Asma bint Marwan: Did the Prophet order her murder?
Updated: Jul 19, 2022
Our religious literature narrates that Prophet Muhammad reportedly had several non-Muslims killed in Medina. Many non-Muslims use these alleged incidents to argue that the Prophet promoted violence against his critics. But many Muslims view them as a justification to demand death for those who insult the Prophet and blaspheme Allah.
These alleged incidents are in some of the earlier books compiled by people generally regarded as authentic scholars. Non-Muslims usually refer to six such incidents to prove their accusations, while Muslims use the same six to justify and authenticate their position.
These incidents involve Asma bint Marwan, Abu Afak, Kab ibn Ashraf, Sofian ibn Khalid, Abu Rafi, and Oseir ibn Zarim.
It is essential to put these incidents to critical examination as they refer to actions that directly oppose the Quranic teachings. The Muslim religious text says: "Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clearly from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, never breaks. And Allah hears and knows all things." (2:256) or "to you be your way and to me mine." (109:6) or "those who avoid the greater crimes and shameful deeds, and, when they are angry even then forgive." (42:37)
Even a cursory look at these accusations, regardless of the reports in some early Islamic literature, would suggest that the actions attributed to the Prophet were outright false. The despotic rulers and clergy willing to serve the power elite to serve their political and cultural interests promoted them. The Prophet occupies the central figure in Islam. Any action attributed to him is part of faith. The despots and their surrogate religious leaders found statements attributed to him as convenient instruments to pursue their transgressions from the rule of law.
This series of articles will examine all six incidents and expose their false assertions.
Asma bint Marwan's incident figures very prominently in the literature of Muslims. Some Muslims accept it, while others question its authenticity. What is the truth?
The incident is in two major books in early Islamic literature. One is the Life of Prophet Muhammad by Ibn Hisham, and the other is the Book of the Major Classic (Kitab Tabqat al Kubra) by Ibn Sa'd.
Abu Muhammad 'Abd al-Malik bin Hisham died in 833, some 201 years after the death of the Prophet. From his memory, he edited the biography of the Prophet written by Ibn Ishaq that was lost and is now only known in the writing of Ibn Hisham and Tabari. As claimed by some, Ibn Hisham did not meet Ibn Ishaq and was never his student. Ibn Hisham was born in 767 CE when Ibn Ishaq died.
Muḥammad ibn Isḥāq ibn Yasār ibn Khiyār was born in Medina in 704, some 63 years after the death of the Prophet. Therefore, he did not have the opportunity to meet those companions he quoted extensively.
The second source that mentions the story of Asma bint Marwan is Ibn Sa'd's Tabaqat. Ibn Sad was born in 784 CE, some 152 years after the death of the Prophet. His book has unreliable traditions.
Kitab Tabaqat Al-Kubra is a compendium of biographical information that contains Prophet Mohammed, his Companions, and helpers' lives.
Books 1 and 2 contain the Sirah (biography) of Prophet Muhammad. Books 3 and 4 have biographical notices of the companions of Muhammad. Books 5, 6, and 7 include biographical notes of later Islamic scholars, and book eight contains biographies of Islamic women. Ibn Sa'd did not have the opportunity to meet any of the Prophet's companions.
The alleged incident, as mentioned in early sources.
(From the Sirat Rasul Allah, A. Guillaume's translation of "The Life of Muhammad") pages 675, 676.)
She was of Banu Umayyya b. Zayd. When Abu `Afak got killed, she displayed disaffection. `Abdullah b. al-Harith b. Al-Fudayl, from his father, said she was married to a man of Banu Khatma called Yazid b. Zayd. Blaming Islam and its followers, she said:
I'm not too fond of B. Malik, and I am not too fond of Auf and Banu al-Khazraj.
You obey a stranger who is none of yours, One not of Murad or Madhhij.
Do 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 from him?
Hassan b. Thabit answered her:
Banu Wa'il and B. Waqif and Khatma
Are inferior to B. al-Khazrahj.
When she called for folly, woe to her in her weeping,
For death is coming.
She stirred up a man of glorious origin,
Noble in his going out and in his coming in.
Before midnight he dyed her in her blood and incurred no guilt thereby.
When the apostle heard what she had said, he said, "Who will rid me of Marwan's daughter?" `Umayr b. `Ady al-Khatami, who was with him, heard him, and that very night he went to her house and killed her. Then, in the morning, he came to the apostle and told him what he had done, and he [Muhammad] said, "You have helped God and His apostle, O `Umayr!" When he asked if he would have to bear any evil consequences, the apostle said, "Two goats won't butt their heads about her," so `Umayr went back to his people.
There was a great commotion among Banu Khatma that day about the affair of bint [daughter of] Marwan. She had five sons, and when `Umayr went to them from the apostle, he said, "I have killed 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 Banu Khatma; before, those who were Muslims concealed the fact. The first of them to accept Islam was `Umayr b. `Adiy, who was called the "Reader," and `Abdullah b. Aus and Khuzayma b. Thabit. The day after Bint Marwan got killed, the men of B. Khatma became Muslims because they saw Islam's power."
Ibn Sa'd'sSa`d's Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, translated by S. Moinul Haq, volume 2, pages 30-31.
SARIYYAH OF `UMAYR IBN `ADI
"Then (occurred) the Sariyyah of `Umayr ibn `Adi Ibn Kharashah al-Khatami 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 hijrah of the apostle of Allah. `Asma' was the wife of Yazid Ibn Zayd Ibn Hisn al-Khatami. She used to revile 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, and there was one whom she was suckling. He searched her with his hand because he was blind and separated the child from her. He thrust his sword into her chest till it pierced up to her back. Then he offered the morning prayers with the Prophet at al-Medina. The apostle of Allah said to him: "Have you slain the daughter of Marwan?" He said: "Yes. Is there something more for me to do?" He [Muhammad] said: "No. Two goats will butt together about her. This was the word people first heard from the apostle of Allah. The apostle of Allah called him `Umayr, "basir" (the seeing)."
The simple fact is that this story is false and an utter lie. Do blind men enter the houses of others at night? Do they identify their target without being noticed and then kill at ease in the presence of others? Were they all asleep that deep that they could not capture the killer? It is nothing but a hallucination and mockery of human intelligence.
The story's reference in these two books means that the authors did not verify the sources properly and wrote whatever they heard from a source without checking their integrity. Interestingly, the two sources contradict each other. In one, the Prophet allegedly ordered this murder, and in another, Umayr did it alone.
It is false because the narrators of this story are not reliable, as mentioned by Ibn al-Jauzi in his book al-illal (vol 1, pg 279) and by Ibn Adiyy, the author of the book Al- Kamel, who accuses one of the narrators, Muhammad Ibn Al-Hajjaj of forging it. (Al-Kamel Vol 6, pg. 145)
Other facts prove the shallowness of this story.
Those who reported this story agree that the killer was a blind man who murdered Asma at the dead-end of the night. Imagine a blind man entering a woman's house at the end of the night and identifying the woman sleeping in the room where her children were also asleep and then removing from her chest a suckling child and finally stabbing her with no one noticing.
Ibn Asakar, in his book Seerat Shamee, discloses that Asma was a fruit seller. She had an altercation with one of the customers, who was angry and violent and ultimately killed her.
Wakidi and Ibn Sa'd say the Prophet did not ask Umayr to murder Asma. Instead, it was Umayr who took it upon himself to kill her. Wakidi even says that Umayr was her former husband and had a long brooding and private malice towards her, a fact that Ibn Sa'd and Ibn Hisham contradict.
Ibn Asakar even says that the Prophet was not even aware of the poetry composed about him.
Anyone can make a false accusation against anyone. But the difference between a civilized and an illiterate mind is the criterion applied to verify facts, even if written hundreds of years after the reported incidents.
The Quran is the earliest document that details the community the Prophet built and the values he promoted. The Quran speaks of mercy and leniency to those critical of Islam and the Prophet. Suppose the earlier scholars had focused on analyzing reports attributed to the Prophet in the context of the Quran and its message; they might have dismissed them as baseless and malicious statements about the Prophet. Why did they not do it? Maybe they did not apply the critical criterion to sift through facts, or perhaps they felt overwhelmed by the collected reports. Or they left the task of evaluating the information to future generations.
Those critical of Islam would use any false incident to denounce the Prophet, but why should a Muslim give in to these false reports. The answer is straightforward. Some people are unwilling to accept that historians like ibn Hisham, Wakidi, or Ibn Sa'd and others could be wrong with recording, reporting, analyzing, and writing about the Prophet. They have given these sources the same status they usually give to the Quran, infallible and absolute truth. The Prophet's identity is in the Quranic concept of "mercy to the worlds," Anything that challenges that identity is false, wrong, and an utter lie no matter who says it and where it comes from. This simple principle will liberate us from scores of lies presented as part of our Prophet's statements and actions.