What’s so bad about ‘Satanic,’ anyway?
It raised a couple of eyebrows when the Organization of the Islamic Conference quoted two pages from an article on EuropeNews, discussing if Muhammad was, in fact, a messenger for Satan rather than for God.
In the article based on a television broadcast, Father Zakaria Botros, based on relevant scripture, made a brief analysis of the qualities of Jewish/Christian prophets and compared those to the qualities of Muhammad. What the article did not go into, however, was an analysis of what ‘Satanic’ actually means. We are commonly assuming that ‘Satanic’ means ‘bad’, ‘evil’, ‘wrong’ – to such an extent that even discussing the actual nature of this badness is irrelevant. But if we do not understand what ‘bad’ or ‘Satanic’ means, how can we choose to reject it? Some knowledge of Right and Wrong behaviour is needed for this to be functional.
We first encounter Satan in the Book of Job, which is part of the Old Testament, and the Torah. In this intriguing tale, Satan gets permission (!) by God to tempt Job to disavowing God through a multitude of loss, disease and suffering. Job, staunchly true to God, refuses in spite of poverty and failing health, and is eventually rewarded by even more wealth than he had initially. The morale of this tale, of course, is that one should be true to God under all circumstances, and redemption will come eventually.
An interesting point is that Satan is working by permission from God, not as a separate, opposing entity. Being true to God also implies being true to his teachings, the Ten Commandments etc. Those were good guidelines then and have not lost their value as a moral compass even today. Being a good Jew or a good Christian implies being generally true to these guidelines. Muhammad, born and raised in pagan Arabia, never talked of these and personally broke most of them, as recorded in the Sirat (Ibn Ishaq & Al-Tabari). The Ten Commandments are not generally used in Islam, and as Muhammad violated most, if not all, of them, should be proof that Islam is not an Abrahamic religion, despite claims to the contrary.
The Satanic Verses
Satan earns a few mentions in the life of Muhammad. The first is at the incident known as “The Satanic Verses”. This takes place after Muhammad had been mocking the Meccans for eight years for their paganism and their false gods, calling them to worship the one god he worships. This is interesting, not least because the Meccans had been worshipping Allah for generations before Muhammad – see for instance the chapter on Muhammads’ 5th generation forefather Qusayy (al-Tabari VI pages 19-26).
The events are set in motion by the Quraysh:
Al-Tabari VI p. 106-107:
Quraysh promised the Messenger of Allah that they would give him so much wealth that he would become the richest man in Mecca, would give him as many wives as he wanted in marriage, and would submit to his commands.
One may consider this the ultimate in Satanic temptation for a holy man: Money, sex and power – the core objects of worldly desire.
Al-Tabari VI p. 107:
They said, “This is what we will give you, Muhammad, so desist from reviling our gods and do not speak evilly of them. If you will not do so, we offer you one means which will be to your advantage and to ours.” “What it is?” he asked. They said, “You will worship our gods, al-Lat and al-Uzza, for a year, and we shall worship your god for a year.” “Let me see what revelation comes to me from my Lord, he replied.
Remarkably, Muhammad chooses to consider their offer. And he refers to ‘my Lord’, not Allah, as the source of revelation. That is less mysterious than it would seem, however, for the Meccans were already worshipping Allah. The distinction is made clear in the revelation quoted in response:
Al-Tabari VI p. 107:
Say: O disbelievers! I worship not what you worship; nor do you worship what I worship. And I shall not worship that which you worship, nor will you worship that which I worship. To you your religion, and to me my religion.
It is not made quite clear who has which religion. We know with reasonable certainty (see the chapter on Qusayy mentioned previously) that the Meccans through generations were practising worship of Allah and the other idols of the Kaaba, were in charge of the rituals of pilgrimage (Hajj & Umra) that we know as part of Islam today, including details such as the standing (‘mawqif’) at Arafat, the dispersal from Mina, and stoning the ‘jimar’ (in Islam considered the Devil) at sunset. Muhammad, who swore that he never participated in pagan rituals, is not making the details of his religion clear.
The reconciliation proceeds in spite of these differences:
Al-Tabari VI p. 108:
When the Messenger of Allah saw how his tribe turned their backs on him and was grieving how they were shunning his message he had brought to them from Allah, he longed in his soul that something would come to him from Allah which would reconcile him with his tribe. With his love for his tribe and his eagerness for their welfare (…)
Now, genuine revelation is obviously not created by human desire, but one can’t fail Muhammad for trying. The concern for the welfare of his tribe is noted and appreciated. And indeed revelation comes:
Al-Tabari VI p. 108:
Then Allah revealed:
By the star where it sets, your comrade does not err, nor is he deceived, nor does he speak out of desire. …
This is good to know. We are navigating perilous water with risk of deception. We now have a clear word that deception will not be encountered. The verses quoted are from Quran 53:1-3 and 53:19-20. The revelation continues:
Al-Tabari VI p. 108:
Have you thought upon al-Lat and al-Uzza and Manat, the third, the other?
Satan cast upon his tongue, because of the inner debates and what he desired to bring to his people, the words:
These are the high-flying cranes; verily their intercession is accepted with approval.
Wouldn’t Satan casting ‘revelation’ on the tongue of a prophet constitute deception? But we have just been told that no error takes place, nor any deception! This simply isn’t logical. But it sure goes down well on all sides:
Al-Tabari VI p. 108:
When Quraysh heard this, they rejoiced and were happy and delighted at the way in which he spoke of their gods, and they listened to him, while the Muslims, having complete trust in their Prophet in respect of the messages which he brought from Allah, did not suspect him of error, illusion, or mistake.
All’s well that ends well. The deal goes down very well on all sides. ‘Intercession’ is a traditional concept where one asks a god to intervene one one’s behalf on the Day of Judgement. After the deal is entered, Muhammad and all Muslims prostrate themselves to the gods in the Kaaba, and so do the Meccans. It is a little unclear whether the practice of prostrations were pagan or introduced by Muhammad, but most likely it was pagan, as it looks like a novelty that the Muslims prostrate themselves.
In another account (al-Tabari frequently has several), the Quraysh respond like this after the prostrations:
Al-Tabari VI p. 111:
They were satisfied with what Muhammad had uttered and said, “We recognize that it is Allah who gives life and death, who creates and who provides sustenance, but if these gods of ours intercede for us with him, and if you give them a share, we are with you.”
Peace and reconciliation prevails. Also at this time, the first wife of Muhammad, Khadija, dies, and Muhammad is given Aisha (then 6) and an adult woman in marriage. Also the protector of Muhammad, Abu Talib, dies, which causes Muhammad some trouble. It is even related (on page 115) that one of the Quraysh poured dust on the head of Muhammad!
The exact chronology of the events here is not quite clear, but the marriage to Aisha gives a clue. She was six at this time, and nine at the time of the Hijra (flight to Medina) and the consummation of the marriage. Sex with minors probably was normal in Arabia at this time and should in this context not be considered Satanic.
Unfortunately, the reconciliation didn’t last. It is presented in the scripture as if it was cancelled immediately, but this is doesn’t add up. The truce had lasted long enough for news of it to reach the Muslims who had immigrated to Abbysinia, who, hearing the news, decided to return to Mecca. Since news would travel by foot, camel- or horseback in these time, some time must have gone by. Possibly most of the remaining three years up to the Hijra. In any case, further revelation cancels what had been given:
Al-Tabari VI p. 109:
Then Gabriel came to the Messenger of Allah and said, “Muhammad, what have you done? You have recited to the people that which I did not bring to you from Allah, and you have said that which was not said to you.”
This is complicated. If the earlier revelation is not to be trusted, how can this be unconditionally trusted? And how can we trust the identification of this being as ‘Gabriel’? Further, do angels have their own will, as is seen here? Usually they are portrayed as executing the will of God, not of their own. There’s really no way we can know with certainty, so let’s move on, for Allah resolves the matter with a revelation (Quran 22:52):
Al-Tabari VI p. 109:
Never did we send a messenger or a prophet before you but that when he recited, Satan cast words into his recitation. Allah abrogates what Satan casts. Then Allah established his verses. Allah is knower, wise.
Unfortunately, this is disingenuous. Not only does Allah debase all prophets of all times by stating they were occasionally speaking for Satan. We see the abrogation (cancellation) of verses created out of the desire to benefit others. The assurances we received just one page earlier (that the revelation was not in error, not deceptive nor spoken out of desire) were false. Finally, a lingering doubt is introduced: Could there be other verses in the Islamic scripture induced by Satan? What about the Jewish or Christian scripture?
These concerns are not addressed, so we’d better move on. Quran 5:101 (not quoted, but relevant in context) gives the authority not to be too concerned about self-contradictory passages:
Believers, ask not questions about things which if made plain to you may cause you trouble when the Qur’an is revealed. Some people before you asked questions, and on that account lost their faith.
That’s better. Back to the scriptural abrogations and the Quraysh reactions.
Quran verses 53:21-23, 26 corrects the errors by reducing the status of the idols from gods to mere labels created by humans.
This, of course, has the Quraysh quite annoyed. They thought they had made Muhammad a lavish offer and settled the conflict, but now Muhammad backs out:
Al-Tabari VI p. 110:
When Muhammad brought a revelation from Allah cancelling what Satan had cast on the tongue of His Prophet, the Quraysh said, “Muhammad has repented of what the said concerning the positions of your gods with Allah, and has altered it and brought something else.” Those two phrases which Satan had cast on the tongue of the Messenger of Allah were in the mouth of every polytheist, and they became even more ill-disposed and more violent in their persecution of those of them who had accepted Islam and followed the Messenger of Allah.
There is no doubt that revelation from Satan is Bad News. The schism breaks out anew, and eventually, for reasons not described in the Sirat, the Quraysh decide to beat up Muhammad, which leads to the escape to Medina, the Hijra. That things can develop this brutally naturally makes Muhammad seek protection, that he needs not fear any further violence from the Meccans. This leads to a core event of the Hijra:
The second pledge of Al-Aqabah
Another place where Satan is mentioned in Islamic history is at the Second Pledge of al-Aqabah (Al-Tabari VI page 130 onwards). This takes place around the time of the Hijra, the escape from Mecca to Medina. It is stated (Al-Tabari VI page 132) that the Muslims departed their encampment secretly at about one third into the night. Assuming the movement and gathering takes some time, this meeting and the pledge took place around midnight. This is a somewhat eerie setting, but Satan does not play quite the role one would usually expect in such situation. Al-Tabari VI, page 133:
We said to him: “We have heard what you have said. Speak, Messenger of Allah, and choose what you want for yourself and your Lord.” The Messenger of Allah spoke, recited the Quran, summoned us to Allah, and made us desirous of Islam. Then he said, “I will enter a contract of allegiance with you, provided that you will protect me as you would protect your wives and children.”
The al-Bara’ b. Ma’rur took his hand and said: “By Him who send you with the truth, we shall defend you as we would our womenfolk. Administer the oath of allegiance to us, Oh Messenger of Allah, for we are men of war and men of coats of mail; we have inherited this from generation to generation.”
There is little space for doubt about the non-non-violent nature of their promise. This is about war. Al-Tabari proceeds to describe the actual oath on page 134:
When they gathered to take the oath of allegiance to the Messenger of Allah, al-Abbas b. Ubadah, the brother of the Banu Salim b. Awf, said: “People of the Khazjraj, do you know what you are pledging yourselves to in swearing allegiance to this man?” “Yes,” they said. He continued: “In swearing allegiance to him, you are pledging yourselves to wage war against all mankind.”
A small pause here, for there is a subtle shift: In the introduction to the oath, it was about protecting Muhammad. At the actual oath, it is about waging war against all mankind. Something that Muslims, even today, at times appear to be doing. The details and expected circumstances are comparable with current events, too:
“If you think that when your wealth is exhausted by misfortune and your nobles are depleted by death, you will give him up, then stop now, for, by Allah, it is disgrace in this world and the next if you later give him up. But if you think that you will be faithful to the promises which you made in inviting him, even if your wealth is exhausted and your nobles killed, then take him, for, by Allah, he is the best thing for you in this world and the next.” They answered: “We shall take him even if it brings the loss of our wealth and the killing of our nobles. What shall we gain for this, Oh Messenger of Allah, if we are faithful?” He answered: “Paradise.” “Stretch out your hand,” they said. He stretched out his hand, and they swore allegiance to him.
This is grim. The pledge to wage war on all mankind is expected to lead to dire circumstances and death for the Muslims – not to mention those the war will be waged against. But one must say that the Muslims have been faithful. Even now, almost 14 centuries after the death of Muhammad, many still declare to love Muhammad more than their family, and to be willing to sacrifice anything and everything to defend his honour.
The point of the oath is unconditional obedience. In this context, ‘Satanic’ would presumably mean trying to dissuade the Muslims from obeying Muhammad. Al-Tabari relates exactly this:
When we had all sworn the oath of allegiance to the Messenger of Allah, Satan shouted from the top of Al-Aqabah in the most piercing voice I have ever heard: “People of the stations [sacrificial places] of Mina, do you want a blameworthy [a mocking reference to ‘Muhammad’, which translates to ‘praiseworthy’] person and the apostates with him who have gathered together to wage war on you?” The Messenger of Allah said: “What does the Enemy of Allah say? This is the Azabb of al-Aqabah, the son of the devil Azyab. Listen, Enemy of Allah. By Allah, I shall deal with you!”
This is not easy to make sense of. The named references are not found elsewhere, nothing is known of them. What we see here is ‘Satan’ actually warning against what can be considered unethical behaviour, that Muhammad and the early Muslims would wage war against their kin in Mecca. This is, of course, not a warning Muhammad is fond of hearing. One possible interpretation is that ‘Satan’ in this tale of midnight is simply a person who disagrees with Muhammad and the pledge given, who would prefer that Muhammad and the Muslims stay faithful to the Meccan religion, and who therefore discourages obedience to Muhammad.
What is clear, however, is that unconditional obedience trumps all other matters. This is dangerous, for throughout history we have seen that absolute obedience to persons of dubious character has led to rather significant disasters. One could of course hope that Muhammad would be a better example for mankind. But the Sirat (life story of Muhammad) as well as the behaviour of Muslims, past and present, seems to disprove this.
The expedition to Naklah
The oath sworn by the Muslims to Muhammad was soon to be tested. Muhammad launched several expeditions after his move to Medina, but they generally failed without any fighting. Only at the expedition to Naklah, when he changed procedure and gave the orders in form of a secret letter, did the mission yield a result. The Muslims had refined their approach, and by disguising themselves as pilgrims were able to ambush the caravan. But not without hesitation:
Al-Tabari VII p. 19:
The (Muslims) consulted one another concerning them, this being the last day of Rajab, and said, “By Allah, if you leave these people alone today, they will get into the Haram (the sacred territory of Mecca) and be out of your reach there; and if you kill them (today) you will have killed them in the sacred month.” They hesitated and were afraid to advance upon them, but then they plucked up courage and agreed to kill as many of them as they could, and seize what they had with them.
This is where having the better religion gives an advantage: One is not bound by the traditions of the outmoded religion to be replaced. Unfortunately, creating a tradition of assault and plunder in the otherwise sacred months is bad for trade, as well as for mutual relations. Indeed, Muhammad initially considered this a significant ‘public relations’ problem:
Al-Tabari VII p. 20:
The Messenger of Allah said, “I did not order you to fight in the sacred month,” and he impounded the caravan and the two captives and refused to take anything of it.
Actually, the account of Naklah is full of contradictions as to what Muhammad ordered in the letter and what he didn’t. He settles it by making it clear that there was no order to fight in the holy month, leaving open the interpretation that there was an order to fight, but no order concerning the fact that the expedition was sent out during a holy month. The Muslims conduction the expedition feared the strongest of punishment.
Indeed, this issue caused much debate in Mecca as well as in Medina, for it was a matter of grave concern that Muhammad and his men had broken the tradition. The matter was resolved with the revelation of Quran 2:217:
Al-Tabari VII p. 20:
Allah revealed to his Messenger: “They question thee with regard to warfare in the sacred month…” When the Quranic passage concerning this matter was revealed, and Allah relieved the Muslims from the fear in which they found themselves, the Messenger of Allah took possession of the caravan and the two prisoners.
It is convenient, even profitable, to have a prophet able to deliver scripture appropriate for the situation.
The battle of Badr
A key event of Islam is the battle of Badr. This is described in extensive detail in the Islamic scripture, and the unexpected victory of a small group of Muslims over a much larger defending force was a major boon to the fledgling religion, and to the status of Muhammad. Without going into full detail, we’ll look at some of the key elements of this battle, which can be found in Al-Tabari vol. VII. First, the date:
Al-Tabari VII p. 26:
In this year [AH 2] the greater battle of Badr took place between the Messenger of Allah and the Unbelievers of Quraysh. This was in the month of Ramadan.
Arabs would traditionally abstain from plunder and bloodshed during their four holy months, one of them being Ramadan. This was traditionally a fairly safe time for the caravan trade. But since Muhammad had declared that expelling them from the Kaaba was worse than killing and plunder, this was no longer respected by the Muslims. The event is of the utmost importance in Islamic theology. (See also Quran 8:41):
Al-Tabari VII p. 27:
On this morning Allah distinguished between truth and falsehood, and on this morning he made Islam mighty, and on it he revealed the Quran, and on it he humbled the leaders of unbelief; and the battle of Badr was on a Friday.
The motivation for the battle is explained quite candidly. After hearing about a Quraysh caravan of significant size coming out of Syria, led by Abu Sufyan, Muhammad held council:
Al-Tabari VII p. 28:
When the Messenger of Allah heard about them he called together his companions and told them of the wealth they had with them and the fewness of their numbers. The Muslims set out with no other object than Abu Sufyan and the horsemen with him. They did not think that these were anything but (easy) booty and did not suppose that there would be a great battle when they met them.
Abu Sufyan, being a skillful caravan leader, got news of the pending ambush and reacted in two ways: By calling on his kin in Mecca to come to the rescue, and by choosing an alternative, safer route for the caravan itself. Caravans such as this were quite large undertakings and would each account for a very significant amount of the tradeable Quraysh property. The caravan managed to reach Mecca unharmed, but the rescue force, lured by the market of Badr, decided to remain away for some days to enjoy good food, wine and women.
This caused some concerns among the Muslims, in particular those from Medina. They had pledged themselves to defending Muhammad, but not in participating in offensive campaigns with him. Eventually they were persuaded to proceed into battle anyway, for how could the Messenger of Allah be at fault? Details of the deliberations are given in Al-Tabari VII pages 41 onwards.
Paradoxically, the caravan managed to reach Mecca safely, but the rescue force, which consisted of all but two of the noblemen of Mecca, encountered the Muslims in a fierce battle.
The Quraysh, though numerically superior by about 3 to 1, have their doubts about proceeding into battle. Al-Tabari VII p. 51:
Utbah b. Rabiah: O people of Wuraysh, you will achieve nothing by meeting Muhammad and his companions in battle. By Allah, if you defeat him you will not be able to look one another in the face without loathing, for you will see someone who has killed the son of your paternal or maternal uncle, or a man from your clan.
The Quraysh, however, seeking revenge from the skirmish of Naklah, eventually decide not to retreat, assuming their numerical superiority would give them victory. The battle itself is described by both Ibn Ishaq and Al-Tabari in graphic detail. The concept of martyrdom for death in battle is emphasized. One of the Muslims, while having some dates, responds:
Al-Tabari VII p. 55:
“Excellent! All that stands between me and entering Paradise is being killed by those people!” Then he threw down the dates, took his sword,and fought the enemy until he was killed.
This ferocity gives the Muslims the upper hand in the battle, and they manage to kill many of the nobles of Quraysh, and take many others as prisoners. Some deliberation about who is to be killed and who not follows. Some post-battle hacking and killing follows. Muhammad singles out Abu Jahl, whom he knows from childhood, to be found among the dead. They find him, badly wounded:
Al-Tabari VII p. 62:
Some men of the Banu Makhuzum assert that Ibn Masud used to say: “Abu Jahl said to me, ‘You have ascended a difficult ascent, you little shepherd.’ Then I cut off his head and brought it to the Messenger of Allah, and I said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, this is the head of the enemy of Allah, Abu Jahl.’ Then the Messenger of Allah said, ‘Is this so, by Allah, than whom there is no other deity?’ This was the oath of the Messenger of Allah. I said, ‘Yes, by Allah, than whom there is no other deity.’ Then I threw down his head in front of the Messenger of Allah. He said, ‘Praise be to Allah!’”
After the battle, with the deceased being in a somewhat unpleasant state, they are thrown into a well near Badr, except Umayyah b. Khalaf, who was no longer in a state where he could be moved. Muhammad had this to tell them in the depth of the night:
Al-Tabari VII p. 63:
“O people of the well, O, Utbah b. Rabiah, O Shaybah b. Rabiah, O Umayyah b. Khalaf, O Abu Jahl b. Hisham – and he enumerated those who were with them in the well – have you not found what your Lord promised you to be true? For I have found what my Lord promised me to be true.” The Muslims said, “O Messenger of Allah, are you addressing people who have putrified?” He replied, “You hear what I say no better than they, but they cannot answer me.”
This gloating over the dead might look Satanic. But Islamic scholars should be able to explain that it isn’t. Not an issue to worry about.
After the battle comes another problem: The division of booty. This issue causes quarrels, and is eventually decided by revelation of a relevant sura (8, “The Spoils of War”), and it was divided equally between those participating, with Muhammad getting his holy share (Khums), 20 %. A footnote mentions that Arab warlords at the time would usually take 25 % – thus the Muslims were getting a better share under the command of Muhammad than elsewhere.
Upon returning to Medina, there is great celebration. Salamah b. Waqsh wonders why:
Al-Tabari VII p. 65:
“What are they congratulating us on? By Allah, we met nothing but bald old women like hobbled sacrificial camels, so we slaughtered them.” The Messenger of Allah smiled and said, “My nephew, those were the mala’.”
Muhammad knew the men he had met in battle, that these were the leaders, and that by defeating them, their position against the Quraysh had improved significantly. This defeat of the infidels was highly significant, and is still celebrated by Muslims every year in the month of Ramadan.
In a scene where some prisoners are brought to Sawdah bt. Zamah, one of the wives of Muhammad, we encounter an interesting detail:
Al-Tabari VII p. 66:
This was before the veil was imposed on the women.
This, of course, is a reference to:
O Prophet! Tell your wives and daughters and the believing women that they should case their cloaks over their bodies so that they be recognized as such and not be molested.
Islam is unique among religions in having a strict dress code imposed on women. It has been debated whether the veiling is mandatory or voluntary, but the scripture is clear: This is an imposed obligation. It is like this that women will be recognized as Muslims and ‘not molested’. This moves religion from the private to the public sphere, which is somewhat difficult to handle. Further, the ‘not molested’ is widely abused by ‘religious’ police in many Islamic countries, who routinely molest, assault and arrest women who do not adhere sufficiently to the veiling standards required.
This gives rise to some weird scenes. In Yemen in 2006, 80.000 women turned out for a huge demonstration against a cartoon in a small country in faraway Europe. All clad in black. All in order to defend the honour of a man who died over 13 centuries ago, but still has a deep impact on their clothing and their entire lives. ‘Voluntary submission’ to his will may be a proper term to describe this. There is no doubt that Muhammad was a person of intense will to direct the lives of those who followed him. This drive for power, of course, should not be considered Satanic.
After this segue, let’s return to the events after the battle of Badr. The following 20-odd pages of al-Tabari deal with handling of the prisoners, taking of ransom and some rough negotiations over the matter. It includes the following strange passage concerning ransom, as related by Umar b. al-Khattab:
Al-Tabari VII page 81:
The next day I went to the Prophet in the morning. He was sitting with Abu Bakr, and they were weeping. I said,”O Messenger of Allah, tell me, what has made you and you companion weep? If I find cause to weep, I will weep with you, and if not, I will pretend to weep because you are weeping.”
This is the utmost in unconditional, unquestioning loyalty. The passage continues:
The Messenger of Allah said, “It is because of the taking of ransoms which has been laid before your companions. It was laid before me that I should punish them, more nearly than this tree (and he pointed to a nearby tree).” Allah revealed: “It is not for any Prophet to have captives until he hath made slaughter in the land …”
This is in Quran 8:67-69. Muhammad is not frequently seen regret what he had done, but the preference of ransom to killing has earned him a stern lesson from Allah. Who, fortunately for the economy of the Muslims, permits ransom verse 8:69. It is also here that booty at large is made legal for Muhammad and the Muslims. From the battle of Badr until the death of Muhammad, many such raids (probably around 70) were made.
This essay is by no means a complete account of the life of Muhammad. We are examining passages to underline that the OIC worry about the term ‘Satanic’ is probably exaggerated. Many interesting and formative episodes, such as the treaty of Hudaibayah, are skipped. There is even a short chapter (17 lines, Al-Tabari IX p. 159-160) praising the bravery and generosity of Muhammad. Readers are encouraged to read the complete life story to get the complete picture.
One more episode, this one dating from the very last days of Muhammad:
Al-Tabari IX p. 168:
The Messenger of Allah sent for me in the middle of the night, saying, “O Abu Muwayhibah, I have been ordered to seek forgiveness for the [dead] inhabitants of al-Baqi [cemetery], so come with me.” I went with him, when he stood before them he said, “Peace be upon you, O people of the graves! Happier are you in your state than the people [here] in their present state! Dissension [fitna] has come like segments of a pitch dark night one after the other, the last being worse than the first.” He then turned to me, saying, “O Abu Muwayhibah, I have been given the keys of the treasuries of this world, long abode in it, then Paradise. I have been given the choice between it and meeting my Lord and Paradise, so I have chosen my Lord and Paradise.” I said, “May you be ransomed with my parents! Take the keys of the […]
This is a weird passage.
First, it is made clear that Islam, and all he had conquered through it, had not made Muhammad a happy man. No worry, for obedience, not happiness, is the purpose of Islam. The envy of the dead is somewhat uncanny. But not unheard of, as even modern-day Hamas celebrates the fact that they have made an industry of death, which gives them strength over those who are attached to life.
Second, it is clear that dissension (conflict, disobedience) is what Muhammad detests the most. The fact that people would have the audacity to disagree with their prophet and undermine his absolute authority didn’t become him well.
Third, it seems strange that Muhammad, if he loves his followers and really is able to choose himself between life and death, chooses death.
A different approach to ‘evil’
A different approach to what may be considered ‘Satanic’ or ‘evil’ is taken by Buddhism. In Buddhist thinking, each individual is unconditionally responsible for their lives and their circumstances, as opposed to the Islamic view, where Allah is considered responsible for every single event that takes place, including the activities of Jihad warriors. This, in a sense, makes Buddhism the antithesis of Islam.
Buddhism describes this in the widely known concept of ‘karma’, which is not popular in Islamic circles. Here from Harun Yahya (of Atlas of Creation fame) who has dedicated an entire web site to denouncing the concept. The idea that man, not Allah, is responsible for his actions is generally considered one of the worst possible forms of heresy.
A further source of conflicts is the fact that Buddhist temples have statues. Islamic warriors up to the present day confused those statues with the idols that Muhammad threw out of the Kaaba, destroyed the statues and converted or decapitated the Buddhists for being ‘polytheists’. This is an unfortunate mistake, for Buddhists are atheists. The statues represent states of mind obtainable through meditation, which the Islamic invaders in northern India could have discovered had they not destroyed the large Buddhist university of Nalanda and many Buddhist monasteries.
Among the surviving kinds of Buddhism is what is today known as Tibetan Buddhism. One of the foremost scholars of Tibetan Buddhism is Jé Gampopa (1079-1153), author of a large volume on Mahayana Buddhism, Gems of Dharma, Jewels of Freedom. In this volume, Gampopa describes in detail what kinds of behaviour lead to suffering, what leads to happiness, and what leads to freedom. Comparing these descriptions with the life and actions of Muhammad reveals another source of controversy and strife between the two religions.
Technically, we now face a minor problem, for Buddhism doesn’t respect gods. Gods can be found in Buddhism, but they are too confused (with pride in particular) to be worth paying attention to, not to mention worshipping. Neither is there an anti-God, Satan, to despise. But Buddhism does have Hells, lots of them. Further, it has stringent descriptions of what leads beings to fall into these Hells, and that is unethical – well, criminal – behaviour. It is generally agreed between religions (at least those that have a Hell) that bad behaviour will send people to Hell. Let’s review the Buddhist situation.
Gampopa, in chapter 5, Suffering (pages 57-62) describes several forms of hell:
Where are these hot hells? They are situated beneath this world, for there are many who go from here to there. Lowest live those who inhabit the worst agony hell. Above them, working upwards, are the extremely hot, hot, great wailing, wailing, gathering & crushing, black line and reviving hells, respectively.
A footnote draws the attention of the reader to the fact that these hells represent states of mind, not actual worlds.
The hells are then described in further detail:
The first is the reviving hell where people bind and impale each other and hack each other to death. Then a cold wind blows to revive them. This continues relentlessly throughout their stay there.
In the black line hell, a black line is traced on the body, which is then sawn with blazing saws and chopped with flaming red-hot axes.
This goes on for several pages with a great variety of the suffering encountered.
Actions that lead to Hell
Not less interesting is the actions that will cause rebirth in these states of suffering. This is described in chapter 6, Karma, from which we’ll sample some.
First, killing, subdivided into three categories (page 75):
— Killing through desire and attachment — Killing through anger and aversion — Killing through stupidity
The first of these is killing for the sake of meat, hides and so forth, or for sport or financial gain, or in order to safeguard oneself or one’s loved ones.
The second is killing those to whom one feels averse on account of grudges or competition and the like.
The third is killing in order to make offerings.
It is worth noting that Muhammad and the early Muslims did all of these. Killing was done at the expeditions against the caravans, out of the grudges Muhammad held against his kin in Mecca, against people who criticized him, and finally in the form of animal sacrifice at the Kaaba, which still takes place.
The result of killing is described:
The fully-developed result is rebirth as a hell-being. The result corresponding to the cause is that even if one is born human, one will have a short life and many sicknesses. The resulting influence is to be reborn in an ill-fated and unattractive land. The particular instance or worst case among all the forms of killing, the most sinful one, is that of killing an Arhat who is also one’s father.
Page 78 describes the results of lying:
Lying is of three types: lies that are one’s undoing, big lies and trivial lies.
The first concerns “false guruhood”; pretence about achievement.
The second are lies designed to benefit oneself or harm others.
The third concerns lies that are neither beneficial nor harmful.
Of the three types of result, the fully-developed result is to be reborn as an animal. The corresponding result is that even should one be reborn human, one will be derided by others. The resulting influence is to have bad breath. The worst sin is to have slandered the Tathagatha [Buddha] and then lied to one’s guru.
This absolute code of conduct is different from that found in Islam, where lying is tolerated and even endorsed if it benefits Islam. An example of how lying is freely used by Muhammad can be found in Al-Tabari VII page 95, where Ibn al-Ashraf has composed poems deemed offensive to the Muslims:
Muhammad said: “Who will rid me of Ibn al-Ashraf?” Muhammad b. Maslamah, brother of Banu Abd al-Ashhal, said: “I will rid you of him, O Messenger of Allah. I will kill him.” “Do it then”, he said, “if you can”. Muhammad b. Maslamah went back and remained for three days, neither eating or nor drinking more than would keep him alive. The Messenger of Allah. Got to hear of this, so he summoned him and said to him: “Why have you left off food and drink?” “Oh Messenger of Allah”, he said, “I said something, and I do not know whether or not I can fulfill it.” “All that you are obliged to do is try”, he replied. “Oh Messenger of Allah”, he said, “we shall have to tell lies.” “Say what you like,” he replied. “You are absolved in the matter.”
Al-Tabari then goes on to relate how the murder was planned and executed. According to Buddhist thinking, this would lead to quite negative results for the lying killer, as for Muhammad. Note also that Muhammad pushes to overcome the hesitation of the volunteer assassin, and the curious fact that the would-be assassin appears to be more worried about the lying than about the killing proper.
Gampopa proceeds in Gems of Dharma, Jewels of Freedom to list actions and their corresponding results. About malevolence is stated (page 80):
Malevolence is of three types: due to hatred, jealousy or resentment.
The first is to harbour, because of hatred, the idea of killing another, as in the times of war.
The second is to harbour, through competitiveness and the like, the idea of killing and harming another through fear of being surpassed.
The third is to harbour, through long-standing resentment, the idea of killing or hurting someone who has previously wronged one, etc.
Of the three types of result of malevolence, the fully-developed result is rebirth in hell. The corresponding result is that even if one is reborn human, hatred will dominate one’s mind. The resulting influence is to be reborn in a place where the food is bitter and coarse. Of all types of malevolence, the worst instance, the greatest sin, is to plan to commit one of the acts bearing immediate consequence (patricide, matricide, killing holy persons etc.)
One systematic feature worth mentioning is that hurting ones’ family, ones’ parents in particular, is very harmful, and will lead to particular dire consequences. A footnote explains that the ‘acts bearing immediate consequences’ causes one to experience their effects (like being reborn in Hell) immediately after death without the intermediate (‘Bardo’) stages experienced by most.
Buddhism also teaches which actions are considered beneficial. Gampopa lists ten categories of virtuous actions (page 83):
— to protect the lives of others, — to give lavishly, — to maintain sexual purity, — to speak the truth straightforwardly, — to dispel unfriendliness and bring harmony, — to speak peacefully, appeasingly and in a way that is pleasant for others, — to speak in a way that is meaningful, — to reduce desires and be content with what one has, — to cultivate loving kindness and so forth — to penetrate the highest meaning.
Buddhism of various schools has methods to remove the consequences of previous negative actions. Gems of Dharma, Jewels of Freedom explains this in detail in pages 129 through 137. The four main points are:
— The power of thorough application of total regret — The power of the thorough application of remedy — The power of renouncing evil — The power of support
The practical details includes sincerity, good actions, performing specific meditations and more. While these teachings are interesting, it is beyond the scope of this essay to discuss them in detail. Gems of Dharma, Jewels of Freedom uses over 200 pages to explain how to improve ones conduct and benefit other beings. Since Islam has no similar teachings, further comparison is not relevant.
Likewise, Christianity has dealt with this problem in a variety of ways, confession being the best known. Islam does not concern itself much with this, emphasizing instead the need to follow the word of Allah and the example of Muhammad.
While we are on the subject of comparing Islam with Buddhism, it is worth noting that in Buddhism, asking questions about the teachings is not only permitted, it is actively encouraged, as abstaining from doing so may cause vital points not to be understood.
It is safe to say that Islam and Buddhism cannot be reconciled. Islam favours obedience to the word of Allah and the example of Muhammad, at the expense of absolute moral codes. Buddhism, on the other hand, considers the individual behaviour and the consequences of actions as crucial, including absolute personal responsibility. Also, since the teachings of Buddhism can be seen as insulting to Muhammad, it is no wonder that Islamic warriors through the centuries have killed millions of Buddhists, destroyed large amount of Buddhist art and burned many monasteries and libraries.
By Buddhist measure, much of the behaviour endorsed and exemplified by Muhammad would lead to an extended visit to the nether realms. And how else to define ‘Satanic’ as behaviour that will result in falling into hell? Buddhism, at least, does not list any worse actions or more severe consequences.
Traditional religions aside, there are people today who willfully consider themselves Satanists. There is a smaller group who consider Satan to be an alternative deity to be worshipped, but the more common variation is that represented by the Church of Satan, whose founder Anton LeVay considered Satanism to be a more authentic lifestyle in the pursuit of happiness than Christianity. Church of Satan emphasises worldly pleasures and overt selfish behaviour as the path to happiness, discarding gods and speculations of otherworldly rewards/punishments as irrelevant and life-defeating. Three examples:
Satan represents man as just another animal, sometimes better, more often worse than those that walk on all-fours, who, because of his “divine spiritual and intellectual development,” has become the most vicious animal of all.
Given the crimes committed in the name of religion, this would seem to have some merit. But it is superficial, in that it doesn’t acknowledge the civilizing effect of several religions, Christianity in particular. But when compared to religions waging holy wars, it would seem as if the position of Church of Satan would be the lesser evil.
Satan represents all of the so-called sins, as they all lead to physical, mental, or emotional gratification.
Now, Islam does not recognize any absolute sins, and Muhammad himself was known for fondness of worldly goods, and women in particular. Practically anything can be permitted, as long as it serves propagating Islam. In this way, Satanism would seem closer related to Islam than to Christianity or Buddhism, who both employ absolute codes of conduct for its adherents. This is logical, for Muhammad himself, as recorded in the Sirat, committed all of the Seven Deadly Sins of Christian theology. Having an absolute code of conduct related to the Christian one would render Muhammad a sinner, which obviously is not a viable option for Islam.
Since the Anton LeVay ‘Satanism’ is atheistic (Satan is not seen as any kind of divine entity to be worshipped), it would, in orthodox Islamic theology, be considered a severe form of heresy.
It is worth noting that Christianity and Buddhism both consider the gratification obtained from these sins – or indulgence to use a less burdened word – to be temporary and short-sighted, leading to later suffering. It can be tricky to ascertain which position is, in an absolute sense, correct. Reading the observations of Theodore Dalrymple, or considering the fact that one does not stay young and attractive forever, the Christian and Buddhist warnings against attachment to carnal desire does have merit.
Satan has been the best friend the Church has ever had, as he has kept it in business all these years!
Satan as the aide of God
This holistic, almost NewAge-like statement leads us to the position of esoteric Christianity. Here it is attempted to find an approach where Satan is not an entity of absolute evil, but rather an accomplice to the work of God, in his efforts to teach man responsibility and ethical behaviour. For if God guaranteed man a pleasant life regardless of his actions, there would be no reason for man to behave in an ethical manner. If no action led to suffering, there would be no cause for man to choose virtue over harm. Satan, in his long separation from God, ever since the temptations of Job, just might return when his work is done.
In the words of James Stephens:
The Fullness of Time On a rusty iron throne Past the furthest star of space I saw Satan sit alone, Old and haggard was his face; For his work was done and he Rested in eternity. And to him from out the sun Came his father and his friend Saying, now the work is done Enmity is at an end: And he guided Satan to Paradises that he knew. Gabriel without a frown, Uriel without a spear, Raphael came singing down Welcoming their ancient peer, And they seated him beside One who had been crucified.
So, if OIC is still reading, there may not be that much reason to worry about the label ‘Satanic’. It may not be as bad as it seems, and it can be handled in a wide variety of ways. On the other hand, it might be advisable to worry about the actual acts of Muhammad, as recorded in the Sirat, which seem similar or worse than the code of conduct advocated by modern-day Church of Satan and the like.
On the other hand, to unconditionally discard the label, going into the details would be good. That means identifying immoral behaviour on the part of Muhammad, declaring these to be non-holy, no longer an example for Muslims today would be good. Dealing first with Muhammads’ endorsement of terrorism would be an appropriate place to start, and dealing with the Ten Commandments would be beneficial for the relationship to the Jewish and Christian societies.
Finally, it would be good to make a clear as to what is most important:
Unconditional obedience to every element of Muhammad’s example – or the application of an universal moral code?
Analysis of “Sympathy for the Devil”
The Rolling Stones, masters of hedonism and reckless abandon, created this masterpiece. It has been taken as an incitement to Satanic worship, but a closer analysis reveals something quite different. The song goes in a tight samba rhythm (yes!), and has been covered by many bands. But none have the discipline and the calm to do the lyrics justice. Time to dive in.
Please allow me to introduce myself .. I’m a man of wealth and taste I’ve been around for long, long years .. stole many man’s soul and faith
Introductions are nice. Wealth and taste not to be snuffed at. Or? Temptation has led man astray from his real potential through the millenia.
I was ’round when Jesus Christ .. had his moment of doubt and pain Made damn sure that Pilate .. washed his hands and sealed his fate
Archetypical. As is most of the song. First line probably a reference to the temptation in the desert, where the Devil tempted Jesus with worldly power, which he politely declined. Second obviously to the Crucifixion, where Pilate absolves himself of responsibility for the event. Abandoning responsibility is not exactly man realizing the best of his potential, another human weakness.
Pleased to meet you .. hope you guess my name But what’s puzzling you .. is the nature of my game
Names we have aplenty – Satan, Devil, Lucifer, Mara etc. But the nature of the game? Puzzling indeed.
I stuck around St. Petersburg .. when I saw it was a time for a change Killed the Czar and his ministers .. Anastasia screamed in vain
A reference to the Russian Revolution (Lenin was, as a historical fact, a paid agent of Imperial Germany with the mission to destabilize Russia), and then to the killing of the Czar family in Yekatarinburg, Ural mountains, during the civil war. Killing children is evil, indeed.
I rode a tank .. held a general’s rank When the blitzkrieg raged .. and the bodies stank
WWII. Doesn’t get much worse than this. Loyal generals whirled into the game of Hitler, doing their parti for their country, but actually being pieces in another human atrocity. Including the Holocaust, which is probably what the last phrase refers to.
Pleased to meet you .. hope you guess my name Ah, what’s puzzling you .. is the nature of my game
Looks like we’re getting in on the game. It’s called ‘Evil’ – but then, what is it, really?
I watched with glee .. while your kings and queens Fought for ten decades .. for the gods they made
This would be a reference to the Hundred Years War, but it is flawed in that the war was not really about religion, in contrast to the later 30 Years War. But there’s no doubt that any one who takes delight in suffering would enjoy these endless conflicts mercilessly.
I shouted out, .. “Who killed the Kennedys?” When after all .. it was you and me
John Kennedy had been assassinated in 1963, and in 1968, while this song was being recorded, the same fate befell his brother Robert. Killing is evil enough in itself, but targeting the elected representatives of democracies constitutes an assault on democracy itself. It could hardly be worse.
Let me please introduce myself .. I’m a man of wealth and taste And I laid traps for troubadours .. who get killed before they reached Bombay
The second line here has been puzzling, but is probably a reference to musicians and artists setting out for mystical India, getting trapped in the drug temptations – attraction to sensesual experience and very temporary happiness distracts people. Lethally.
Pleased to meet you .. hope you guessed my name But what’s puzzling you .. is the nature of my game
The nature of Evil has been puzzling us for millenia. No firm solution has been found, though much experience has been collected along the way. Puzzling, indeed.
Pleased to meet you .. hope you guessed my name But what’s confusing you .. is just the nature of my game
Puzzling, confusing, troubling, you name it. The song remains the same.
Just as every cop is a criminal .. and all the sinners saints As heads is tails, just call me Lucifer .. ’cause I’m in need of some restraint
And, at the very point where we dive into complete relativism, cops criminals, sinners saints, heads is tails – comes the killer sentence: We need restraint. Lucifer, the symbol of endless temptation in particular, is in desperate need of restraint. As Diana West noted in The Death of the Grown-up, people unable to rule themselves will have to be ruled by others. Restraint is a precondition for a genuinely civilized society. If we do not learn the art of genuine restraint, we cannot respect others and we will do things, tempted by the illusion of material happiness, that will cause harm to others, and eventually ourselves. People may contrieve all kinds of excuses to circumvent restraint. To no avail. Genuine restraint, willfully abstaining from what will cause harm to others, is a sine non qua of civilized behaviour. Learn it or perish.
So if you meet me .. have some courtesy, have some sympathy, and some taste Use all your well-learned politesse .. or I’ll lay your soul to waste.
Near the end of the song comes what are probably the most surprising lines to ever have come from the creative, hedonistic minds of the Rolling Stones: It is a call to civilized behaviour, of the kind that many today would consider ridiculously conservative and oppressive: The application of courtesy, sympathy, taste and politesse. The instruction is unmistakenly clear. As is the punishment for not doing your absolutely, very best: Your soul will be laid to waste.
Pleased to meet you .. hope you guessed my name But what’s puzzling you .. is the nature of my game
Naming the enemy makes sense. Understand his game even more so. A crucial difference between civilization and barbarianism is restraint, wilful discipline. If we waste our intelligence devising workarounds from that, Lucifer, Satan, the Devil, Mara – (note the chorus: “Who, who, who”) – wins. Likewise if we use our power to usurp the wealth of others rather than creating some ourselves. But when we restrain ourselves, use our potential constructively, do our utmost to act in a civilized way – in that case the Devil will have no choice but to head off into the desert and, hopelessly abandoned, wither into dust.