This article is as risible as Karen Armstrong’s likening Muhammad to Gandhi, and is as gracefully written as a seventh grader’s book report. But for the Huffington Post, accuracy and quality are of no import: if it downplays the grim reality of Islamic jihad terror, then it’s good enough for them.
The author of this piece is Craig Considine, who has likened Muhammad to George Washington and claimed that Christianity has a concept of jihad just like Islam’s. He pulls off these feats of legerdemain by employing a very simple method: ignoring what doesn’t fit his thesis, as he does here.
“What Studying Muhammad Taught Me About Islam,” by Craig Considine in the Huffington Post, January 21:
Muslims worldwide have recently joined together to celebrate Mawlid al-Nabi, the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. This day is an opportunity for Muslims and non-Muslims, such as myself – a Catholic – to reflect upon the life and legacy of the prophet of Islam. In this short essay, I want to share with you what I have learned about Muhammad and how his legacy informs my understanding of Islam.
Muhammad’s beliefs on how to treat religious minorities make him a universal champion of human rights, particularly as it pertains to freedom of conscience, freedom of worship, and the right for minorities to have protection during times of strife.
Muhammad initiated many legal covenants with Christians and Jews after establishing his Muslim community. For example, in one covenant with the Christian monks at Mount Sinai, Egypt, Muhammad called on Muslims to respect Christian judges and churches, and for no Muslim to fight against his Christian brother or sister. Through this agreement, Muhammad made it clear that Islam, as a political and philosophical way of life, respected and protected Christians.
This document, the Achtiname, is of even more doubtful authenticity than everything else about Muhammad’s life. Muhammad is supposed to have died in 632; the Muslims conquered Egypt between 639 and 641. The document says of the Christians, “No one shall bear arms against them.” So were the conquerors transgressing against Muhammad’s command for, as Considine puts it, “no Muslim to fight against his Christian brother or sister”? Did Muhammad draw up this document because he foresaw the Muslim invasion of Egypt? There is no mention of this document in any remotely contemporary Islamic sources; among other anomalies, it bears a drawing of a mosque with a minaret, although minarets weren’t put on mosques until long after the time Muhammad is supposed to have lived, which is why Muslim hardliners consider them unacceptable innovation (bid’a).
The document exempts the monks of St. Catherine’s monastery from paying the jizya. While it is conceivable that Muhammad, believing he bore the authority of Allah, would exempt them from an obligation specified by Allah himself in the Qur’an (9:29), the Achtiname specifies that Christians of Egypt are to pay a jizya only of twelve drachmas. Yet according to the seventh-century Coptic bishop John of Nikiou, Christians in Egypt “came to the point of offering their children in exchange for the enormous sums that they had to pay each month.” The Achtiname, in short, bears all the earmarks of being an early medieval Christian forgery, perhaps developed by the monks themselves in order to protect the monastery and Egyptian Christians from the depredations of zealous Muslims.
Similarly, in the Treaty of Maqnah, the Prophet stated Jews “may be in peace… you are in security [under Muhammad’s rule]… Towards you is no wrong and no enmity. After today you will not be subject to oppression or violence.” In the Constitution of Medina, a key document which laid out a societal vision for Muslims, Muhammad also singled out Jews, who, he wrote, “shall maintain their own religion and the Muslim theirs… The close friends of Jews are as themselves.” In safeguarding the rights of Jews, Muhammad made it clear that a citizen of an Islamic state did not have to follow Islam and that Muslims should treat Jews as they would their own friends. In developing these agreements with his fellow Muslims, Christians, and Jews, Muhammad clearly rejected elitism and racism and demanded that Muslims see their Abrahamic brothers and sisters as equals before God.
Here again, both the Treaty of Maqnah and the Constitution of Medina are of doubtful authenticity. The Constitution is first mentioned in Ibn Ishaq’s biography of Muhammad, which was written over 125 years after the accepted date for Muhammad’s death. Unfortunately for Considine, Ibn Ishaq also details what happened to three Jewish tribes of Arabia after the Constitution of Medina: Muhammad exiled the Banu Qaynuqa and Banu Nadir, massacred the Banu Qurayza after they (understandably) made a pact with his enemies during the pagan Meccans’ siege of Medina, and then massacred the exiles at the Khaybar oasis, giving Muslims even today a bloodthirsty war chant: “Khaybar, Khaybar, O Jews, the army of Muhammad will return.” Funny how we never hear Muslims chanting, “Relax, relax, O Jews, the Constitution of Medina will return.”
According to Muhammad, humanity was at the heart of Islam. In my reading and interpretation of his last sermon at Mount Arafat in 632 AD, I learned that the Prophet fought against racism long before the days of Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela. In the sermon, he argued “An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab… a white person has no superiority over a black nor does a black have any superiority over white except by piety and good action.” Muhammad’s final sermon informed me that Islam teaches Muslims to be tolerant of difference and welcome to diversity.
Yet all too many Arab Muslims have lorded it over non-Arab Muslims throughout Islamic history, and some do today. Why are there so many who misunderstand Muhammad’s clear words here?
My research has also highlighted how Muhammad had similar beliefs to that of George Washington, a key founding father of America. In a January 2013 article for the Huffington Post titled “An Unlikely Connection Between Muhammad and George Washington,” I examined how these two great men virtually shared identical opinions on social conduct, modesty, humility, respect, and even hygiene. In making these connections, it seems to me that Islamic values as expressed by Muhammad, and American values as expressed by Washington, are quite similar. Muslims and non-Muslim Americans can look to the example of Prophet Muhammad and George Washington as a way to build bridges of cross-cultural understanding.
Yes, Muhammad was exactly like George Washington. You remember the stories: George consummated his marriage with Martha when he was 54 and she was nine, and she was one of about a dozen wives of the first President; Washington once personally beheaded between 600 and 900 Redcoats; married his former daughter-in-law; declared that he had been commanded to fight against people until they confessed that there was no Constitution but the Constitution and he was the first President — so many similarities. Pamela Geller ably dismantled Considine’s nonsense about Washington and Muhammad here.
Studying Muhammad has taught me invaluable lessons on the fundamental principles of Islam, but more importantly, principles of life itself. His treatment of religious minorities and his basic moral beliefs have encouraged me to further promote dialogue between Muslims, Christians, and Jews, and to improve my own everyday character and conduct. Without a doubt, my research into the Prophet’s life has showed me that he is a role model for both Muslims and non-Muslims and that humanity can benefit from Islam.
Dialogue is great if it’s honest. This article by Craig Considine is not remotely honest. One wonders also how he, as a self-proclaimed Catholic, thinks “humanity can benefit from Islam,” a religion that says he is accursed for believing that Jesus is the Son of God (cf. Qur’an 9:30) and that he should be warred against until he submits (Qur’an 9:29), and that he is the most vile of created beings (Qur’an 98:6). Is it by the virtues of magnanimity and tolerance for which he extols Muhammad on false pretenses in this article? Does he really think those virtues don’t exist outside Islam? Given the abysmal level of general education these days, it’s possible.