Hypocrites (MunAfiqIn)

The thirty-sixth book is on the “Hypocrites, Their Characteristics and Command Concerning Them” (KitAb SifAt al-MunAfiqIn wa AhkAmihim).  It is a small book, containing only twenty-one ahAdIs, but in some ways it is important.  The QurAn refers to the hypocrites very often (twenty-five times), and there is a whole chapter, or Sura, named after them, called MunAfiqIn. Muhammad repeatedly threatens the hypocrites with blazing hellfire.  The QurAnic scholars coming after him put them in the hottest region of Hell, HAwiyah, a bottomless pit of scorching fire.  “Allah has promised the hypocrites, men and women, and the rejecters of Faith, the Fire of Hell; therein shall they dwell. . . . For them is the curse of Allah and an enduring punishment,” as the QurAn says (9:68).

The name “hypocrites” does not derive from any moral category but was applied to people who no longer believed in the prophethood of Muhammad in their hearts but were afraid to admit it openly in public.  They were doubters, skeptics, men of incomplete faith, men who began to entertain questions about the apostleship of Muhammad as they came to know him somewhat better.  But in the peculiar theology of Islam, such doubts were morally the most heinous.  Doubting Muhammad’s prophetic mission was hypocrisy.  So those Muslim converts of Medina who became doubters were regarded as hypocrites.


Many Medinans had offered Muhammad and his followers refuge and protection in their city-some out of conviction, others out of chivalry, and some out of spite for the Meccans.  But very soon the refugees became stronger than the citizens.  Some of the citizens saw, with pain and alarm but also with increasing helplessness, that they were being reduced to a second-class status in their own hometown.  Some of them murmured to each other: “See what we have done to ourselves.  We have laid open our lands to them and have shared with them all that we possessed.  If we had kept our own for ourselves, then by Allah, they would have gone somewhere else.” The Medinans gave Muhammad and his followers an inch, and soon they seized a whole yard.  It was the proverbial story of the camel and the old woman in a hut.

Now that Muhammad had been in town with them for some days, the Medinans were also able to arrive at a better estimate of him.  Some of them thought that he was no better than a religious humbug.  But the realization came too late.  For now Muhammad was strong and they were weak.  Those who no longer believed in him had come to fear him.  But the result was the same: paralysis of will and action.  The opposition could now be intimidated, and much of it could also be bought, for though they did not believe in Muhammad, many of them believed in war spoils.


The opposition to Muhammad did not emanate only from munAfiqIn, the disillusioned converts.  It also came from those who had never given up their ancestral faith or surrendered their judgment and had not been swept off their feet by the new religious fad.  Some of the members of the opposition were gifted.  They could put their ideas into verses.  A woman poet named ’AsmA hint MarwAn, belonging to the BanI  Aws, appealed to the Medinan tribes of MAlik, Auf, and Khazraj in the name of their old heroes.  “You obey a stranger who does not belong among you,” she sang.1 AbU ’Afak, a centenarian poet belonging to the Khazrajite clan, related to Aws ManAt, said in a poem that the different tribes of Medina were good neighbors and loyal allies, “Yet there is a rider come among them who divided them.” Some of these verses are quoted by Ibn HishAm and WAqidI and reproduced by Maxime Rodinson.2

Muhammad was much perturbed.  The poets of that time were like the journalists of our age.  Muhammad detested them, and lay in wait for an opportunity to deal with them effectively.

His victory at Badr in January A.D. 624 brought him the opportunity.  His success against the Quraish gave him a new power in Medina.  The equation with respect to both local supporters and local adversaries changed appreciably to his advantage.  He seized the opportunity and struck fast.  First he dealt with the poets whom he feared the most.


“Who will rid me of this pestilential woman?” he said about ’AsmA.  Omayr ibn ’AdI, a blind man and a fanatic convert from her own clan, offered to assassinate her, which he did while she was asleep with her child in her arms.  “Have you slain the daughter of MarwAn?” Muhammad inquired eagerly when Omayr returned from his mission.  When he replied in the affirmative, Muhammad commended him to his Companions.  “If you desire to see a man that has assisted the Lord and His Prophet, look ye here,” he told them.3

The same fate overtook AbU ’Afak the very next month.  “Who will rid me of this scoundrel?” Muhammad uttered aloud.  And again there was a ready assassin at hand.  SAlim ibn ’Umayr of BanI Amr, the people with whom AbU ’Afak had cast his lot and lived, stabbed the man one night while he was sleeping.

Most of the local converts, including the two assassins named above, had not fought at Badr.  So they still had to prove their loyalty in action to the Prophet and to the new creed.  This they did by these perfidious acts.

Hardly had six months elapsed when the blow fell on another influential half-Jewish poet, Ka’b ibn al-Ashraf.  We have already mentioned his case.  Muhammad made a special petition to Allah for his elimination.  “Lord, deliver me from the son of Ashraf . . . because of his open sedition and verses,” he prayed.  “Go with the blessings of Allah and assistance from high,” he told the departing assassins, and when they returned after fulfilling their task, Muhammad met them at the very gate of the mosque in welcome.  One of the conspirators had received a wound by accident.  Muhammad treated it in his usual way-he spat on it and it was healed.4


According to ancient Arab custom, such willful murders demanded tribal vengeance.  But this was not to be thought of under the new circumstances.  There was something new in the atmosphere, a new apprehension, a new equation.  After ’AsmA’s assassination, the assassin had asked Muhammad if he would have to bear any penalty.  “Not two goats shall come to blow for her,” Muhammad had assured him.  This turned out to be only too true.  The assassin openly boasted of his act even before the five sons of ’AsmA, but nothing happened.  They were too cowed.  The assassin had a powerful patron.

Fear is more potent than a sentimental humanist psychology would like to believe.  Fear speaks louder and strikes home quicker than many other modes of communication.  “The day after Bint MarwAn was killed, the men of BanI Khatma [her husband’s tribe] became Muslims because they saw the power of Islam,” says Ibn IshAq.5

The same author gives us another story to the same effect.  The Apostle said: “Kill any Jew that falls into your power.” Thereupon Muhayyisa b. Mas’Ud, a Muslim convert, leaped upon and killed Ibn Sunayna, a Jewish merchant.  The killer’s brother, Huwayyisa, chided him: “You enemy of God, did you kill him when much of the fat on your belly comes from his wealth?” Muhayyisa answered: “Had the one who ordered me to kill him ordered me to kill you, I would have cut your head off.” This was the beginning of Huwayyisa’s acceptance of Islam.  He exclaimed, “By God, a religion which can bring you to this is marvellous!” and he became a Muslim.6


Muhammad took care to give the local converts no unnecessary offense in the beginning.  But this period of caution did not last long.  Muhammad entered Medina in April A.D. 622, and within two years he was already having his adversaries eliminated with impunity.  As his power increased, he began to come out more and more openly against the lukewarm, the doubters among the local converts.  Allah began to demand from them a more unquestioning submission to the authority of His Apostle and issued more frequent warnings against them.  Allah told Muhammad that the “doubters” scoffed at him in private while they paid him homage in public and that they were worthless fellows.  “When the Hypocrites come to thee, they say, ‘we bear witness that thou art indeed the Apostle’ . . . but they are indeed liars. . . . They have made their oaths a screen. . . . A seal is set on their hearts. . . . They are as worthless and hollow as pieces of timber propped up.  They are enemies; so beware of them” (QurAn 63:1-4).


Muhammad’s party had a common command, a common goal, common interests, a common ideology and passion, but the opposition was badly divided; it had no ideology but only certain grievances.  Furtive in action, it said one thing and did another.  Muhammad picked different groups of the opposition and struck at them one by one, now the BanU QaynuqA, now the BanU NazIr, now the BanU Quraizah.  They had promised each other mutual help in private but withdrew when the time for this came.

The demoralization was complete.  The QurAn speaks contemptuously of the Medinans, who were promising their Jewish allies that “if ye be driven forth we will go forth with you . . . and if you be fought against we will help you. . . . But God bears witness that they are liars.  If they be driven forth, these will not go forth with them; and if they be fought against, these will not help them.” Muhammad also makes a keen observation about the opposition while fortifying his followers by telling them: “Ye indeed are a keener source of fear in their hearts than God. . . . Thou dost reckon them as one body, but their hearts are separated.  It is because they are a people devoid of intelligence” (QurAn 59:11-15).


There must have been many people opposed to Muhammad’s growing power, but the traditions have preserved the name of Ibn Ubayy as the epitome of them all.

He was a Medinan chief of the Khazrajite clan of Awf who became an early convert to Islam.  He was once the leading citizen of Medina.  It is said that just before Muhammad came, his supporters were trying to make him the king of Medina.  But after the arrival of Muhammad, a new force entered the scene, and his importance declined fast.  But even then, because of his influence, Muhammad was advised by his best friends to treat Ibn Ubayy with circumspection.

Muslim traditions have blackened Ibn Ubayy’s name, but if patriotism, independence of judgment, and loyalty are qualities, and if to save is better than to kill, he was not an unworthy man.  He saved the Jewish tribe of Medina known as QaynuqA from execution.  As early as the second year of the Hijra, Muhammad besieged this tribe.  When they surrendered, their hands were tied behind their backs and they were taken out for execution.  But Ibn Ubayy intervened forcefully.  He “thrust his hand into the collar of the apostle’s robe; the apostle was so angry that his face became almost black.” But ’Abdullah insisted and said: “No, by God, I will not let you go until you deal kindly with my clients [allies].  Four hundred men without mail and three hundred mailed protected me from all mine enemies; would you cut them down in one morning?  By God, I am a man who fears that circumstances may change.”7 Ibn Ubayy was still influential in the affairs of Medina, and his appeal was also a threat.  Muhammad yielded on condition that the tribe depart within three days, leaving their goods behind to the victor.

This was in February A.D. 624.  Three years later, in March-April A.D. 627, when the same fate overtook another Jewish tribe of Medina known as Quraizah, the Medinan opposition had already lost its influence and Muhammad had a field day.  Eight or nine hundred men were led out in groups of five or six with their hands tied behind their backs and were beheaded, and their bodies were thrown into trenches dug in the marketplace of Medina.  We have already mentioned the story somewhat more fully. (See pp. 110-114.)


Only some months after the tragedy of the BanU Quraizah was enacted, dissension had broken out between the citizens and the refugees in which it was proved that the citizens were already the losing party.

On this occasion, Muhammad was returning after looting the BanU Mustaliq, an Arabian tribe inhabiting a region about eight days’ march from Medina.  The booty included two hundred families, two thousand camels, and five thousand sheep and goats.  On the way back, a quarrel broke out between a citizen named SinAn and a refugee named JihjA, who was a servant of ’Umar.  JihjA struck SinAn.  Tempers were frayed on both sides, and the quarrel soon spread to others.  Ibn Ubayy referred to the insolence of the refugees: “This is what you have done to yourselves.  You have let them occupy your country, and you have divided your property among them. . . . They are trying to outdo us seeking to outnumber us in our own land!  By Allah, I think that between us and ‘these vagabonds of Quraish’ it is like saying ‘Feed a dog and it will devour you.’ But when we return to the Medina city, the stronger will drive out the weaker.”8

Later, when confronted with this statement, Ibn Ubayy, with his usual weakness, denied it.  Muhammad did not want to pick a quarrel at the time, so he accepted the denial; but it rankled in his mind, and later, at a more opportune moment, Allah confirmed it openly in a QurAnic verse (63:7-8).


’Umar counseled Muhammad to have Ibn Ubayy killed.  “Command ’AbbAd ibn Bishr to kill him,” he advised.  But Muhammad was cautious.  He had an image to protect.  He did not want people “to say that Muhammad kills his own followers.” But though he refrained from executing the idea immediately, he gave it serious thought.  Hoping to play on the rivalry between the two Medina tribes, Aws and Khazraj, he consulted Usaid b. Huzair, an Awsite chief and a staunch Muslim, about ’Abdullah, who was a chief of the Khazrajites.  But even he advised Muhammad to deal with ’Abdullah gently and cautiously.

With all the proposals and consultations, the idea of ’Abdullah’s assassination was so much in the air that his own son, a fanatic Muslim, also heard about it.  He went to Muhammad and offered to kill his father with his own hands.  Muslim traditions and histories tell this story with great pride.

But wiser counsels prevailed.  Since ’Abdullah was an influential citizen, and his assassination would have unnecessarily jeopardized Muhammad’s own position, he was spared.  Later on, when ’Abdullah’s position became weak through his own vacillation and temporizing, and he was isolated from his people and allies, ’Umar confessed the wisdom of Muhammad’s decision.  Muhammad replied exultantly: “If I had killed him on the day you advised me to, other Medinan chiefs would have been furious.  But now they themselves would do it if I commanded them.” “I know the Apostle’s order is more blessed than mine,” ’Umar submitted, according to Ibn IshAq, who narrates the whole story.9 The story is repeated by TabarI too.

The last we hear of Ibn Ubayy is in connection with TabUk.  By this time, he had already become a back number, and he died two or three months after TabUk.  Whatever opposition was still left in Medina evaporated with him.

Now, with this background, let us turn once more to the SahIh Muslim.


Zaid b. Arqam reports that while returning from a journey in which they “faced many hardships” (after sacking Ban!  Mustaliq), they heard ’Abdullah b. Ubayy tell his friends: “Do not give what you have in your possession to those who are with Allah’s Messenger until they desert him.” They also heard him say that on their return to Medina, the “honourable would drive out the meaner therefrom.” Zaid reported the matter to Muhammad, who questioned ’Abdullah.  The latter, on oath, denied having said any such thing.  Muhammad at first accepted this denial at its face value, but a revelation later descended on him (63:1) attesting that Zaid had told the truth and establishing ’Abdullah as a liar (6677).


The next two ahAdIs (6679-6680) tell us that when ’Abdullah died, the Prophet, at his son’s request, “gave him his shirt which he would use as a coffin for his father.” Muhammad also came to his grave and “brought him out from that, placed him on his knee and put his saliva in his mouth.” He also prayed for him even against the protest of ’Umar.


Intimidation of the opposition began as early as the Battle of Uhud, which took place in the third year of the Hijra (January-February A.D. 625).  Zaid b. SAbit reports: “Allah’s Apostle set out for Uhud.  Some of the persons who were with them came back.  The Companions of Allah’s Apostle were divided in two groups.  One group said: We would kill them, and the other one said: No, this should not be done” (6684).  Then Allah spoke: “Why should ye be divided into two parties about the hypocrites?” So the ranks of the loyal were closed, but the message was successfully conveyed to the future laggards.  Thus intimidation had started quite early, and it was one of the methods of securing compliance and participation in Muhammad’s “holy” wars.  Either you fight for us or we fight you.


According to certain traditions, when Muhammad was returning from TabUk, certain of his opponents in ’Aqaba formed a group with the intention of killing him by throwing him over a cliff.  According to Huzaifa, they were twelve men, all veiled and only half-glimpsed.  Muhammad knew their identity but told no one except Huzaifa, who was forbidden to divulge the information.  The Prophet cursed them all (6690).  This tradition is given here in a rather garbled form.


JAbir gives us an interesting hadIs.  One day Muhammad declared: “He who climbed this hill, the hill of MurAr, his sins would be obliterated.” Many took advantage of this divine amnesty, and “there was a ceaseless flow of persons.” All were pardoned except one man, the owner of a red camel.  People went to him and advised him that he too should go and obtain pardon.  But the man replied: “By Allah, so far as I am concerned the finding of something lost is dearer to me than seeking of forgiveness for me by your companion [the Holy Prophet], and he remained busy in finding out his lost thing” (6691).

The SahIh Muslim does not give us this man’s name, but apparently he was a stout and wise soul.  Was he a Zen philosopher who lived one day at a time?  Sufficient unto the day is the work of the day.  The hereafter will take care of itself.  Other traditions identify him as Harr b. Qays, who refused to take the “pledge of the Tree,” and was called a “hypocrite” by the believers.

There is also a hadIs which shows that those who were unacceptable to Muhammad were unacceptable to Allah even in death.  A Muslim who transcribed for Muhammad “ran away as a rebel and joined the People of the Book.” When he died “they dug the grave and buried him therein, but they found to their surprise that the earth had thrown him out over the surface.  They again dug the grave . . . but the earth again threw him out. . . . They again dug . . . but the earth again threw him out.  At last they left him unburied” (6693).

Allah both saves and kills for the pleasure of His Prophet.  JAbir reports: “Allah’s Messenger came back from a journey and as he was near Medina, there was such a violent gale that the mountain seemed to be pressed.  Allah’s Messenger said: This wind has perhaps been made to blow for the death of a hypocrite, and as he reached Medina a notorious hypocrite from amongst the hypocrites had died” (6684).  According to other traditions, Muhammad was returning to Medina after his attack on the BanU Mustaliq.  The man whose death the storm caused or proclaimed was Ruffaa, a chief of the BanI QainuqA, a Jewish tribe of Medina that was one of the first tribes to suffer at the hands of Muhammad.  Ruffaa had been the first to receive ’Umar and offer him hospitality when the latter came to Medina.


The last two ahAdIs of this book describe those who have neither the support of a fanatic faith nor the light of a higher philosophy and who are subject to the doubts and temptations of ordinary men.  Ibn ’Umar, who had already chosen his pastures, reports Muhammad as saying: “The similitude of a hypocrite is that of a sheep which roams aimlessly between two flocks.  She goes to one at one time and to the other at another time” (6696).


The forty-first and last book of the SahIh Muslim is called the “Book of Commentary” (KitAb al-TafsIr).

The QurAn cannot be read like other scriptures, for it is very different from them in temper and subject matter.  It is feverish in tone; it threatens and promises; it does not elucidate but merely lays down and prescribes.  It does not deal with the “heavenly order” of the Gnostic traditions (the rita of the Vedas or the MaAt of ancient Egypt), but with the hereafter, merely an exaggerated, sensuous copy of the here.

The QurAnic verses are reputed to have come from a mind in trance, but that in itself gives them no true spiritual validity.  The Yogas tell us that trance is possible at every level of the mind, but that the trances of a passionate, angry, and deluded mind (i.e., of a mind characterized by kAma, dvesha, and moha) are not to be trusted-behind them often stands a lunatic or a malevolent criminal.

The QurAn deals with “accidents”; QurAnic verses often relate to external events, individual men, incidents in the life of the Prophet.  The “Book of Commentary” gives equally external information about some of these verses.  It tells us about the time, the place, the circumstances of their revelation, and all such details of little larger spiritual significance.  This book would have been very important if it were comprehensive and gave essential information; but in its present form it is sketchy and discusses an important subject in a superficial manner.  It contains only fifty traditions.

For example, in the first five ahAdIs of the book we are told when and where was revealed the following QurAnic verse: “This day I have perfected your religion for you, completed favour upon you, and have chosen for you al-Islam as your religion” (5:4).  It “was revealed on the night of Friday and we were in ’ArafAt with Allah’s Messenger,” ’Umar reports (7154).  The information throws no particular light on this revelation, which makes such a tall claim, and adds nothing essential to its subject.

The same with another QurAnic verse: “And if a woman fears ill-treatment from her husband or desertion, it is no sin for them twain if they make terms of peace between themselves” (4:128).  ’Aisha tells us that “it was revealed in case of a woman who had long association with a person [as his wife] and now he intends to divorce her and she says: Do not divorce me, retain me [as wife in your house] and you are permitted to live with another wife.  It was in this context that this verse was revealed” (7165).

Who were the characters mentioned by ’Aisha?  They were the Prophet himself and his wife Sauda (TirmizI, vol. II, hadIs 899).  KAtib al-WAqidI also tells us in his TabaqAt that Muhammad wanted to divorce his wife, then in her forties, but she went to him and said: “I am not asking you to sleep with me, I yield my turn to ’Aisha.  But I want to be there, on the Day of Resurrection, among your wives.” Muhammad agreed.  Resurrection Day was far off.


Sa’Id b. Jubair reports that SUra AnfAl (“Spoils of War”), the eighth SUra, was revealed on the occasion of the Battle of Badr; that SUra al-Hashr (“The Gathering,” or “Banishment”), the fifty-ninth SUra, “was revealed in connection with the tribe of BanU NazIr; and that SUra Tauba (“Repentance”), also known as SUra BarAat (“Immunity”), “was meant to humiliate the non-believers and the hypocrites” (7185).  In the QurAn this appears as the ninth SUra, but chronologically it is one of the last-according to Sir William Muir, the very last.  This is understandable.  It is entirely fitting that a SUra of such bitterness, condemnation, and intention should be the last inspiration of a life that breathed such pathologic theological hatred toward the nonbelievers who constituted then, and do even now, the majority of men and women in the world.


1Do you expect good from him after the killing of your chiefs / Like a hungry man waiting for a cook’s broth? / Is there no man of pride who would attack him by surprise / And cut off the hopes of those who expect aught of him?” (Ibn IshAq, SIrat RasUl Allah, p. 676).

2Maxime Rodinson, Muhammad (Pelican Books, 1973), pp. 157-158.

3SIrat RasUl Allah, p. 676.  Also, W. Muir, Life of Mahomet, vol. III, p. 132.

4Ibn IshAq, SIrat RasUl Allah, p. 368.

5ibid., p. 676.

6Ibn IshAq, SIrat RasUl Allah, p. 369.

7Ibn IshAq, SIrat RasUl Allah, p. 363.

8Ibn IshAq, SIrat RasUl Allah, p. 491.

9SIrat RasUl Allah, p. 492.

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