The Concept of Honor in Islam


This paper reports what early authoritative Muslim sources said about Mohammed and asks some questions why. While the hadiths quotes seem critical of Mohammed, it is not our intent to insult or make up anything bad about Islam. If you have an answer for any of these questions, please go to and email us. We want to publish answers Muslims provide for these questions.


Honor In Dealing with Men


Imagine you are watching a murder trial. The defendant went to his friend to borrow food. He falsely claimed he was in need because he was paying zakat (charity for Muslims). Later the defendant returned at night, and though it was late, his friend let him in anyway because he wanted to be generous to his brother. So the defendant treacherously killed him. In your country what should happen, in your opinion, to the defendant who did this? He should be...

a) executed

b) otherwise punished

c) set free, despite his treachery


From the Bukhari Hadiths


Some see the similarities of the previous hypothetical court case and the following.


Bukhari vol.5 book 59 no.360 p.248 discusses the assassination of Ka'b bin Al-Ashraf. "(369) Narrated Jabir bin 'Abdullah: Allah's Apostle said, 'Who is willing to kill Ka'b bin Al-Ashraf who has hurt Allah and His Apostle?' Thereupon Muhammad bin Maslama got up saying, 'O Allah's Apostle! Would you like that I kill him?' The Prophet said, 'Yes.' Muhammad bin Maslama said, 'Then allow me to say a (false) thing (i.e. to deceive Ka'b).' The Prophet said, 'You may say it.' Then Muhammad bin Maslama went to Ka'b and said, 'That man (i.e. Muhammad demands Sadaqa (i.e. Zakat) 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!' Muhammad bin 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.' (Some differences between narrators about a camel load or two.) Ka'b said, 'Yes, (I will lend you), but you should mortgage something to me.' Muhammad bin 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 peoples' 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 [weapons] to you.' Muhammad bin Maslama and his companion promised Ka'b that Muhammad would return to him. He came to Ka'b at night along with Ka'b's foster brother, Abu Na'ila. 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 Muhammad bin Maslama and my (foster) brother Abu Na'ila have come.' His wife said, 'I hear a voice as if dropping blood.' Ka'b said, 'They are none but my brother Muhammad bin Maslama and my foster brother Abu Na'ila. A generous man should respond to a call at night even if invited to be killed." Muhammad bin Maslama went with two men. (Some sub-narrators mention the men as Abu 'Abs bin Jabr, Al-Harith bin Aus and 'Abbad bin Bishr.) So Muhammad bin 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. Muhammad bin Maslama said, 'I have never smelt a better scent than this.' K'ab replied, 'I have got the best Arab women who know how to use the high class of perfume.' Muhammad bin Maslama requested Ka'b 'Wall you allow me to smell our head?' Ka'b said, 'Yes.' Muhammad 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 Muhammad 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." Bukhari vol.5 book 59 no.369 p.248-250


If you read again the start of that quote; it turns out that Mohammed had given him permission beforehand to both kill him, and to do so treacherously. It is one thing to kill an opponent in battle, but it is another thing to kill a friend who trusts you.


Question: Why would it be OK to treacherously kill a friend, who trusts you enough to get up in the middle of the night for you?


Honor In Regards to Women


When the immigrants took their oath of allegiance to Mohammed, Bukhari vol.6 book 60 no.414 p.385-386 reports that Mohammed would not touch the immigrant women at all. While some non-Muslims might think this too extreme, all should agree that there was no chance that he was dishonorable here.


But could you explain the following, how a young girl from Ethiopia made Mohammed very happy? "Narrated Um Khalid bint Khalid: When I came from Ethiopia (to Medina), I was a young girl. Allah's Apostle made me wear a sheet having marks on it. Allah's Apostle was rubbing those marks with his hands saying, "Sanah! Sanah!" (i.e. good, good)." Bukhari vol.5 book 58 no.214 p.137 This is the entire hadith 214. There is nothing else before or after that given as explanation.


In Sura 40:55 and 48:1-2 Allah tells Mohammed to ask forgiveness for his sin. Some translations call this "frailty" but people do not need forgiveness for physical frailties, rather for moral ones. Sahih Muslim vol.1 1695 says Mohammed prayed, "I wronged myself and make a confession of my sin. Forgive all my sins,..." Bukhari, vol.1:7,19,711, 781; vol.6:3; vol.8:319, vol.8:407 prior, and Shamaa'il Tirmidhi ch.2 no.9 (22) p.31 also mention Mohammed's sins. We do not know if Mohammed prayed forgiveness for putting his hands over that Ethiopian girl or not.


Question: when is it honorable to put your hands over a young girl?


Honor Relating to God


The Bible gives many examples of people who were honorable towards God; preferring to be killed than to deny God or worship others. Idolatry, or worshipping what is not God, is a great sin, dishonorable to God.


One good example is in the Book of Daniel chapter 3. King Nebuchadnezzar decreed that whenever people heard the sound of the horn, flute, zither, or other instruments they had to fall down and worship a golden statue. Nebuchadnezzar did not prohibit worshipping the true God, but just that they had to worship this golden image also. Three godly Jewish men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, were caught not bowing when the other people were. Nebuchadnezzar, thinking he was a nice guy, gave them another chance, yet warned them, "But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand? (Daniel 3:15) However, they replied "If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up." (Daniel 3:16b-19) Nebuchadnezzar became furious and threw them in the fire. But praise God they were miraculously spared. Furthermore, when they were in the furnace, Nebuchadnezzar did not see three men, but four! You can read the rest of the story in Daniel, but the point is that these men not only worshipped the true God, but they honored God by not worshipping any other God, and being willing to give up their lives rather than honor another God.


In contrast to this, here is one of the most widely attested things that Mohammed did. It is recorded by 22 early Muslim writers:


Ka'b al-Qurazi, one of Islam's greatest early Qur'anic scholars.

Urwah ibn al-Zubayr, founder of the study of the life of Muhammad. He was also Aisha's nephew and the son of Abu Bakr's daughter Asma.

Abu Bakr ibn Abd al-Rahman ibn al-Harith, one of the top first century scholars in Islamic Law.

Abu al-Aliyah al-Basri, one of the greatest Qur'anic scholars of the first century. He studied the Qur'an with Caliph Umar, Ubayy ibn Ka'b, Zayd ibn Thabit, and Ibn Abbas.  

Muhammad ibn al-Sa'ib al-Kalbi, an early commentator who composed the longest Tafsir that had been written up until his time.

Qatadah ibn Di'amah, one of Islam's greatest early commentators.

al-Dahhak ibn Muzahim al-Balkhi, a first century expert in Tafsir.

Ibn Abbas himself, the founder of Qur'anic studies.

al-Suddi, another early scholar who studied with Ibn Abbas.

Ikrimah, a slave of Ibn Abbas and an expert on the life of Muhammad.

Sa'id ibn Jubayr, one of Ibn Abbas' top students and a leading Qur'anic scholars of his time

Al-Wahidi/Wakidi (died 207/823 A.D.)

Ibn Sa'ad/Sa'd (died 230/845 A.D.)

Ibn Isaq/Ishaq (died 145/767 or 151 A.H./773 A.D.)

Ibn Jarir al-Tabari (died 923 A.D.)

Abu Ma'shar from Chorassan (787-885 A.D.)

Ibn Abi Hatim (born 240 A.H.)

Ibn al-Mundhir (born 242 A.H.)

Ibn Hajar from Asqalaan (773-852 A.D.)

Ibn Mardauyah (323-410 A.H.)

Musa ibn 'Uqba  al-Asadi (died 141 A.H.) praised by Imam Malik

Zamakhshari in his commentary, on Sura 22:52. (1070-1143 A.D.)


The all record that Sura 53 originally said that the intercession of Al'Lat, Manat, and 'Uzzah was to be hoped for. Here is what al-Tabari said.


Ibn Jarir al-Tabari (died 923 A.D.) was a Shafi'ite Sunni who wrote a 38-volume Islamic History of the world until 915 A.D. He has been titled "the sheikh of commentators". He writes in volume 6 p.108-110, "When the messenger of God saw how his tribe turned their backs on him and was grieved to see them shunning the message he had brought to them from God, he longed in his soul that something would come to him from God which would reconcile him with his tribe.... And when he came to the words: 'Have you thought upon al-Lat and al-Uzza and Manat, the third, the other?' Satan cast on his tongue, because of his inner debates and what he desired to bring to his people, the words: 'These are the high flying cranes; verily their intercession is accepted with approval [alternately: to be desired or hoped for].' When the Quraysh heard this, they rejoiced and were happy and delighted at the way in which he spoke of their gods, and they listened to him, while the Muslims, having complete trust in their prophet in respect of the message which he brought from god, did not suspect him of error, illusion, or mistake. ... Then [later] Gabriel came to the Messenger of God and said, 'Mohammed, what have you done? You have recited to the people that which I did not bring to you from God, ...'"


Question: could a true prophet ever affirm idolatry?


Jesus was Unjustly Dishonored for Us


An honorable person can suffer dishonor when he is betrayed, falsely accused, or suffers unjustly. Jesus was not only betrayed by Judas, but He knew in advance that, if He continued in His course, He would be betrayed, tortured, and hung on the cross to die. Jesus could have honorably retreated and fled. Yet, Jesus bravely chose to continue in His difficult course, to die on the cross for our sins.


We know this because Jesus prophesied it, His early followers recorded it, many Christians died for it, but above all, because Jesus rose from the dead. Faith in God requires a decision; are you going to trust what Jesus said and did, or reject Him for another?


Jesus' sacrifice does no good for those who refuse to follow Jesus. I hope that you would pray to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior. I ask you kindly to pray like this:

Great and loving God, Creator of everything, teach us more of who You are, what we are, what you want us to do, and what You want us to be. You are a pure and Holy God. But we confess that we have sinned and done evil, falling short of what you require for us to be with you in Heaven. But you are merciful to those who have been wicked, and when there was no way made a way for us through your Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ. For you Lord, we quit living selfishly for ourselves, and turn our lives over to you. Please come into our lives, that we can be children of God through Jesus Christ.


Dear Muslim, if you would like to provide answers please go to and email us.

Bible quotes are from the NIV.




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