Life of Muhammad: Summary of TV Documentary

· Islam

Life of Muhammad:Summary of TV Documentary

(4267 words)

A television broadcast of “The Life Of Muhammad” was told giving the impression that it was an historically correct version of the life and experiences of the Prophet Muhammad. What was related was the general impression of who and what Muhammad was based on common Islamic knowledge of his life. But weaved into that documentary were many dissimulations and myths that the general public would not be aware of. Thus I have corrected some of these myths with the historically recorded details of those events for each to judge on this evidence. The whole has to be read to appreciate myths from folklore/fiction.

Introduction and Explanation of this Collection:

Below you will find a summary of the three episodes presented on the “Life of Muhammad.” Some of the statements are folklore. I have attempted to present the historical events as recorded to show that the truth is different from the general beliefs/myths. The analysis of Muhammad’s life, according to available historical records show that there are misconceptions of Islamic history and this discussion  will be found at the following link:
Life of Muhammad:Legends and Reality

The Life of Muhammad: The Seeker (1/3)

The Life of Muhammad

BBC2’s 3-part documentary presented by Rageh Omaar, is summarised here with brief comments.

Muhammad was born in Mecca in 570AD.  His father died when he was only an infant and his mother sent him off to live with a Bedouin tribe for 4 years.  When he was 6, his mother died and he lived with another relative for 2 years, who also died, before being taken in by his uncle, a wealthy merchant.

Muhammad grew up to become a successful merchant, respected for his fairness and business acumen.  So much so that a wealthy much older woman, Kadijha, asked him to marry her.  He accepted.  This was unheard of in Meccan society especially in those days.  He was married to Kadijha for 25 years, taking no other wives during that time.  They had 4 daughters.

Muhammad  would meditate in a cave on top of a mountain outside Mecca.  After his first revelation in 610, when he was terrified at hearing the voice of Allah, it was Kadijha who comforted him and validated the experience.  She then became his first convert.

This new religion was based on Muhammad’s revelations, now known as Islam.  It was thoroughly exclusive, claiming an absolute equality among believers.  This didn’t sit well with the ruling clan in Mecca, the Quraysh, who persecuted Mohammad and his followers for 12 years until they left Mecca.  Some followers had already found asylum in Abyssinia, a Christian kingdom.  But Muhammad stayed in Mecca with his remaining followers, who at one point were forbidden to conduct business, marry other Meccans, trade, or buy food.

Then things got worse.  After 25 yeas of marriage his beloved Kadijha died, followed by his uncle, a clan leader, who had afforded some measure of protection.  His uncle was succeeded by someone hostile to Muhammad.  [1] [2]

The Life of Muhammad: Holy Wars (2/3)

Holy Wars opens with a revelation contained in one of Muhammad’s dream.  Muhammad dreams of being transported on a white horse to the shrine beneath the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.  There he meets all Islam’s prophets,  Abraham, Moses, Jesus and ending Muhammad.   They pray together.  Then he ascends a ladder  to Heaven, where Allah speaks to him.

Islam’s(Muslim) claim to Jerusalem was derived from the Legend of “Muhammad’s Night Journey” on his mythical horse, Al-Buraq, to the farthest Mosque in his kingdom, the Al Masjid Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem. Of course this is only a legend and Muhammad was never in Jerusalem.

As fate would have it, 6 men from feud ridden Yathrib (later Medina) invited Muhammad to come and mediate in their disputes. Muhammad, glad to find refuge from the hostile Quraish in Mecca took the opportunity to gain followers in Medina and built a mosque and began preaching. This was the turning point for Muhammad, the Hijra.

In order to gain authority in Medina, Muhammad made the tribes sing an agreement, “The Constitution of Medina.” This constitution declared that all inhabitants of Medina were embraced in the ummah, including the Jews. Muhammad was to judge all disputes according to religious law.

Muhammad soon established himself in Medina as an influential political and religious leader. And Muslims pray facing Jerusalem at this time in history.

So far so good for Muhammad.  The call to prayer evolved from the need to notify his followers of the proper time for the 5 times daily prayer.  Christians used a bell and Jews a horn for their calls to prayer, but Muhammad chose the human voice.  Again, something natural, like his choice of drink in Jerusalem.  A freed African slave was the first muezzin, standing on the roof of the small mosque.  Hence the later development of minarets in mosque architecture.Muhammad became an influential political leader and prophet in Medina, but his position had no official standing.  He had to persuade the tribes to agree to, and sign, a written agreement, the Constitution of Medina.  This is contentious because no complete copy exists, and the first partial copy only dates from a hundred years after Muhammad’s death.  It’s analogous to the provenance of the New Testament.  It was apparently an “unsurprising” and “practical” agreement that defined ummah, or community, as embracing all the inhabitants of Medina – Jews, pagans, Christians and Muslims.  A charter of rights and obligations that required Muhammad to judge disputes according to the religious law of the disputants.  The authenticity, or otherwise, of the Constitution of Medina is crucial to the interpretation of events that followed.  But however enlightened that constitution might have been, it was first changed, then discarded, after Muhammad’s death.

The Quraysh in Mecca weren’t happy about Muhammad’s flight and sought vengeance.  News of their plotting reached Muhammad and he received another revelation, this one instructing him to fight back.  Again, hugely contentious because it can either be interpreted as permitting a “just” war, or as a justification for killing non-Muslims.  In 624, he planned a preemptive strike against one of their caravans.  The Meccans, who also had their spies, switched the caravan for a small army.  The Battle of Badr was inconclusive, but the fact that the ummah had survived vindicated Muhammad’s faith.

Another revelation followed, one that disturbed some Jewish tribes by its implied insult to Jerusalem.  Muhammad changed the direction of prayer to Mecca so that Muslims had their own spiritual centre.  The relationship between Muslims and Jews was now deteriorating, fueled by their inability to accept Muhammad as a prophet of God, and because of commercial rivalry as Muslims began to achieve economic prosperity.  Some pagan tribes also began to resent his leadership.

A Jewish tribe held secret meetings with the Quraysh, with whom they had commercial ties, and Muhammad found out about it.  He exiled them for treason.  Then, in 625, the Quraysh returned to Medina with an army three times larger than Muhammad’s.  The battle ended in a stalemate.  Because it happened on the Sabbath, the Jewish tribes refused to fight, and one commander deserted with 300 soldiers.  One interpretation is that these tribes were trying to help the Quraysh.

They attacked again in 627, with an army of 10,000 against Muhammad’s 3,000, and besieged Medina.  But the defenders had dug a trench across the only feasible point of entry and the Quraysh were unable to get their horses across.  With supplies running low, they asked their allies to attack from inside Medina, but retreated before that could take place.

If the Constitution of Medina was indeed a real document, and if the tribes had signed it, thus becoming part of the ummah, then their actions would have been treason, punishable by death.  Muhammad captured the Jewish tribes and allowed them choose someone to arbitrate their cause.  The verdict was treason – 800 men were killed and their wives and children taken into captivity.  Appalling to modern sensibilities, but probably few were shocked at the time.  It’s what a leader would do, rather than allow them to join his enemies in Mecca.  If anything, it has a resonance with the situation of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, although unlimited detention is now the preferred method.

The event is still extraordinarily powerful as a source of infection for the relationship between Jews and Muslims.  Genocide, or would have Muhammad have done the same thing to a pagan tribe?

Next week, the series will explore Muhammad’s legacy. Warrior or prophet? Or perhaps a problematical mixture of the two.

The Life of Muhammad: Holy Peace (3/3)

The Life of Muhammad: The Seeker (1/3)
The Life of Muhammad: Holy Wars (2/3)

Holy Peace takes us from 627, after Muhammad’s victory at the siege of Medina, to his death in 632.  By that time he had defeated the Quraysh in Mecca, in the most extraordinary way, and established Islam as the dominant religion in Arabia.  Holy Peace also brings up some of the most contentious contemporary issues concerning Islam, dealing as it does with Sharia law and its ramifications in terms of government.  Perhaps in response to this, the programme goes out of its way to confront the issues that would offend the average Daily Mail reader.  There is footage of suicide bombers, demonstrations, and even an interview with Muslim activists who went to prison for giving aid to terrorists.  The most chilling thing for me was a placard that read, “Islam is the Answer, Democracy is Cancer.”  Rageh Omaar is the humane, mediating influence in all this, fielding an array of conflicting opinions.

*The documentary gives the concept of Jihad a good airing, claiming that most scholars don’t agree that it means a holy war, more a struggle against the baseness and evil in human life.  They point out that there’s a separate word for armed struggle, and that there were no deliberate recorded attacks against civilians in Muhammad’s lifetime.

By 627, Muhammad was arguably the most powerful man in Arabia, having defeated the Quraysh no less *than 3 times in battle.  In Medina, through his revelations from Allah, he had established a civil/moral code that emphasized brotherhood, justice and equality.  Blood feuds were abolished, a source of bitterness that must have blighted the lives of those unwittingly born into the conflicts.  There was a tax on all Muslims to help orphans, widows and the poor.  Women were given inheritance rights and the right to own property.  Female infanticide was abolished – unwanted female children were formerly left out in the desert to die.  So far, so enlightened, but there were also brutal punishments. Thieves had limbs cut off, adulterers were stoned (also done by Jews and Christians), and slavery had not been abolished.

*Muhammad knew that he could not defeat the Quraysh by military means.  Instead he began to undermine their influence by making alliances with other tribes.  As in medieval and early modern Europe, marriage *was an important strategy, binding tribes together in clan loyalty.  Muhammad pursued this strategy, accumulating between 9 and 13 wives (according to different sources).  One was a Coptic slave, who he freed.  The most controversial was Aisha, who might have been 6 or 7 when bethrothed and 9 when the marriage was consummated.  Other experts put her age at 16 or 17.  While polygamy was normal practice in Arabia, and he had taken no other wives during his 25 year marriage to his first wife, Kadijha, this was all grist to the mill for Muhammad’s critics within Medina.

They must have crowed even louder when another revelation prompted Muhammad to restrict the maximum number of wives to 4, and only then if they could be supported and treated equally.  Muhammad was exempt from this restriction.  Stoning was also abolished for adultery, the punishment now being 100 lashes.  Then, when Aisha went missing and was brought back by a man who she knew before Muhammad, it took a revelation to convince him of her innocence.

Further revelations decreed that Muhammad’s wives should wear a veil, perhaps to avoid further scandalous rumours.  General veiling for all women only came in over 100 years after Muhammad’s death.  One of the *experts points out that the Qur’an only calls for women to cover their nakedness, and there’s no requirement or compulsion to wear the burqa or the niquab.

In 628, Muhammad astounded his followers by calling for them to go on a Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca.  *This must have sounded foolhardy in the extreme, particularly since they would be able to carry no weapons.  In the event, Meccan cavalry stopped them outside of Mecca and further negotiations resulted in what seemed like a humiliating defeat for Muhammad.  They would have to return to Medina, stop raiding Meccan caravans, and Muhammad could not be named as Messenger of God in the treaty that formalized the arrangement.  In return, they would be permitted to return on a Hajj the following year.   Muhammad signed, and a subsequent revelation confirmed that this was victory.

Amazingly, it turned out to be true.  Muhammad and his followers went on Hajj in 629 and so impressed the Meccans by their modesty that the tide of public opinion began to turn against the Quraysh.  In 630, they *attacked one of Muhammad’s allies.  He marched on Mecca with an army of 10,000, and shocked the Quraysh by forgiving them.  He ordered a general amnesty in which no-one was killed or forced to convert to Islam.  Muhammad’s goal was to return the Kaaba to Allah.  All the pagan statues and images were destroyed.  Then, after this astonishing victory gained by peace and reconciliation, he returned to Medina.  The rest of Arabia soon joined his cause, and the last pagan stronghold converted in 631.

Muhammad returned to Mecca in 632, for what is called his Farewell Sermon.  Speaking to huge crowds outside the city, he reaffirmed his belief that the only reality is the One True God, and accordingly there should be no clan, tribal, or racial superiority: all humans are one.

Muhammad died later that year in Medina, nursed in his final illness by Aisha, who became a political power broker in the years after his death.  Disputes arose among his family, and in the following century Islam split into Shia and Sunni factions.  It also spread through much of the known world, to India, China, North Africa, Spain and France.  The idea of a peaceful jihad was now a dead letter.

Sharia law also changed in response to this dynamic. While based on the Qur’an and the example of Muhammad’s life, it changed to meet the new conditions, and contradictions appeared within it.

In Rageh Omaar’s summing up, he points out that Muhammad left Arabia a better society, achieved *ultimately through reconciliation and peaceful methods. His Farewell Sermon, stressing that we are all equal, is certainly admirable.  Unfortunately, however admirable the founders of religions are, it’s their successors who do all the damage.

As an atheist, I find it impossible to believe in divine revelation, although I’m prepared to believe that Muhammad’s initial revelation in 610 is certainly genuine in the sense that he believed it utterly.  Acceptance brought a world of troubles down on his head.  Nevertheless, I can’t help thinking that subsequent revelations are rather shrewd adaptations to his predicament while he’s in Mecca, and definite aids to establishing a position of influence for himself and his beliefs in Medina.  That’s not to say they were necessarily cynical manipulations, merely that his mind worked just as cannily in revelation mode.  The *Night Journey, for example, dreamed at the Kaaba in 621, is the perfect allegorical basis for an identification with the prophets of the Old Testament, while demonstrating his privileged position as the last Prophet of the One True God.

Muhammad’s decision to go on a Hajj to Mecca was certainly a leap of faith.  It took some balls to do that, and a great deal of self-confidence in his power as a leader to sell it to his followers.  And the acceptance of what seemed like a humiliating treaty must have tested him to the utmost.

*He showed an even greater forbearance in seeking reconciliation in Mecca rather than revenge.  It’s hard not to like the figure who emerges from this documentary, despite the actions that run directly counter to 21st century taboos.  In the historical context (mostly) I can see why the reasons would be compelling.

It’s just a pity that Muhammad’s successors were more influenced by realpolitik than promoting a religion of tolerance and equality.  But you could say the same thing about Jesus, that pinko commie, by all the standards of the Religious Right.  If I was Muslim, I would want to reclaim Muhammad from the extremists, as Rageh Omaar and many of the commentators clearly want to do.  I hope they succeed. [3]


Stuart Parsons says:

As someone who has made a serious study of Islam and its self-proclaimed ‘Prophet’, I can unequivocally state the BBC2 series ‘The Life of Muhammad’ was a travesty. The programmes are more noteworthy for what they chose to conceal about the life of Muhammad than what they were willing to reveal.

Islams own sources, the Quran,Sunnah and sirahs clearly reveal Muhammad murdered or mutilated ALL who spoke out against him, and with the support of his deluded, booty and sex motivated followers, he lied, plotted, tortured, killed, robbed, ransomed and raped his way to absolute political and religious power.

Mr Aaqil Ahmed, Head of BBC Religious Broadcasting, has attempted to disingenuously lead us up the Islamic garden path and pull the holy wool over our eyes.[1]

Haqiqat says:

The Life of Muhammad

Rageh Omaar’s series entitled “The Life of Muhammad” has left no stone unturned in portraying Muhammad as the unique and peerless prophet. In the process, he has failed to shed light on the aspects that do not present him in a flattering light. It is therefore in dire need of comments to give a balanced view.

The final episode of the series [Holy Peace] asserts that after the capture of Mecca:
· The prophet, instead of wreaking vengeance, forgave all his enemies;
· He proclaimed a general amnesty;
· Furthermore, he declared that nobody would be forced to convert to Islam.

Apropos of the above, I refer to N J Dawood’s Koran [1987 edition] Penguin Classics. I reproduce below a few excerpts from Sura “Repentence” [pages 320/1]
· For 4 months you shall go unmolested in the land,
· When the(se) months are over slay the idolaters wherever you find them,
· Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them,
· If they repent and take to prayer and pay the alms-tax, let them go their way. [In other words the heads of only those Meccans would not be chopped off who had already converted to Islam].

We have been told in the series that Mohammad exemplified humane qualities. But we find no sign of these in the above ultimatum to the Meccans. Does lying in ambush everywhere and slaying them stand testimony to his humane qualities? Where is the evidence of the so-called message of Justice, Peace and Reconciliation? That he had promised Meccans that they would not be forced to convert to Islam is at odds with the contents of the above Sura.

Participants in the series have also made numerous misleading statements:
· Equality and Rule of Law have been trumpeted as the cornerstones of Islam. In fact, in Islamic countries, there is no justice for minorities. The conquered people of other religions had no human rights. The Muslim rulers over the centuries imposed Jazya [Protection Money] on the non-Muslim subjects; while Muslims in the realm remained immune from it. An instance of extorting Jazya occurred in the recent past in Pakistan when Sikhs had to flee from their hearth and home and were allowed to return after they had agreed to pay that Jazya.

· God was the creator of many tribes. Muhammad therefore preached that all humans get to know one another. That he did not wish his followers to fight, oppress, occupy, hurt or terrorise non-Muslim people. Then what were his followers doing to his Quraish brethren in Mecca after its capture?
· There was wholesale forcible conversion in the conquered territories. For instance, the Arabs treated the Zoroastrians of Iran in a demonic fashion. At one time they cut off the heads of prominent Zoroastrians. The Arabs were therefore characterised as “the followers of Ahriman” (Satan). In the end, those who did not wish to convert to Islam fled to Makran and over the sea to India—Richard N Frye: The Golden Age of Persia (Page 96).
· Salman Taseer, the Governor of Punjab [Pakistan], was assassinated in January 2011 by his police bodyguard while other members of his security personnel looked on. He was murdered as a punishment for his open condemnation of Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws that were causing blatant miscarriage of justice in courts to the Christian minority.

· All humans are one. An Arab has no superiority over a Non-Arab. These statements are not borne out by the following quote in Farsi: “wallah ahl-e Abrahim anaka amidan majeed” (“Serve Abraham and his family and his race”—Arabs]. It clearly puts even Muslims of Non-Arab extraction in an inferior and subservient role. Christians and Jews were called Dhimmi [non-Muslims living with limited rights under Muslim rule]. Greeks in the conquered territories had “akis” added at the end of their surname which means “little”. This was an instrument to snub & humiliate them.
· Furthermore, polytheists are called Kafir and any Muslim who murders them is called a “Ghazi” who goes straight to Paradise and does not have to wait for the Day of Judgement.
· Equality is therefore a myth in Islam.

· His polygamy has been presented as the prophet’s astute move to weld together different Arab tribes. This again does not make sense in view of him marrying Zaynab, the former wife of his adopted son, Zayd. Zaynab was Muhammad’s cousin and was a Quraish. There was, therefore, no other tribe involved in their marriage.

The organised religions from the Middle East have produced three prophets. Each of these has left a book to guide the followers of his own religion. Moses gave the Jews the Ten Commandments; Christ gave his followers the Sermon on the Mount. Prophet Muhammad gave Muslims the Quran. Each of these books is claimed to contain Divine Revelation.
However, while the first two had a “proactive” Revelation that was given only once to them in their lifetime, Muhammad’s revelations continued pouring in whenever he needed them. His revelations were not proactive; but “reactive”. In other words, they were tailor made for his requirements. Furthermore, Allah abrogated some earlier Revelations by later ones. One of the abrogated ones became the theme of Salman Rushdie’s controversial “Satanic Verses” which led to Khomeini’s pronouncing death fatwa on the author for writing about it. It is surprising that Allah was so unsure of the correctness of his Revelations that he had to chop and change them even during the lifespan of Muhammad. But, Muslims are not allowed to critically examine the contents or to have qualms about the authenticity of Divine Revelation of the Koran, because it is a faith-based religion.

In conclusion, I must highlight the Islamic Principle of Taqiyya that allows lying for the sake of Allah. In practical terms it is manifested as dissimulation, lying, deceiving, vexing and confounding with the intention of deflecting attention, foiling or pre-emptive blocking. It is currently employed in fending off and neutralising any criticism of Islam or Muslims. We must therefore remain on our guard and not accept on trust statements made by Muslim scholars and Islamic apologists in the media about Islam. We have to dig deep to know the truth.[1]

Zainab Choudary says:

This program is dissapointing from beginning to end:
1) it is a totally one sided opinion of one Muslim journalist whose view of Islam was already formed.
2) there are valid questions about Islams that were not properly discussed. Islams’ critics, like Trefkovic, R Spencer and Nonie Darwish, have been given not more than 10 seconds airtime. This program seemed more like a forum for pro-Islam speakers.
3) Debatable are the origins of the Quran, the Hudabiya Treaty, the ‘divorced’ (as Omar put it) wife of Muhammad’s adopted son who became Muhammad’s wife, the last words of Muhammad, to name but a few.
4) Overlooked were the 160 verses of the Q that promoted hate against the kafir (unbeliever cannot lead over a muslim, unbeliever is the worse of the worst etc), the ayas that reduce Muslim women as mere object and Muhammad’s cause of death (poisoned by a Jewess for Muhammad’s massacring of her clan) and of course his last words (”there shall be no two religions if Arabia”),
3) IT is a classic reflection of how Muslims maintain their belief:: by accepting Islam uncritically.
It is a shame that it has to be aired by a publicly funded broadcaster like the BBC. NO wonder then that at the moment BBC is being investigated for it’s partiality. [1]


[It should be noted that all copies (iPlayer) of the BBC2 documentary Life of Muhammad has been withdrawn(time limited) and so no further reference to the original is possible.]

[1] Life of Muhammad Review:

[2] BBC 2 Life of Muhammad Part 1:

[2] BBC2 Life of Muhammad Part 2:

[3] BBC2 Life of Muhammad part 3:

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