A controversial billboard overlooking a busy highway in Indianapolis has drawn mounting criticism from the area’s Muslim community. The message makes a sarcastic (and not so subtle) reference to the Prophet Muhammad, calling him the “The Perfect Man”. Beneath this nickname, the billboard lists a number of controversial assertions about the prophet. The checklist includes damning claims that Muhammad “married a 6-year-old” and “beheaded 600 Jews in one day.”
The creators of the billboard also included a slogan at the bottom that reads “Educate Truthophobes” – an apparent play on the word “Islamophobia.”
Reactions from the Muslim Community
Many Muslims were outraged to see Muhammad defamed in such a public manner.
Rima Shahid, a leader of the Muslim Alliance of Indiana, explains that the message was especially offensive because it was displayed right at the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
“At any point this would have been highly offensive, but we’re in the holiest month of our faith, when we slow down and reconnect with our communities,” Shahid said. “It perpetuates hate,” she added. “It perpetuates misconceptions about Islam, and it makes our neighbors think we believe things that just aren’t true.”
However, not everyone was taken off guard by the sign. By now, many Muslims are used to seeing or hearing messages targeted at their religion. Farial Khatri, of the Islamic Society of North America, was not in the least surprised. “We’ve seen them in New York and several others cities on billboards as well as other transit ads”.
Khatri acknowledges that the 1st Amendment can be a double-edged sword. “We do support free speech,” she noted, even though doing so means enduring messages “rooted in bigotry.”
Billboard Owner Speaks Out
As it turns out, the billboard is owned by a local businessman named Don Woodsmall. He defends the decision wholeheartedly, explaining: “I was convinced that each point listed on the billboard was historically and factually true. I would encourage others to do their own research to verify the veracity of each and every point.”
Woodsmall also fired back at those who want the billboard taken down: “it is interesting to note… the Muslim community knew exactly who it was referring to. The truth is a powerful weapon.”
Fact Checking the Billboard
Controversy aside, what about the substance of the billboard? Are the assertions true? Let’s break them down one by one:
1. “Married 6-year-old”
This is an often quoted – and controversial – claim about Muhammad. Historical texts (such as the Sahih Bukhari) show that Muhammad married a young girl named Aisha when she was just 6 years of age. The marriage was consummated when she was 9 and he was 53. While some Muslim scholars argue Aisha was a teenager before she married Muhammad, most sources of record say otherwise.
2. “Slave owner & dealer”
There is a wide consensus that Muhammad owned slaves. However, his reasons for doing so are disputed. One line of thinking holds that Muhammad would buy slaves in order to free them and set an example for others to follow. But many historians allege that the relationship was far from innocent, and that Muhammad even took female captives as sex-slaves.
Our research didn’t uncover any evidence to back up this specific claim. However, if claims #1 and #2 are legitimate, then chances are #3 could be as well.
4. “Beheaded 600 Jews in one day”
This claim is historically accurate. In 627 A.D., a Jewish tribe known as the Banu Qurayza betrayed Muhammad. In retaliation, Muhammad gave the order to kill all the men in the tribe. The exact numbers are unknown, but historians estimate that between 600-800 Jews were beheaded by Muhammad’s forces in a single day.
5. “13 Wives, 11 at one time”
There is significant historical consensus among scholars that Muhammad did indeed have 13 wives in total, and at one point was married to 11 different women.
6. “Tortured and killed nonbelievers”
We were unable to make a determination on this claim. Perhaps our readers can offer some insight. What we do know: the Qur’an contains over 100 verses that reference committing violence against non-Muslims. Muslim scholars say insist these quotes are taken out of context, but from a neutral perspective such language can certainly be interpreted as an endorsement for attacking those who go against Islam.
The Pursuit of Peace
Truthfulness aside, it’s worth considering the efficacy of the billboard’s message. Will it help to promote unity, understanding, and peace? Not likely. But critics of Islam point to the terrible acts of violence committed in the name of religion and say: “how can we have peace when this continues to happen?”
One last interesting note: the Muslim Alliance of Indiana is currently raising money to erect another billboard nearby the current one. They say it will be dedicated to spreading a message of peace and kindness.
What do you think of the “Perfect Man” billboard? Do you find its message offensive?