Updated: Apr 17
Americans and Europeans have heard a number of stories about the Prophet which they have thought to be true, although the narrators were either ignorant or antagonistic: most of them were clergy; others were ignorant Muslims who repeated unfounded traditions about Muhammad which they ignorantly believed to be to His praise.
Thus some benighted Muslims made His polygamy the pivot of their praises and held it to be a wonder, regarding it as a miracle; and European historians, for the most part, rely on the tales of these ignorant people.
For example, a foolish man said to a clergyman that the true proof of greatness is bravery and the shedding of blood, and that in one day on the field of battle a follower of Muhammad had cut off the heads of one hundred men! This misled the clergyman to infer that killing is considered the way to prove one's faith to Muhammad, while this is merely imaginary. The military expeditions of Muhammad, on the contrary, were always defensive actions: a proof of this is that during thirteen years, in Mecca, He and His followers endured the most violent persecutions. At this period they were the target for the arrows of hatred: some of His companions were killed and their property confiscated; others fled to foreign lands. Muhammad Himself, after the most extreme persecutions by the Qurayshites, who finally resolved to kill Him, fled to Medina in the middle of the night. Yet even then His enemies did not cease their persecutions, but pursued Him to Medina, and His disciples even to Abyssinia. These Arab tribes were in the lowest depths of savagery and barbarism, and in comparison with them the savages of Africa and wild Indians of America were as advanced as a Plato. The savages of America do not bury their children alive as these Arabs did their daughters, glorying in it as being an honorable thing to do. Thus many of the men would threaten their wives, saying, "If a daughter is born to you, I will kill you." Even down to the present time the Arabs dread having daughters. Further, a man was permitted to take a thousand women, and most husbands had more than ten wives in their household. When these tribes made war, the one which was victorious would take the women and children of the vanquished tribe captive and treat them as slaves. When a man who had ten wives died, the sons of these women rushed at each other's mothers; and if one of the sons threw his mantle over the head of his father's wife and cried out, "This woman is my lawful property," at once the unfortunate woman became his prisoner and slave. He could do whatever he wished with her. He could kill her, imprison her in a well, or beat, curse and torture her until death released her. According to the Arab habits and customs, he was her master. It is evident that malignity, jealousy, hatred and enmity must have existed between the wives and children of a household, and it is, therefore, needless to enlarge upon the subject. Again, consider what was the condition and life of these oppressed women! Moreover, the means by which these Arab tribes lived consisted in pillage and robbery, so that they were perpetually engaged in fighting and war, killing one another, plundering and devastating each other's property, and capturing women and children, whom they would sell to strangers. How often it happened that the daughters and sons of a prince, who spent their day in comfort and luxury, found themselves, when night fell, reduced to shame, poverty and captivity. Yesterday they were princes, today they are captives; yesterday they were great ladies, today they are slaves. Muhammad received the Divine Revelation among these tribes, and after enduring thirteen years of persecution from them, He fled.˛ But this people did not cease to oppress; they united to exterminate Him and all His followers. It was under such circumstances that Muhammad was forced to take up arms. This is the truth: we are not bigoted and do not wish to defend Him, but we are just, and we say what is just. Look at it with justice. If Christ Himself had been placed in such circumstances among such tyrannical and barbarous tribes, and if for thirteen years He with His disciples had endured all these trials with patience, culminating in flight from His native land--if in spite of this these lawless tribes continued to pursue Him, to slaughter the men, to pillage their property, and to capture their women and children--what would have been Christ's conduct with regard to them? If this oppression had fallen only upon Himself, He would have forgiven them, and such an act of forgiveness would have been most praiseworthy; but if He had seen that these cruel and bloodthirsty murderers wished to kill, to pillage and to injure all these oppressed ones, and to take captive the women and children, it is certain that He would have protected them and would have resisted the tyrants. What objection, then, can be taken to Muhammad's action? Is it this, that He did not, with His followers, and their women and children, submit to these savage tribes? To free these tribes from their bloodthirstiness was the greatest kindness, and to coerce and restrain them was a true mercy. They were like a man holding in his hand a cup of poison, which, when about to drink, a friend breaks and thus saves him. If Christ had been placed in similar circumstances, it is certain that with a conquering power He would have delivered the men, women and children from the claws of these bloodthirsty wolves. Muhammad never fought against the Christians; on the contrary, He treated them kindly and gave them perfect freedom. A community of Christian people lived at Najrán and were under His care and protection. Muhammad said, "If anyone infringes their rights, I Myself will be his enemy, and in the presence of God I will bring a charge against him." In the edicts which He promulgated it is clearly stated that the lives, properties and honor of the Christians and Jews are under the protection of God; and that if a Muhammadan married a Christian woman, the husband must not prevent her from going to church, nor oblige her to veil herself; and that if she died, he must place her remains in the care of the Christian clergy. Should the Christians desire to build a church, Islám ought to help them. In case of war between Islám and her enemies, the Christians should be exempted from the obligation of fighting, unless they desired of their own free will to do so in defense of Islám, because they were under its protection. But as a compensation for this immunity, they should pay yearly a small sum of money. In short, there are seven detailed edicts on these subjects, some copies of which are still extant at Jerusalem. This is an established fact and is not dependent on my affirmation. The edict of the second Caliph still exists in the custody of the orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, and of this there is no doubt. Nevertheless, after a certain time, and through the transgression of both the Muhammadans and the Christians, hatred and enmity arose between them. Beyond this fact, all the narrations of the Muslims, Christians and others are simply fabrications, which have their origin in fanaticism, or ignorance, or emanate from intense hostility. For example, the Muslims say that Muhammad cleft the moon, and that it fell on the mountain of Mecca: they think that the moon is a small body which Muhammad divided into two parts and threw one part on this mountain, and the other part on another mountain. Such stories are pure fanaticism. Also the traditions which the clergy quote, and the incidents with which they find fault, are all exaggerated, if not entirely without foundation. Briefly, Muhammad appeared in the desert of Hijáz in the Arabian Peninsula, which was a desolate, sterile wilderness, sandy and uninhabited. Some parts, like Mecca and Medina, are extremely hot; the people are nomads with the manners and customs of the dwellers in the desert, and are entirely destitute of education and science. Muhammad Himself was illiterate, and the Qur'án was originally written upon the bladebones of sheep, or on palm leaves. These details indicate the condition of the people to whom Muhammad was sent. The first question which He put to them was, "Why do you not accept the Pentateuch and the Gospel, and why do you not believe in Christ and in Moses?" This saying presented difficulties to them, and they argued, "Our forefathers did not believe in the Pentateuch and the Gospel; tell us, why was this?" He answered, "They were misled; you ought to reject those who do not believe in the Pentateuch and the Gospel, even though they are your fathers and your ancestors." In such a country, and amidst such barbarous tribes, an illiterate Man produced a book in which, in a perfect and eloquent style, He explained the divine attributes and perfections, the prophethood of the Messengers of God, the divine laws, and some scientific facts. Thus, you know that before the observations of modern times--that is to say, during the first centuries and down to the fifteenth century of the Christian era--all the mathematicians of the world agreed that the earth was the center of the universe, and that the sun moved. The famous astronomer who was the protagonist of the new theory discovered the movement of the earth and the immobility of the sun. Until his time all the astronomers and philosophers of the world followed the Ptolemaic system, and whoever said anything against it was considered ignorant. Though Pythagoras, and Plato during the latter part of his life, adopted the theory that the annual movement of the sun around the zodiac does not proceed from the sun, but rather from the movement of the earth around the sun, this theory had been entirely forgotten, and the Ptolemaic system was accepted by all mathematicians. But there are some verses revealed in the Qur'án contrary to the theory of the Ptolemaic system. One of them is "The sun moves in a fixed place," which shows the fixity of the sun, and its movement around an axis. Again, in another verse, "And each star moves in its own heaven." Thus is explained the movement of the sun, of the moon, of the earth, and of other bodies. When the Qur'án appeared, all the mathematicians ridiculed these statements and attributed the theory to ignorance. Even the doctors of Islám, when they saw that these verses were contrary to the accepted Ptolemaic system, were obliged to explain them away.
It was not until after the fifteenth century of the Christian era, nearly nine hundred years after Muhammad, that a famous astronomer made new observations and important discoveries by the aid of the telescope, which he had invented.˛ˇ˛ The rotation of the earth, the fixity of the sun, and also its movement around an axis, were discovered. It became evident that the verses of the Qur'án agreed with existing facts, and that the Ptolemaic system was imaginary.
In short, many Oriental peoples have been reared for thirteen centuries under the shadow of the religion of Muhammad. During the Middle Ages, while Europe was in the lowest depths of barbarism, the Arab peoples were superior to the other nations of the earth in learning, in the arts, mathematics, civilization, government and other sciences. The Enlightener and Educator of these Arab tribes, and the Founder of the civilization and perfections of humanity among these different races, was an illiterate Man, Muhammad. Was this illustrious Man a thorough Educator or not? A just judgment is necessary. -`Abdu'l-Bahá