by Lafif Lakhdar
(Editorial note: The following article is a detailed introduction to Lafif Lakhdar’s ground-breaking book: From the Muhammad of Faith to the Muhammad of History and is taken from the text of an interview conducted with him shortly before publication. Due to its length it is presented here in three parts).
I had published a ‘literary’ commentary, entitled The Seduction of Questioning in which I made some notes about the Prophet of Islam on the off chance that it might attract the attention of psychologists to write about him some day, after I had given up on attempting this myself. George Tarabishi read the comment and telephoned me to say: “What you wrote about the Prophet Muhammad in this article will not be able to be written after you for at least a century; so why do you yourself not write a book about Muhammad?” After securing funding for the services of a secretary to type the manuscript, and following the publication of a second edition of The Reform of Islam through the study and teaching of it via comparative religious studies, I set about the task of writing up my researches on Muhammad.
Was this not because Muhammad is now a personality that is 'topical', so to speak?
Topicality is not always a reason to write about historical personalities, but even so of all historical figures, be they religious or secular, Muhammad is the most ‘topical’ and the most deserving of being written about. This is because nothing important has yet been written of him from a psychological angle. It is also because since the emergence of the terrorist jihad in Egypt in the 1970s, and in particular following the tragedy of September 11 2001, no scholarly discussions have been forthcoming concerning the relationship of early Islam – particularly Madinan Islam – to terrorism.
But what is Muhammad’s relationship with that?
A very close relationship; the two mujahids – Usama bin Ladin and Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri are at the forefront of those who lament the passing of Madinan Islam which is the foundation of the jihad, both defensive and offensive jihad. By which I mean both the internal jihad waged against the attacks carried out by the ‘Abode of War’ against the ‘Abode of Islam’, and the external jihad waged to force the ‘Abode of War’ – that is the entire world – into the fold of Islam. Offensive jihad (jihād al-talb) is the globalised Islamic terrorism of today. In his famous ‘sermon on the Eid festival, Bin Ladin cited the words of al-Qaradawi who remarked: “In the Qur’ān there is something called praiseworthy terrorism (referring at the same time to the Qur’ānic verse)
for the purpose of striking terror into (the hearts of) the enemies of Allah, and your enemies, and others besides. [Qur’ān, VIII,60]”
Bin Laden added that he himself was “practising this praiseworthy terrorism”. Madinan Islam, right from the second year of the hijra, is both Qur’ān and Sunna, that is, the words and deeds of the Prophet of Islam. Generally speaking, terrorism is not praiseworthy (if the claim that there is a praiseworthy terrorism be permitted in the first place, since terrorism as an act of blind violence cannot be praiseworthy!)
Why the focus on the second year of the hijra?
Historically there are two Muhammads and two Islams: in Mecca Muhammad was a poet and a Prophet and his Islam was free of violence. That is, it was free of the Sharīʻa and the jihad since both of these constitute the most serious forms of violence against innocent individuals and peoples – with its flogging, and cutting off of hands, its stoning and throttling of the apostate and the launching of raids on other peoples so as to force them to enter into the fold of Islam. All of these are crimes against humanity. At the time, Muhammad recognised all the religions of his era, from Judaism to Zoroastrianism (the faith of Salmān the Persian, one of his teachers), and Christianity and the faith of the Sabaeans.
But in Madina he turned into a lawmaker and a warrior and into a highway robber against caravans, launching attacks on tribes in order to force them into Islam by the sword, assassinating poets who satirised him or killing Qurayshī prisoners or Jewish captives. While he was in Mecca he did none of these things. He would respond to satires on him from Qurayshī intellectuals with a satire. When a delegation from theAnsār on the eve of his migration requested that they make an attack on the Qurayshī district he replied: “I have not been commanded to do so” and would instruct his Companions to:
argue not with the People of the Scripture unless it be in (a way) that is better [Qur’ān XXIX,46].
But at Madina he and his Companions did argue with them, and in a way that was rougher. The Islam of Madina abrogated what was basic in the Islam of Mecca – nonviolence and the recognition of all faiths for their being a path of spiritual salvation for their believers – and instituted a legitimised, bloody violence whose victims today number in their thousands. Over a period of 35 years the Iranian Islamic far right has put to death by stoning something in the order of 2,000 women, and it is only a few months ago that the crime of stoning has come to an end. The bloodthirsty Islamic government in Sudan has been stoning people ever since the year 1913, whilst in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and perhaps Syria too, the nights are ‘pregnant with all manner of wonders’. In this way violent Madinan Islam is a murderous spectre persecuting Muslims and non-Muslims over each of the five continents.
Why did the Prophet of Islam embark on abrogating Meccan Islam?
Understanding the childhood of any individual is important if we wish to understand his behaviour throughout the rest of his life. Muhammad, as I have analysed in The Childhood of Muhammad, suffered depression from birth. The death of his father a few months following marriage cast his mother Āmina into a profound state of depression that likely lasted some considerable time. Today we know, medically, that the feelings of the pregnant woman, happy or sad, are transferred to the fetus. Generally the mother, motivated by a narcissistic instinct to reproduce, expects that her firstborn child should be a girl, while the father hopes for the opposite. The firstborn child is therefore not wanted, at least emotionally, by one of the two parents. Added to this is the fact that Arab tribes are pessimistic about a child whose father has died whilst it was a fetus. In Tunisia, right up to the 1950s, they used to call such a child ahraf, that is: ‘ill-omened.’
Thus the child Muhammad was most likely unwanted by his mother. It is perhaps for this reason that she got rid of him as soon as possible and handed him over to wet nurses, first of all to Thuwayba the mistress of Abu Lahb, then to Halīma and perhaps subsequently to other wet nurses. Muhammad was anything but a loved and happy child – his mother did not want him and, as for his foster parents, his psychological father (not a parent but a rearer), most likely treated him harshly. Such things bequeathed to him, amongst other illnesses, a crushing feeling of guilt which was transformed into aggression and delinquency at Madina when conditions on the ground were conducive.
Muhammad’s overwhelming feeling of guilt shows itself in the Qur’ān. The Quraysh used to say: “His Qur’ān distresses him” and his deliriums and hallucinations dictated to him his reply to them:
We have not revealed unto thee (Muhammad) this Qur’ān that thou shouldst suffer hardship [Qur’ān XX,1]
What is said concerning the reasons for the revealing of this verse casts a spotlight on the Prophet of Islam’s sense of sinning against his sternly punishing moral conscience, represented in the form of God the Father who punishes him and torments him. “The urgency of forbidden desires to express themselves” observed Freud, “in the face of the insistence of the unjust moral conscience that forbids him from doing so, impels the patient to punish himself.” It is this harsh self-punishment that the Prophet of Islam inflicted upon himself:
It is related from Ibn ʽAbbās that as soon as the Revelation came upon him, the Prophet would stand upright on his feet and pray. Then God revealed the verse: We have not revealed unto thee (Muhammad) this Qur’ān that thou shouldst suffer hardship. Ibn ʽAbbās also relates that his opponents among the Qurayshī polytheists remarked: “This man is unhappy with his Lord”, while in the account of al-Dahhāk ‘[they used to say:] “God only revealed this Qur’ān to Muhammad in order that he should be distressed by it” whereupon God revealed [the above] verse.’ Ibn ʽAbbās also relates the following: ‘Whenever the Prophet of God got up in the night he would bind himself with a rope so as not to sleep, whereupon God revealed [the above] verse’. According to Mujāhid: ‘The Prophet would bind himself and place one foot on top of the other’ and in the words of ‘Alī ibn Abī Tālib: ‘When the following verse was sent down: O thou wrapped up in thy raiment! Keep vigil the night long, save a little [LXXIII,1] (i.e. continue thy prayers throughout all but a little of the night), he stayed standing the entire night until his feet swelled up, so that he would raise one foot and then the other...’. And again, according to Anas [the servant of the Āl al-Bayt]: ‘whenever the Prophet prayed he would stand on one foot and then the other...’.
We see here what psychology refers to as ‘self-punishment,’ carried out as an expiation for the imaginary crime of patricide, in the sinner’s attempt to symbolically, or practically, kill himself. These harsh forms of torture and mortification of the body reveal the deep feelings of guilt that seethed within Muhammad’s tormented psyche. The pressure of this feeling upon the psychology of the Prophet of Islam was unbearable, so that:
We removed from you your burden that had (almost) broken your back [Qur’ān XCIV,2-3].
His sins weighed so heavily upon him that they undermined his back, and he was troubled not only by his previous sins, but also by those he would undoubtedly commit in the future,
So that Allah may forgive you of your previous and subsequent faults. [Qur’ān XLVIII,2].
Hence I describe his feelings of guilt as a ‘delirium’ in their being radically divorced from reality.
How do you define, in the book, Muhammad’s overwhelming feelings of guilt?
Feelings of guilt are born with the birth of the moral conscience. Can one assume that Muhammad, who was taken over by the hands of what were most likely uncompassionate mothers, developed early on a moral conscience, before the end of his first year of life?
His precocious moral conscience was of an extreme cruelty that manifested itself in sadism against himself in Mecca, ranging from self-accusation to renewed attempts at suicide. This sadism against himself was to evolve while at Madina into a sadism towards others: against poets who satirised him, against the Jews who refused to accept his prophethood, against prisoners of the Quraysh who had fought against him and mocked him while at Mecca.
How did you analyse the consequences of these feelings of guilt?
More important than studying the reasons for feeling guilt is to find out their consequences for Muhammad while he was at Mecca and Madina. These feelings of guilt were manifested in Muhammad’s following conduct and deviant behaviour:
In obsessive-compulsive disorders; in the religious domain these disorders are embodied in rituals – some of them sadistic – imposed upon oneself. In the case of the Prophet of Islam these took the form of multiple complex and burdensome religious feelings: five prayers per day from dawn to the middle of the night; virtually the whole night at times taken up with supererogatory acts, such as to “perform the prayer for two periods in the day and a third in the night”:
O thou wrapped up in thy raiment! Keep vigil the night long, save a little - A half thereof, or abate a little thereof, or add (a little) thereto - and chant the Qur'an in measure. For we shall charge thee with a word of weight ... Lo! thou hast by day a chain of business. So remember the name of thy Lord and devote thyself with a complete devotion [Qur’ān LXXIII,1-5,6-8].
In rituals of purity and prayer – such as rituals concerning the reading or even touching of the Qur’ān: Which none toucheth save the purified [Qur’ān LVI,79]; the elaborate washing following sexual intercourse, or wet dreams or the issuing of semen in any way; and the wudū’, that is, the washing of the face and both hands and both feet, and then the wiping of the face; the washing following urination, defecation, flatulence or even the accidental touching of one’s male member; the long drawn-out and danger-infested ritual of the hajj; the ritual of Ramadan that is damaging both to health and the economy, and other rituals I may have forgotten.
The rituals of delirium and guilt, in the case of the Prophet of Islam, were a grievous self-torture imposed upon him, a pitiless moral conscience. Just as it was disastrous to the psychological health of the Prophet of Islam, it remains a disaster to the health, economy and future of his Nation! A nation that – basically as a result of an incurable primitive Islam – has for centuries missed the train of modernity.
Depression at the ennui of life manifested itself in the case of the Prophet of Islam in repeated attempts at suicide, but in each case the healthy side of his psychology overcame his ailing side, embodied in Jibrā’īl’s assuaging of his anguish with the words: “O Muhammad, thou art the Messenger of God”, with the result that he pulled back from committing suicide.
In delinquency – “I was surprised to find,” says Freud, “that a growing sense of guilt can turn someone into a criminal”. And how can the delirium of an overwhelming sense of guilt lead to delinquency and criminality? “Delinquency is closely linked to a mother's misconduct vis-à-vis her child during the period she is nursing it”, explains the psychologist Viscount, “especially if the family environment does not provide the necessary support for the child. This sense of guilt becomes an unbearable burden.” And the bare unconscious of the Prophet of Islam gave precise expression to this ‘unbearable burden’: the burden which weighed down thy back [Qur’ān XCIV,2-3].
This delinquency and criminality manifested itself during the Madina period in acts of highway robbery against Qurayshī trade, in attacks upon other tribes and the conversion of their property into spoils for the Prophet of Islam and the fighters in his army, in the assassination of poets who satirised him, in the expulsion of Jewish tribes and the confiscation of their wealth.
Delinquency and criminality constitute, according to psychology, ‘breathing space’ from the overwhelming, unconscious feelings of guilt since they provide a justifiable reason for these unconscious feelings of guilt. The atonement for these guilt feelings can therefore be the source of criminal behaviour. Committing a crime to justify feelings of guilt that have no objective justification relaxes the tormented moral conscience of the offender. It appears as if criminality, particularly religious criminality, transforms the pitiless moral conscience into an absent moral conscience. Fatwas issued on the killing of Jews and Christians, and particularly upon Muslim ‘apostates’, is an expression of the complex psychological function that turns the imaginary sinner into a real sinner while at the same time alleviates his conscience. Pitilessness of the conscience against the sinner now becomes transformed pitilessness against the innocent, against all those who find themselves on the opposite side – religiously or politically – who oppose us or differ from us.
Thus the delirium of overwhelming feelings of guilt constitutes to date the primary psychological nutrient for religious intolerance and for calls made for legitimised violence or indulgence in practices of internal and external terrorism. Specialists in terrorism ought to give this the importance it deserves.
Those who carry out acts of terrorism are merely guided missiles, and those who are truly responsible are the fuqahā’ (jurisprudents) of terrorism who brainwash them and ‘preach them’ into acts of killing. These are the ones who should be legally detained, not the unfortunate soldiers brainwashed by a culture of martyrdom, with tales of a palace and 72 virgins awaiting the arrival of the martyr on the day of his martyrdom. The suicide bombers of Hamas, who are brainwashed, are each given a steel condom to protect them from the effects of the exploding vest so that they may copulate with the promised virgins!
You mentioned in your book that the Prophet Muhammad adopted this verse on the virgins from Zoroastrianism
Yes. He got it from one of his teachers, the Zoroastrian priest Salmān the Persian, just as he took from him the Qur’ānic myths of Paradise. In Zoroastrianism one of the gods at the Day of Reckoning equates to the 15-year old ‘Adhrā’ (virgin). Is this not the Qur’anic houri? Muhammad did not adopt the Paradise of the Jews or the Christians, which is destined to appear on earth, but took over the Zoroastrian Paradise which only exists in the heavens, and which is ‘as wide as the heavens and the earth’.
What would you propose as a way of confronting this religious terrorism?
The creation of an international institution of specialists in psychology, sociology, politics and counterterrorism for the purpose of studying its religious, psychological and social causes and so on. Killing those who carry out acts of terrorism merely turns them into martyrs, while the fuqahā’ of terrorism who brainwash them are continuing to perpetuate their cause. We need to incarcerate the controlling heads of terrorism through drying up their religious, psychological and social wellsprings.
Read Part 2 of this article
Read Part 3 of this article
Great poetry Ali,
Thanks for posting it.
Here in the U.S. religious extremists seem to control the Congress without regard to history.