The Killing of Abu 'Afak and Asma' bint Marwan?

Published on: Monday 19 Sep, 2005

By: administrator
Hesham Azmy

The vulgar Christian missionary, Silas, has accused Prophet Muhammad(P) of being responsible for the killing Abu ‘Afak and ‘Asma bint Marwan. The implications of these charges are that he(P) “stiffles” criticism by murdering his opponents. In this paper, insha’allah, we are going to refute these false charges against the Holy Prophet(P), wa Allah-ul-Must’aan.

Islamic Methodology of Reports’ Evaluation

We must explain the methodology of Muslim scholars before we comment on any Islamic report. Take for example the news reported on Presidents today! If the Vice-President gives a certain statement concerning the opinion of the President in a certain matter, then this statement is transmitted by a member of the secretary to a journalists who published it in the newspaper, what is the value of this report?

Our answer is that it could be right or wrong and we cannot be sure unless we know the reliability of the source.

If we find that the report is indeed transmitted by the secretary member on authority of the Vice-President and that each of them is well known for accuracy in transmission and truthfulness in speech, how can we evaluate this report?

Our answer is that we tend to believe it.

This is exactly what Muslim scholars require in any report to be valid and its attribution to God’s Messenger(P) can be accepted. They actually add two more things; they must make sure that the report itself is not contradictory to other more authentic reports otherwise it will be considered eccentric! Also, they must exclude any hidden flaws in the text of the report, these flaws are detailed in specialized volumes of Hadith.

Can we then accept the report as valid?

Not yet. After we had verified that the chain of transmitters is intact without interruption and that all reporters are honest, sane individuals, we must make sure that each reporter has received the report directly from the preceding one and that the report itself is in agreement with other authentic reports without flaws. The eminent hafiz Ibn Kathir states that:

Authentic Hadith is the transmitted hadith whose chain is continuous through transmission of an accurate sane memorizer on authority of an accurate sane memorizer till its termination without being eccentric or flawed.1

Is there a method more precise and meticulous than this?

There is no nation in the entire history that took care of reporting events and their verification as the Muslims have done. The Western Orientalist Bernard Lewis notes that

From an early date Muslim scholars recognized the danger of false testimony and hence false doctrine, and developed an elaborate science for criticizing tradition. “Traditional science”, as it was called, differed in many respects from modern historical source criticism, and modern scholarship has always disagreed with evaluations of traditional scientists about the authenticity and accuracy of ancient narratives. But their careful scrutiny of the chains of transmission and their meticulous collection and preservation of variants in the transmitted narratives give to medieval Arabic historiography a professionalism and sophistication without precedent in antiquity and without parallel in the contemporary medieval West. By comparison, the historiography of Latin Christendom seems poor and meagre, and even the more advanced and complex historiography of Greek Christendom still falls short of the historical literature of Islam in volume, variety and analytical depth.2

Then we talk about historical references written by Muslim authors. First of all, these books are not trustworthy references due to the fact that they do not follow proper methodology of transmission.

Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal sums up the Muslim point of view as regards the trustworthiness of the biographical reports when he declares that the biographies

…are not based on any principle.

The early Muslim scholars who compiled books of hadith and scrutinized this particular field undertook thorough and painstaking investigations to determine the authenticity of the reports from the Holy Prophet’s time by tracing them back to eye-witnesses of the time, through unbroken lines of reliable narrators. As a result, they never held a high opinion of the biographies whose authors had simply copied masses of reports without check or criticism. One such scholar of hadith, Hafiz Zayn al-Abidin of Iraq says about the biographies as follows:

The student should know that the biographies contain all kinds of reports, both true and false.

We believe that this should make us depend only upon reliable sources that have been properly authenticated by Muslim specialists in the Hadith sciences.

The Killing of Abu ‘Afak: Where is The Isnad?

According to Ibn Sa’d and Ibn Ishaq, Abu ‘Afak was a 120 years old Jewish man who had abused the Prophet(P) verbally, so the latter launched a raid under the command of Salha Ibn ‘Umar to kill him. We do know that Ibn Ishaq lived in the 2nd half of the 2nd century after Hijra, as well as Al-Waqi from whom Ibn Sa’d (died 230 A.H.) copied the story of Abu ‘Afak.

As explained above, the chain of reporters of the story from eye-witnesses of the event till Ibn Ishaq or Al-Waqi must be examined and verified. So, our legitimate question is: where is the isnad (i.e., chain of reporters)?

Unfortunately, references of the Sahih do not provide such information. Actually, we are told that this story has no isnad at all; neither Ibn Ishaq (or his disciple Ibn Hisham) nor Al-Waqi (or his disciple Ibn Sa’d) had provided such a thing! In this case, the story is rated by hadith scholars as “…of no basis”, indicating that it has reached the lowest degree of criticism regarding its isnad. This is in fact a proper scientific position because we cannot accept such a problematic story without evidence.

In brief, we have no commitment to accept such a baseless story — according to scientific criteria of hadith criticism — which strangely had appeared in the 2nd half of the 2nd century after Hijra. We are therefore obliged to reject the story of the killing of Abu ‘Afak by Salha Ibn ‘Umar at the Prophet’s command.

The Killing of Asma’: True Story or Forgery?

Basically the charge is that the Prophet(P) had ordered the killing of Asma’ when she insulted him with her poetry. As it is usually the case where the history of Islam and the character of the Prophet(P) is concerned, it is left to the Muslims to throw some light on authenticity of the story in which this incident is reported by the sources and educate the missionaries in matters which they have no clue about.

The story of the killing of Asma’ bint Marwan is mentioned by Ibn Sa’d in Kitab At-Tabaqat Al-Kabir3 and by the author of Kinz-ul-’Ummal under number 44131 who attributes it to Ibn Sa’d, Ibn ‘Adiyy and Ibn ‘Asaker. What is interesting is that Ibn ‘Adiyy mentions it in his book Al-Kamel on the authority of Ja’far Ibn Ahmad Ibn Muhammad Ibn As-Sabah on authority of Muhammad Ibn Ibrahim Ash-Shami on authority of Muhammad Ibn Al-Hajjaj Al-Lakhmi on authority of Mujalid on authority of Ash-Shu’abi on authority of Ibn ‘Abbas, and added that

…this isnad (chain of reporters) is not narrated on authority of Mujalid but by Muhammad Ibn Al-Hajjaj and they all (other reporters in the chain) accuse Muhammad Ibn Al-Hajjaj of forging it.4

It is also reported by Ibn al-Gawzi in Al-’Ilal5 and is listed among other flawed reports. So according to its isnad the report is forged – because one of its reporters is notorious for fabricating hadith. Hence, such a story is rejected and is better off being put into the trash can.

Prophetic Attitude Toward Women and Old Men in War

Here we are going to discuss the authentic Sunnah of the Holy Prophet(P) regarding women and old men in war. No baseless or forged reports are allowed here; we will only display authentic reports.

In brief, the authentic Sunnah of the Prophet(P) prohibits the killing of women in war.

Narrated Anas bin Malik: A Jewish woman brought a poisoned (cooked) sheep for the Prophet who ate from it. She was brought to the Prophet and he was asked, “Shall we kill her?” He said, “No.” I continued to see the effect of the poison on the palate of the mouth of God?s Apostle.6

The Prophet(P) refused to kill a woman who did intentionally try to poison him, but the Christian missionaries, by using a fabricated story, wants us to believe that he ordered the killing of a woman who only abused him verbally.

Narrated Ibn ‘Umar: Messenger of God (peace be upon him) saw the corpse of a woman who had been slain in one of the raids, and he disapproved of it and forbade the killing of women and children.7

Due to this prohibition, scholars of Abu Hanifah’s madhab (school of thought) have stated that apostate women are not to be killed because the Prophet(P) forbade the killing of women, and since the prohibition is general it includes apostate women.8

Even after the Prophet’s demise, his Sunnah remain preserved by the Muslims:

Abu Bakr advised Yazid: “I advise you ten things: Do not kill women or children or an aged, infirm person. Do not cut down fruit-bearing trees. Do not destroy an inhabited place. Do not slaughter sheep or camel except for food. Do not burn bees and do not scatter them. Do not steal from the booty, and do not be cowardly.”9

Conclusion

The Western Orientalist Bernard Lewis notes that

From an early date Muslim scholars recognized the danger of false testimony and hence false doctrine, and developed an elaborate science for criticizing tradition.10

We have utilized their scientific methodology to expose the false narratives attributed to the Prophet(P) about the alleged killing of Abu ‘Afak and Asma’ bint Marwan. Examination of the isnad (i.e., chain of reports) has revealed the unreliability of both stories. Also, an examination of the matn (i.e., text) has revealed their inevitable contradiction with vigorously authentic traditions and established Islamic principles. ‘Abd Rahman I. Doi had stated that:

As far as the Matn is concerned, the following principles of criticism of the Hadith are laid down:

(1) The Hadith should not be contrary to the text or the teaching of the Qur’an or the accepted basic principles of Islam.
(2) The Hadith should not be against the dictates of reason or laws of nature and common experience.
(3) The Hadith should not be contrary to the Traditions which have already been accepted by authorities as reliable and authentic by applying all principles.
(4) The Hadith which sings the praises and excellence of any tribe, place or persons should be generally rejected
(5) The Hadith that contains the dates and minute details of the future events should be rejected.
(6) The Hadith that contains some remarks of the Prophet which are not in keeping with the Islamic belief of Prophethood and the position of the Holy Prophet or such expressions as may not be suitable to him, should be rejected.11

But critics may have an objection: if these stories are false, then why they are mentioned in Islamic references in the first place? In response, we have earlier shown the position of learned Muslim scholars toward these references in the biographies, whose authors used to relate hundreds of reports without checking them or relying on serious criticism. These particular stories even proved their unscientific methodology because they are reported without isnad at all. This is extremely irregular of any respectable scholar. Ibn Jarir At-Tabari (224-310 A.H.) in his encyclopedic book of history Tarikh Al-Umam wa Al-Mulid not give mention of these stories at all despite the fact that he had mentioned far less significant reports in his work.

Hence, based on the empirical evidence, we can therefore conclude that the so-called “killing” of Abu ‘Afak and Asma’ bint Marwan respectively are inherently false and had never happened. This certainly throws the spanner into the works of the missionary’s conclusions, which is based upon nothing but hatred, paranoia and xenophobia towards the elect Apostle of God, Muhammad (P).

And Allah knows best.

  1. Ibn Kathir, Al-Ba’ith Al-Hadi (Maktabat-us-Sunnah, Cairo, Egypt), p. 28 [back]
  2. Bernard Lewis, Islam In History (Open Court Publishing, 1993), pp. 104-105 [back]
  3. Ibn Sa’d, Kitab At-Tabaqat Al-Kabir, Vol. 1, pp. 27-28 [back]
  4. Ibn ‘Adiyy, Al-Kamel, Vol. 6, p. 145 [back]
  5. Ibn al-Gawzi, Al-’Ilal, Vol. 1, p. 279 [back]
  6. Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 3, Bk. 47, No. 786 [back]
  7. Ibid., Vol. 4, Bk. 52, No. 257 & 258. Also see Mutta Malik, Book 21, Section 3, Number 9 [back]
  8. Al-Hasafky, Sharh Ad-Durr-el-Mukhtar, Volume 1, p. 483 [back]
  9. Mutta Malik, Book 21, Section 3, Number 10 [back]
  10. Bernard Lewis, op. cit., pp.104-105 [back]
  11. ‘Abd Rahman I. Doi, Introduction to the Hadith (A.S. Nordeen, 2001), p. 15 [back]

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Category: Muhammad