No, Jesus WASN’T a Pacifist: The Problem with the Muhammad vs. Jesus Comparisons

jesus vs muhammad

This is part 5-ii of the Understanding Jihad Series.  Please read my “disclaimer”, which explains my intentions behind writing this article: The Understanding Jihad Series: Is Islam More Likely Than Other Religions to Encourage Violence?

Throughout his book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), professional Islamophobe Robert Spencer misleads the reader by selectively comparing Muhammad to Jesus.  Muhammad is portrayed as a “warrior prophet” and contrasted with the (supposedly) non-violent Jesus.  Spencer argues on page four of his book that his “Muhammad vs. Jesus” comparisons are intended to “draw a distinction between the core principles that guide the faithful Muslim and Christian.”  We are told that Islam’s militancy stems from its founder, as Christianity’s peacefulness traces back to its earliest figure.  Although Robert Spencer is a fringe extremist, his sentiments are shared by many average Christians (and even non-Christians).  To the average Westerner, Muhammad was a man of violence, whereas Jesus was the quintessential pacifist.

Prof. Philip Jenkins explored a similar mindset when it came to the Koran and the Bible. Jenkinsexplained (emphasis added):

Unconsciously, perhaps, many Christians consider Islam to be a kind of dark shadow of their own faith, with the ugly words of the Koran standing in absolute contrast to the scriptures they themselves cherish. In the minds of ordinary Christians – and Jews – the Koran teaches savagery and warfare, while the Bible offers a message of love, forgiveness, and charity…

But in terms of ordering violence and bloodshed, any simplistic claim about the superiority of the Bible to the Koran would be wildly wrong. In fact, the Bible overflows with “texts of terror,” to borrow a phrase coined by the American theologian Phyllis Trible. The Bible contains far more verses praising or urging bloodshed than does the Koran, and biblical violence is often far more extreme, and marked by more indiscriminate savagery.  The Koran often urges believers to fight, yet it also commands that enemies be shown mercy when they surrender. Some frightful portions of the Bible, by contrast, go much further in ordering the total extermination of enemies, of whole families and races – of men, women, and children, and even their livestock, with no quarter granted.

I have extensively (and painfully) elaborated on this point earlier in this article series.

The comparisons between Muhammad “the warrior prophet” and Jesus “the pacifist” are equally faulty.  For one thing,  many were the “warrior prophets” in the Judeo-Christian tradition before Muhammad, including MosesJoshuaSamsonDavidSaul, and so many others.  Moses, the prototypical “warrior prophet”, was the key figure of Judaism–would these Islamophobes vilify Judaism as they do Islam?  (Nowadays it is often considered socially taboo to criticize Judaism but completely acceptable to malign Islam.  Why the double standard?)

For the record, these Biblical prophets and holy figures are just as much a part of Christianity as they are Judaism.  Christian theology holds these personalities in very high regard.  Therefore, to suddenly limit the discussion to Jesus alone is misleading.  Yet, this disingenuous tactic is critical to the Islamophobic rhetoric.  If Islam is to be deemed a violent faith based on the personality of Muhammad, then both Judaism and Christianity must similarly be designated as violent faiths based on the personalities of Moses, Joshua, and all the other myriad of figures in the Bible who engaged in acts of violence far more atrocious than anything Muhammad stands accused of.

Leaving aside this point, it ought to be noted that Jesus as a pacifist is pure fiction.  Prof. Reza Aslan recently published a book on Jesus, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, which disproves the myth of the pacifist Jesus.  Although Aslan’s message may be news to some lay persons, it is in fact (as Reza Aslan himself points out) “old news” in scholarly circles.  Thanks to the viral Fox News interview and Aslan’s addictive writing style, Zealot became a best-seller.  Christian Islamophobes wrongfully assumed, without reading the book, that Aslan was attacking the character of Jesus.  In fact, however, Aslan reveres Jesus, even while he dispels many of the myths about the man.

One of the myths that Aslan dispels is the idea that Jesus was a pacifist.  Many Christians think of Jesus separately from the personalities of the Old Testament.  But, in fact, there is a great deal of continuity in the Biblical narrative.  According to the Bible, God rescued Moses and his people from Egypt and promised them the land of Canaan.  However, Canaan was occupied by pagans, so God commanded the Jews to completely annihilate the indigenous population.  This divinely sanctioned genocide helped establish a Jewish kingdom in the Promised Land.  After some time, however, the Jews were conquered by outside forces.  By the time of Jesus, the Jews were under imperial occupation by Rome.

What many Christians (and others) fail to realize was that Jesus was a Jew.  He was in fact one of many different Jews who claimed to be the Messiah.  The Messiah, it was believed, would be a conquering king sent down to liberate the Jewish people, “fight Hashem’s [God’s] wars” (Maimonides in Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings 11:4), and then not only conquer but punish (with great vengeance) the enemies of Israel.  Jesus’s connection to the war heroes of the Bible is underscored by the fact that he is called “a Davidic king”–the same David who engaged in acts of war and genocide against the Philistines and Amalekites.  Aslan writes:

[A] fair consensus about who the messiah is supposed to be and what the messiah is supposed to do: he is the descendant of King David; he comes to restore Israel, to free the Jews from the yoke of occupation, and to establish God’s rule in Jerusalem.  To call Jesus the messiah, therefore, is to place him inexorably upon a path–already well trodden by a host of failed messiahs who came before him–toward conflict, revolution, and war against the prevailing powers.

This was the role Jesus was claiming for himself by saying he was the Messiah.  This is why the Romans crucified him.

In his book, Reza Aslan writes:

It was a direct commandment from a jealous God who tolerated no foreign presence in the land he had set aside for his chosen people. That is why, when the Jews first came to this land a thousand years earlier, God had decreed that they massacre every man, woman, and child they encountered, that they slaughter every ox, goat, and sheep they came across, that they burn every farm, every field, every crop, every living thing without exception so as to ensure that the land would belong solely to those who worshiped this one God and no other…

It was, the Bible claims, only after the Jewish armies had “utterly destroyed all that breathed”…only after every single inhabitant of this land was eradicated, “as the Lord God of Israel had commanded” (Joshua 10:28-42)–that the Jews were allowed to settle here.

And yet, a thousand years later, this same tribe that had shed so much blood to cleanse the Promised Land of every foreign element so as to rule it in the name of its God now found itself laboring under the boot of an imperial pagan power, forced to share the holy city with Gauls, Spaniards, Romans, Greeks, and Syrians–all of them foreigners, all of them heathens–obligated by law to make sacrifices in God’s own temple on behalf of a Roman idolater who lived more than a thousand kilometers away.

How would the heroes of old respond such humiliation and degradation? What would Joshua or Aaron or Phineas or Samuel do to the unbelievers who had defiled the land set aside by God for his chosen people?

They would drown the land in blood. They would smash the heads of the heathens and the gentiles, burn their idols to the ground, slaughter their wives and their children. They would slay the idolaters and bathe their feet in the blood of their enemies, just as the Lord commanded. They would call upon the God of Israel to burst forth from the heavens in his war chariot, to trample upon the sinful nations and to make the mountains writhe at this fury.

Jesus was crucified by the Romans before he could mete out vengeance on the enemies of Israel, but–as a I detail in my earlier article Jesus Loves His Enemies…and Then Kills Them All–he will fulfill this task during his Second Coming:

Jesus will “will release the fierce wrath of God” (19:15) on them, and “he shall execute the severest judgment on the opposers of his truth”.   Because of this, “every tribe on earth will mourn because of him” (Rev. 1:7), and they will “express the inward terror and horror of their minds, at his appearing; they will fear his resentment”.  Just as the people of Canaan were terrified by the Israelite war machine, so too would the unbelievers “look with trembling upon [Jesus]”.  This is repeated in the Gospels, that “the Son of man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn” (Matthew 24:30).  “All the nations of the world shall wail when he comes to judgment” and the enemies of Jesus “shall mourn at the great calamities coming upon them”.

Far from the meek prophet of the First Coming, Jesus on his return will command a very strong military force that will “destroy[] every ruler, authority, and power”.  Not only is this consistent with the legacy of conquests by the Biblical prophets, it is actually a fulfillment or completion of the task that Moses initiated: holy war and conquest in the name of God.  In First Corinthians (part of the New Testament) it is prophesied that instead of loving his enemies, Christ will subdue and humble them under his feet:

1 Corinthians 15:24 [Jesus] will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, having destroyed every ruler and authority and power.

15:25 For Christ must reign until he humbles all his enemies beneath his feet.

Reza Aslan concludes:

[T]he Jesus that emerges…[is] a zealous revolutionary swept up, as all Jews of the era were, in the religious and political turmoil of first-century Palestine–[which] bears little resemblance to the image of the gentle shepherd cultivated by the early Christian community.

Once Jesus is understood as a continuation and culmination of the Biblical narrative, it becomes clear that he was not a pacifist.  The Biblical war ethic that Jesus believed in was arguably more violent than the equivalent Koranic discourse Muhammad operated from.  (More on this in a future article.)  The only difference was that Jesus’s rebellion was cut short by his crucifixion, whereas Muhammad triumphed against his former tormentors.

It should be noted that Jesus, like Moses and Muhammad, was an enigmatic personality; nobody can know for certain who the real Jesus was.  People (including scholars) subconsciously project into Jesus their own self-image.  Remembering Jesus as a pacifist is a healthy option for the Christian believer, especially when it forms the basis of a peace-loving theology.  But, once that pacifist image is used by right-wing warmongers as a stick to bash Muslims over the head with, it’s time to call foul.

Danios was the Brass Crescent Award Honorary Mention for Best Writer in 2010 and the Brass Crescent Award Winner for Best Writer in 2011.

Jihad By Any Means Necessary?

The following is a part of LoonWatch’s Understanding Jihad Series, which is a refutation of Robert Spencer’s book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades).  Specifically, I am herein refuting chapter one of his book, entitled “Muhammad: Prophet of War.”

An anti-Muslim canard that has gained considerable popularity in the post-9/11 world is the idea that Muslims can do anything, no matter how morally questionable, if it furthers the Islamic cause.  According to this idea, jihad can be waged “by any means necessary.”  Robert Spencer argues this in his book, writing:

Islam’s only overarching moral principle is “if it’s good for Islam, it’s right.” [1]

Spencer traces the birth of this Islamic “principle” to the life story of the Prophet Muhammad, specifically the raid at Nakhla.  To properly debunk this conspiracy theory, we must then transport ourselves back in time to this controversial event.

In the year 610 A.D., Muhammad declared his prophethood.  His people, the Quraysh of Mecca, violently rejected him.  The early Muslims suffered heavy-handed persecution, which they endured with patience for well over a decade.  Finally, the God of the Quran permitted them to take up arms in self-defense.  Muhammad and his followers, who had regrouped in the nearby city of Medina, engaged in guerre de course (commerce raiding) against the powerful Quraysh.

I have discussed Muhammad’s guerre de course in quite a lot of detail in a previous article.  This tactic was not only something considered acceptable in the Arabian context of the time, but also has a celebrated history in the American–as well as French and German–naval traditions.  Historically, it has been considered a valid military strategy and a means of waging economic warfare against a more powerful enemy.

The early military operations led by the Muslims were largely unsuccessful–that is, until the raid at Nakhla.  Muhammad had dispatched Abdullah bin Jahsh with secret instructions contained in a letter that were not to be opened until after traveling two days journey.  (This precaution was designed no doubt to thwart potential spies, who may have informed the Quraysh of Muslim “troop” movements, which could explain the earlier failed military expeditions.)

When Abdullah opened Muhammad’s letter, it read:

When you have read this letter of mine proceed until you reach Nakhla between Mecca and Al-Ta’if. Lie in wait there for [the] Quraysh and find out for us what they are doing. [2]

On the way to Nakhla, Abdullah and his fellow riders happened across a poorly armed Qurayshite caravan.  They debated among themselves whether or not to waylay it, for it was the last day of the month of Rajab.  The pre-Islamic culture at the time assigned four months of the year as sacred (of which Rajab was one), in which fighting was proscribed.  In addition to the four sacred months, fighting was forbidden in certain holy sanctuaries (i.e. Al-Bayt Al-Haram, the area around the Kaabah).

Abdullah’s contingent faced a difficult choice:

If [we] leave them alone tonight they will get into the sacred area and will be safe from [us]; and if [we] kill them, [we] will kill them in the sacred month. [3]

They were also not quite sure what day it was.  Was it the last day of the sacred month of Rajab or the first day of of the next month, Jumada (in which fighting was permitted)?  Prof. Reuven Firestone writes of this:

The uncertainty of the day is a natural result of the calendrical system of that period, in which the moon was the primary measurer of time, because the beginning of the month was established only by actual observation of the new crescent moon. [4]

Making matters worse was the fact that, according to the lunar calendar used by the Arabs, days change at sunset, not midnight.  One of the men explained to Muhammad later that

it was becoming evening. We looked at the crescent moon of Rajab, and we did not know whether we [struck during] Rajab or in Jumada. [5]

Initially, Abdullah and his men hesitated, but then decided to attack.  The Muslims shot and killed one of the Quraysh (a man by the name of Amr Ibn Al-Hadrami), captured two of them, and seized the caravan’s goods.  By killing Ibn Al-Hadrami, the Muslims had violated the pre-Islamic Arabian custom forbidding bloodshed during the sacred month.

When Abdullah and his men returned to Medina, Muhammad rebuked them, saying:

I did not order you to fight in the sacred month! [6]

Sir Thomas W. Arnold wrote of this incident:

In so doing, [Abdullah] had not only acted without authority but had violated the sacred truce within Arab custom caused to be observed throughout the month of pilgrimage.  Muhammad received him coldly with the words, “I gave thee no command to fight in the sacred month;” dismissed the prisoners, and from his own purse paid blood-money for a Meccan who had lost his life in the fray. [7]

Other Muslims in Medina also chastised the men.  Meanwhile, the Quraysh exploited the incident to further their war propaganda against the Islamic nation.  They effectively drove a wedge in the community of Medina, with Muslims distancing themselves from other Muslims, and non-Muslims from Muslims.  Muhammad’s leadership itself was called into question.

It was in this crisis that the following Quranic verse was revealed:

They ask you about fighting in the sacred month. Say, ‘Fighting in that month is a great offense, but to bar others from God’s path, to disbelieve in Him, prevent access to the Sacred Mosque, and drive out its people, are still greater offences in God’s eyes: [their] persecution is worse than the killing [of Amr Ibn Al-Hadrami].’ They will not stop fighting you [believers] until they make you renounce your faith, if they can. If any of you renounce your faith and die as disbelievers, your deeds will come to nothing in this world and the Hereafter, and you will be inhabitants of the Fire, there to remain.  But those who have believed, who were driven out from their homes, and who strive for God’s cause, it is they who can look forward to God’s mercy: God is most forgiving and merciful. (Quran, 2:217-218)

This response from the God of the Quran successfully rallied the Muslims around their leader and their cause.  Muhammad’s treatment of the raid was splendidly balanced, neither making the Muslims look too warlike nor too humiliated: on the one hand, he paid blood money for the Qurayshite man that was killed (blood money was a form of restitution given to a victim’s family) and freed the two Qurayshite prisoners.  On the other hand, he released the two Qurayshite prisoners only in exchange for two Muslim prisoners, and also accepted the confiscated goods as legitimate spoils of war.

*  *  *  *  *

Robert Spencer writes of the Nakhla raid:

In Medina, these new Muslims began raiding the caravans of the Quraysh, with Muhammad personally leading many of these raids.  These raids kept the nascent Muslim movement solvent and helped form Islamic theology–as in one notorious incident when a band of Muslims raided a Quraysh caravan at Nakhla, a settlement not far from Mecca.  The raiders attacked the caravan during the sacred month of Rajab, when fighting was forbidden.  When they returned to the Muslim camp laden with booty, Muhammad refused to share in the loot or to have anything to do with them, saying only, “I did not order you to fight in the sacred month.”

But then a new revelation came from Allah, explaining that the Quraysh’s opposition to Muhammad was a worse transgression than the violation of the sacred month.  In other words, the raid was justified.  ”They question thee, O Muhammad, with regard to warfare in the sacred month.  Say: warfare therein is a great transgression, bu to turn men from the way of Allah, and to disbelieve in Him and in the Inviolable Place of Worship, and to expel his people thence, is a greater sin with Allah; for persecution is worse than killing” (Quran 2:214).  Whatever sin the Nakhla raiders had committed was overshadowed by the Quraysh’s rejection of Muhammad.

This was a momentous revelation, for it led to an Islamic principle that has had repercussions throughout the ages.  Good became identified with anything that redounded to the benefit of Muslims, regardless of whether it violated moral or other laws.  The moral absolutes enshrined in the Ten Commandments, and other teachings of the great religions that preceded Islam, were swept aside in favor of an overarching principle of expediency. [8]

In true Spencerian fashion, he misleads the reader using lies of omission and commission.  Spencer does not clearly state that Muhammad had dispatched the “band of Muslims” on a reconnaissance mission, in order to “find out for us what [the Quraysh] are doing.”  This is why the Prophet of Islam later disavowed Abdullah’s actions, for he had “acted without authority.”  Also, no mention is made in Spencer’s book of the difficulty in ascertaining the day and month in which the raid took place.

Spencer’s biggest lie, however, is the following doozie:

Whatever sin the Nakhla raiders had committed was overshadowed by the Quraysh’s rejection of Muhammad.

In fact, it was not merely “the Quraysh’s rejection of Muhammad”, but, in the words of the Quran itself, their persecution [of the Muslims that] is worse than the killing” of Amr Ibn Al-Hadrami.  Here, the Islamic holy book was referring to the over decade-long period of Qurayshite persecution, during which the early Muslims suffered beatings, imprisonment, torture, and forced conversions; some of the early believers were even killed.  This, the God of the Quran argued, was worse than what the “band of Muslims” had done.  It would be difficult to argue otherwise.

Spencer goes on to say:

In other words, the raid was justified.

No, it wasn’t.  In fact, the Quran recognized and affirmed that the Muslims had committed a grave sin: “Fighting in [the sacred] month is a great offense.”

Many Western commentators have claimed that Muhammad and the Quran, by this passage, abandoned observation of the ban on fighting during the four sacred months.  The insistence on this view is based on their blind acceptance of the traditional opinion [9], held by various Islamic exegetes in medieval times, that this was a pre-Islamic tradition that was overturned by the advent of Islam.

Yet, a neutral reading of the Quranic text–both this passage and those that follow it–reveals the exact opposite: the Prophet Muhammad affirmed and respected the sanctity of the four sacred months.  The Quranic verse starts by saying, “They ask you about fighting in the sacred month.”  Obviously, Muhammad was being accosted by all sides about the raid at Nakhla, which threatened to be a public relations disaster for the Muslims.  How much easier it would have been for the Prophet of Islam to have simply declared the four sacred months a “pagan belief” that the Muslims did not accept.

After all, in another controversy in early Islam’s history, when Muhammad received significant criticism for having married his adopted son’s ex-wife Zaynab bint Jahsh, the Quran justified the act by declaring that: firstly, unlike in the pagan custom of the time, in Islam there is no prohibition against such a thing; and secondly, it was God himself who commanded Muhammad to marry Zaynab, and therefore, “the Prophet is not at fault for what God has ordained for him” (Quran, 33:38).  (It should be noted that the Islamic permission to marry one’s adopted son’s ex-wife is no more disconcerting than Judaism’s permitting of marriage to one’s nieces.)

The point is that the Quran didn’t just take the easy way out, which would have been to reject the four sacred months altogether.  (Muhammad could have also simply declared the pagans to be “disbelievers”, licit to be attacked at any place or any time.)  Instead, the Quran affirmed that it was indeed a grave offense to fight therein, and in fact, commanded Muhammad to tell the people so:

They ask you about fighting in the sacred month. Say, ‘Fighting in that month is a great offense.’ (Quran, 2:217)

The Islamic affirmation of the four sacred months occurs throughout the Quran.  Muslims are not to fight in these months, so long as the other side respects this prohibition:

Fight during the sacred months if you are attacked therein, for a violation of sanctity is subject to the law of just retribution.  So, if anyone commits aggression against you, attack him as he attacked you. (Quran, 2:194)

The Quran also affirms the idea of sacred spaces:

Do not fight them at the Sacred Mosque unless they fight you there. (Quran, 2:191)

This topic deserves greater elaboration, but for now, suffice to say that even in the jihad passages of chapter nine of the Quran–which the Islamophobes insist are (in the words of the anti-Muslim website “the final ‘revelations’ from Allah” about jihad–the four sacred months are affirmed.  For example, in the so-called “verse of the sword” (ayat al-saif), the Quran declares:

When the sacred months are passed, then fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them… (Quran, 9:5)

Leaving aside for now the fact that the verse right before this one (verse 9:4) explains that this injunction refers only to those pagans who broke a treaty and waged war against the Muslims, there is another obvious point to be made here: Islamophobes insist that this passage was revealed in Muhammad’s last years and was his final, all-out call to war against non-Muslims.  (I will refute this argument in a future article.)  If we are to accept this claim, then we see that–even in this late stage of Muhammad’s decrees about jihad–the sacred months are to be respected.

In fact, the Quran goes so far to claim that it was God himself who decreed these months to be sacred.  More than this, the God of the Quran chastises the Qurayshite pagans for violating the four sacred months by “transposing them” for other months in the year, something they did out of convenience:

God decrees that there are twelve months–ordained in God’s Book on the Day when He created the heavens and earth–four months of which are sacred: this is the correct calculation. Do not wrong your souls in these months–though you may fight the idolaters at any time, if they first fight you–remember that God is with those who are mindful of Him.  Transposing sacred months is another act of disobedience by which those who disregard God are led astray: they will allow it one year and forbid it in another in order to outwardly conform with the number of God’s sacred months, but in doing so they permit what God has forbidden. Their evil deeds are made alluring to them: God does not guide those who disregard Him.  (Quran, 9:36-37)

In conclusion, it is not true that Muhammad justified the Nakhla raid, nor is it valid to claim that the Prophet of Islam simply made it legal when Muslims did it.  Spencer’s claim that ”if it’s good for Islam, it’s right” finds no basis.

The Quran acknowledged that the killing of Amr Ibn Al-Hadrami in the sacred month was a “grave offense” and Muhammad offered restitution to the victim’s family.  This mea culpa indicates that the Prophet of Islam acknowledged that wrong had been committed and he sought to right it.  Meanwhile, the “band of Muslims” involved in the escapade were duly chastised.  After they had expressed remorse for their sin, the God of the Quran forgave them “for God is Forgiving, Merciful” (2:218), and reassured them of their salvation.  That forgiveness was necessary in the first place indicates that they had committed a sin.

What the Quran didn’t do is claim that the Muslims had done nothing wrong.  All it did was point out the hypocrisy of the Quraysh, for they had committed greater offenses against the Muslims.  Robert Spencer would quickly claim that the Quran was committing a tu quoque fallacy, but there is a difference between a valid tu quoque argument and an invalid tu quoque fallacy.  Tu quoque (“you too”) arguments are not always illegitimate.  Of significance is the fact that, following the Nakhla raid, Muhammad (1) admitted that the Muslims had committed an offense, and (2) willingly submitted to the penalty of that offense (i.e. paid blood money).

The Prophet of Islam didn’t try to make something right because the enemy did something wrong.  More importantly, he didn’t try to get out of the penalty for the offense.  Instead, he admitted that his side had done something wrong, paid the penalty for it, and then pointed out that his accusers had committed far greater offenses without making any amends for it.  He was not trying to get out of the penalty, but only highlighting the Qurayshite hypocrisy so that they would not exploit the incident to further anti-Muslim propaganda.

Islamophobes today are also guilty of hypocrisy on this front: they are among America and Israel’s most hawkish proponents of war in Muslim lands.  During Muhammad’s pre-Badr expeditions, the Muslims had killed only one person, and this was in violation of their orders.  What about the hundreds and hundreds of Muslim victims who die at the hands of the American and Israeli military, without any form of restitution given to them?  We are told then that “this is war”…But when Muhammad’s men kill one person, then it’s the greatest tragedy in all of history.

Related to our opening question (Is Islam more violent than other religions, specifically Judaism and Christianity? Was Muhammad the most violent prophet or religious figure in history?) lies another question: the Biblical prophets–such as MosesJoshuaSamson,DavidSaul, etc.–engaged in genocide against the natives of Canaan.  Thousands and thousands of innocent people were slaughtered.  Are there any stories in the Bible of any of these Judeo-Christian prophets and holy figures giving restitution to the victim’s families?  One can already hear Robert Spencer crying “tu quoque, tu quoque!”, a word that he obviously does not properly understand.  Islam, identified as our enemy in the post-9/11 war, is put through a special standard, one that Spencer’s own religion could not withstand.

*  *  *  *  *

The Islamic principle of justice is to apply the law equally to all.  There are numerous verses of the Quran to this effect (i.e. 16:90: “God commands you to uphold justice and to do good to others”) and this topic would require another article to elucidate fully.  For now, however, it would suffice us to refer to the opening of sura (chapter) five, which is said to be among the final revelations of the Quran.  It was revealed after the conquest of Mecca.  In it, we see once again that the Quran affirms the idea of sacred months and sacred spaces.  More importantly, it commands Muslims to uphold justice and be fair even to their enemies:

Do not violate the sanctity of God’s rites or the Sacred Months…or the people coming to the Sacred Space…Do not let your ill-will towards a people–because they barred you from the Sacred Mosque–cause you to transgress against them.  Help one another to do what is right and good.  Do not help one another towards sin and aggression. (Quran, 5:2)

Robert Spencer traces “Islam’s only overarching moral principle” of “if it’s good for Islam, it’s right” to the raid at Nakhla, but the evidence simply does not bear his argument out.  Instead, all that becomes apparent is the Islamophobic tactic: if it makes Islam and Muslims look bad, let’s run with it.

Danios was the Brass Crescent Award Honorary Mention for Best Writer in 2010 and the Brass Crescent Award Winner for Best Writer in 2011.

1. Robert Spencer, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), p.79
2. Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasulullah, p.287 (tr. A. Guillaume)
3. Ibid.
4. Reuven Firestone, Jihad, p.57
5. Ibid.
6. Ibn Ishaq, p.287
7. Thomas W. Arnold, The Preaching of Islam, p.30
8. Spencer, pp.5-7
9. It should be noted that the nineteenth century gave birth to the modernist movement within Islamic thought, which redefined jihad and challenged the long-held “traditional” opinion on the matter.  Today, the “traditional” opinion is held only by a few ultra-conservative Muslims, a view that should not to be conflated with that held by Radical Muslims such as Osama Bin Laden.

History’s First Jihad: Was It Justified?

Note: The following is a part of LoonWatch’s Understanding Jihad Series, a refutation of Robert Spencer’s book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades).  Specifically, this article addresses the bottom of page 5 of Spencer’s book (part of the section entitled “Muhammad the raider” in the chapter “Muhammad: Prophet of War”).  Admittedly, my rebuttal makes for a lengthy read, but it would be doing an injustice to this complex topic to sacrifice thoroughness for brevity.  Those looking for an easy, children’s book sort of read (in size 16 font no less) are encouraged to refer to Spencer’s book.

When it comes to matters pertaining to Islam, there is no buzzword quite like the word jihad.  In the West, especially among anti-Muslim elements, it is firmly associated with violence, terrorism, and perpetual holy war against unbelievers.  Even many well-meaning non-Muslims think that “moderate Muslims” do not believe in jihad and that this is a doctrine espoused only by radical elements of the faith.

But, the reality is that most observant Muslims accept jihad as an integral part of Islam.  It should be understood, however, that ”there are…many kinds of jihad, and most have nothing to do with warfare.” [1] Prof. Reuven Firestone writes:

The semantic meaning of the Arabic term jihad has no relation to holy war or even war in general. It derives, rather from the root j.h.d., the meaning of which is to strive, exert oneself, or take extraordinary pains. Jihad is a verbal noun of the third Arabic form of the root jahada, which is defined classically as “exerting one’s utmost power, efforts, endeavors, or ability in contending with an object of disapprobation.”

There are, therefore, many kinds of jihad, and most have nothing to
do with warfare.Jihad of the heart,” for example, denotes struggle against one’s own sinful inclinations, while “jihad of the tongue” requires speaking on behalf of the good and forbidding evil. [2]

Of these, there is jihad al-saif (“the struggle of the sword”, which will be referred to henceforth simply as jihad).  Using Firestone’s definition of “holy war” (“holy war is defined most broadly as any religious justification for engaging in war”[3]), it is difficult to accept the claim of some Muslim preachers that the Quran does not endorse the concept of holy war at all. [4]

Nonetheless, most modern day Muslims view jihad as their equivalent of the West’s just war doctrine. [5] War is religiously justified (and approved by God, a “holy war” in this sense) if it is in response to injustice, oppression, and aggression.  Certainly, the Quran provides considerable evidence to support the idea that war ought to be waged only in self-defense. [6]

The question arises, however: does the sira (biography) of the Prophet Muhammad support such a view?  Muhammad waged history’s first jihad: he mobilized the Muslim refugees in Medina against the Quraysh of Mecca.  Naturally, the circumstances and context of this event are pivotal to Islamic theology and the doctrine of jihad.  Did Muhammad wage a war of aggression against the Quraysh simply because they were infidels?  Or, was he waging a justifiable war of self-defense?  Muhammad’s motivations in this regard are instrumental to formulating Islam’s views on matters of war and peace.

It is no surprise then that Robert Spencer, the internet’s leading anti-Muslim ideologue, has dedicated an entire chapter of his book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), to the biography of the Prophet Muhammad.  Spencer depicts Islam’s holy prophet as a violent aggressor and warmonger.  Meanwhile, Muhammad’s enemies, the Qurayshite leaders, are portrayed as the hapless victims of Muhammad’s aggression.

Yet, as I pointed out in a previous article, this is a complete inversion of reality.  The truth is that Muhammad declared his prophethood in Mecca and preached his message peacefully for over ten years.  During this time period, the Qurayshite leaders persecuted him and his followers: the early Muslims suffered beatings, imprisonment, torture, and forced conversions; some were even killed.

The persecution reached such a level that the most vulnerable members of the Muslim faithful were forced to flee for their lives to the African land of Abyssinia.  Soon, the condition of Muslims in Mecca had become so unbearable that there was a very real fear that the nascent religion of Islam would be snuffed out altogether.  With the death of his guardian uncle, Muhammad lost tribal protection, leaving him extremely vulnerable to his enemies.

It was at this precarious moment in history that a group of influential men from the city of Yathrib (later to be renamed Medina [7]) accepted Islam and promised to protect the Prophet Muhammad.  They secretly met Muhammad while he was still in Mecca, and took two solemn oaths to protect him, known as the First and Second Pledge at al-Aqaba.  Under the cover of night, waves of Muslims began to flee Mecca to find refuge in Medina. Muhammad was one of the last ones to undertake the Flight (Hijra), a watershed event that is the Islamic equivalent of the Exodus.

For almost a decade and a half, Muhammad had advised his followers to endure their humiliation and persecution with patience.  Prof. Firestone writes:

Muhammad is invariably portrayed as steadfast in his refusal to respond to insult with violence…

The Muslims are portrayed in this early period as being regularly beaten and occasionally even tortured by their Meccan opponents, with virtually no recourse for the injurious treatment they received….

[T]hey most certainly refrained in most cases from violence in reaction to such harmful treatment. In at least one case, a person is killed simply for belonging to the new followers of Muhammad. [8]

But in Medina, the Muslim refugee community regrouped and prepared for battle against their avowed enemies, the Quraysh of Mecca.  The stage for history’s first ever jihad was set.

*  *  *  *  *

The Prophet of Islam had actually arrived in Medina to bring peace: the two major tribes of the city had been involved in a protracted civil war, and the city elders had hoped Muhammad could arbitrate between the two sides. (As peculiar as it sounds to us today, it was not unusual in the ancient world for holy men to be called in to arbitrate between warring factions.)

The newly arrived Muhammad called for an end to tribalistic rivalries, preached brotherhood, and ”fashion[ed] a united community (umma) out of disparate and contending groups: Muslim emigrants (muhajirun) from Mecca, Muslim helpers (ansar) from Medina [the Medinese that converted to Islam], Medinan Jews, and pagan Arabs.” [9]  Muhammad’s influence as an arbiter led to him to become the de facto leader of Medina.

Soon, Muhammad turned his attention to his former tormentors, the Quraysh of Mecca.  The first military expedition against them was dispatched about seven to nine months after Muhammad’s arrival in Medina in what is known as Hamza’s Expedition to the Seashore.

According to Ibn Ishaq, Muhammad dispatched Hamza ibn Abdul-Muttalib “to the seashore in the neighborhood of Al-’Is with thirty riders.” [10] There, they met Abu Jahl, one of Muhammad’s fiercest enemies, who was accompanied by “three hundred riders from Mecca.” [11] This would become the very first jihad operation in history, but how anticlimactic it turned out to be:

Majdi b. ‘Amr al-Juhani intervened between them, for he was at peace with both parties.  So the people separated from [one] another without fighting. [12]

Although there was no clash of swords on that day, the two sides did exchange enlivened battle poetry.  (Who would have thought that the very first jihad in history would have amounted to nothing more than the ancient equivalent of 1980′s battle rap?)

The Expedition of Ubayda bin al-Harith, the second such military operation [13], was equally uneventful.  Ubayda along with ”sixty or eighty riders” rode out to the valley of Rabigh, where they ”encountered a large number of Quraysh” [14] consisting of “more than two hundred riders led by Abu Sufyan” [15] Ibn Ishaq writes that “no fighting took place” [16]; Haykal writes:

The Muslim forces withdrew without engaging the enemy, except for the report that Sa’d ibn Abu Waqqas shot one single arrow, later to be called, ‘the first arrow shot in the cause of Islam’. [17]

Saad ibn Waqqas led a third group “into the Hijaz, but he [too] returned without engaging the enemy.” [18]

Muhammad himself led the next four expeditions (Waddan, Buwat, Safwan, and Dhil ‘Ushairah), each of which resulted in the same uneventful outcome: the Muslims kept going out to meet the enemy, only to find them gone.  Thus it was that the Prophet of Islam and his followers ”returned to Medina without a fight.” [19]

It was only with the eighth expedition that actual military combat took place.  Muhammad dispatched Abdullah bin Jahsh to scout the Qurayshite movements at a place called Nakhla.  Although Muhammad intended this expedition to be a reconnaissance mission, Abdullah took the initiative when his men happened across a poorly armed Qurayshite caravan, which they waylaid.  In the firefight that ensued, one of the Qurayshite men was killed, two more were captured, and the caravan’s property was seized.

When the men reported back to Medina, Muhammad was less than pleased with their actions for, as Sir Thomas W. Arnold wrote, Abdullah had “acted without authority.” [20] Muhammad “paid blood money” [21] for the Qurayshite man that was killed (blood money was a form of restitution given to a victim’s family) and freed the prisoners in exchange for two Muslim prisoners.  The confiscated goods from the caravan, however, were taken as spoils of war.  (The Nakhla raid became very controversial, and in a future article, I will deal with this particular event in more detail.)

Shortly thereafter, Muhammad decided to intercept a Qurayshite caravan led by Abu Sufyan, which was returning from Syria to Mecca.  As the Muslims advanced towards it, the Quraysh of Mecca were informed of this news and quickly organized a response.  Abu Jahl mobilized a large army who marched out from Mecca to meet Muhammad and protect Abu Sufyan’s caravan.

Abu Sufyan’s caravan successfully slinked past Muhammad’s men and into safety, which caused both the Muslims and the Qurayshite army to reconsider their objectives.   A group of the Quraysh argued that “there is no point in going to war” [22] now that Abu Sufyan’s caravan was safe.  They advised to

turn back and leave Muhammad to the rest of the Arabs. If they kill him, this is what you want. [23]

Abu Jahl, one of the powerful chiefs of Mecca, rejected this argument and declared: “No, by God, we will not turn back until God decides between us and Muhammad.” [24] With this said, most of the Qurayshite army pressed on towards Muhammad and his men, with an intent to deliver the Islamic movement a decisive blow once and for all.

Meanwhile, the early Muslims were themselves conflicted as to whether or not to retreat to Medina or to face the Qurayshite army marching toward them.  They certainly had the numbers to take on Abu Sufyan’s caravan, but they were heavily outnumbered against the larger Qurayshite force headed by Abu Jahl.  Some of Muhammad’s followers advised a hasty retreat.  But, Muhammad was of a different mind and decided to face the threat head on.  Of this, the Quran declared to the believers:

God promised you that one of the two enemy groups would fall to you: you wished the unarmed one to be yours, but it was God’s will… to cut off the root of the disbelievers, so that He may make the truth manifest and prove falsehood false, however hateful this be to the criminals. (Quran, 8:7-8)

It seems that both Abu Jahl and Muhammad saw it as a sign of weakness to retreat, one that would only embolden the other.  So it was that the two forces met at a place called Badr.  The Battle of Badr was the first (and most pivotal) battle of Islamic history.  In the words of Robert Spencer:

Above all, the battle of Badr was the first practical example of what came to known as the Islamic doctrine of jihad… [25]

Muhammad’s followers were heavily outnumbered, on a scale of three to one.  The Muslim battalion consisted of a meager 313 men, 70 camels, and 2 horses.  Meanwhile, the Qurayshite army was composed of almost a thousand men with 170 camels and 100 horses.  Spencer writes:

[T]his time the Quraysh were ready for him, coming to meet Muhammad’s three hundred men with a force nearly a thousand strong…[Muhammad] cried out to Allah in anxiety, “O God, if this band perish today Thou wilt be worshiped no more.” [26]

Whether it was better military strategy, survival instinct, or divine intervention, the Muslims were victorious on that fateful day.  They overcame the Quraysh, their former tormentors, who, after a pitched battle, eventually gave flight.  Islam had survived.

*  *  *  *

The details of the actual battle itself and the aftermath warrant further discussion (and I will write a future article on this topic).  However, the even more pertinent question arises: did the Muslims have just cause?  Or were their actions unprovoked aggression against unbelievers, as Spencer and other anti-Muslim ideologues argue?

To portray Muhammad as the aggressor, Islamophobes downplay or even deny the persecution of the early Muslims in Mecca.  (As we have seen, Robert Spencer just omits it entirely from his biography.)  Even if he had been persecuted aforetime, they argue, Muhammad was now living safely in Medina.  Indeed, Orientalists have long argued that Muhammad initiated an offensive war against the Quraysh by attacking them a year after the Flight (Hijra). (In reality, the sources indicate that it was a delay of seven-to-nine months, not a full year.)

The anti-Muslim website (henceforth to be referred to as simply ROP) argues:

After his eviction by the Meccans, Muhammad and his Muslims found refuge many miles away in Medina where they were not being bothered by their former adversaries.  Despite this, Muhammad sent his men on seven unsuccessful raids against Meccan caravans…

Elsewhere, ROP argues:

The Myth:

The Muslims were under Persecution from the [Quraysh] Meccans while Living at Medina

The Truth:

…In fact, it was the Meccans who were acting in their own defense during this time.

Historians do not record any act of aggression by the Meccans against the Muslims during the time at which the second sura was narrated by Muhammad. There were no armies marching against them, nor any plans for such. The Meccans had no influence in this far-away town, and Muslims were not under persecution at the time by any stretch of the term as it is popularly understood today. According to the sequence of events in the Sira (biography), the Meccans were quite content with leaving Muhammad alone following his eviction (even though he had made a pledge of war against them)…

There is absolutely no record of Meccan aggression against the Muslims at Medina in the first three years after their arrival in 622.

Muhammad ordered the first raids against the Meccans a year after the hijra in February of 623, which eventually proved deadly. There is no record of Meccan aggression during this time.

As can be seen, the historical record provides absolutely no evidence that the Muslims were being threatened in any way by the Meccans, and fully supports the view that it was the latter who were acting in self-defense.  The Meccans had no interest in Muhammad and simply wanted to live in peace and pursue their commerce.  At each turn, the prophet of Islam unnecessarily harassed them with deadly and provocative actions that eventually forced battles on several occasions.

ROP’s basic argument is that Muhammad may have been a nuisance to the Quraysh in Mecca, but once he fled the city, they could care less about him or the Muslims in general.  He was no longer their problem or concern.

But, Muslim historians depict the situation quite differently, pointing to continued aggressive behavior of the Quraysh towards the Muslims; Ar-Raheeq Al-Makthum reads:

The Quraishites, mortified at the escape of the Prophet along with his devoted companions, and jealous of his growing power in Madinah, kept a stringent watch over the Muslims left behind and persecuted them in every possible way. They also initiated clandestine contacts with ‘Abdullah bin Uabi bin Salul, chief of Madinese polytheists, and president designate of the tribes ‘Aws and Khazraj [the two major tribes of Medina] before the Prophet’s emigration. They sent him a strongly-worded ultimatum ordering him to fight or expel the Prophet, otherwise they would launch a widespread military campaign that would exterminate his people and proscribe his women. [Narrated by Abu Da’ud]…

Provocative actions continued and Quraish sent the Muslims a note threatening to put them to death in their own homeland. Those were not mere words, for the Prophet received information from reliable sources attesting to real intrigues and plots being hatched by the enemies of Islam. Precautionary measures were taken and a state of alertness was called for, including the positioning of security guards around the house of the Prophet and strategic junctures. [27]

Indeed, the primary sources confirm (and Western historians accept as historic) that the Quraysh had attempted to assassinate Muhammad in Mecca right before he took flight (Hijra).  According to Ibn Ishaq, once they came to know that Muhammad was escaping the city of Mecca, the “Quraysh offered a hundred camels as a reward for whoever would seize Muhammad and bring him back.” [28]

This certainly goes against ROP’s argument that the Quraysh could care less about Muhammad once he left the city.  Even though the Quraysh knew he fled Mecca, they continued to pursue him.  In fact, this lends credence to the counter-argument: the Quraysh were very much concerned about Muhammad reestablishing a base of support in another city such as Medina.  Furthermore, they were ready to use force against him even outside the city’s limits.

Indeed, there is primary evidence to support the argument that the Qurayshite leaders exerted their influence on the leadership of Medina, especially Abdullah ibn Ubai [29], to expel Muhammad and the other Muslim refugees.  The Quraysh issued the following ultimatum:

O people of Medina, you have given safe-haven to our opponent[s].  By God, if you do not fight or expel them, we shall come out against you and kill your warriors and enslave your women. [30]

If Iran sent an official letter to the United States threatening to kill all American men and enslave their women unless the country abandons and even attacks Israel, would any reasonable person object to Israel interpreting this as an act of war?

Certainly, this threat created a sense of looming fear and insecurity in the nascent Muslim community, which was at the mercy of their hosts (the Medinese).  Muhammad himself took the threat seriously enough to sleep with a bodyguard posted outside his door.  Tafsir Ibn Kathir notes that verse 5:67 of the Quran was revealed in regard to his fear of assassination: ”The Messenger of God was vigilant one night, after he came to Medina…” [31] Then, the Quran reassured him:

God will protect you from mankind. (Quran, 5:67)

Haykal brings up a good point, noting that the Qurayshite leaders had earlier sought the official extradition of the Muslim refugees from the distant land of Abyssinia. [32] Would it not be reasonable to assume then that the Quraysh would similarly seek to pursue the Muslims when they fled to Medina?

The Quraysh feared (and one could say reasonably) Muslim hegemony spreading around the area of Medina, which lay directly in between the Quraysh and their trade routes to Syria (and the rest of the world).  But more than strategic concerns, the animosity between Muslims and the Quraysh had, after over a decade in strife, reached such a high level that it is unlikely that the Qurayshite leaders would have suddenly dropped their hostility towards the new religion.  It is therefore difficult to accept ROP’s argument that the Meccans didn’t display any hostility towards the Muslims in Medina.

ROP claims that “[t]he Meccans had no influence in this far-away town [of Medina]“, but the evidence seems to indicate otherwise.  Mecca was the most influential city of the Arabian Peninsula, and the Quraysh attempted to use this influence to pressure the Medinese to turn out Muhammad and his followers.  The fear of Mecca had been, after all, one of the major reasons the leaders of Taif had turned Muhammad out so quickly.

The Quraysh colluded with a fifth column within the ranks of the Medinese, a group referred to pejoratively in the Quran as the Hypocrites (Munafiqun).  They were led by an influential man named Abdullah ibn Ubai who, prior to Muhammad’s arrival, had been slated to become the unified chief of the two major tribes of Medina.  Ibn Ubai’s influence was quickly eclipsed by the Prophet of God, a fact that put the two men at loggerheads with one another.  The Quraysh urged Ibn Salul to expel the Muslim refugees, although Ibn Salul countenanced himself with less crude means of countering Muhammad’s growing influence within his city.

During the Meccan Period, the Quraysh had applied pressure to the Banu Hashim and Banu Muttalib to rescind their protection of Muhammad so that they could kill him.  When Muhammad fled to Medina, the Quraysh did the same with the Medinese.  We can see evidence of this, for instance, in the case of Saad ibn Muadh’s visit to Mecca in order to perform a religious pilgrimage.  Saad, a Medinese convert to Islam, entered the city under the protection of his old Meccan friend, Abu Safwan.  Abu Jahl, one of early Islam’s fiercest opponents, saw Saad with Abu Safwan and threatened:

I see you wandering about safely in Mecca in spite of the fact that you have given shelter to the people who have changed their religion (to Islam) and have claimed that you will help and support them.  By God, if you were not in the (protective) company of Abu Safwan, you would not be able to go to your family safely!

Saad retorted:

By God, if you should stop me from doing this, I would certainly prevent you from something which is more valuable to you, that is, your passage through Medina. [33]

That Abu Jahl, one of the chiefs of Mecca, issued such a threat indicates that the Muslims of Medina had every reason to feel threatened by the Quraysh.  Additionally, this exchange seems to have occurred before the initiation of Muhammad’s military operations.  In it, the Medinese man threatens a retaliatory move (if you block our entry to Mecca, we will block your way through Medina).

Qurayshite hostility was not limited to threats alone: their persecution of Muslims in Mecca continued unabated.  Some of the Muslims in Mecca were too weak to make the arduous journey to Medina, whereas others were detained against their will.  The Quran itself mentions this fact in verse 4:98, calling them the “weak and oppressed–men, women, and children–who have no means in their power nor any way to escape [Mecca].”  Ibn Ishaq writes that ”[t]he emigrants [Muhajirun] followed one another to join the apostle [in Medina], and none was left in Mecca but those who had apostatized [under duress?] or been detained.” [34] Their “houses in Mecca were locked up when they migrated…and sold” by the Quraysh [35], prompting Muhammad to reassure one of his followers about the “property which [they] lost in God’s service”:

Are you not pleased that God will give you a better house in Paradise? [36]

The Emigrants [Muhajirun] were barred from their homes and families in Mecca, whom they wished to visit.  They were also barred from making the pilgrimage to visit the Holy Kaabah.

It seems then that the faucet of Qurayshite hostility was not, as ROP implies, turned off the minute Muhammad and most of his followers fled the city.  It continued in the form of threats against the Muslims and those who harbored them, and active persecution of those Muslims still under Qurayshite control.

*  *  *  *  *

More than this, there is a point that is often overlooked by both the Muslim and anti-Muslim side, something that would seem to be the crux of the matter.  On the one hand, Muslims seem to argue that Muhammad had every reason to initiate attacks on the Quraysh due to their continued aggressive behavior.  On the other hand, the Islamophobic side argues the exact opposite, as ROP writes:

The only reason that this myth arose is the need for Muslim apologists to justify the more violent passages of the Qur’an’s second chapter, which was “revealed” shortly after Muhammad arrived in Medina following the hijra.  Passages from this chapter encourage believers to violence within the context of ending “tumult,” “oppression,” and “persecution.”

…[However, h]istorians do not record any act of aggression by the Meccans against the Muslims during the time at which the second sura was narrated by Muhammad.

It is true that chapter two of the Quran does include some verses justifying war (2:190-194, 216-218, and 244,), but the first passage ordaining war was in chapter twenty-two of the Quran (typo on ROP’s part?), in which the God of the Quran states:

Permission to take up arms is granted to those who are being fought, because they have been oppressed–And indeed, God has the power to help them!–those who have been unjustly driven out from their homes, only for saying “Our Lord is God.” (Quran, 22:39-40)

ROP claims that “[h]istorians do not record any act of aggression by the Meccans against the Muslims during the time at which the [twenty?] second sura was narrated by Muhammad.”  By this, ROP implies that Muhammad and the Muslims were living safely in Medina–for well over a year–before this passage came down.  Was Muhammad justifying war by looking to an old infraction, just as the United States used Saddam’s gassing of the Kurds in the 1980′s to justify war against him years later?

In fact, however, this passage, which permitted the Muslims to defend themselves–and constituted a declaration of war against the Quraysh–was revealed long before Muhammad’s military expeditions against the Quraysh were launched.  Ibn Ishaq places its revelation (“[w]hen God gave permission to his apostle to fight” [37]) to the Second Pledge at Al-Aqaba, which occurred right before the Prophet’s Flight (Hijra).  Ibn Ishaq writes:

The apostle had not been given permission to fight or allowed to shed blood before the second ‘Aqaba…[at which time God] gave permission to His apostle to fight and to protect himself against those who wronged them and treated them badly.

The first verse which was sent down on this subject…was: ‘Permission [to take up arms] is given…’ [Quran, 22:39] [38]

He writes elsewhere:

Then God sent down to [Muhammad]: ‘Fight them so that there be no more seduction’, i.e. until no believer is seduced [coerced] from his religion.  ’And the religion is God’s…

When God had given permission to fight and this clan of the Ansar had pledged their support to [Muhammad]…the apostle commanded his companions…to emigrate to Medina and to link up with their brethren the Ansar. [39]

Prof. F.E. Peters writes (emphasis added):

While still at Mecca, if we have the chronology right, during Muhammad’s last days there, a revelation had come to him for the first time permitting Muslims to resort to force, or rather, to meet Quraysh violence with violence (Quran 22:39-41). [40]

Other sources, such as Tabari and Wahidi, date this revelation to shortly afterward, to immediately after the Flight (Hijra).  Prof. Reuven Firestone writes:

According to Wahidi, sura 22:39 was revealed during the year of the Hijra immediately after Muhammad left Mecca. Abu Bakr is reported to have complained that the minute they would leave the limited protection of Mecca, they would be destroyed by their enemies.46 The verse was therefore revealed to allow them henceforth to defend themselves. Sura 22:39 is considered the first revelation allowing the Muslims to engage in fighting.47

46. P. 177. Similar words put into the mouth of Abu Bakr are also found in a number of the sources listed in note 47, following.

47. Many authoritative statements to this effect (i.e., statements attributed to specific early authorities) are collected in Tabari, book 17, pp. 172–173; Nahhas, vol. 2, pp. 233, 301, 525; Tafsir Ibn Abbas, p. 280; Tafsir Muqatil, vol. 3, p. 129; Tafsir Mujahid, p. 482. [41]

If Ibn Ishaq’s dating is to be accepted, this could explain why the Qurayshite leaders decided to finalize their plot to assassinate Muhammad.  Ibn Ishaq writes:

When the Quraysh saw that the apostle had a party and companions not of their tribe and outside their territory, and that his companions had migrated to join them, and knew that they had settled in a new home and had gained protectors, they feared that the apostle might join them, since they knew he had decided to fight them.  So they assembled in their council chamber…to take counsel what they should do in regard to the aspotle, for they were now in fear of him…

The discussion [among the Qurayshite leaders] opened with the statement that now that Muhammad had gained adherents outside the tribe they were no longer safe against a sudden attack and the meeting was to determine the best course to pursue… [42]

Ibn Kathir writes:

[The] Quraysh were concerned that the Messenger of God would leave and join [the people of Medina], since they knew that he had decided to do battle with them. They therefore gathered in the Dar al-Nadwa, the house of assembly…[and] discussed there what they should do about the Messeger of God, since they now feared him….They would kill him. [43]

The state of war between the Quraysh and the Muslims thus already existed by this point in time, far before Muhammad’s military expeditions several months later.  ROP argues this exact point, saying:

Muhammad eventually made an alliance with another town, Medina, that included provisions of war against the Meccans. The parties to the treaty were asked “Do you realize to what you are committing yourselves in pledging your support to this man? It is to war against all and sundry” (Ibn Ishaq/Hisham 299). The pledge to war is further confirmed in Ibn Ishaq/Hisham 305.

Therefore, it was only after Muhammad committed himself to armed revolution against the Meccans that the town’s leaders sought to have him either killed or evicted.

The weakness in ROP’s argument lies in the fact that the Quraysh had long before considered harming or killing the Prophet of Islam.  In fact, the Quraysh had implored Abu Talib, Muhammad’s uncle and tribal guardian, to rescind his protection over his nephew so that they could deal with him.  Their level of seriousness can be assessed by their complete social and economic boycott of Abu Talib’s entire tribe along with the Banu Hashim.  It can also be gauged by the fact that as soon as Abu Talib died, Muhammad felt threatened enough to flee to Taif.  Therefore, all that can be said is that Muhammad’s decision to battle the Quraysh convinced the chiefs of Mecca to finalize and actualize their idea of murdering the Islamic prophet, a plan that they were already mulling over in their heads.

Another weakness in ROP’s logic becomes apparent: on one page he argues that Muhammad declared war while “safe in Medina”, but on another page he (inadvertently) “concedes” that Muhammad declared war against the Quraysh while in Mecca.  (This is of course another case of an Islamophobe trying to further as many arguments as possible against Muhammad and Islam, a strategy that often results in contradictory claims.)

In any case, it is more likely that the later dating of verse 22:39 is more accurate, and that the failed assassination attempt on Muhammad’s life may have been the casus belli for the Quranic injunction of war against the Quraysh.  In this dating scheme, Muhammad was committed to war against the Quraysh immediately after he was forced out of Mecca.

Whether one accepts the earlier or later dating of verse 22:39, the fact is that Muhammad’s declaration of war occurred much earlier than when he finally launched military expeditions against the Quraysh.  This point completely nullifies ROP’s argument that “[h]istorians do not record any act of aggression by the Meccans against the Muslims during the time at which the [twenty-]second sura was narrated by Muhammad.”  In fact, Muhammad’s war declaration occurred at the zenith of Qurayshite persecution, when it had reached a tipping point and Muslims had to flee from Mecca entirely.

A state of hostility between the two sides already existed by the time the Prophet of Islam arrived safely in Medina.  It should be noted that there was no formal declaration of war because the Quraysh regarded Muhammad and his party as “renegades” and, in the words of ROP, as “armed revolution[aries]“.  They were seen as non-state actors against whom formal declaration of war was not needed.  Muhammad, on the other hand, quickly organized in Medina to establish his community not as a refugee community but as a sovereign nation onto itself.  Muhammad’s military forays were show-of-force exercises designed to convey this message to the Quraysh.  But, there were likely two other audiences in mind: firstly, these early campaigns were confidence-building measures for the benefit of the Muslims themselves.  Secondly, they were meant to send a message to the city that had granted his people refuge: the Muslims could stand their own ground against the Quraysh.

The seven-to-nine month gap of military conflict between the Quraysh and Muslims can be thought of as similar to the six-month Phony War during World War II.  The Phony War was the “name [given] for the early months of World War II, marked by no major hostilities” between the Allies and the Germans.  Military historian David Horner writes:

This period between the Anglo-French declaration of war and the fall of France is known as the ‘phoney war’ because of the very inaction of both sides.  The Germans were honing their plans for the assault on the Allies in the west, and the Allies too were busying themselves with organizing their counter-effort. [44]

Muhammad’s delay of seven-to-nine months, between when he expressed his intent to fight the Quraysh and the actual military expeditions against them, was due to the time needed to organize his community from a refugee population into a functioning state.

On the other side of the equation, the Quraysh of Mecca had not yet committed themselves to war against Medina itself.  It should be noted that Mecca was not in a state of war with the city of Medina overall, but only with the Muslim refugees (“renegades”) from Mecca (Muhajirun).  The Quraysh were not at war with the Medinese converts to Islam (the Helpers or Ansar) nor with the non-Muslim residents of Medina.  It is recorded that the Quraysh had actually initially said to the Medinese:

We have come to know that you have come here to conclude a treaty with this man (Muhammad) and evacuate him out of Mecca.  By God, we do really hold in abhorrence any sort of fight between you and us. [45]

This is also why Muhammad’s initial military campaigns against the Quraysh consisted of, in the words of Ibn Ishaq, “emigrants [from Mecca], there not being a single one of the [Medinese] Ansar among them.” [46] The war at this point in time was only between the Quraysh and the Muslim refugees (Muhajirun).

The Quraysh had not yet made the decision to attack Medina itself, a move which had the potential of uniting the city behind Muhammad.  Such an act would have also converted what the Quraysh saw as an internal conflict between a state and a renegade faction into an all-out war between two different (city-)states, an escalation that the people of Mecca may not have been ready to commit to.  Instead, they chose the less energy-intensive option of isolating the Muslims, hoping that the Medinese would, under Qurayshite pressure, expel them.  For their part, the Medinese were willing to harbor the Muslim refugees against Qurayshite wishes, but they had not yet accepted the idea of war with Mecca.

In light of our Phony War paradigm, it not only becomes apparent but also somewhat understandable why the Quraysh maintained hostilities towards the Muslims–why they tried to kill Muhammad, pressured Medina to expel or fight the Muslims, and oppressed Muslims stranded in Mecca.  As detestable as these acts may seem to Muslim historians, they are, at least to some degree, an expected part of war.

On the flip side, Muhammad cannot be accused of declaring or initiating an offensive war against the Quraysh.  All that can be said is that “Muhammad went on the offensive”, which is a much different matter.  No reasonable person would argue that the Allies had declared or initiated an offensive war when they invaded Normandy.  Instead, this was a case of the Allies going on the offense in a defensive war (against German aggression).  Likewise, Muhammad had declared a defensive war against the Quraysh at the height of Qurayshite persecution of Muslims, and it was only in Medina several months later that he went on the offensive.

This point also negates the anti-Muslim canard that Muhammad was “opportunistic” in terms of war and peace, i.e. that he called for peaceful coexistence when he was weak and war when he was in a position of strength.  (Based on this idea, Robert Spencer and other Islamophobes argue that Islam itself advocates such opportunism, i.e. Muslims calling for peace when they are weak and war when they are in a position of strength.)  In fact, Muhammad declared war against the Quraysh when, from a military standpoint, he was very, very weak.  According to Ibn Ishaq’s dating, the Prophet of Islam declared war against the Quraysh while still in Mecca.  He was not the leader of a powerful city but rather a hunted down rogue prophet who feared for his life.

Even if we accept the later dating, Muhammad conveyed his intent to battle the Quraysh as he fled the city.  He was a refugee leader at this time, nothing more.  His emerging leadership role in Medina was only just developing and far from determined.  Either way, Muhammad’s intent to square off with the far more powerful Quraysh can be seen as something courageous and not opportunistic at all.  The “peace when weak and war when strong” paradigm cannot be accepted; the Muslims, from a military standpoint, were quite weak.

Neither could it be said that Muhammad was now in a position of power because he had the Medinese to aid him.  The various factions of Medina had only committed to defending the city of Medina from attack.  Unless the Quraysh attacked Medina directly, Muhammad could not count on their support.  In the initial military campaigns, only the Muslim refugees (Muhajirun) took part, not the Medinese.  Muhammad had at his disposal a ragtag group of refugees, nothing more.  How then can we accept the claim that Muhammad was “opportunistic” and called for peace in times of weakness and war in times of strength?

*  *  *  *  *

That there was a financial component to such warring cannot be denied.  The Muslims of Mecca had been forced to escape the city under cover of darkness, with their life possessions reduced to what they could carry on their backs.  The Quraysh seized their remaining property in Mecca, aside from what they could sneak out. [47] Thus it was that the Muslim Emigrants arrived in Medina in an impoverished (and homeless) state.  The generosity of the Muslim Helpers sustained the refugees for some time, but faith and brotherhood could only be expected to go so far.

Military historian Richard A. Gabriel writes:

As the leader of this new community Muhammad was responsible for ensuring that it survived.  He and his people were on the brink of starvation and living in poverty.  During the early days in Medina they survived on dates and water, having no money to purchase much else…There was, in any case, little new land to be cultivated by the newcomers in the already developed agricultural community of Medina. [48]

(And yet we are expected to believe that Muhammad, whose “people were on the brink of starvation and living in poverty…surviv[ing] on dates and water”, was now in a “position of strength”!)

Raiding Qurayshite caravans was a solution to this financial dilemma.  Frances O’Connor writes in the History of Islam:

The Muslim community in Medina faced many challenges.  In particular, when the Meccan Muslims migrated there, they had no way to make money because they were not farmers like the Medinans, and most of their belongings left behind in Mecca had been confiscated by the Meccan tribes.  Muhammad sent a party of his followers to raid the Meccan trade caravans that were coming through the area.  This was a way for their followers to get supplies of food and other goods, as well as to demonstrate to the Meccans that the Muslims were not weak.  The Arabs of this time were accustomed to this type of warfare and competition as a means of survival, and the Muslims felt justified in harming Meccan economic interests. [49]

Robert Spencer writes:

In Medina, these new Muslims began raiding the caravans of the Quraysh, with Muhammad personally leading many of these raids.  These raids kept the nascent Muslim movement solvent… [50]

Spencer entitles this section of his book “Muhammad the raider“, clearly using the term “raider” in a pejorative manner.  I have myself opted to use the more neutral term “military expedition” to refer to Muhammad’s early operations against the Quraysh.  But, is “raid” an appropriate term to use?  What about “raider“?

From a purely technical standpoint, the word “raid” seems to be appropriate.  The dictionary definition of raid is: “[a] rapid surprise attack on an enemy by troops, aircraft, or other armed forces in warfare.”  The United States military routinely engages in raids, such as the infamous “night raids” in Afghanistan.  For some reason, however, the word has a positive or at least neutral connotation when used for our own military or our allies.  Meanwhile, when the term is used for our enemies or The Other, it has a very negative meaning.

More problematic is the Spencerian epithet of “Muhammad the raider.”  If Muhammad is to be given this name for having ordered military raids, then should George W. Bush or Barack Obama be called “raiders” for their role in ordering raids against the nation’s enemies?  Should it be “Bush the raider” or “Obama the raider”?

Spencer’s tactic of wordplay can also be seen with the following misleading statement of his:

In 622, [Muhammad] fled his native Mecca for a nearby town, Medina, where a band of tribal warriors had accepted him as a prophet and pledged loyalty to him. [51]

In fact, “the Medinese were agriculturists.” [52] The “tribal warriors” of the day were the desert Bedouins, not the urban and agricultural folks of Medina.  For the most part, the people of Medina were not wise to the ways of war.  In fact, as Richard Gabriel writes, “most Muslims were urban or agricultural folks, not bedouins, and knew very little about how to undertake a successful caravan raid.” [53] The city of Medina, had been from time to time involved in this or that battle or war, but how is this different from every other city and nation in history?  Should we call the United States a nation of “tribal warriors” simply because it is involved in war?

Richard Gabriel himself, whose book is nothing more than post 9/11 anti-Muslim polemic encased in a pseudo-scholarly shell [54], refers to Muhammad as a “marauder.”  Likening the vast desert to the open seas, ROP calls Muhammad and his followers “pirates.”  This is a consistent theme in Islamophobic literature.

Much has been written by Western commentators about the ghazu (raid) and how it was a “peculiar” pre-Islamic Arabian custom that Muhammad adopted.  For instance, Prof. Joseph Morrison Skelly writes of it:

It is historically apparent that raiding was commonplace among Arabs in the pre-Islamic era. Also, raiding was not considered immoral unless it entailed stealing from kinsmen…[It was] a pre-Islamic Arab practice later adopted by Muslims. [55]

Voices sympathetic to Islam argue that the early Muslims were operating in a completely acceptable way for that time.  Meanwhile, anti-Muslim elements argue that Muhammad should be condemned for accepting such a “barbaric” Arabian custom.

These discussions, however, seem to miss the crux of the matter: Muhammad and the early Muslims did not raid caravans belonging to random tribes or peoples.  Instead, their attacks were very specific and limited to caravans belonging to the powerful Quraysh, their arch-enemy, with whom they were already in a state of conflict with.

Had Muhammad simply been a marauder or pirate wishing to enrich himself, he would most certainly have chosen to attack caravans belonging to far less powerful peoples.  The Quran did not, however, legitimate raids against all non-Muslim peoples, but only against those who persecuted the Muslims, i.e. the Quraysh.  The Quran declared: “Fight in God’s cause against those who fight against you, but do not commit aggression, for surely, God does not love aggressors.” (Quran, 2:190) (This is of course important from a theological point of view.)

Having understood this, Muhammad’s decision to raid Qurayshite caravans need not be rationalized by citing some ancient Arabian custom.  Rather, one can actually look much closer to home.  The tactic employed by the early Muslims was identical to that used by the United States from its very inception.  Using the same “open seas” analogy, we see that the Prophet of Islam engaged not in “piracy” but in “commerce raiding”, which has been an accepted form of warfare throughout history and across all cultural lines.

The distinction between the act of piracy and commerce raiding is an important one to make.  There are two major reasons why piracy is considered illegitimate as compared to commerce raiding: firstly, pirates do not possess proper authority; secondly, “pirates attack merchants without distinction.”  Conversely, commerce raiding is vested in proper authority, and commerce raiders only attack commercial ships belonging to enemy nations.  Clearly, Muhammad’s expeditions fall into the latter category: he was the leader of a community, and he only targeted enemy caravans.

Commerce raiding is known in French as guerre de course (“war of the chase”) and in German as handelskrieg (“trade war”).  Both France and Germany have a long history of using this tactic, which is considered respectable and even celebrated.  This tactic also has a venerated position in American history, being used against the British during the Revolutionary War (1775-1783).  The Continental Congress formed the Continental Navy, which

was not expected to contest British control of the seas, but rather to wage a traditional guerre de course against British trade, in conjunction with scores of privateers outfitting in American ports.  The Continental navy’s ships were to raid commerce and attack the transports that supplied British forces in North America. To carry out this mission, the Continental Congress began to build up, through purchase, conversion, and new construction, a cruiser navy of small ships–frigates, brigs, sloops, and schooners.

…[The Continental Navy’s] cruisers ranged far and wide and demonstrated that British commerce was nowhere safe, not even in British home waters.

Retired navy officer and military author Joe B. Havens writes:

During that war, the Continental navy, privateers, and commerce raiding squadrons chartered by individual American states, and the navy of our French ally all played vital roles in our fight against the British.

The Continental navy’s squadrons and individual ships attacked British sea lines of communication and seized transports laden with munitions, privisions and troops. Continental and state Navy ships and privateers also struck at enemy commerce, taking nearly 200 British ships as prizes, forcing them to divert warships to protect convoys and trade routes. [56]

In fact, commerce raiding was used to boost American morale against the British and were instrumental in winning the war against such a powerful naval power.  Military historian James C. Bradford writes in the Atlas of American Military History:

The Continental Congress and the state governments issued letters of marque to ship owners, who then attacked enemy commerce. Captured and condemned vessels became prizes and the property of the owner, captain, and crew, among whom the spoils were divided according to the proportion of investment and crew rank.

Privateering proved to be both an effective weapon against the enemy as well as a profitable source of income for those in the business. For the British, the American privateers proved to be a major source of trouble, as their efforts, combined with later naval activity by the French, Spanish, and Dutch, led to the seizure of approximately 3,300 ships of the total 6,000 British vessels involved in overseas trade during the war…

Commerce raiding also made for good propaganda, as the exploits of individual captains made news both in America and in Europe. In March 1776, a squadron of eight Continental Navy vessels unders Commodore Esek Hopkins raided New Providence in the Bahamas and captured the British governor…The most distinguished American captain, however, was John Paul Jones, a native of Scotland who joined the Continental Navy and made an early name for himself capturing prizes off the coast of Canada…

[Jones] proceeded to raid British shipping off the coast of the British Isles, crowning this achievement by raiding the Lake District port of Whitehaven…underscoring the harassing role the American navy would play…In 1779, he captured a French merchant hulk and converted it into a forty-two-gun sloop…. [57]

The United States would use commerce raiding once again during the War of 1812 (“the second American revolution”), and continued to employ it throughout its history all the way to World War II (when it was used against Imperial Japan).  (In the post WWII world, the United States has the most powerful navy in the world and can now rely on blockades.  Commerce raiding is the tactic used by navies too weak to enforce blockades.)

In fact, since the very beginning of her birth, America has incorporated commerce raiding into its main strategy at sea.  Dr. Kenneth J. Hagan, Professor of Strategy and War at the US Naval War College, writes:

American submarine warfare against Japanese cargo vessels and oil tankers during World War II constitutes history’s outstanding example of successful guerre de course, or commerce raiding…[I]ts impact on the Japanese war machine and on the Imperial Japanese Navy’s sea-keeping potential was staggering. Of the 8.1 million tons of Japanese merchant marine shipping sunk in World War II, American submarines accounted for 4.8 million tons…

Guerre de course, or commerce raiding, is as old as naval warfare. It consists of an attack by an armed vessel–a privateer or warship–on an unarmed merchant vessel with the intent of capturing the victim and its cargo for the profit of the attacker. It is the favored tactic of a weaker naval power fighting a stronger one; for example, continental European powers have often employed it against England…

[G]uerre de course offered the only viable strategy for American naval policy makers from the moment independence was decided upon in 1776. The Americans were a lilliputian naval power compared with the British, and at best they could only sting Britain’s oceanic commerce while dodging the punitive might of the Royal Navy’s ubiquitous warships….[T]he U.S. Navy’s favorite weapon…[was the] hit-and-run mission…[C]ommerce raiding remained the preferred American way of fighting at sea until very late in the nineteenth century…

The pattern was set: American warships would not fight British warships, of which there were far too many to overcome, but they would capture British merchant vessels in order to acquire scarce capital and to sap mercantile Britain’s morale…Guerre de course could not defeat the Royal Navy, but by inclining London to negotiate a peace, it “made an enormous impact on the success of the war effort.”

George Washington understood the virtues of this strategy, as did a majority in Congress. [58]

Commerce raiding was accepted by the United States and the world as a valid form of warfare, and it was only with the advent of submarines that things began to change.  The Oxford Companion to American Military History explains:

The term GUERRE DE COURSE describes a form of maritime warfare aimed at disrupting seaborne commerce…[I]t is usually rendered as “commerce raiding” in English. Operationally, guerre de course resembles blockades in that it is primarily a form of economic warfare, in which combat with enemy ships is at best a secondary consideration…

Guerre de course, in contrast, is usually adopted by countries too weak to attempt such continuous, large-scale operations [such as blockades]; or unwilling to risk the kind of fleet action that may be necessary to impose or break a blockade. It is conducted by individual ships (naval warships or privately owned ships armed with guns and authorized by government letters of marque to engage in legal privateering) or small squadrons. These operate in hit-and-run fashion along oceanic shipping lanes…Strategically, guerre de course respresents an alternative to operations directed against the main naval forces of the enemy. Guerre de course in the form of privateering was widely employed by Americans in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.

…[G]uerre de course aims to…undermine public morale by inflicting economic losses and depriving the population of necessary or familiar goods…

[I]n the twentieth century…the advent of torpedo-armed submarines, which brought to the guerre de course a ferocity and decisiveness it had not previously possessed. A surface cruiser operating under the rules of engagement accepted by nineteenth century navies was expected to board a prospective target, determine if the nationality and cargo made it a legal prize, and see the safety of the crew before taking further action.

However, the early months of World War I revealed that similar conduct by German submarines exposed them to enormous risks, and reduced their tactical effectiveness far below what was possible if such scruples were set aside. Guerre de course accordingly lost its traditional character as a relatively bloodless and vaguely romantic sort of peripheral operation, and became a desperate and murderous struggle capable of deciding a major war.

This trend culminated in the devastating campaign against Japanese commerce conducted by American submarines (and to a lesser extent by carrier-based aircraft) during World War II–a rare example of guerre de course waged by the stronger side… [59]

Muhammad’s military expeditions were commerce raids, not only completely acceptable in the Arabian context of the time, but also by American and international standards throughout history.  Just as commerce raiding had a ”traditional character as a relatively bloodless and vaguely romantic” tactic, so too was the ghazu (caravan raid) seen as a “relatively bloodless and vaguely romantic” tactic of the desert: only those merchants/caravans that resisted were fought and/or killed.

The question arises: are Robert Spencer and other Islamophobes in this country impugning the tactic relied upon by our nation’s Founding Fathers to gain independence from Britain and which America used to win World War II?  From every conceivable angle, Muhammad’s tactic of commerce raiding is similar to that employed by the Continental Navy, and by the U.S. Navy throughout its history.  It is only Orientalist hubris that allows one to talk of the early Muslim raids as part of some peculiar and “barbaric” Arabian custom, especially when the ghazu–unlike the submarine attacks by the United States during World War II–minimized innocent casualties.

Indeed, in the eight or so military expeditions preceding the Battle of Badr, only one Qurayshite died at the hands of the Muslims.  Even this action was carried out without Muhammad’s permission, and the Prophet of Islam expressed disapproval of it.  More importantly, Muhammad paid blood-money as a result of it, which, as discussed above, was an Arabian form of restitution given to a victim’s family.  The Muslim raids were certainly “bloodless” compared to “the devastating campaign against Japanese commerce conducted by American submarines”, which left countless Japanese dead.

Muhammad’s treatment of the incident at Nakhla reinforces the view that “commerce raiding”, not wanton bloodletting, was his intent.  He gave blood money to the family of the slain Qurayshite and freed the two Qurayshite prisoners in exchange for two Muslim prisoners.  But, Muhammad held onto and distributed the confiscated goods from the Qurayshite caravan.  The purpose of the attacks was to strangle the Quraysh economically.

It should be noted, however, that Muhammad did not succeed in this effort.  All of the initial military expeditions were failures, with the lone exception of the unintentional “success” at Nakhla.  Richard Gabriel notes, correctly, that the early Muslims “knew very little about how to undertake a successful caravan raid.” [60] From an economic standpoint then, one must question Robert Spencer’s claim that “[t]hese raids kept the nascent Muslim movement solvent.” [61] How did a series of unsuccessful caravan raids keep the “nascent Muslim movement solvent”?

Gabriel is also correct in thinking that there must have been something more than economic benefit that enticed Muhammad.  From a purely risk-benefit standpoint, raiding Qurayshite caravans was a bad idea: the raids were largely unsuccessful, and only ”succeeded” in earning the wrath of the vastly more powerful city of Mecca.  Writes Gabriel:

Muhammad must have known that any attack on the Meccan caravans would have been but the opening skirmish in a long campaign in which the Meccans would try to exterminate him and his followers…[T]he Meccan chiefs could raise significant military forces on their own, including cavalry, and had the money to hire mercenaries and bedouin warriors. Muhammad’s forces in Medina were small by comparison and certainly no match for the Meccans.

Muhammad was too good a strategic thinker not to have been aware of these realities. And yet, he went ahead with his plans to challenge the Meccans. [62]

Gabriel goes on to argue that Muhammad’s ”attacks on the Meccan caravans were but the first strike in a larger strategy of conquest and destruction of his enemies.” [63] Indeed, Orientalist commentators have long argued that Muhammad’s intention–when divine permission was granted to him to fight, when he fled Mecca, and when he launched raids against the Quraysh–was the conquest of Mecca.

Hindsight is 20/20, and it is easy for us now to think that the early Muslims would one day return to their city of origin as victorious conquerors.  Yet, this idea would have seemed far-fetched at the time: Muhammad and his handful of followers were driven out of the city of Mecca by the Quraysh, and were living as an impoverished and meek refugee community in the city of Medina.  Richard Gabriel himself argues that “Muhammad’s forces in Medina were small by comparison and certainly no match for the Meccans.” The Islamic community was at that time fearful of being wiped off the face of the earth entirely, and so it seems quite fantastic for Gabriel (or anyone else) to then turn around and argue that Muhammad’s intention by raiding the Qurayshite caravans was to start the process of conquering them.

There is another much more likely possibility, which can be understood by looking back to other examples in history of commerce raiding.  The Americans relied on commerce raiding in order to “undermine public morale by inflicting economic losses” [65] by which they hoped to “inclin[e] London to negotiate a peace.” [66] It seems far more likely that Muhammad raided Qurayshite caravans with the intention of inflicting heavy economic losses on his enemy, so that the mercantile Meccans would come to believe it too costly to carry on the conflict with the Muslims.  Muhammad’s goal then was not conquest but a favorable peace.

One could reasonably argue that Muhammad’s actions did the exact opposite and just infuriated the Quraysh, who then organized a force to meet the Muslims at Badr.  However, it is equally reasonable to assume that Muhammad, as the leader of an emerging nation, was not satisfied with the Phony War situation that existed in place of a real peace.  At any moment, the Quraysh could have switched from indirect hostility towards the Muslims to more direct military action against them.  Muhammad wanted a peace treaty between his community and the city of Mecca, one which recognized the early Muslims as a sovereign nation (with the respect and rights of one) instead of as a hunted down renegade movement.  In order to “earn” this position in Qurayshite eyes, Muhammad had to show that the Muslims could stand their own against them, which is what the initial military expeditions were expected to do.

Muhammad must have known that such provocative action could, in the short term, exacerbate the conflict and draw the two forces into all-out war.  But, in the long run, the plan was successful and culminated in a treaty between the two sides.  Just as the British came to regard the Americans as a sovereign nation instead of a rebel movement, the Quraysh, by signing the treaty, had come to recognize the Muslims as a sovereign nation.

Muhammad’s intention can be gleaned from the primary sources themselves.  During this phase of the conflict, no Quranic passage calls on the believers to make way for the conquest and subjugation of Mecca.  Instead, the Islamic holy book commands the believers to “prepare whatever forces you can muster, including warhorses, to frighten off God’s enemies and yours…but if they incline towards peace, you must also incline towards it” (Quran, 8:60-61).  This is repeated elsewhere in the Quran: “If they desist [in their hostilities], then there should be no hostility [towards them] except against the oppressors” (2:193).  The Quran was letting the Quraysh know that the Muslims were willing to pursue a peaceful resolution of the conflict, if they (the Quraysh) would but just stop their hostility.

It should also be noted that Muhammad had another audience in mind: his own Muslim followers and the people of Medina.  By securing small wins against the Quraysh, Muhammad was boosting the morale of the early Muslims, proving to their own selves that they could stand up to the Quraysh and that God was with them.  This message was also directed to the people of Medina: just as the Americans had to prove to the French that they were a viable force against the British, so too did the Muslims need to prove their viability to the people of Medina who otherwise might succumb to Meccan threats to expel the refugee population.

There is another piece of evidence that indicates that on Muhammad’s mind was not conquest but the peaceful recognition of his new nation.  On his very first military expedition, Muhammad set out to meet the Quraysh at Waddan.  He missed the Qurayshite force and prepared to go back home, but before he did, he signed a non-aggression pact with the people of the area, the Bani Damra.  Shortly thereafter, he also signed non-aggression pacts with other neighboring tribes, such as the Bani Madlij.  It is likely that Muhammad would have signed such a pact with the Quraysh, the greatest threat to his peoples’ existence, had they been so willing.  Indeed, when the Quraysh finally did offer terms of peace to Muhammad, he accepted them, much to the chagrin of some of his most ardent followers.

As noted above, commerce raiding has generally been a tool used by the weaker force against the stronger one.  Historically, the Americans, French, and Germans used this tactic against the powerful British navy.  The British, on the other hand, did not need to rely on it, and instead used the much more effective tactic of blockading their opponents.  Muhammad simply did not have the resources to blockade the Meccans, which would have brought the Quraysh to their knees (economically speaking).  That he could not even set up a blockade of Mecca means that he certainly couldn’t imagine, at this point in time, to conquer it.  It is much more realistic that commerce raiding was meant to force the Quraysh to recognize the Muslim nation and make peace with it, just as the Americans wished recognition, independence, and peace with the British.

The early Muslims were not pirates or marauders.  They, like the revolutionary Americans, engaged in guerre de course (commerce raiding) against the oppressive party, the Quraysh.  Just as the American exploits against British shipping have been celebrated for their valor, so too were the Muslim military expeditions against the Quraysh courageous.  The Muslims were facing off against heavily armored caravans.  In the very first such campaign, for instance, Muhammad dispatched Hamza “with thirty riders” against a Qurayshite caravan armed with “three hundred riders from Mecca” led by Abu Jahl. [66] The second such operation involved “sixty or eighty riders” from the Muslims, who “encountered a large number of Quraysh” [67] consisting of “more than two hundred riders led by Abu Sufyan.” [68] Even in these military raids, the Muslims were heavily outnumbered.  Using our World War II comparison, it would be like the U.S. navy engaging in operations against enemy merchant marines that were flanked by battleships and aircraft carriers.

The perceptive reader also ought notice that these caravans were led by early Islam’s arch-enemies, such as Abu Jahl, Abu Jahl’s son Ikrima, Abu Sufyan, etc.  These raids were not opportunistic acts of piracy against random persons, but rather, were legitimate military operations against a far superior foe.

*  *  *  *  *

Robert Spencer claims that the Prophet Muhammad was the most violent religious figure in history.  Yet, when similar acts of violence are highlighted in his own faith tradition, suddenly he cries foul and chants “tu quoque, tu quoque!”  In reality, his own religion cannot withstand the same standards he so mirthfully applies to Islam.

It is just barely an exaggeration to say that Muhammad’s raids look like girl scout outings compared to the early military exploits of the Biblical prophets and respected religious figures, i.e. the brutal conquest and annihilation of the people of Canaan by MosesJoshuaSamsonSaulDavid, etc.  But, there is a specific comparison that I think necessitates closer attention: the raids led by King David.

It is beyond dispute that David (of David vs. Goliath fame) is considered highly regarded in the Jewish and Christian tradition.  When the king wanted to kill him, “David found refuge in [a place called] Ziklag…and raided other [nearby] cities to stay financially afloat”  (as opposed to Muhammad who signed non-aggression pacts with them).  The Bible says of this:

1 Samuel 

27:8 Now David and his men went up and raided the Geshurites, the Girzites and the Amalekites…

27:9 Whenever David attacked an area, he did not leave a man or woman alive, but took sheep and cattle, donkeys and camels, and clothes. Then he returned to Achish.

27:10 When Achish asked, “Where did you go raiding today?” David would say, “Against the Negev of Judah” or “Against the Negev of Jerahmeel” or “Against the Negev of the Kenites.”

27:11 He did not leave a man or woman alive to be brought to Gath, for he thought, “They might inform on us and say, ‘This is what David did.’” And such was his practice as long as he lived in Philistine territory.

David raided with such frequency that the question had to be asked of him, “[w]here did you go raiding today?”  During these raids, the great David annihilated every single man, woman, and child.  He then ran off with “much booty”:

From Ziklag David made an attack upon the Geshurites, Gerzites, and Amalekites, smote them without leaving a man alive, and returned with much booty.

If Robert Spencer would like to use Muhammad’s raids against the Quraysh as a blunt weapon to bludgeon the heads of Muslims with, then let us hit him back with David’s “plundering incursions”, which culminated in mass death and were part of a broader genocidal campaign.  Spencer won’t be able to respond, aside from his familiar cries of “tu quoque, tu quoque!”

Of course, I am not committing a tu quoque fallacy, first and foremost because it was Robert Spencer himself who posited the thesis that Islam is more violent than any other religion–and that Muhammad was the most violent religious figure in history.  Spencer has even penned a book with the title Religion of Peace? Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn’t.  In it, he intones that Islam is more violent than both Judaism [70] and Christianity.  It is Spencer’s central thesis, and yet when I chop off both legs of it [see footnote 70], he yells “tu quoque, tu quoque!” like the intellectual huckster he is.

In any case, this article of mine is part of the Understanding Jihad Series, which is answering the question: is Islam more violent than other religions (specifically Judaism and Christianity)?  This is the fundamental question I sought ought to answer, and therefore, it is of central relevance.

*  *  *  *  *

We can summarize our argument as follows:

* The Quraysh initiated the conflict with the Muslims by persecuting them.

* For over a decade, Muhammad preached peaceful resistance against such persecution.

* Finally, the God of the Quran permitted Muhammad and his followers to defend themselves against their Qurayshite persecutors.

* Islamophobes claim that Muhammad was opportunistic, calling for peace and tolerance while in Mecca, but war and violence when he was in a position of power in Medina.  But really, Muhammad declared his intention to fight the Quraysh while still in Mecca or just immediately after fleeing from it, at a time when he and the Muslims were still very weak.

* Following Muhammad’s declaration of intent to war against the Quraysh, a period similar to the Phony War of World War II came into effect.  Although no major or direct military combat took place during this period, the hostilities continued in other ways: the Quraysh threatened the life of Muhammad, as well as the safety and security of the Muslim refugees and those who harbored them.  The Quraysh were attempting to use their influence to coerce the people of Medina to expel or fight the Muslims.  The Quraysh also confiscated Muslim property left in Mecca, and continued to persecute those Muslims who had not been able to make the journey to Medina.  The Quraysh threatened to block the Muslims from returning to their homes or making religious pilgrimage, whereas the Muslims, for their part, threatened to harass Qurashite trade routes.

* Islamophobes claim that Muhammad initiated a war of aggression by targeting Qurayshite caravans.  However, a state of war had already existed long before Muhammad led his military expeditions.  Muhammad went on the offensive, which is not the same as initiating a war of aggression.  

* Muhammad and the early Muslims used the same tactic that the American revolutionaries used against the British navy: commerce raiding.  This has been a completely acceptable practice throughout history and differs from piracy in substantial ways.

* Muhammad’s intent was to compel the Quraysh to recognize the sovereignty of his new nation and make peace with it.

* Muhammad’s raids were far more morally acceptable than the early military expeditions of the Biblical prophets and religious figures, such as MosesJoshuaSamsonSaulDavid, etc., who committed genocide against the native population of Canaan.  David in specific led raids to plunder the local populations and then slaughtered them down to the last man, woman, and child.  This completely negates Robert Spencer’s central thesis, i.e. that Muhammad was the most violent prophet in history.

Most importantly, what is crystal clear is that the first military jihad in history was not waged against the Quraysh simply because they were non-Muslims.  (Instead, Muhammad signed non-aggression pacts with neighboring non-Muslim tribes.)  Jihad was not declared to fight infidels simply because they were infidels, nor was it to convert them to the faith of Islam.

The similarity between the early Muslims and the Americans during the Revolutionary War does not stop at tactics.  Rather, the overarching theme is the same: the Patriots were fighting to declare their independence from the powerful British.  If the American colonists were justified in waging war with the British due to high taxation and lack of representation, then how much greater right did Islam’s founding fathers have to fight off those who oppressed them for their religious beliefs, who drove them “out from their homes, only for saying ‘Our Lord is God’”?  Jihad was waged by the Muslims to defend against injustice, oppression, and aggression.  It is no wonder then that the nation responsible for inflicting the most injustice and oppression of Muslims today–for waging wars of aggression in their lands–would come to hate jihad so much.

Danios was the Brass Crescent Award Honorary Mention for Best Writer in 2010 and the Brass Crescent Award Winner for Best Writer in 2011.

1. Reuven Firestone, Jihad, p.17
2. Ibid., pp.16-17
3. Ibid., p.15
4. Having said that, I suppose it depends on one’s definition of “holy war”, with Prof. Firestone’s being the broadest possible.
5. Similar, but not identical.
6. For example, ”Fight in God’s cause against those who fight against you, but do not commit aggression, for surely, God does not love aggressors.” (Quran, 2:190)
7. From Medinat al-Nabi (the Prophet’s city).
8. Firestone, p.107
9. Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions, p.755
10. Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasulullah, p.283 (tr. A. Guillaume)
11. Ibid.
12. Ibid.
13. Ibn Ishaq briefly discusses the “debate” over the exact order of the initial military campaigns. However, it seems that the first was most likely Hamza’s expedition, followed by Ubayda’s.
14. Ibn Ishaq, p.281
15. Muhammad Haykal, The Life of Muhammad, p.217. Ibn Ishaq states that the contingent was led by Abu Jahl’s son Ikrima.
16. Ibn Ishaq, p.281
17. Haykal, p.217
18. Ibid.
19. Ibn Ishaq, p.285
20. Thomas Walker Arnold, The Preaching of Islam, p.30
21. Ibid.
22. Ibn Ishaq, p.296
23. Ibid., p.298
24. Ibid.
25. Robert Spencer, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), p.10
26. Ibid.
27. Saifur Rahman Al-Mubarakpuri, Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum, p.125
28. Ibn Kathir, Qasas al-Anbiya, p.390
29. Abdullah ibn Ubai had been slated to become the king of the united tribes of Medina prior to Muhammad’s arrival.
30. Sunan Abu Dawud, Vol.2, p.495
31. Tafsir Ibn Kathir, 5:67
32. Haykal, p.223
33. Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol.5, Book 59, #286
34. Ibn Ishaq, p.230
35. Ibid.
36. Ibid.
37. Ibid., p.208
38. Ibid.
39. Ibid., p.213
40. F.E. Peters, The Monotheists, p.104
41. Firestone, p.54
42. Ibn Ishaq, p.221
43. Ibn Kathir, Qasas al-Anbiya, pp.151-152
44. David Horner, The Second World War: Europe, 1939-1943, p.34
45. Ibn Hisham 1/448, taken from Ar-Raheeq Al-Makthum
46. Ibn Ishaq, p.281
47. Refer to Ibn Ishaq, p.230
48. Richard Gabriel, Muhammad: Islam’s First Great General, p.73
49. Frances O’Connor, History of Islam, p.16
50. Spencer, p.5
51. Ibid.
52. Reinhart Dozy, Spanish Islam, p.16
53. Gabriel, p.73. Having said that, it should be pointed out that the caravan raids were led by Muslim Emigrants, not the Medinese.
54. Richard Gabriel is a military historian, not a scholar of Islamic history. His ideological bent can be gleaned from his previous positions in the CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence, which The Idiot’s Guide to the CIA describes as “[t]he CIA’s publishing division”, from which “the CIA produces its propaganda” (p.25). He was also an “expert” for the Brooking’s Institution, which (in the words of Glenn Greenwald) “[w]hen it comes to foreign policy and civil liberties” serves three functions: (1) justify war in the Muslim world, (2) provide the ideological defense for Israel’s right-wing policies, and (3) legitimize indefinite detention of Muslim suspects. Quite unsurprisingly, Gabriel’s works reveal himself to be an apologist for Israel and its war crimes, for which he was approvingly cited by the Islamophobic Daniel Pipes. What a magnificent coincidence that such a person would write a biased book against the founder of Islam.  In any case, most damning of all is Gabriel’s book itself, which makes his agenda self-evident. Many anti-Islamic websites refer to his pseudo-scholarly work.
55. Joseph Morrison Skelly, Political Islam from Muhammad to Ahmadinejad, p.41
56. Joe B. Havens, Chief, p.21
57. James C. Bradford, Atlas of American Military History, pp.25-26
58. Article by Kenneth J. Hagan in Walter L. Hixson, The American Experience in World War II, Vol. I, p.269-272
59. John Whiteclay Chambers, The Oxford Companion to American Military History, pp.305-306
60. Gabriel, p.73
61. Spencer, p.5
62. Gabriel, pp.73-74
63. Ibid.
64. Ibid.
65. Chambers, pp.305-306
66. Hagan, p.269-272
67. Ibn Ishaq, p.281
68. Ibid.
69. Haykal, p.217
70. It’s interesting that Christian Islamophobes, including Robert Spencer himself, will quickly throw Judaism and Jews under the bus whenever the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) comes up or whenever the violence of Jewish prophets or Jewish law is  mentioned. Yet, Spencer himself writes in his book, quoting another Islamophobe: “We cannot defend Western civilization without defending its Jewish component, without which modern Western culture would have been unthinkable. The religious identity of the West has two legs: The Christian and the Jewish ones. It needs both to stand upright. Sacrificing one to save the other is like fighting a battle by chopping off one of your legs, throwing it at the feet of the enemies, and shouting: ‘You won’t get the other one!’” (Robert Spencer, Religion of Peace? Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn’t, p.10)

When They Almost Killed Muhammad: The Persecution of Islam’s Earliest Followers

Robert Spencer has summarized the key arguments raised by Islamophobes in his book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades).  Chapter one of his book is entitled “Muhammad: Prophet of War”, in which he recounts the life story of the Prophet Muhammad.  In it, he portrays Muhammad as the aggressor and his Quraysh enemies as the victims.  Spencer writes:

After receiving revelations from Allah through the angel Gabriel in 610, [Muhammad] began by just preaching to his tribe the worship of One God and his own position as a prophet.  But he was not well received by his Quraysh brethren in Mecca, who reacted disdainfully to his prophetic call and refused to give up their gods.  Muhammad’s frustration and rage became evident.  When even his uncle, Abu Lahab, rejected his message, Muhammad cursed him and his wife in violent language that has been preserved in the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam: “May the hands of Abu Lahab perish!  May he himself perish!  Nothing shall his wealth and gains avail him.  He shall be burnt in a flaming fire, and his wife, laden with faggots, shall have a rope of fibre around her neck.”  (Qur’an 111:1-5)

Ultimately, Muhammad would turn from violent words to violent deeds.  In 622, he finally fled his native Mecca for a nearby town, Medina… [1]

Muhammad’s message of monotheism does not adequately explain why the leaders of the Quraysh rejected his message so forcefully.  Indeed, Muhammad preached a lot more than this: he called for a top-to-bottom reform of Meccan society, advocating for the rights of the poor and weak.  While it is also true that Muhammad’s renouncement of the pagan gods was unbearable to many followers of the old religion, so too did his powerful critique of the rich and powerful set him on a collision course against them.

Spencer not only fails to properly explain why the Quraysh leaders opposed Muhammad, but he also omits entirely how they opposed him.  In Spencer’s version of events, (1) Muhammad preached to them about God and his prophetood; (2) the Quraysh didn’t accept this message; and then (3) Muhammad reacted with rage and violence.  Spencer’s biography is curiously missing the almost decade and a half-long persecution of Muhammad and his early followers in Mecca, which preceded their Flight (Hijra) to Medina.  This willful omission is designed to mislead the reader, and Spencer succeeds in inverting reality, portraying Muhammad as the aggressor and the Quraysh leaders as the victims.

*  *  *  *  *

Muhammad was born and raised in seventh-century Mecca, a city of the Arabian Peninsula.  At the time, the majority of Meccans, led by the powerful Quraysh, were polytheistic in religion.  Then, in 610 A.D., when he was around forty years old, Muhammad declared his prophethood and called his people to a new, monotheistic religion.

Initially, Muhammad preached in private, and his early followers congregated in secret.  When Muhammad eventually declared his message publicly, he and his early followers were met with increasing hostility.  The Quraysh leaders instigated a sustained campaign of violence against what they saw as a rival faith.  Consequently, the early Muslims suffered persecution; they endured beatings, torture, and even imprisonment.

This entire period is omitted entirely from Robert Spencer’s chapter: Spencer portrays Muhammad as the violent aggressor and the Quraysh as his peaceful victims.  Yet, it is well-established that it was in fact Muhammad who began preaching his message peacefully, and it was the Quraysh leaders who responded violently.  Prof. Spencer C. Tucker writes:

As Muhammad’s group of followers grew, the leadership of Mecca, including Muhammad’s own tribe, perceived them as a threat. Some of the early converts to Islam came from the disaffected and disadvantaged segments of society. Most important, the Muslims’ new set of beliefs implicitly challenged the Meccans’ and the Quraysh tribe’s guardianship over the Kaaba, the holy site dedicated to the gods and goddesses of the area, which hosted an annual pilgrimage. The city’s leading merchants attempted to persuade Muhammad to cease his preaching, but he refused. In response, the city leadership persecuted Muhammad’s followers, and many fled the city. One group of his followers immigrated to Abyssinia. In 619 Muhammad endured the loss of both [his wife] Khadija and [his uncle] Abu Talib, while the mistreatment of his followers increased. [2]

Not surprisingly, the meanest persecution was meted out to the most vulnerable members of the Muslim faithful.  Prof. Daniel C. Peterson writes:

There are many stories of imprisonment, beating, starvation, and thirst, and perhaps worst of all, of believers staked out on the ground under the scorching heat of the Arabian sun until they could be induced to repudiate their faith.

Slaves were particularly vulnerable, for they had no one to protect them against their masters. One of them, a black Abyssinian named Bilal, was pinned to the ground by his master, with a large rock on his chest, and told that that he would remain there until he either died or recanted–whichever came first. He was spared only because Abu Bakr, passing by, was horrified at this maltreatment of a fellow believer and bought Bilal’s freedom…Some, it is said, died under torture. And others did indeed renounce their faith. [3]

The extent of the persecution can be gauged by the fact that some of the early Muslims were forced to flee with their lives from the Arabian Peninsula altogether, an event known as the First Flight to Abyssinia.  Under the cover of night, these Muslims fled Mecca and boarded ships headed for the African country of Abyssinia (modern-day Ethiopia).  There was a second such emigration, known as the Second Flight to Abyssinia.  The Quraysh leaders dispatched envoys to the Abyssinian king, requesting that these Muslim refugees be returned to Mecca.  This request for extradition was rejected and these Muslim refugees stayed in Abyssinia for the remainder of what is known as the Meccan Period of Muhammad’s prophethood.

The Quraysh leaders harassed Muhammad himself, who endured both verbal and physical abuse.  Initially, however, his tormentors stopped short of killing Muhammad because he was still under the tribal protection granted to him by his aging uncle, Abu Talib.  Islam’s early enemies earnestly beseeched Abu Talib to permit the killing of Muhammad, but Abu Talib adamantly refused.

To pressure Abu Talib’s clan, the Banu Mutalib, to rescind their protection of Muhammad, the Quraysh leaders signed a pact resulting in the complete social and economic boycott of the early Muslims along with the two clans associated with them (the Banu Mutalib and the Banu Hashim, the latter of which was the tribe Muhammad was born to).  The early Muslims and members of the two clans were forced by circumstance to leave their homes and resettle in the outskirts of Mecca.  Confined to the harsh and barren desert valley (Mecca’s “ghetto”), they struggled to survive for three years, with even food and medicine being barred to them by the Quraysh leaders, who intended to starve them into submission:

Abu Jahl now tried to starve Muhammad into submission and imposed a boycott on the clans of Hashim and al-Muttalib, managing to get all other clans to sign a treaty to unite against the Muslim threat. Nobody could intermarry or trade with anybody in the two outlawed clans and this meant that nobody was supposed to sell them any food. For the sake of security, all members of Hashim and al-Muttalib, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, moved into Abu Talib’s street, which became a little ghetto. [4]

During what is known as the Year of Grief, both Muhammad’s wife Khadija and uncle Abu Talib passed away.  Abu Lahab, early Islam’s arch-enemy and Muhammad’s bitterest foe, replaced Abu Talib as the chief of the clan.  Muhammad thus lost his tribal protection and was forced to flee with his life to the neighboring city of Taif.  He preached his message to the leaders of Taif, who rejected him and refused to give him asylum for fear of earning Mecca’s wrath.  Muhammad was stoned by the street urchins of Taif and told to never return.  Bloody and battered, Muhammad had no place to go but to return to Mecca.

The persecution of the early Muslim community in Mecca intensified to the point that there was a very real fear that the religion of Islam would be snuffed out entirely.  It was at this precarious moment in history that a group of influential men from the nearby city of Yathrib (henceforth to be referred to as Medina) accepted Islam and promised to grant Muhammad refuge.  Thus began The Flight (Al-Hijra), as the Muslim community in Mecca migrated in waves to Medina.  The Quraysh authorities, fearful that Islam would spread to other parts of the Arabian Peninsula, tried (but failed) to prevent this exodus.

By this time, the Quraysh leaders had already formulated a plot to assassinate Muhammad in his sleep.  They delegated this task to eleven men, chosen from all different tribes so as to make retaliation against any one of them untenable.  The assassins gathered around Muhammad’s house, broke into it, and advanced towards his bed.  In fact, however, they had just missed Muhammad, who had slipped away and begun the arduous journey to Medina.  Prof. Juan Eduardo Campo writes:

[P]ersecution of Muhammad and his followers in Mecca by the Quraysh intensified; the weaker ones were physically tortured or imprisoned. Muhammad ordered his followers to emigrate to Yathrib [Medina] in small groups, while he remained in Mecca with his friend Abu Bakr and his loyal cousin Ali ibn Abi Talib. The Quraysh plotted to murder Muhammad and invaded his house only to find Ali sleeping in his bed. Muhammad had secretly escaped with Abu Bakr, and the two of them hid in a cave for three days before making their way to Yathrib [Medina]. [5]

The Quraysh leaders were by this time wild-eyed with fury, and placed a bounty on Muhammad’s head.  Whoever could intercept Muhammad before he reached Medina would be handsomely rewarded.  Search parties went out to apprehend or kill the prophet of Islam.

But, destiny had another plan altogether for Muhammad.  He arrived safely in Medina in the year 622 A.D., what became year one of the Islamic calendar.  There, the early Muslim community would regroup, and eventually, flourish.

*  *  *  *  *

In Robert Spencer’s biography of the Islamic prophet, the persecution of Muslims in Mecca is completely passed over.  Muhammad is wrongfully portrayed as the aggressor and the initiator of violence.  Context is completely lost–in fact, it is purposefully distorted.  Without understanding the background of the conflict (i.e. Muslims being persecuted in Mecca for almost a decade and a half), the reader will view Muhammad’s actions in Medina as nothing short of unprovoked aggression.

Not only does such a deception distort the reader’s view of the Prophet Muhammad, it also has huge implications with regard to Islamic theology.  Jihad is wrongfully equated with terroristic violence and unprovoked aggression, instead of what is actually called for in the Quran: a defensive responding to unprovoked aggression.

If the concept of jihad was first formulated during Muhammad’s lifetime–and if Muslims look to Muhammad’s example to understand the embodiment of this concept–then it makes a very big difference whether or not Muslims see Muhammad as initiating violence or merely defensively responding to it.

Spencer well understands this concept and himself argues it intensely in his book.  His deception, however, lies in his flipping of reality on its head, portraying Muhammad and the early Muslims as the aggressors and their tormentors as the victims.

*  *  *  *  *

Having thus understood the importance of this discussion, let us then delve into Muhammad’s response to the violence, persecution, and injustice directed at him (and his religious community).  Did he preach “love your enemies” or ruthless vengeance?

Muhammad’s reaction to his enemies can be summarized as follows: it was better to forgive the average foot soldier, and only the top level leaders of injustice (“the chiefs of disbelief”) were to be punished.  This dynamic can be seen with Muhammad’s eventual triumphal return to and conquest of Mecca eight years after he fled from it.  Even though the people of Mecca in general had engaged in the persecution of the early Muslims, Muhammad issued a blanket immunity and “mercy” to all of them aside from nine individuals (other sources say seventeen), who were “his most inveterate [of] enemies.” [6] However, even of these, most were pardoned, and in the end “only four Meccans were killed. ” [7]

These were the same people who had humiliated, harassed, tortured, and persecuted Muhammad and his followers.  In fact, at one point in time Muhammad was attacked by them and left with a bloodied face, a busted lip, a broken tooth, and a split-open forehead.  Muhammad had then asked rhetorically:

How can a people cut the face of their prophet and break his tooth while he is calling them to God?  How can such a people prosper?

He exclaimed:

God’s Wrath is great on those who besmear the face of His Messenger!

The following Quranic verse reprimanded Muhammad:

Not for you (O Muhammad) is the decision whether [God] turns in mercy to them to pardon them or if He punishes them (for indeed, they are wrongdoers).  To God belongs all that is in the heavens and on earth.  He forgives whom He pleases and punishes whom He pleases; but God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.  (Quran, 3:128-129)

Muhammad retracted his earlier comment and then prayed for not only forgiveness of the attackers but forgiveness for the Meccans overall:

O God, forgive my people for they do not know. [8]

Later that day, Muhammad came across his uncle, Hamza ibn Abdul Mutallib, who had been killed by the Quraysh.  Worse, Hamza’s corpse had been mutilated: his nose was burnt off and his ears cut off; his stomach was gutted and his intestines were hanging out of his body.  When Muhammad saw his uncle in such a state, he angrily took the following oath:

I shall kill seventy of their men in revenge!

To this, God is said to have replied in the Quran:

(O Muhammad), invite them to the Way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching, and dispute with them only in the most politest manner–for your Lord knows best who has strayed from His Path and who is rightly guided.  And if you wish to retaliate, retaliate only in a way that is proportionate to the injury done to you.  But if you endure patiently (instead of retaliating), it is better to do so.  (O Muhammad), endure with patience.  Truly, your patience is only possible with the help of God.  Do not be grieved by them or distressed because of their schemes–for God is with those who are mindful of Him and who do good.

Therein then do we have the Quranic axiom: if you wish to retaliate, then the punishment must be proportionate to the crime.  (This rule is clarified in verses 2:190-194 with the stipulation that the punishment must be against the guilty party only.)  Although the Quran permits one to demand justice, it strongly urges the believer, especially Muhammad, to instead “endure with patience” and forgive.  Following this admonition,  ”the Prophet refrained (from taking revenge) and atoned for his oath.” [9]

Indeed, when the early Muslims triumphed over and conquered Mecca, Muhammad issued a blanket pardon to everyone, aside from four “arch-criminals”. [10] Muhammad could have taken vengeance against all those who had persecuted him and his people for so many years, but instead he forgave them all, reciting the following verse of the Quran:

There is no censure on you on this day.  May God forgive you, for He is the Most Merciful of the merciful. (Quran, 12:92) [11]

Muhammad would even forgive those who killed and mutilated his uncle, praying: ”[M]ay God forgive them, for God is Forgiving, Merciful.” [12] He also forgave those who had tried to kill him.

There is much food for thought here: Islamophobes like Robert Spencer argue that Muhammad’s violence cannot be compared to that of the Biblical prophets, since Muhammad in Islam is considered perfect whereas Jews and Christians don’t think the same of Moses, Joshua, David, etc.  This is a huge oversimplification and mischaracterization of Islamic textual sources and dogma (a topic that I will analyze in further detail in a later article).  But for now, suffice to say, this is but one example of Muhammad being corrected in the Quran–and that too with regard to war, peace, vengeance, and mercy towards non-Muslims.

The Islamophobes claim that Muhammad only preached patience, forgiveness, and tolerance during the Meccan Period.  They argue further that the “opportunistic” Muhammad opted towards militarism, violence, and war as soon as he came to power in Medina.  And yet, the events surrounding this Quranic revelation (i.e. the killing/mutilating of Muhammad’s uncle, and the command for Muhammad to endure it with patience and forgiveness) occurred well into the Medinan Period.  In fact, it occurred at the height of the military conflict with the Meccan pagans.

What is even more telling is the fact that once Muhammad and the early Muslims conquered Mecca, Muhammad granted the Meccans pardon and mercy.  If the critics of Islam attribute Muhammad’s peaceful attitude during the early Meccan Period to his lack of power to do otherwise, then what of Muhammad’s triumphal return to Mecca whereupon he had all the power in the world to take limitless vengeance upon them?  Muhammad’s tolerant nature towards his Quraysh enemies cannot be explained by the meekness of his position, because he maintained that attitude when he had the power to crush them as they had tried to do to him aforetime.

Similarly, Muhammad had prayed for the forgiveness of the people of Taif, who had stoned him out:

Mohammed traveled to Ta’if, a mountainside town in Arabia about seventy miles southeast of the holy city of Mecca, to invite its people to become Muslims. Instead of welcoming him, the farmers stoned him and drove him, bleeding, out of town…Wiping blood from his face, the Prophet refused, saying, “Lord, forgive thy people, they do not know.” [13]

After the Conquest of Mecca, the pagans regrouped at Taif to launch a massive counter-offensive;  Prof. Ella Landau-Tasseron writes:

Shortly after[ the Conquest of Mecca,] the Thaqif, the ruling tribe of the nearby town al-Ta’if, organized a bedouin army [against Muhammad], which was defeated by Muhammad at a place called Hunayn.  Muhammad then laid siege to al-Ta’if but had to withdraw without achieving any result.  Shortly afterward, however, the Thaqif joined Islam of their own volition. [14]

No retribution was taken against the people of Taif, who thus entered the folds of Islam; Prof. Michael Dumper writes:

[The Muslims] laid unsuccessful siege to Taif for almost a month.  In 631 the head of the tribe embraced Islam, which resulted in his assassination by his own people.  Quickly, however, the city changed its mind and sent a delegation to the Prophet and indicated their willingness to embrace Islam.  The Prophet, stressing the diplomatic immunity of ambassadors, did not hold their earlier antagonism against them and welcomed them into the [Islamic] community. [15]

Upon his triumphal return to Mecca and Taif, the two cities that had earlier driven him out, Muhammad took no revenge and forgave his former tormentors, thus embodying the Quranic principles of patience and forgiveness.

*  *  *  *  *

Robert Spencer argues that Jesus preached “love your enemies”, contrasting this with Muhammad’s teachings.  Certainly, many Westerners associate such peaceable beliefs to Christianity’s central figure.  Yet, this comparison suffers from an inherent flaw: it is simply not accurate.

If we wanted to maintain an apples-to-apples comparison, the Meccan Period can be analogized to Jesus’s First Coming: like Jesus, Muhammad was a persecuted prophet during this period and was in fact almost killed.  Meanwhile, the Medinan Period can be likened to Jesus’s Second Coming.  Just as Muhammad triumphantly marched into Mecca, so does Jesus triumphantly return with his army as a “conquering king.”

Once Muhammad conquered Mecca and held absolute power over them, he forgave all of them (save for four “arch-enemies”).  Muhammad’s march into Mecca was virtually bloodless,; on the other hand, “Jesus’ second coming will be exceedingly violent…It’s going to be bloody (v. 13) and gory.”  Whereas on the day of Mecca’s conquest, Muhammad bestowed mercy on his enemies (he called it the “Day of Mercy”), Jesus will have “no compassion upon His enemies” and “will take vengeance” on them (the Bible calls it “the day of vengeance”).  Indeed, the Biblical Jesus will kill all his enemies.

When one considers other Biblical prophets of the Judeo-Christian tradition, the contrast becomes even more glaring.  Compare the Conquest of Mecca to the conquest of Canaan by Moses, Joshua, Samson, David, Saul, etc.  Muhammad granted immunity to the Meccan population whereas the Judeo-Christian prophets “completely destroyed every living thing in the city, leaving no survivors” (Joshua 11:11).  In fact, this was done to city after city in what can only be called wholesale genocide.

How then can one support Robert Spencer’s dubious argument that the Prophet Muhammad was somehow more violent than all other prophets and religious founders, especially when we have such violent figures in Spencer’s own faith tradition?

*  *  *  *  *

A word ought to be said specifically about what Robert Spencer writes here:

When even his uncle, Abu Lahab, rejected his message, Muhammad cursed him and his wife in violent language that has been preserved in the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam: “May the hands of Abu Lahab perish!  May he himself perish!  Nothing shall his wealth and gains avail him.  He shall be burnt in a flaming fire, and his wife, laden with faggots, shall have a rope of fibre around her neck.”  (Qur’an 111:1-5) [16]

Abu Lahab was the only one of Muhammad’s foes to be taken by name in the Quran.  Even though numerous Quraysh influentials persecuted Muhammad, Abu Lahab was singled out in the Islamic holy book because he and Abu Jahl were the staunchest and most mean-spirited of early Islam’s adversaries.  He was assisted in his hatred by his wife, Umm Jamil, who joined in the persecution of Muhammad and his followers.  Abu Lahab led and orchestrated the harassment, beatings, torture, persecution, and crippling boycott of the early Muslim community.  He would later be one of the eleven assassins who attempted to kill Muhammad in his sleep.

The Quranic verse against Abu Lahab was revealed when he had picked up a stone in his hand to throw at Muhammad and yelled “may you perish” (reflected in the Quranic phrasing “may the hands of Abu Lahab perish“).  As for the statement against Abu Lahab’s wife, it can be understood using a less arcane translation: “…and his wife, the bearer of wood (translated in Spencer’s book with the difficult to understand ‘laden with faggots’), shall have a rope of fiber around her neck.”  She was dubbed “the bearer of wood” because she used to routinely lay splinters of wood on the ground where Muhammad would walk so as to cause his feet to bleed.  Additionally, Umm Jamil used to wear a very expensive necklace, of which she vowed: “By Lat and Uzza, I will sell away this necklace and expend the price to satisfy my enmity against Muhammad.”  [17]  This is said to explain the Quran’s choice of punishment for her: a rope of fiber around her neck.

Harsh as these punishments are against Abu Lahab and his wife, two points need to be borne in mind: firstly, Abu Lahab and his wife represent the Quran’s chief villains, equivalent to the Bible’s Pharaoh and Jezebel.  The Bible promised that Pharoah and “all who trust in him” will be slaughtered (Jeremiah 46:25), and that Jezebel will be punished–”her children” will be killed (Revelation 2:23).  The punishment promised to Abu Lahab and his wife are certainly no harsher than this.  More importantly, the Quran only promised punishment of the guilty party, not “all who trust in him” or “her children.”

The second point is that both Abu Lahab and Umm Jamil died of natural causes.  Muhammad was never violent with them.  The verses in the Quran condemning this couple were meant to be understood in a supernatural sense, unlike the very real violence committed by Abu Lahab and his wife against Muhammad and the early Muslims.

On a somewhat related note, it should be added that one of the major reasons that Abu Lahab opposed the message of Islam so violently was that it threatened his status and position.  He was extremely wealthy and powerful–among Arabia’s top one percent.  Muhammad, on the other hand, preached equality among believers.  To this, Abu Lahab would exclaim:

May this religion perish in which I and all other people should be equal and alike! [18]

This is reflected in the Quran’s response to Abu Lahab:

Neither his wealth nor his earnings will benefit him. (Quran, 111:2)

Indeed, Muhammad’s support for the 99% explains why he faced the wrath of the 1%, of which Abu Lahab belonged to.

*  *  *  *  *

There are of course events in Muhammad’s life between his escape from Mecca and his subsequent return that merit further investigation and critical analysis.  Readers are certainly well-aware of the numerous charges levied against the Prophet of Islam in this regard.  Future parts of this Series will look into these matters with an attempt to be impartial and fair.  For now, however, we have achieved our purpose: Robert Spencer’s dishonest rendering of Muhammad’s time in Mecca, known as the Meccan Period, has been laid to waste.

Muhammad and his early followers experienced persecution at the hands of their enemies, a basic fact that must be understood in order to understand early Islamic history, as well as Islamic texts and theology.  An at least rudimentary knowledge of these events is needed to negate the propaganda of those who seek to demonize the faith of over a billion adherents around the world.  More than that, it offers peace-loving, moderate Muslims the ammunition they need to counter the intolerant interpretations of their religion espoused by their fundamentalist coreligionists, people who often act more like the Quraysh leaders than Muhammad.

Danios was the Brass Crescent Award Honorary Mention for Best Writer in 2010 and the Brass Crescent Award Winner for Best Writer in 2011.  

[1] Robert Spencer, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), p.5
[2] Spencer C. Tucker, The Encyclopedia of Middle East Wars, p.849
[3] Daniel C. Peterson, Muhammad, Prophet of God, p.72
[4] Karen Armstrong, Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet, p.129
[5] Juan Eduardo Campo, Encyclopedia of Islam, p.299
[6] Simon Ockley, The History of the Saracens, p.55
[7] Jonathan E. Brockopp, The Cambridge Companion to Muhammad, p.10
[8] Ar-Raheeq al-Makthum, p.318; Original source for “O Allah, forgive my people for they do not know” is Fath al- Bari 7/373; Alternately narrated as “My Lord, forgive my people for they have no knowledge” in Sahih Muslim 2/108.
[9] Tafsir al-Jalalayn, 16:126
[10] Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum, p.254
[11]  Al-Tabaqat Al-Kubra, Vol.2, p.142
[12] Al-Sira Al-Nabawiyya, p.432
[13] Eliza Griswold, The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches From the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam, p.23
[14] Ella Landau-Tasseron, Biographies of the Prophet’s Companions and Their Successors, p.11
[15] Michael Dumper, Cities of the Middle East and North Africa, p.634
[16] Spencer, p.5
[17]  Tafheem ul Quran, 111:5
[18]  Tafsir Ibn Kathir, 111


Robert Spencer provides a biography of Muhammad in chapter 1 of his book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), a chapter he entitles “Muhammad: Prophet of War.”  I have been writing a rebuttal of this chapter, but as I do so, I realize that perhaps I should contemporaneously provide a “counter-biography.”  This will be an attempt at doing that, while at the same time tying in Spencer’s work.

Because the United States is involved in many wars in the Muslim world, many Americans want to know what Islam is all about.  Unfortunately, they often either knowingly or unknowingly get that information from extremely anti-Muslim sources.  This is especially the case when they hear about Muhammad, the founder of Islam.  Most Americans are woefully ignorant about Muhammad, and what little they do know is nothing more than talking points against him made by Islamophobes.

There are certainly events in Muhammad’s life that are open to scrutiny (events that we will analyze in this “counter-biography”), but it is extremely ignorant to limit one’s knowledge to these.  It would be like studying the history of America’s Founding Fathers, and only focusing on their extramarital affairs, their racism and slave-holding, and their genocidal wars against the American Indians.  That’s not history.  That’s nothing short of ideologue-driven propaganda.

Indeed, there is a side of Muhammad that Americans desperately need to know in order to have a more balanced and accurate view of him.  In fact, there is much about Muhammad that the liberal, secular West has to like.  We don’t need to look at Muslim apologia to find this.  Rather, it’s found in the books of America’s most respected historians.

On that note, I should probably say something about my use of the term “counter-biography,” which wrongly implies revisionism.  In reality, my biography of Muhammad will be in line with mainstream Western scholarship, and it is the narrative taught in America’s universities (and has been for many decades).  Meanwhile, it is Robert Spencer’s biography of Muhammad that engages in revisionism born out of nativist populism and a clear anti-Muslim animus.  It is exactly the reason that mainstream historians and scholars have nothing but disdain for people like Spencer, and why Spencer in turn accuses them of “dhimmitude.”

With that clarification, our “counter-biography” begins circa 570 A.D., in the city of Mecca, Muhammad’s birthplace.  Not much is known about Muhammad’s childhood, but we do know that it was marked by tragedy: his father died when he was only six months of age, and his mother passed away when he was six years old.  The newly orphaned boy was taken in by his grandfather, who also died just two years later.  His uncle, Abu Talib, then took guardianship of Muhammad.

Family, clan, and tribe meant everything in sixth and seventh-century Arabia.  Muhammad’s family and clan were going through difficult times, which must have been especially trying for Muhammad the orphan.  It is likely that Muhammad’s childhood experience, as a weak and vulnerable member of an impoverished clan, shaped the man he would become and the views he would hold, particularly his desire to protect the poor and weak from the rich and powerful.

Very little is known about Muhammad’s teenage years.  He would accompany his uncle, Abu Talib, on trade caravans to Syria.  We also know that Muhammad accompanied him during the Sacrilegious War (Harb al-Fijar), a four-year war that broke out between Muhammad’s tribe and another.  The extent of Muhammad’s participation in the war is disputed, but it is generally agreed that it was mostly in a non-combat support role, picking up enemy arrows from the ground.

The very first three lines of Robert Spencer’s biography are extremely misleading as he uses this event to portray Muhammad as having been “experience[d] as a warrior before he assumed the role of prophet.”  I have already refuted this argument in my previous article, where I pointed out that Muhammad not only played a very limited role (a far cry from the “fierce warrior” image that Spencer has portrayed), but he would later express regret over it.

After the war came to a close, Muhammad participated in the League of the Virtuous (an event that is omitted entirely from Spencer’s biography), a body designed to bring peace on earth and to end bloodshed, violence, and war; the League also aimed “to protect the weak and the defenseless.”  I have discussed the League of the Virtuous in more detail here.  Under the heading of Hilf al-Fudul (the League of the Virtuous), Thomas Patrick Hughes’ A Dictionary of Islam says:

A confederacy formed…for the suppression of violence and injustice at the restoration of peace after the Sacrilegious war. Muhammad was then a youth, and Sir William Muir says this confederacy “aroused an enthusiasm in the mind of Mahomet [Muhammad], which the exploits of the Sacrilegious war failed to kindle.”

Muhammad liked the idea of “protect[ing] the weak and the defenseless,” this being yet another event in his early life that would inspire him.  He also seemed to approve of “international”–or in his context, “super-tribal”–efforts to bring peace to Arabia and thereby avoid bloodshed.  Some time later in his life (still before he became a prophet), Muhammad is said to have arbitrated a peaceful settlement between various tribes with regard to the rebuilding of a shrine, a matter that almost came to swords.

It was a few years later that Muhammad declared his prophethood.  Robert Spencer writes on p.3 of his book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades):

But [Muhammad’s] unique role as prophet-warrior would come later.  After receiving revelations from Allah through the angel Gabriel in 610, he began by just preaching to his tribe the worship of One God and his own position as a prophet.  But he was not well received by his Quraysh brethren in Mecca, who reacted disdainfully to his prophetic call and refused to give up their gods.

(Note: “Allah” is simply the Arabic term for “God”; Arabic-speaking Jews and Christians, for example, refer to God as “Allah”, as does the Arabic Bible itself.)

Spencer specifically inserts the word “just” into the following sentence: “[Muhammad] began by just preaching to his tribe the worship of One God and his own position as a prophet.”  While it is certainly true that Muhammad placed a great emphasis on monotheism, it is not true that he just preached this (or just “his own position as a prophet”).

Neither could these two reasons alone explain why the leaders of the Quraysh (the dominant tribe of Mecca) reacted so disdainfully to Muhammad’s message.  Indeed, a strong component of this opposition came from Muhammad’s call to sweeping social reform;  Prof. Caesar E. Farah writes:

Muhammad’s preaching of monotheism and social reform went hand in hand. Indeed, no other message is so thoroughly underscored in the revelations received from Allah than the stress on equal treatment and social justice. To Muhammad these constituted a vital concomitant of worship. The revelations of the one and only God enjoin consistently the exercise of mercy and benevolence as the necessary adjuncts of belief in Him.

This dual role of Muhammad as preacher and reformer is largely evident in his life and career. [1]

Muhammad was a strong proponent of social justice, arguing for greater rights and protections for the poor and the weak.  He criticized Meccan society as decadent, especially for the way the rich and the powerful (the 1%) treated the most vulnerable members of society (the 99%).

He preached the importance of charity to the poor, a topic that the Quran stresses over and over.  The list of Quranic verses and hadiths that mandate or encourage charity is very extensive and too long to reproduce here, but suffice to say, Muhammad would eventually obligate charity upon all Muslims who could afford it.  He linked charity to salvation itself, declaring: “Charity extinguishes sin as water extinguishes fire.” [2]

But, Muhammad’s message was more radical than this: in a statement that would make a Republican’s head explode, Muhammad said:

God has made the payment of charity from [your] wealth obligatory on [you], to be taken from the wealthy among [you] and given to the poor. [3]

And further, he said:

God has enjoined upon wealthy Muslims a due to be taken from their wealth corresponding to the needs of the poor among them. The poor will never suffer from starvation or lack of clothes unless the wealthy neglect their due. If they do, God will surely hold them accountable and punish them severely. [4]

The wealthy should not just willingly give their wealth to the poor, but it is the right (haq) of the poor to be granted something from this wealth.  The Quran argues that it is from God’s Sustenance from which the prosperous are given their wealth, and that God Himself mandates that a portion of it should be given to the poor:

In their wealth is the right (haq) of the beggar and destitute. (Quran, 51:19)

Not only do the poor have a right to a portion of this wealth, but those who give charity “must wish no reward or thanks” from the one who accepts it (76:9), seeking their reward from God alone.  Muhammad obligated a reasonable percentage of one’s wealth to be given to charity (zakat), but recommended giving swaths of it away (sadaqa).  He linked charity to salvation, and miserliness in this regard to damnation.

He preached that all humans would be held to account by God for how they spent their money, and that God did not look kindly to those men who “squandered” their wealth on worldly pursuits.  This message was not just a kindly suggestion but a stinging rebuke of those who “devour the wealth of mankind wantonly” (Quran, 4:29); it condemned the extremely rich (the 1%) who “squandered [their] wealth in extravagance” and who “hoard[ed] up gold and silver”; the Quran commanded:

Give relatives their due, and the needy, and the wayfarer.  Do not squander your wealth in extravagance!  Squanderers are the brethren of Satan. (Quran 17:26-27)

That Muhammad supported “the 99%” over “the 1%” can be ascertained by his prayer:

O God, grant me life as a poor man, cause me to die as a poor man, and resurrect me in their company.

When he was asked why that was, he replied:

Because the poor will enter Paradise before the rich.  Do not turn away a poor man even if all you can give is half a date.  If you love the poor and bring them near you, God will bring you near Him on Judgment Day. [5]

Wealth in Mecca was concentrated among the city’s nobles; Muhammad questioned the concept of nobility altogether, preaching equality before the law and, more importantly, before God.  The Quran declared that ”the most noble of you in the sight of God is the most righteous of you” (Quran, 49:13).  Muhammad condemned the inequality of society, whereby the poor would be punished for a crime but a rich person would be let off scott-free.  He would later admonish his fellow believers:

The people before you were destroyed [by God] because they inflicted legal punishments on the poor and forgave the rich. [6]

Muhammad spoke out strongly against the practice of usury, the charging of exorbitantly high interest rates.  This was a practice that caused many of the poorer people to become completely bankrupt.  Meanwhile, Muhammad preached mercy towards debtors.  The Quran urged lenders:

If the debtor is in difficulty, grant him time till it is easy for him to repay. But if you forgive the debt by way of charity, that is best for you, if you only knew. (Quran, 2:280)

In summary, Muhammad’s message stressed that “wealth should not just circulate between the rich among you” (Quran, 59:7).  Prof. Eugene F. Gorski writes:

It should be noted that from the beginning, the religion Muhammad preached was much more than an acceptance of monotheism. The Qur’an required the Meccans to change their immoral ways. The emphasis of the earliest chapters of the Qur’an was overwhelmingly on social-economic justice: it is good to feed the poor and take care of the needy; it is evil to accumulate wealth solely for one’s own behalf. Muhammad condemned the powerful rich for the oppression of the enfeebled poor and insisted that charitable service for one’s fellow human beings was the identifying characteristic of all faithful Muslims. [7]

It is no wonder then that the majority of Muhammad’s early members were from the depressed classes of society, as Prof. Charles Lindholm notes:

In Mecca, Muhammad’s revelations at first had relatively little influence. His original converts were his wife and some of his closest relatives, but most of the early believers were those who were poor, disenfranchised and humble. They were drawn to the Quran’s condemnation of excessive riches, to its advocacy of generous donations to care for the disadvantaged, and to its repudiation of the arrogance and selfishness of the wealthy. [8]

Islam’s early enemies spoke disdainfully of the “rabble” that followed Muhammad.  Interestingly, Ali Sina, an ardent Islamophobe (one spoken highly of by Robert Spencer), writes off Muhammad’s early followers, saying:

Compare that to the early followers of Muhammad in Mecca. They were mostly the poor, the disenfranchised slaves, the rebellious youths, and a few disaffected women. He preached to the slaves that they should escape the yoke of their masters and emigrate; he told the youths to disobey their parents and follow him; he spoke of social equality and the brotherhood of all the believers… [9]

Is Sina describing Muhammad’s early followers or “the 99 percent movement”?  Like the 99 percent movement of today, it was the rich and powerful that stood in staunch opposition: “Muhammad’s message angered the rich and powerful people of Mecca.” [10] The opposition to Muhammad was led by the nobles of Mecca, who opposed Muhammad’s egalitarian principles and calls to social reform.  This was one of their major motivations behind opposing Muhammad (in addition to Muhammad’s call to monotheism).  Yet, Robert Spencer’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) completely omits this all-important fact, leaving the reader with a skewed impression of Islam’s prophet.

Muhammad also called to reform the condition of slaves and women, which is why he attracted so many slave and women followers.  Prof. Stephen P. Heyneman writes:

A major principle of the Qur’an is that of establishing a just society, one concerned with socioeconomic equality among its component parts. The treatment of women and children, as well as reformation of the institution of slavery, were important elements in this concern with establishing an ethical and viable social order. Muhammad criticized Meccan society for its disregard for the welfare of its weaker members; as an orphan, he had personal acquaintance with the treatment meted out to anyone without powerful support.

Many of the reforms of pre-Islamic customs stipulated in the Qur’an concerned the well-being of women and children, particularly girls. Female infanticide (wa’d)–whether for reasons of honor or poverty–was abolished. Reforms were made to ameliorate some injustices committed by men [against women]…Many of the underprivileged referred to in the Qur’an were women…General injunctions include the right of the indigent to share of the abundance of the wealth…
Specific injunctions recommend express measures to better care for the poor and orphaned. [11]

But because the hate propaganda against Islam is so fierce in regard to these two topics (i.e. Islam and slavery, Islam and women), it would require pages and pages of in-depth analysis that I neither have space or time to delve into at the present; therefore, I will postpone this discussion for a later time.  Suffice to say, however, it is quite incorrect to claim that Muhammad “just preached” monotheism and “his own position as a prophet.”  He preached quite a lot more than that.  As William Montgomery Watt wrote:

In his day and generation Muhammad was a social reformer, indeed a reformer even in the sphere of morals. He created a new system of social security and a new family structure, both of which were a vast improvement on what went before. [12]

When it comes to Muhammad, there is a tendency to scrutinize and even malign him to a far greater extent than any other figure in history.  There are all sorts of arguments raised to justify this special standard, which I will analyze in the future.  For now, however, it is important for the neutral reader to understand that for all that the Islam-haters criticize in this very important historical figure, there is much to like.

Danios was the Brass Crescent Award Honorary Mention for Best Writer in 2010 and the Brass Crescent Award Winner for Best Writer in 2011.

[1] Ceasar E. Farah, Islam (7th Ed.), p.38
[2] Sunan al-Tirmidhi : 2541
[3] Sayyid Saabiq, Fiqh-us-Sunnah, Section 3.1
[4] Ibid.
[5] Sunan al-Tirmidhi : 1376
[6] Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 8, Hadith 778
[7] Eugene F. Gorski, Theology of Religions, p.222
[8] Charles Lindholm, The Islamic Middle East, pp.66-68
[9] Ali Sina, Understanding Muhammad, p.209; Sina goes on to argue, quite unconvincingly, that Muhammad’s early followers must then not have been sincere in their belief of him, an argument he raises with little proof.
[10] Richard Wormser, American Islam, p.17
[11] Stephen P. Heyneman, Islam and Social Policy, p.53
[12] William Montgomery Watt, Muhammad at Medina, p.332

More Proof Why You REALLY Shouldn’t Trust Robert Spencer’s “Scholarship”

A few days ago, I published an article entitled Why You Shouldn’t Trust Robert Spencer’s Biography of the Prophet Muhammad (I).

I took issue with Robert Spencer’s opening sentences of his biography of Muhammad (p.5 of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam), in which he wrote:

Muhammad already had experience as a warrior before he assumed the role of the prophet.  He had participated in two local wars between his Quraysh tribe and their neighboring rivals Banu Hawazin.

I wrote a response as follows:

What Spencer leaves out from this talking point–“Muhammad already had experience as warrior before he assumed the role of prophet”!–is quite telling.

He is referring to what is known in Islamic history as Harb al-Fijar (the Sacrilegious War), a series of conflicts that took place when Muhammad was a teenager. The spark that ignited the war was the unsettled murder of a member of one tribe, which lead to a blood feud. Due to “entangling alliances,” many different tribes in the area found themselves at war with each other.

Like most of Muhammad’s life, the details of this event are contested. This dispute is not simply one between modern-day Muslim apologists and Islamophobes, but rather one that traces its way back to the earliest biographers of the Prophet.

In specific, Muhammad’s level of participation in these wars is disputed. On the one hand, some Shia biographers reject the idea that Muhammad partook in them at all. Meanwhile, Sunni biographers write that Muhammad simply accompanied his uncle but did not directly fight in these wars. He only took on a very limited support role: picking up enemy arrows from the battlefield. At the most, he fired off a few arrows, but did not kill anyone.

Not only was Muhammad’s role severely limited, but even this he would later express regret over. Muhammad later recounted: “I had witnessed that war with my uncle and shot a few arrows therein. How I wish I had never done so!” [1] Spencer conveniently omits this very important fact, one that mitigates Muhammad’s participation in the war, especially in regards to his views about war and peace.

Spencer replied:

In 2006 I wrote the book on the right, The Truth About Muhammad, a biography of the prophet of Islam based on the earliest Muslim accounts of his life, in order to illustrate what Muslims generally believe that Muhammad said and did. In my forthcoming book, Did Muhammad Exist? An Inquiry Into Islam’s Obscure Origins, which will be published April 23 by ISI, I examine the historical value of those early Muslim accounts. It is an attempt to determine whether what Muslims believe Muhammad said and did, as recounted in The Truth About Muhammad, actually corresponds to historical reality.

There are numerous reasons to question the historicity of the early Muslim accounts of Muhammad’s life. Take, for example, an incident I refer to briefly in yet another book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades):

Muhammad already had experience as a warrior before he assumed the role of prophet. He had participated in two local wars between his Quraysh tribe and their neighboring rivals Banu Hawazin.

That he participated in these wars, known collectively as the Fijar War, or Sacrilegious War, is generally agreed upon, but there is no agreement about what he thought later about his role in them. The Egyptian writer Muhammad Hussein Haykal, in his 1933 biography, Hayat Muhammad (translated into English as The Life of Muhammad), quotes Muhammad expressing regret for his participation in this war:

“I had witnessed that war with my uncle and shot a few arrows therein. How I wish I had never done so!” (Pp. 52-3)

However, the ninth-century Muslim historian Ibn Sa’d, in one of the earliest and most important sources for biographical information on Muhammad, Kitab Al-Tabaqat Al-Kabir, directly contradicts Haykal by quoting Muhammad saying this about the Fijar War:

I attended it with my uncles and shot arrows there and I do not repent it. (I.143)So which is it?

Is Haykal right that he really did express regret, or is Ibn Sa’d right that he explicitly ruled out doing so? Haykal doesn’t give his source, but it is possible that he had access to a hadith or some Islamic tradition that flatly contradicted the one Ibn Sa’d recorded eleven centuries earlier — although this is unlikely, since Ibn Sa’d often records variant and contradictory reports and discusses how they can be harmonized, or why one should be accepted and the other rejected. In this case Ibn Sa’d gives no hint of any variants. Haykal may simply have altered this tradition for apologetic purposes. Those who cite him as their source on this, or try to build an argument upon his quotation, do so at their own risk.

Nonetheless, such contradictions abound in the hadith reports. Muhammad can quite often be found saying contradictory things, as I show in Did Muhammad Exist?. In that book also I discuss how this odd situation came about: opposing factions both invoked Muhammad as an authority, and invented traditions to support their point of view.

Spencer is hawking his new book, which he is pushing as a “scholarly work” about how Muhammad didn’t exist.  His home page boasts that Robert Spencer is “[t]he acclaimed scholar of Islam”, “[a] serious scholar”, and “a brilliant scholar.”

I have pointed out in the past that Spencer is not a scholar of any sort–especially not on anything related to Islam.  He simply does not have the academic qualifications to claim this.  What other “scholar” do you know of that doesn’t even have a master’s or PhD degree on the subject he claims to be a “scholar” of?  He only has a one-year master’s degree in “the field of early Christianity”.  How does that make him an “acclaimed scholar of Islam”?

Another major problem with Spencer’s claim to scholarship is that he simply does not speak or understand Arabic.  This much has been apparent in the past, and it becomes painstakingly obvious in his latest response to me (as I shall show below).  I don’t think Spencer needs to know Arabic to criticize Islam (as some Muslim apologists insist), but I do think he needs to know it in order to be considered a “scholar of Islam” (a title he claims)–let alone “[t]he acclaimed scholar of Islam.”

Combine (1) not having any academic qualifications whatsoever with (2) not knowing Arabic and you have a situation like this: imagine some random blogger claiming to be “a world renowned physician” without ever having (1) gone to medical school and (2) without ever having studied or learned anatomy.  Such a blogger might be able to bring up good points about the field of medicine, but nobody in their right mind would consider him a “world renowned physician”–and if he claimed any such thing, his credibility would be shattered.

The need to understand Arabic in order to be a “scholar of Islam” cannot become more apparent than it is now with Spencer’s latest reply.  And here’s why:  Spencer argues (see quote above) that the hadith (saying of the Prophet Muhammad) found in Haykal’s Hayat Muhammad contradicts the one in Ibn Sa’d’s Kitab Al-Tabaqat Al-Kabir.  He argues that Haykal may have reproduced another hadith that contradicts the one found in Ibn Sa’d’s book, or even that Haykal may have engaged in academic deceit (i.e. “altered this tradition for apologetic purposes”).  That’s a serious and bold claim to make against Haykal.

Yet, had Spencer simply been able to read Arabic, he would have realized that the hadith in Haykal’s Hayat Muhammad and Ibn Sa’d’s Al-Tabaqat Al-Kabir are the exact same!  They are word-for-word identical.  In other words, Haykal took the hadith from Ibn Sa’d’s book.  That Spencer couldn’t see this speaks volumes about his “scholarship.”  So, Spencer’s blathering on about Haykal finding another contradictory hadith or of manipulating the text is indicative of his sophomoric “scholarship.”

How could Haykal have reproduced another hadith or have manipulated the text when in fact the wording in both Haykal’s book and Ibn Sa’d’s is the exact same?  Here is what is found in Haykal’s book:

Source: Haykal, Muhammad Husayn, Hayat Muhammad [The Life of Muhammad], 14th ed. (Cairo: Dar al-Ma’arif, n.d.): 134

And here’s the exact same found in Ibn Sa’d’s book, which Spencer quoted to “trump” Haykal’s hadith (stupidly not realizing they are the exact same!):

Source: Ibn Sa’d,  Tabaqat al-Kabir, edited by Ali Muhammad Umar (Cairo: Maktabat al-Khaniji, 2001) 1:106

To Robert Spencer, who doesn’t read or understand Arabic, that looks like a whole lot of jibberish.  One can imagine Spencer saying: “That’s Greek Arabic to me!”  But, if we help Spencer out by underlining as we did above, even he should be able to verify that they are the exact same–word-for-word.

So, if the two quotes are the exact same, why does Spencer’s quote seem to say the exact opposite as what I quoted?  Why did I translate it as such:

I had witnessed that war with my uncle and shot a few arrows therein. How I wish I had never done so!

Whereas Spencer used the following:

I attended it with my uncles and shot arrows there and I do not repent it.

Why the difference?

Being the “acclaimed scholar of Islam” that he is, Spencer relied on Google search to find this English translation of Ibn Sa’d’s book and/or was forced to rely on an English translation of the book (due to his inability to read the source text).  In doing so, Spencer didn’t realize that the sentence he reproduced was a faulty translation.

In Arabic, the underlined part is:

وما أحب أني لم أكن فعلت

In transliteration (for Spencer’s sake), it would be:

wa ma uhibb anni lam akun fa’alt

It translates to:

and what I wish is that I had not done it!

Breaking it down, we have:

وما (wa ma) – and what

أحب (uhibb) – I love/wish (See Hans Wehr for the meaning of this verb)

 أني (anni) – is that I

لم أكن (lam akun) – had not

فعلت (fa’alt) – done [it]

The translator Spencer used made a mistake with the word ما (ma), which is a participle in Arabic that is modified by the words surrounding it.  Hans Wehr lists nine different uses of the word ما (ma), one of which is indeed negation.  However, from a linguistic standpoint, the “negative ma” cannot be used in this particular sentence.  Indeed, it would render the sentence into a nonsensical “double negative”:

And I do not love that I had not done it.

Huh?  If you translated it like so, that would actually mean that Muhammad did not participate in the war.  So, even still, this would actually be proof against Spencer’s claim that Muhammad took part in it.

The translator Spencer relied upon saw two negatives and just tried to “simplify” the text to read: “and I do not repent it.”  This, even though the word “repent” does not appear anywhere in the text.  It is completely imagined.  It should be noted that the translator’s native language was neither Arabic nor English. He didn’t know what to do with the nonsensical double-negative–a sentence that would actually mean that Muhammad did not love the fact that he did not participate in the war.

In reality, the word  ما (ma) was being used as a “relative ma“:

Source: Ryding, Karin C., A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005): 326

The translator can be forgiven for making a mistake, but Robert Spencer, being “[t]he acclaimed scholar of Islam” should have known better.  The only correct translation of this text would support the translation I used, namely that Muhammad regretted his participation in the war, which was the point of my article.  It was this fact that Spencer failed to include in his book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades).  Instead, he tried to give the exact opposite (and false) impression, i.e. that Muhammad was already a “warrior” before he became a prophet.

Watch how this hadith from Ibn Sa’d’s book–which Spencer is currently using as his strongest proof–will be quickly tossed away by Spencer now that it doesn’t support his argument any more.  This is, after all, his methodology for “finding the historical Muhammad”: any hadiths that paint Muhammad in a positive light are jettisoned, whereas those that do the opposite are trumpeted and used as a club to hit Muslims over the head with.  With such a biased “methodology”, do you really want to trust Robert Spencer as a source for Muhammad’s biography or for anything related to Islam?

*  *  *  *  *

The bottom line is that Spencer relied on an incorrect translation to write a response to my article.  This has two implications:

1)  Our entire discussion underscores how important it is for a “scholar of Islam” to read, understand and have mastery of the Arabic language.  This is what is expected of a scholar at any credible university, and this is what must be expected of Robert Spencer if he wishes to don the mantle of a scholar of Islam.  It is exactly because of situations like these where knowing how to read Arabic can make or break the argument.

2) Specifically with the Prophet Muhammad, Spencer’s biography is misleading because it portrays Muhammad as “already [having] had experience as a warrior”, which is meant to purposefully mislead the reader.  It is intended to paint a portrait of Muhammad as a fierce warrior–hence, Spencer’s choice of title, “Muhammad: Prophet of War”.

What Spencer leaves out is the fact that, at most, Muhammad’s involvement in the war was menial–mostly just in a support capacity.  This is a far cry from the “fierce warrior” image that Spencer is trying to portray.

Muhammad not only expressed regret for participation in the war, but more importantly, after hostilities ceased he supported the League of the Virtuous (Hilf al-Fudul), which was similar to the League of Nations formed after World War I.  The goal of the League of the Virtuous was to bring an end to bloodshed, violence, and war.  Muhammad’s participation in this–and his ringing endorsement of the League even in his later years of life–tells us a lot about how he viewed the war (and warfare in general).  Under the entry of Hilf al-Fudul, Thomas Patrick Hughes’ A Dictionary of Islam says:

A confederacy formed…for the suppression of violence and injustice at the restoration of peace after the Sacrilegious war. Muhammad was then a youth, and Sir William Muir says this confederacy ”aroused an enthusiasm in the mind of Mahomet [Muhammad], which the exploits of the Sacrilegious war failed to kindle.”

The war Muhammad was not too keen of.  But, the body designed to bring peace on earth was something he was deeply inspired by.

These are facts that Spencer wouldn’t have the reader know.  Yet, whereas there was disagreement among biographers about Muhammad’s participation in the war, there was–as far as I know–no difference of opinion about his participation in and support for the League of the Virtuous.  Why is it that Spencer’s biography focuses on contested facts but stays clear from a more accepted occurrence? It is only because one event helps build his case against Muhammad, and the other does the opposite.  So, he includes what helps and ignores what doesn’t.  Should you really trust Spencer’s biography then?

*  *  *  *  *

Spencer also writes in the same article:

Nonetheless, such contradictions abound in the hadith reports. Muhammad can quite often be found saying contradictory things, as I show in Did Muhammad Exist?. In that book also I discuss how this odd situation came about: opposing factions both invoked Muhammad as an authority, and invented traditions to support their point of view.

Robert Spencer has recently argued that Muhammad didn’t in fact exist.  The desire to negate Muhammad’s existence altogether is born out of his strongly pro-Catholic, anti-Muslim views.

Yet, Spencer should know that historians have doubted the historicity of Moses and Jesus as well.  Almost all of the arguments used against the historicity of Muhammad can be applied to Moses and Jesus.  Some scholars have doubted Moses and Jesus’ existences altogether, just as Spencer doubts the existence of Muhammad.  Once again, what is good for the goose is good for the gander, but try arguing this point and Spencer will cry “tu quoque, tu quoque!”  How dare you apply the same standards to Spencer’s religion and beliefs that he does on a routine basis to others!

However, most scholars don’t believe Muhammad didn’t exist, just as most don’t deny the existence of Jesus.  But, the details of Muhammad’s life are far more controversial and up for debate, just as is the case with Jesus.  Finding the historical Muhammad is, like finding the historical Moses or Jesus, an important endeavor.

Yes, contradictory hadiths abound, but that’s no different than is the case in Christianity: Bible scholars argue that the Gospels, for example, are highly contradictory to each other, especially with regard to Jesus.  I can hear it now already: tu quoque, tu quoque!

The fact that contradictory reports exist just means that scholars need to exert energy to determine what’s more reliable and what’s not–and there will always be a level of guesswork and doubt about it.  But the correct way to find the historical Muhammad is not the way Spencer does it: agree with whatever casts Muhammad in a bad light, and dump everything that doesn’t.

Finding the historical Muhammad is an important endeavor that modern scholarship will need to undertake, and you won’t find me disagreeing with that.  Yes, it might call into question stories that many Muslims take for granted, but it will also cast doubt on events that Islamophobes like Robert Spencer rely on to bash Muslims over the head with.

Danios was the Brass Crescent Award Honorary Mention for Best Writer in 2010 and the Brass Crescent Award Winner for Best Writer in 2011.  For the writing of this article, Dawood (guest contributor) was consulted.

Why You Shouldn’t Trust Robert Spencer’s Biography of the Prophet Muhammad (I)

This article is a part of LoonWatch’s Understanding Jihad Series.

I recently agreed to debate the following thesis with Robert Spencer of JihadWatch:

Islam is more violent than other religions, specifically Judaism and Christianity.

This is the main theme in Spencer’s book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades).  It is even the title of one of his books: Religion of Peace?: Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn’t.  More than this, it reflects the fundamental difference between he and I: whereas I accept the violent and intolerant aspect inherent in all religious traditions, Spencer specifically targets Islam.

Under this heading, I was willing to debate the following sub-thesis:

The Islamic prophet was more violent and warlike than Jewish and Christian prophets.

This was the argument Spencer brought forth in chapter 1 of his book, entitled “Muhammad: Prophet of War.” On p.3, Spencer writes:

[F]or the religious man or woman on the streets of Chicago, Rome, Jerusalem, Damascus, Calcutta, and Bangkok, the words of Jesus, Moses, Muhammad, Krishna, and Buddha mean something far greater than any individual’s reading of them.  And even to the less-than-devout reader, the words of these great religious teachers are clearly not equal in their meaning.

On p.4, Spencer promises to compare Muhammad to prophets and founders of other religious traditions in order “to emphasize the fallacy of those who claim that Islam and Christianity–and all other religious traditions, for that matter–are basically equal in their ability to inspire good or evil.”  In other words: Muhammad was the most violent of them all, and thus inspires greater evil.

But, is it true?

I’ve already written multiple articles related to this topic, but now I will directly refute chapter 1 of Robert Spencer’s book (“Muhammad: Prophet of War”), which is Spencer’s biography of Muhammad.  I will present a balanced, neutral, and academic picture of Muhammad–in between the Islamophobic narrative of Spencer on the one hand and the understandably biased Muslim apologist view on the other.

Once Muhammad’s life is understood thus, I will compare it to the lives of other prophets–MosesJoshuaSamsonSaulDavid, Jesus, etc.–to see if Muhammad was truly the most violent of them all.

*  *  *  *  *

Robert Spencer’s biography of Muhammad is extremely misleading.  This becomes apparent from the get-go. The very first section of Spencer’s biography of Muhammad begins on p.5, entitled “Muhammad the raider.”  Spencer’s opening words are:

Muhammad the raider

Muhammad already had experience as a warrior before he assumed the role of prophet.  He had participated in two local wars between his Quraysh tribe and their neighboring rivals Banu Hawazin.

What Spencer leaves out from this talking point–”Muhammad already had experience as  warrior before he assumed the role of prophet”!–is quite telling.

He is referring to what is known in Islamic history as Harb al-Fijar (the Sacrilegious War), a series of conflicts that took place when Muhammad was a teenager.  The spark that ignited the war was the unsettled murder of a member of one tribe, which lead to a blood feud.  Due to “entangling alliances,” many different tribes in the area found themselves at war with each other.

Like most of Muhammad’s life, the details of this event are contested.  This dispute is not simply one between modern-day Muslim apologists and Islamophobes, but rather one that traces its way back to the earliest biographers of the Prophet.

In specific, Muhammad’s level of participation in these wars is disputed.  On the one hand, Shia biographers reject the idea that Muhammad partook in them at all.  Meanwhile, Sunni biographers write that Muhammad simply accompanied his uncle but did not directly fight in these wars.  He only took on a very limited support role: picking up enemy arrows from the battlefield.  At the most, he fired off a few arrows, but did not kill anyone.

Not only was Muhammad’s role severely limited, but even this he would later express regret over.  Muhammad later recounted: ”I had witnessed that war with my uncle and shot a few arrows therein. How I wish I had never done so!” [1] Spencer conveniently omits this very important fact, one that mitigates Muhammad’s participation in the war, especially in regards to his views about war and peace.

Like World War I, the Sacrilegious War was sparked over a murder and resulted in great turmoil due to “entangling alliances.”  Once hostilities ceased, many of the tribes decided to convene a sort of “League of Nations” to prevent future wars.  The Arabian tribes assembled at the house of a man named Abdullah bin Judan and “forged the League of the Virtuous [Hilf al-Fudul].  The major aims of the League were to prevent wars from breaking out and to protect the weak and the defenseless from their enemies.” [2] Members would “henceforth and forever stand on the side of the victim of injustice,” instead of simply siding based on tribal loyalty. [3] It was hoped that such an arrangement would prevent the blood feuds that were common in that time.

Muhammad took part in the signing of the League of the Virtuous, and it left its indelible mark on him.  He would later say: “I witnessed in the house of Abdullah bin Judan a pact made that I wouldn’t have exchanged for the choicest of herds; and if it had been suggested after Islam, I would have responded positively to it.” [4] (“The choicest herd” is the ancient equivalent of saying: “I wouldn’t trade it in even for a Ferrari.”) Muhammad said further: “If further such pacts be made for the cause of the oppressed and I be called, I would certainly respond.” [5]

The ideals of the League of the Virtuous–of standing for justice regardless of family or tribal loyalty–finds its way into the Quran:

O you who believe, stand firmly for justice, witnesses before God, even if it be against your own selves, your parents or relatives, or whether it be against rich or poor. (4:135)

Throughout his career, Muhammad opposed tribal warfare and blood feuds.  Meanwhile, the Quran instructed the believers to defend the oppressed by fighting the oppressors:

What reason could you have for not fighting in God’s cause–for those men, women and children who are oppressed and cry out, “Our Lord, rescue us from this town whose people are oppressors!  By Your Grace, give us a protector and a savior!” (4:75)

The Sacrilegious War and the League of the Virtuous played a pivotal role in Muhammad’s views on matters of war and peace–but not in the way that Spencer implies it to (i.e. “he was born a warrior!”).  Instead, Muhammad became a “veteran against the war” and greatly supported the idea of a League of the Virtuous, a body intended to bring peace on earth–one that would end violence, bloodshed, and war.

By omitting key details, Spencer willfully misleads the reader.  This is just within the first three lines of his biography of Muhammad.  As we shall see, the deception just gets worse.

To be continued…

Danios was the Brass Crescent Award Honorary Mention for Best Writer in 2010 and the Brass Crescent Award Winner for Best Writer in 2011.

[1] Muhammad Husayn Haykal, Hayat Muhammad, p.62
[2] S. Ali Asgher Razwy, A Restatement of the History of Islam and Muslims, p.24.
Prof. Joseph Morrison Skelly writes on p.39 of Political Islam: “Hilf al-Fudul was an agreement among several pre-Islamic Arab tribes in the seventh century to prevent injustice and to aid those who had been wronged.”
[3] Haykal, p.62
[4] Ibn Kathir, Al-Sira Al-Nabawiyya, p.188
[5] A.H. Qasmi, International Encyclopaedia of Islam, p.113

Jesus Loves His Enemies…and Then Kills Them All

Jesus Loves His Enemies…and Then Kills Them All

This article is part 5 of LoonWatch’s Understanding Jihad Series. Please read my “disclaimer”, which explains my intentions behind writing this article: The Understanding Jihad Series: Is Islam More Likely Than Other Religions to Encourage Violence?

Anti-Muslim demagoguery relies on the demonization of the Prophet Muhammad, who is characterized as being especially violent and warlike.  This idea has certainly gained currency in the “Judeo-Christian West”.  When it is pointed out that the Biblical prophets–including MosesJoshua,SamsonSaulDavid, among many others–were far more violent and warlike (and even engaged inreligiously sanctioned genocide), anti-Muslim pro-Christian ideologues will respond by disregarding or downplaying the Old Testament and will instead focus on the personality of Jesus Christ in the New Testament.

Didn’t Jesus preach nonviolence and “loving one’s enemies”?  The anti-Muslim ideologues use this idea to assault the religion of Islam with.  For example, the Catholic apologist Robert Spencer compares Islam to Christianity by juxtaposing carefully selected quotes from Jesus to Islamic texts.  In his book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), Spencer includes a “Muhammad vs Jesus” section.  He cites the following sayings of Jesus in the Bible:

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”

“If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also”

“Blessed are the peacemakers”

“Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy”

“But love your enemies, and do good”

These “peaceful” verses of the Bible are compared to select violent-sounding Quranic verses.  The violent verses of the Bible “don’t count” and are craftily excluded from the comparison (“that’s just the Old Testament!”).  To tighten the noose, peaceful verses of the Quran are also excluded from the heavily biased analysis: these “don’t count” since they are supposedly from when Muhammad was still in Mecca.

To understand the last point, one needs to have a basic understanding of the Prophet Muhammad’s biography: he first declared his prophethood in the city of Mecca.  Only a very small segment of society accepted him (mostly the weak and poor), whereas the masses–especially the powerful leaders of the city–not only rejected him but actively persecuted him.  The chapters of the Quran that were revealed during this period are known as the Meccan chapters.  Eventually, Muhammad fled to the city of Medina, whose people accepted him as their ruler.  He went from persecuted prophet to ruler and commander-in-chief of a fledgling city-state.

The anti-Muslim ideologues claim that the peaceful and tolerant verses of the Quran come from when Muhammad was weak and persecuted in Mecca.  These verses are “canceled”, they argue, by the violent-sounding verses in the Medinan chapters.  Robert Spencer writes in  his book:

Islamic theology divides the Qur’an into “Meccan” and “Medinan” suras [chapters]. The Meccan ones come from the first segment of Muhammad’s career as a prophet, when he simply called the Meccans to Islam.  Later, after he fled to Medina, his positions hardened.  The Medinan suras [are]…filled with matters of law and ritual–and exhortations to jihad warfare against unbelievers.  The relatively tolerant verses quoted above and others like them generally date from the Meccan period, while those with a more violent and intolerant edge are mostly from Medina. [1]

The Islamophobes portray Muhammad as opportunistic: when he was weak and under the rule of the pagans, he called for peace.  Without being in a position of authority, Muhammad was hardly in a position to do otherwise.  As soon as he came to power, however, he waged “jihad warfare” (what a strange phrase!) against them. This is why, they argue, the peaceful verses of the Quran simply “don’t count”.

The merits of Spencer’s claims about the Prophet Muhammad will be critiqued in a future article of this Series.  For now, however, we will demonstrate that, using such logic, it is equally possible to invalidate the “peaceful” sayings of Jesus Christ.  While he was a persecuted prophet, Jesus advocated nonviolence and peaceful resistance.  He was hardly in a position to do otherwise, right?  Once in power, however, this changes dramatically and violent warfare becomes the new modus operandi.

The Messiah

Just as Muhammad’s biography can be divided into a Meccan and Medinan period, so too can Jesus’s lifestory be divided into a First and Second Coming.  (Likewise can Moses’ lifestory be divided into pre- and post-Exodus: prior to Exodus, Moses was largely peaceful, but after Exodus, Moses became the leader of the emerging Jewish state–and subsequently engaged in holy wars and even genocide against other nations.)  In the First Coming of Christ, only a small segment of society (mostly from the weak and poor) accepted Jesus, whereas the leaders and authorities persecuted him.  During this time period, Jesus advised his followers to engage in nonviolent resistance only, perhaps even pacifism.  Jesus advised his followers to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  According to the Bible, this didn’t stop his Jewish and Roman persecutors from crucifying him.

Yet, the Second Coming of Christ is a central theological belief of Christianity.  When Jesus returns to earth, the gloves will be off: no longer will he practice nonviolence or pacifism.  Enemies will be mercilessly killed, not loved.  In this manner, Jesus will fulfill the messianic prophecies found in the Bible–both in the Old and New Testaments.  To Christians, Jesus is the Messiah (the Greek word “Christ” has the same meaning as the Hebrew word “Messiah”)–the same Messiah that the Jews had been in anticipation of.

It is important to understand how the concept of Messiah developed.  According to the Bible, Moses and his followers fled persecution in Egypt to find refuge in the land of Canaan.  They believed that God had bequeathed this land to them, which would come to be known as Israel. Unfortunately, there were already peoples who lived in Canaan, a problem that Moses and his followers rectified via military might.  The native Canaanites were subsequently occupied, exterminated, or run off their ancestral lands.  When the natives fought back, the Israelites attributed this to their innate and infernal hatred of the Jewish people.

After ruling the “promised land” for a time, the Israelites were themselves conquered by outsiders.  The Babylonian Empire captured the Kingdom of Judah and expelled the Jews.  Though the Israelites felt no remorse over occupying, slaughtering, and running off the native inhabitants of Canaan, they were mortified when they received similar (albeit milder) treatment.  In exile, the Jews prayed for vengeance, as recorded in a divine prayer in the Bible:

Psalm 137:8 O Babylon, you will be destroyed. Happy is the one who pays you back for what you have done to us.

137:9 Blessed is the one who grabs your babies and smashes them against a rock.

(We can hardly imagine the glee that an Islamophobe would feel had such a violent passage, one that blesses those who smash infidel babies against rocks, been found in the Quran instead of the Bible.)

It was during the time of exile that the Jewish concept of Messiah was first born.  Dutch historianJona Lendering writes:

The word Messiah renders the Aramaic word mešîhâ’, which in turn renders the Hebrew mâšîah. In Antiquity, these words were usually translated into Greek asChristos and into Latin as Christus, hence the English word Christ. All these words mean simply ‘anointed one’, anointment being a way to show that a Jewish leader had received God’s personal help.

It was believed that the Messiah (the Anointed One) would receive God’s personal help against the enemies of Israel; the Messiah would defeat the Babylonians and reestablish the Jewish state of Israel.  Cyrus the Great, king of Persia, fulfilled this role by conquering Babylon and releasing the Jews from exile.  Israel Smith Clare writes:

After Cyrus the Great, king of Persia, had conquered Babylon, he issued an edict permitting the Jews to return to their own country and to rebuild the city and Temple of Jerusalem. [2]

Prof. Martin Bernal of Cornell University writes:

The first Messiah in the Bible was Cyrus, the king of Persia who released the Jews–at least those who wanted to leave–from Exile in Babylon. [3]

As for this passage in the Bible:

Psalm 137:8 O Babylon, you will be destroyed. Happy is the one who pays you back for what you have done to us.

137:9 Blessed is the one who grabs your babies and smashes them against a rock.

Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible comments on this verse:

This was Cyrus, who was chosen of God to do this work, and is therefore called happy, as being God’s agent in its destruction.

The Jews thereby returned to the promised land and rebuilt their nation.  According to Jewish tradition, however, this did not last long: the Roman Empire conquered the land, destroyed the Temple, and exiled the Jews once again.  As a result, as Lendering puts it, “the old prophecies [about Messiah] became relevant again.”  Although in Jewish tradition there is a messiah for each generation, there is also the Messiah, which is what is commonly thought of when we hear the word.  The Messiah would fulfill the task of destroying all of Israel’s enemies. says of the Messiah, which they spell as mashiach (emphasis is ours):

The mashiach will be a great political leader descended from King David (Jeremiah 23:5). The mashiach is often referred to as “mashiach ben David” (mashiach, son of David). He will be well-versed in Jewish law, and observant of its commandments (Isaiah 11:2-5). He will be a charismatic leader, inspiring others to follow his example. He will be a great military leader, who will win battles for Israel. He will be a great judge, who makes righteous decisions (Jeremiah 33:15). states:

The Messiah will defeat and conquer the enemies surrounding Israel.

The Second Coming of Christ

Around 4 B.C., a prophet by the name of Jesus was born.  He claimed to be the Messiah, and some Jews followed him.  The followers of Christ eventually split into numerous sects, and eventually one triumphed over all others.  These became what are today known as Christians.  As for the majority of Jews, they rejected Jesus.  Why? The Jews rejected (and continue to reject) Jesus because he did not fulfill the prophecies pertaining to the Messiah.  How could Jesus be the Messiah when he not only did not defeat or conquer Israel’s enemies, but he never even led an army into a single war?  On the contrary, didn’t Jesus preach nonviolence and “loving one’s enemies”?

Instead of rejecting these militaristic aspects of the Messiah, Christians attribute them to Jesus during his Second Coming.  No longer will Jesus be a weak and persecuted prophet.  Instead, he will hold governmental authority, and is depicted as powerful and mighty.  This Jesus will certainly not love his enemies or turn the other cheek to them. In fact, the Bible tells us that Jesus will wage violent warfare against his enemies, and he will mercilessly kill them all.

Many Christians talk about how Jesus Christ will bring peace to the world, once and for all.  But they often neglect to mention how this world “peace” is obtained.  It is only after slaughtering his opponents and subduing “the nations” (the entire world?) under the foot of the global Christian empire that the world will have “peace”.  Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible explains:

There shall be no more war; horses and chariots shall be no more used in a hostile way; but there shall be perfect peace, all enemies being destroyed, which agrees with Micah 2:3 Zechariah 9:10.

In other words, there will be peace for the simple reason that there will be nobody left to fight, all opponents having been slaughtered or subdued.   This world “peace” is the same “peace” that any conqueror dreams of: after utterly defeating and conquering all of one’s neighbors and enemies, what is there left but “peace”, insofar as the non-existence of violence?  In the accidentally insightful words of the Evangelist Wayne Blank: “Put another way, humans aren’t going to have anything left to fight about.”  Following conquest, a foreign occupier would obviously want the occupied peoples to be peaceful, as this would eliminate the nuisance of having to fight off freedom-fighters.  The absence of violence would allow the conquering force to effortlessly sustain its occupation.

The events of the Second Coming of Christ are found in the Bible, including the Book of Revelation–which is the last book in the New Testament.  Jesus will “judge and wage war” (Rev. 19:11), his robe will be “dipped in blood” (19:13), and he will be accompanied by “armies” (19:14) with which he will “strike down the nations” (19:15), including “the Gentiles” in general and “the nations that were opposed to him” in specific.  This will result in the “utter destruction of all his enemies”. Furthermore: “in his second coming[,] he will complete their destruction, when he shall put down all opposing rule, principality, and power.”

Once he conquers the infidels, Jesus “will rule them with an iron rod” (19:15).  Wayne Blank writes:

The good news is that The Return Of Jesus Christ is going to happen. The even better news is that this time He’s not coming to be sacrificed by the world, but to rule it, along with those who have been faithful and obedient to Him. The world is going to know true peace, and genuine justice, in a way that it has never known before…

How Will World Peace Happen?

…[This will] not [be] by pleading and debate, but with a rod of iron. Those who choose to love and obey Him will be loved, while those who choose to rebel and hate Him will know His wrath.

Jesus will “will release the fierce wrath of God” (19:15) on them, and “he shall execute the severest judgment on the opposers of his truth”.   Because of this, “every tribe on earth will mourn because of him” (Rev. 1:7), and they will “express the inward terror and horror of their minds, at his appearing; they will fear his resentment”.  Just as the people of Canaan were terrified by the Israelite war machine, so too would the unbelievers “look with trembling upon [Jesus]”.  This is repeated in the Gospels, that “the Son of man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn” (Matthew 24:30).  “All the nations of the world shall wail when he comes to judgment” and the enemies of Jesus “shall mourn at the great calamities coming upon them”.

Far from the meek prophet of the First Coming, Jesus on his return will command a very strong military force that will “destroy[] every ruler, authority, and power”.  Not only is this consistent with the legacy of conquests by the Biblical prophets, it is actually a fulfillment or completion of the task that Moses initiated: holy war and conquest in the name of God.  In First Corinthians (part of the New Testament) it is prophesied that instead of loving his enemies, Christ will subdue and humble them under his feet:

1 Corinthians 15:24 [Jesus] will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, having destroyed every ruler and authority and power.

15:25 For Christ must reign until he humbles all his enemies beneath his feet.

Pastor and Biblical scholar Ron Teed explains that Jesus Christ brought “comfort and salvation at His first coming” but will bring “vengeance on God’s enemies” during his Second Coming.  There are thus “two comings of Christ, the first to save, the second to judge”–yet in debates with Muslims it seems that Christians play up the First Coming and completely ignore the Second.  The popular Teed Commentaries explains how “vengeance” is for Christ’s enemies (the “unbelievers”) and “comfort” only for his followers (the believers):

The Messiah will bring both comfort and vengeance. He will take vengeance on God’s enemies and bring comfort to His people. This is a summary of the mission of Christ. He brought comfort and salvation at His first coming during His earthly ministry according to Luke…

However, He said nothing of taking vengeance on God’s enemies at that time, for that part of his mission will not be fulfilled till He returns triumphant…

[There are] two comings of Christ, the first to save, the second to judge.

In His First coming He did the things mentioned in Isaiah 61:1-2; in His Second Coming He will do the things in verses 2-3. When He returns He will bring judgment on unbelievers. This will be the day of God’s “vengeance.”

The ever popular Evangelical site sums it up nicely:

Jesus’ second coming will be exceedingly violent. Revelation 19:11-21 describes the ultimate war with Christ, the conquering commander who judges and makes war “with justice” (v. 11). It’s going to be bloody (v. 13) and gory. The birds will eat the flesh of all those who oppose Him (v. 17-18). He has no compassion upon His enemies, whom He will conquer completely and consign to a “fiery lake of burning sulfur” (v. 20).

It is an error to say that God never supports a war. Jesus is not a pacifist.

Will the Real Messiah Please Stand Up?

Whereas the Second Coming of Christ is curiously forgotten in debates with Muslims, it is conveniently remembered during debates with Jews.  One of the primary (if not the primary) functions of the promised messiah in the Judeo-Christian tradition is, after all, vengeance against Israel’s enemies and global dominance.  Indeed, the entire concept of Messiah emerged following the conquest of Jewish lands with the subjugation and exile of its inhabitants.  The Messiah stood as hope for the redemption of Israel as well as revenge against her enemies.

Jewish polemical tracts against Christians reveal to us how militarism is a fundamental characteristic of the Messiah.  The Christian response in turn reveal how Jesus Christ will indeed be militaristic (during his Second Coming).  David Klinghoffer, an Orthodox Jewish author, writes in his book Why the Jews Rejected Jesus:

There were certainly those among [Jesus’] followers who saw him as the promised Messiah.  This was natural.  The first century produced messiahs the way our own time produces movie stars.  There was always a hot new candidate for the role emerging from obscurity, whose glory faded either as he was slaughtered by the Romans or as his followers lost interest when he failed to produce the goods promised by the prophets. [4]

“The goods” refer to the military conquest of Israel’s enemies and world domination.  The fact that Jesus failed to produce these “goods” proves that he is not the promised messiah.  Klinghoffer continues:

Let him do what the “son of man,” the promised Messiah, had been advertised as being destined to do from Daniel back through Ezekiel and Isaiah and the rest of the prophets.  Let him rule as a monarch, his kingship extending over “all peoples, nations, and languages.”  Let him return the exiles and build the Temple and defeat the oppressors and establish universal peace, as the prophets also said…

Let Jesus come up with the real messianic goods–visible to all rather than requiring us to accept someone’s assurance that, for example, he was born in Bethlehem–and then we’ll take him seriously. [5]

This point is reiterated in his book numerous times:

Hearing Jesus preach, a Jew might reasonably have crossed his arms upon his chest and muttered, “Hm, intriguing, but let’s see what happens.”  After all, the scriptures themselves common-sensically defined a false prophet as someone whose prophecies fail to come true.  According to Deuteronomy, this was the chief test of a prophet. [6]

Klinghoffer writes elsewhere:

The Hebrew prophets describe the elements of a messianic scenario that could not easily be overlooked: an ingathering of the Jewish exiles, the reign of a messianic king, a new covenant with the Jews based on a restored commitment to observance of the commandments, a new Temple, the recognition of God by the world’s peoples.  The future Davidic king was expected to radically change the world. [7]

The “radical change” involves the “subjugation” of the nations:

The Messiah would be a military and political leader. Philo, whose views have sometimes been taken as foreshadowing Christian teachings, is clear on this: “For ‘there shall come forth a man’ (Num. 24:7), says the oracle, and leading his host of war he will subdue great and populous nations.”

The Gospel writers thus faced the challenge that Jesus never raised an army, fought the Romans, returned any Jewish exiles, ruled over any population, or did anything else a king messiah would do. [8]

The subjugated nations would then “prostrate” themselves to the Messiah and “serve” him (perpetual servitude?):

The promised royal scion of David, the Messiah, would surely inspire veneration and awe beyond that accorded even to David himself…The nations will “prostrate” themselves before God, says one psalm; but so will they “prostrate” themselves (same Hebrew verb) before the Davidic king, says another psalm…As Daniel puts it…“[The Messiah] was given dominion, honor, kingship, so that all peoples, nations, and languages would serve him.” [9]

Klinghoffer defines the Messiah as he “who conquers and rules the nations and liberates the Jews” and describes him as a mighty warrior”.  He rhetorically asks:

Was there in Jewish tradition any room for a dead Messiah?  Didn’t Jesus’s death tend to cast doubt on his ability to accomplish all the world-transforming things the Messiah was supposed to do? [10]

Again, the “world-transforming things” include violent holy war against the heathen nations and their subjugation under his rule.  Klinghoffer answers his own question:

But was Jesus a ruler over Israel?  On the contrary, the younger Kimchi pointed out, “He did not govern Israel but they governed him.” [11]

Christians reply by arguing that Jesus will fulfill these prophecies, just during his Second Coming.  The Good News, a Christian magazine with a readership of nearly half a million subscribers, responds to the Jewish criticism by arguing that Jesus returns “a second time” as a “conquering King” who will “slay the great armies of those who opposed Him”.  Jesus will be “the promised Messiah whom the prophets claimed would rule all nations ‘with a rod of iron’” and “all nations would come under His rule”.

Klinghoffer, our Orthodox Jewish interlocutor, cries foul:

Christians respond by saying that “the famously unfulfilled prophecies (for instance, that the messianic era will be one of peace) apply to the second and final act in Jesus’s career, when he returns to earth.  This is a convenient and necessary dodge: The Bible itself never speaks of a two-act messianic drama. [11]

The interesting dynamic is thus established: Jews accuse Jesus of not being militaristic enough, and Christian apologists respond by eagerly proving the militaristic nature of Jesus during his Second Coming.

Christians Affirm Militant Old Testament Prophecies

Far from saying “it’s just the Old Testament!”, Christians routinely–and as a matter of accepted fundamental theology–use the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah to validate their belief in Jesus–prophecies that have militaristic overtones.  The Book of Isaiah, for example, has numerous prophecies in it that Christians routinely attribute to Jesus Christ.  For example:

Isaiah 35:4 Say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.”

Matthew Henry’s commentary of this verse says:

Assurance is given of the approach of Messiah, to take vengeance on the powers of darkness, to recompense with abundant comforts those that mourn in Zion; He will come and save. He will come again at the end of time, to punish those who have troubled his people; and to give those who were troubled such rest as will be a full reward for all their troubles.

This will be “a day of vengeance, a year of retribution, to uphold Zion’s cause” (34:8) against the “nations at enmity with the church” and “those found opposing the church of Christ”, which will result in “the destruction of [the church’s] enemies.” Likewise do Christians claim that the Book of Micah foretells the Second Coming of Christ:

Micah 15:5 I will execute vengeance in anger and fury on the heathen, such as they have not heard.

One Biblical commentary helpfully explains this verse:

Christ will give his Son either the hearts or necks of his enemies, and make them either his friends or his footstool.

[NassirH, a reader of our website, astutely commented: I suppose this is what JihadWatch writer Roland Shirk meant when he said “Islam is a religion of fear and force, and its adherents can only be at your feet or at your throat.”]

Another Biblical commentary notes: “Here no mention is made of Mercy, but only of executing vengeance; and that, with wrath and fury.”  Yet another states that this is “a prophecy of the final overthrow of all the enemies of pure and undefiled religion” and that this is “a threatening of vengeance to the Heathens”.

When we published articles comparing the Judeo-Christian prophets of the Hebrew Bible to the Prophet Muhammad, an anti-Muslim bigot by the name of Percey (formerly known as Cassidy) claimed that the genocides of the Old Testament were “not supported by Christ’s teachings.”  This hardly seems the case, however, when we consider that Jesus will bring to a climax the holy war first initiated by Moses against the enemies of Israel.  Jesus will fulfill, not repudiate, Old Testament holy wars against Israel’s foes.  In fact, the war will be expanded to heathen nations in general, or at least those that reject Jesus.


We could reproduce violent Christian texts ad nauseum…What is clear is that the Christian conception of Jesus can very easily be characterized as violent.  Prof. Melancthon W. Jacobus writes in A Standard Bible Dictionary:

[Jesus] excluded from the Messiah’s character the main elements of the popular ideal, i.e. that of a conquering hero, who would exalt Israel above the heathen, and through such exclusion He seemed to fail to realize the older Scriptural conception.  The failure, however, was only apparent and temporary.  For in the second coming in glory He was to achieve this work. Accordingly, His disciples recognized a twofoldness in His Messiahship: (1) They saw realized in His past life the ideal Servant of Jehovah, the spiritual Messiah, the Christ who teaches and suffers for the people, and (2) they looked forward to the realization of the Davidic and conquering Messiah in His second coming in power and glory to conquer the nations and reign over them. [12]

How then do we reconcile the seemingly peaceful and pacifist sayings of Jesus with the violent and warlike Second Coming of Christ?  There are numerous ways to do this, but perhaps the most convincing is that Jesus’ peaceful and pacifist sayings were directed towards a resident’s personal and local enemies–usually (but not always) referring to fellow co-religionists.  It did not refer to a government’s foreign adversaries, certainly not to heathen nations.  Prof. Richard A. Horsley of the University of Michigan argues:

The cluster of sayings keynoted by “love your enemies” pertains neither to external, political enemies nor to the question of nonviolence or nonresistance…The content of nearly all the sayings indicates a context of local interaction with personal enemies, not of relations with foreign or political foes…

“Love your enemies” and the related sayings apparently were understood by [Jesus’] followers…to refer to local social-economic relations, largely within the village community, which was still probably coextensive with the religious community in most cases…[although sometimes referring] to persecutors outside the religious community but still in the local residential community—and certainly not the national or political enemies. [13]

This is consistent with the ruling given by the Evangelical site, which permits governments to wage war whilst forbidding individuals from “personal vendettas”:

God has allowed for just wars throughout the history of His people. From Abraham to Deborah to David, God’s people have fought as instruments of judgment from a righteous and holy God. Romans 13:1-4 tells us to submit ourselves to government authorities and that nations have the right to bear the sword against evildoers, both foreign and domestic.

Violence occurs, but we must recognize the difference between holy judgment on sin and our own personal vendettas against those we dislike, which is the inevitable outcome of pride (Psalm 73:6).

As for the “turning the other cheek” passage, it is known that the slap on the cheek that was being referred to here was in that particular culture understood as an insult, not as assault.  The passage itself has to do with a person responding to a personal insult, and has nothing to do with pacifism.  In any case, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary clarifies:  “Of course, He applied this to personal insults, not to groups or nations.” [14]

Some Christians maintain that fighting the enemies on the battlefield does not exclude loving them.  This begs the question: how absolutely irrelevant is this strange form of “love” for enemies that does not proscribe killing them?

Whatever the reason for the contradiction between loving enemies on the one hand and killing them on the other, the point is that the comparison between a supposedly peaceful Jesus and violent Muhammad is not just a vapid oversimplification but pure falsity.  It is only through a very selective and biased analysis–a carefully crafted comparison between the most peaceful sounding verses of the New Testament (a handful of quotes from Jesus that constitute a small fraction of the Bible overall) with the most violent sounding verses of the Quran (those too out of context, as we shall see in future parts of this Series).

Anything that doesn’t fit this agenda simply “doesn’t count” (and indeed, the anti-Muslim pro-Christian readers will furiously rack their brains to figure out ways to make the violent Jesus verses “not count”).  The Islamophobic logic is thus: If we exclude all violent verses from the Bible and all the peaceful verses from the Quran, then aha!  See how much more violent the Quran is compared to the Bible! Anti-Muslim Christians scoff at Islam and exalt their religion by informing Muslims of how Jesus, unlike Muhammad, loved his enemies.  Let the Muslims reply back ever so wryly: Jesus loved them so much that he kills them.

Addendum I:

Anti-Muslim Christians often chant “Muhammad was a prophet of war, whereas Jesus was the Prince of Peace”.  A few points about this are worthy of being mentioned: first, Muhammad never used the title “prophet of war” nor is this mentioned in the Quran or anywhere else.  In fact, one of the most common epithets used for Muhammad, one found in the Quran no less, was “A Mercy to All Humanity”.  (More on this in a later part of the Series.)  Jesus, on the other hand, will be a “Warrior King” and a “Conquering King.”  Should it then be “Muhammad is A Mercy to All Humanity, whereas Jesus is the Warrior King”?

As for Jesus being the Prince of Peace, this epithet comes from Isaiah 9:6:

Isaiah 9:6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

9:7 There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen.

One Christian website paraphrases this succinctly: “Israel’s enemies will be destroyed. Peace will flow to the four corners of the earth, as the Prince of Peace rules and reigns.”  Again, this is the “peace” that conquerers dream of.  Jesus is the Prince of Peace because he declares war, slaughters and subjugates all possible enemies to the point where nobody is left to fight, and voila!there is peace!

This brings us to the commonly quoted (and oft-debated) verse of the Bible, in which Jesus says:

Matthew 10:34 Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth.  I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.

Most debates focus on whether or not the word “sword” here is metaphorical or not.  Leaving aside the fact that even if this is a metaphor it is certainly a very violent sounding one, it would actually behoove us to focus on the word “peace” in this verse.  Jesus told the Jews: “do not think I have come to bring peace on earth” as a way to explain his failure to produce “the goods”: “the Jews believed that when the Messiah comes, there would be a time of world peace.”  Naturally, this world “peace” would be brought about through war.  Of course, in his Second Coming will Jesus bring this “peace on earth” (and by “peace”, what is meant is war, slaughter, and subjugation).  As we can see, this verse confirms the militant nature of the Messiah (and thus Jesus), regardless of if it is metaphorical or not.

Addendum II:

Here is another hotly debated verse, in which Jesus says:

Luke 19:27 But these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them in my presence.

Robert Spencer dismisses this verse, saying: “These are the words of a king in a parable.”  Yes, this was a parable that Jesus told his disciples.  But what was his intention in narrating this parable?  Gill’s Explanation to the Entire Bible explains that it was to explain what will happen to the Jews “when Christ shall come a second time”:  Jesus will “destroy the Jewish nation” for rejecting him “and then all other enemies will be slain and destroyed” as well.  Death and destruction will be the fate of whoever does not accept Jesus’ reign as Warrior King.

This was hardly an innocuous story.  It reminds us of a scene in the movie Gladiator when the evil Roman emperor Commodus tells his nephew a story about an “emperor” who was betrayed by his sister (“his own blood”) and how he “struck down” her son as revenge.  (Watch it here.)  The story was a thinly veiled threat, as was Jesus’ parable.

One can only hardly imagine how Islamophobes like Robert Spencer would react had it been the Prophet Muhammad who had used such a violent parable, threatening to return to earth in order to “slay” anyone who “did not want me to reign over them”!  This would certainly “count” since all violence in the Quran “counts” whereas whatever is peaceful in the Quran “doesn’t count”, and whatever is violent in the Bible “doesn’t count” and whatever is peaceful in the Bible “counts”.  Heads I win, tails you lose.


refer back to article 1. Spencer, Robert. The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades). Washington, DC: Regnery Pub., 2005. 24. Print.

refer back to article 2. Clare, Israel S. The Centennial Universal History: A Clear and Concise History of All Nations. P. W. Ziegler, 1876. 33. Print.

refer back to article 3. Bernal, Martin. Black Athena. Vol. 1. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ., 1996. 125. Print.

refer back to article 4. Klinghoffer, David. Why the Jews Rejected Jesus: the Turning Point in Western History. New York: Three Leaves/Doubleday, 2006. 61. Print.

refer back to article 5. Ibid., p.71

refer back to article 6. Ibid., p.64

refer back to article 7. Ibid., p.62

refer back to article 8. Ibid., p.63

refer back to article 9. Ibid., p.69

refer back to article 10. Ibid., p.161

refer back to article 11. Ibid., p.204

refer back to article 12. Jacobus, Melancthon Williams., Edward E. Nourse, and Andrew C. Zenos. A Standard Bible Dictionary. New York & London, 1909. 543. Print.

refer back to article 13. Swartley, Willard M. “Ethics and Exegesis: ‘Love Your Enemies’ and the Doctrine of Nonviolence.” The Love of Enemy and Nonretaliation in the New Testament. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 1992. Print.

refer back to article 14. Wiersbe, Warren W. The Wiersbe Bible Commentary. Colorado Springs: David C Cook, 2007. 21. Print.

What the Quran-bashers Don’t Want You to Know About the Bible

What the Quran-bashers Don’t Want You to Know About the Bible

This article is part 4 of LoonWatch’s Understanding Jihad Series. Please read my “disclaimer”, which explains my intentions behind writing this article: The Understanding Jihad Series: Is Islam More Likely Than Other Religions to Encourage Violence?

What the Quran-bashers don’t want you to know is that the Bible is far more violent than the Quran.  In fact, the Bible–unlike the Quran–glorifies genocide; we’ve documented some of these genocide-glorifying passages in our earlier articles: see part 1part 2, and part 3.

The anti-Muslim bigots–such as the extremist Jewish Zionist Pamela Geller and the fervent, zealous Catholic polemicist Robert Spencerespecially don’t want you to know about the Biblical passages regarding King Saul.  The reason they don’t want you to read these passages is that it would make the Islamic literature look quite tame by comparison, and well, that wouldn’t be too good for the anti-Muslim business, now would it?

It is of course getting tedious, redundant, and a bit boring to document all the God-sanctioned genocides of the Bible; there are too many of them, so they seem to mesh together.  Having said that, Saul’s genocide of the Amalekites warrants special attention, so it would behoove our readers to suffer through one last article on this topic.   It should be noted, however, that our collection of violent Biblical verses is non-exhaustive, limited only by our own boredom.

So, who was Saul?  He was the first king of the United Kingdom of Israel, divinely appointed to this position by the Jewish prophet Samuel.  His first task as king was to ethnically cleanse the land of the Amalekite peoples:

1 Samuel 15:1 Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the Lord sent to anoint you king over his people, over Israel; so listen now to the message from the Lord.

15:2 This is what the Almighty Lord says: ‘I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt.

15:3 Now go, attack the Amalekites and utterly destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’”

Notice that it was God Himself who ordered Saul to slaughter the Amalekites.  And so King Saul led the Israelites in war against the Amalekites.  Per God’s directives, Saul “put to death men and women, children and infants.”  He killed every human being with the lone exception of the Amalekite king; he also spared some animals.  By sparing King Agag’s life, Saul failed to complete the mitzvah(the religious obligation) of genocide–something which was completely unacceptable to the God of the Bible:

15:7 Saul attacked the Amalekites all the way from Havilah to Shur, to the east of Egypt.

15:8 He took Agag, king of the Amalekites, alive, and all his people he utterly destroyed with the sword.

15:9 But Saul and the army spared [King] Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed.

15:10 Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel:

15:11 “I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” Samuel was troubled, and he cried out to the Lord all that night.

Saul tried to defend himself, but God stripped him of his kingship:

15:13 When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions.”

15:14 But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?”

15:15 Saul answered, “The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.”

15:16 “Stop!” Samuel said to Saul. “Let me tell you what the Lord said to me last night.”

“Tell me,” Saul replied.

15:17 Samuel said, “Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel.

15:18 And he [the Lord] sent you on a mission, saying, ‘Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; make war on them until you have wiped them out.’

15:19 Why did you not obey the Lord? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the Lord?”

15:20 “But I did obey the Lord,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag, their king.

15:21 The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.”

15:22 But Samuel replied: “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.

15:23 For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.”

15:24 Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned. I violated the Lord’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them.

15:25 Now I beg you, forgive my sin and come back with me, so that I may worship the Lord.”

15:26 But Samuel said to him, “I will not go back with you. You have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you as king over Israel!”

Saul repeatedly repented for his “failure”:

15:30 Saul replied, “I have sinned. But please honor me before the elders of my people and before Israel; come back with me, so that I may worship the Lord your God.”

And God was sad that He had chosen such a sissy to be king:

15:35 The Lord repented that He had made Saul king over Israel.

Saul was stripped of his kingship, which was given to David–who was frankly just much better at killing civilians.  In fact, all the Israelite chicks fawned over David for being a more proficient killer; all the girls wanted him and all the guys (including Saul himself) wanted to be him:

18:6 When the men were returning home after David had killed the Philistine, the women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with singing and dancing, with joyful songs and with tambourines and lutes.

18:7 As they danced, they sang: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.”

18:8 Saul was very angry; this refrain galled him. “They have credited David with tens of thousands,” he thought, “but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?”

18:9 And from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David.

Certainly, killing thousands just doesn’t cut it.  The mass murderer field is just so saturated, that you really need to kill tens of thousands to be considered competitive for Heaven University.  No wonder Samuel felt like an absolute idiot for sending a sissy to do a man’s job; realizing this, he cleaned up Saul’s mess:

15:33 Samuel put Agag to death before the Lord at Gilgal.

King Agag was not the only one who was killed: God was so upset over the whole not killing everybody thing that He killed Saul and his three sons.  The prophet Samuel explained to Saul why this was his fate:

28:18 Because you did not obey the Lord or carry out his fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the Lord has done this to you today.

[Using the emotive language of Pamela Geller, would this be a case of the mafioso Jewish god offing one of his goons for failing to carry out a hit–or in this case, a hit against thousands of people?]

According to the Jewish texts (as reproduced on p.76 of Vol.11 of The Jewish Encyclopedia), Saul had protested the commandment to “utterly destroy” the Amalekites, saying:

For one found slain the Torah requires a sin offering [Deuteronomy 21:1-9]; and here so many shall be slain.  If the old have sinned, why should the young suffer; and if men have been guilty, why should the cattle be destroyed?

What Saul didn’t realize was that obeying the Lord’s commandment–in this case to kill women and children–was more important than anything else.  The Bible explains the reason for Saul’s demise:

1 Chronicles 10:13 Saul died because he was unfaithful to the LORD.  He failed to obey the LORD’s command

A well-renowned Biblical commentary explains:

Saul died for his transgression which he committed against the Lord–in having spared the king of the Amalekites and taken the flocks of the people as spoils [1Sa 15:9],

Today, Jews and Christians revere David over Saul, emphasizing the fact that David was more obedient to God than Saul.  For example, ministry founder Tom Bushnell asks:

When faced with difficult decisions, should we act like King David or King Saul?

…King David and King Saul are as antithetical as any two people in the Bible. If we look at some of the defining moments in their lives, we see two men with drastically different outlooks on life.

When faced with a decision, Saul’s first thought was, “Is this pleasing to me?”

King David’s first thought usually was, “Is my choice pleasing to the Lord?”

Bushnell then gives this specific example to illustrate:

Saul was disobedient when he spared king Agag and the best of the livestock of the Amalekites. (Partial obedience is disobedience).

David was careful to follow the commands of the Lord, even during battle.

One can only imagine the reaction of the Islamophobes–Spencer, Geller, et al.–had the Quran glorified genocide in this way.  In fact, they can never cite verses in the Quran that promote, sanction, or justify genocide–because they simply do not exist.  Indeed, there are explicit statements of the Prophet Muhammad forbidding the killing of women and children.

So next time anti-Muslim bigots troll the net by copying and pasting a litany of Quranic quotes in order to bash Muslims, we encourage readers to link this article about Saul (as well as our earlier articles about MosesJoshuaSamson, and David)  Reproducing these genocidal verses from the Bible is a good way to serve the Islamophobes a steaming hot platter of STFU, our absolute favorite dish.

Addendum I:

Perhaps the tone of voice in this article is a bit too aggressive, and as always with such topics I have my regrets.  Yet, in the spirit of International Judge a Koran Day, I think a healthy dose of STFU is necessary.  If you want to judge the Quran, then let’s also be sure to judge some Bible.  I’ll see your jihad and raise you a herem.

The Suicide Bomber Prophet

This article is part 3 of LoonWatch’s Understanding Jihad Series. Please read my “disclaimer”, which explains my intentions behind writing this article: The Understanding Jihad Series: Is Islam More Likely Than Other Religions to Encourage Violence?

As we noted in an earlier article:

A recent Pew Research poll found that almost half of U.S. adults think that the Islamic religion is more likely to encourage violence than other religions, a figure that has almost doubled since 2002.  A clear majority of conservative Republicans (66%), white Evangelicals (60%), and Tea Baggers (67%) believe Islam is more violent than other religions, with a plurality of whites (44%) and older folks (42-46%) also thinking this.  (Of note is that blacks, Hispanics, and liberal Democrats are significantly less bigoted towards Islam.)  The idea that Islam is more violent than other religions–held most strongly by old white conservatives–is a key pillar to the edifice of Islamophobia.

Prof. Philip Jenkins writes:

In the minds of ordinary Christians – and Jews – the Koran teaches savagery and warfare, while the Bible offers a message of love, forgiveness, and charity.

Worse, the Quran is said to be a book of terrorism.  It was in this vein that Bill O’Reilly invoked an analogy between the Quran and terrorism and Mein Kampf and Nazism.  It must be the Quran that compels these Islamic radicals to engage in suicide bombing and terrorism.

Prof. Jenkins responds:

In fact, the Bible overflows with “texts of terror,” to borrow a phrase coined by the American theologian Phyllis Trible. The Bible contains far more verses praising or urging bloodshed than does the Koran, and biblical violence is often far more extreme, and marked by more indiscriminate savagery.

In part 1 of LoonWatch’s Understanding Jihad Series, we traced the violence of the Bible to the Jewish prophet Moses, who submitted heathen nations to what can only be described as genocide.  In part 2, we moved on to Moses’ divinely ordained successor, Joshua, who was arguably the most violent prophet in history.  But the holy killing did not stop there.

The Warrior Tribe

After the death of Joshua, the Israelites wondered who would carry on the God-sanctioned genocide and conquest of the promised land. They did not have to wait long for the answer. God passed down the sword of the faith to the tribe of Judah:

Judges 1:1 After the death of Joshua, the Israelites asked the LORD, “Who will be the first to go up and fight for us against the Canaanites?”

1:2 The LORD answered, “Judah, for I have given them victory over the land.”

Judah heeded this call and continued the holy genocide against the unbelievers, culminating in the brutal conquest of Jerusalem:

1:8 The men of Judah attacked Jerusalem also and took it. They put the city to the sword and set it on fire.

From there, the tribe of Judah vanquished the hill country, the Negev, the western foothills (1:9), Hebron, the Sheshai, Ahiman, Talmai (1:10), and Debir (1:11).  They destroyed Zephath:

1:17 [Judah] attacked the Canaanites living in Zephath, and they utterly destroyed the city. Therefore it was called Hormah [Hormah means Destruction.]

Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ekron (1:18) fell to the Israelite nation, for “the Lord was with the men of Judah.” (1:19)

Judge, Jury, and Executioner

After the massacre of most of the inhabitants of Canaan, the God of the Bible was concerned with ensuring that Israel remain warlike:

3:1 These are the nations the Lord left to test all those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars in Canaan

3:2 It was only in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before.

The sword was then wielded by the judges of Israel, first with Othniel, then Ehud, then Shamgar, then Barak, then Gideon, then Jephthah, and then Samson. Each of these judges of God was involved in religiously motivated massacres. The Bible recounts the hundreds of thousands of people they collectively slaughtered. From the first Israelite judge:

3:10 The Spirit of the Lord came upon him, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war.

To the last of them:

1 Samuel 7:11 The men of Israel chased the Philistines from Mizpah to a place below Beth-car,slaughtering them all along the way.

Samson the Suicide Bomber Glorified in the Bible

One of the Israelite judges is worthy of special mention: the Jewish prophet Samson.  According to the Bible, Samson was responsible for killing thousands of Philistines (the indigenous population of southern Canaan).  Eventually, the Philistines successfully used a ruse to capture Samson, who was then taken to a temple where he was to be given as a sacrifice to one of the Philistine gods.  Instead, Samson leaned against the pillars of the temple, and brought the temple down, killing himself along with 3,000 men and women:

Judges 16:26 Samson said to the young man who held him by the hand, “Let me feel the pillars on which the house rests, that I may lean against them.”

16:27 Now the house was full of men and women. All the lords of the Philistines were there, and on the roof there were about 3,000 men and women, who looked on while Samson entertained.

16:28 Then Samson prayed to the Lord, “O Sovereign Lord, remember me. O God, please strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes.”

16:29 Then Samson reached toward the two central pillars on which the temple stood. Bracing himself against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other,

16:30 Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived.

Today, Samson is glorified as a hero by Israelis.  Far from being a dead letter, Samson’s deed has become part of Israel’s state policy.  The Samson Option is a doctrine adopted by the state of Israel, which states that should Israel’s existence ever be threatened, it will release a nuclear holocaust upon its enemies and other targets as well.  As Israeli military historian Prof. Martin van Creveld famously put it (as reproduced on p.119 of David Hirst’s The Gun and The Olive Branch):

We possess several hundred atomic warheads and rockets and can launch them as targets in all directions…We have the capability to take the world down with us.  And I can assure you that that will happen, before Israel goes under.

Unfortunately, the temple Samson destroyed has now become entire countries or even the entire world.

David: Giant Slayer and Baby Killer

The militant sword of Israel was then passed from the judges to holy kings. The first king of the United Kingdom of Israel was Saul. His story is especially interesting, and one which we will return to. We will however focus now on David, who at that time was Saul’s appointed generalissimo. The Israelite ladies fawned over David, not only because he killed the Philistine Goliath but also because he massacred “tens of thousands”:

1 Samuel 18:6 When the men were returning home after David had killed the Philistine, the women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with singing and dancing, with joyful songs and with tambourines and lutes.

18:7 As they danced, they sang: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.”

It should be noted that by the end of David’s death, he ended up killing not tens of thousands, buthundreds of thousands. In any case, King Saul became jealous over the fact that David was credited with more kills than he was:

18:8 Saul was very angry; this refrain galled him. “They have credited David with tens of thousands,” he thought, “but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?”

18:9 And from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David.

But then the king’s daughter fell in love with David. It seems that David was interested in this proposal but thought he was too poor to offer an adequate dowry:

18:23 David said, “Do you think it is a small matter to become the king’s son-in-law? I’m only a poor man and little known.”

King Saul reassured David that he accepted American Express penile foreskins:

18:25 Saul replied, “Say to David, ‘The king wants no other price for the bride than a hundred Philistine foreskins, to take revenge on his enemies.’”

David was unfazed by this interesting request and brought back double the number of requested foreskins:

18:27 David and his men went out and killed two hundred Philistines. He brought their foreskins and presented the full number to the king so that he might become the king’s son-in-law. Then Saul gave him his daughter Michal in marriage.

However, King Saul’s jealousy continued to grow and he unsuccessfully tried to kill his son-in-law. David found refuge in Ziklag (Philistine territory!) and raided other cities to stay financially afloat. Typical Biblical cruelty was added to these ghazwas raids:

18:8 Now David and his men went up and raided the Geshurites, the Girzites and the Amalekites…

18:9 Whenever David attacked an area, he did not leave a man or woman alive, but took sheep and cattle, donkeys and camels, and clothes. Then he returned to Achish.

18:10 When Achish asked, “Where did you go raiding today?” David would say, “Against the Negev of Judah” or “Against the Negev of Jerahmeel” or “Against the Negev of the Kenites.”

18:11 He did not leave a man or woman alive to be brought to Gath, for he thought, “They might inform on us and say, ‘This is what David did.’” And such was his practice as long as he lived in Philistine territory.

David massacred the Amalekites—men, women, and children:

30:17 David and his men rushed in among them and slaughtered them throughout that night and the entire next day until evening. None of the Amalekites escaped except 400 young men who fled on camels.

Eventually David became king of Israel and continued his string of conquests, subjugating heathens to Israelite rule:

2 Samuel 12:31 He also made slaves of the people of Rabbah and forced them to labor with saws, iron picks, and iron axes, and to work in the brick kilns. That is how he dealt with the people of all the Ammonite towns.

It should be noted that David’s slaughter of the Philistines was sanctioned by God:

1 Samuel 23:2 David inquired of the LORD, saying, “Shall I go and smite these Philistines?” And the LORD said unto David, “Go, and smite the Philistines…!”

God promised David:

23:4 “I am going to give the Philistines into your hand.”

As well as:

2 Samuel 5:19 So David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I go and attack the Philistines? Will you hand them over to me?” The Lord answered him, “Yes, go! For I will surely hand the Philistines over to you.”

And David did what God commanded him to do:

5:25 And David did so, as the Lord had commanded him, and smote the Philistines.

Although we will discuss the genocide of Amalekites in a later article, it is safe to say that virtually every Biblical authority agrees that this was God-ordained as well. In fact, God approved of everythingDavid did—all of his many killings—except for “in the case of Uriah the Hittite”:

1 Kings 15:5 David had done what was right in the eyes of the Lord and had not failed to keep any of the Lord’s commands all the days of his life—except in the case of Uriah the Hittite.

Uriah was one of King David’s soldiers. David had an affair with Uriah’s wife and had Uriah killed, an act which earned God’s displeasure. God forgave David, but it was the one killing that God did not approve of.  The Geneva Study Bible commentary assures us that David “enterprised no war, but by God’s command.”

In fact, Jews and Christians today revere David’s “obedience to God” and even argue to become“more like David”.  Jewish and Christian children read about David in Sunday school.

Addendum I:

Muhammad’s wars will be discussed in a future part of this series.  But suffice to say, we have now set the groundwork to prove that several Jewish prophets–including MosesJoshua, Samson, and David–were far more violent and warlike than Muhammad.

The major difference between Muhammad and the others was with regard to targeting and killing civilians.  Samson killed 3,000 men and women in his suicide bomb attack, and David “did not leave a man or woman alive.” (1 Samuel 18:11) This stands in marked contrast with Muhammad who repeatedly “forbade the killing of women and children.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol.4, Book 52, #258)

Regardless of issues surrounding historicity, what is quite clear is that the Bible glorifies genocide and the killing of civilians, whereas the Quran does not.  Unlike the Bible, no single verse in the Quran talks about killing women, children, and babies.