This Skeptics.SE question mentions a anti-Muslim billboard that contains the following claims about Muhammad:

  • Married 6 year old
  • Slave owner & dealer
  • Rapist
  • Beheaded 600 Jews in one day
  • 13 wives, 11 at one time
  • Tortured & killed unbelievers

Indy Muslims call out creators of local billboard that insults Prophet Muhammad

I am interested in at least two of the claims. Did Muhammad behead 600 Jews in one day and torture unbelievers?

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    I've deleted a heated conversation that basically boiled down to "If Muhammad had ordered an act be done, rather than doing it himself, can he be said to have done it?" If that's the case, put the facts in the answer, and explain that this dilemma exists. If you can, find out the definitions the billboard author uses. If you really must, put your opinion on how you think the semantics should work. But getting bogged down arguing about how English works is pointless.
    – Oddthinking
    Jun 27, 2017 at 2:19
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    Once again, there have been concerns raise about whether your questions are being asked in good faith. Given you appear to be quite familiar with the stories being discussed, can you please explain why you are doubtful over the claims made?
    – Oddthinking
    Jun 27, 2017 at 2:24
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    @Oddthinking: Is it not sufficient for an answer to cite historical sources for the claims? I know of sources for a couple, but not all.
    – jamesqf
    Jun 27, 2017 at 4:55
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    @Oddthinking There should be a more clear policy statement if good faith is required. From questions that were simultaneously asked and self-answered, like this skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/27704/…, I thought there was no such good faith requirement. If there is a good faith requirement, it should apply to everyone, and these much more egregious simultaneous self-answer questions should be deleted.
    – DavePhD
    Jun 27, 2017 at 10:44
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    @T. Sar: In this context, I think "disputed by Muslims themselves" might better be translated as "lying to the unbelievers". Same with Christianity: there's a whole field - Christian apologetics - that basically boils down to whitewashing the currently unpalatable bits of their Scriptures. But we can ignore them and go to the original sources, or (for those of us whose Hebrew & Aramaic proficiency is as non-existant as our Arabic) at least fairly old translations like the KJV Bible, for information on which to base our opinions.
    – jamesqf
    Jun 28, 2017 at 4:29

2 Answers 2


Pulling together the discussions from the comments: Overall? There's a bit of truth in both, but in both cases the statements are technically false and also ignore important context.

For the 600 beheaded Jews:

According to Mohammed al-Ghazali, during that time the Muslims allowed the Jews who had refused to betray the Prophet during the Battle of the Ditch to leave and "go wherever they wished". Sa'd ibn Mu'adh, a companion of Muhammad, was chosen by him as an arbiter and all parties agreed to abide by his judgment. Sa'd gave his verdict that "the men should be killed, the property divided, and the women and children taken as captives". Muhammad approved of the ruling, calling it similar to God's judgment, after which nearly all male members of the tribe who had reached puberty were beheaded The Muslim jurist Tabari quotes 600–900 being executed. The Sunni hadith do not give the number killed, but state that all pubescent males were killed and one woman.

This quote from the very heavily footnoted wikipedia article at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invasion_of_Banu_Qurayza (thanks to @Henry) The sources drawn from are all from various Muslim theologians and historical figures, and should be taken as such. Given best information from those sources, then, we have 600 or more Jews being beheaded. Muhammed did not do the beheading himself, and was not even the one making the decision that they be beheaded, but he did approve of the ruling that they be beheaded. It is at least plausible that he would have made the same ruling himself, if he were the one called on to do so. The sources available also present those Jews as having been at war with Muhammed's people at the time (almost certainly true) and as having betrayed them previously. (That part is possible, but by no means certain. This is the sort of thing that biased historians and theologians have been known to change.) Additionally, beyond all uncertainty of textual source, beheading 600 Jews by himself would have required one beheading a minute for 10 hours - something that would seem unlikely for reasons of physical stamina alone.

For the torturing and killing unbelievers, I will refer to the quote presented by @DavePhD's answer. Again, Muhammed did not do the torturing or killing himself, though in this case it was at his command. Additionally, it was apparently done as punishment for acts of murder and severe violation of hospitality. According to the theological consensus of Muslim scholars, they were unbelievers only because the act of the murder inherently rendered them as such. Again, we are working from religious texts here, but it is highly unlikely that the original claim had anything more definitive to work off of, given its source.

In the broader sense, then, it is reasonable to conclude that he was at least partly responsible for the beheading deaths of hundreds of Jews, and that he was responsible for at least a few cases of torturous execution (some or all of which occurred to those who were no longer considered believers), but that the precise claims made by the billboard are not supported by the available evidence.

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    It is at least plausible that he would have made the same ruling himself although the same Wikipedia article quotes someone's saying that in this case, "Muhammad deviated from his earlier, more lenient treatment of prisoners".
    – ChrisW
    Jun 28, 2017 at 8:22
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    At the risk of committing whataboutism it might be worth mentioning that people approved the judgement as being inline with Biblical law (Deuteronomy).
    – ChrisW
    Jun 28, 2017 at 8:25

This is only regarding the torture part of the question:

A group of eight men from the tribe of 'Ukil came to the Prophet (ﷺ) and then they found the climate of Medina unsuitable for them. So, they said, "O Allah's Messenger (ﷺ)! Provide us with some milk." Allah's Apostle said, "I recommend that you should join the herd of camels." So they went and drank the urine and the milk of the camels (as a medicine) till they became healthy and fat. Then they killed the shepherd and drove away the camels, and they became unbelievers after they were Muslims. When the Prophet (ﷺ) was informed by a shouter for help, he sent some men in their pursuit, and before the sun rose high, they were brought, and he had their hands and feet cut off. Then he ordered for nails which were heated and passed over their eyes, and they were left in the Harra (i.e. rocky land in Medina). They asked for water, and nobody provided them with water till they died.

Sahih Bukhari, book 56, hadith 227

So unbelievers were tortured, but they weren't typical unbelievers, because they had killed a shepherd and became unbelievers after having been believers.

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    – Jamiec
    Jun 27, 2017 at 11:29

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