“Fascist-Islamophobia”: A Case Study in Totalitarian Demonization - Part 3

“Fascist-Islamophobia”: A Case Study in Totalitarian Demonization - Part 3

by Dr. Robert Dickson Crane

Chapter Three

Branding the Other as a Religion of War

A.  Raids

The alleged evolution of violence as central to Islamic doctrine is discussed at some length in Spencer’s book, beginning with the section, “The Evolution of the Command to Wage War” on pages 76-78 of Chapter Five, entitled, “A Warner in the Face of a Terrific Punishment,” which serves as an introduction to chapters six through eight, entitled respectively,  “Muhammad Becomes a War Lord,”  “War Is Deceit,” and “Casting Terror into Their Hearts.”

The first phase of the alleged evolution toward war as a permanent institution in Islam, according to Spencer, was raiding caravans as a matter of policy.  In his discussion of what he calls the “notorious raid” of Nakhla in the Year 624, he writes: “With his new, stronger base of support in Medina, Muhammad felt more confident in confronting the Quraysh.  The Muslims began raiding Quraysh caravans, with Muhammad himself leading many of these raids.  Muhammad’s first ‘raid’ was at a site known as Al-Abwa,” where Spencer states that Prophet Muhammad first authorized the killing of innocent non-Muslim women and children. 

“These raids,” he writes, “were not solely designed to exact revenge against the people who had rejected the Prophet who had arisen among them.  They served a key economic purpose, keeping the Muslim movement solvent.  They also became the occasion for the formation of some key elements of Islamic theology – as in one notorious incident when a band of Muslims raided a Quraysh caravan at Nakhla, a settlement not far from Mecca. … This was a momentous incident, for it would set a pattern: good became identified with anything that redounded to the benefit of Muslims, and evil with anything that harmed them, without reference to any larger moral standard.  Moral absolutes were swept aside in favor of the overarching principle of expediency.” 

The true facts of this “notorious” event were quite different, and the lessons to be learned from it were the exact opposite of Spencer’s conclusions.  This Nakhla episode is recorded in great detail in the eight-volume Encyclopedia of Seerah, published in 1981 by the Seerah Foundation of London, with a foreward by Abdullah Naseeef, then President of King Abdulaziz University, beginning on page 567 of Volume One. 

Shortly before the first major war between the Quraysh from Mecca and the Muslims in Medina, known as the Battle of Badr in the Year 624, The Prophet sent out eight reconnaissance patrols to monitor the enemy’s movements. Four of them, known as sarayah (sing. sariyah), were not accompanied by the Prophet himself, and four, known as ghazawat (sing. ghazwah), were.  Of the eight, with one exception, no-one on either side was either attacked or killed.  During some of them peace treaties were made with local tribes.  The single exception was the sariyah with twelve men led by Abdullah ibn Jahsh.  He was carefully instructed to lead twelve men on a reconnaisance mission, not a military action.  Instead, he attacked a Quraish caravan passing between Makkah and Ta’if and killed one man, Amr ibn al Hadrami, and captured two others.

    When he returned, the Prophet Muhammad condemned him and his actions, because he had been told strictly to avoid all hostile actions, especially since it was during one of the sacred months.  Jahsh tried to explain that he thought it was the last day of Rajab.  The Prophet then told him that, regardless, he had been ordered not to engage in fighting.  Therefore, the Prophet refused to take any of the stolen goods, released the two prisoners, and paid blood money to the relatives of the deceased.  Since this history of the Nakhla as recorded in the Sirah conforms with all the principles of the just war doctrine embodied in the Qur’an, one must question how one can call this the first Muslim raid of a caravan on Muhammad’s order and why one would term this the origin of war as the essence of Islam.

B.  War

The next phase in the alleged evolution of war in Islamic doctrine is the Battle of Badr itself, which was the first military confrontation between the people of Medina and the Quraysh of Mecca.  Spencer writes at the beginning of Chapter Seven, “The Muslim raids on Quraysh caravans precipitated the Muslims’ first major battle.  Muhammad heard that a large Quraysh caravan, laden with money and goods, was coming from Syria. … Ibn Ishaq reports that … Allah told Muhammad’s followers to fight fiercely and behead their enemies.  ‘Therefore, when you meet the Unbelievers in battle, smite at their necks (Quran 47:4)’.  … It was an occasion for him to avenge years of frustration, resentment, and hatred toward his people who had rejected him.” 

Then Spencer proceeds to analyze the battle and its aftermath by quoting several passages from the Qur’an and totally reversing their meaning in order to establish the alleged laws of war that were to be followed by Muslims from that day to this.

The Qur’an carefully delineates the laws of just war.  They were revealed principle by principle in real-time, which is why the illah or circumstances of the particular revelation are important.  The first set of rules in the Islamic just-war doctrine immediately followed the Battle of Badr.  This was the first battle between the Qurayshites from Mecca and the Muslims who two years earlier had emigrated from Mecca to Medina in order to avoid being massacred.  A state of open war had developed, so the Muslims lured the Meccan army to fight on neutral turf of their choosing by announcing well in advance that they were going to attack a Meccan caravan of a thousand camels returning from Syria.  The Muslim victory resulted in the capture of several dozen Qurayshites, which precipitated several revelations, recorded in Surah al Anfal. 
The first such revelation was the command that booty captured from the enemy should not be an object of individual greed, as was common at the time in Arabia (Surah al Anfal 8:41).  For this reason the sole authority on disposing of the booty was to be the Prophet Muhammad, who was directed to distribute a fifth for the common good as determined by the government, “for the near of kin, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer.”

The second revelation, in 8:67, forbid the taking of captives in peacetime, that is, except after a legitimate defensive jihad on behalf of justice and freedom.  This was designed to forbid the taking of slaves as an object of warfare and, in effect, at the time was designed eventually to eliminate slavery altogether.  And even those POWs taken in legitimate warfare, according to the previously revealed Surah Muhammad 47:4, must be freed after the war is over.

The hadith describe a dispute between the men who became the first two political successors of the Prophet Muhammad, Abu Bakr and Umar, over what to do with the prisoners taken at the Battle of Badr.  ‘Umar ibn al Khattab argued that they should all be killed in revenge.  Abu Bakr, on the other hand, argued that they should be released in return for ransom, because such an act of mercy might induce them to appreciate the truth of Islam.  This dispute was settled by another revelation, Surah al Anfal 8:68, which has been interpreted by most of the classical scholars as a warning that the taking of booty is legitimate but the proposed execution of the prisoners would have constituted an awesome sin and warranted a “tremendous chastisement.”

Spencer reverses this interpretation.  He writes, “Allah sided with Umar, revealing to Muhammad that, ‘it is not for any prophet to have captives until he has made slaughter in the land’.  He scolded Muhammad for desiring booty instead of doing as Allah wished by making slaughter … Had it not been for an ordinance of Allah which had gone before [permitting booty], an awful doom had come upon you on account of what ye took’ (8:67-69)”.

As he does for almost every Qur’anic verse cited in his book, Spencer reverses the meaning of this verse to justify murdering POWs.  He writes: “Since then, innumerable Muslims have taken to heart the concept that killing the enemies of Allah helps to, according to Ibn Ishaq, ‘manifest the religion which He wishes to manifest’.”

Spencer claims that the eighth chapter, Surah al Anfal, proclaims treachery as part of the Islamic laws of war.  In fact, this chapter does the precise opposite.

In Surah al Anfal 8:58, the Muslims are warned against treachery, whether committed by themselves or by others: “If you have reason to fear treachery from people [with whom you have a covenant], cast it back at them in an equitable manner (‘ala sawa’).”  The classical scholars interpret this to mean that one should not attack without warning, but announce beforehand that the treaty is no longer binding.

In Surah al Anfal 8:61-62, God reveals in the Qur’an that, “If your enemy inclines toward peace, then you should seek peace and trust in God.  He is all-hearing and all-knowing.  And should they seek only to deceive you [by their show of peace] – behold, God is enough for you.” The implication is that even a deceptive peace must be accepted, since all judgment of their intentions must be based on outward evidence alone.  In other words, mere suspicion cannot be made an excuse for rejecting an offer of peace.
This is the same lesson taught in Surah al Nisa’a 4:84: “Then fight in God’s cause (4:84), … but when you encounter a greeting (of peace), answer with an even better greeting, or (at least) with one equal to it” (4:86).  Muhammad Asad comments, “In the above context, this obviously refers to an offer of peace by people with whom the believers are at war, as well as to individual persons who, while possibly belonging to the enemy, have, to all outward appearances, peaceful intentions.”

The conclusion of this group of verses is: “If they let you be, and do not make war on you, and offer you peace, God does not allow you to harm them (4:90), but if they do not stay their hands, seize them and slay them whenever you come upon them, for it is against these that We have clearly empowered you [to make war]” (Surah al Nisaa 4:91).  This is always cited by the classical Islamic scholars as the divine ordinance permitting resort to violence only in self-defense.

Spencer then quotes the Qur’an, Surah al Anfal 8:12, “Remember your Lord inspired the angels (with the message): I will instill terror into the hearts of those who deliberately deny revelation, so smite them above their necks and smite all their finger-tips off them.”  Spencer comments, “The latter verse, with its exhortation to the angels to behead the enemies of Allah and Muhammad, became one of the chief justifications for the Islamic practice – then and now – of beheading hostages and war captives.”

Unfortunately, Spencer seems not to have consulted the classical commentaries on the Qur’an in which Arabic scholars write that the term “smite above their necks” is classical Arabic for “demand unconditional surrender.”  His failure to do the necessary research has led him to support the devotees of the modern Al Qa’ida who agree with his interpretations on so many things.  This explains why he grossly distorts the Islamic doctrine of just war and concludes his erroneous analysis of the Battle of Badr with the statement, “The battle of Badr was the first practical example of what came to be known as the Islamic doctrine of jihad.”

The final phase of the alleged Islamic war doctrine, according to Spencer, was to wage war in order to establish an Islamic State.  In his section, entitled “The Evolution of the Command to Wage War,” Spencer writes that when the Muslims were weak in the beginning, they were peaceful and did not fight even in self-defense, but he quotes Ibn Ishaq as saying, “When they are in the ascendant they will establish prayer, pay the poor-tax, enjoin kindness, and forbid inequity.”  Spencer concludes, “ ‘Once they are in the ascendant’, in other words, they will establish an Islamic state.” 

This claim is anachronistic because the modern concept of an Islamic state did not exist at the time and even today is an oxymoron or contradiction in terms.  Any religious state, whether a Jewish state, a Christian state, or an Islamic state, by definition serves to use the legitimate monopoly of force in the government of a sovereign state to impose an exclusivist and illegitimate system of sectarian law and education.  There have always been Muslims who have called for the imposition of a political caliphate as the equivalent of a modern state, but these have generally been either extremist revolutionaries or tools of tyrants.

If one were to pick a single characteristic that would most reliably identify an extremist among Muslims today, support for the return of the caliphate, as demanded by Osama bin Laden, would be it.

Ironically, the extremists’ chosen source for much of their extremism is Ibn Taymiyah, the Hanbali jurist, who lived at the time of the Mongol invasion seven hundred years ago.  He developed a sophisticated understanding about the Islamic doctrine of the khilafat (caliphate) that demolishes the extremists of his day and of ours.  As a Sufi who opposed the extremism than spreading among the Sufis of his day, Ibn Taymiyah was a political theorist who died in prison for opposing the extremism both of tyrants and of their opponents.  He was, in fact, a model of those who both understand the sources of extremism and the means to counter it.  His mission, one especially needed today, was to deconstruct extremists’ teachings doctrinally in order to marginalize their adherents.

One of his modern students, Naveed Shaykh, in his book, The New Politics of Islam, writes poetically that extremism comes when pan-Islamists operationalize a unity of belief in a human community of monist monolithism rather than in a boundless love for all of God’s creation in a transcendent Islamic cosmopolis.  Extremism comes when people substitute a political institution for themselves as the highest instrument and agent of God in the world, when they call for a return of the Caliphate in its imperial form embodied in the Otttoman dispensation.  It comes when they call for what Shah Wali Allah of India in the 18th century called the khilafat zahira or external and exoteric caliphate in place of the khilafat batina or esoteric caliphate formed by the spiritual heirs of the prophets, who are the sages, saints, and righteous scholars and are for removed from any political process.

Ibn Taymiyah completed the process of deconstructing the ontological fatalism of caliphatic thought by restricting the role of the caliphate to what probably the greatest Islamic thinker of all time, Abu Hamid al Ghazali, had called an ummatic umbrella functioning only to protect the functional integrity of Islamic thought rather than to govern politically.  Ibn Taymiya asserted that the unity of the Muslim community depended not on any symbolism represented by the Caliph, much less on any caliphal political authority, but on “confessional solidarity of each autonomous entity within an Islamic whole.”  In other words, the Muslim umma or global community is a body of purpose based on worship of God.  By contending that the monopoly of coercion that resides in political governance is not philosophically constituted, Ibn Taymiya rendered political unification and the caliphate redundant.

The final phase in the evolution of Islam as a war doctrine, according to Spencer, came in the revelation in verses 190-195 of the second surah, Al Baqara.  Spencer cites Ibn Ishaq on this final phase, who quotes the Qur’an, “Fight them so that there be no more seduction,” which Spencer translates as until no believer is seduced from his religion, “and the religion is God’s,” which Spencer translates as until God alone is worshipped.  Spencer states that these verses of the Qur’an represent the evolution of war from a defensive right to an offensive obligation.
In fact, all the great Islamic scholars cite these same verses as the definitive command in the Qur’an forbidding all violence except in situations of dire self-defense for one’s very survival.  Verse 2:190 reads:  “And fight in God’s cause against those who wage war against you, but do not commit aggression – for verily, God does not love aggressors.”  “God’s cause” refers to the ethical principles ordained by God.  The command to fight only after one has been attacked and to avoid aggression defines the meaning of the jihad al saghrir or “lesser jihad,” which is the use of force in struggle to defend the human rights of oneself and others.  This is contrasted with the jihad al akbar or “greatest jihad, which is to purify one’s own soul. The third kind of jihad, the only one mentioned in the Qur’an, is the jihad al kabir, or “great jihad, which is known as the intellectual jihad.”

The next Baqara verse, 2:191, reads, “And slay them wherever you may come upon them, and drive them away, for oppression is even worse than killing.”  This refers to the immediately preceding verse, which refers to hostilities already in progress.  This is restricted in the next verse, 2:192, which reads, “But if they desist – behold God is much forgiving, a dispenser of grace.” 

The next verse 2:193, adds, “Hence fight against them until there is no more oppression and all worship is devoted to God alone; but if they desist, then all hostility shall cease, save against those who willfully do wrong.”  The phrase “all worship is devoted to God alone (literally “and all religion belongs to God alone”) means until God can be worshipped without fear of persecution, and none is compelled to bow down in awe before another human being.

This limitation of violence to self-defense, according to the commentaries of Tabari and Ibn Kathir, was first revealed in Surah al Hajj 22:39:  “To those against whom war is made, permission is given to fight, because they are wronged – and verily God is most powerful for their aid.  They are those who have been expelled from their homes in defense of right, for no cause except that they say, ‘Our Lord is God.’  If God did not check one set of people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques in which the name of God is commemorated in abundant measure. … They are those who, if We establish them in the land, establish regular prayer and give regular charity, enjoin the right, and forbid wrong.” 

The command to fight only for the right constitutes a prohibition against fighting for themselves in the arrogant pursuit of land (and its resources), power, prestige, privilege, and wanton pleasure, known in Islamic language as taghut, through a war of unilateral preemption or imperialistic aggression.  The worship of taghut is one of the cardinal sins in Islamic moral theology and is almost a definition of evil, though this is precisely what Spencer and his fellow demonizers ascribe to Islam as a religion.

C.  Dhimmis and Infidels

In his spurious theory about the evolution of Islamic law from non-violence, to defensive war, and finally to imperialistic aggression, Spencer states, “Later Islamic law, based on statements of Muhammad, would offer non-Muslims three options: conversion to Islam, subjugation as inferiors under Islamic law, or warfare.”  About the second of these options he states:  “The Prophet of Islam codified this expansionist imperative as one of the duties of his new community.  He received a revelation from Allah that commanded Muslims to fight against the Jews and Christians until they accepted Islamic hegemony, symbolized by the payment of a poll tax (jizya), and submitted to discriminatory regulations that would ensure that they would be constantly reminded of their subordinated position (Qur’an 9:29)”.

This verse of the Qur’an, Surah al Tauba 9:29, reads, “And fight against those who – despite having been vouchsafed revelation [aforetime] do not [truly] believe either in God or the Last Day, and do not consider forbidden that which God and His apostle have forbidden, and do not follow the religion of truth [which God has enjoined upon them], till they [agree to] pay the exemption tax with a willing hand, after having been humbled [in war].”

Muhammad Asad reflects the universal view of Islamic scholars that “fight against those” in the above verse refers only to those who are committing aggression against the Muslim community or are presenting a threat to its security.  The phrase “God and His apostle” refers to all the apostles of God, including Moses and Jesus.  What they forbid is something almost as grave as refusal to believe in God and in justice.  This, in the proper context, refers to unprovoked aggression, which is what all the apostles of God have forbidden.  Thus, as Asad says, “The verse must be understood as a call to the believers to fight against such – and only such – of the nominal followers of earlier revelation as deny their own professed beliefs by committing aggression against the followers of the Qur’an.”

The phrase “the religion of truth” refers to the revelation that God has enjoined upon them and which they are responsible for following in order to do justice and earn eternal salvation.  This is clear from Surah al Ma’ida 5:48, “To you have we given the scriptures, just as we have given scriptures to people before you.  We have protected your scripture (the Qur’an) in its entirety.  So, judge among people from what has come unto you, and do not be carried over by your vain desires. Unto every one of you We have appointed a [different] governing system of law (shir’ah) and a [different] way of life (minhaj).  If God had so willed, all humanity would have been a single community.  God’s plan is to test you in what each one of you has received (in both scripture and inspiration). So strive as in a race in all virtues.”  This is why the immediately preceding verse, 5:47, states: “Let, then, the followers of the Gospel judge in accordance with what God has revealed in it, for those who do not judge in the light of what God has bestowed from on high are truly the iniquitous.”  In other words, unity in diversity can come only when diverse paths are respected as legitimate in the plan of God, even though the most comprehensive expression of truth may be found in the Qur’an, after which no further revelation is necessary. 

A major attraction of Islam throughout the centuries has been the respect that Muslims traditionally have shown for those of other faith traditions, which has been most evident in their rejection of proselytizing.  Instead of urging people to be saved, which would be a moral imperative in charity for anyone who believes that there is only one way to heaven, Muslims look at interfaith relations as a process of mutual education.  The Qur’an states, “Invite people to the ways of the Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching.  And reason with them in the ways that are best and most gracious.  Surely your Lord knows the best of him who strays from His path and He knows him best who goes alright” (Surah al Nahl 16:125). 

This interpretation is the opposite of Spencer’s claim that Surah Al Tauba 9:29 requires that any minorities of Christians and Jews in a Muslim community must “feel themselves subdued.” 

The phrase “until they [agree] to pay the exemption tax” (jizyah) occurs in the Qur’an only once, but has been explained in authentic traditions as referring to those who have been incorporated into the Muslim polity and therefore have the duties of citizens.  Every able-bodied Muslim has the religious obligation to take up arms in jihad as a just war in self-defense. Those who are not Muslims cannot be expected to assume a similar burden.  In order to compensate the Muslim community for this unequal distribution of civic burdens a special tax is levied on the ahl al dhimmah, the covenanted or protected people, whose safety is statutorily assured by the Muslim community.  The root jaza means to render something as compensation in lieu of something else.  This was lower than the tax that all Muslims had to pay, the zakah, as a religious duty, which varies from 2.5% to 20% of one’s wealth depending on the intensivity of technology used to produce wealth.  Owners of natural resources, such as oil, which are not produced by human labor, pay more than the person whose only source of wealth is ownership of one’s own body.  Due to the requirements of freedom of religion, this tax could not be levied on non-Muslims.  In other words, in modern terms, non-Muslims were exempt from the draft, but if they volunteered for the army they would avoid what Spencer calls the poll tax.

Spencer correctly notes that the verb dhama means to find blameworthy, but the nown dhima has no such connotation.  He writes on the basis of this confusion: “Because of this guilt, Islamic law dictates that Jews and Christians may live in Islamic states, but not as equals of Muslims.  One Muslim jurist explained that the caliph must ‘make jihad against those who resist Islam after having been called to it until they submit or accept to live as a protected dhimmi-community – so that Allah’s rights be made uppermost above all [other] religion’.” 

Spencer cites in support of this view Surah al Tauba 9:33, “He it is who has sent forth His Apostle with the [task of spreading] guidance and the religion of truth, to the end that He may cause it to prevail over all [false] religion.”  This use of the term “religion of truth” may be considered to refer to Islam in the broad sense that is used throughout the Qur’an, namely to those, including Christians and Jews, who believe in God and divine justice and do good. 

In his highly manipulative mode, Spencer concludes his argument that Muslims must look down on Christians and Jews by referring to “the Muslim notion that the non-Muslim is unclean: besides stipulating that they must pay the jizya, he [Muhammad] told them that Muslims would not eat meat that they had slaughtered.”  The Qur’an refers in four places to the requirements for permissible or halal meat.  Two of them forbid eating meat over which the name of other than God has been invoked during the process of slaughter.  The other two are ambivalent about whether the name of God must be invoked.  Although there is no shortage of Muslims who refuse to eat meat not ritually slaughtered by Muslims, none of these four verses in the Qur’an would apply in practice to condemn meat prepared by Christians and Jews.

One of the major sources of extremism among Muslims, as well as among non-Muslims, is the failure to read a verse or group of verses in context.  A classic example is Spencer’s interpretation of the Qur’anic verses dealing with polytheists (mushrikun), also known in English as disbelievers or infidels (as distinct from the kuffar or kaffirun, who deliberately deny what they know to be true, and the munafiqun or hypocrites, who pretend to believe but don’t).  Those in Arabia who were neither Christians nor Jews and therefore were Infidels, according to Spencer, must be ethnically cleansed. 

Quoting a hadith that has become popular among some circles in Saudi Arabia, Spencer writes that shortly before his death The Prophet gave his followers the order: “Turn the disbelievers out of the Arabian Peninsula.”  Invoking and reversing the meaning of verses from the Qur’an allegedly to confirm this hadith, Spencer writes, “Muhammad gave the unbelievers four months to leave Arabia, offering a revelation from Allah and calling them one more time to Islam. … For Jews and Christians the choices were conversion, subjugation, or war; for the pagans the choices were only conversion or war.  Only those unbelievers who converted to Islam would be able to maintain the alliances they had established with the Muslims. The Muslims were to kill the others after the four-month guarantee of safety had ended.”

The revelation cited by Spencer is Surah al Tauba 9:1-3, which the government of Saudi Arabia uses to deny non-Muslims the right to live there.  It reads: “Disavowal by God and His Apostle [is hereby announced] unto those who ascribe divinity to aught beside God, [and] with whom you [O believers] have made a covenant. [Announce unto them:] ‘Go, then [freely] about the earth for four months – but know that you can never elude God, and that, verily, God shall bring disgrace upon all who refuse to acknowledge the truth.”

Spencer’s interpretation of verses 1-3 of Surah al Tauba is a classical illustration of how ignoring context can result in reversing its meaning.  These three verses refer back to four verses near the end of the previous surah, Surah al Anfal 8:56-60, which are discussed above in the context of the laws of just war.  These verses read, “As for those with whom thou hast made a covenant, and who thereupon break their covenant on every occasion, not being conscious of God, if thou find them at war [with you], make a fearsome example for those who follow them, so that they might take it to heart; or if thou hast reason to fear treachery from people [with whom thou hast made a covenant], cast it back at them in an equitable manner: for, verily, God does not love the treacherous!  And let them not think – those who are bent on denying the truth – that they shall escape [God].  But if they incline to peace, incline thou to it as well, and place thy trust in God: verily, He alone is all-hearing, all knowing!  And should they seek but to deceive thee [by their show of peace] – behold, God is enough for thee!”

For this reason, the classical commentators Tabari, Baghawi, Zamakhshari, and Razi explain that the first verses of Al Tauba refer to those unbelievers who have deliberately broken treaties of peace. 

A most egregious example of ignoring context is Spencer’s failure to consider verse 9:4, which immediately follows the three verses he cites, 9:1-3.  This verse continues the discussion of verses 1 – 3 on the cancellation of treaties made in the past by adding, “But excepted shall be – from among those who ascribe divinity to aught beside God – [people] with whom you [O believers] have made a covenant and who thereafter have in no wise failed to fulfill their obligations towards you, and neither have aided anyone against you: observe, then, your covenant with them.  Verily, God loves those who are conscious of Him.”  This is followed by verse 5: “And so, when the sacred months are over, slay those who ascribe divinity to aught beside God wherever you may come upon them, and take them captive, and besiege them, and lie in wait for them at every conceivable place.” 

Verse 5, which Spencer calls the “Verse of the Sword” , refers to warfare already in progress with people who have become guilty of a breach of treaty obligations and of aggression.  Verse 4 qualifies both the three verses before and the verse after it by exempting those infidels who have not violated treaties and are not engaged in warfare against the Muslims.  The context thereby reverses the meaning that Spencer prefers for this portion of the Qur’an.  The message here is to respect the rights of those who have not embraced Islam, rather than to exterminate them.

D.  Assassinations, Torture, Mutilations, and Deceit

Interspersed throughout his book, Spencer relates stories from Ibn Ishaq about the Prophet’s vengeful resort to assassinations, torture, and mutilations.  He quotes the alleged statement by the Prophet Muhammad shortly before his death, “I have been made victorious through terror (cast into the hearts of the enemy).”  Spencer adds, “That he was made ‘victorious through terror’ is undeniable, given the tumultuous history of his prophetic career, with its raids, wars, and assassinations. … The one thing that he most certainly bestowed upon the world was the religion of Islam.  And through the centuries, the Muslims who revered him as the most excellent model of conduct would take with utmost seriousness his injunctions to wage warfare on its behalf.”

Spencer quotes the current heads of terrorist organizations that claim to be Muslim and to represent Islam, including the head of the 2002 Bali bombings, who declared, “The model for us all, the Prophet Muhammad and the four rightful caliphs, undertook to murder infidels as one of their primary activities, and the Prophet waged jihad operations seventy seven times.”

Spencer cites the carnage of assassinations, torture, and mutilations by Sunnis and Shi’a against each other in Iraq since the American invasion of 2003 as proof for his theme song that Islam is inherently a violent religion modeled after a violent founder.  “The Sunni-Shi’ite fault line within Islam,” he declares, “has given rise to considerable violence over the centuries, and in the twenty-first century threatens to erupt again into open war in Iraq, Pakistan, and elsewhere.  It is a legacy entirely in keeping with the attitudes and behavior of the Prophet of Islam.” 

In his section, “Assassination and Deceit”, of Chapter Seven, “War is Deceit,” Spencer emphasizes how the Prophet Muhammad hired the assassin, Muhammad bin Maslama, to carry out many assassinations, beginning with Kab, who was the head of a Jewish clan and had provoked the Muslims.  Referencing Ibn Ishaq, Spencer writes, “The outraged Jews said to Muhammad, ‘Our chief has been killed treacherously. … [whereupon] Muhammad issued a blanket command, “Kill any Jew that falls into your power.” 

According to Spencer, favorite victims of assassination and torture were poets who satirized Islam and Jewish leaders.  At the beginning of his book, on pages xiii-xvi, he lists as such victims the poets Abu ‘Afak and Ka’b bin al Ashraf, and the poetess, Asma bint Marwan.  The stories of these alleged assassinations, all of which come from Ibn Ishaq, are discussed in a special section entitled “The Murder of the Poets.” 

The victims include the Jewish leader at Khaybar, Kinana bin al-Rabi, who Spencer says was tortured and killed in the Year 628 on Muhammad’s orders for refusing to disclose the location of treasure.  Citing his favorite story-teller, Ibn Ishaq, Spencer writes, “”Muhammad gave orders concerning Kinana, ‘Torture him until you extract what he has’.  One of the Muslims built a fire on Kinana’s chest, but Kinana would not give up his secret.  When he was on the point of death, Muhammad bin Maslama, killer of the poet K’ab bin al-Ashraf, beheaded him.”  The story is also repeated that after the Prophet killed Kinana he took his wife for himself.

In covering the follow-up to this story, Spencer betrays the unreliability of his sources by citing three different stories about the attempt by a woman of Khaybar to poison The Prophet.  Ibn Ishaq relates that he spared her life, but Ibn Sa’d relates that he had her put to death.  Another story says that this unsuccessful attempt at poisoning was the plot of all the Jews not merely of one woman.

Spencer concludes this chapter on “Casting Terror into Their Hearts,” with the warning: “Khaybar has become a watchword for present-day jihadists.  The chant is popular among Palestinians and their allies, ‘Khaybar, Khaybar, O Jews, the army of Muhammad will returrn’.  That can mean nothing less than the destruction of the State of Israel, as surely as the Jewish stronghold of Khaybar was destroyed.”

Similarly, Spencer tells about the revenge that The Prophet sought after his uncle, Hamza was mutilated by a woman of the Quraysh.  According to Ibn Ishaq, Muhammad multiplied the cycle of revenge by vowing, “If God gives me victory over Quraysh in the future, I will mutilate 30 of their men.”  Spencer comments, “Ever since Muslims began fighting in imitation of their warrior prophet, this has been their standard behavior.  It is not ‘turn the other cheek,’ it is visiting enormities against one’s enemies.  He concludes this section of his book by citing the Qur’an, Surah Al-i-‘ Imran 3:149-151, as promising the Muslims after the battle of Uhud, which was a draw, that “that victory would soon be theirs again, if they depended solely on him and rejected all accord with the non-Muslims.”  The Qur’an says no such thing about rejecting accord with non-Muslims nor can it even be inferred.

The major example of alleged deceit cited by Spencer is the Treaty of Hudaybiya in 628 when The Prophet led a large delegation to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca, with a security force of 1,500 men.  The Meccans prevented his entry, so the Muslim followers of the Prophet demanded that he force their entry into the city.  Instead the Prophet made a treaty of peace, called a hudna, for ten years that seemed unfavorable to the Muslims, because it stipulated that any Meccans who came to the Prophet in Medina would be required to return, whereas any Muslims who came to Mecca would not have to be returned.  This, in fact, was not so one-sided, because this would increase the number of Muslims in Mecca.  Nevertheless, almost all of the Muslims considered that this treaty was a sell-out.

Spencer quotes the Qur’an, Surah al Fath 48:1 (The Victory), assuring the Muslims that this was indeed a victory.  Furthermore, Spencer translates verses 20-21 of this chapter to read, “Allah promises you much booty that you will capture.”  This interpretation is used by skeptics even today to show that treaties by Muslims must be treated as Muslim tricks to gain time for a later attack in strength. 

In fact, the word he translates as “booty”, maghanima (sing. maghnam), has two basic meanings, one is booty and the other has the broader meaning of benefit or advantage.  The scholars have long interpreted this to mean the spiritual benefits of success in gaining understanding of Islam without encountering military opposition, of which the most outstanding example was the bloodless liberation of Mecca two years later in the Year 630.

This understanding of hudna and the Treaty of Hudaybiya was explored in the context of peaceful engagement between the Palestinians and the Israelis during the summer of 2006.  The long-run goal was to develop a sense of common identity so that the two nations in the Holy Land could live in peace as part of a single Abraham Federation.  Unfortunately, this was rejected by those Muslims who considered that this was another term for defeat and was rejected also by others who, following Spencer’s interpretation, insisted that the very term hudna is another word for deceit.

Spencer concludes his analysis of this Treaty of Hudaybiya and of its technical violation by both sides a year later by warning against the treachery of false hudna.  Without any supporting evidence, he writes,  “Islamic jurists enunciated the principle that truces in general could be concluded only on a temporary basis of up to ten years, and that they could be entered into only for the purpose of allowing weakened Muslim forces to gather strength to fight again more effectively.  Subsequent events would illustrate the dark implications of this episode.”

E.  Apostasy

Spencer writes that The Prophet Muhammad routinely ordered the most gruesome penalties for apostasy.  In reference to some camel herders who accepted Islam in Medina and then went home and rejected the faith, he writes, “He ordered that their hands and feet be amputated (in accord with Quran, Surah al Ma’ida 5:33), which directs that those who cause ‘corruption in the land’ be punished by the amputation of their hands and feet on opposite sides) and their eyes put out with heated iron bars and that they be left in the desert to die.  Their pleas for water, he ordered, must be refused.”

Associating Surah al Ma’ida 5:33 and some fanciful hadith with apostasy is misleading, because it refers only to the crime of fasad, which, like the associated term hiraba, may be translated in modern terminology as ”terrorism.”  Spencer writes in explaining this verse of the Qur’an that the Prophet Muhammad “said flatly, ‘Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him’.”

More important than Spencer’s misleading readers on the context of this verse in the Qur’an, is his failure to mention that this verse has often been interpreted not as a legal injunction to punish terrorists but simply as a statement of fact – a declaration of the inescapability of the retribution that “those who make war on God” bring upon themselves.

The modern scholar, Muhammad Asad, whose translation of the Qu’ran is generally considered to be the most erudite of all the English translations, argues strongly and at great length in a footnote to Surah 5:33 that the fundamental rules of Arabic grammar preclude reading this passage in the imperative, as most of the classical commentators have done, and further that this wording is identical to that of the Pharoah of Egypt, who is considered by all Muslims to be the epitome of evil. 

Muhammad Asad defines those who the Qur’an in 5:33 refers to as “those who make war on God and his apostle”.  These are those “whose hostility to ethical imperatives causes them to lose sight of all moral values; and their consequent mutual discord and ‘perverseness’ gives rise to unending strife among themselves for the sake of worldly gain and power: they kill one another in great numbers, and torture and mutilate one another in great numbers, with the result that whole communities are wiped out, or, as the Qur’an puts it, ‘banished from [the face of] the earth’.  It is this interpretation alone that takes full account of the expressions occurring in this verse – the reference to ‘great numbers’ in conjunction with deeds of extreme violence, the ‘banishment from the earth’, and, lastly, the fact that these horrors are expressed in the terms used by Pharoah, the ‘enemy of God’.”

Spencer relates all his distortions of the Qur’an to current events.  He belittles Ibrahim B. Syed, President of the Islamic Research Foundation in Louisville, Kentucky, for concluding in his scholarly research paper posted on March 26, 2006, in http://www.theamericanmuslim.org that, “There is no historical record indicating that Muhammad or any of his companions ever sentenced anyone to death for apostasy.”  Spencer writes, “This kind of assertion may be comforting to non-Muslims who would prefer to believe that the notorious capital charges levied in early 2006 against the Afghan convert from Islam to Christianity, Abdul Rahman, were some sort of anomaly.”

Dr. Syed states that the Qur’an is completely silent on any worldly punishment for apostasy and the sole Tradition that forms the basis of rulings is open to many interpretations.  The Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said: “Whosoever changes his religion, kill Him (man baddala dinahu faqtuluhu)”.  But this is a weak foundation because this hadith was transmitted from Muhammad by only one individual.  It was not confirmed by a second person.  According to Islamic law, this is insufficient confirmation to impose the death penalty.  The Shari`ah has not fixed any punishment for apostasy.  The hadith is so generally worded that it would require the death penalty for a Christian or Jew who converted to Islam. This is obviously not the Prophet’s intent. 

Scholars interpret this passage as referring only to instances of high treason.  The crime is political, not religious.  Scholars argue that the death sentence is not for “simple apostasy” (mujarrad al-ridda), but for apostasy accompanied by treason and sedition.  For example, one version of a hadith narrated by the Prophet’s wife, A’isha, concerning apostasy relates to one who left his religion and fought against Muslims.  So, it cannot be confused with the freedom of conscience for every individual, which has been guaranteed in the Qur’an through hundreds of verses.

The basic position is stated simply in Surah al Baqara 2:256, “Let there be no compulsion in religion” (la iqraha fi din).  “Those who believe, then disbelieve, then believe again, then disbelieve, and then increase in their disbelief - Allah will never forgive them nor guide them to the path” Surah An-Nisa’, 4:137.  “Let him who wishes to believe, do so; and let him who wishes to disbelieve, do so” Surah al Kahf 18:29.  The second passage, from 4:137, seems to imply that multiple, sequential apostasies are possible. This would not be possible if the person were executed after the first one. 

The former Chief Justice of Pakistan, S. A Rahman, has written that there is no reference to the death penalty in any of the 20 instances of apostasy mentioned in the Qur’an, for example, Al-Baqarah 2:217 and 2:108, Ali Imran 3:90, Al-Nisa’ 4:137 and Al-Nahl 16:106).  In none of these places does the Qur’an mention the punishment of death for people who change their religion.  The Qur’an does mention that such people shall face a terrible punishment in the hereafter but no worldly punishment is mentioned.

Furthermore, the Qur’an has strictly disallowed the imposition of the death penalty except in two specific cases: where the person is guilty of murdering another person and where a person is guilty of terrorism (fasad fi al ardh).  The Qur’an says:  “Whoever kills a person without his being guilty of murder or of terrorism is as though he kills the whole of humankind” (Surah al Ma’ida 5:32).

Obviously, apostasy is neither “murder”nor “terrorism.”  Scholars conclude therefore that we are left with one option:  the hadith has been wrongly ascribed to the Prophet because it is clearly contradictory to the Qur’an and the Prophet could not have said anything contradictory to the Qur’an.

Some of the greatest scholars of past centuries, including Ibn Taymiyyah, Ibrahim al-Naka’i, Sufyan al-Thawri, Shams al-Din al-Sarakhsi, and Abul Walid al-Baji, as well as the greatest scholars in the modern era, including Shaykh al Azhar Mahmud Shaltut and Muhammed Syed Tantawi, have concluded that people who were given the death penalty for reverting from Islam to other religions during the time of the Prophet or during the reign of his caliphs were not given the punishment for the crime of apostasy but for the fact that they joined the enemy during time of war against Muslims and Muslim society.  Certainly, some extremists can be found, including the Taliban in Afghanistan and the religious police in Saudi Arabia, who are only too happy to kill Christian missionaries and those who embrace Christianity.  Contrary to the claim by Robert Spencer, however, these are anomalies.

*  This is a pre-publication copy, with copyright in the name of the author, Robert D. Crane.  Parts One and Three of this book are scheduled for publication separately by the International Institute of Islamic Thought as part of the Conference Proceedings of a panel, entitled “Countering Islamophobia: The Intellectual’s Response,” held at the IIIT’s offices in Herndon, Virginia, on October 17th, 2007.  Part Two is scheduled for condensation and publication by the IIIT as Part Three of the book, Compassionate Justice: The Normative Approach to Human Rights, Robert D. Crane, 2008.  The final published version will include all of the notes and references.

  Dr. Crane is a former Franciscan monk of the Third Order who embraced Islam as a spiritual path while living in the Gulf emirate of Bahrain in 1976-77 writing the book, Planning the Future of Saudi Arabia, Praeger/CBS, 1977.  He earned a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1959 with a specialization on comparative legal systems.  He is Director for Global Strategy at the Abraham Federation: A Global Center for Peace through Compassionate Justice, and author or co-author of a dozen books, including Compassionate Justice: Source of Convergence Between Science and Religion.