Assassinations: Prophet’s Holy Tradition Takes Center Stage in the Muslim World
M. A. Khan
Assassination, or secret killing, is the most dreaded weapon to demolish an opposition or to silence critics. Authoritarian, fascist and fanatic regimes have historical used assassination with great effectiveness. Today, from Tunisia to Bangladesh, assassinations by Islamist fanatics have been terrorizing their secular and progressive opponents.
In Islam, assassination was one of the violent tools that Prophet Muhammad used in its founding days. Here’s a brief list of the Prophet’s assassinations:
1) Abu Afak: He was famous poet, aged 120 years. He wrote a poem, condemning the Prophet’s murdering a man named al-Harith. Hearing of what Abu Afak has written, “The apostle said, ‘Who will deal with this rascal for me?’” And a disciple of Muhammad, named Salim b. Umayr, went forth and killed him at the dead of night. (Ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, p. 675)
2) Asma binte Marwan: She was poetess and mother of five children. When Prophet Muhammad assassinated the heavily-aged fellow poet Abu Afaq, Asma wrote a poem, condemning the tribes of Medina that had invited such a violent person and his murderous gang to their otherwise tranquil city. Ibn Ishaq writes, “When the apostle heard what she had said, he said, ‘Who will rid me of Marwan’s daughter?’” A disciple of Muhammad, named Umayr, went to her house that very night and killed her. In the morning when informed Muhammad of his killing of Asma, he said, ‘You have helped God and His apostle, O Umayr.’ When Umayr went to Asma house, she was sleeping with her breast-feeding baby on her cheast. He carefully removed the baby and plunged the sword through her chest so violently that it got stuck into the wooden bed below. (ibid, p. 675-76)
3) Kab bin Ashraf: Kab was a Jewish Prophet and critic of Muhammad. When Kab heard that a large number of the Quraish died in Muhammad’s aggressively plotted Battle of Bad’r, he reacted, “Is this true? Did Muhammad actually kill these, whom these two men mention? These are the nobles of the Arabs and kingly men; by God, if Muhammad has slain these people, it were better to be dead than alive” (Ibn Ishaq, p. 365). He felt so devastated at the death of so many Meccan noblemen that Hasan bin Thabit, Muhammad’s poet, wrote, “Does Ka’b weep for him again and again / And live in humiliation hearing nothing?….” A Muslim woman, ridiculing Ka’b, wrote: “This slave shows great concern / Weeping over the slain untiringly…”
Ka’b not only expressed grief at the slain Meccans, he also wrote a poem urging them to take revenge on Muhammad (ibid). When Muhammad heard about it, records Sahih Bukhari (5:369), “Allah’s messenger said, ‘Who is willing to kill Ka’b bin Al-Ashraf who has hurt Allah and His apostle?’ Thereupon Maslama got up saying, ‘O Allah’s messenger! Would you like that I kill him?’” Maslama also said that he will have to lie and deceive in order to kill Ka’b. Muhammad gave him permission to do that. Then on one night, Maslama lured Ka’b out of his house, saying he wanted to discuss something with him. When Ka’b, disregarding his wife’s concern, came out, two armed Muslim associates of Maslama, who were hiding nearby, came out and fell upon Ka’b and murdered him. (see also Ibn Ishaq, p. 367-68)
4) Abu Sufyan: Meccan leader Abu Sufyan was one of Muhammad’s numerous fathers-in-law and chief opponent. Muhammad had sent Amr bin Umayyah al-Damri with another accomplice to Mecca for assassinating Abu Sufyan after the disastrous Battle of Ohud. The plot to kill Abu Sufyan failed, but the assassins killed 3 other Meccans before escaping to Medina with another Meccan alive. (History of Al-Tabari, Vol. 7, p. 147, Ibn Ishaq, p. 673-674)
There are many more cases of Muhammad’s order for assassination, which were either completed or failed (See Benjamin Walker, Foundations of Islam, p. 317-319; also see List of Killings Ordered or Supported by Muhammad, WikiIslam). It continued until the last day of the Prophet’s life. A Yemen-based Prophet and opponent of Muhammad named Ayhala ibn Kaab, known as Al Aswad (the Black) to Muslims, was assassinated on the night before Muhammad’s death. (Syed Amir Ali, The Spirit of Islam, p. 217; Benjamin Walker, p. 319)
Muhammad’s assassination of opponents and critics was so useful in breaking down opponents and terrorizing critics into silence that it remained an effective tool over subsequent period Muslim rule to the extent that there developed an entire Islamic sect in the Middle Age, called Hashashin, whose members made a living by working as hired assassins. And from this sect-name, Hashashin, the English word “assassin” and its derivatives originated. This tool remained active in Muslim societies and communities to this day. In recent history, prominent Islamic assassinations are that of moderate Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat, and failed attempts on the life of two Muslim intellectual giants, namely Nobel laureates, Naguib Mahfouz of Egypt, and Orhan Pamuk of Turkey.
While Islamic assassinations have remained a continuous phenomenon, after the rise of the Islamists following the “Arab Spring” revolutions in the Middle East, it has found a renewed and reinvigorated favor for terrorizing and silencing opponents of the
Islamists as well as the critics of Islam. In Tunisia, traditionally the most secular Arab country and the first to experience the Arab Spring, secular opposition leader Chokri Belaid, opponent of the ruling Islamists-led government, was assassinated outside his home by unknown assailants, days after a bearded Salafi brand cleric gave a fatwa, declaring Belaid an “infidel” who must be killed “not according to me but the prophet!”
After Tunisia, Egypt was the next country where the Arab Spring empowered the Islamists, and brought the radical Islamic Muslim Brotherhood party into power. And soon after secular Chokri Belaid’s assassination in Tunisia, Islamic fatwas permitting the spilling of the blood of the opponent of Islamic agenda were declared. Appearing live on TV, Dr. Mahmoud Sha’ban – quoting the words of Prophet Muhammad from a Sahih Muslim hadith and Sharia Law that calls for beheading those who oppose the leader – issued a fatwa, calling for the murder of secular leaders Muhammad el-Baradei and Hamdin Sabhi, opponents of Islamist Brotherhood government in power. The fatwa sent down fear across the secular-camp politicians in Egypt. And days after Dr. Sha’ban’s fatwa Dr. Tawfik Okasha, Misr al-Youm (“Egypt Today”) TV show host and a vociferous critic of the Muslim Brotherhood, was attempted for assassination outside his house. He was saved by his bodyguards, who fire back at the assassins.
Islamic assassination has also been active in the West, which saw the assassination of Dutch film-maker Theo van Gogh in November 2004 for making a movie, Submission, depicting the Islamic oppression of women. Prior to that Pim Fortuyn, a gay politician opposed to Islamic excesses in the Netherlands, was also assassinated in May 2002 by unknown assailants. Apart from these, a number of attempts to murder the critics of Islam have failed, while many plots to assassinate the critics of Islam were uncovered and frustrated. As of latest, Danish journalist and historian and critic of Islam Lars Hedegaard, also founder and president of the International Free Press Society, narrowly escaped an assassination attempt outside his home in Copenhagen.
And Bangladesh, another predominantly Islamic nation in the relatively quiet corner of South Asia, has just joined the fray of Islamic assassination. Bangladesh is no stranger to the phenomenon of Islamic assassination, as two of her top intellectuals and writers, namely Dr. Humayun Azad and poet Shamsur Rahman were both targeted for assassination. And most recently, terror of Islamic assassination reappeared with a vengeance in the course of Bangladesh’s own “Arab Spring” of sort, wherein the young generation of secular-minded Bangladeshis took to the streets in the hundreds of thousands for a prolonged period, demanding death penalty for the Islamist pro-Pakistan war criminals of 1971 currently under trial. Those war criminals are also the leaders of the country’s leading Islamic party, the Jamaat-e-Islami.
And in the face of the vigorous and determined call for death penalty of the Islamist war criminals on the streets in Bangladesh, members of the Jamaat-e-Islami Party has undertaken the path of assassination of the leading organizers of the demonstrations – many of whom turns out to be apostates and critics of Islam. On the 15 February 2013 night, leading organizer Ahmed Rajib Haider, nick-named Thaba Baba – a 35-year-old architect, atheist apostate and talented anti-Islam blogger, the brain behind the
well-known Dhormockery (Mockery of religion) website that was previously banned by the Bangladesh government – was intercepted by unknown assassins on the way home and murder him by slitting his throat before dumping his dead-body outside his house. Thaba Baba’s assassination comes after attempt on the life of Asif Mohiuddin, another apostate and popular anti-Islam blogger, who was attacked with axe but survived weeks before the ongoing demonstration. And after the murder of Thaba Baba, Islamists are circulating of all kinds of hit-lists of anti-Islam bloggers and secular-minded organizers of the anti-Islamist demonstration, sending down chilling fear across the vibrant Islam-critiquing blogging community and organizers of the demonstration.
At the outset of the demonstration, with tepid support of the ruling secular-leaning Awami League government, the protesters seemed to be in a firm position to intimidate the Islamists and get their wish for implementing death penalty upon all the Islamist war criminals. But with the tool of assassination, successfully murdering Thaba Baba, which they seek to continue using until all vestiges of atheism is wiped of the country’s soil, Bangladesh’s own version of “Arab Spring” – albeit an anti-Islamist one – suddenly seems to be all in disarray. What worked for the prophet of Islam 1,400 years ago works as effectively in today’s Bangladesh, despite a secular and somewhat anti-Islamist government in power.