How Jesus and Muhammad Dealt With It
Louis Palme / Aug 04, 2007

All religious ethical systems must contend with the problem of temptation – the urge to violate that system.  While temptation is universal, one’s response to temptation is a mark of character or lack of character.  Jackson Browne once said, “Our character is what we do when we think no one is looking." Certainly, anyone who is held up as a model of ethical behavior should show that ethical behavior in all situations.  The two principal models of religious ethical behavior in today’s world are Jesus and Muhammad.  The chroniclers of both have recorded incidents of temptation and how they were handled.  Whether or not one believes these stories to be true, they are the recorded models of behavior that historians wanted future generations to remember.


The Temptation of Jesus – The Gospels of Matthew and Luke record that prior to beginning his ministry, Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days of fasting.  At the peak of his hunger, Satan “the tempter” came and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.”  (Matthew 4 and Luke 4)  Jesus responded by quoting from the Hebrew Scriptures which had been the foundation of his ancestors’ faith for 1,500 years: “People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Deuteronomy 6:16)    Satan also offered Jesus worldly kingdoms and power if he would kneel down and worship him, but Jesus responded, “You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.”  (Deuteronomy 6:13)  


The Temptation of Muhammad – (From The History of Al-Tabari, Vol. VII, para. 1274-79)  Muhammad  began preaching a new, monotheistic religion in Mecca in 610 A.D., but after 12 years of preaching he had gained only about 150 followers.  When he lost the protection of his uncle Abu Talib, a leader of the Quraysh tribe, Muhammad and his followers were driven out of Mecca, and they migrated to Medina.  They were destitute and there was little work for them to support themselves. As was sometimes practiced by the Bedouins of that era, they resorted to robbing merchant caravans that passed through the desert.  Caravans dealt with this menace by having armed escorts.  However, during the religious pilgrimage month, all tribes foreswore violence so security was relaxed.  On the last day of the sacred month of Rajab in 624, a raiding party came across a Quraysh caravan. They knew that if they didn’t attack it that evening it would pass on into safety by the next day. After conferring among themselves, the raiders decided to attack anyway, killing one Quraysh, capturing two and stealing the shipment of raisins, leather, and other merchandise. 


When the raiders returned to Mohammad and reported to him what they had done, his first response was, “I did not order you to fight in the sacred month.” (This was actually the first successful raid by the Muslims.) When the raiders tried to share 20 percent of their booty with Muhammad as was required, he impounded the entire ‘take’ as well as the captives.  Bear in mind that the concern was not about robbing or killing, but rather the scandal of doing it in the sacred month.  Some followers rationalized that perhaps the raiders got the date of their raid wrong. But the temptation of the spoils was too much for Muhammad. Soon, he “received” a message from God, “To fight in this (sacred) month is a grave offense; but to debar others from the path of God, to deny Him, and to expel His worshippers from the Holy Mosque, is far more grave in His sight. Idolatry is worse than carnage.”  (Surah 2:217)


Not only did Muhammad yield to temptation, his excuse was devoid of any moral principle.  Is idolatry really a more serious offense than murder?  What did the men of this particular caravan have to do with debarring Muhammad’s followers from Mecca and the Holy Mosque?   If the men in the caravan had, indeed, offended Muhammad (or God) on religious grounds, how does that justify stealing their merchandise and holding captives for ransom?



Jesus and the Woman at the Well – While Jesus remained celibate and was not known to have had “carnal knowledge” of any woman, he was once tempted by a Samaritan woman at a well. (John 4)  The Gospel writer sets the scene: it is noon and the disciples have gone into the village to get food.  Jesus, left alone, is resting at the well, and a woman who was obviously a social outcast arrives at the well. (Women don’t fetch water in the middle of the day unless it is to avoid the rebuke of the other women gathered at the well during cooler hours).  It is later revealed in the scripture that the woman had been living with many different men.  The Gospel writer even records that later the disciples were “shocked” to find Jesus talking to a strange woman, alone. It just wasn’t done!  So, was Jesus flirting with the woman or trying to seduce her?  No, rather, he urged her to go and get her husband and learn about worshiping the true God.


Muhammad and His Ninth Wife -- (From The History of Al-Tabari, Vol. VIII, Para. 1460-62) When Muhammad became a religious/political leader in Medina his sexual escapades became notorious, even among his own people.  Among other things, he bedded one wife when she was 9 and he was 52, and he married somewhere between fourteen and twenty women, depending on which account you read. 


Muhammad’s most notorious marriage, however, was to Zaynab.  She was the wife of his adopted son, Zayd, and one day Mohammad went to their house when she was alone and accidentally saw her partially clothed.  Muhammad murmured, “Glory be to God the Almighty! Glory be to God, who causes hearts to turn!”  Now, there was an existing decree from God in the Quran against marrying ones daughter-in-law (Surah 4:23), so Muhammad was tempted to do something his new religion had already forbidden.  To make matters even more tempting, Zayd was so devoted to the Prophet that he volunteered to divorce his wife so Muhammad could marry her.  The issue here wasn’t about adultery or coveting someone else’s wife (both of which are sins under Mosaic Law – See Exodus 20 verses 14 and 17), but rather about expanding permission for Muslims to marry their adopted sons’ wives if they wished.  In short time, Muhammad “received” another command from Allah: “When Zayd divorced his wife, We (Allah) gave her to you (Muhammad) in marriage, so that it should become legitimate for true believers to wed the wives of their adopted sons if they divorced them.  God’s will must needs be done. No blame shall be attached to the Prophet for doing what is sanctioned for him by God.” (Surah 33:37) 


Not only was Muhammad tempted by his daughter-in-law’s beauty, but he actually revised his sacred book, the Quran, to make the object of his desire ordained by God.   This sacred book is supposed to be the perfect verbal word of God addressed to all of mankind and for all time, but here we have a passage giving specific sanction to the Prophet to do something that was clearly wrong.  Another of Muhammad’s wives, Aisha, once remarked sarcastically, “I feel that your Lord hastens in fulfilling your wishes and desires.”  (Sahih Buhkari, Vol. 6, Number 311)


God and Temptation – Two Opposing Views --  If a religious ethical system is ordained by God, then to do something that is forbidden by that system is called a sin.   The relationship between God and Temptation is not the same in the two major religions represented by Jesus and Muhammad.  The teachings of the Gospel are that temptation is from Satan or our own selfish desires, and never from God.


            [Husbands and wives,] do not deprive each other of sexual relations, unless you both agree to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time so you can give yourselves more completely to prayer. Afterward, you should come together again so that Satan won’t be able to tempt you because of your lack of self-control.  (I Corinthians 7:5)


            And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. (James 1:13-14)


On the other hand, the Quran states that God is the supreme plotter (Surah 3:53), the master of all scheming (Surah 13:42), that he deliberately confounds people (Surah 45:23), and he selectively guides “whom he will” to a straight path. (Surah 10:25 and 14:4).  If that were not bad enough, the Quran goes on to say that on Judgment Day, the same scheming God will then arbitrarily punish people:


Did you not know that God has sovereignty over the heavens and the earth?  He punishes whom He will and forgives whom He pleases. God has power over all things. . . .You cannot help a man if God seeks to confound him. Those whose hearts God does not please to purify shall earn disgrace in this world and grievous punishment in the hereafter.  (Surah 5:41)


Islam is often called fatalistic religion because individuals have little control over their destiny.  If God is tempting them and confounding them, then they do not need to take responsibility for their own actions.  Furthermore, if God’s reward or punishment is arbitrary, then they are forced to seek a much more certain guarantee of their salvation.  The only guarantee for salvation, according to the Quran, is jihad – fighting in the cause of God.  Here, for the faithful, is one more cynical temptation from Islam’s God:


God has purchased from the faithful their lives and worldly goods and in return has promised them the Garden. They will fight for the cause of God, slay and be slain.  Such is the true promise which He has made to them in the Torah, the Gospel, and the Koran. [Note: Not so, with regard to the Torah and the Gospel.] And who is more true to his pledge than God? Rejoice then in the bargain you have made. (Surah 9:111)


As for those who are slain in the cause of God, He will not allow their works to perish. He will vouchsafe them guidance and ennoble their state; He will admit them to the Paradise He has made known to them. (Surah 47:5)

Disclaimer: The articles published on this site represent the view of their writers.