As Islam generally does not make as many claims of miracles as other religions do, a lot rides on Muhammad and the example he set. He is known both as al-Insān al-Kāmil (the perfect human) and uswa hasana (an excellent model of conduct). As such, Muslims go to great lengths to emulate Muhammad in everything from dress to deeds. To call into question Muhammad’s character raises questions about all the teachings of Islam, and brings out very angry and violent reactions from Muslims to this day.
What is forbidden and permitted
Rather than relying on an inner moral sense of what is right and wrong, Islam has more rigid rules of what Haraam, sinful or forbidden, and what is Halal, permissible. On the day of judgment, Islam teaches people’s deeds in these categories will be weighed and determine their fates. Muslims must learn what is Haraam and Halal through the Quran and the Sunnah, the teachings and practices of Muhammad. In every aspect of life, Muslims are to emulate Muhammad’s actions This covers everything from how Muslims are to dress, grow their beards, name their children and even go to the toilet (see qadaa al haajah). http://truereligions.biz/qadaa-al-haajah/
Most importantly for Muslims, to emulate the prophet is repeatedly stated in the Koran, and a good example is as follows:
33.21 Certainly you have in the Apostle of Allah an excellent exemplar for him who hopes in Allah and the latter day and remembers Allah much.
With so much riding on Muhammad as an example, it would be natural to assume that his record would look pretty impeccable to anyone, be they followers of Islam or not. However, nothing could be further from the truth. There are many aspects of his life and deeds that are difficult to defend, let alone call an example for humanity.
Some of the most glaring examples of this are as follows:
- Charges of pedophilia: Overwhelming evidence points to Muhammad having married Aisha at age six and having sexual relations with her at nine (Muhammad’s child bride).
- Mass murder and enslavement: Muhammad is certain to have ordered or carried out a number of murders. The most infamous was his treatment of the Banu Quryza tribe, in which all males old enough to have pubic hair were beheaded (note the prevalence of beheading in the Islamic world today) and everyone else sold into slavery.
- Slavery and concubines: Although slavery is condemned by all moral people now, Muhammad condoned it and even owned slaves himself. While Muslims correctly point out he sometimes freed slaves, it is pretty hard to fathom how an example for humanity could fail to condemn, let alone be involved in, something as horrible as slavery. He even had his own sex slaves (see captives and concubines).
- Marriage to a daughter in law: Muhammad had his adopted son divorce his wife so he could marry her. He then did away with adoption in Islam.
Those who look critically at Muhammad’s life can find other examples of actions that virtually everyone nowadays would find immoral if committed by any other person. Muslims have excuses for them. For example, the excuse for his marriage to Aisha is often that it was a different time, and such practices were accepted in those days. However, even if some of the charges are false and the excuses for the things he did are at least somewhat valid, there still is a huge problem with calling Muhammad an example to follow.
Muhammad was supposed to have been an example for all times. Even if you accept excuses such as saying it was another time and place, and this made his actions necessary, that still would not make him the example Allah supposedly claimed he was. Any being with the power to create the universe, if speaking to all humanity through one man he was calling an example to follow, could certainly find a way to make his messenger every bit of the example the teachings of Islam claim. If he could not, why call him such?
For example, even if marrying a six-year-old and your former daughter-in-law was acceptable in Muhammad’s society, surely Allah would know that behavior would not be a perfect example to follow. Why wouldn’t he make sure Muhammad never did such things? Why put Muslims in the position of having to defend mass murdering and enslaving prisoners? Wouldn’t Allah want to ensure his prophet led the most peaceful of lives if he was going to call him an example? Wouldn’t he know that it would put Muslims in a difficult position when defending Islam at best and cause problems to include brutal beheadings and pedophilia at worst? How could that be prefect, divine plan?
The example he could have set
For someone to be an example, not only do they have to not perform bad deeds, but there should be overwhelming evidence of good deeds. There is evidence Muhammad did some nice things. For example, he loved and cared for his grandchildren. However, such actions, which can be expected from any reasonably moral man, hardly make Muhammad an exceptional example, even if you do not take his misdeeds into account.
Where are the overwhelming number of positive qualities and deeds that should be expected from a perfect example? This could have started with Muhammad being known as a great peacemaker rather than a warlord. He could have been known for excellent governance that brought peace and prosperity to those areas were Islam spread, always showing mercy, making the best decisions and attracting support and a following without the need for warriors and swords. Couldn’t Allah have created such a man and the conditions for him to be the clear example he said he was?
In short, it is hard to see how Muhammad could even have been an example for his time and place, let alone for all humanity and all times. This failure of a very central teaching of Islam calls the whole ideology into question.