This is the first of three planned essays:
I. Islam: A Political-Military System
II. Islam and the West: A Brief History
III. Judaism, Christianity and
Islam: A Brief Theological Comparison
[Note: Please, if you are new to our discussions, check the Rules of Engagement posted 10/13/07. Also, look to the right margin --there is a link to the PorkRindHollow where you will find resources to support the essays, including a glossary. Blue highlighted words in the text are linked directly to the glossary. Finally, Aunty Belle is NOT saying that all Muslims are violent, many are decent and kind people. This essay is not a criticism of Muslims as individuals.]
Islam As a Political and Military System
Many object that the characterization of Islam as a violent and dangerous ideology is bigoted. Their point is that “Islam the religion” is not synonymous with terrorism. They insist that recent events of terror and mayhem are the work of a few “radical Islamists” or “terrorists.” But are they?
Why then does the religion of Islam breed so many violent adherents? Islam has waged an invasive war against non- believers and their homelands for 1300 years. To state that Islam is violent and dangerous in its religious precepts is not bigoted… if it is true.
Contemporary commentary is often crafted to achieve a public relations goal. Thus, accuracy is can be sacrificed to achieve the public relations objective. The public face of modern Islam is deliberately presented to the West as a “religion of peace,” following September 11, 2001. This public relations exercise serves a carefully defined purpose:
1 . avoid the possible provocation of a billion Muslims
2. deflect a global war
3. create “space” for moderate Muslims to inhabit.
For the Islamic world this PR initiative is intended to forestall actual acts of violence endemic to modern Islamic practice and teaching—violence against its own believers and against non-believers on every continent. Yet, because of the massive public relations efforts on both sides of the Islamic divide, the average Western citizen is unacquainted with the truth about Islamic teaching and history.
Critical information on Islam is not withheld from the average citizen—books and websites are easily found-- but commentators routinely redirect facts and situations to lull citizens into a dangerous apathy. Westerners, thus, are disarmed.
The purpose of this essay is to explore Islam from its internal texts and history in order to understand how some arrive at the conclusion that Islam is systemically (from the roots to the flower) flawed, even evil. (In this instance evil is defined as religious oppression and death of innocents those whose “crime” is failure to worship Allah and honor his prophet Mohamed). Can that assertion be factually supported?
Let’s take a look.
What is Islam?
Islam is the world’s second largest religion-- nearly a billion believers who are called Muslims.
Islam is a monotheistic religion that was founded in the Arabian Peninsula in 610 AD when a caravan merchant named Mohamed heard an angel recite teachings that were purported to be from Allah (Islamic term for God). Those teachings were collected over the years after his death and today are revered by Muslims as their holy text, called the Qur’an. The Qur’an is divided into Suras or chapters. These are not arranged chronologically or thematically.
Islam is a religion named for the term “Islam” which means “submission.” In the religious sense, Islam means submission or surrender to the will/ pleasure of Allah. Once a believer submits he/she finds the second meaning of the term Islam: “peace.” Peace is found through submission. Islam teaches that until all men have submitted to Islam, Muslims must wage jihad against nations and peoples who reject the invitation to Islam.
Who founded Islam?
Strictly speaking, Islam teaches that Allah is the founder of Islam. The belief is that God sent various prophets throughout human history; their teachings were either ignored or misunderstood. This line of prophets included Noah, Abraham and Moses, as well as Jesus. The last prophet that Allah sent or would ever send —according to Islamic teaching—was Mohamed. Supposedly Mohamed understood Allah rightly, thus, most of the teachings of Christians and Jews were faulty. The first of the five “pillars” of Islamic faith is “There is no god but Allah and Mohamed is his prophet.”
Mohamed, son of Abdullah.
Contemporaneous non-Muslim sources on the life of Mohamed are sparse. The primary early sources for his biography are: Life History of Muhammad, by Ibn-Ishaq , A.D. 768, re-edited by Ibn-Hisham in 833; The Expeditions of Muhammad, by Al-Waqidi A.D. 822.
The essential outline is that he was born in Mecca around the year 570 AD; his father, a member of the Hashim, a poorer branch of the influential Quraish tribe, died before his birth. His mother was dead before he was 10; his uncle raised him to adulthood. Mecca in that century was home to Jewish and Christian settlers as well as the indigenous Arab Bedouin tribes.
Many Arabs were nominal Christians, and most of the Christians in the Arabian Peninsula were heretical sects, Nestorians or Monophysites, chiefly. These Christians and Jews were monotheistic in contrast to those Arabs who practiced the pan-paganism typical to most cultures of the time-- where many lesser and local gods were worshiped. Mohamed’s tribe served as overseers of the Kabba, a shrine where many deities were worshiped. At that time, the deity called Allah was understood as the God of gods.
Mohamed worked for his uncle along the caravan trade routes to Syria. When he was 20 years old he met Khadijah, a wealthy widow 15 years his senior. She married the poor but resourceful young man from a respectable tribe five years later. He managed her caravan business.
During a trading journey to Syria, Mohamed met a Nestorian monk, Bahira, from whom he learned certain Christian teachings. Mohamed’s wife, Khadijah, owned a Christian slave, Zayid ibn Harith, whom Muhammad adopted as his own son years before his first prophetic work began. Khadijah was known to be a Christian, probably Nestorian. Some accounts describe her brother or cousin as one who translated the Scriptures into proto-Arabic and who is known to have died as a Christian. (More on Mohamed’s religious background and influences in Essay III.)
What is clear is that Mohamed was familiar with the singular premise of both Jewish and Christian teaching: There is but one God who is all-powerful, (omnipotent) and all-knowing (omniscient). Furthermore, among the commercial trade routes those who believed in one God seemed to disdain pagans who believed in a plethora of gods.
The Coming of the Qur’an
At age 40-41 Mohamed, after 15 years of marriage, told Khadijah that had been visited by the angel Gabriel while meditating. The experience terrified him and he sought her comfort. “Cover me! Cover me” he cried when he returned to her from the cave where it was his custom of meditate. She “sat him on her lap” and assured him he was not possessed.(B/T)
Sura 7.184 Do they not reflect? Their companion (Mohamed) is not seized with madness: he is but a perspicuous warner.
Sura 52.029 Therefore proclaim thou the praises (of thy Lord): for by the Grace of thy Lord, thou art no (vulgar) soothsayer, nor art thou one possessed.
Sura 68.002 Thou art not, by the Grace of thy Lord, mad or possessed.
The angel had dictated “recitations” that Mohamed is said to have memorized. Henceforth he called himself “God’s last Prophet,” as no new prophet would come after him. His recitations continued for 22 years; they are collected into the Islamic holy text called the Qur’an. The teachings formed the basis of what was to be the world’s third monotheistic religion. Additional teachings are found in the sayings and behavior of Mohamed, called hadiths. Hadiths were collected after Mohamed’s death; they have binding force on Muslim behavior and practice.
(However, there is no definitive Muslim authority on what the Qur’an means or what the Hadiths mean, particularly in relation to more modern eras. Thus, wherever he can draw a following, individual muftis, mullahs or imams can impute to the suras whatever meaning they prefer. There is of course, much consensus on the meanings, but no one authority can overrule an interpretation given by a particular religious leader.)
Mohamed’s wife and a few cousins were the first converts to the new faith; some scholars show that it is reasonable to suppose these early converts thought of his meditations and locutions as an addition to Jewish and Christian teaching, and only later as a new faith increasingly opposed to Judaism and Christianity. Ten years into the new teachings, Khadijah died leaving a 50 year old Mohamed to continue on his path.
The Basis for Islamic Teaching
For the purposes of this first essay, it is crucial to note that the spiritual aspects at the inception of Islam were drawn from the surrounding Jewish and Christian groups who populated both Mecca and Medina. (More in essay II, III) There is no reason to hold that Mohamed had any motivation --at first-- other than a sincere search for truth that could be adapted to the Bedouin/ Arab tribal culture. Clearly he admired the cohesive elements of the monotheistic religions of those who held those beliefs. Such believers worked together as “brothers in faith” and were prosperous, spending less time on vendettas and tribal revenge.
After his initial experience in the cave where he received the locutions from Allah via the angel Gabriel, Mohamed preached the earliest recitations to his own city of Mecca. At this point his preaching --as he believed he had received from Allah-- was peaceful, and the recitations even command Mohamed to endure rejection with charity. His new religion was tolerated at first, in the manner that all gods had a place in the Meccan pantheon.
But when the commercial leaders realized Mohamed meant to destroy their minor gods, ("There is no God but Allah") then people rejected the new teachings. Leaders feared that if all other gods were prohibited, the lucrative tourist trade from those on pilgrimage to the pantheon of gods enshrined in Mecca would decline.
When his status as prophet met resistance from the commercial interests, when he met derision,and the Meccans laughed and rejected him and his message, Mohamed felt threatened and humiliated. Or, worse yet, Mohamed felt a need to prove he was not possessed—a theme found throughout the Qur’an wherein the voice of the angel repeatedly reassure him that he was not the victim of a demon. (See Sura 7:184; 52:29; 68:2...also see above)
Islam as a Political and Military System
During this time of rejection and humiliation at the hands of the Meccans, Khadijah died (620AD). Afterwards, the jihad model of Islam was born. Within months Mohamed took a new wife, then others. Thereafter the entire character of the received messages changed to reflect a political and military ideology filled with revengeful verses, (see suras 8, 9) and from a traditional biography of Mohamed we have this:
The apostle of Allah returned to Medina and remained there for several months, sending out various raiding parties and expeditions. Then the month of pilgrimage came round and it was one year since the expedition of al‑Hudaybiya when he had turned back from Mecca. Then took place what is called the Pilgrimage of Retaliation, when the apostle retaliated against the Quraysh who had prevented him from entering Mecca…” (B/T) Revenge is thus made legitimate by the new messages from Allah.
Later a petitioner asked Mohamed for assistance with a grievance against non-Muslims, “The man entered the mosque of Medina, where the apostle was sitting in the midst of the people, and asked for aid and retaliation, and the apostle replied, ‘It shall be done.’ ” (B/T)
There are Qur’anic justifications for pillaging to support his growing harem--a “divine” warrant for his lusts. (Sura 33:50) --and band of followers: “That which Allah giveth as spoil unto His messenger from the people of the townships, it is for Allah and His messenger…” (Sura 59:7). See also all of Sura 8, called the “Spoils of War” Sura. (ex.: Sura 8:41; 8:67-69; ) and the hadith 2706 (Sunan Abu Dawud) “Abd Allah b. Amr said: When the Apostle of Allahs (May peace be upon him) gained a booty he ordered Billal to make a public announcement. He made a public announcement, and when the people brought their booty, he would take a fifth and divide it…..” This “booty” included slaves and notable persons who were then ransomed for great profit.
From a traditional Muslim biography of Mohamed we read how Allah gave Mohamed permission to fight unbelievers. The point is made again that originally, while still in Mecca, Mohamed reported that Allah had sent him as a peaceful prophet and instructed Mohamed to endure rebuffs with patience and charity.
But when his failures in Mecca mounted, and after the death of his first wife, Khadijah, Mohamed began to receive a different sort of message from Allah, messages that clearly ended the peaceful approach to conversion and instead instituted a jihad model of conversion.
Conditions in Mecca were so strained by 622 that
Mohamed and his band of early followers departed
for Yathrib (Medina), a thriving oasis settlement
north of Mecca. The people there –
including three prosperous Jewish tribes—welcomed
him in peace,even accepted his proposal
of political leadership.
This event, known as the Hejira, marks the beginningof the Islamic calendar.
The first two years after the move to Yathrib (later re-named Medina: madinat al-nabi, or City of the Prophet) were filled with a series of raids of neighboring encampments, traversing caravans and even attacks on “enemies” within Medina. In short, the money and goods necessary to support his followers came from theft, pillage, “booty” and robbery, rather than peaceful endeavors such as trade, weaving, toolmaking etc.
Wherever a people did not accept Mohamed’s “peaceful” overture, they were fair game for a new raid. Each successful raid increased his wealth as well as his status (based on fear and envy) among the people of Medina, many of who converted.
In essence this passage sums up the jihadist political model that Islam has followed since Mohamed left Mecca for Medina:
When Allah gave His apostle permission to wage war, the promise to fight immediately became a condition of allegiance to Islam. This had not been so at the first meeting on the hillside, when homage was paid 'in the manner of women'; Allah had not then given His apostle permission to fight. He had given permission neither to wage war nor to shed blood, but only to call men to Allah, to endure insults patiently, and to pardon the ignorant. Some of the followers of the apostle had therefore been forced to flee from persecution into the countryside, some to Abyssinia, others to Medina and elsewhere. When the Quraysh
[Arab tribe in Mecca] rejected the mercy of Allah and spurned His prophet, they tormented or drove away men who proclaimed the One‑ness of Allah, believed in His prophet, and adhered to His religion.
Allah therefore permitted Muhammad to fight…Then a further verse was recorded: ‘Fight against them until there be no more temptation’ ‑ until Believers shall no more be tempted to abandon their religion ‑ ‘and until the religion be Allah’s’, that is, until Allah alone shall be worshipped and none else besides Him.
Since permission to fight had now been granted, the apostle of Allah accepted allegiance at the second meeting on the hill only from people who swore to fight for him and his Lord against all men. He promised paradise as a reward. (Muhammad, by Ibn Ishaq)
Mohamed did not hesitate to kill those who opposed him. He was particularly sensitive to being mocked. When a poet wrote unflattering verses about Mohamed's claim to be a prophet, he ordered his men to assassinate her; the assailant stabbed the poetess even though an infant was asleep on her breast.
Jihad as religious wars of conquest
Scholars divide Mohamed’s career into the Meccan and the Medina eras; the former is peaceful, “purer” in motivation, the latter purely self-serving, political and conquering. That is the prevailing characteristic of Islamic teaching today—in short, the violence against Muslim women and the jihad against non-Muslims, the acts of planned terrorism, the conflating of the political state and the religion of Islam—all these have their basis in the actual teachings in the Qur’an and in the acts of Mohamed himself.
Though there are "peaceful" verses in the Qur'an, most of those are from the Meccan era or earliest months in Medina. These include the often quoted Sura 2:256. "There is no compulsion in religion."
But these peaceful verses are abrogated by the later recitations, roughly those from the Medina era when Mohamed had instituted jihad/ military model of spreading the faith. The Qur'an itself proves the primacy of these later (warring) verses, in effect, dispalcing the earliest verses:
Sura 2:106. Whatever a Verse do We (Allah) abrogate or cause to be forgotten, We bring a better one or similar to it. Know you not that Allah is able to do all things?
(recall that the verses and chapters are not chronological as given in the Qur'an.) From Sura 2:106 it is plain that Allah is not bound, nor is his prophet bound, by Allah's former directive to be peaceful or patient.
This is why it is licit to point out that the violence of jihad is inherent in the teachings of Islam; these teachings and acts of war were there from Islam's inception. Thus, military and political jihad and violence are not outside Islamic teaching, but from Islamic teaching. Indeed, from its beginnings through current history, Islamic leaders understand Allah as their King, President, Ruler; ultimately it is the Our'an that determines a Muslim’s politics and the political policy of ever Islamic state. The Qur'an is not a book of peace, but a manual for war and pillage, for forced unity, for an oppressive governing rule...all in the name of religion.
Let us leave the spiritual aspect of Mohamed’s life and times to the third essay. Here we examine the melding of religious teaching and the political and military necessities of a new religion that sought to call all men on earth to Islam, the Arabic word for “submission.” From its earliest days Islam spread by terror and pillage as well as conversion. Those who refused the “invitation” to convert were subject to slavery and death. (Sura 8:12) No wonder “conversions” took place routinely as Muslims swept over each successive territory.
Islam has NO era of history that is marked by truly peaceful missionary teaching. Rather, the political and military conquests were a religious duty for faithful Muslims.
Karen Armstrong, known for her favorable biography of Mohamed, wrote:
“A Muslim had to redeem history, and that meant that state affairs were not a distraction from spirituality but the stuff of religion itself. The political well-being of the Muslim community was a matter of supreme importance...politics…was the arena in which Muslims experienced God and which enabled the divine to function effectively in the world…political assassinations, civil war, the rise and fall of ruling dynasties –were not divorced from the interior religious quest but were the essence of the Islamic vision.” (Islam p. xi, xii)
Does “Islam” Mean “Peace”?
The word Islam is derived from salima, meaning to be “unharmed” (because one submits). It is simple to see the name for the new religion as one drawn from both a tribal culture of submitting to the chieftain to remain at peace, unharmed, and the spiritual connotation of submitting to Allah—“as Allah wills it.”
The significance of the word and the act of submitting religiously, is its transferal to the concept of jihad. Jihad can be understood as the internal struggle to serve Allah, but is taught in the Qur’an as the justified war against the unbelievers who live in the “house of war,” the Dar-al-Harb. All in the Dar-al-Islam (Muslims/ believers) are safe, and at peace because they have made their submission.
The jihadist war on those who do not submit to Mohamed and Allah is defended with these sample verses from the Qur’an:
Sura 2.190 Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loveth not transgressors.
Sura 2.191 And slay them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have Turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter; but fight them not at the Sacred Mosque, unless they (first) fight you there; but if they fight you, slay them. Such is the reward of those who suppress faith.
Sura 8.012 Remember thy Lord inspired the angels (with the message): "I am with you: give firmness to the Believers: I will instill terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers: smite ye above their necks and smite all their finger-tips off them."
Sura 8.013 This because they contended against Allah and His Apostle: If any contend against Allah and His Apostle, Allah is strict in punishment.
Sura 8.014 Thus (will it be said): "Taste ye then of the (punishment): for those who resist Allah, is the penalty of the Fire."
Sura 9.005 But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, an seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.
Sura 9.29 Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Apostle, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book (Christians & Jews) , until they pay the Jizya (punitive tax or “protection money”) with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.
Sura 47.4 Therefore, when ye meet the Unbelievers (in fight), smite at their necks; At length, when ye have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly (on them): thereafter (is the time for) either generosity or ransom: Until the war lays down its burdens. Thus (are ye commanded): but if it had been Allah’s Will, He could certainly have exacted retribution from them (Himself); but (He lets you fight) in order to test you, some with others. But those who are slain in the Way of Allah,- He will never let their deeds be lost.
On the matter of the jizya, this is a punitive “protection” /extortion tax levied against those who refused to convert but are permitted to live under Islamic oppression—the “dhimmi.” The jizya was a clever two fold weapon against the oppressed people: It generated revenue, but in addition, it was used to humiliate. Islamic jurists ruled that such “taxes” be paid in person, barefoot, and in a crouching (submission) position.
According to Ibn ‘Abbas, the one who pays is to be humiliated , that is, the dhimmi, is then to be struck on his bent neck as he pays the jizya. It needs no psychologist to note that the humiliating experience that Mohamed suffered in Mecca is translated into this retribution against all who refuse his teaching. And, naturally the extortion loaded the coffers of the Islamic overlords.
To stress the point from the above: Mohamed’s people engaged in piracy against the caravan trade to support themselves (not unusual at the time among pagans, but surely inchoate in a religion that professes "peace."). Mohamed required that he be paid one fifth of the booty. This history is justified, say Islamic teachers, by these verses from the Qur’an:
Sura 8 “SPOILS OF WAR, BOOTY”
8.1 They ask thee concerning (things taken as) spoils of war. Say: "(such) spoils are at the disposal of Allah and the Apostle.
From Hadiths: “ The booty has been made Halal (lawful) for me (Mohamed) yet it was not lawful for anyone else before me.”
For a jihad model of expansion, the care and feeding of willing soldiers/raiders is key. Thus we have this account from Ibn Ishaq:
“I hid at one end and ordered my companions to hide at the other end….There we were waiting to take the enemy by surprise…and when he came in range I shot him in the heart with an arrow…I leapt upon him and cut off his head and ran in the direction of the camp shouting ‘Allah Akber’ and my two companions did likewise…they all fled….We drove off a large number of camels and sheep and brought them to the apostle and I took Rifaa’s head to the apostle, who gave me thirteen of the camels to help me with the woman’s dowry, and I consummated my marriage.”
Clearly, Mohamed was willing to permit outright robbery to support his troops. Muslim apologists gloss over these passages with the supposition that such raids were "deserved" by the unbelievers--some of whom may have "violated" a treaty. But even so, such raids have as their goal a political -military objective--it underscores the point --Mohamed understood Islam as a military and political system that operated under an umbrella of religiosity.
At first Mohamed sought the favor of his new hosts in Medina, even to instructing his own followers to bow toward Jerusalem when they prayed --in order to please his new Jewish neighbors. (Later he would adopt this custom for Muslims, but transposed to himself and his own birthplace of Mecca.) For their part, the Jews of Medina had been waiting for their Messiah, and wondered if this man who claimed that the Angel Gabriel had sent him could possibly be their awaited one?
They soon realized otherwise, and within a year tension between Mohamed’s followers and the natives of Medina gave rise to violent disputes. Mohamed expelled all non-submissive Arabian clans and the three Jewish tribes; the Nadir, the Qoreiga and Qaynuga, and confiscated their properties.
From Medina he launched murderous raids on his native Mecca, eventually subduing the city. Such battles are justified by the locutions Mohamed received from Allah:
Sura 8.12 Remember thy Lord inspired the angels (with the message): "I am with you: give firmness to the Believers: I will instill terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers: smite ye above their necks and smite all their finger-tips off them."
Sura 8.13 This because they contended against Allah and His Apostle: If any contend against Allah and His Apostle, Allah is strict in punishment.
Sura 8.14 Thus (will it be said): "Taste ye then of the (punishment): for those who resist Allah, is the penalty of the Fire."
Sura 8.38 Say to the Unbelievers, if (now) they desist (from Unbelief), their past would be forgiven them; but if they persist, the punishment of those before them is already (a matter of warning for them).
Sura 8.39 And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah altogether and everywhere; but if they cease, verily Allah doth see all that they do.
Tribal strife was brutish and Mohamed’s followers were no different. In Mecca there was a ghastly slaughter. Many tribes were subdued and submitted to Mohamed's new religion. After his move to Medina, Mohamed himself conducted over 30 raids and three wars. These jihads against all non-believers is commanded in the Qur’an:
“Prophet, make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites and deal rigorously with them. Hell shall be their home: an evil fate.” (Sura 9:73)
To show that jihad is required of “true believers” this verse is given:
Sura 9:81 “Those who stayed home were happy to be left behind by God’s apostle (Mohamed), for they had no desire to fight for the cause of God with their wealth or their persons. They said to themselves, ‘So not go to war, the heat is fierce’, Say to them “More fierce is the heat of Allah’s hell-fire!”
By the end of Mohamed’s life, the jihad model of religiously justified military and political conquest was well oiled. Mohamed was bold in his desire to spread Islam. He sent letters to the surrounding governors of Byzantium and Persia "inviting" them to convert "and you will be safe."(Bukhari , vol 4 #2941).
That not-so-veiled threat was repeated over the years. Within decades the Arabian Peninsula was brought under Islamic domination and all other faiths were outlawed.
The political structure used to unify the Peninsula was Islam,and the religion used to unify the citizens was Islam.
The two are inseparable. This is a concept that Westerners find difficult to understand, yet, to Muslims it is the only “true” framework for political life.
The idea of either religious or political pluralism is utterly rejected by Muslims and prohibited by Allah. For this reason Muslims cannot live in peace with their neighbors: Jihad is against all unbelievers, and thus is a “holy” and justified war according to Allah and his prophet Mohamed.
Essays to come:
II Islam & the West (A Brief History)
III Judiaism, Christianity and
Islam (distinctive beliefs
UPDATE: Discussion continues. Essay II, Islam and The West: A Brief History, will be posted weekend of Dec. 9th.
Please don't forget to check out the glossary at Pork Rind Hollow as a quick reference.
Many kind thanks to everyone for your insights and comments.