The History of Jihad: From Muhammad to ISIS
Bombadier Books 2018
Once upon a time in a primitive land of polytheist idolaters far, far away, an egomaniac zealot with high ambitions hit on a bright idea. On learning of the ancient Jewish prophecy of a Messiah, and the newish Christian communities’ worship of Jesus as the “Chosen One”, he decided to nominate himself as the latest in the line – the Messenger of Allah and the Seal of the Prophets. If the Angel Gabriel could give the name ‘Jesus’ to Mary, why couldn’t Gabriel be recruited to authenticate Muhammad’s pronouncements?
The polytheists who worshipped 360 idols in the Ka’aba of Mecca thought this was fake news and made life difficult for the would-be prophet-poet. In thirteen years he attracted only 150 followers. So he decamped to another town. The Jews of Medina first welcomed him as a protector, but after they heard his story about travelling to Jerusalem and then to Paradise on a winged white horse with a human head, and questioned him on religion, they declared him a phony. Muhammad decided a new business model was needed: conversion by the sword. Beginning as a highwayman raiding passing caravans, he invented a unique rallying cry: “Allahu Akbar!” (My) God is the Greatest! The shout inspired his followers to kill, loot and enslave. It continues to terrify the world 1400 years. later.
I have paraphrased and simplified a complicated and disputed history of the origins of the most powerful movement the world has seen. Nobody can be certain of these events because the first account, by Ibn Ashaq, relying on hearsay and legend, was not set down until a hundred years later. But what is clear from Islam’s texts is that Muhammad set himself up as spokesman for Allah and, therefore, gatekeeper to hell and paradise. What sets Islam apart from Western notions of warfare, and the horrific excesses of the most brutal dictatorships (which it resembles), is that holy war is a central tenet, waged essentially for spiritual reward. Often seemingly irrationally. But before his death Muhammad could claim: “I have been made victorious with terror.”
That is the important message in Robert Spencer’s new book, The History of Jihad: From Muhammad to ISIS. Heavily documented but eminently readable, its magisterial sweep reveals Jihad as a holy war to convert the world, or at least compel non-believers into submission. From the Battle of Badr in 624 to the latest suicide bombing or vehicle ram-raid, there has been a continuum of atrocities with a single purpose. The immense extent of the horrors of jihad are largely unknown, or have been forgotten. For too many, especially those in authority, they have been conveniently ignored, as they welcome millions of migrants into their midst.
Spencer’s 16 books on Islam, his speeches, broadcasts and pamphlets have made him a controversial figure in the United States. He has been attacked as Islamophobic and banned from entry to Britain by Prime Minister May as a presence “not conducive to the public good.” A descendant of a Christian family forced to flee from an area now part of Turkey, for the last fifteen years Spencer has published a blog Jihad Watch, which daily records and updates attacks by Muslims around the world. He is also closely associated with the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a conservative think tank opposing the political left in the US.
Spencer’s thesis is simple – there are elements within Islam that pose a challenge to free societies. He cites chapter and verse from Islam’s own scriptures to support his assertions. But importantly, he does not say that every individual Muslim responds to the challenge to wage jihad. His message is more subtle: the Islamic imperative for Jihad remains, whether or not any Muslim individual decides to take it up. He condemns the refusal to recognise this in his final chapter entitled: “The West Loses the Will to Live.”
He cites as evidence the bizarre assertions of Western leaders that Islam is simply the “religion of peace”. After the 9/11 hijackers had done to the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon exactly as Islam had always taught, President Bush declared: “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace.” Barack Obama, his successor, went further when visiting Cairo in 2009: “I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed…Partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn’t.” Most extreme in his stupidity, in Spencer’s view, was Pope Francis in 2013: “…authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Qur’an are opposed to every form of violence.” These fantasy views of Islam lead to calls for “respect” instead of reform. They result in the demonisation of people with real life experience of the problems Islam inflicts on the societies where it takes root — people such as Geert Wilders, apostate Ibn Warraq and Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
In ten chapters, sourced at every relevant step from Islam’s own texts, he explains that Jihadists have always been candid about their reason for waging war – to subjugate infidels under the rule of Islam. Spencer starts with the 27 battles Muhammad waged from Medina, (many against his own tribe, the Quraysh), showing how conveniently Allah’s claimed pronouncements provided authority for his actions, and then became holy writ. Piety, not military might won battles, he said: “Victory is not except from Allah, the Exalted in Might, the Wise.” (Qur’an 3:123-126).
When his forces lost the Battle of Uhud, it was not Allah’s defeat, but the result of the Muslim’s failure of courage and lust for the things of this world. “Among you are some who desire this world, and among you are some who desire the Hereafter. Then he turned you back from them that He might test you.” (Qur’an 3:152).
In fact, like marauding armies throughout history, the warriors who waged jihad for Muhammad were essentially mercenaries. They fought for the booty, the treasure and especially the women they could acquire as sex slaves. As always the commander had first choice, and the defeated combatants were usually slaughtered. (The Prophet said, “The person who participates in (Holy battles) in Allah’s cause and nothing compels him to do so except belief in Allah and His Apostles, will be recompensed by Allah either with a reward, or booty or will be admitted to Paradise. (Bukhari Vol. 1 Book 2 Nr 35).
After subduing Arabia, Muhammad set out to take Jihad to what are now Iraq, Syria, the Byzantines and Persians. From the first raids on the Byzantine empire, he encountered significant populations of Jews and Christians. Spencer explains that from this point Muhammad declared that Jews and Christians were entitled to special consideration as ‘People of the Book’. They had three choices: convert to Islam, submit to Islamic rule and pay the special poll tax jizya, (They must pay the jizya with willing submission and feel themselves subdued: Qur’an 9:38-39) or be slaughtered. The jizya became a form of Mafia protection racket which then financed Islam’s further expansion.
After Muhamad’s death the Arab armies swept out of Arabia with immense force and embarked on a series of conquests unparalleled in human history for their rapidity and scope. Spencer’s history records the years from 632 to 661 as the Golden Age, according to Muslim scholars. The jihad gave them almost all of Syria, entry to Jerusalem, Armenia, Cyprus and Egypt.
After a rapid subjugation of the former Roman colonies of northern Africa, the eighth century saw the launch of Muslim forces under a freed Berber slave, Tariq ibn Ziyad, across the strait to Gibraltar (Derivation: the mountain of Tariq) to confront the Visigoth rule in the Iberian peninsula. To focus his troops on conquest, he ordered all their boats to be burned.
I first came to understand the myth of an idyllic multi-cultural, tolerant society in the Moors’ occupation of Spain by reading the sacred texts recorded in The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism. This anthology of primary sources by Andrew Bostom traced the systemic Jewish dhimmitude under the Ottomans, and the Qur’an-sanctioned oppression ever since. So it was no surprise to find Spencer debunking the myth of multicultural convivencia in al-Andalusia, where Jews and Christians supposedly lived in mutually beneficial harmony with their Muslim overlords. Again, the jizya was the basis for subjugation. The occupation was swift, penetrating and brutal.
We don’t need to take Spencer’s word. Professor Dario Fernandez-Morera of Northwest University had already detailed the reality in his Myth of the Andalusian Paradise. Spain, he explained, was a violent society, of religious and cultural repression. Internecine conflict raged between the Umayyad caliphs and the Abbassids, and later the Berber Almoravids of Morocco. A Christian army that opposed this last invasion was routed; the Muslims beheaded the corpses of their enemies and arranged the heads into piles. The muezzins then climbed on top of the piles of heads to call the Muslims to prayer.
Even when Jews and Christians were not facing active persecution, as dhimmis (subsidiary citizens) they could be lawfully killed or sold into slavery under the Sharia. “Satan has gained the mastery over them, and caused them to forget God’s Remembrance. Those are Satan’s party; why, Satan’s party, surely they are the losers.” (Qur’an 58:20). The world tends to forget that France and the rest of Europe were saved from invasion in the Spanish jihad of 732 only by Charles Martel’s victory at the Battle of Tours. The same year, 711, that Tariq ibn Ziyad invaded Spain, the Islamic governor of Iraq sent a force into Sindh, now part of Pakistan. It was the start of the jihad conquest of India that lasted, intermittently for the next seven centuries, and has been largely overlooked by Western historians. It took tens, if not hundreds of millions of lives.
The Hindus, Jains and Buddhists the general Muhammad ibn Qasim encountered in Hindustan were not ‘People of the Book’, so no jizya could be demanded from them. Their choice was to convert to Islam, or face the sword of Islam. Hindu temples were considered centres of idolatry; thousands were destroyed. Revered idols of gold and precious stones were smashed and plundered. Spencer explains the viciousness of the invasion with the story of the punishment of ibn Qasim himself, despite his victories. When he sent the daughters of the king of Sindh as a gift of sex slaves to the Iraqi governor, one of the girls defended herself by saying she had already been raped by ibn Qasim. Enraged at being sent second-hand goods, he ordered the general to be shipped home in a rawhide sack. When he arrived, he was already dead.
The occupation of India was renewed in successive jihads – in the tenth, twelfth and fourteenth centuries. These included the seventeen large-scale jihad incursions into the Subcontinent by Mahmud of Ghazni. Over thirty years in the tenth century he converted thousands of temples into mosques. He met resistance when trying to subdue Gujarat, and 50,000 were killed. An account by an Islamic historian of Ghazni’s attack on Thanessar in Hindustan described the blood of the infidels as flowing so copiously that the stream was discoloured and people were unable to drink from it. The jihad in India continued under Muhammad Ghori, Qutbuddin Aibak, Shamsuddin Iltutmish and Jalaluddin Khalji, each responsible for tens of thousands slaughtered or sold into slavery.
There was one benefit only for civilization from the successive jihads in India. Hindu mathematicians had been the first to numeralise the zero, a concept the Arabs adopted, leading to the revolutionary numeral system 0-9, we know as Arabic, the foundation of modern mathematics.
As the jihad pressed into Europe -, Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, Macedonia, Albania and Croatia – it became inevitably the turn of Constantinople, the eastern pillar of Christendom. In 1339, the Byzantine emperor Andronicus III appealed to Pope Benedict XII to heal the schism between the churches, and help organize a crusade against the approaching Ottomans. His appeal was rejected. Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453.
Spencer draws a bitter comparison between that suicidal lack of resolve and modern refusal to recognise the threat of Islam: “Not until the days of Pope Francis would the See of Rome have an occupant more useful to the jihad force than Benedict XII”, he writes.
There are some surprises in the book. Suleiman the Magnificent’s failed siege of Vienna in 1529 is well known, but less mentioned in many histories is the subsequent attempt on the city by Mehmet IV. This ended in a crushing defeat by a Polish army led by Jan Sobieski in 1683 which led to the retreat of the Ottomans from the Balkans. A bigger surprise was the extent of the ravaging by the Barbary Pirates. A terrorist maritime force in the Mediterranean from their base in Libya, they even plundered the southern coasts of England, in the 17th century, burning ships and capturing hundreds of villagers for the African slave trade.
“Tripoli was founded on the Laws of the Prophet, and written in their Qur’an, that all nations who should not have answered [Islamic] authority were sinners, that it was the Muslim right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners, and that every Muslim who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise.”
The world jihad declined in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Spencer explains that 1856 was a major turning point when the British and French governments agreed to help the Ottoman empire against Russia only if it abolished the dhimma, the so-called contract of protection for Jews and Christians. But they were still not equal citizens; even today there is no Muslim-majority country in which all faiths have equal rights.
In modern history, the jihad has alternatively ebbed and raged. Spencer enumerates: The Armenian genocide; the foundation of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928 (“Fight them until there is no fitnah (sedition) and worship is for Allah” : Qur’an 2:193); the Saudi embrace of Wahabism and their financing of mosques and madrassas all over the world; the PLO and attacks on the Jewish state (“Drive them out from where they drove you out”: Qur’an 2.191); the Iranian revolution (Ruhollah Khomeini: “Islam’s Holy War is a struggle against idolatry, sexual deviation, plunder, repression and cruelty…But those who study Islamic Holy War will understand why Island wants to conquer the whole world.”); Osama Bin Laden’s al-Quaeda (The Base); the Chechnya jihad against Russia; the September 11, 2001 attacks, and finally “The Promise of Allah”, the audacious attempt from 2014 to 2017 to restore the caliphate – The Islamic State.
After each reverse, Islam has found new means to continue the Jihad. The 30,000 foreign fighters from a hundred countries who had joined the caliphate in Iraq and Syria, returned home to individualise the struggle. Massacres and atrocities flourished all over the West, followed by candlelight prayer vigils and flower carpets as politicians blamed unspecified “terrorists” and appeased immigrants.
The response to this epic expose of Islam’s great game plan to conquer the world for sharia was to denounce Robert Spencer as an Islamophobe and his book as ‘hate speech’. The radical left-wing Southern Poverty Law Center in the U.S. pressured Visa and Mastercard to block all donations to the David Horowitz Freedom Center, and to cut off Spencer’s fund-raising. There were attempts by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood to stop Amazon selling his book. But that’s quite tame compared with the Brotherhood’s global objective. As Mohammed Morsi, the Brotherhood’s candidate in the Egyptian presidential campaign of 2012, declared:
“The Qur’an is our constitution, the Prophet is our leader, jihad is our path and death in the name of Allah is our goal …”
Spencer’s history demonstrates why the recurring terrorist atrocities in Western cities perpetrated by Muslims should not be dismissed as mere “lone wolf” attacks by deranged individuals. Individual efforts they may be, but they are explicit responses to Islam’s militant missionary movement – its age-old call for jihad against the kafirs (unbelievers). As for the so-called ‘moderate’ Muslims who make up the bulk of that group in Western societies, they are either ignorant, apathetic or complacently breeding, while waiting for their militant brothers to make the running. Brothers like Hamza Abbas, one of the quartet allegedly planning the Christmas 2016 attack in Melbourne: “I have pledged my allegiance to ISIS. I do want to destroy your nation.”
In the 700 years since the Ottoman empire threatened Constantinople, nothing has changed except the willingness of western leaders to recognise the threat Islam poses to their societies. In the 1390s, Roman Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus responded thus to Muslim scholars anxious to convert him to Islam:
“Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”
Peace, in Islamic terms, comes only with submission.
Geoffrey Luck, a frequent contributor, was an ABC journalist for 26 years