The History of Jihad from Muhammad to Isis
Robert Spencer's new must-read book.
Friend, this is what you need to do. Go to your favorite brick-and-mortar store, or your favorite online site, and purchase a copy of Robert Spencer’s, “The History of Jihad: From Muhammad to ISIS.” Producing this book was a tremendous act of courage by Spencer and Bombardier Books. The same opponents of Western Civilization who rioted over the Danish Muhammad cartoons, who slaughtered the team at French humor magazine Charlie Hebdo, who murdered 37 innocent Turks at the Sivas Massacre, and who stabbed and shot the Japanese and Italian translators, and the Norwegian publisher, of Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses” – those same dark forces want to riot and stab and bomb and slaughter over the words on these pages. Spencer and Bombardier deserve at the very least your investment in its full purchase price.
Jihad is a sword over your head. You may have been lulled into thinking that your odds are good. After all, there are seven billion people on earth. Compared to that number, the victims of terror attacks make up a negligible fraction. That calculation provides a false sense of security. Dr. Graham Allison, the Douglas Dillon Professor of Government at Harvard Kennedy School writes that, “on the current path, nuclear terrorism is inevitable … we would likely see terrorists succeed in their aspirations for an ‘American Hiroshima.’”
Even if we are lucky enough to avoid nuclear war, jihad remains as a cultural, not merely a military, struggle. Jihad’s victories are won not just on the battlefield, but in American textbooks. Indeed, as the South Park controversy demonstrated, jihad is victorious in deciding when Americans are allowed to laugh. Jihad is aimed even at your right to say the word “jihad,” and, accurately, to define it. “While serving as Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, John Brennan declared, ‘…jihad is a holy struggle, a legitimate tenet of Islam, meaning to purify oneself or one’s community, and there is nothing holy or legitimate or Islamic about murdering men, women and children.” Brennan’s definition is BS. You deserve, you need, to know the truth. Jihad is a weapon aimed at you – at your freedoms, your sense of beauty, your relationships, your understanding of your own history and your intellectual honesty. “You” includes everybody. Yes, Muslims, I am talking to you. Jihad has been used, and is being used, as a tool for some Muslims to decide that other Muslims are not Muslim enough. Iran characterized the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war as a jihad. That war killed and injured hundreds of thousands of Muslims. More recently, ISIS justified its genocide of Shia Muslims as jihad.
The book’s contents are grim, repugnant, and terrifying. I want you to finish, as well as begin this book, so I will be so bold as to offer advice. Read quickly. Power through. Don’t pause. You won’t remember the name of every killer, torturer, rapist and thief. That’s okay. Get the general idea.
Here’s the general idea. Islam emerged approximately 1,400 years ago. Its origins are obscure and disputed. One thing is certain. Arab conquerors, exploiting weaknesses in the aging and warring Roman and Persian Empires, burst out of the Arabian peninsula and, with unprecedented speed, conquered territories from Spain to India. They eventually claimed that their sacred texts, the Koran, hadith, and example of Muhammad, informed and sanctified their warfare. Their sacred texts told these warriors, in explicit terms, to brutalize non-Muslims. Brutalizing methods included decapitation, dismemberment, and the placement of decapitated heads between the corpse’s feet. These are all traditional methods of dehumanization and desecration. Sanctioned and modeled tactics also included rape, sex slavery, torture, totalitarian rule, crucifixion, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. Muslims were ordered to make war in perpetuity until everyone on earth was a Muslim. Non-Muslims’ rights were rigidly curtailed. Fighting and dying in battle was the very best thing that any Muslim could do, and it guaranteed the warrior bliss in paradise. Every good thing in life owed its existence to warfare. “Paradise lies under the shade of swords.”
For the past 1,400 years, continuously, without pause, in every century and, eventually, reaching every inhabited continent, Muslims have obeyed these verses. Any given jihad might look something like this. Invaders arrived. They identified themselves as jihadis. They identified their victims, Muslims or not, as infidels. The invaders massacred civilians. They erected mountains of decapitated heads, or they used heads to terrorize their opponents, shooting them from catapults, for example. They took sex slaves. Slaves were so plentiful that slave prices plummeted. Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian, Buddhist, Hindu, houses of worship were ransacked of their jewels and precious metals. Booty was divided up lavishly among the suddenly enriched jihadis. The wrecked remains of the house of worship were pulverized and the rubble and dust was spread on the road leading to the mosque, so that Muslims could feel, with their every step, their superiority over the highest aspirations of those they humiliated.
Jews and Christians were taxed and forced to wear a distinguishing mark on their clothing, perhaps in the shape of a monkey or pig. They were denied the right to repair their houses of worship, or to ring bells, or to speak of their faith in public. Pagans, including Hindus, were simply massacred. Those who did not massacre enough Pagans were threatened and reminded that to live by their scripture and their prophet’s example, they must kill as many as possible, as ruthlessly as possible. Conquerors insisted on sexual access to the prettiest princess, even if only to humiliate her, by, for example, forcing her to work as a household servant while naked. In other cases, the most handsome boy might be demanded for the conqueror’s pleasure.
If there was a library, no matter how ancient and revered, it was despoiled. Legend depicts Caliph Omar justified his burning of the books, to heat bathwater, of the library of Alexandria. “The books will either contradict the Koran, in which case they are heresy, or they will agree with it, so they are superfluous.” No one knows if Omar said this, but we do know that both Muslims and non-Muslims believed it, which suggests that enough jihadis behaved like this that it was plausible. Indeed, the same story is told, about the same caliph, regarding the destruction of Persian libraries. It is true that Saladin’s son attempted to bring down Egypt’s pyramids, because they are un-Islamic. And Muhammad Sa’im al-Dahr did order the removal of the nose of the Sphynx. The remains of the Colossus of Rhodes, that had survived hundreds of years of Christianity, succumbed to Islamic invaders, who sold them as scrap metal. A Muslim ordered that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, site of Jesus’ entombment, be razed to bedrock. Hagia Sophia, a millennia-old Christian church, was desecrated and used as a mosque. Countless Hindu temples faced the same fate. Ctesiphon, one of the largest cities in the world, with a mixed population of Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians, became a ghost town all but overnight. Muslim conquerors used its bricks to construct their edifices. Buddhist and Hindu kingdoms in what is now Afghanistan and Pakistan provided unimaginable booty to divinely sanctioned plunderers. The territory, as of the 21st century, has never come close to its former glory. Formerly wealthy Afghanistan and Pakistan are today among the countries whose own citizens most long to escape.
This process, or something very like this process, didn’t happen once or twice. It didn’t just happen during Islam’s first hundred or two hundred years. Jihads like this happened over and over. Indeed, biographies of Muhammad describe him as a warrior and raider of caravans who massacred and tortured captives, took sex slaves, and ordered his men to rape captives even in front of their still-living husbands. Across the globe, in a multitude of tongues, jihadis cite the same Koran verses and hadith to sanctify their behavior. Tamerlane, “The Sword of Islam,” who is estimated to have killed five percent of the world’s population, cited jihad verses. As did the Barbary Pirates who enslaved Americans, and as did Osama bin Laden.
The cultural, as well as the biological, genocide aspect of jihad is also not of the distant past. In 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini’s right hand man, Ayatollah Sadegh Khalkhali, wanted to bulldoze the tomb of Persian emperor Cyrus the Great, the tomb of Iran’s national poet, Ferdowsi, and Persepolis, the 2,500 year old royal Persian city. In 2001, the Taliban destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas, the largest standing Buddha carvings in the world. In 2012 and 2013, jihadis from the Ansar Dine destroyed ancient Muslim shrines and library manuscripts in Timbuktu, Mali. In 2016, ISIS took time out from the murder, torture, and sexual enslavement of human beings to destroy culture, including two-millennia-old Roman structures at Palmyra. Again, these Pagan structures survived hundreds of years of a Christian Middle East. It took devout Muslims to bring them down.
Spencer’s book will dispel pernicious, politically motivated canards, including the following: that there was a Golden Age when Islam was peaceful and tolerant and Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Sikhs, and Hindus lived happy, productive, free lives under its protection; that Islamic terror is a relatively recent innovation, born, in various versions, with the state of Israel, or with Western colonial incursion; that the primary translation of “jihad” should be “peaceful struggle for noble, personal goals;” that the Crusades were an offensive action, or that they started the conflict between Islam and the West, or that their goal was forced conversion of Muslims; that jihad can be “fixed” through actions by non-Muslims. “If only we had a Palestinian state … If only those Hindus were not so fanatical and nationalistic … If only American films did not depict terrorists as Muslims … If only American school children were forced to recite the shahada … If only Americans were not so xenophobic, white supremacist, Christian fascist … If only we keep Tommy Robinson in solitary confinement a bit longer.” None of these will ever end jihad.
Critics will bash this necessary book, if they pay any attention to it at all, by insisting that Robert Spencer is an unreliable narrator. It’s not Spencer’s words that inevitably paint jihad as one of the most lurid, destructive, and grotesque forces in human history. It is Muslim chroniclers and conquerors themselves. Spencer quotes contemporaneous, canonical sources. Muslim chroniclers boast with pride of their string of unprecedented atrocities. “I bring you slaughter,” Muhammad said. “I have been made victorious through terror … the treasures of the world were put in my hand,” Muhammad bragged, distinguishing himself from previous Jewish and Christian prophets and saints who were, in Muhammad’s estimation, longwinded, but not booty-rich warlords like him. Spencer also quotes non-Muslim eyewitnesses, and books published by the university presses of Princeton, Yale, Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Georgetown, Fairleigh Dickinson, NYU, Crete, the Universities of Pennsylvania and California, and the State University of New York. Indeed, Spencer does not pretend that he is saying anything new or innovative. Rather, he is merely performing the excellent service of providing a reader-friendly outline of 1,400 years of jihad.
Another possible detraction. “Yes, but, if someone published a history of the colonization of the Americas, that would make for very tough reading.” No doubt.
First, committing atrocities is a violation of, not obedience to, Biblical mandates. Conversion by force is almost unknown in Judaism, and there is no Old Testament verse that commands Jews to conquer the world or to force Gentiles to become Jews. As early as the fourth century, when, after three centuries of Pagan Roman persecution, Christianity was beginning to gain worldly power, Saint Augustine wrestled with the concept of “just war.” Augustine asked, and attempted to answer, when and how is it consistent with Christian belief to take up arms.
When Christians do take up arms wrongly, they violate the example of Christianity’s founder, Jesus Christ. Jesus did not make war; he practiced peace. Jesus did not rape captives; he uplifted women, including the most stigmatized: the ritually unclean woman with a hemorrhage, a woman who had been possessed, and the sinful woman taken in adultery. Jesus did not raid caravans and steal their contents; he said “Render unto Cesar what is Cesar’s.” Jesus did not torture anyone; Jesus healed. Jesus did not practice ethnic cleansing; he and his followers interacted respectfully with their fellow Jews, Roman Pagans, and Africans. Christian scriptures do not recommend murder, rape, theft, or war.
Indeed, Christianity, with lightning speed, with its emphasis on a loving God’s relationship to each human, whom he made in his image, became a support for oppressed peoples. Our Lady of Guadalupe was one such support. She is said to have appeared to an Aztec and to have reassured him that Christ’s love and promises extended to all people, not just conquistadors. Just so, the Abolitionist Movement was informed by the Biblical narrative of “let my people go.”
Second, accounts of Western Christians’ misdeeds are plentiful and well-known. These accounts first appear, invariably, at the same time as Western Christians’ misdeeds. This is the case because the Judeo-Christian tradition demands self-examination and public confession when one has failed to live up to Biblical ideals. Witness Psalms 32 and 51. King David engineered the death of his rival, Uriah. David begs for forgiveness, and vows to change. God forgives David, but David suffers horribly as the result of his crime. Witness Bartolome de las Casas, a Dominican friar, who recorded, and acted on, crimes committed by conquistadors.
When Christians engage in destructive behaviors, they critique themselves or they are critiqued by others. Indeed, in “The History of Jihad,” Robert Spencer himself is quite open about, and critical of, atrocities committed by Crusaders. There are Western scholars whose careers were founded on, or advanced by, their muckraking, exposing the dark side of Western Civilization. Adam Hochschild, the white, male son of a Jewish father and a Christian mother, won numerous awards for “King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa” about a previously little-discussed atrocity. Taylor Branch, a white man from Atlanta in the American South, won a Pulitzer Prize, a National Humanities Medal, and a MacArthur Genius Award. He wrote a massive, three-volume biography of Dr. Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Struggle. John Cornwell, a former Catholic seminarian, won fame with his controversial book, “Hitler’s Pope.” When Cornwell’s many critics found inaccuracies in his work, they did not riot or kill; they wrote and published.
Where are the analogous practitioners of confession, redemption, and repair in the Muslim world? Where were they a thousand years ago? Bartolome de las Casas did not have a voice only. He also had ears willing to hear his words. Inspired by this one friar, Pope Paul III issued a papal bull, Sublimis Dei, insisting on the full humanity of the newly discovered Indians. Can anyone imagine a Muslim de las Casas having a chat with Muhammad, arguing for the full humanity of the kuffar?
Where are the contemporary Muslim historians exposing the brutal history of jihad? Where are their prestigious prizes, university chairs and awards? Where are the passionate Muslim authors dedicating their lives to robbed, enslaved, raped, and murdered kuffars’ long-since-evaporated tears? Where are the affirmative action programs for descendants of the Muslim slave trade? Where are the reparations for the Christians Slavs whose Muslims overlords kidnapped their daughters for sex slave markets, their sons for slave armies? Eastern Europe, historians say, is poorer than Western Europe to this day at least partly because Eastern Europe had to devote so much energy to fighting off jihad. Eastern Europeans provided a bulwark that allowed Western Europe to flourish. Where is Eastern Europe’s apology? All of these acts of contrition on the part of Muslims exist in the same imaginary dimension where “jihad” means “befriending Christians.”
Consider what happens even to the most circumspect of social critics in the Muslim world. Bassem Yousef is often dubbed “the Egyptian Jon Stewart.” Youssef’s audience and influence dwarfed Stewart’s. Youssef’s TV program made gentle fun of anti-democratic trends in the Middle East. The powers-that-be, with the participation of average Egyptians, destroyed him. He lives in exile in the US. Consider Orhan Pamuk, a Nobel-Prize-winning novelist in “modern, secular” Turkey. Pamuk merely mentioned the Armenian genocide. Pamuk was criminally charged. His countrymen burned his books. Consider the stabbings, hacking to death with machetes, and other murders of proponents of secular government in contemporary Bangladesh. Consider the fate of Raif Badawi, a Saudi man sentenced to ten years in prison and a thousand lashes because, in his blog, he dared to say things like this, “What increases my pain is the Islamist chauvinist arrogance which claims that innocent blood, shed by barbarian, brutal minds under the slogan ‘Allahu Akbar,’ means nothing.”
In place of the self-examination and self-correction typical of Judeo-Christian cultures, too many apologists have tried not to confront jihad, but merely to redefine it. CAIR has money and power. It could put those resources to use exposing and rejecting violent jihad. Instead, CAIR made a tawdry attempt to pimp “jihad” as a synonym for “calisthenics” and “making friends with Christians.” CAIR was topped by the BBC, who dubbed their TV show “My Jihad,” “a tender and funny love story.” I’m sure viewers can’t wait to see the BBC romantic comedy, “My Holocaust.”
One must remind those relativists who wish to relative-ize away 1,400 years of jihad, that, yes, all humans, regardless of ethnicity or religion, do destructive things. Motivations include mental illness, fear, and greed for resources, power, or glory. We can’t eliminate greed, fear, or psychopathology, but we can tame them with civilized advances like the Geneva Convention, diplomacy, and forensic psychiatry. The concept of jihad adds to an already overburdened humanity another, completely unnecessary, and diabolically seductive reason to kill and destroy. Shahids, or those who die in jihad, are promised the highest paradise, multiple heavenly virgins, and the opportunity to intercede on behalf of, and be granted divine favors for, seventy relatives.
The final nail in the relativist coffin on jihad: the chroniclers Spencer quotes were themselves not sheltered innocents. These people had seen conflict. The Roman and Persian Empires waged war for seven hundred years, on the same territory jihadis first invaded. Both non-Muslim victims and Muslim chroniclers announce that jihadis fought ruthlessly, destroyed totally, and obeyed no previous military convention.
Thought police censors will claim, with zero evidence, that Spencer’s book is anti-Muslim. Repeat this as many times as necessary: Muslims are themselves victims of jihad. Muslims are killed. Muslim culture is destroyed. This Muslim-on-Muslim death and destruction is not new. Spencer’s book begins with the bloodbath that was proto-Islam. One Arab warlord after another decided that he had a monopoly on Islam, and decided that his neighboring tribe was deviant. Slaughter ensued, all in the name of jihad. The killing was shockingly intimate. Muawiyah, founder of the Umayyad dynasty, Muhammad’s brother-in-law and distant cousin, murdered Aisha, Muhammad’s widow. One of the oldest copies of the Koran is said to be stained with the blood of Uthman, the very caliph who first called for the Koran to be compiled. His blood was shed by his fellow Muslims.
Immediately upon Muhammad’s death, Khalid ibn Al Walid waged war on anyone in Arabia who wasn’t in line with emergent Islamic orthodoxy. He was called “the drawn sword of Allah,” “the friend of death,” and his motto was, “We love death more than you love life.” Khalid betrayed and killed his fellow Muslim Malik, put his head in a cooking pot, and raped his wife Layla “like a donkey.” “I love the battlefield more than I love my wedding night with a beautiful woman,” he said. Khalid had had many “wives.” Normal people love life more than they love death, and normal people enjoy making love more than they enjoy killing other human beings. Indeed, the Koran itself, in verse 2:216 says that though Islam “prescribes” fighting” “fighting is hateful” to Muslims. A book exposing jihad is a gift to Muslims as much as it is a gift to the rest of us.