By 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….