THE TRUTH ABOUT MUHAMMAD
By Robert Spencer
Regnery, $27.95, 224 pages
REVIEWED BY ANDREW G. BOSTOM
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the former Dutch Parliamentarian and secular Muslim reformer, has courageously identified the taboo discussion which must take place to understand, and defuse, the scourge of modern jihad terrorism:
“In their thinking about radical Muslim terrorism most politicians, journalists, intellectuals, and other commentators have avoided the core issue of the debate, which is Muhammad’s example.”
This taboo is all the more puzzling, and dangerously delusional, given the public pronouncements of Muslim Brotherhood “spiritual” leader, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, one of the most influential contemporary Muslim thinkers.
The immensely popular Qaradawi reaches an audience of tens of millions of Muslim sympathizers across the globe with his regular appearances on Al-Jazeera television. During a June 19, 2001 broadcast, Qaradawi delivered a sermon entitled, “The Prophet Muhammad as a Jihad Model,” proclaiming: ” … Allah has … made the prophet Muhammad into an epitome for religious warriors [Mujahideen] since he ordered Muhammed to fight for religion … ”
Consistent with the hadith (words and deeds of Muhammad recorded by pious followers), and earliest Muslim biographies of Muhammad, Qaradawi further acknowledged that Muhammad launched aggressive jihad campaigns, and also maintained that there is in fact a “jihad which you seek,” i.e., invading other countries in order to spread the word of Islam and to remove, by force of arms, “obstacles” standing in the way of this coercive Islamization.
More ominously, Qaradawi has made specific unabashed appeals for Muslims to wage a “jihad re-conquest” of Europe, recalling the millennial legacy of jihad wars waged by Arab, Berber and Ottoman Muslim conquerors and colonizers.
Disregarding murderous threats, and the prospect of social ostracism, the intrepid author Robert Spencer — a serious independent scholar of Islam for the past two decades — has taken up Hirsi Ali’s challenge in his compelling new book, “The Truth About Muhammad.”
Mr. Spencer’s stated purpose in writing the book was to elucidate, in particular, those aspects of Muhammad’s life used by Muslims today to rationalize violence, or other behaviors incompatible with Western constructs of human rights and dignity. And Mr. Spencer, whom I have come to know through my own independent research on Islamic doctrine and history, fulfills admirably his pledge not to “deride,” “lampoon” or “mock” Muhammad, but instead compose “a scrupulously accurate account of what he [Muhammad] said and did” regarding these critical matters.
A salient feature of “The Truth About Muhammad” is its exclusive reliance on pious Muslim sources: the earliest (and most respected) Muslim biographers of Muhammad, Ibn Ishaq (died 773), Ibn Sa’d (845), and the great historian al-Tabari (923); the “gold-standard” canonical hadith collections of Bukhari (870), and Muslim (875); and the Koran itself.
As Mr. Spencer notes, these are the same sources contemporary Muslim biographers have relied upon, both respected scholars (such as the late Martin Lings, aka Abu Bakr Siray Ad-Din), and popularizers (Javeed Akhter, Yahiya Emerick).
Despite his caveat that the book is “not a comprehensive biography” of the Muslim prophet, Mr. Spencer’s concise, pellucid narrative (which includes both a succinct chronology and a glossary of key Arabic names and places) has remarkable breadth, chronicling Muhammad’s evolution from a proselytizer, to a prototype jihad conqueror and ruler.
The final chapter is a brilliant analysis of Muhammad’s disturbing modern legacy. Mr. Spencer provides understated, scrupulous documentation of the consequences of Muhammad’s status as “an excellent example of conduct” (Koran 33:21), invoked by contemporary Muslim clerics, governments, journalists and jihadists alike: exploited child brides and general misogyny, sanctioned by law; Draconian, mutilating punishments such as stoning for adultery and amputation for theft; jihad violence against non-Muslims and Shari’a (Islamic Law)-sanctioned oppression of non-Muslims under Muslim rule.
He concludes with a series of logical, unflinching recommendations for non-Muslim governments, all of which hinge, ultimately, upon an honest recognition of Muhammad’s bellicose example: Stop insisting that Islam is a religion of peace; initiate a full-scale Manhattan Project to find new energy sources; make Western aid contingent upon renunciation of the jihad ideology; call upon American Muslim advocacy groups to work against the jihad ideology; revise immigration policies with the jihad ideology in view.
Nearly 25 years ago, the late Richard Grenier wrote “The Marrakesh One-Two,” a trenchant fictional account of a doomed effort to film the life of Muhammad. Grenier characterized the filmmaker’s basic predicament with biting wit.
Even after reading a series of modern Muslim hagiographies, Muhammad left the impression of being ” … a gamey figure for a religious leader … sort of a blend of Saint Teresa of Avila, Jane Addams of Hull House, William the Conqueror, and Casanova … Allah is merciful, but not necessarily Muhammad, I guess.”
Of course such an impious, if accurate presentation, was impossible. Following a conference with the clerics of Al Azhar (the leading Sunni Islamic institution of religious education) in Cairo, Grenier’s fictional filmmaker laments:
“The only thing they would give me was I could have P.V. Muhammad. That is I could script shots from Muhammad’s Point of View, subjective camera. I could have faces reacting and people talking to Mohammed. But Muhammad couldn’t answer them because his voice would be too holy.”
Today, “P.V. Muhammad” putatively “non-fiction” accounts prevail, while the authoritative biographies of Muhammad written in the mid 19th through early 20th centuries — by scholars such as William Muir, David S. Margoliouth and Leone Caetani — are now almost unknown to the public and chattering classes. These elegant analyses — like Mr. Spencer’s — also relied exclusively upon the earliest Islamic sources, such as Muhammad’s first pious Muslim biographer Ibn Ishaq.
Margoliouth’s biography recognized Muhammad as ” … a great man, who solved a political problem of appalling difficulty — the construction of a state and empire out of the Arab tribes.” Margoliouth recounted this accomplishment without “apology” or “indictment,” summarizing faithfully the picture of Muhammad that emerges in Ibn Ishaq’s biography:
“In order to gain his ends he recoils from no expedient, and he approves of similar unscrupulousness on the part of his adherents, when exercised in his interest. He profits to the utmost from the chivalry of the Meccans, but rarely requites it with the like. He organizes assassinations and wholesale massacres.
“His career as tyrant of Medina is that of a robber chief, whose political economy consists in securing and dividing plunder … He is himself an unbridled libertine and encourages the same passion in his followers. For whatever he does he is prepared to plead the express authorization of the deity. It is, however, impossible to find any doctrine which he is not prepared to abandon in order to secure a political end …This is a disagreeable picture for the founder of a religion, and it cannot be pleaded that it is a picture drawn by an enemy …”
“The Truth About Muhammad” eschews contemporary “P.V. Muhammad” hagiography, reviving the highly informative, unapologetic genre of biographical narratives of Muhammad epitomized by the works of Muir, Margoliouth and Caetani.
Transcending even these seminal biographers, Robert Spencer’s perspicacious modern analysis makes clear how Muhammad’s sacralized behaviors continue to motivate and direct the contemporary global resurgence of jihad, in all its cultural as well as military manifestations. Policymaking elites must heed Mr. Spencer’s urgent concluding admonitions:
“It is difficult if not impossible to maintain that Islam is a religion of peace when warfare and booty were among the chief preoccupations of the prophet of Islam. Sincere Islamic reformers should confront these facts, instead of ignoring or glossing over them, and work to devise ways in which Muslims can retreat from the proposition that Muhammad’s example is in all ways normative. If they do not do so, one outcome is certain: bloodshed perpetrated in the name of Islam and in imitation of its prophet will continue …
“If no Western politicians can be found who are courageous enough to grasp this nettle, Western countries will eventually pay a stiff price, when the jihadists they have admitted carry out successful jihad attacks, or inspire native-born Muslims to do so — or when they advance Shari’a [Islamic Law] provisions by peaceful means, as in the campaigns in the United Nations and several European countries for the adoption of Islamic blasphemy laws in the wake of the Muhammad cartoon riots.”
Andrew G. Bostom, M.D., (www.andrewbostom.org) is the author of “The Legacy of Jihad” (2005) from Prometheus Books.