A common argument brought forth against the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is that he would kill and silence his critics, and so it is from this example that some modern day Muslims seek to emulate by carrying out acts of violence against those who speak against Islam.
One of the incidents they raise is the killing of Kab al-Ashraf, a well-known critic of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Here is the account of his death, the part critics often quote:
“Narrated Jabir Abdullah: “Allah’s messenger said “Who is willing to kill Ka’b bin Al-Ashraf who has hurt Allah and His apostle?” Thereupon Maslama got up saying, “O Allah’s messenger! Would you like that I kill him?” The prophet said, “Yes”. Maslama said, “Then allow me to say a (false) thing (i.e. to deceive Ka’b). The prophet said, “You may say it.” Maslama went to Ka’b and said, “That man (i.e. Muhammad) demands Sadaqa (i.e. Zakat) [taxes] from us, and he has troubled us, and I have come to borrow something from you.” On that, Ka’b said, “By Allah, you will get tired of him!” Maslama said, “Now as we have followed him, we do not want to leave him unless and until we see how his end is going to be. Now we want you to lend us a camel load or two of food.” Ka’b said, “Yes, but you should mortgage something to me.” Maslama and his companion said, What do you want?” Ka’b replied, “Mortgage your women to me.” They said, “How can we mortgage our women to you and you are the most handsome of the Arabs?” Ka’b said, “Then mortgage your sons to me.” They said, “How can we mortgage our sons to you? Later they would be abused by the people’s saying that so and so has been mortgaged for a camel load of food. That would cause us great disgrace, but we will mortgage our arms to you.” Maslama and his companion promised Ka’b that Maslama would return to him. He came to Ka’b at night along with Ka’b’s foster brother, Abu Naila. Ka’b invited them to come into his fort and then he went down to them. His wife asked him, “Where are you going at this time?” Ka’b replied, None but Maslama and my (foster) brother Abu Naila have come.” His wife said, “I hear a voice as if blood is dropping from him.” Ka’b said, “They are none by my brother Maslama and my foster brother Abu Naila. A generous man should respond to a call at night even if invited to be killed. Maslama went with two men. So Maslama went in together with two men, and said to them, “When Ka’b comes, I will touch his hair and smell it, and when you see that I have got hold of his head, strike him. I will let you smell his head.” Ka’b bin Al-Ashraf came down to them wrapped in his clothes, and diffusing perfume. Maslama said, “I have never smelt a better scent than this.” Ka’b replied, “I have got the best Arab women who know how to use the high class of perfume.” Maslama requested Ka’b “Will you allow me to smell your head?” Ka’b said “yes.” Maslama smelt it and made his companions smell it as well. Then he requested Ka’b again, “Will you let me (smell your head)?” Ka’b said “Yes”. When Maslama got a strong hold of him, he said (to his companions) “Get at him!” So they killed him and went to the prophet and informed him.”
So as we read from the hadith, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) ordered the killing of Kab, and Kab was killed. The critics will point to this hadith as proof of how bad Muhammad (pbuh) was, and that he would simply kill anybody who was against him.
Now as in any case, context is always important, and in this case the context makes it abundantly clear as to why Kab was killed, and it was not for mere opposition to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), but rather it was because he inciting violence, he was inciting the pagans in Mecca to fight and kill the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), and to crush the Muslim community. As we read from other hadiths:
Ibn Ishaq stated, ” Ka’b b. al-Ashraf was of the Ta’I tribe, of the sub-tribe of Banu Nabhan, though his mother was of Banu al-Nadir. He received news of the deaths of those at Badr after the arrival of Zayd b. Al- Haritha and Abd Allah b. Rawaha. He commented, By God, if Muhammad has really struck down those people, then better be inside the earth than upon it! “When this enemy of God was sure of this news, he left for Mecca, where he visited al-Muttalib b. Abu Wada’a b.Dubayrat al- Samhi, whose wife was Atika, daughter of Abu al- Is b. Ummayya b.Abd Shams b. Abd Manaf. She accommodated him graciously AND HE BEGAN INSTIGATING AN ATTACK UPON THE MESSENGER OF GOD (SAAS) speaking verses and mourning the deaths of those polytheists killed at Badr. “Here Ibn Ishaq gave his poem which begins with the verse,
“The Badr millstone ground to death those killed there,
and for the like of Badr one speaks and weeps.”
He also gave the response to this poem by Hassan b. Thabit, may God be pleased with him, as well as verse by others. He went on, ” Ka’b then returned to Medina where he composed verses suggestive about the Muslim women and critical of the prophet (SAAS) and his followers. Musa b. Uqba stated, “Ka’b b. al- Ashraf was of Banu al-Nadir, or associated with them, he harmed the messenger of God (SAAS) by ridiculing him in verse AND HE RODE TO QURAYSH TO INCITE THEM FURTHER. Abu Sufyan, in Mecca, asked him, ‘In your view, I pray you tell me, which religion is more favored by God, that of Muhammad and his friends, or our own? Which of us do you think, is more correct and appropriate? We slaughter our meat generously, give milk-topped water to drink, providing food for all sundry who come.’ “Ka’b b al-Ashraf replied, ‘You are better-guided in your path than they are.’ Musa went on, ” And so God revealed to his Messenger the verses: “Have you not considered those given a part of the Book who believe in enchantment and devils, and who say to those who disbelieve, ” These are better guided on the path than those who believe (in God). ” They are indeed cursed by God; those whom God curses you shall find to be without succour’ ” (surat al-Nisa; IV, v.51,2)…Both Musa and Ibn Ishaq stated further, ” He went to Medina where he proclaimed his enmity and INCITED PEOPLE TO GO TO WAR. He had not left Mecca BEFORE HE HAD UNITED THEM TO FIGHT THE MESSENGER OF GOD (SAAS); he then began composing amatory verses about Umm al-Fadl b. al-Harith and other Muslim women. (Ibn Ishaque)
So now we have the full context, Kab had visited Mecca, visiting the Arab pagans who had oppressed and killed the Muslims, forcing many of the Muslims to emigrate from the city. And what does Kab do when he visits these people? He incites them to fight the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and the Muslims.
So in light of this, Kab was hardly just a mere critic who opposed and disbelieved in the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), he was calling to and inciting violence, even by western democratic standards he stands guilty.
Put it this way too, say a Muslim decided to go visit Pakistan, specifically to meet with Al-Qaeda leaders, and he incited them to attack the west, would he be considered an innocent person and just a mere critic? The answer is obvious, and the very same Islamophobes who would argue against the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) for acting against someone who called for violence, would be all supportive of violence against such a person that incited violence.
Critics also bring up two other persons that were supposedly killed by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), Abu Afak, and Asma bint Marwan. We read in 2 hadiths:
SARIYYAHOF SALIM IBN UMAYR
Then occurred the sariyyah of Salim Ibn Umayr al-Amri against Abu Afak, the Jew, in Shawwal in the beginning of the twentieth month from the hijrah of the Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him. Abu Afak, was from Banu Amr Ibn Awf, and was an old man who had attained the age of one hundred and twenty years. He was a Jew, and used to instigate the people against the Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, and composed (satirical) verses. Salim Ibn Umayr who was one of the great weepers and who had participated in Badr, said: I take a vow that I shall either kill Abu Afak or die before him. He waited for an opportunity until a hot night came, and Abu Afak slept in an open place. Salim Ibn Umayr knew it, so he placed the sword on his liver and pressed it till it reached his bed. The enemy of Allah screamed and the people, who were his followers rushed to him, took him to his house and interred him.
SARIYYAHOF UMAYR IBN ADI
Then (occurred) the sariyyah of Umayr ibn Adi Ibn Kharashah al-Khatmi 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, may Allah bless him. Asma was the wife of Yazid Ibn Zayd Ibn Hisn al-Khatmi. 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. 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 in her chest till it pierced upto her back. Then he offered the morning prayers with the Prophet, may Allah bless him, at al-Madinah. The Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, said to him: Have you slain the daughter of Marwan? He said: Yes. Is there something more for me to do? He said: No. Two goats will butt together about her. This was the word that was first heard from the Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him. The Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, called Umayr, basir (the seeing).
Firstly, both accounts have been shown to have a weak reliability to them, for more on this consult the following article:
Now even for the sake of argument, assuming that these 2 incidents are true and have a strong reliability behind them, they would still not mount to much of an argument against the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
In both accounts as we read, we see that both persons, Abu Afak, and Asma bint Marwan were not mere critics speaking against Muhammad (pbuh) but that they were inciting and instigating the people against the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). In this case also they were not merely inciting and instigating people to speak against Muhammad (pbuh), but as in the case of Kab, they were inciting and instigating people to violence.