Introduction: Muhammad ibn Abdullah, who died in 632 AD, was the founder of Islam. The most authoritative biography of Muhammad is titled “The Life of Muhammad (Sirat Rasul Allah)” originally written by Muhammad ibn Ishaq around 760 AD. No copy of that book remains, but around 800 AD, Ibn Hisham, a student of Ibn Ishaq reconstructed the biography from fragments and notes that he had collected.
In his own notes, Ibn Hisham made a rather troubling confession — that he had omitted from the biography “things which it is disgraceful to discuss; matters which would distress certain people.” (pg. 691) To calibrate just how disgraceful or distressing those things must have been, here is a sampling of the accounts that Ibn Hisham deemed worthy of including in the biography:
Child Rape: “He married Aisha in Mecca when she was a child of seven and lived with her in Medina when she was nine or ten.” (Muhammad was 52 at the time.) (pg. 792)
Mass Murder of 600-900 Jews: “Then the apostle went out to the market of Medina and dug trenches in it. Then he sent for [the Banu Qurayza Jews] and struck off their heads in those trenches as they were bought out to him in batches. There were 600 or 700 in all, though some put the figure as high as 800 or 900. This went on until the apostle made an end of them.” (pg. 464)
Using Camels to Rip a Woman in Two: Muhammad sent Zayd b. Haritha to avenge the loss of some Muslims’ lives during a previous raid on Wadi’l-Qura. After killing several villagers, they took Umm Qirfa, the wife of Malik, prisoner. They killed her “by putting a rope to her two legs and to two camels and driving them until they rent her in two.” (pg. 665)
Approval of intercession by gods other than Allah: Anxious to attract people to Islam, Muhammad was reciting a verse from Allah, “Have you thought of al-Lat and al-Uzza and Manat the third, the other (all gods of the Quayrish tribe in Mecca).” Then, Satan put on Muhammad’s tongue, “these are the exalted Gharaniq (high flying cranes) whose intercession is approved.” (pg. 166) This verse was later revised after complaints by Muslims that it implied polytheism, and it can be seen in its present form in Surah 53:20.
Muhammad’s unusual death and burial
Given the foregoing sampling of the things Ibn Hisham did include in the biography, the offensive accounts he deleted must have been truly disgusting. While we must look elsewhere for what Ibn Hisham found so disgraceful and troubling in the original biography of Muhammad, we can certainly find evidence even there that something was quite unusual about Muhammad’s death and burial. Sharia Law stipulates that when a Muslim dies, he should be undressed and washed by male relatives or his wives, wrapped in a shroud, and buried immediately after the funeral prayer. (Reliance of the Traveler, Section g.). However, none of this happened in the case of Muhammad.
According to Ibn Hisham’s account, Muhammad died at noon on a Monday. Since he had not named a successor, rather than tend to Muhammad’s burial, his followers locked the door of the house and had a meeting nearby to decide who would be the next caliph. Once Abu Bakr was named the caliph, they returned to their deceased Prophet on Tuesday. Ali ibn Abi Talib (Muhammad’s son-in-law and a future caliph) and some others took charge of washing him. Ibn Hisham observed, “The apostle’s body did not present the appearance of an ordinary corpse.” (pg. 688) Curiously, he did not elaborate.
Hadith collector Abu Dawud recorded this account of what happened next: “We did not know whether we should take off the clothes of the Apostle as we took off the clothes of our dead, or wash him while his clothes were on him. Then a speaker spoke from a side of the house, and they did not know who he was: Wash the Prophet while his clothes are on him. So they stood round the Prophet and washed him while he had his shirt on him. They poured water on his shirt, and rubbed him with his shirt and not with their hands. Aisha used to say: If I had known beforehand about my affair what I found out later, none would have washed him except his wives.” (Book 20, Number 3135)
What was it that Muhammad’s favorite wife, nineteen-year-old Aisha, found out later? This is a bit delicate, so we will just quote Ali’s exclamation: “O Prophet, thy penis is erect unto the sky!“* This detail was never mentioned in Ibn Hisham’s rendering of Muhammad’s biography.
Yes, when Muhammad died he suffered from a permanent post-mortem erection, sometimes called “angel lust.” The medical term for the condition is priapism, and it sometimes occurs when people die suddenly by hanging or due to stroke, poisoning, or brain embolisms. This is the same condition that can cause erections “lasting four hours or more” after taking popular prescription medications to treat erectile dysfunction, such as Viagra and Cialis.
So after washing Muhammad through his shirt they plied on three layers of burial garments and put him back on his bed. Then his companions disputed over where to bury the Prophet of Islam. It was finally agreed to bury him directly below his bed. So Wednesday night they started to dig his grave. His wife Aisha didn’t even know about the burial until she heard the sound of pickaxes. Ibn Hisham also reported, “No man acted as imam in the prayers over the apostle.” (pg. 688)
Why the secrecy in burying Muhammad inside a house in the middle of the night? Not only was his appearance disgraceful and distressing, but his companions feared disputes would break out over this successor. In fact, the rivalry between Sunni and Shiite factions of Islam began at that moment. Four of the first five caliphs, the “rightly guided” successors to Muhammad, were murdered. Furthermore, his companions feared Muslims would leave Islam when they learned about Muhammad’s death. Ibn Hisham commented, “I have heard that Aisha used to say, ‘When the apostle died the Arabs apostatized and Christianity and Judaism raised their heads and disaffection appeared.’“ (pg. 689) Muhammad’s death prompted the Ridda Wars (or Wars of Apostasy) in which thousands of Muslims died trying to escape from Islam. To this day, Muslims are still trying to leave Islam –an act which is a capital crime in Islam and in no other religion.