The Myth of Persecution
Muhammad’s call in Mecca was received with indifference. The Meccans, like most non-Muslims of today, were tolerant of all religions.
Religious persecution in those lands was unheard of. Polytheistic societies are generally tolerant by nature. They were offended when Muhammad insulted their gods, but they did not harm him.
When Muhammad’s insults of pagan deities became unbearable, the Meccans boycotted him and his followers. They decided not to sell any goods to them and not buy from them anything. This boycott lasted, perhaps two years. It was hard on Muslims, but boycott is not the same as killing. Therefore, we cannot call this boycott, persecution.
Persecution is what Muslims did to Baha’is. Thousands of innocent Baha’is were tortured and butchered with no mercy in Iran, in the previous two centuries, even though they had never insulted Islam, its author or its sacred book. Muhammad encouraged his followers to leave Mecca. This upset those whose children or slaves had converted to Islam. Some of the slaves were caught while trying to escape and were beaten. That was not, of course, religious persecution. The Meccans were simply trying to protect what they considered to be their property. For example, when Bilal was caught, his master, Umaiyah, beat him and put him in chains. Abu Bakr paid his price and he was set free. He was being punished for trying to escape, causing a financial loss to his owner and not for his beliefs. There are also stories of Muslims being beaten by their family members for converting to Islam. A hadith narrates that Omar, prior to his own conversion, had tied up his sister forcing her to leave Islam. Omar was a violent and strict man, both before and after his conversion. These stories can hardly be classified as religious persecutions. In the Middle East individualism is an alien concept. What you believe and what you do is everyone’s business. Women in particular cannot make their own decisions. Even today, Muslim women can be honor-killed if they decide to marry a man of their choice without the consent of their families.
There is a story of persecution about a woman known as Summayyah. Ibn Sa’d is the only historian who says Summayyah suffered martyrdom in the hands of Abu Jahl. Al-Bayhaqi relying on Ibn Sa’d writes, “Abu Jahl stabbed her in her private parts.”26 If this martyrdom had really occurred it would have been trumpeted forth by every biographer and would have been reported in innumerable traditions. This is just an example of the kind of exaggeration that Muslims have been fond of making from the beginning. In fact, the same biographer also claims that Bilal was the first martyr. Bilal long survived the alleged persecutions, came back to Mecca when that town was conquered by Muhammad and chanted the Azan from the roof top of Ka’ba. He died a natural death. Some Islamic sources claim that Summayyah, her husband Yasir, and their son Ammar were persecuted in Mecca. However, Muir has shown that after Yasir died of natural causes, Summayyah married the Greek slave Azraq and had a child called Salma.27 How then are we to understand that she died under persecution?
Azraq belonged to Taif, and was one of the slaves who, at the siege of that city (some fifteen years later), fled over to Muhammad’s camp. It is natural to conclude that Summayyah, after Yasir’s death, married Azraq and lived at Taif and the story of her persecution and martyrdom is false.
Muhammad was not against slavery. Later, when he came to power, he forced thousands of free people into slavery. However, his order to leave Mecca was disrupting the social order and causing sedition. Because of that and his constant taunting of their religion, he became a persona non grata among his people. Yet at no time were he and his followers persecuted because of their faith.
Muslims make many baseless claims. Polytheists generally don’t give a hoot about what others believe. They are pluralistic by their verynature. Ka’ba housed 360 idols, each a patron of a different tribe. There were Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, Sabeans (an extinct monotheistic faith) and all sorts of religions in Arabia, whose followers were freely practicing their religions.
There were other prophets also preaching their faiths. Religious intolerance in Arabia began with Islam. There is no evidence of any persecution against Muhammad and Muslims in Mecca. Nonetheless, Muslims make such claims because Muhammad has made that claim. Astonishingly, even some non-Muslim historians who are not sympathetic to Islam have fallen into that trap and have echoed this untruth.
Muhammad claimed victimhood when in reality he was the victimizer. Muslims do the same. Everywhere it is Muslims who are killing, oppressing and persecuting, and yet they are the ones who cry loudest claming to be victims and oppressed. To understand this phenomenon we must understand the psychology of Muhammad and his followers. This we shall do in the next chapter. As the matter of fact it was Muhammad who preached intolerance even when still in Mecca. Muslims often quote Sura 109 as evidence that Muhammad preached tolerance. This Meccan sura reads:
Say : O ye that reject Faith!
I worship not that which ye worship,
Nor will ye worship that which I worship.
And I will not worship that which ye have been wont to worship,
Nor will ye worship that which I worship.
To you be your Way, and to me mine
Maududi, Qutb and many other Muslim scholars know better. They do not see this sura as an indication of tolerance. Maududi in his interpretation of the Quran writes:
If the Surah is read with this background in mind, one finds that it was not revealed to preach religious tolerance as some people of today seem to think, but it was revealed in order to exonerate the Muslims from the disbelievers religion, their rites of worship, and their gods, and to express their total disgust and unconcern with them and to tell them that Islam and kufr (unbelief) had nothing in common and there was no possibility of their being combined and mixed into one entity. Although it was addressed in the beginning to the disbelieving Quraish in response to their proposals of compromise, yet it is not confined to them only, but having made it a part of the Quran, Allâh gave the Muslims the eternal teaching that they should exonerate themselves by word and deed from the creed of kufr wherever and in whatever form it be, and should declare without any reservation that they cannot make any compromise with the disbelievers in the matter of Faith. That is why this Surah continued to be recited when the people to whom it was addressed as a rejoinder, had died and been forgotten, and those Muslims also continued to recite it who were disbelievers at the time it was revealed, and the Muslims still recite it centuries after they have passed away, for expression of disgust with and dissociation from kufr and its rites is a perpetual demand of Faith.