Twenty-Five Things To Know About Islam:  Part 3:  Muhammad’s Conduct; Endless Conflict

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8.     The Sunna – essentially, the manners and customs of the Arabs in the days of Muhammad – matters to most Muslims as much as the Qur’an. It has even been said that the Sunna could exist without the Qur’an, but not the Qur’an without the essential gloss of the Sunna. And the Sunna is founded on, consists largely of, comes out of, the Hadith and the Sira, that is the life – words, deeds and stories about – Muhammad. He, not the figure of Allah, is the central figure in Islam. Muhammad is mentioned four times as often as Allah in the Qur’an. He is the Model of Conduct – uswa hasana – a phrase used in the Qur’an exactly three times, the other two times both in relation to Abraham. He is, furthermore, the Perfect Man, al-insan al-kamil, and everything he did, as a consequence, was Perfect. Whatever he did was right. Some of what he did is exclusive to him. For one example, he had nine wives and two concubines, but ordinary mortal Muslims are allowed four wives only. However, much of what he did has not been limited to him, but is worthy of emulation.

Little Aisha caught his fancy when she was six, and as the daughter of his good friend, was considered betrothed at that point, but Muhammad contained himself, waiting until she reached the age of nine before consummating, with sexual intercourse, his marriage to her. That might have been thought to be one of the details of his life that ordinary Muslims would not have been allowed to emulate. But it turns out that Muhammad’s marriage to his child bride is not regarded by Muslims as morally wrong. It is true that when Muslims are with Westerners who raise the matter of Aisha, in a manner that makes clear their own dismay or horror, Muslims have started to offer various strategies of denial, such as:  Aisha wasn’t really nine years old, but possibly as old as nineteen (she was on a swing, and playing with her toys, when called away by her mother to greet Muhammad), or she had already reached puberty (at the age of 9!) and that was all that counted, and besides, that was then and this is now, so we must “contextualize” and thereby excuse Muhammad’s behavior. But that’s all said for the sake of the Infidels. Muslims do not really think his marrying Aisha is to be deplored; their excuses are merely pro forma, to satisfy or silence the Infidels. Muhammad, remember, is for Muslims, and for all time, the Perfect Man and the Model of Conduct.


9.     If the subject of little Aisha comes up, and in any conversation or discussion of Islam between Muslims and non-Muslims the latter should make sure to raise the matter, non-Muslims should understand that Aisha matters because she is not merely a figure in the distant and unrepeatable past, but has had an effect on the present. The secular shah had raised the marriageable age of girls in Iran to eighteen. When that learned theologian of Islam, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, came to power, as one of his very first acts as the ruler of the Islamic Republic of Iran he lowered the marriageable age of girls to thirteen, along with other provisions that made it possible for some girls to marry at the age of nine, the same age as was little Aisha when she consummated her marriage to the Prophet Muhammad. (Khomeini himself had long before married a girl of ten). And child brides are common in many Muslim counties, so that when Muslims suggest that the story of Aisha is of no relevance today, remind them of how Khomeini changed the law.


10.  There are fissures within the Camp of Islam, both sectarian, dividing Sunnis from Shi’a, and ethnic, between Arab and non-Arab Muslims. These fissures wax and wane, and it should be the task of non-Muslims to exploit, and if possible widen, such pre-existing divisions. The aim of Infidels everywhere ought to be to keep the forces of Islam preoccupied with internal divisions and enmities, and thereby be kept permanently off-balance. Think only of the Iran-Iraq War. It lasted eight years, and used up the aggressive energies of two most unpleasant and dangerous Muslim regimes. From the geopolitical viewpoint of Infidels, that war ought to have gone on forever.

The internal fissure that matters most right now is clearly that between Sunnis and Shi’a. Originally, the two camps came into existence from a quarrel over who should rightfully succeed Muhammad as caliph. The Sunnis believed that a new leader should be chosen by consensus; the Shi’a thought that only the prophet’s descendants should become caliph. After Muhammad died, the title passed to Abu Bakr, his trusted aide. Some Muslims thought Ali, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, should have been made caliph. Eventually Ali did become caliph, after Abu Bakr’s two successors were assassinated. And then Ali himself was assassinated. (Early Islam has a bloody history.) His son Hasan claimed the title, but abdicated after a few months. Then Hussein claimed the title, but along with many relatives was massacred at Karbala in 680. This martyrdom is central to Shi’a Islam.

There are also doctrinal differences, too convoluted to discuss here. But the most important point is a geopolitical one:  the Shi’a make up only 15 percent of the world’s Muslims, while Sunnis constitute 85 percent; but 95 percent of the Iranians are Shi’a as are 65 percent of the Iraqis. So in the Persian Gulf, with its oil and gas deposits, and its strategic importance, the Shiites outnumber the Sunnis. And relations between Sunnis and Shia have worsened, with Sunni Saudi Arabia opposing the Shi’a, by force in Yemen (bombing civilians at will), in Syria helping those opposed to Bashar al-Assad, the Alawite despot whose sect is regarded as essentially Shi’a,  and in Bahrain bolstering the Sunni ruler against his majority-Shi’a population. In Iraq, Sunnis still have not reconciled themselves to their loss of power, while the Shi’a, helped by Iran, have no intention of relinquishing any of the power they acquired when Saddam Hussein was toppled. Shi’a Iran deploys troops and advisers not only to fight the Sunnis in Iraq, but also in Syria, and Yemen. Outside the Middle East, the Sunnis vastly outnumber the Shi’a, and their treatment of them has been particularly ferocious. In Afghanistan the single Shi’a tribe, the Hazara, were threatened with annihilation by the Sunni Taliban; they were saved only by the arrival of the Americans. In Pakistan, a Sunni terrorist group, Sipah-e-Sahaba, concentrates on killing Shi’a, whom many Sunnis regard not just as Infidels but as the “worst kind of Infidels,” worse even than Christians and Jews. Saudi fear and hatred of Shi’a Iran has even led it, perhaps only temporarily, to an unstated alliance with Israel. How long that will last remains to be seen. But that sectarian conflict, in so many countries, between Sunnis and Shi’a, is a godsend to the world’s Infidels, just as was the Iran-Iraq war that pitted Saddam against Khomeini for eight long years. It uses up men, money, and materiel that might otherwise be employed against the West. It diverts Muslim energies, it lessens Muslim morale. It’s not something to try to dampen, nor is it a conflict we have any plausible way to encourage, but it is, rather, an occasion for the exhausted West to pull up a chair and watch.