The following short writing is motivated by the questions that this author has
received where clarification and explanation is sought about the reported
assassinations at the time of the Prophet (sws).
It is of course possible to study every incident and to analyze its reliability
and the accuracy of the report. However before doing this it is important to
realize and appreciate an overall fact about the historical sources of Islam:
Unfortunately the scholarship of Islam suffers from a lack of reliable
historical sources. The books of history have not been filtered to recognize the
weak from the strong report. Not only that, due to lack of enough information,
it is not even possible to assess the reliability of some of the reports. To
make it worse, the reliability of the authors of some of the most famous books
of history in Islam, like Ibn Ishāq and al-Wāqidī, is also under question.
Exaggerated reports in favour and against the Prophet (sws) and the companions,
plus politically derived fabricated stories along with many other false or
inaccurate wrongly motivated reports have been included in these books. There
are historical reports that we can rely on as they are reported through numerous
sources. These however are limited to very basic and general historical
We know that the Qur’ān and the Sunnah have reached us through the consensus of
generations of Muslims and are therefore reliable. Hadīth has not reached us in
such a reliable way but the scholars of Islam have done a tremendous job in
providing tools to verify the degree of reliability of a Hadīth and some of them
have made their own collection of what they considered as reliable Ahādīth. When
it comes to history the sad fact is that neither has it reached us through a
reliable way nor there has been any significant systematic and scholarly study
to verify the less reliable from the more reliable. Also unlike most of the
books of Hadīth, many of the historical reports do not have any chains of
It is not an unfair statement to say that when it comes to detailed historical
events we Muslims are deprived from a reliable source of information. Those who
are interested in the history of Islam are like thirsty individuals who only
have access to a well that is polluted from the source and in structure.
As Muslims, believing in the Qur’ān, we are bound to understand the actions of
the Prophet (sws) and the development of Islam at his time through the
principles set by the Qur’ān. When it comes to reports of killing individuals
the following Qur’ānic principle is very helpful:
person (unless it is a man to man situation in a battlefield as a part of a
religiously allowed war) is absolutely forbidden according to the Qur’ān. There
are only three exceptions:
1. Executing a
murderer when the family of the victim demands retribution.
one who is guilty of arrogantly creating anarchy and mischief in the society.
those who are among the direct addressees of a messenger of God and reject his
message out of arrogance.
The first two are part of the sharī‘ah and apply at any time and are to
be implemented by the state. The third is part of the Sunnah of the Almighty and
only applies at the time of a messenger of God and is implemented by the
messenger and his followers or by the angels of God if the messenger does not
have enough followers.
If we believe in the Qur’ān, then we should also accept that any reports of
assassinations in the history of Islam can be explained by one of the following:
A. It belongs
to one of the above three categories.
B. It is a
false or defective report.
Apart from the above technical considerations, it is also helpful to note that
according to the Qur’ān the Prophet (sws) was not only passionate towards his
followers but was also very passionate towards those who rejected him. In fact
some of the verses of the Qur’ān that criticizes the Prophet (sws) blame him for
being too passionate towards his opponents. It is interesting that the prophet
that we come to know through the Qur’an seems to be a much more passionate and
caring prophet than the one that we see through some of the not very reliable
The overall conclusion of this writing is as follows:
The historical sources of Islam are not very reliable. Every report needs to be
verified by checking its degree of reliability from the narrators’ point of
view. As believers in the Qur’ān, we Muslims have other criteria for
verification of the truth and false in these reports and that is the Qur’ān. The
Qur’ān has set very definite criteria when killing a person is allowed. Any
reports that suggest the prophet (sws) ordered killing a person while violating
these criteria cannot be accepted. The prophet (sws) was the most loyal human
being to the Qur’ān and even if for the sake of argument he had ordered an
unjustified killing, the Qur’ān would have criticized him, just as the Book has
criticized him for his very minor errors. It is also important to have a correct
understanding of the personality of the Prophet (sws) on the basis of the Qur’ān.
If some of the reports are giving an impression of a different or opposite
personality then we should be very cautious about those reports.