Extremist clerics and their ignorant followers – and Islamophobes alike – allege that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and the early caliphs of Islam killed people for mere difference in belief. Such clerics have long taught the masses in Pakistan that Islam ordered Muslims to take up the sword against anyone who claimed to be a prophet or decided to follow one. The example of Musaylimah is often presented at anti-Ahmadi conferences as the rightful Islamic fate of the Ahmadis. But was Musaylimah actually killed for his claim to prophethood? Were his followers met in battle for merely following him? Were they attacked merely for their religious choices?
Famed actor Hamza Ali Abbasi alluded to this issue in a recent post. He was responding to comments he received after taking a public stance on the rights of fellow Pakistani Ahmadis.
It is no secret that many clerics in Pakistan consider Ahmadi Muslims Wajib ul qatl (worthy of death). The indoctrination is so deep-rooted I remember a few of my medical school classmates saying they believed the appropriate punishment of an Ahmadi in an “Islamic state” was death. In such a climate of prejudice and bigotry, Mr Abbasi’s attempt at educating the masses is a breath of fresh air.
And to take this education a step further, let us take a closer look at each of these individuals who claimed to be prophets during the last few years of Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) life and immediately after.
Musaylimah: Musaylimah bin Ḥabīb was a Christian from the Banu Hanifa tribe who embraced Islam when he first visited Medina as part of his tribe’s expedition. He was a master magician who could perform quite a few tricks, and soon started advertising these as ‘miracles’ that proved his divinity. As his influence grew, in the very lifetime of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), he claimed prophethood. He even wrote a letter to the Holy Prophet (pbuh), in which he said:
“From Musaylimah, Messenger of God, to Muhammad, Messenger of God. Salutations to you. I have been given a share with you in this matter. Half the earth belongs to us and half to the Quraish. But the Quraish are people who transgress.”
Clearly, his ambitions were territorial, and he wanted a share of Arabia. So, how did Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) respond? Did he ask the Muslims to kill him because he had claimed prophethood? Did he ask Muslims to attack him and bring him to Medina? Did he ask Muslims to butcher his followers? Instead, he responded to Musaylimah’s letter in these words:
“From Muhammad, the Messenger of God, to Musaylimah, the arch-liar. Peace be upon him who follows (God’s) guidance. Now then, surely the earth belongs to God, who bequeaths it to whom He will amongst his servants. The ultimate issue is to the God-fearing.”
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) merely ignored him thereafter. All was fine, until Musaylimah’s political ambitions turned violent after the demise of the Holy Prophet (pbuh). With an army of 40,000 fully equipped men, he decided to march on the State of Medina and take it over. As the head of State, Hadhrat Abu Bakr (ra) was left with no choice but to defend Medina. He dispatched Hadhrat Ikramah (ra) with a modest force to serve as a deterrence outside Musaylimah’s camp in the valley of Yamama. Hadhrat Ikramah, and a subsequent force sent to assist him, were both defeated by Musaylimah. It was then that Hadhrat Abu Bakr (ra) sent an army of about 13,000 men under the experienced command of Khalid Bin Waleed (ra) to neutralize Musaylimah’s growing military power. Even though the Muslims were a third in strength, Musaylimah’s men were defeated and Musaylimah was killed after a lengthy military operation.
Think of Musaylimah’s rebellion as the Tehreek-e-Taliban in today’s Pakistan. Like Musaylimah’s men, the Taliban also defy the writ of the State. They – and other extremist Jihadi elements – have also launched an armed rebellion against the State of Pakistan. Ironically, the same people who quote the example of Musaylimah hesitated the most when talks of an armed operation against the TTP were brought to the table.
Sajah: Like Musaylimah, Sajah bint al-Harith was also an Arab Christian. She was a fortune teller and a clever poet who claimed prophethood after witnessing Musaylimah’s extraordinary success in his initial days. She joined forces with Musaylimah to fight the Muslims at Yamama. According to some reports, the prophetess eventually married him and became his follower. When Hadhrat Khalid Bin Waleed (ra) defeated Musaylimah at Yamama, Sajah surrendered and accepted Islam. According to some accounts, she fled to Iraq and joined the Muslims only when Islam spread to the region. In either case, she remained peaceful and did not take up arms against the State post-Yamama.
Tulayha: Tulayha ibn Khuwaylid was an influential chief of the Banu Asad ibn Khuzaymah tribe who accepted Islam at the hands of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) but later rebelled. When Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) passed away, Tulayha successfully convinced numerous other neighboring tribes to join him in a powerful coalition that openly defied the writ of the Medinite State. During the tenure of Hadhrat Abu Bakr (ra), Tulayha planned to launch an armed attack. His forces, which comprised of 15,000 men, were met by a 6000 strong Muslim army under the command of Hadhrat Khalid bin Waleed (ra) in the battle of Buzaka. Tulayha was defeated and fled to Syria, but later accepted Islam and fought alongside the Muslims and died a martyr under Hadhrat Umar’s (ra) rule.
Aswad Ansi was another magician in Yemen who used his magic tricks to charm people into believing he was a prophet of God. Later, he would also claim to be God himself. Despite his claims, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did not order anyone to harm him in anyway. However, Aswad did not merely stop at mere claims. After the Prophet’s (pbuh) demise, Aswad took up armed rebellion and killed the Muslim rulers who governed Yemen. He was ruthless in his rule and conspired to join forces with the Persian Empire to fight the Muslims. Before he could do so, however, he was killed by a Persian Muslim and Yemen was taken back by Muslim rulers who re-established peace.
It is clear from these accounts that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the early caliphs of Islam consistently upheld freedom of conscience. They did not punish anyone for mere claims and beliefs. To the contrary, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) even corresponded with them and let their matter rest with God alone. It was only after a Taliban-style armed rebellion that the state of Medina decided to re-establish its writ on its soil and punish those who created disorder by initiating hostilities.
Hamza Abbasi is right again! Even if Musaylimah et al had not claimed prophethood and claimed to be devout Muslims, they would still have met the same fate for the crime of belligerent uprising against the state. As long as they were not guilty of military revolt, they were not harmed or hurt in any way by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his men.
Wajib ul qatl? Save that for the Taliban!
This oped was originally published in Pakistan’s The Daily Times.