It is commonly believed that Muhammad was a kind, gentle messenger during his stay at Mecca, but changed to a violent monster after moving to Medina where he attained power. In fact, he was intent on violence even at Mecca, but lacked the power...


In this article, I try to investigate the general perception that Muhammad had a gentle spirit in Mecca, but it changed after his emigration to Medina. This study relies mainly on comparing earlier Meccan Quranic verses with other Quranic verses from his early times in Medina, as well as with verses from his last ‘revelation’ when he was the supreme leader of Arabia.

Meccan Muhammad

Muhammad’s message was for his ken folks. Allah is in control of everything. Muhammad is no more than a warner. However, Muhammad did what he could, mainly threaten people. Note how verse 42:7 in the Quran promises those who do not follow him the fire of hell. There is more beauty and rhyme in the Meccan Suras. Arabs loved poetry and rhyme, and Muhammad had to compete with that. They had certain annual markets in Mecca where poets competed with their poetry (i.e. Ukad or Ukaz,..). The best poems were hung on the walls of the Ka’ba, an honor that not every poet obtained.

Muhammad was unsuccessful with his new ‘poetry-like’ jargon, the Quran. In this regard, many great poets won the hearts of the Arabs more than Muhammad's Suras. By the end of his thirteen years in Mecca, Muhammad realized that words are powerful, especially if they came in an attractive way (i.e. poetry). But he also realized that his language abilities couldn’t compete with those great poets of old.

When he went to Yathrib (called Medina later), he probably had in mind getting rid of those poets, who went against him, or mocked him with their poetry. History bears me out here. Did he not assassinate Asma bint Marwan and other poets, who composed some poetry criticizing him?

Muhammad's assassination of poets is best understood within the context of his life. He could not do much to them when he was in Mecca. He was weak with no political power. Would it not be natural to see Muhammad as a vindictive unforgiving person for those who criticized him right from the start? Muhammad did target poets after the hijra (emigration) to Yathrib (Medina) with assassinations. Even after he took over Mecca, he ordered the killing of Ibn Khatal and his two singing girls, because they had sung songs making fun of him. He was just a vindictive unforgiving person right from the Meccan times. He just did not muster enough power to send his henchmen to kill people back then (Muhammad himself was a coward who relied on others to do his bad deeds for him). Below are some verses from the Meccan period.

YUSUFALI: And admonish thy nearest kinsmen,

YUSUFALI: Thus doth (He) send inspiration to thee as (He did) to those before thee,- Allah, Exalted in Power, Full of Wisdom.

YUSUFALI: To Him belongs all that is in the heavens and on earth: and He is Most High, Most Great.

YUSUFALI: The heavens are almost rent asunder from above them (by Him Glory): and the angels celebrate the Praises of their Lord, and pray for forgiveness for (all) beings on earth: Behold! Verily Allah is He, the Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.

YUSUFALI: And those who take as protectors others besides Him,- Allah doth watch over them; and thou art not the disposer of their affairs.

YUSUFALI: Thus have We sent by inspiration to thee an Arabic Quran: that thou mayest warn the Mother of Cities and all around her,- and warn (them) of the Day of Assembly, of which there is no doubt: (when) some will be in the Garden, and some in the Blazing Fire.

While in Mecca, Muhammad increasingly became more insulting to his kinfolk and their religions. Despite that, the pagans of Mecca were civil people. They did not drive him or his Muslim group out of Mecca. He left the city on his term as he realized that he couldn’t make it to be the leading authority if he stayed. Over a period of thirteen years he only managed to have around 100 to 150 Muslims, mostly rowdy and lower class people. The fact of the matter is that Muhammad had it in his mind to leave Mecca all along. He sent a group of Muslims to Abyssinia (Ethiopia, 615-16) to see about the situation there. He also went to Taif (619), and the people there told him to just leave. They kicked him out. The idea that Muhammad was forced to leave Mecca, because the Meccans were after him wanting to kill him does not find much historical support. The reader is advised to consult M. A. Khan’s book discussion on this matter (Islamic Jihad, pp. 18-26).

Early Medinan Muhammad

In Medina, there are, in my view, two distinct stages to Muhammad's career of ten years there. In Mecca, he realized that he couldn’t win the hearts of people through his kind verses Quran (poetry!!). He just was not good enough to compete with the top poets of the time. He must have contemplated more power and success in life. So, he had to get his way using force. He wanted to see how much power he can exercise over other people. His first attempts at loots were unsuccessful.

However, the Nakhla raid was a success. He made a good bounty out of that raid without even lifting a finger. For a quick analogy here, I grew up where there are local dogs in the villages that herded sheep and goats. If a dog tasted the blood of goat and killed it, that dog had to be shot. There was no way to keep that dog from doing it again. The usual say in the village would be ‘He (meaning the dog) could not be kept alive. He tasted blood’. Well, in a sense, the Nakhla raid for Muhammad was his ‘blood tasting’ experience. (off course, the problem was he, Muhammad, was kept alive).

Here are some verses from that period:

YUSUFALI: Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things.

YUSUFALI: Allah is the Protector of those who have faith: from the depths of darkness He will lead them forth into light. Of those who reject faith the patrons are the evil ones: from light they will lead them forth into the depths of darkness. They will be companions of the fire, to dwell therein (For ever).

Note that the above verses still give an option of belief to people, however he is still threatening people with hellfire. Muhammad is still feeling his way on what to do next. However, look at those verses from the same period:

YUSUFALI: Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loveth not transgressors.

YUSUFALI: And slay them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have Turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter; but fight them not at the Sacred Mosque, unless they (first) fight you there; but if they fight you, slay them. Such is the reward of those who suppress faith.

It is evident that Muhammad had moved to what I call passive fighting. Muslims were still weak during that period. He wanted them to defend themselves by fighting those who fight the Muslims. Verse 2:191 shows Muhammad’s hateful heart against those, who fight Muslims. It is at this stage that we see Muhammad feeling that he has some power to be able to subdue those, who, he thought, fought Muslims. But, he has to be careful with his revelations, as he was still not in full control power-wise. He had to seek alliances with multiple groups and tribes.

Muhammad's "True Color"

The true color of a person shows best when he is in power to decide the fate of other people. Many people loved the late king Hussein of Jordan for many reasons. He was just a kind-hearted man. One of the things about the late king if one reads his writings, and many people do not know that, is that there were many assassination attempts and coups against his life and against his rule. It was a habit of his to forgive those, who tried to kill him or make a coup against him (in fact, many of those people he elevated to high ranks in the Jordanian army and the Jordanian police). King Hussein had a gentle spirit.

Compare that to Muhammad’s and what he says in the last Sura of the Quran (chronologically). Please remember that he was the highest authority in the land, when these verses were 'revealed' to him. By the way, by that time, Muhammad's 'revelations' lost their rhyme. He did not need to compete with the poets anymore. He had military and political control over much of Arabia. Below are the verses from the chronologically last 'revelation':

YUSUFALI: O ye who believe! Truly the Pagans are unclean; so let them not, after this year of theirs, approach the Sacred Mosque. And if ye fear poverty, soon will Allah enrich you, if He wills, out of His bounty, for Allah is All-knowing, All-wise.

YUSUFALI: Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.

YUSUFALI: O Prophet! strive hard against the unbelievers and the Hypocrites, and be firm against them. Their abode is Hell,- an evil refuge indeed.

YUSUFALI: They swear by Allah that they said nothing (evil), but indeed they uttered blasphemy, and they did it after accepting Islam; and they meditated a plot which they were unable to carry out: this revenge of theirs was (their) only return for the bounty with which Allah and His Messenger had enriched them! If they repent, it will be best for them; but if they turn back (to their evil ways), Allah will punish them with a grievous penalty in this life and in the Hereafter: They shall have none on earth to protect or help them.

YUSUFALI: It is not fitting, for the Prophet and those who believe, that they should pray for forgiveness for Pagans, even though they be of kin, after it is clear to them that they are companions of the Fire.

YUSUFALI: O ye who believe! fight the unbelievers who gird you about, and let them find firmness in you: and know that Allah is with those who fear Him.

The above verses show no mercy against non-Muslims. The command is to put others into submission by whatever means necessary, force them to pay Jizya, kill them, ..etc. Choice of religious belief in a pluralistic society is no more existent.

Concluding Remarks

Muhammad was not a kindred spirit as some Muslim apologetics try to portray him. This fact dates back to his Meccan times. He had a vengeful inner spirit. However, in Mecca, he could not harm people and kill them, as he did not have much power. The best he could do was to curse them, and say Quranic verses telling them they are going to hell. That he did. As his power increased, his Quran lost much of the rhyme, and added much of the ‘harm and kill the others’ to it. Earlier in Medina, this matter was less noticeable as Muhammad was not in complete control of everything. Later in Medina, he had supreme power over all of Arabia. It is during that time that his 'true color' in display in the form of teaching Muslims, through his Quran, to kill and subdue all, who do not agree with his message.

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