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The Death of Asma and Abu Afak Examining the Historical Basis for These Murders

The Death of Asma and Abu Afak Examining the Historical Basis for These Murders

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Published by: Gilbert Hanz on Sep 10, 2011
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The Death of Asma and Abu AfakExamining the Historical Basis for these Murders
Muhammad didn’t like people to mock or satirize him and had several persons killed
for it.Two of the individuals who were murdered at the orders of Muhammad were a 120-year-oldJewish man named Abu Afak, and a Jewish poetess named Asma bint Marwan.The killing of these individuals has caused problems for some Muslims who seek to presentMuhammad as a tolerant, peace-loving, and merciful prophet akin to Jesus Christ. It is,therefore, not surprising that these Muslims have come up with reasons to reject the veracityof these murders.The goal of this present article is to present the source material and address the commonMuslim responses which question the historicity of these reports.
The Evidence
The following material is taken from the oldest extant history of Muhammad’s life,
Sirat  Rasulullah
, translated by noted Islamicist Alfred Guillaume:SALIM B. UMAYR'S EXPEDITION TO KILL ABU AFAKAbu Afak was one of the B. Amr b. Auf of the B. Ubayda clan. He showed his disaffectionwhen the apostle killed al-Harith b. Suwayd b. Samit and said:"Long have I lived but never have I seenAn assembly or collection of peopleMore faithful to their undertakingAnd their allies when called uponThan the sons of Qayla when they assembled,Men who overthrew mountains and never submitted,A rider who came to them split them in two (saying)"Permitted", "Forbidden", of all sorts of things.Had you believed in glory or kingshipYou would have followed TubbaThe apostle said, "Who will deal with this rascal for me?" Whereupon Salim b. Umayr,brother of B. Amr b. Auf, one of the "weepers", went forth and killed him. Umama b.Muzayriya said concerning that:You gave the lie to God's religion and the man Ahmad! [Muhammad]By him who was your father, evil is the son he produced!A "hanif" gave you a thrust in the night saying"Take that Abu Afak in spite of your age!"Though I knew whether it was man or jinnWho slew you in the dead of night (I would say naught).
(Ibn Ishaq,
Sirat Rasulullah
(The Life of Muhammad), translated by Alfred Guillaume[Oxford University Press, Karachi, tenth impression 1995], p. 675)And:When the apostle heard what she had said he said, "Who will rid me of Marwan's daughter?"Umayr b. Adiy al-Khatmi who was with him heard him, and that very night he went to herhouse and killed her. In the morning he came to the apostle and told him what he had doneand he [Muhammad] said, "You have helped God and His apostle, O Umayr!" When heasked if he would have to bear any evil consequences the apostle said, "Two goats won't butttheir heads about her", so Umayr went back to his people.Now there was a great commotion among B. Khatma that day about the affair of bint [girl]Marwan. She had five sons, and when Umayr went to them from the apostle he said, "I havekilled bint Marwan, O sons of Khatma. Withstand me if you can; don't keep me waiting."That was the first day Islam became powerful among B. Khatma; before that those who wereMuslims concealed the fact. The first of them to accept Islam was Umayr b. Adiy who wascalled the "Reader", and Abdullah b. Aus and Khuzayma b. Thabit. The day after BintMarwan was killed the men of B. Khatma became Muslims because they saw the power of Islam. (Ibid., p. 676)Here is another early Muslim version of the events:
 Then (occurred) the
of Umayr ibn ‘Adi Ibn Kharashah
against ‘Asma
Bint Marwan, of Banu Umayyah Ibn Zayd, when five nights had remained from the month of Ramadan, in the beginning of the nineteenth month from the
of the Apostle of Allah,may Allah bless him.
‘Asma was the wife of Yazid Ibn
Zayd Ibn Hisn al-Khatmi. She used torevile Islam, offend the Prophet and instigate the (people) against him. She composed verses.
‘Umayr Ibn ‘Adi came to her in the night and entered her house. Her children were sleeping
around her. There was one whom she was suckling. He searched her with his hand because hewas blind, and separated the child from her. He thrust his sword in her chest till it piercedupto her back. Then he offered the morning prayers with the Prophet, may Allah bless him, atal-
Madinah… T
he Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, said to him: Have you slain thedaughter of Marwan? He said: Yes. Is there something more for me to do? He said: No. Twogoats will butt together about her. This was the word that was first heard from the Apostle of 
Allah, may Allah bless him. The Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, called ‘Umayr,
(the seeing).
 Then occurred the
of Salim Ibn ‘Umayr al
‘Amri against Abu ‘Afak, the Jew, in
Shawwal in the beginning of the twentieth month from the
of the Apostle of Allah,may Allah bless him.
Abu Afak, was from Banu ‘Amr Ibn ‘Awf, and was an old man who
had attained the age of one hundred and twenty years. He was a Jew, and used to instigate thepeople against the Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, and composed (satirical) verses.
Salim Ibn ‘Umayr who was one of the great weepers and who had participated in Badr, said: Itake a vow that I shall either kill Abu ‘Afak or die before him.
He waited for an opportunityu
ntil a hot night came, and Abu ‘Afak slept in an open place.
Salim Ibn ‘Umayr knew it, so
he placed the sword on his liver and pressed it till it reached his bed. The enemy of Allahscreamed and the people, who were his followers rushed to him, took him to his house andinterred him. (Ibn Sa'ad's
Kitab Al-Tabaqat Al-Kabir 
, English translation by S. Moinul Haq,M.A., PH.D assisted by H.K. Ghazanfar M.A. [Kitab Bhavan Exporters & Importers, 1784Kalan Mahal, Daryaganj, New Delhi - 110 002 India), Volume II, pp. 30-31)The next quotes are taken from the writing of another noted Islamicist, Rev. Prof. WilliamMontgomery Watt. Words in brackets [] are mine:
In Medina itself the victory [Badr] considerably strengthened Muhammad’s position, which
had perhaps been deteriorating during the previous few months when it looked as if he was
unlikely to achieve anything… Two persons who had written poems against him
‘Asma’ bint Marwan of Umayyah b. Zayd and Abu ‘Afak of B. ‘Amr b. ‘Awf were killed by persons
belonging to their own or related clans, but nothing was said and no blood feud followed. (W.M. Watt,
 Muhammad at Medina
[Oxford At The Clarendon Press, 1956], p. 15)Out of the same awareness of the importance of the ideological aspect sprang events like the
assassinations of ‘Asma’ bint Marwan and Abu ‘Afak who had made verses criticizingMuhammad, and the expulsion from Medina of the Jewish tribe of Qaynuqa’.
(p. 18)
It is convenient at this point to narrate the subsequent history of this ‘pagan opposition’, since
it never was of prime importance in the affairs of Medina. Abu Qays died before Badr, andthe other leading men also held aloof from Muhammad, though there were some convertsamong the rank and file, presumably some younger men. Those who remained pagans were
 bitter about the advance of Islam. In particular, ‘Asma’ bint Marwan (of Umayyah b. Zayd of 
Aws Manat), the wife of a man of Khatmah, composed verses taunting and insulting some of the Muslims. If those quoted by Ibn Ishaq are genuine, the chief point was that the personsaddressed were dishonouring themselves by submitting to a stranger not of their blood.Shortly after Badr (according to the most probable version), a man of Khatmah called
‘Umayr b. ‘Adi (or Udayy) went to the house of ‘Asma’ by night and killed her. Muhammaddid not disapprove, no one dared take vengeance on ‘Umayr, and many of the clan (and
perhaps of the rest of Aws Manat) now professed Islam openly; some of these are said to
have been secret believers previously. The assassination of ‘Abu Afak of ‘Amr b. ‘Awf about
the same time by a man of his clan had similar motives and probably similar effects, since
some sections of ‘Amr b.
‘Awf were close to Aws Manat both in outlook and in physicalsituation. Abu ‘Afak had taunted his hearers with allowing an outsider to control their affairs,
a man who confused right and wrong and who aimed at kingship. After these events we mayassume th
at there was little opposition to Muhammad among the pagans… (p. 178)
The Muslim Response to the Evidence
 Troubled by these murders, some Muslims have come up with some expedient explanationsto undermine their historical veracity. Certain Muslims claim that the chroniclers of thesemurders do not give an isnad, a chain of transmission by which to know whether these storiescome from reliable sources.There are several main criticisms we would like to make to this oft-repeated assertion. First,many of the
collections that do contain an isnad were compiled centuries after Muhammad’s
death, as the following site shows:

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