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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Cluedo for the lamenters of Asma Bint Marwan

It appears that a few historians and critics of Islam have yet to understand the value of the Islamic scholarship on history and its transmission through the ages. Islamic historical sources can be divided into three categories.
Seerah (Sira) or the biographies of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). These contain orally transmitted history of the life and times of the Prophet. Ibn Ishaq's Sira is the earliest known record of Holy Prophet's life, but no known transcripts survived. We rely on Ibn Hisham's rendering of Ibn Ishaq's manuscripts for reference.
Hadith and their commentaries. All narrators of these prophetic sayings and incidents from his and his companions' lives are recorded in chronological order before narrating the story or quotation.
Tafseer and other early scholarly works: Early books on Quranic exegesis also contain some historic materials not found on other books.  

It has been well established principle of Islamic scholarship that in the matter of Shariah (laws, do's and dont's) Sira books cannot be relied upon due to the poor transmission of the events from the time of the Prophet. That is why Imam Hanbal, one of the first jurist Imams specifically indicated his mistrust of Ibn Ishaq Sira for deciding on the matters of jurisprudence.
Quran remains the unaltered and unadulterated Word of God in a Muslim's eyes; the source of dispute within Islam is not the words of Quran, but what they mean? And to the more literalistic, Orthodox Sects, these words cannot mean anything more than what the Prophet or his companions or some esteemed Imams have already said.
This not only provides ammunition to the endless ongoing schisms within Islam, but also helps fuel the Islamophobic propaganda by the bigots.
From the most violent Shia-Sunni war to the ridiculous debates on whether God has hands and feet, all disputes are deeply rooted in a bunch of texts which require constant scrutiny and criticism.
I keep hearing and reading about the vengeful killings of some 'esteemed' satirist poets in Medina and Makkah ordered by the Prophet Muhammad.
Tom Holland and Douglas Murray have both mentioned Asma bint Marwan, a Jewish poetess of Medina who lampooned the Prophet and was executed by one of his companions.
The argument goes that Charlie Hebdo attack was not so out of character, considering the founder of Islam himself did not tolerate any satire aimed at him.
But the fact is that what these commentators and scholars consider to be a fact, isn't actually true.
When you read the story of Asma's alleged killing, it becomes clear that this was a poorly fabricated tale. Firstly, this incidence was only reported by Ibn Ishaq and Waqidi in their Sira and not in the more authentic books of Hadith.
One may say that this was a deliberate omission by the Hadith collectors, but then you will find many other Ahadith in their collections which could have been discarded for the same purposes. This is simply not the scholarly tradition of the collectors of Hadith. They tested all narrations based on two criteria.
a. Chain of narrators, which must be continuous and sound.
b. The content of the story. Which must match between different chains of narrators.
Even then, the Hadith scholars would class the narrations as weak, doubtful, reliable, authentic etc., based on their own opinions. Debates on individual hadith reports have raged on ever since; usually it is one of the links in the 'chain' which is found unsound, unreliable, old, suffering from amnesia or just a habitual fabricator. Very few Ahadith have been spared this criticism.
In the presence of such an unforgiving evaluation, most of these sensational stories about magic, jinns, blasphemous poets and poetesses and imagined satanic verses can be proved as fabrications or misheard, misremembered or confused accounts.
Take the tale of Asma bint Marwan. According to the Sira literature she is said to have been killed barely a year and half into Hijrah, by a blind man, in the middle of the night, in her own home.
The blind man was Umair ibn Adiyy according to Ibn Ishaq.
But Al-Qastalani states that according to Ibn Duraid the assassin was called Ghashmir.
Another source Suhaili reveals that she was murdered by her own husband.
Yet Al-Qastalani also opined that she may have been killed by her own people.
But lets for once imagine that it was the blind Umair who killed Asma the poetess with the sword, in her house.
But another historian states that Umair did not kill Asma, but his own sister, Binte Adiyy.
The murdered was blind. The most popular version of the story says that he felt his way into Asma's house, found her, identified her and then plunged a blade into her chest. Or was it his sister? Indeed he was blind.
But so are those who actually believe that this event took place.
OK, say that in the presence of such contradictory stories, one or two mavericks still wish to rely on this story as fact.
Consider this..
It is year 2 After Hijra. Muslims are in a bitter conflict with the Meccans. The battle of Badr has already taken place.  Banu Qanuqa, one of the Jewish tribes of Medina have denounced the treaty with the Muslims and have been expelled.
But why would Muslims start a conflict with their fellow Jewish citizens who remain their allies barely a year into their treaty of Medina. Such murders would certainly have antagonised the proud Jewish tribes and given them a reason to rebel.
We know for a fact that Kaa'b bin Ashraf was executed for treason around the same time. He was a leader Banu Nadir Jews in Medina, but his guilt was so obvious that no one dared to defend him or dispute the decision.
In short, Hadith books do not mention the assassination of Asma or Abu ifak (another alleged satirist), there is no concrete evidence of the event every taking place. All the circumstantial evidence is against it.
And above all, the Prophet of Islam, May peace be upon him, would never have punished those who attacked his character. If you know the man, you will also come to respect and love his nobility, forgiveness and sense of justice.

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