historical references to Aisha's age when her marriage to Muhammad was "consummated" are straightforward and consistent, the Snopes academic offers a more esoteric approach to the whole subject of Islam and history.  He says that the accuracy of any account of Muhammad's life is "shaky," that Muslims "disagree" about who Muhammad was and what he did, and that "the billboard is not accurate because it doesn’t represent Muslim faith."  In other words, the facts are irrelevant against what Muslims prefer to believe about Muhammad.

Back in the real world, facts do matter.  A 9-year-old girl is not a consenting adult, and men who have sex with children should be locked up rather than revered as great prophets. 

Shockingly, Snopes cannot bring itself to denounce pedophilia.  Instead they try to rationalize the act - and even accuse the critics of being "nasty and disingenuous," rather than the 53-year-old man sleeping with a child!


Beheaded 600 Jews

Snopes says the claim that Muhammad beheaded 600 Jews is "an attempt to paint the prophet as an anti-Semite" and that the number is a source of controversy.  It also claims that the people were beheaded for "allowing an attack to happen from the inside" against the Muslims during a battle, thus implying that they deserved their fate.

It is true that the Qurayza head count is estimated in the record, although it isn't clear where the figure of "100-200" comes from, since Snopes declines to cite their source for this.  The most detailed and reliable accounts (Ibn Ishaq and Ibn Kathir) place the number at between 600 and 900 Jews.

Contrary to Snopes, there was never an "attack from the inside" during the Battle of the Trench (that apologist stratagem is further debunked here), nor is it feasible that every male in the tribe was deserving of death.  The Qurayza did not kill or harm a single Muslim.  In fact, they did not participate, since it was not their fight. 

If beheading 600-900 peaceful Jews and enslaving their wives and children makes Muhammad "look like an anti-Semite"... well, then, perhaps he was.  After all, this is the man who told his followers to "Kill any Jew who falls under your power" (Tabari 7:97) and "The Hour will not be established until you fight with the Jews, and the stone behind which a Jew will be hiding will say. "O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, so kill him" (Sahih Bukhari 52:117).  In any event, protecting Muhammad's image is not sufficient excuse for dismissing historical fact.

The beheading of the Qurayza Jews is detailed in the Sira and confirmed by the Sahih Hadith (Bukhari 59:447, among others).  This is the most respected source of Islamic history.  It is blatantly dishonest and over the top to say, as Snopes does, that any reference to the beheading is "no where near accurate" and thus qualifies as "hate speech... meant to dehumanize a segment of the population.Why would devout and dedicated Islamic historians want to dehumanize Muslims?
 

Conclusion

Snopes isn't clear about their criteria for determining what is true in this case, but it appears to be inconsistent, to say the least.  Each of the "deeds" they insist are "false" or "undetermined" are confirmed by the same evidence that supports the one deed said to be true.  

Instead of independently verifying the claims against the historical record, Snopes simply defers to the opinions of those who brazenly discount the record itself.  This is contrary to how a "fact-checking" organization might be expected to operate.

The truth about Muhammad isn't too hard to find.  Either Snopes is remarkably lazy or they are actively misleading readers to serve an agenda.  Pushing Islamic propaganda under the guise of objectivity ruins the credibility of what used to be a respected brand.

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