Archive for Jihad

Jihad By Any Means Necessary?

Posted in Feature, Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 24, 2012 by loonwatch


The following is a part of LoonWatch’s Understanding Jihad Series, which is a refutation of Robert Spencer’s book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades).  Specifically, I am herein refuting chapter one of his book, entitled “Muhammad: Prophet of War.”

An anti-Muslim canard that has gained considerable popularity in the post-9/11 world is the idea that Muslims can do anything, no matter how morally questionable, if it furthers the Islamic cause.  According to this idea, jihad can be waged “by any means necessary.”  Robert Spencer argues this in his book, writing:

Islam’s only overarching moral principle is “if it’s good for Islam, it’s right.” [1]

Spencer traces the birth of this Islamic “principle” to the life story of the Prophet Muhammad, specifically the raid at Nakhla.  To properly debunk this conspiracy theory, we must then transport ourselves back in time to this controversial event.

In the year 610 A.D., Muhammad declared his prophethood.  His people, the Quraysh of Mecca, violently rejected him.  The early Muslims suffered heavy-handed persecution, which they endured with patience for well over a decade.  Finally, the God of the Quran permitted them to take up arms in self-defense.  Muhammad and his followers, who had regrouped in the nearby city of Medina, engaged in guerre de course (commerce raiding) against the powerful Quraysh.

I have discussed Muhammad’s guerre de course in quite a lot of detail in a previous article.  This tactic was not only something considered acceptable in the Arabian context of the time, but also has a celebrated history in the American–as well as French and German–naval traditions.  Historically, it has been considered a valid military strategy and a means of waging economic warfare against a more powerful enemy.

The early military operations led by the Muslims were largely unsuccessful–that is, until the raid at Nakhla.  Muhammad had dispatched Abdullah bin Jahsh with secret instructions contained in a letter that were not to be opened until after traveling two days journey.  (This precaution was designed no doubt to thwart potential spies, who may have informed the Quraysh of Muslim “troop” movements, which could explain the earlier failed military expeditions.)

When Abdullah opened Muhammad’s letter, it read:

When you have read this letter of mine proceed until you reach Nakhla between Mecca and Al-Ta’if. Lie in wait there for [the] Quraysh and find out for us what they are doing. [2]

On the way to Nakhla, Abdullah and his fellow riders happened across a poorly armed Qurayshite caravan.  They debated among themselves whether or not to waylay it, for it was the last day of the month of Rajab.  The pre-Islamic culture at the time assigned four months of the year as sacred (of which Rajab was one), in which fighting was proscribed.  In addition to the four sacred months, fighting was forbidden in certain holy sanctuaries (i.e. Al-Bayt Al-Haram, the area around the Kaabah).

Abdullah’s contingent faced a difficult choice:

If [we] leave them alone tonight they will get into the sacred area and will be safe from [us]; and if [we] kill them, [we] will kill them in the sacred month. [3]

They were also not quite sure what day it was.  Was it the last day of the sacred month of Rajab or the first day of of the next month, Jumada (in which fighting was permitted)?  Prof. Reuven Firestone writes of this:

The uncertainty of the day is a natural result of the calendrical system of that period, in which the moon was the primary measurer of time, because the beginning of the month was established only by actual observation of the new crescent moon. [4]

Making matters worse was the fact that, according to the lunar calendar used by the Arabs, days change at sunset, not midnight.  One of the men explained to Muhammad later that

it was becoming evening. We looked at the crescent moon of Rajab, and we did not know whether we [struck during] Rajab or in Jumada. [5]

Initially, Abdullah and his men hesitated, but then decided to attack.  The Muslims shot and killed one of the Quraysh (a man by the name of Amr Ibn Al-Hadrami), captured two of them, and seized the caravan’s goods.  By killing Ibn Al-Hadrami, the Muslims had violated the pre-Islamic Arabian custom forbidding bloodshed during the sacred month.

When Abdullah and his men returned to Medina, Muhammad rebuked them, saying:

I did not order you to fight in the sacred month! [6]

Sir Thomas W. Arnold wrote of this incident:

In so doing, [Abdullah] had not only acted without authority but had violated the sacred truce within Arab custom caused to be observed throughout the month of pilgrimage.  Muhammad received him coldly with the words, “I gave thee no command to fight in the sacred month;” dismissed the prisoners, and from his own purse paid blood-money for a Meccan who had lost his life in the fray. [7]

Other Muslims in Medina also chastised the men.  Meanwhile, the Quraysh exploited the incident to further their war propaganda against the Islamic nation.  They effectively drove a wedge in the community of Medina, with Muslims distancing themselves from other Muslims, and non-Muslims from Muslims.  Muhammad’s leadership itself was called into question.

It was in this crisis that the following Quranic verse was revealed:

They ask you about fighting in the sacred month. Say, ‘Fighting in that month is a great offense, but to bar others from God’s path, to disbelieve in Him, prevent access to the Sacred Mosque, and drive out its people, are still greater offences in God’s eyes: [their] persecution is worse than the killing [of Amr Ibn Al-Hadrami].’ They will not stop fighting you [believers] until they make you renounce your faith, if they can. If any of you renounce your faith and die as disbelievers, your deeds will come to nothing in this world and the Hereafter, and you will be inhabitants of the Fire, there to remain.  But those who have believed, who were driven out from their homes, and who strive for God’s cause, it is they who can look forward to God’s mercy: God is most forgiving and merciful. (Quran, 2:217-218)

This response from the God of the Quran successfully rallied the Muslims around their leader and their cause.  Muhammad’s treatment of the raid was splendidly balanced, neither making the Muslims look too warlike nor too humiliated: on the one hand, he paid blood money for the Qurayshite man that was killed (blood money was a form of restitution given to a victim’s family) and freed the two Qurayshite prisoners.  On the other hand, he released the two Qurayshite prisoners only in exchange for two Muslim prisoners, and also accepted the confiscated goods as legitimate spoils of war.

*  *  *  *  *

Robert Spencer writes of the Nakhla raid:

In Medina, these new Muslims began raiding the caravans of the Quraysh, with Muhammad personally leading many of these raids.  These raids kept the nascent Muslim movement solvent and helped form Islamic theology–as in one notorious incident when a band of Muslims raided a Quraysh caravan at Nakhla, a settlement not far from Mecca.  The raiders attacked the caravan during the sacred month of Rajab, when fighting was forbidden.  When they returned to the Muslim camp laden with booty, Muhammad refused to share in the loot or to have anything to do with them, saying only, “I did not order you to fight in the sacred month.”

But then a new revelation came from Allah, explaining that the Quraysh’s opposition to Muhammad was a worse transgression than the violation of the sacred month.  In other words, the raid was justified.  ”They question thee, O Muhammad, with regard to warfare in the sacred month.  Say: warfare therein is a great transgression, bu to turn men from the way of Allah, and to disbelieve in Him and in the Inviolable Place of Worship, and to expel his people thence, is a greater sin with Allah; for persecution is worse than killing” (Quran 2:214).  Whatever sin the Nakhla raiders had committed was overshadowed by the Quraysh’s rejection of Muhammad.

This was a momentous revelation, for it led to an Islamic principle that has had repercussions throughout the ages.  Good became identified with anything that redounded to the benefit of Muslims, regardless of whether it violated moral or other laws.  The moral absolutes enshrined in the Ten Commandments, and other teachings of the great religions that preceded Islam, were swept aside in favor of an overarching principle of expediency. [8]

In true Spencerian fashion, he misleads the reader using lies of omission and commission.  Spencer does not clearly state that Muhammad had dispatched the “band of Muslims” on a reconnaissance mission, in order to “find out for us what [the Quraysh] are doing.”  This is why the Prophet of Islam later disavowed Abdullah’s actions, for he had “acted without authority.”  Also, no mention is made in Spencer’s book of the difficulty in ascertaining the day and month in which the raid took place.

Spencer’s biggest lie, however, is the following doozie:

Whatever sin the Nakhla raiders had committed was overshadowed by the Quraysh’s rejection of Muhammad.

In fact, it was not merely “the Quraysh’s rejection of Muhammad”, but, in the words of the Quran itself, their persecution [of the Muslims that] is worse than the killing” of Amr Ibn Al-Hadrami.  Here, the Islamic holy book was referring to the over decade-long period of Qurayshite persecution, during which the early Muslims suffered beatings, imprisonment, torture, and forced conversions; some of the early believers were even killed.  This, the God of the Quran argued, was worse than what the “band of Muslims” had done.  It would be difficult to argue otherwise.

Spencer goes on to say:

In other words, the raid was justified.

No, it wasn’t.  In fact, the Quran recognized and affirmed that the Muslims had committed a grave sin: “Fighting in [the sacred] month is a great offense.”

Many Western commentators have claimed that Muhammad and the Quran, by this passage, abandoned observation of the ban on fighting during the four sacred months.  The insistence on this view is based on their blind acceptance of the traditional opinion [9], held by various Islamic exegetes in medieval times, that this was a pre-Islamic tradition that was overturned by the advent of Islam.

Yet, a neutral reading of the Quranic text–both this passage and those that follow it–reveals the exact opposite: the Prophet Muhammad affirmed and respected the sanctity of the four sacred months.  The Quranic verse starts by saying, “They ask you about fighting in the sacred month.”  Obviously, Muhammad was being accosted by all sides about the raid at Nakhla, which threatened to be a public relations disaster for the Muslims.  How much easier it would have been for the Prophet of Islam to have simply declared the four sacred months a “pagan belief” that the Muslims did not accept.

After all, in another controversy in early Islam’s history, when Muhammad received significant criticism for having married his adopted son’s ex-wife Zaynab bint Jahsh, the Quran justified the act by declaring that: firstly, unlike in the pagan custom of the time, in Islam there is no prohibition against such a thing; and secondly, it was God himself who commanded Muhammad to marry Zaynab, and therefore, “the Prophet is not at fault for what God has ordained for him” (Quran, 33:38).  (It should be noted that the Islamic permission to marry one’s adopted son’s ex-wife is no more disconcerting than Judaism’s permitting of marriage to one’s nieces.)

The point is that the Quran didn’t just take the easy way out, which would have been to reject the four sacred months altogether.  (Muhammad could have also simply declared the pagans to be “disbelievers”, licit to be attacked at any place or any time.)  Instead, the Quran affirmed that it was indeed a grave offense to fight therein, and in fact, commanded Muhammad to tell the people so:

They ask you about fighting in the sacred month. Say, ‘Fighting in that month is a great offense.’ (Quran, 2:217)

The Islamic affirmation of the four sacred months occurs throughout the Quran.  Muslims are not to fight in these months, so long as the other side respects this prohibition:

Fight during the sacred months if you are attacked therein, for a violation of sanctity is subject to the law of just retribution.  So, if anyone commits aggression against you, attack him as he attacked you. (Quran, 2:194)

The Quran also affirms the idea of sacred spaces:

Do not fight them at the Sacred Mosque unless they fight you there. (Quran, 2:191)

This topic deserves greater elaboration, but for now, suffice to say that even in the jihad passages of chapter nine of the Quran–which the Islamophobes insist are (in the words of the anti-Muslim website “the final ‘revelations’ from Allah” about jihad–the four sacred months are affirmed.  For example, in the so-called “verse of the sword” (ayat al-saif), the Quran declares:

When the sacred months are passed, then fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them… (Quran, 9:5)

Leaving aside for now the fact that the verse right before this one (verse 9:4) explains that this injunction refers only to those pagans who broke a treaty and waged war against the Muslims, there is another obvious point to be made here: Islamophobes insist that this passage was revealed in Muhammad’s last years and was his final, all-out call to war against non-Muslims.  (I will refute this argument in a future article.)  If we are to accept this claim, then we see that–even in this late stage of Muhammad’s decrees about jihad–the sacred months are to be respected.

In fact, the Quran goes so far to claim that it was God himself who decreed these months to be sacred.  More than this, the God of the Quran chastises the Qurayshite pagans for violating the four sacred months by “transposing them” for other months in the year, something they did out of convenience:

God decrees that there are twelve months–ordained in God’s Book on the Day when He created the heavens and earth–four months of which are sacred: this is the correct calculation. Do not wrong your souls in these months–though you may fight the idolaters at any time, if they first fight you–remember that God is with those who are mindful of Him.  Transposing sacred months is another act of disobedience by which those who disregard God are led astray: they will allow it one year and forbid it in another in order to outwardly conform with the number of God’s sacred months, but in doing so they permit what God has forbidden. Their evil deeds are made alluring to them: God does not guide those who disregard Him.  (Quran, 9:36-37)

In conclusion, it is not true that Muhammad justified the Nakhla raid, nor is it valid to claim that the Prophet of Islam simply made it legal when Muslims did it.  Spencer’s claim that ”if it’s good for Islam, it’s right” finds no basis.

The Quran acknowledged that the killing of Amr Ibn Al-Hadrami in the sacred month was a “grave offense” and Muhammad offered restitution to the victim’s family.  This mea culpa indicates that the Prophet of Islam acknowledged that wrong had been committed and he sought to right it.  Meanwhile, the “band of Muslims” involved in the escapade were duly chastised.  After they had expressed remorse for their sin, the God of the Quran forgave them “for God is Forgiving, Merciful” (2:218), and reassured them of their salvation.  That forgiveness was necessary in the first place indicates that they had committed a sin.

What the Quran didn’t do is claim that the Muslims had done nothing wrong.  All it did was point out the hypocrisy of the Quraysh, for they had committed greater offenses against the Muslims.  Robert Spencer would quickly claim that the Quran was committing a tu quoque fallacy, but there is a difference between a valid tu quoque argument and an invalid tu quoque fallacy.  Tu quoque (“you too”) arguments are not always illegitimate.  Of significance is the fact that, following the Nakhla raid, Muhammad (1) admitted that the Muslims had committed an offense, and (2) willingly submitted to the penalty of that offense (i.e. paid blood money).

The Prophet of Islam didn’t try to make something right because the enemy did something wrong.  More importantly, he didn’t try to get out of the penalty for the offense.  Instead, he admitted that his side had done something wrong, paid the penalty for it, and then pointed out that his accusers had committed far greater offenses without making any amends for it.  He was not trying to get out of the penalty, but only highlighting the Qurayshite hypocrisy so that they would not exploit the incident to further anti-Muslim propaganda.

Islamophobes today are also guilty of hypocrisy on this front: they are among America and Israel’s most hawkish proponents of war in Muslim lands.  During Muhammad’s pre-Badr expeditions, the Muslims had killed only one person, and this was in violation of their orders.  What about the hundreds and hundreds of Muslim victims who die at the hands of the American and Israeli military, without any form of restitution given to them?  We are told then that “this is war”…But when Muhammad’s men kill one person, then it’s the greatest tragedy in all of history.

Related to our opening question (Is Islam more violent than other religions, specifically Judaism and Christianity? Was Muhammad the most violent prophet or religious figure in history?) lies another question: the Biblical prophets–such as MosesJoshuaSamson,DavidSaul, etc.–engaged in genocide against the natives of Canaan.  Thousands and thousands of innocent people were slaughtered.  Are there any stories in the Bible of any of these Judeo-Christian prophets and holy figures giving restitution to the victim’s families?  One can already hear Robert Spencer crying “tu quoque, tu quoque!”, a word that he obviously does not properly understand.  Islam, identified as our enemy in the post-9/11 war, is put through a special standard, one that Spencer’s own religion could not withstand.

*  *  *  *  *

The Islamic principle of justice is to apply the law equally to all.  There are numerous verses of the Quran to this effect (i.e. 16:90: “God commands you to uphold justice and to do good to others”) and this topic would require another article to elucidate fully.  For now, however, it would suffice us to refer to the opening of sura (chapter) five, which is said to be among the final revelations of the Quran.  It was revealed after the conquest of Mecca.  In it, we see once again that the Quran affirms the idea of sacred months and sacred spaces.  More importantly, it commands Muslims to uphold justice and be fair even to their enemies:

Do not violate the sanctity of God’s rites or the Sacred Months…or the people coming to the Sacred Space…Do not let your ill-will towards a people–because they barred you from the Sacred Mosque–cause you to transgress against them.  Help one another to do what is right and good.  Do not help one another towards sin and aggression. (Quran, 5:2)

Robert Spencer traces “Islam’s only overarching moral principle” of “if it’s good for Islam, it’s right” to the raid at Nakhla, but the evidence simply does not bear his argument out.  Instead, all that becomes apparent is the Islamophobic tactic: if it makes Islam and Muslims look bad, let’s run with it.

Danios was the Brass Crescent Award Honorary Mention for Best Writer in 2010 and the Brass Crescent Award Winner for Best Writer in 2011.

1. Robert Spencer, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), p.79
2. Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasulullah, p.287 (tr. A. Guillaume)
3. Ibid.
4. Reuven Firestone, Jihad, p.57
5. Ibid.
6. Ibn Ishaq, p.287
7. Thomas W. Arnold, The Preaching of Islam, p.30
8. Spencer, pp.5-7
9. It should be noted that the nineteenth century gave birth to the modernist movement within Islamic thought, which redefined jihad and challenged the long-held “traditional” opinion on the matter.  Today, the “traditional” opinion is held only by a few ultra-conservative Muslims, a view that should not to be conflated with that held by Radical Muslims such as Osama Bin Laden.

History’s First Jihad: Was It Justified?

Posted in Feature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 18, 2012 by loonwatch

Note: The following is a part of LoonWatch’s Understanding Jihad Series, a refutation of Robert Spencer’s book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades).  Specifically, this article addresses the bottom of page 5 of Spencer’s book (part of the section entitled “Muhammad the raider” in the chapter “Muhammad: Prophet of War”).  Admittedly, my rebuttal makes for a lengthy read, but it would be doing an injustice to this complex topic to sacrifice thoroughness for brevity.  Those looking for an easy, children’s book sort of read (in size 16 font no less) are encouraged to refer to Spencer’s book.

When it comes to matters pertaining to Islam, there is no buzzword quite like the word jihad.  In the West, especially among anti-Muslim elements, it is firmly associated with violence, terrorism, and perpetual holy war against unbelievers.  Even many well-meaning non-Muslims think that “moderate Muslims” do not believe in jihad and that this is a doctrine espoused only by radical elements of the faith.

But, the reality is that most observant Muslims accept jihad as an integral part of Islam.  It should be understood, however, that ”there are…many kinds of jihad, and most have nothing to do with warfare.” [1] Prof. Reuven Firestone writes:

The semantic meaning of the Arabic term jihad has no relation to holy war or even war in general. It derives, rather from the root j.h.d., the meaning of which is to strive, exert oneself, or take extraordinary pains. Jihad is a verbal noun of the third Arabic form of the root jahada, which is defined classically as “exerting one’s utmost power, efforts, endeavors, or ability in contending with an object of disapprobation.”

There are, therefore, many kinds of jihad, and most have nothing to
do with warfare.Jihad of the heart,” for example, denotes struggle against one’s own sinful inclinations, while “jihad of the tongue” requires speaking on behalf of the good and forbidding evil. [2]

Of these, there is jihad al-saif (“the struggle of the sword”, which will be referred to henceforth simply as jihad).  Using Firestone’s definition of “holy war” (“holy war is defined most broadly as any religious justification for engaging in war”[3]), it is difficult to accept the claim of some Muslim preachers that the Quran does not endorse the concept of holy war at all. [4]

Nonetheless, most modern day Muslims view jihad as their equivalent of the West’s just war doctrine. [5] War is religiously justified (and approved by God, a “holy war” in this sense) if it is in response to injustice, oppression, and aggression.  Certainly, the Quran provides considerable evidence to support the idea that war ought to be waged only in self-defense. [6]

The question arises, however: does the sira (biography) of the Prophet Muhammad support such a view?  Muhammad waged history’s first jihad: he mobilized the Muslim refugees in Medina against the Quraysh of Mecca.  Naturally, the circumstances and context of this event are pivotal to Islamic theology and the doctrine of jihad.  Did Muhammad wage a war of aggression against the Quraysh simply because they were infidels?  Or, was he waging a justifiable war of self-defense?  Muhammad’s motivations in this regard are instrumental to formulating Islam’s views on matters of war and peace.

It is no surprise then that Robert Spencer, the internet’s leading anti-Muslim ideologue, has dedicated an entire chapter of his book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), to the biography of the Prophet Muhammad.  Spencer depicts Islam’s holy prophet as a violent aggressor and warmonger.  Meanwhile, Muhammad’s enemies, the Qurayshite leaders, are portrayed as the hapless victims of Muhammad’s aggression.

Yet, as I pointed out in a previous article, this is a complete inversion of reality.  The truth is that Muhammad declared his prophethood in Mecca and preached his message peacefully for over ten years.  During this time period, the Qurayshite leaders persecuted him and his followers: the early Muslims suffered beatings, imprisonment, torture, and forced conversions; some were even killed.

The persecution reached such a level that the most vulnerable members of the Muslim faithful were forced to flee for their lives to the African land of Abyssinia.  Soon, the condition of Muslims in Mecca had become so unbearable that there was a very real fear that the nascent religion of Islam would be snuffed out altogether.  With the death of his guardian uncle, Muhammad lost tribal protection, leaving him extremely vulnerable to his enemies.

It was at this precarious moment in history that a group of influential men from the city of Yathrib (later to be renamed Medina [7]) accepted Islam and promised to protect the Prophet Muhammad.  They secretly met Muhammad while he was still in Mecca, and took two solemn oaths to protect him, known as the First and Second Pledge at al-Aqaba.  Under the cover of night, waves of Muslims began to flee Mecca to find refuge in Medina. Muhammad was one of the last ones to undertake the Flight (Hijra), a watershed event that is the Islamic equivalent of the Exodus.

For almost a decade and a half, Muhammad had advised his followers to endure their humiliation and persecution with patience.  Prof. Firestone writes:

Muhammad is invariably portrayed as steadfast in his refusal to respond to insult with violence…

The Muslims are portrayed in this early period as being regularly beaten and occasionally even tortured by their Meccan opponents, with virtually no recourse for the injurious treatment they received….

[T]hey most certainly refrained in most cases from violence in reaction to such harmful treatment. In at least one case, a person is killed simply for belonging to the new followers of Muhammad. [8]

But in Medina, the Muslim refugee community regrouped and prepared for battle against their avowed enemies, the Quraysh of Mecca.  The stage for history’s first ever jihad was set.

*  *  *  *  *

The Prophet of Islam had actually arrived in Medina to bring peace: the two major tribes of the city had been involved in a protracted civil war, and the city elders had hoped Muhammad could arbitrate between the two sides. (As peculiar as it sounds to us today, it was not unusual in the ancient world for holy men to be called in to arbitrate between warring factions.)

The newly arrived Muhammad called for an end to tribalistic rivalries, preached brotherhood, and ”fashion[ed] a united community (umma) out of disparate and contending groups: Muslim emigrants (muhajirun) from Mecca, Muslim helpers (ansar) from Medina [the Medinese that converted to Islam], Medinan Jews, and pagan Arabs.” [9]  Muhammad’s influence as an arbiter led to him to become the de facto leader of Medina.

Soon, Muhammad turned his attention to his former tormentors, the Quraysh of Mecca.  The first military expedition against them was dispatched about seven to nine months after Muhammad’s arrival in Medina in what is known as Hamza’s Expedition to the Seashore.

According to Ibn Ishaq, Muhammad dispatched Hamza ibn Abdul-Muttalib “to the seashore in the neighborhood of Al-’Is with thirty riders.” [10] There, they met Abu Jahl, one of Muhammad’s fiercest enemies, who was accompanied by “three hundred riders from Mecca.” [11] This would become the very first jihad operation in history, but how anticlimactic it turned out to be:

Majdi b. ‘Amr al-Juhani intervened between them, for he was at peace with both parties.  So the people separated from [one] another without fighting. [12]

Although there was no clash of swords on that day, the two sides did exchange enlivened battle poetry.  (Who would have thought that the very first jihad in history would have amounted to nothing more than the ancient equivalent of 1980′s battle rap?)

The Expedition of Ubayda bin al-Harith, the second such military operation [13], was equally uneventful.  Ubayda along with ”sixty or eighty riders” rode out to the valley of Rabigh, where they ”encountered a large number of Quraysh” [14] consisting of “more than two hundred riders led by Abu Sufyan” [15] Ibn Ishaq writes that “no fighting took place” [16]; Haykal writes:

The Muslim forces withdrew without engaging the enemy, except for the report that Sa’d ibn Abu Waqqas shot one single arrow, later to be called, ‘the first arrow shot in the cause of Islam’. [17]

Saad ibn Waqqas led a third group “into the Hijaz, but he [too] returned without engaging the enemy.” [18]

Muhammad himself led the next four expeditions (Waddan, Buwat, Safwan, and Dhil ‘Ushairah), each of which resulted in the same uneventful outcome: the Muslims kept going out to meet the enemy, only to find them gone.  Thus it was that the Prophet of Islam and his followers ”returned to Medina without a fight.” [19]

It was only with the eighth expedition that actual military combat took place.  Muhammad dispatched Abdullah bin Jahsh to scout the Qurayshite movements at a place called Nakhla.  Although Muhammad intended this expedition to be a reconnaissance mission, Abdullah took the initiative when his men happened across a poorly armed Qurayshite caravan, which they waylaid.  In the firefight that ensued, one of the Qurayshite men was killed, two more were captured, and the caravan’s property was seized.

When the men reported back to Medina, Muhammad was less than pleased with their actions for, as Sir Thomas W. Arnold wrote, Abdullah had “acted without authority.” [20] Muhammad “paid blood money” [21] for the Qurayshite man that was killed (blood money was a form of restitution given to a victim’s family) and freed the prisoners in exchange for two Muslim prisoners.  The confiscated goods from the caravan, however, were taken as spoils of war.  (The Nakhla raid became very controversial, and in a future article, I will deal with this particular event in more detail.)

Shortly thereafter, Muhammad decided to intercept a Qurayshite caravan led by Abu Sufyan, which was returning from Syria to Mecca.  As the Muslims advanced towards it, the Quraysh of Mecca were informed of this news and quickly organized a response.  Abu Jahl mobilized a large army who marched out from Mecca to meet Muhammad and protect Abu Sufyan’s caravan.

Abu Sufyan’s caravan successfully slinked past Muhammad’s men and into safety, which caused both the Muslims and the Qurayshite army to reconsider their objectives.   A group of the Quraysh argued that “there is no point in going to war” [22] now that Abu Sufyan’s caravan was safe.  They advised to

turn back and leave Muhammad to the rest of the Arabs. If they kill him, this is what you want. [23]

Abu Jahl, one of the powerful chiefs of Mecca, rejected this argument and declared: “No, by God, we will not turn back until God decides between us and Muhammad.” [24] With this said, most of the Qurayshite army pressed on towards Muhammad and his men, with an intent to deliver the Islamic movement a decisive blow once and for all.

Meanwhile, the early Muslims were themselves conflicted as to whether or not to retreat to Medina or to face the Qurayshite army marching toward them.  They certainly had the numbers to take on Abu Sufyan’s caravan, but they were heavily outnumbered against the larger Qurayshite force headed by Abu Jahl.  Some of Muhammad’s followers advised a hasty retreat.  But, Muhammad was of a different mind and decided to face the threat head on.  Of this, the Quran declared to the believers:

God promised you that one of the two enemy groups would fall to you: you wished the unarmed one to be yours, but it was God’s will… to cut off the root of the disbelievers, so that He may make the truth manifest and prove falsehood false, however hateful this be to the criminals. (Quran, 8:7-8)

It seems that both Abu Jahl and Muhammad saw it as a sign of weakness to retreat, one that would only embolden the other.  So it was that the two forces met at a place called Badr.  The Battle of Badr was the first (and most pivotal) battle of Islamic history.  In the words of Robert Spencer:

Above all, the battle of Badr was the first practical example of what came to known as the Islamic doctrine of jihad… [25]

Muhammad’s followers were heavily outnumbered, on a scale of three to one.  The Muslim battalion consisted of a meager 313 men, 70 camels, and 2 horses.  Meanwhile, the Qurayshite army was composed of almost a thousand men with 170 camels and 100 horses.  Spencer writes:

[T]his time the Quraysh were ready for him, coming to meet Muhammad’s three hundred men with a force nearly a thousand strong…[Muhammad] cried out to Allah in anxiety, “O God, if this band perish today Thou wilt be worshiped no more.” [26]

Whether it was better military strategy, survival instinct, or divine intervention, the Muslims were victorious on that fateful day.  They overcame the Quraysh, their former tormentors, who, after a pitched battle, eventually gave flight.  Islam had survived.

*  *  *  *

The details of the actual battle itself and the aftermath warrant further discussion (and I will write a future article on this topic).  However, the even more pertinent question arises: did the Muslims have just cause?  Or were their actions unprovoked aggression against unbelievers, as Spencer and other anti-Muslim ideologues argue?

To portray Muhammad as the aggressor, Islamophobes downplay or even deny the persecution of the early Muslims in Mecca.  (As we have seen, Robert Spencer just omits it entirely from his biography.)  Even if he had been persecuted aforetime, they argue, Muhammad was now living safely in Medina.  Indeed, Orientalists have long argued that Muhammad initiated an offensive war against the Quraysh by attacking them a year after the Flight (Hijra). (In reality, the sources indicate that it was a delay of seven-to-nine months, not a full year.)

The anti-Muslim website (henceforth to be referred to as simply ROP) argues:

After his eviction by the Meccans, Muhammad and his Muslims found refuge many miles away in Medina where they were not being bothered by their former adversaries.  Despite this, Muhammad sent his men on seven unsuccessful raids against Meccan caravans…

Elsewhere, ROP argues:

The Myth:

The Muslims were under Persecution from the [Quraysh] Meccans while Living at Medina

The Truth:

…In fact, it was the Meccans who were acting in their own defense during this time.

Historians do not record any act of aggression by the Meccans against the Muslims during the time at which the second sura was narrated by Muhammad. There were no armies marching against them, nor any plans for such. The Meccans had no influence in this far-away town, and Muslims were not under persecution at the time by any stretch of the term as it is popularly understood today. According to the sequence of events in the Sira (biography), the Meccans were quite content with leaving Muhammad alone following his eviction (even though he had made a pledge of war against them)…

There is absolutely no record of Meccan aggression against the Muslims at Medina in the first three years after their arrival in 622.

Muhammad ordered the first raids against the Meccans a year after the hijra in February of 623, which eventually proved deadly. There is no record of Meccan aggression during this time.

As can be seen, the historical record provides absolutely no evidence that the Muslims were being threatened in any way by the Meccans, and fully supports the view that it was the latter who were acting in self-defense.  The Meccans had no interest in Muhammad and simply wanted to live in peace and pursue their commerce.  At each turn, the prophet of Islam unnecessarily harassed them with deadly and provocative actions that eventually forced battles on several occasions.

ROP’s basic argument is that Muhammad may have been a nuisance to the Quraysh in Mecca, but once he fled the city, they could care less about him or the Muslims in general.  He was no longer their problem or concern.

But, Muslim historians depict the situation quite differently, pointing to continued aggressive behavior of the Quraysh towards the Muslims; Ar-Raheeq Al-Makthum reads:

The Quraishites, mortified at the escape of the Prophet along with his devoted companions, and jealous of his growing power in Madinah, kept a stringent watch over the Muslims left behind and persecuted them in every possible way. They also initiated clandestine contacts with ‘Abdullah bin Uabi bin Salul, chief of Madinese polytheists, and president designate of the tribes ‘Aws and Khazraj [the two major tribes of Medina] before the Prophet’s emigration. They sent him a strongly-worded ultimatum ordering him to fight or expel the Prophet, otherwise they would launch a widespread military campaign that would exterminate his people and proscribe his women. [Narrated by Abu Da’ud]…

Provocative actions continued and Quraish sent the Muslims a note threatening to put them to death in their own homeland. Those were not mere words, for the Prophet received information from reliable sources attesting to real intrigues and plots being hatched by the enemies of Islam. Precautionary measures were taken and a state of alertness was called for, including the positioning of security guards around the house of the Prophet and strategic junctures. [27]

Indeed, the primary sources confirm (and Western historians accept as historic) that the Quraysh had attempted to assassinate Muhammad in Mecca right before he took flight (Hijra).  According to Ibn Ishaq, once they came to know that Muhammad was escaping the city of Mecca, the “Quraysh offered a hundred camels as a reward for whoever would seize Muhammad and bring him back.” [28]

This certainly goes against ROP’s argument that the Quraysh could care less about Muhammad once he left the city.  Even though the Quraysh knew he fled Mecca, they continued to pursue him.  In fact, this lends credence to the counter-argument: the Quraysh were very much concerned about Muhammad reestablishing a base of support in another city such as Medina.  Furthermore, they were ready to use force against him even outside the city’s limits.

Indeed, there is primary evidence to support the argument that the Qurayshite leaders exerted their influence on the leadership of Medina, especially Abdullah ibn Ubai [29], to expel Muhammad and the other Muslim refugees.  The Quraysh issued the following ultimatum:

O people of Medina, you have given safe-haven to our opponent[s].  By God, if you do not fight or expel them, we shall come out against you and kill your warriors and enslave your women. [30]

If Iran sent an official letter to the United States threatening to kill all American men and enslave their women unless the country abandons and even attacks Israel, would any reasonable person object to Israel interpreting this as an act of war?

Certainly, this threat created a sense of looming fear and insecurity in the nascent Muslim community, which was at the mercy of their hosts (the Medinese).  Muhammad himself took the threat seriously enough to sleep with a bodyguard posted outside his door.  Tafsir Ibn Kathir notes that verse 5:67 of the Quran was revealed in regard to his fear of assassination: ”The Messenger of God was vigilant one night, after he came to Medina…” [31] Then, the Quran reassured him:

God will protect you from mankind. (Quran, 5:67)

Haykal brings up a good point, noting that the Qurayshite leaders had earlier sought the official extradition of the Muslim refugees from the distant land of Abyssinia. [32] Would it not be reasonable to assume then that the Quraysh would similarly seek to pursue the Muslims when they fled to Medina?

The Quraysh feared (and one could say reasonably) Muslim hegemony spreading around the area of Medina, which lay directly in between the Quraysh and their trade routes to Syria (and the rest of the world).  But more than strategic concerns, the animosity between Muslims and the Quraysh had, after over a decade in strife, reached such a high level that it is unlikely that the Qurayshite leaders would have suddenly dropped their hostility towards the new religion.  It is therefore difficult to accept ROP’s argument that the Meccans didn’t display any hostility towards the Muslims in Medina.

ROP claims that “[t]he Meccans had no influence in this far-away town [of Medina]“, but the evidence seems to indicate otherwise.  Mecca was the most influential city of the Arabian Peninsula, and the Quraysh attempted to use this influence to pressure the Medinese to turn out Muhammad and his followers.  The fear of Mecca had been, after all, one of the major reasons the leaders of Taif had turned Muhammad out so quickly.

The Quraysh colluded with a fifth column within the ranks of the Medinese, a group referred to pejoratively in the Quran as the Hypocrites (Munafiqun).  They were led by an influential man named Abdullah ibn Ubai who, prior to Muhammad’s arrival, had been slated to become the unified chief of the two major tribes of Medina.  Ibn Ubai’s influence was quickly eclipsed by the Prophet of God, a fact that put the two men at loggerheads with one another.  The Quraysh urged Ibn Salul to expel the Muslim refugees, although Ibn Salul countenanced himself with less crude means of countering Muhammad’s growing influence within his city.

During the Meccan Period, the Quraysh had applied pressure to the Banu Hashim and Banu Muttalib to rescind their protection of Muhammad so that they could kill him.  When Muhammad fled to Medina, the Quraysh did the same with the Medinese.  We can see evidence of this, for instance, in the case of Saad ibn Muadh’s visit to Mecca in order to perform a religious pilgrimage.  Saad, a Medinese convert to Islam, entered the city under the protection of his old Meccan friend, Abu Safwan.  Abu Jahl, one of early Islam’s fiercest opponents, saw Saad with Abu Safwan and threatened:

I see you wandering about safely in Mecca in spite of the fact that you have given shelter to the people who have changed their religion (to Islam) and have claimed that you will help and support them.  By God, if you were not in the (protective) company of Abu Safwan, you would not be able to go to your family safely!

Saad retorted:

By God, if you should stop me from doing this, I would certainly prevent you from something which is more valuable to you, that is, your passage through Medina. [33]

That Abu Jahl, one of the chiefs of Mecca, issued such a threat indicates that the Muslims of Medina had every reason to feel threatened by the Quraysh.  Additionally, this exchange seems to have occurred before the initiation of Muhammad’s military operations.  In it, the Medinese man threatens a retaliatory move (if you block our entry to Mecca, we will block your way through Medina).

Qurayshite hostility was not limited to threats alone: their persecution of Muslims in Mecca continued unabated.  Some of the Muslims in Mecca were too weak to make the arduous journey to Medina, whereas others were detained against their will.  The Quran itself mentions this fact in verse 4:98, calling them the “weak and oppressed–men, women, and children–who have no means in their power nor any way to escape [Mecca].”  Ibn Ishaq writes that ”[t]he emigrants [Muhajirun] followed one another to join the apostle [in Medina], and none was left in Mecca but those who had apostatized [under duress?] or been detained.” [34] Their “houses in Mecca were locked up when they migrated…and sold” by the Quraysh [35], prompting Muhammad to reassure one of his followers about the “property which [they] lost in God’s service”:

Are you not pleased that God will give you a better house in Paradise? [36]

The Emigrants [Muhajirun] were barred from their homes and families in Mecca, whom they wished to visit.  They were also barred from making the pilgrimage to visit the Holy Kaabah.

It seems then that the faucet of Qurayshite hostility was not, as ROP implies, turned off the minute Muhammad and most of his followers fled the city.  It continued in the form of threats against the Muslims and those who harbored them, and active persecution of those Muslims still under Qurayshite control.

*  *  *  *  *

More than this, there is a point that is often overlooked by both the Muslim and anti-Muslim side, something that would seem to be the crux of the matter.  On the one hand, Muslims seem to argue that Muhammad had every reason to initiate attacks on the Quraysh due to their continued aggressive behavior.  On the other hand, the Islamophobic side argues the exact opposite, as ROP writes:

The only reason that this myth arose is the need for Muslim apologists to justify the more violent passages of the Qur’an’s second chapter, which was “revealed” shortly after Muhammad arrived in Medina following the hijra.  Passages from this chapter encourage believers to violence within the context of ending “tumult,” “oppression,” and “persecution.”

…[However, h]istorians do not record any act of aggression by the Meccans against the Muslims during the time at which the second sura was narrated by Muhammad.

It is true that chapter two of the Quran does include some verses justifying war (2:190-194, 216-218, and 244,), but the first passage ordaining war was in chapter twenty-two of the Quran (typo on ROP’s part?), in which the God of the Quran states:

Permission to take up arms is granted to those who are being fought, because they have been oppressed–And indeed, God has the power to help them!–those who have been unjustly driven out from their homes, only for saying “Our Lord is God.” (Quran, 22:39-40)

ROP claims that “[h]istorians do not record any act of aggression by the Meccans against the Muslims during the time at which the [twenty?] second sura was narrated by Muhammad.”  By this, ROP implies that Muhammad and the Muslims were living safely in Medina–for well over a year–before this passage came down.  Was Muhammad justifying war by looking to an old infraction, just as the United States used Saddam’s gassing of the Kurds in the 1980′s to justify war against him years later?

In fact, however, this passage, which permitted the Muslims to defend themselves–and constituted a declaration of war against the Quraysh–was revealed long before Muhammad’s military expeditions against the Quraysh were launched.  Ibn Ishaq places its revelation (“[w]hen God gave permission to his apostle to fight” [37]) to the Second Pledge at Al-Aqaba, which occurred right before the Prophet’s Flight (Hijra).  Ibn Ishaq writes:

The apostle had not been given permission to fight or allowed to shed blood before the second ‘Aqaba…[at which time God] gave permission to His apostle to fight and to protect himself against those who wronged them and treated them badly.

The first verse which was sent down on this subject…was: ‘Permission [to take up arms] is given…’ [Quran, 22:39] [38]

He writes elsewhere:

Then God sent down to [Muhammad]: ‘Fight them so that there be no more seduction’, i.e. until no believer is seduced [coerced] from his religion.  ’And the religion is God’s…

When God had given permission to fight and this clan of the Ansar had pledged their support to [Muhammad]…the apostle commanded his companions…to emigrate to Medina and to link up with their brethren the Ansar. [39]

Prof. F.E. Peters writes (emphasis added):

While still at Mecca, if we have the chronology right, during Muhammad’s last days there, a revelation had come to him for the first time permitting Muslims to resort to force, or rather, to meet Quraysh violence with violence (Quran 22:39-41). [40]

Other sources, such as Tabari and Wahidi, date this revelation to shortly afterward, to immediately after the Flight (Hijra).  Prof. Reuven Firestone writes:

According to Wahidi, sura 22:39 was revealed during the year of the Hijra immediately after Muhammad left Mecca. Abu Bakr is reported to have complained that the minute they would leave the limited protection of Mecca, they would be destroyed by their enemies.46 The verse was therefore revealed to allow them henceforth to defend themselves. Sura 22:39 is considered the first revelation allowing the Muslims to engage in fighting.47

46. P. 177. Similar words put into the mouth of Abu Bakr are also found in a number of the sources listed in note 47, following.

47. Many authoritative statements to this effect (i.e., statements attributed to specific early authorities) are collected in Tabari, book 17, pp. 172–173; Nahhas, vol. 2, pp. 233, 301, 525; Tafsir Ibn Abbas, p. 280; Tafsir Muqatil, vol. 3, p. 129; Tafsir Mujahid, p. 482. [41]

If Ibn Ishaq’s dating is to be accepted, this could explain why the Qurayshite leaders decided to finalize their plot to assassinate Muhammad.  Ibn Ishaq writes:

When the Quraysh saw that the apostle had a party and companions not of their tribe and outside their territory, and that his companions had migrated to join them, and knew that they had settled in a new home and had gained protectors, they feared that the apostle might join them, since they knew he had decided to fight them.  So they assembled in their council chamber…to take counsel what they should do in regard to the aspotle, for they were now in fear of him…

The discussion [among the Qurayshite leaders] opened with the statement that now that Muhammad had gained adherents outside the tribe they were no longer safe against a sudden attack and the meeting was to determine the best course to pursue… [42]

Ibn Kathir writes:

[The] Quraysh were concerned that the Messenger of God would leave and join [the people of Medina], since they knew that he had decided to do battle with them. They therefore gathered in the Dar al-Nadwa, the house of assembly…[and] discussed there what they should do about the Messeger of God, since they now feared him….They would kill him. [43]

The state of war between the Quraysh and the Muslims thus already existed by this point in time, far before Muhammad’s military expeditions several months later.  ROP argues this exact point, saying:

Muhammad eventually made an alliance with another town, Medina, that included provisions of war against the Meccans. The parties to the treaty were asked “Do you realize to what you are committing yourselves in pledging your support to this man? It is to war against all and sundry” (Ibn Ishaq/Hisham 299). The pledge to war is further confirmed in Ibn Ishaq/Hisham 305.

Therefore, it was only after Muhammad committed himself to armed revolution against the Meccans that the town’s leaders sought to have him either killed or evicted.

The weakness in ROP’s argument lies in the fact that the Quraysh had long before considered harming or killing the Prophet of Islam.  In fact, the Quraysh had implored Abu Talib, Muhammad’s uncle and tribal guardian, to rescind his protection over his nephew so that they could deal with him.  Their level of seriousness can be assessed by their complete social and economic boycott of Abu Talib’s entire tribe along with the Banu Hashim.  It can also be gauged by the fact that as soon as Abu Talib died, Muhammad felt threatened enough to flee to Taif.  Therefore, all that can be said is that Muhammad’s decision to battle the Quraysh convinced the chiefs of Mecca to finalize and actualize their idea of murdering the Islamic prophet, a plan that they were already mulling over in their heads.

Another weakness in ROP’s logic becomes apparent: on one page he argues that Muhammad declared war while “safe in Medina”, but on another page he (inadvertently) “concedes” that Muhammad declared war against the Quraysh while in Mecca.  (This is of course another case of an Islamophobe trying to further as many arguments as possible against Muhammad and Islam, a strategy that often results in contradictory claims.)

In any case, it is more likely that the later dating of verse 22:39 is more accurate, and that the failed assassination attempt on Muhammad’s life may have been the casus belli for the Quranic injunction of war against the Quraysh.  In this dating scheme, Muhammad was committed to war against the Quraysh immediately after he was forced out of Mecca.

Whether one accepts the earlier or later dating of verse 22:39, the fact is that Muhammad’s declaration of war occurred much earlier than when he finally launched military expeditions against the Quraysh.  This point completely nullifies ROP’s argument that “[h]istorians do not record any act of aggression by the Meccans against the Muslims during the time at which the [twenty-]second sura was narrated by Muhammad.”  In fact, Muhammad’s war declaration occurred at the zenith of Qurayshite persecution, when it had reached a tipping point and Muslims had to flee from Mecca entirely.

A state of hostility between the two sides already existed by the time the Prophet of Islam arrived safely in Medina.  It should be noted that there was no formal declaration of war because the Quraysh regarded Muhammad and his party as “renegades” and, in the words of ROP, as “armed revolution[aries]“.  They were seen as non-state actors against whom formal declaration of war was not needed.  Muhammad, on the other hand, quickly organized in Medina to establish his community not as a refugee community but as a sovereign nation onto itself.  Muhammad’s military forays were show-of-force exercises designed to convey this message to the Quraysh.  But, there were likely two other audiences in mind: firstly, these early campaigns were confidence-building measures for the benefit of the Muslims themselves.  Secondly, they were meant to send a message to the city that had granted his people refuge: the Muslims could stand their own ground against the Quraysh.

The seven-to-nine month gap of military conflict between the Quraysh and Muslims can be thought of as similar to the six-month Phony War during World War II.  The Phony War was the “name [given] for the early months of World War II, marked by no major hostilities” between the Allies and the Germans.  Military historian David Horner writes:

This period between the Anglo-French declaration of war and the fall of France is known as the ‘phoney war’ because of the very inaction of both sides.  The Germans were honing their plans for the assault on the Allies in the west, and the Allies too were busying themselves with organizing their counter-effort. [44]

Muhammad’s delay of seven-to-nine months, between when he expressed his intent to fight the Quraysh and the actual military expeditions against them, was due to the time needed to organize his community from a refugee population into a functioning state.

On the other side of the equation, the Quraysh of Mecca had not yet committed themselves to war against Medina itself.  It should be noted that Mecca was not in a state of war with the city of Medina overall, but only with the Muslim refugees (“renegades”) from Mecca (Muhajirun).  The Quraysh were not at war with the Medinese converts to Islam (the Helpers or Ansar) nor with the non-Muslim residents of Medina.  It is recorded that the Quraysh had actually initially said to the Medinese:

We have come to know that you have come here to conclude a treaty with this man (Muhammad) and evacuate him out of Mecca.  By God, we do really hold in abhorrence any sort of fight between you and us. [45]

This is also why Muhammad’s initial military campaigns against the Quraysh consisted of, in the words of Ibn Ishaq, “emigrants [from Mecca], there not being a single one of the [Medinese] Ansar among them.” [46] The war at this point in time was only between the Quraysh and the Muslim refugees (Muhajirun).

The Quraysh had not yet made the decision to attack Medina itself, a move which had the potential of uniting the city behind Muhammad.  Such an act would have also converted what the Quraysh saw as an internal conflict between a state and a renegade faction into an all-out war between two different (city-)states, an escalation that the people of Mecca may not have been ready to commit to.  Instead, they chose the less energy-intensive option of isolating the Muslims, hoping that the Medinese would, under Qurayshite pressure, expel them.  For their part, the Medinese were willing to harbor the Muslim refugees against Qurayshite wishes, but they had not yet accepted the idea of war with Mecca.

In light of our Phony War paradigm, it not only becomes apparent but also somewhat understandable why the Quraysh maintained hostilities towards the Muslims–why they tried to kill Muhammad, pressured Medina to expel or fight the Muslims, and oppressed Muslims stranded in Mecca.  As detestable as these acts may seem to Muslim historians, they are, at least to some degree, an expected part of war.

On the flip side, Muhammad cannot be accused of declaring or initiating an offensive war against the Quraysh.  All that can be said is that “Muhammad went on the offensive”, which is a much different matter.  No reasonable person would argue that the Allies had declared or initiated an offensive war when they invaded Normandy.  Instead, this was a case of the Allies going on the offense in a defensive war (against German aggression).  Likewise, Muhammad had declared a defensive war against the Quraysh at the height of Qurayshite persecution of Muslims, and it was only in Medina several months later that he went on the offensive.

This point also negates the anti-Muslim canard that Muhammad was “opportunistic” in terms of war and peace, i.e. that he called for peaceful coexistence when he was weak and war when he was in a position of strength.  (Based on this idea, Robert Spencer and other Islamophobes argue that Islam itself advocates such opportunism, i.e. Muslims calling for peace when they are weak and war when they are in a position of strength.)  In fact, Muhammad declared war against the Quraysh when, from a military standpoint, he was very, very weak.  According to Ibn Ishaq’s dating, the Prophet of Islam declared war against the Quraysh while still in Mecca.  He was not the leader of a powerful city but rather a hunted down rogue prophet who feared for his life.

Even if we accept the later dating, Muhammad conveyed his intent to battle the Quraysh as he fled the city.  He was a refugee leader at this time, nothing more.  His emerging leadership role in Medina was only just developing and far from determined.  Either way, Muhammad’s intent to square off with the far more powerful Quraysh can be seen as something courageous and not opportunistic at all.  The “peace when weak and war when strong” paradigm cannot be accepted; the Muslims, from a military standpoint, were quite weak.

Neither could it be said that Muhammad was now in a position of power because he had the Medinese to aid him.  The various factions of Medina had only committed to defending the city of Medina from attack.  Unless the Quraysh attacked Medina directly, Muhammad could not count on their support.  In the initial military campaigns, only the Muslim refugees (Muhajirun) took part, not the Medinese.  Muhammad had at his disposal a ragtag group of refugees, nothing more.  How then can we accept the claim that Muhammad was “opportunistic” and called for peace in times of weakness and war in times of strength?

*  *  *  *  *

That there was a financial component to such warring cannot be denied.  The Muslims of Mecca had been forced to escape the city under cover of darkness, with their life possessions reduced to what they could carry on their backs.  The Quraysh seized their remaining property in Mecca, aside from what they could sneak out. [47] Thus it was that the Muslim Emigrants arrived in Medina in an impoverished (and homeless) state.  The generosity of the Muslim Helpers sustained the refugees for some time, but faith and brotherhood could only be expected to go so far.

Military historian Richard A. Gabriel writes:

As the leader of this new community Muhammad was responsible for ensuring that it survived.  He and his people were on the brink of starvation and living in poverty.  During the early days in Medina they survived on dates and water, having no money to purchase much else…There was, in any case, little new land to be cultivated by the newcomers in the already developed agricultural community of Medina. [48]

(And yet we are expected to believe that Muhammad, whose “people were on the brink of starvation and living in poverty…surviv[ing] on dates and water”, was now in a “position of strength”!)

Raiding Qurayshite caravans was a solution to this financial dilemma.  Frances O’Connor writes in the History of Islam:

The Muslim community in Medina faced many challenges.  In particular, when the Meccan Muslims migrated there, they had no way to make money because they were not farmers like the Medinans, and most of their belongings left behind in Mecca had been confiscated by the Meccan tribes.  Muhammad sent a party of his followers to raid the Meccan trade caravans that were coming through the area.  This was a way for their followers to get supplies of food and other goods, as well as to demonstrate to the Meccans that the Muslims were not weak.  The Arabs of this time were accustomed to this type of warfare and competition as a means of survival, and the Muslims felt justified in harming Meccan economic interests. [49]

Robert Spencer writes:

In Medina, these new Muslims began raiding the caravans of the Quraysh, with Muhammad personally leading many of these raids.  These raids kept the nascent Muslim movement solvent… [50]

Spencer entitles this section of his book “Muhammad the raider“, clearly using the term “raider” in a pejorative manner.  I have myself opted to use the more neutral term “military expedition” to refer to Muhammad’s early operations against the Quraysh.  But, is “raid” an appropriate term to use?  What about “raider“?

From a purely technical standpoint, the word “raid” seems to be appropriate.  The dictionary definition of raid is: “[a] rapid surprise attack on an enemy by troops, aircraft, or other armed forces in warfare.”  The United States military routinely engages in raids, such as the infamous “night raids” in Afghanistan.  For some reason, however, the word has a positive or at least neutral connotation when used for our own military or our allies.  Meanwhile, when the term is used for our enemies or The Other, it has a very negative meaning.

More problematic is the Spencerian epithet of “Muhammad the raider.”  If Muhammad is to be given this name for having ordered military raids, then should George W. Bush or Barack Obama be called “raiders” for their role in ordering raids against the nation’s enemies?  Should it be “Bush the raider” or “Obama the raider”?

Spencer’s tactic of wordplay can also be seen with the following misleading statement of his:

In 622, [Muhammad] fled his native Mecca for a nearby town, Medina, where a band of tribal warriors had accepted him as a prophet and pledged loyalty to him. [51]

In fact, “the Medinese were agriculturists.” [52] The “tribal warriors” of the day were the desert Bedouins, not the urban and agricultural folks of Medina.  For the most part, the people of Medina were not wise to the ways of war.  In fact, as Richard Gabriel writes, “most Muslims were urban or agricultural folks, not bedouins, and knew very little about how to undertake a successful caravan raid.” [53] The city of Medina, had been from time to time involved in this or that battle or war, but how is this different from every other city and nation in history?  Should we call the United States a nation of “tribal warriors” simply because it is involved in war?

Richard Gabriel himself, whose book is nothing more than post 9/11 anti-Muslim polemic encased in a pseudo-scholarly shell [54], refers to Muhammad as a “marauder.”  Likening the vast desert to the open seas, ROP calls Muhammad and his followers “pirates.”  This is a consistent theme in Islamophobic literature.

Much has been written by Western commentators about the ghazu (raid) and how it was a “peculiar” pre-Islamic Arabian custom that Muhammad adopted.  For instance, Prof. Joseph Morrison Skelly writes of it:

It is historically apparent that raiding was commonplace among Arabs in the pre-Islamic era. Also, raiding was not considered immoral unless it entailed stealing from kinsmen…[It was] a pre-Islamic Arab practice later adopted by Muslims. [55]

Voices sympathetic to Islam argue that the early Muslims were operating in a completely acceptable way for that time.  Meanwhile, anti-Muslim elements argue that Muhammad should be condemned for accepting such a “barbaric” Arabian custom.

These discussions, however, seem to miss the crux of the matter: Muhammad and the early Muslims did not raid caravans belonging to random tribes or peoples.  Instead, their attacks were very specific and limited to caravans belonging to the powerful Quraysh, their arch-enemy, with whom they were already in a state of conflict with.

Had Muhammad simply been a marauder or pirate wishing to enrich himself, he would most certainly have chosen to attack caravans belonging to far less powerful peoples.  The Quran did not, however, legitimate raids against all non-Muslim peoples, but only against those who persecuted the Muslims, i.e. the Quraysh.  The Quran declared: “Fight in God’s cause against those who fight against you, but do not commit aggression, for surely, God does not love aggressors.” (Quran, 2:190) (This is of course important from a theological point of view.)

Having understood this, Muhammad’s decision to raid Qurayshite caravans need not be rationalized by citing some ancient Arabian custom.  Rather, one can actually look much closer to home.  The tactic employed by the early Muslims was identical to that used by the United States from its very inception.  Using the same “open seas” analogy, we see that the Prophet of Islam engaged not in “piracy” but in “commerce raiding”, which has been an accepted form of warfare throughout history and across all cultural lines.

The distinction between the act of piracy and commerce raiding is an important one to make.  There are two major reasons why piracy is considered illegitimate as compared to commerce raiding: firstly, pirates do not possess proper authority; secondly, “pirates attack merchants without distinction.”  Conversely, commerce raiding is vested in proper authority, and commerce raiders only attack commercial ships belonging to enemy nations.  Clearly, Muhammad’s expeditions fall into the latter category: he was the leader of a community, and he only targeted enemy caravans.

Commerce raiding is known in French as guerre de course (“war of the chase”) and in German as handelskrieg (“trade war”).  Both France and Germany have a long history of using this tactic, which is considered respectable and even celebrated.  This tactic also has a venerated position in American history, being used against the British during the Revolutionary War (1775-1783).  The Continental Congress formed the Continental Navy, which

was not expected to contest British control of the seas, but rather to wage a traditional guerre de course against British trade, in conjunction with scores of privateers outfitting in American ports.  The Continental navy’s ships were to raid commerce and attack the transports that supplied British forces in North America. To carry out this mission, the Continental Congress began to build up, through purchase, conversion, and new construction, a cruiser navy of small ships–frigates, brigs, sloops, and schooners.

…[The Continental Navy’s] cruisers ranged far and wide and demonstrated that British commerce was nowhere safe, not even in British home waters.

Retired navy officer and military author Joe B. Havens writes:

During that war, the Continental navy, privateers, and commerce raiding squadrons chartered by individual American states, and the navy of our French ally all played vital roles in our fight against the British.

The Continental navy’s squadrons and individual ships attacked British sea lines of communication and seized transports laden with munitions, privisions and troops. Continental and state Navy ships and privateers also struck at enemy commerce, taking nearly 200 British ships as prizes, forcing them to divert warships to protect convoys and trade routes. [56]

In fact, commerce raiding was used to boost American morale against the British and were instrumental in winning the war against such a powerful naval power.  Military historian James C. Bradford writes in the Atlas of American Military History:

The Continental Congress and the state governments issued letters of marque to ship owners, who then attacked enemy commerce. Captured and condemned vessels became prizes and the property of the owner, captain, and crew, among whom the spoils were divided according to the proportion of investment and crew rank.

Privateering proved to be both an effective weapon against the enemy as well as a profitable source of income for those in the business. For the British, the American privateers proved to be a major source of trouble, as their efforts, combined with later naval activity by the French, Spanish, and Dutch, led to the seizure of approximately 3,300 ships of the total 6,000 British vessels involved in overseas trade during the war…

Commerce raiding also made for good propaganda, as the exploits of individual captains made news both in America and in Europe. In March 1776, a squadron of eight Continental Navy vessels unders Commodore Esek Hopkins raided New Providence in the Bahamas and captured the British governor…The most distinguished American captain, however, was John Paul Jones, a native of Scotland who joined the Continental Navy and made an early name for himself capturing prizes off the coast of Canada…

[Jones] proceeded to raid British shipping off the coast of the British Isles, crowning this achievement by raiding the Lake District port of Whitehaven…underscoring the harassing role the American navy would play…In 1779, he captured a French merchant hulk and converted it into a forty-two-gun sloop…. [57]

The United States would use commerce raiding once again during the War of 1812 (“the second American revolution”), and continued to employ it throughout its history all the way to World War II (when it was used against Imperial Japan).  (In the post WWII world, the United States has the most powerful navy in the world and can now rely on blockades.  Commerce raiding is the tactic used by navies too weak to enforce blockades.)

In fact, since the very beginning of her birth, America has incorporated commerce raiding into its main strategy at sea.  Dr. Kenneth J. Hagan, Professor of Strategy and War at the US Naval War College, writes:

American submarine warfare against Japanese cargo vessels and oil tankers during World War II constitutes history’s outstanding example of successful guerre de course, or commerce raiding…[I]ts impact on the Japanese war machine and on the Imperial Japanese Navy’s sea-keeping potential was staggering. Of the 8.1 million tons of Japanese merchant marine shipping sunk in World War II, American submarines accounted for 4.8 million tons…

Guerre de course, or commerce raiding, is as old as naval warfare. It consists of an attack by an armed vessel–a privateer or warship–on an unarmed merchant vessel with the intent of capturing the victim and its cargo for the profit of the attacker. It is the favored tactic of a weaker naval power fighting a stronger one; for example, continental European powers have often employed it against England…

[G]uerre de course offered the only viable strategy for American naval policy makers from the moment independence was decided upon in 1776. The Americans were a lilliputian naval power compared with the British, and at best they could only sting Britain’s oceanic commerce while dodging the punitive might of the Royal Navy’s ubiquitous warships….[T]he U.S. Navy’s favorite weapon…[was the] hit-and-run mission…[C]ommerce raiding remained the preferred American way of fighting at sea until very late in the nineteenth century…

The pattern was set: American warships would not fight British warships, of which there were far too many to overcome, but they would capture British merchant vessels in order to acquire scarce capital and to sap mercantile Britain’s morale…Guerre de course could not defeat the Royal Navy, but by inclining London to negotiate a peace, it “made an enormous impact on the success of the war effort.”

George Washington understood the virtues of this strategy, as did a majority in Congress. [58]

Commerce raiding was accepted by the United States and the world as a valid form of warfare, and it was only with the advent of submarines that things began to change.  The Oxford Companion to American Military History explains:

The term GUERRE DE COURSE describes a form of maritime warfare aimed at disrupting seaborne commerce…[I]t is usually rendered as “commerce raiding” in English. Operationally, guerre de course resembles blockades in that it is primarily a form of economic warfare, in which combat with enemy ships is at best a secondary consideration…

Guerre de course, in contrast, is usually adopted by countries too weak to attempt such continuous, large-scale operations [such as blockades]; or unwilling to risk the kind of fleet action that may be necessary to impose or break a blockade. It is conducted by individual ships (naval warships or privately owned ships armed with guns and authorized by government letters of marque to engage in legal privateering) or small squadrons. These operate in hit-and-run fashion along oceanic shipping lanes…Strategically, guerre de course respresents an alternative to operations directed against the main naval forces of the enemy. Guerre de course in the form of privateering was widely employed by Americans in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.

…[G]uerre de course aims to…undermine public morale by inflicting economic losses and depriving the population of necessary or familiar goods…

[I]n the twentieth century…the advent of torpedo-armed submarines, which brought to the guerre de course a ferocity and decisiveness it had not previously possessed. A surface cruiser operating under the rules of engagement accepted by nineteenth century navies was expected to board a prospective target, determine if the nationality and cargo made it a legal prize, and see the safety of the crew before taking further action.

However, the early months of World War I revealed that similar conduct by German submarines exposed them to enormous risks, and reduced their tactical effectiveness far below what was possible if such scruples were set aside. Guerre de course accordingly lost its traditional character as a relatively bloodless and vaguely romantic sort of peripheral operation, and became a desperate and murderous struggle capable of deciding a major war.

This trend culminated in the devastating campaign against Japanese commerce conducted by American submarines (and to a lesser extent by carrier-based aircraft) during World War II–a rare example of guerre de course waged by the stronger side… [59]

Muhammad’s military expeditions were commerce raids, not only completely acceptable in the Arabian context of the time, but also by American and international standards throughout history.  Just as commerce raiding had a ”traditional character as a relatively bloodless and vaguely romantic” tactic, so too was the ghazu (caravan raid) seen as a “relatively bloodless and vaguely romantic” tactic of the desert: only those merchants/caravans that resisted were fought and/or killed.

The question arises: are Robert Spencer and other Islamophobes in this country impugning the tactic relied upon by our nation’s Founding Fathers to gain independence from Britain and which America used to win World War II?  From every conceivable angle, Muhammad’s tactic of commerce raiding is similar to that employed by the Continental Navy, and by the U.S. Navy throughout its history.  It is only Orientalist hubris that allows one to talk of the early Muslim raids as part of some peculiar and “barbaric” Arabian custom, especially when the ghazu–unlike the submarine attacks by the United States during World War II–minimized innocent casualties.

Indeed, in the eight or so military expeditions preceding the Battle of Badr, only one Qurayshite died at the hands of the Muslims.  Even this action was carried out without Muhammad’s permission, and the Prophet of Islam expressed disapproval of it.  More importantly, Muhammad paid blood-money as a result of it, which, as discussed above, was an Arabian form of restitution given to a victim’s family.  The Muslim raids were certainly “bloodless” compared to “the devastating campaign against Japanese commerce conducted by American submarines”, which left countless Japanese dead.

Muhammad’s treatment of the incident at Nakhla reinforces the view that “commerce raiding”, not wanton bloodletting, was his intent.  He gave blood money to the family of the slain Qurayshite and freed the two Qurayshite prisoners in exchange for two Muslim prisoners.  But, Muhammad held onto and distributed the confiscated goods from the Qurayshite caravan.  The purpose of the attacks was to strangle the Quraysh economically.

It should be noted, however, that Muhammad did not succeed in this effort.  All of the initial military expeditions were failures, with the lone exception of the unintentional “success” at Nakhla.  Richard Gabriel notes, correctly, that the early Muslims “knew very little about how to undertake a successful caravan raid.” [60] From an economic standpoint then, one must question Robert Spencer’s claim that “[t]hese raids kept the nascent Muslim movement solvent.” [61] How did a series of unsuccessful caravan raids keep the “nascent Muslim movement solvent”?

Gabriel is also correct in thinking that there must have been something more than economic benefit that enticed Muhammad.  From a purely risk-benefit standpoint, raiding Qurayshite caravans was a bad idea: the raids were largely unsuccessful, and only ”succeeded” in earning the wrath of the vastly more powerful city of Mecca.  Writes Gabriel:

Muhammad must have known that any attack on the Meccan caravans would have been but the opening skirmish in a long campaign in which the Meccans would try to exterminate him and his followers…[T]he Meccan chiefs could raise significant military forces on their own, including cavalry, and had the money to hire mercenaries and bedouin warriors. Muhammad’s forces in Medina were small by comparison and certainly no match for the Meccans.

Muhammad was too good a strategic thinker not to have been aware of these realities. And yet, he went ahead with his plans to challenge the Meccans. [62]

Gabriel goes on to argue that Muhammad’s ”attacks on the Meccan caravans were but the first strike in a larger strategy of conquest and destruction of his enemies.” [63] Indeed, Orientalist commentators have long argued that Muhammad’s intention–when divine permission was granted to him to fight, when he fled Mecca, and when he launched raids against the Quraysh–was the conquest of Mecca.

Hindsight is 20/20, and it is easy for us now to think that the early Muslims would one day return to their city of origin as victorious conquerors.  Yet, this idea would have seemed far-fetched at the time: Muhammad and his handful of followers were driven out of the city of Mecca by the Quraysh, and were living as an impoverished and meek refugee community in the city of Medina.  Richard Gabriel himself argues that “Muhammad’s forces in Medina were small by comparison and certainly no match for the Meccans.” The Islamic community was at that time fearful of being wiped off the face of the earth entirely, and so it seems quite fantastic for Gabriel (or anyone else) to then turn around and argue that Muhammad’s intention by raiding the Qurayshite caravans was to start the process of conquering them.

There is another much more likely possibility, which can be understood by looking back to other examples in history of commerce raiding.  The Americans relied on commerce raiding in order to “undermine public morale by inflicting economic losses” [65] by which they hoped to “inclin[e] London to negotiate a peace.” [66] It seems far more likely that Muhammad raided Qurayshite caravans with the intention of inflicting heavy economic losses on his enemy, so that the mercantile Meccans would come to believe it too costly to carry on the conflict with the Muslims.  Muhammad’s goal then was not conquest but a favorable peace.

One could reasonably argue that Muhammad’s actions did the exact opposite and just infuriated the Quraysh, who then organized a force to meet the Muslims at Badr.  However, it is equally reasonable to assume that Muhammad, as the leader of an emerging nation, was not satisfied with the Phony War situation that existed in place of a real peace.  At any moment, the Quraysh could have switched from indirect hostility towards the Muslims to more direct military action against them.  Muhammad wanted a peace treaty between his community and the city of Mecca, one which recognized the early Muslims as a sovereign nation (with the respect and rights of one) instead of as a hunted down renegade movement.  In order to “earn” this position in Qurayshite eyes, Muhammad had to show that the Muslims could stand their own against them, which is what the initial military expeditions were expected to do.

Muhammad must have known that such provocative action could, in the short term, exacerbate the conflict and draw the two forces into all-out war.  But, in the long run, the plan was successful and culminated in a treaty between the two sides.  Just as the British came to regard the Americans as a sovereign nation instead of a rebel movement, the Quraysh, by signing the treaty, had come to recognize the Muslims as a sovereign nation.

Muhammad’s intention can be gleaned from the primary sources themselves.  During this phase of the conflict, no Quranic passage calls on the believers to make way for the conquest and subjugation of Mecca.  Instead, the Islamic holy book commands the believers to “prepare whatever forces you can muster, including warhorses, to frighten off God’s enemies and yours…but if they incline towards peace, you must also incline towards it” (Quran, 8:60-61).  This is repeated elsewhere in the Quran: “If they desist [in their hostilities], then there should be no hostility [towards them] except against the oppressors” (2:193).  The Quran was letting the Quraysh know that the Muslims were willing to pursue a peaceful resolution of the conflict, if they (the Quraysh) would but just stop their hostility.

It should also be noted that Muhammad had another audience in mind: his own Muslim followers and the people of Medina.  By securing small wins against the Quraysh, Muhammad was boosting the morale of the early Muslims, proving to their own selves that they could stand up to the Quraysh and that God was with them.  This message was also directed to the people of Medina: just as the Americans had to prove to the French that they were a viable force against the British, so too did the Muslims need to prove their viability to the people of Medina who otherwise might succumb to Meccan threats to expel the refugee population.

There is another piece of evidence that indicates that on Muhammad’s mind was not conquest but the peaceful recognition of his new nation.  On his very first military expedition, Muhammad set out to meet the Quraysh at Waddan.  He missed the Qurayshite force and prepared to go back home, but before he did, he signed a non-aggression pact with the people of the area, the Bani Damra.  Shortly thereafter, he also signed non-aggression pacts with other neighboring tribes, such as the Bani Madlij.  It is likely that Muhammad would have signed such a pact with the Quraysh, the greatest threat to his peoples’ existence, had they been so willing.  Indeed, when the Quraysh finally did offer terms of peace to Muhammad, he accepted them, much to the chagrin of some of his most ardent followers.

As noted above, commerce raiding has generally been a tool used by the weaker force against the stronger one.  Historically, the Americans, French, and Germans used this tactic against the powerful British navy.  The British, on the other hand, did not need to rely on it, and instead used the much more effective tactic of blockading their opponents.  Muhammad simply did not have the resources to blockade the Meccans, which would have brought the Quraysh to their knees (economically speaking).  That he could not even set up a blockade of Mecca means that he certainly couldn’t imagine, at this point in time, to conquer it.  It is much more realistic that commerce raiding was meant to force the Quraysh to recognize the Muslim nation and make peace with it, just as the Americans wished recognition, independence, and peace with the British.

The early Muslims were not pirates or marauders.  They, like the revolutionary Americans, engaged in guerre de course (commerce raiding) against the oppressive party, the Quraysh.  Just as the American exploits against British shipping have been celebrated for their valor, so too were the Muslim military expeditions against the Quraysh courageous.  The Muslims were facing off against heavily armored caravans.  In the very first such campaign, for instance, Muhammad dispatched Hamza “with thirty riders” against a Qurayshite caravan armed with “three hundred riders from Mecca” led by Abu Jahl. [66] The second such operation involved “sixty or eighty riders” from the Muslims, who “encountered a large number of Quraysh” [67] consisting of “more than two hundred riders led by Abu Sufyan.” [68] Even in these military raids, the Muslims were heavily outnumbered.  Using our World War II comparison, it would be like the U.S. navy engaging in operations against enemy merchant marines that were flanked by battleships and aircraft carriers.

The perceptive reader also ought notice that these caravans were led by early Islam’s arch-enemies, such as Abu Jahl, Abu Jahl’s son Ikrima, Abu Sufyan, etc.  These raids were not opportunistic acts of piracy against random persons, but rather, were legitimate military operations against a far superior foe.

*  *  *  *  *

Robert Spencer claims that the Prophet Muhammad was the most violent religious figure in history.  Yet, when similar acts of violence are highlighted in his own faith tradition, suddenly he cries foul and chants “tu quoque, tu quoque!”  In reality, his own religion cannot withstand the same standards he so mirthfully applies to Islam.

It is just barely an exaggeration to say that Muhammad’s raids look like girl scout outings compared to the early military exploits of the Biblical prophets and respected religious figures, i.e. the brutal conquest and annihilation of the people of Canaan by MosesJoshuaSamsonSaulDavid, etc.  But, there is a specific comparison that I think necessitates closer attention: the raids led by King David.

It is beyond dispute that David (of David vs. Goliath fame) is considered highly regarded in the Jewish and Christian tradition.  When the king wanted to kill him, “David found refuge in [a place called] Ziklag…and raided other [nearby] cities to stay financially afloat”  (as opposed to Muhammad who signed non-aggression pacts with them).  The Bible says of this:

1 Samuel 

27:8 Now David and his men went up and raided the Geshurites, the Girzites and the Amalekites…

27:9 Whenever David attacked an area, he did not leave a man or woman alive, but took sheep and cattle, donkeys and camels, and clothes. Then he returned to Achish.

27:10 When Achish asked, “Where did you go raiding today?” David would say, “Against the Negev of Judah” or “Against the Negev of Jerahmeel” or “Against the Negev of the Kenites.”

27:11 He did not leave a man or woman alive to be brought to Gath, for he thought, “They might inform on us and say, ‘This is what David did.’” And such was his practice as long as he lived in Philistine territory.

David raided with such frequency that the question had to be asked of him, “[w]here did you go raiding today?”  During these raids, the great David annihilated every single man, woman, and child.  He then ran off with “much booty”:

From Ziklag David made an attack upon the Geshurites, Gerzites, and Amalekites, smote them without leaving a man alive, and returned with much booty.

If Robert Spencer would like to use Muhammad’s raids against the Quraysh as a blunt weapon to bludgeon the heads of Muslims with, then let us hit him back with David’s “plundering incursions”, which culminated in mass death and were part of a broader genocidal campaign.  Spencer won’t be able to respond, aside from his familiar cries of “tu quoque, tu quoque!”

Of course, I am not committing a tu quoque fallacy, first and foremost because it was Robert Spencer himself who posited the thesis that Islam is more violent than any other religion–and that Muhammad was the most violent religious figure in history.  Spencer has even penned a book with the title Religion of Peace? Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn’t.  In it, he intones that Islam is more violent than both Judaism [70] and Christianity.  It is Spencer’s central thesis, and yet when I chop off both legs of it [see footnote 70], he yells “tu quoque, tu quoque!” like the intellectual huckster he is.

In any case, this article of mine is part of the Understanding Jihad Series, which is answering the question: is Islam more violent than other religions (specifically Judaism and Christianity)?  This is the fundamental question I sought ought to answer, and therefore, it is of central relevance.

*  *  *  *  *

We can summarize our argument as follows:

* The Quraysh initiated the conflict with the Muslims by persecuting them.

* For over a decade, Muhammad preached peaceful resistance against such persecution.

* Finally, the God of the Quran permitted Muhammad and his followers to defend themselves against their Qurayshite persecutors.

* Islamophobes claim that Muhammad was opportunistic, calling for peace and tolerance while in Mecca, but war and violence when he was in a position of power in Medina.  But really, Muhammad declared his intention to fight the Quraysh while still in Mecca or just immediately after fleeing from it, at a time when he and the Muslims were still very weak.

* Following Muhammad’s declaration of intent to war against the Quraysh, a period similar to the Phony War of World War II came into effect.  Although no major or direct military combat took place during this period, the hostilities continued in other ways: the Quraysh threatened the life of Muhammad, as well as the safety and security of the Muslim refugees and those who harbored them.  The Quraysh were attempting to use their influence to coerce the people of Medina to expel or fight the Muslims.  The Quraysh also confiscated Muslim property left in Mecca, and continued to persecute those Muslims who had not been able to make the journey to Medina.  The Quraysh threatened to block the Muslims from returning to their homes or making religious pilgrimage, whereas the Muslims, for their part, threatened to harass Qurashite trade routes.

* Islamophobes claim that Muhammad initiated a war of aggression by targeting Qurayshite caravans.  However, a state of war had already existed long before Muhammad led his military expeditions.  Muhammad went on the offensive, which is not the same as initiating a war of aggression.  

* Muhammad and the early Muslims used the same tactic that the American revolutionaries used against the British navy: commerce raiding.  This has been a completely acceptable practice throughout history and differs from piracy in substantial ways.

* Muhammad’s intent was to compel the Quraysh to recognize the sovereignty of his new nation and make peace with it.

* Muhammad’s raids were far more morally acceptable than the early military expeditions of the Biblical prophets and religious figures, such as MosesJoshuaSamsonSaulDavid, etc., who committed genocide against the native population of Canaan.  David in specific led raids to plunder the local populations and then slaughtered them down to the last man, woman, and child.  This completely negates Robert Spencer’s central thesis, i.e. that Muhammad was the most violent prophet in history.

Most importantly, what is crystal clear is that the first military jihad in history was not waged against the Quraysh simply because they were non-Muslims.  (Instead, Muhammad signed non-aggression pacts with neighboring non-Muslim tribes.)  Jihad was not declared to fight infidels simply because they were infidels, nor was it to convert them to the faith of Islam.

The similarity between the early Muslims and the Americans during the Revolutionary War does not stop at tactics.  Rather, the overarching theme is the same: the Patriots were fighting to declare their independence from the powerful British.  If the American colonists were justified in waging war with the British due to high taxation and lack of representation, then how much greater right did Islam’s founding fathers have to fight off those who oppressed them for their religious beliefs, who drove them “out from their homes, only for saying ‘Our Lord is God’”?  Jihad was waged by the Muslims to defend against injustice, oppression, and aggression.  It is no wonder then that the nation responsible for inflicting the most injustice and oppression of Muslims today–for waging wars of aggression in their lands–would come to hate jihad so much.

Danios was the Brass Crescent Award Honorary Mention for Best Writer in 2010 and the Brass Crescent Award Winner for Best Writer in 2011.

1. Reuven Firestone, Jihad, p.17
2. Ibid., pp.16-17
3. Ibid., p.15
4. Having said that, I suppose it depends on one’s definition of “holy war”, with Prof. Firestone’s being the broadest possible.
5. Similar, but not identical.
6. For example, ”Fight in God’s cause against those who fight against you, but do not commit aggression, for surely, God does not love aggressors.” (Quran, 2:190)
7. From Medinat al-Nabi (the Prophet’s city).
8. Firestone, p.107
9. Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions, p.755
10. Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasulullah, p.283 (tr. A. Guillaume)
11. Ibid.
12. Ibid.
13. Ibn Ishaq briefly discusses the “debate” over the exact order of the initial military campaigns. However, it seems that the first was most likely Hamza’s expedition, followed by Ubayda’s.
14. Ibn Ishaq, p.281
15. Muhammad Haykal, The Life of Muhammad, p.217. Ibn Ishaq states that the contingent was led by Abu Jahl’s son Ikrima.
16. Ibn Ishaq, p.281
17. Haykal, p.217
18. Ibid.
19. Ibn Ishaq, p.285
20. Thomas Walker Arnold, The Preaching of Islam, p.30
21. Ibid.
22. Ibn Ishaq, p.296
23. Ibid., p.298
24. Ibid.
25. Robert Spencer, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), p.10
26. Ibid.
27. Saifur Rahman Al-Mubarakpuri, Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum, p.125
28. Ibn Kathir, Qasas al-Anbiya, p.390
29. Abdullah ibn Ubai had been slated to become the king of the united tribes of Medina prior to Muhammad’s arrival.
30. Sunan Abu Dawud, Vol.2, p.495
31. Tafsir Ibn Kathir, 5:67
32. Haykal, p.223
33. Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol.5, Book 59, #286
34. Ibn Ishaq, p.230
35. Ibid.
36. Ibid.
37. Ibid., p.208
38. Ibid.
39. Ibid., p.213
40. F.E. Peters, The Monotheists, p.104
41. Firestone, p.54
42. Ibn Ishaq, p.221
43. Ibn Kathir, Qasas al-Anbiya, pp.151-152
44. David Horner, The Second World War: Europe, 1939-1943, p.34
45. Ibn Hisham 1/448, taken from Ar-Raheeq Al-Makthum
46. Ibn Ishaq, p.281
47. Refer to Ibn Ishaq, p.230
48. Richard Gabriel, Muhammad: Islam’s First Great General, p.73
49. Frances O’Connor, History of Islam, p.16
50. Spencer, p.5
51. Ibid.
52. Reinhart Dozy, Spanish Islam, p.16
53. Gabriel, p.73. Having said that, it should be pointed out that the caravan raids were led by Muslim Emigrants, not the Medinese.
54. Richard Gabriel is a military historian, not a scholar of Islamic history. His ideological bent can be gleaned from his previous positions in the CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence, which The Idiot’s Guide to the CIA describes as “[t]he CIA’s publishing division”, from which “the CIA produces its propaganda” (p.25). He was also an “expert” for the Brooking’s Institution, which (in the words of Glenn Greenwald) “[w]hen it comes to foreign policy and civil liberties” serves three functions: (1) justify war in the Muslim world, (2) provide the ideological defense for Israel’s right-wing policies, and (3) legitimize indefinite detention of Muslim suspects. Quite unsurprisingly, Gabriel’s works reveal himself to be an apologist for Israel and its war crimes, for which he was approvingly cited by the Islamophobic Daniel Pipes. What a magnificent coincidence that such a person would write a biased book against the founder of Islam.  In any case, most damning of all is Gabriel’s book itself, which makes his agenda self-evident. Many anti-Islamic websites refer to his pseudo-scholarly work.
55. Joseph Morrison Skelly, Political Islam from Muhammad to Ahmadinejad, p.41
56. Joe B. Havens, Chief, p.21
57. James C. Bradford, Atlas of American Military History, pp.25-26
58. Article by Kenneth J. Hagan in Walter L. Hixson, The American Experience in World War II, Vol. I, p.269-272
59. John Whiteclay Chambers, The Oxford Companion to American Military History, pp.305-306
60. Gabriel, p.73
61. Spencer, p.5
62. Gabriel, pp.73-74
63. Ibid.
64. Ibid.
65. Chambers, pp.305-306
66. Hagan, p.269-272
67. Ibn Ishaq, p.281
68. Ibid.
69. Haykal, p.217
70. It’s interesting that Christian Islamophobes, including Robert Spencer himself, will quickly throw Judaism and Jews under the bus whenever the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) comes up or whenever the violence of Jewish prophets or Jewish law is  mentioned. Yet, Spencer himself writes in his book, quoting another Islamophobe: “We cannot defend Western civilization without defending its Jewish component, without which modern Western culture would have been unthinkable. The religious identity of the West has two legs: The Christian and the Jewish ones. It needs both to stand upright. Sacrificing one to save the other is like fighting a battle by chopping off one of your legs, throwing it at the feet of the enemies, and shouting: ‘You won’t get the other one!’” (Robert Spencer, Religion of Peace? Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn’t, p.10)

When They Almost Killed Muhammad: The Persecution of Islam’s Earliest Followers

Posted in Feature, Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 5, 2012 by loonwatch

Robert Spencer has summarized the key arguments raised by Islamophobes in his book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades).  Chapter one of his book is entitled “Muhammad: Prophet of War”, in which he recounts the life story of the Prophet Muhammad.  In it, he portrays Muhammad as the aggressor and his Quraysh enemies as the victims.  Spencer writes:

After receiving revelations from Allah through the angel Gabriel in 610, [Muhammad] began by just preaching to his tribe the worship of One God and his own position as a prophet.  But he was not well received by his Quraysh brethren in Mecca, who reacted disdainfully to his prophetic call and refused to give up their gods.  Muhammad’s frustration and rage became evident.  When even his uncle, Abu Lahab, rejected his message, Muhammad cursed him and his wife in violent language that has been preserved in the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam: “May the hands of Abu Lahab perish!  May he himself perish!  Nothing shall his wealth and gains avail him.  He shall be burnt in a flaming fire, and his wife, laden with faggots, shall have a rope of fibre around her neck.”  (Qur’an 111:1-5)

Ultimately, Muhammad would turn from violent words to violent deeds.  In 622, he finally fled his native Mecca for a nearby town, Medina… [1]

Muhammad’s message of monotheism does not adequately explain why the leaders of the Quraysh rejected his message so forcefully.  Indeed, Muhammad preached a lot more than this: he called for a top-to-bottom reform of Meccan society, advocating for the rights of the poor and weak.  While it is also true that Muhammad’s renouncement of the pagan gods was unbearable to many followers of the old religion, so too did his powerful critique of the rich and powerful set him on a collision course against them.

Spencer not only fails to properly explain why the Quraysh leaders opposed Muhammad, but he also omits entirely how they opposed him.  In Spencer’s version of events, (1) Muhammad preached to them about God and his prophetood; (2) the Quraysh didn’t accept this message; and then (3) Muhammad reacted with rage and violence.  Spencer’s biography is curiously missing the almost decade and a half-long persecution of Muhammad and his early followers in Mecca, which preceded their Flight (Hijra) to Medina.  This willful omission is designed to mislead the reader, and Spencer succeeds in inverting reality, portraying Muhammad as the aggressor and the Quraysh leaders as the victims.

*  *  *  *  *

Muhammad was born and raised in seventh-century Mecca, a city of the Arabian Peninsula.  At the time, the majority of Meccans, led by the powerful Quraysh, were polytheistic in religion.  Then, in 610 A.D., when he was around forty years old, Muhammad declared his prophethood and called his people to a new, monotheistic religion.

Initially, Muhammad preached in private, and his early followers congregated in secret.  When Muhammad eventually declared his message publicly, he and his early followers were met with increasing hostility.  The Quraysh leaders instigated a sustained campaign of violence against what they saw as a rival faith.  Consequently, the early Muslims suffered persecution; they endured beatings, torture, and even imprisonment.

This entire period is omitted entirely from Robert Spencer’s chapter: Spencer portrays Muhammad as the violent aggressor and the Quraysh as his peaceful victims.  Yet, it is well-established that it was in fact Muhammad who began preaching his message peacefully, and it was the Quraysh leaders who responded violently.  Prof. Spencer C. Tucker writes:

As Muhammad’s group of followers grew, the leadership of Mecca, including Muhammad’s own tribe, perceived them as a threat. Some of the early converts to Islam came from the disaffected and disadvantaged segments of society. Most important, the Muslims’ new set of beliefs implicitly challenged the Meccans’ and the Quraysh tribe’s guardianship over the Kaaba, the holy site dedicated to the gods and goddesses of the area, which hosted an annual pilgrimage. The city’s leading merchants attempted to persuade Muhammad to cease his preaching, but he refused. In response, the city leadership persecuted Muhammad’s followers, and many fled the city. One group of his followers immigrated to Abyssinia. In 619 Muhammad endured the loss of both [his wife] Khadija and [his uncle] Abu Talib, while the mistreatment of his followers increased. [2]

Not surprisingly, the meanest persecution was meted out to the most vulnerable members of the Muslim faithful.  Prof. Daniel C. Peterson writes:

There are many stories of imprisonment, beating, starvation, and thirst, and perhaps worst of all, of believers staked out on the ground under the scorching heat of the Arabian sun until they could be induced to repudiate their faith.

Slaves were particularly vulnerable, for they had no one to protect them against their masters. One of them, a black Abyssinian named Bilal, was pinned to the ground by his master, with a large rock on his chest, and told that that he would remain there until he either died or recanted–whichever came first. He was spared only because Abu Bakr, passing by, was horrified at this maltreatment of a fellow believer and bought Bilal’s freedom…Some, it is said, died under torture. And others did indeed renounce their faith. [3]

The extent of the persecution can be gauged by the fact that some of the early Muslims were forced to flee with their lives from the Arabian Peninsula altogether, an event known as the First Flight to Abyssinia.  Under the cover of night, these Muslims fled Mecca and boarded ships headed for the African country of Abyssinia (modern-day Ethiopia).  There was a second such emigration, known as the Second Flight to Abyssinia.  The Quraysh leaders dispatched envoys to the Abyssinian king, requesting that these Muslim refugees be returned to Mecca.  This request for extradition was rejected and these Muslim refugees stayed in Abyssinia for the remainder of what is known as the Meccan Period of Muhammad’s prophethood.

The Quraysh leaders harassed Muhammad himself, who endured both verbal and physical abuse.  Initially, however, his tormentors stopped short of killing Muhammad because he was still under the tribal protection granted to him by his aging uncle, Abu Talib.  Islam’s early enemies earnestly beseeched Abu Talib to permit the killing of Muhammad, but Abu Talib adamantly refused.

To pressure Abu Talib’s clan, the Banu Mutalib, to rescind their protection of Muhammad, the Quraysh leaders signed a pact resulting in the complete social and economic boycott of the early Muslims along with the two clans associated with them (the Banu Mutalib and the Banu Hashim, the latter of which was the tribe Muhammad was born to).  The early Muslims and members of the two clans were forced by circumstance to leave their homes and resettle in the outskirts of Mecca.  Confined to the harsh and barren desert valley (Mecca’s “ghetto”), they struggled to survive for three years, with even food and medicine being barred to them by the Quraysh leaders, who intended to starve them into submission:

Abu Jahl now tried to starve Muhammad into submission and imposed a boycott on the clans of Hashim and al-Muttalib, managing to get all other clans to sign a treaty to unite against the Muslim threat. Nobody could intermarry or trade with anybody in the two outlawed clans and this meant that nobody was supposed to sell them any food. For the sake of security, all members of Hashim and al-Muttalib, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, moved into Abu Talib’s street, which became a little ghetto. [4]

During what is known as the Year of Grief, both Muhammad’s wife Khadija and uncle Abu Talib passed away.  Abu Lahab, early Islam’s arch-enemy and Muhammad’s bitterest foe, replaced Abu Talib as the chief of the clan.  Muhammad thus lost his tribal protection and was forced to flee with his life to the neighboring city of Taif.  He preached his message to the leaders of Taif, who rejected him and refused to give him asylum for fear of earning Mecca’s wrath.  Muhammad was stoned by the street urchins of Taif and told to never return.  Bloody and battered, Muhammad had no place to go but to return to Mecca.

The persecution of the early Muslim community in Mecca intensified to the point that there was a very real fear that the religion of Islam would be snuffed out entirely.  It was at this precarious moment in history that a group of influential men from the nearby city of Yathrib (henceforth to be referred to as Medina) accepted Islam and promised to grant Muhammad refuge.  Thus began The Flight (Al-Hijra), as the Muslim community in Mecca migrated in waves to Medina.  The Quraysh authorities, fearful that Islam would spread to other parts of the Arabian Peninsula, tried (but failed) to prevent this exodus.

By this time, the Quraysh leaders had already formulated a plot to assassinate Muhammad in his sleep.  They delegated this task to eleven men, chosen from all different tribes so as to make retaliation against any one of them untenable.  The assassins gathered around Muhammad’s house, broke into it, and advanced towards his bed.  In fact, however, they had just missed Muhammad, who had slipped away and begun the arduous journey to Medina.  Prof. Juan Eduardo Campo writes:

[P]ersecution of Muhammad and his followers in Mecca by the Quraysh intensified; the weaker ones were physically tortured or imprisoned. Muhammad ordered his followers to emigrate to Yathrib [Medina] in small groups, while he remained in Mecca with his friend Abu Bakr and his loyal cousin Ali ibn Abi Talib. The Quraysh plotted to murder Muhammad and invaded his house only to find Ali sleeping in his bed. Muhammad had secretly escaped with Abu Bakr, and the two of them hid in a cave for three days before making their way to Yathrib [Medina]. [5]

The Quraysh leaders were by this time wild-eyed with fury, and placed a bounty on Muhammad’s head.  Whoever could intercept Muhammad before he reached Medina would be handsomely rewarded.  Search parties went out to apprehend or kill the prophet of Islam.

But, destiny had another plan altogether for Muhammad.  He arrived safely in Medina in the year 622 A.D., what became year one of the Islamic calendar.  There, the early Muslim community would regroup, and eventually, flourish.

*  *  *  *  *

In Robert Spencer’s biography of the Islamic prophet, the persecution of Muslims in Mecca is completely passed over.  Muhammad is wrongfully portrayed as the aggressor and the initiator of violence.  Context is completely lost–in fact, it is purposefully distorted.  Without understanding the background of the conflict (i.e. Muslims being persecuted in Mecca for almost a decade and a half), the reader will view Muhammad’s actions in Medina as nothing short of unprovoked aggression.

Not only does such a deception distort the reader’s view of the Prophet Muhammad, it also has huge implications with regard to Islamic theology.  Jihad is wrongfully equated with terroristic violence and unprovoked aggression, instead of what is actually called for in the Quran: a defensive responding to unprovoked aggression.

If the concept of jihad was first formulated during Muhammad’s lifetime–and if Muslims look to Muhammad’s example to understand the embodiment of this concept–then it makes a very big difference whether or not Muslims see Muhammad as initiating violence or merely defensively responding to it.

Spencer well understands this concept and himself argues it intensely in his book.  His deception, however, lies in his flipping of reality on its head, portraying Muhammad and the early Muslims as the aggressors and their tormentors as the victims.

*  *  *  *  *

Having thus understood the importance of this discussion, let us then delve into Muhammad’s response to the violence, persecution, and injustice directed at him (and his religious community).  Did he preach “love your enemies” or ruthless vengeance?

Muhammad’s reaction to his enemies can be summarized as follows: it was better to forgive the average foot soldier, and only the top level leaders of injustice (“the chiefs of disbelief”) were to be punished.  This dynamic can be seen with Muhammad’s eventual triumphal return to and conquest of Mecca eight years after he fled from it.  Even though the people of Mecca in general had engaged in the persecution of the early Muslims, Muhammad issued a blanket immunity and “mercy” to all of them aside from nine individuals (other sources say seventeen), who were “his most inveterate [of] enemies.” [6] However, even of these, most were pardoned, and in the end “only four Meccans were killed. ” [7]

These were the same people who had humiliated, harassed, tortured, and persecuted Muhammad and his followers.  In fact, at one point in time Muhammad was attacked by them and left with a bloodied face, a busted lip, a broken tooth, and a split-open forehead.  Muhammad had then asked rhetorically:

How can a people cut the face of their prophet and break his tooth while he is calling them to God?  How can such a people prosper?

He exclaimed:

God’s Wrath is great on those who besmear the face of His Messenger!

The following Quranic verse reprimanded Muhammad:

Not for you (O Muhammad) is the decision whether [God] turns in mercy to them to pardon them or if He punishes them (for indeed, they are wrongdoers).  To God belongs all that is in the heavens and on earth.  He forgives whom He pleases and punishes whom He pleases; but God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.  (Quran, 3:128-129)

Muhammad retracted his earlier comment and then prayed for not only forgiveness of the attackers but forgiveness for the Meccans overall:

O God, forgive my people for they do not know. [8]

Later that day, Muhammad came across his uncle, Hamza ibn Abdul Mutallib, who had been killed by the Quraysh.  Worse, Hamza’s corpse had been mutilated: his nose was burnt off and his ears cut off; his stomach was gutted and his intestines were hanging out of his body.  When Muhammad saw his uncle in such a state, he angrily took the following oath:

I shall kill seventy of their men in revenge!

To this, God is said to have replied in the Quran:

(O Muhammad), invite them to the Way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching, and dispute with them only in the most politest manner–for your Lord knows best who has strayed from His Path and who is rightly guided.  And if you wish to retaliate, retaliate only in a way that is proportionate to the injury done to you.  But if you endure patiently (instead of retaliating), it is better to do so.  (O Muhammad), endure with patience.  Truly, your patience is only possible with the help of God.  Do not be grieved by them or distressed because of their schemes–for God is with those who are mindful of Him and who do good.

Therein then do we have the Quranic axiom: if you wish to retaliate, then the punishment must be proportionate to the crime.  (This rule is clarified in verses 2:190-194 with the stipulation that the punishment must be against the guilty party only.)  Although the Quran permits one to demand justice, it strongly urges the believer, especially Muhammad, to instead “endure with patience” and forgive.  Following this admonition,  ”the Prophet refrained (from taking revenge) and atoned for his oath.” [9]

Indeed, when the early Muslims triumphed over and conquered Mecca, Muhammad issued a blanket pardon to everyone, aside from four “arch-criminals”. [10] Muhammad could have taken vengeance against all those who had persecuted him and his people for so many years, but instead he forgave them all, reciting the following verse of the Quran:

There is no censure on you on this day.  May God forgive you, for He is the Most Merciful of the merciful. (Quran, 12:92) [11]

Muhammad would even forgive those who killed and mutilated his uncle, praying: ”[M]ay God forgive them, for God is Forgiving, Merciful.” [12] He also forgave those who had tried to kill him.

There is much food for thought here: Islamophobes like Robert Spencer argue that Muhammad’s violence cannot be compared to that of the Biblical prophets, since Muhammad in Islam is considered perfect whereas Jews and Christians don’t think the same of Moses, Joshua, David, etc.  This is a huge oversimplification and mischaracterization of Islamic textual sources and dogma (a topic that I will analyze in further detail in a later article).  But for now, suffice to say, this is but one example of Muhammad being corrected in the Quran–and that too with regard to war, peace, vengeance, and mercy towards non-Muslims.

The Islamophobes claim that Muhammad only preached patience, forgiveness, and tolerance during the Meccan Period.  They argue further that the “opportunistic” Muhammad opted towards militarism, violence, and war as soon as he came to power in Medina.  And yet, the events surrounding this Quranic revelation (i.e. the killing/mutilating of Muhammad’s uncle, and the command for Muhammad to endure it with patience and forgiveness) occurred well into the Medinan Period.  In fact, it occurred at the height of the military conflict with the Meccan pagans.

What is even more telling is the fact that once Muhammad and the early Muslims conquered Mecca, Muhammad granted the Meccans pardon and mercy.  If the critics of Islam attribute Muhammad’s peaceful attitude during the early Meccan Period to his lack of power to do otherwise, then what of Muhammad’s triumphal return to Mecca whereupon he had all the power in the world to take limitless vengeance upon them?  Muhammad’s tolerant nature towards his Quraysh enemies cannot be explained by the meekness of his position, because he maintained that attitude when he had the power to crush them as they had tried to do to him aforetime.

Similarly, Muhammad had prayed for the forgiveness of the people of Taif, who had stoned him out:

Mohammed traveled to Ta’if, a mountainside town in Arabia about seventy miles southeast of the holy city of Mecca, to invite its people to become Muslims. Instead of welcoming him, the farmers stoned him and drove him, bleeding, out of town…Wiping blood from his face, the Prophet refused, saying, “Lord, forgive thy people, they do not know.” [13]

After the Conquest of Mecca, the pagans regrouped at Taif to launch a massive counter-offensive;  Prof. Ella Landau-Tasseron writes:

Shortly after[ the Conquest of Mecca,] the Thaqif, the ruling tribe of the nearby town al-Ta’if, organized a bedouin army [against Muhammad], which was defeated by Muhammad at a place called Hunayn.  Muhammad then laid siege to al-Ta’if but had to withdraw without achieving any result.  Shortly afterward, however, the Thaqif joined Islam of their own volition. [14]

No retribution was taken against the people of Taif, who thus entered the folds of Islam; Prof. Michael Dumper writes:

[The Muslims] laid unsuccessful siege to Taif for almost a month.  In 631 the head of the tribe embraced Islam, which resulted in his assassination by his own people.  Quickly, however, the city changed its mind and sent a delegation to the Prophet and indicated their willingness to embrace Islam.  The Prophet, stressing the diplomatic immunity of ambassadors, did not hold their earlier antagonism against them and welcomed them into the [Islamic] community. [15]

Upon his triumphal return to Mecca and Taif, the two cities that had earlier driven him out, Muhammad took no revenge and forgave his former tormentors, thus embodying the Quranic principles of patience and forgiveness.

*  *  *  *  *

Robert Spencer argues that Jesus preached “love your enemies”, contrasting this with Muhammad’s teachings.  Certainly, many Westerners associate such peaceable beliefs to Christianity’s central figure.  Yet, this comparison suffers from an inherent flaw: it is simply not accurate.

If we wanted to maintain an apples-to-apples comparison, the Meccan Period can be analogized to Jesus’s First Coming: like Jesus, Muhammad was a persecuted prophet during this period and was in fact almost killed.  Meanwhile, the Medinan Period can be likened to Jesus’s Second Coming.  Just as Muhammad triumphantly marched into Mecca, so does Jesus triumphantly return with his army as a “conquering king.”

Once Muhammad conquered Mecca and held absolute power over them, he forgave all of them (save for four “arch-enemies”).  Muhammad’s march into Mecca was virtually bloodless,; on the other hand, “Jesus’ second coming will be exceedingly violent…It’s going to be bloody (v. 13) and gory.”  Whereas on the day of Mecca’s conquest, Muhammad bestowed mercy on his enemies (he called it the “Day of Mercy”), Jesus will have “no compassion upon His enemies” and “will take vengeance” on them (the Bible calls it “the day of vengeance”).  Indeed, the Biblical Jesus will kill all his enemies.

When one considers other Biblical prophets of the Judeo-Christian tradition, the contrast becomes even more glaring.  Compare the Conquest of Mecca to the conquest of Canaan by Moses, Joshua, Samson, David, Saul, etc.  Muhammad granted immunity to the Meccan population whereas the Judeo-Christian prophets “completely destroyed every living thing in the city, leaving no survivors” (Joshua 11:11).  In fact, this was done to city after city in what can only be called wholesale genocide.

How then can one support Robert Spencer’s dubious argument that the Prophet Muhammad was somehow more violent than all other prophets and religious founders, especially when we have such violent figures in Spencer’s own faith tradition?

*  *  *  *  *

A word ought to be said specifically about what Robert Spencer writes here:

When even his uncle, Abu Lahab, rejected his message, Muhammad cursed him and his wife in violent language that has been preserved in the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam: “May the hands of Abu Lahab perish!  May he himself perish!  Nothing shall his wealth and gains avail him.  He shall be burnt in a flaming fire, and his wife, laden with faggots, shall have a rope of fibre around her neck.”  (Qur’an 111:1-5) [16]

Abu Lahab was the only one of Muhammad’s foes to be taken by name in the Quran.  Even though numerous Quraysh influentials persecuted Muhammad, Abu Lahab was singled out in the Islamic holy book because he and Abu Jahl were the staunchest and most mean-spirited of early Islam’s adversaries.  He was assisted in his hatred by his wife, Umm Jamil, who joined in the persecution of Muhammad and his followers.  Abu Lahab led and orchestrated the harassment, beatings, torture, persecution, and crippling boycott of the early Muslim community.  He would later be one of the eleven assassins who attempted to kill Muhammad in his sleep.

The Quranic verse against Abu Lahab was revealed when he had picked up a stone in his hand to throw at Muhammad and yelled “may you perish” (reflected in the Quranic phrasing “may the hands of Abu Lahab perish“).  As for the statement against Abu Lahab’s wife, it can be understood using a less arcane translation: “…and his wife, the bearer of wood (translated in Spencer’s book with the difficult to understand ‘laden with faggots’), shall have a rope of fiber around her neck.”  She was dubbed “the bearer of wood” because she used to routinely lay splinters of wood on the ground where Muhammad would walk so as to cause his feet to bleed.  Additionally, Umm Jamil used to wear a very expensive necklace, of which she vowed: “By Lat and Uzza, I will sell away this necklace and expend the price to satisfy my enmity against Muhammad.”  [17]  This is said to explain the Quran’s choice of punishment for her: a rope of fiber around her neck.

Harsh as these punishments are against Abu Lahab and his wife, two points need to be borne in mind: firstly, Abu Lahab and his wife represent the Quran’s chief villains, equivalent to the Bible’s Pharaoh and Jezebel.  The Bible promised that Pharoah and “all who trust in him” will be slaughtered (Jeremiah 46:25), and that Jezebel will be punished–”her children” will be killed (Revelation 2:23).  The punishment promised to Abu Lahab and his wife are certainly no harsher than this.  More importantly, the Quran only promised punishment of the guilty party, not “all who trust in him” or “her children.”

The second point is that both Abu Lahab and Umm Jamil died of natural causes.  Muhammad was never violent with them.  The verses in the Quran condemning this couple were meant to be understood in a supernatural sense, unlike the very real violence committed by Abu Lahab and his wife against Muhammad and the early Muslims.

On a somewhat related note, it should be added that one of the major reasons that Abu Lahab opposed the message of Islam so violently was that it threatened his status and position.  He was extremely wealthy and powerful–among Arabia’s top one percent.  Muhammad, on the other hand, preached equality among believers.  To this, Abu Lahab would exclaim:

May this religion perish in which I and all other people should be equal and alike! [18]

This is reflected in the Quran’s response to Abu Lahab:

Neither his wealth nor his earnings will benefit him. (Quran, 111:2)

Indeed, Muhammad’s support for the 99% explains why he faced the wrath of the 1%, of which Abu Lahab belonged to.

*  *  *  *  *

There are of course events in Muhammad’s life between his escape from Mecca and his subsequent return that merit further investigation and critical analysis.  Readers are certainly well-aware of the numerous charges levied against the Prophet of Islam in this regard.  Future parts of this Series will look into these matters with an attempt to be impartial and fair.  For now, however, we have achieved our purpose: Robert Spencer’s dishonest rendering of Muhammad’s time in Mecca, known as the Meccan Period, has been laid to waste.

Muhammad and his early followers experienced persecution at the hands of their enemies, a basic fact that must be understood in order to understand early Islamic history, as well as Islamic texts and theology.  An at least rudimentary knowledge of these events is needed to negate the propaganda of those who seek to demonize the faith of over a billion adherents around the world.  More than that, it offers peace-loving, moderate Muslims the ammunition they need to counter the intolerant interpretations of their religion espoused by their fundamentalist coreligionists, people who often act more like the Quraysh leaders than Muhammad.

Danios was the Brass Crescent Award Honorary Mention for Best Writer in 2010 and the Brass Crescent Award Winner for Best Writer in 2011.  

[1] Robert Spencer, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), p.5
[2] Spencer C. Tucker, The Encyclopedia of Middle East Wars, p.849
[3] Daniel C. Peterson, Muhammad, Prophet of God, p.72
[4] Karen Armstrong, Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet, p.129
[5] Juan Eduardo Campo, Encyclopedia of Islam, p.299
[6] Simon Ockley, The History of the Saracens, p.55
[7] Jonathan E. Brockopp, The Cambridge Companion to Muhammad, p.10
[8] Ar-Raheeq al-Makthum, p.318; Original source for “O Allah, forgive my people for they do not know” is Fath al- Bari 7/373; Alternately narrated as “My Lord, forgive my people for they have no knowledge” in Sahih Muslim 2/108.
[9] Tafsir al-Jalalayn, 16:126
[10] Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum, p.254
[11]  Al-Tabaqat Al-Kubra, Vol.2, p.142
[12] Al-Sira Al-Nabawiyya, p.432
[13] Eliza Griswold, The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches From the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam, p.23
[14] Ella Landau-Tasseron, Biographies of the Prophet’s Companions and Their Successors, p.11
[15] Michael Dumper, Cities of the Middle East and North Africa, p.634
[16] Spencer, p.5
[17]  Tafheem ul Quran, 111:5
[18]  Tafsir Ibn Kathir, 111

More Proof Why You REALLY Shouldn’t Trust Robert Spencer’s “Scholarship”

Posted in Feature, Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 29, 2012 by loonwatch
Robert Spencer, pseudo-scholar, once again gets Arabic 101 lessons from LoonWatch

A few days ago, I published an article entitled Why You Shouldn’t Trust Robert Spencer’s Biography of the Prophet Muhammad (I).

I took issue with Robert Spencer’s opening sentences of his biography of Muhammad (p.5 of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam), in which he wrote:

Muhammad already had experience as a warrior before he assumed the role of the prophet.  He had participated in two local wars between his Quraysh tribe and their neighboring rivals Banu Hawazin.

I wrote a response as follows:

What Spencer leaves out from this talking point–“Muhammad already had experience as warrior before he assumed the role of prophet”!–is quite telling.

He is referring to what is known in Islamic history as Harb al-Fijar (the Sacrilegious War), a series of conflicts that took place when Muhammad was a teenager. The spark that ignited the war was the unsettled murder of a member of one tribe, which lead to a blood feud. Due to “entangling alliances,” many different tribes in the area found themselves at war with each other.

Like most of Muhammad’s life, the details of this event are contested. This dispute is not simply one between modern-day Muslim apologists and Islamophobes, but rather one that traces its way back to the earliest biographers of the Prophet.

In specific, Muhammad’s level of participation in these wars is disputed. On the one hand, some Shia biographers reject the idea that Muhammad partook in them at all. Meanwhile, Sunni biographers write that Muhammad simply accompanied his uncle but did not directly fight in these wars. He only took on a very limited support role: picking up enemy arrows from the battlefield. At the most, he fired off a few arrows, but did not kill anyone.

Not only was Muhammad’s role severely limited, but even this he would later express regret over. Muhammad later recounted: “I had witnessed that war with my uncle and shot a few arrows therein. How I wish I had never done so!” [1] Spencer conveniently omits this very important fact, one that mitigates Muhammad’s participation in the war, especially in regards to his views about war and peace.

Spencer replied:

In 2006 I wrote the book on the right, The Truth About Muhammad, a biography of the prophet of Islam based on the earliest Muslim accounts of his life, in order to illustrate what Muslims generally believe that Muhammad said and did. In my forthcoming book, Did Muhammad Exist? An Inquiry Into Islam’s Obscure Origins, which will be published April 23 by ISI, I examine the historical value of those early Muslim accounts. It is an attempt to determine whether what Muslims believe Muhammad said and did, as recounted in The Truth About Muhammad, actually corresponds to historical reality.

There are numerous reasons to question the historicity of the early Muslim accounts of Muhammad’s life. Take, for example, an incident I refer to briefly in yet another book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades):

Muhammad already had experience as a warrior before he assumed the role of prophet. He had participated in two local wars between his Quraysh tribe and their neighboring rivals Banu Hawazin.

That he participated in these wars, known collectively as the Fijar War, or Sacrilegious War, is generally agreed upon, but there is no agreement about what he thought later about his role in them. The Egyptian writer Muhammad Hussein Haykal, in his 1933 biography, Hayat Muhammad (translated into English as The Life of Muhammad), quotes Muhammad expressing regret for his participation in this war:

“I had witnessed that war with my uncle and shot a few arrows therein. How I wish I had never done so!” (Pp. 52-3)

However, the ninth-century Muslim historian Ibn Sa’d, in one of the earliest and most important sources for biographical information on Muhammad, Kitab Al-Tabaqat Al-Kabir, directly contradicts Haykal by quoting Muhammad saying this about the Fijar War:

I attended it with my uncles and shot arrows there and I do not repent it. (I.143)So which is it?

Is Haykal right that he really did express regret, or is Ibn Sa’d right that he explicitly ruled out doing so? Haykal doesn’t give his source, but it is possible that he had access to a hadith or some Islamic tradition that flatly contradicted the one Ibn Sa’d recorded eleven centuries earlier — although this is unlikely, since Ibn Sa’d often records variant and contradictory reports and discusses how they can be harmonized, or why one should be accepted and the other rejected. In this case Ibn Sa’d gives no hint of any variants. Haykal may simply have altered this tradition for apologetic purposes. Those who cite him as their source on this, or try to build an argument upon his quotation, do so at their own risk.

Nonetheless, such contradictions abound in the hadith reports. Muhammad can quite often be found saying contradictory things, as I show in Did Muhammad Exist?. In that book also I discuss how this odd situation came about: opposing factions both invoked Muhammad as an authority, and invented traditions to support their point of view.

Spencer is hawking his new book, which he is pushing as a “scholarly work” about how Muhammad didn’t exist.  His home page boasts that Robert Spencer is “[t]he acclaimed scholar of Islam”, “[a] serious scholar”, and “a brilliant scholar.”

I have pointed out in the past that Spencer is not a scholar of any sort–especially not on anything related to Islam.  He simply does not have the academic qualifications to claim this.  What other “scholar” do you know of that doesn’t even have a master’s or PhD degree on the subject he claims to be a “scholar” of?  He only has a one-year master’s degree in “the field of early Christianity”.  How does that make him an “acclaimed scholar of Islam”?

Another major problem with Spencer’s claim to scholarship is that he simply does not speak or understand Arabic.  This much has been apparent in the past, and it becomes painstakingly obvious in his latest response to me (as I shall show below).  I don’t think Spencer needs to know Arabic to criticize Islam (as some Muslim apologists insist), but I do think he needs to know it in order to be considered a “scholar of Islam” (a title he claims)–let alone “[t]he acclaimed scholar of Islam.”

Combine (1) not having any academic qualifications whatsoever with (2) not knowing Arabic and you have a situation like this: imagine some random blogger claiming to be “a world renowned physician” without ever having (1) gone to medical school and (2) without ever having studied or learned anatomy.  Such a blogger might be able to bring up good points about the field of medicine, but nobody in their right mind would consider him a “world renowned physician”–and if he claimed any such thing, his credibility would be shattered.

The need to understand Arabic in order to be a “scholar of Islam” cannot become more apparent than it is now with Spencer’s latest reply.  And here’s why:  Spencer argues (see quote above) that the hadith (saying of the Prophet Muhammad) found in Haykal’s Hayat Muhammad contradicts the one in Ibn Sa’d’s Kitab Al-Tabaqat Al-Kabir.  He argues that Haykal may have reproduced another hadith that contradicts the one found in Ibn Sa’d’s book, or even that Haykal may have engaged in academic deceit (i.e. “altered this tradition for apologetic purposes”).  That’s a serious and bold claim to make against Haykal.

Yet, had Spencer simply been able to read Arabic, he would have realized that the hadith in Haykal’s Hayat Muhammad and Ibn Sa’d’s Al-Tabaqat Al-Kabir are the exact same!  They are word-for-word identical.  In other words, Haykal took the hadith from Ibn Sa’d’s book.  That Spencer couldn’t see this speaks volumes about his “scholarship.”  So, Spencer’s blathering on about Haykal finding another contradictory hadith or of manipulating the text is indicative of his sophomoric “scholarship.”

How could Haykal have reproduced another hadith or have manipulated the text when in fact the wording in both Haykal’s book and Ibn Sa’d’s is the exact same?  Here is what is found in Haykal’s book:

Source: Haykal, Muhammad Husayn, Hayat Muhammad [The Life of Muhammad], 14th ed. (Cairo: Dar al-Ma’arif, n.d.): 134

And here’s the exact same found in Ibn Sa’d’s book, which Spencer quoted to “trump” Haykal’s hadith (stupidly not realizing they are the exact same!):

Source: Ibn Sa’d,  Tabaqat al-Kabir, edited by Ali Muhammad Umar (Cairo: Maktabat al-Khaniji, 2001) 1:106

To Robert Spencer, who doesn’t read or understand Arabic, that looks like a whole lot of jibberish.  One can imagine Spencer saying: “That’s Greek Arabic to me!”  But, if we help Spencer out by underlining as we did above, even he should be able to verify that they are the exact same–word-for-word.

So, if the two quotes are the exact same, why does Spencer’s quote seem to say the exact opposite as what I quoted?  Why did I translate it as such:

I had witnessed that war with my uncle and shot a few arrows therein. How I wish I had never done so!

Whereas Spencer used the following:

I attended it with my uncles and shot arrows there and I do not repent it.

Why the difference?

Being the “acclaimed scholar of Islam” that he is, Spencer relied on Google search to find this English translation of Ibn Sa’d’s book and/or was forced to rely on an English translation of the book (due to his inability to read the source text).  In doing so, Spencer didn’t realize that the sentence he reproduced was a faulty translation.

In Arabic, the underlined part is:

وما أحب أني لم أكن فعلت

In transliteration (for Spencer’s sake), it would be:

wa ma uhibb anni lam akun fa’alt

It translates to:

and what I wish is that I had not done it!

Breaking it down, we have:

وما (wa ma) – and what

أحب (uhibb) – I love/wish (See Hans Wehr for the meaning of this verb)

 أني (anni) – is that I

لم أكن (lam akun) – had not

فعلت (fa’alt) – done [it]

The translator Spencer used made a mistake with the word ما (ma), which is a participle in Arabic that is modified by the words surrounding it.  Hans Wehr lists nine different uses of the word ما (ma), one of which is indeed negation.  However, from a linguistic standpoint, the “negative ma” cannot be used in this particular sentence.  Indeed, it would render the sentence into a nonsensical “double negative”:

And I do not love that I had not done it.

Huh?  If you translated it like so, that would actually mean that Muhammad did not participate in the war.  So, even still, this would actually be proof against Spencer’s claim that Muhammad took part in it.

The translator Spencer relied upon saw two negatives and just tried to “simplify” the text to read: “and I do not repent it.”  This, even though the word “repent” does not appear anywhere in the text.  It is completely imagined.  It should be noted that the translator’s native language was neither Arabic nor English. He didn’t know what to do with the nonsensical double-negative–a sentence that would actually mean that Muhammad did not love the fact that he did not participate in the war.

In reality, the word  ما (ma) was being used as a “relative ma“:

Source: Ryding, Karin C., A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005): 326

The translator can be forgiven for making a mistake, but Robert Spencer, being “[t]he acclaimed scholar of Islam” should have known better.  The only correct translation of this text would support the translation I used, namely that Muhammad regretted his participation in the war, which was the point of my article.  It was this fact that Spencer failed to include in his book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades).  Instead, he tried to give the exact opposite (and false) impression, i.e. that Muhammad was already a “warrior” before he became a prophet.

Watch how this hadith from Ibn Sa’d’s book–which Spencer is currently using as his strongest proof–will be quickly tossed away by Spencer now that it doesn’t support his argument any more.  This is, after all, his methodology for “finding the historical Muhammad”: any hadiths that paint Muhammad in a positive light are jettisoned, whereas those that do the opposite are trumpeted and used as a club to hit Muslims over the head with.  With such a biased “methodology”, do you really want to trust Robert Spencer as a source for Muhammad’s biography or for anything related to Islam?

*  *  *  *  *

The bottom line is that Spencer relied on an incorrect translation to write a response to my article.  This has two implications:

1)  Our entire discussion underscores how important it is for a “scholar of Islam” to read, understand and have mastery of the Arabic language.  This is what is expected of a scholar at any credible university, and this is what must be expected of Robert Spencer if he wishes to don the mantle of a scholar of Islam.  It is exactly because of situations like these where knowing how to read Arabic can make or break the argument.

2) Specifically with the Prophet Muhammad, Spencer’s biography is misleading because it portrays Muhammad as “already [having] had experience as a warrior”, which is meant to purposefully mislead the reader.  It is intended to paint a portrait of Muhammad as a fierce warrior–hence, Spencer’s choice of title, “Muhammad: Prophet of War”.

What Spencer leaves out is the fact that, at most, Muhammad’s involvement in the war was menial–mostly just in a support capacity.  This is a far cry from the “fierce warrior” image that Spencer is trying to portray.

Muhammad not only expressed regret for participation in the war, but more importantly, after hostilities ceased he supported the League of the Virtuous (Hilf al-Fudul), which was similar to the League of Nations formed after World War I.  The goal of the League of the Virtuous was to bring an end to bloodshed, violence, and war.  Muhammad’s participation in this–and his ringing endorsement of the League even in his later years of life–tells us a lot about how he viewed the war (and warfare in general).  Under the entry of Hilf al-Fudul, Thomas Patrick Hughes’ A Dictionary of Islam says:

A confederacy formed…for the suppression of violence and injustice at the restoration of peace after the Sacrilegious war. Muhammad was then a youth, and Sir William Muir says this confederacy ”aroused an enthusiasm in the mind of Mahomet [Muhammad], which the exploits of the Sacrilegious war failed to kindle.”

The war Muhammad was not too keen of.  But, the body designed to bring peace on earth was something he was deeply inspired by.

These are facts that Spencer wouldn’t have the reader know.  Yet, whereas there was disagreement among biographers about Muhammad’s participation in the war, there was–as far as I know–no difference of opinion about his participation in and support for the League of the Virtuous.  Why is it that Spencer’s biography focuses on contested facts but stays clear from a more accepted occurrence? It is only because one event helps build his case against Muhammad, and the other does the opposite.  So, he includes what helps and ignores what doesn’t.  Should you really trust Spencer’s biography then?

*  *  *  *  *

Spencer also writes in the same article:

Nonetheless, such contradictions abound in the hadith reports. Muhammad can quite often be found saying contradictory things, as I show in Did Muhammad Exist?. In that book also I discuss how this odd situation came about: opposing factions both invoked Muhammad as an authority, and invented traditions to support their point of view.

Robert Spencer has recently argued that Muhammad didn’t in fact exist.  The desire to negate Muhammad’s existence altogether is born out of his strongly pro-Catholic, anti-Muslim views.

Yet, Spencer should know that historians have doubted the historicity of Moses and Jesus as well.  Almost all of the arguments used against the historicity of Muhammad can be applied to Moses and Jesus.  Some scholars have doubted Moses and Jesus’ existences altogether, just as Spencer doubts the existence of Muhammad.  Once again, what is good for the goose is good for the gander, but try arguing this point and Spencer will cry “tu quoque, tu quoque!”  How dare you apply the same standards to Spencer’s religion and beliefs that he does on a routine basis to others!

However, most scholars don’t believe Muhammad didn’t exist, just as most don’t deny the existence of Jesus.  But, the details of Muhammad’s life are far more controversial and up for debate, just as is the case with Jesus.  Finding the historical Muhammad is, like finding the historical Moses or Jesus, an important endeavor.

Yes, contradictory hadiths abound, but that’s no different than is the case in Christianity: Bible scholars argue that the Gospels, for example, are highly contradictory to each other, especially with regard to Jesus.  I can hear it now already: tu quoque, tu quoque!

The fact that contradictory reports exist just means that scholars need to exert energy to determine what’s more reliable and what’s not–and there will always be a level of guesswork and doubt about it.  But the correct way to find the historical Muhammad is not the way Spencer does it: agree with whatever casts Muhammad in a bad light, and dump everything that doesn’t.

Finding the historical Muhammad is an important endeavor that modern scholarship will need to undertake, and you won’t find me disagreeing with that.  Yes, it might call into question stories that many Muslims take for granted, but it will also cast doubt on events that Islamophobes like Robert Spencer rely on to bash Muslims over the head with.

Danios was the Brass Crescent Award Honorary Mention for Best Writer in 2010 and the Brass Crescent Award Winner for Best Writer in 2011.  For the writing of this article, Dawood (guest contributor) was consulted.

Why You Shouldn’t Trust Robert Spencer’s Biography of the Prophet Muhammad (I)

Posted in Feature, Loon Blogs with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 24, 2012 by loonwatch

This article is a part of LoonWatch’s Understanding Jihad Series.

I recently agreed to debate the following thesis with Robert Spencer of JihadWatch:

Islam is more violent than other religions, specifically Judaism and Christianity.

This is the main theme in Spencer’s book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades).  It is even the title of one of his books: Religion of Peace?: Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn’t.  More than this, it reflects the fundamental difference between he and I: whereas I accept the violent and intolerant aspect inherent in all religious traditions, Spencer specifically targets Islam.

Under this heading, I was willing to debate the following sub-thesis:

The Islamic prophet was more violent and warlike than Jewish and Christian prophets.

This was the argument Spencer brought forth in chapter 1 of his book, entitled “Muhammad: Prophet of War.” On p.3, Spencer writes:

[F]or the religious man or woman on the streets of Chicago, Rome, Jerusalem, Damascus, Calcutta, and Bangkok, the words of Jesus, Moses, Muhammad, Krishna, and Buddha mean something far greater than any individual’s reading of them.  And even to the less-than-devout reader, the words of these great religious teachers are clearly not equal in their meaning.

On p.4, Spencer promises to compare Muhammad to prophets and founders of other religious traditions in order “to emphasize the fallacy of those who claim that Islam and Christianity–and all other religious traditions, for that matter–are basically equal in their ability to inspire good or evil.”  In other words: Muhammad was the most violent of them all, and thus inspires greater evil.

But, is it true?

I’ve already written multiple articles related to this topic, but now I will directly refute chapter 1 of Robert Spencer’s book (“Muhammad: Prophet of War”), which is Spencer’s biography of Muhammad.  I will present a balanced, neutral, and academic picture of Muhammad–in between the Islamophobic narrative of Spencer on the one hand and the understandably biased Muslim apologist view on the other.

Once Muhammad’s life is understood thus, I will compare it to the lives of other prophets–MosesJoshuaSamsonSaulDavid, Jesus, etc.–to see if Muhammad was truly the most violent of them all.

*  *  *  *  *

Robert Spencer’s biography of Muhammad is extremely misleading.  This becomes apparent from the get-go. The very first section of Spencer’s biography of Muhammad begins on p.5, entitled “Muhammad the raider.”  Spencer’s opening words are:

Muhammad the raider

Muhammad already had experience as a warrior before he assumed the role of prophet.  He had participated in two local wars between his Quraysh tribe and their neighboring rivals Banu Hawazin.

What Spencer leaves out from this talking point–”Muhammad already had experience as  warrior before he assumed the role of prophet”!–is quite telling.

He is referring to what is known in Islamic history as Harb al-Fijar (the Sacrilegious War), a series of conflicts that took place when Muhammad was a teenager.  The spark that ignited the war was the unsettled murder of a member of one tribe, which lead to a blood feud.  Due to “entangling alliances,” many different tribes in the area found themselves at war with each other.

Like most of Muhammad’s life, the details of this event are contested.  This dispute is not simply one between modern-day Muslim apologists and Islamophobes, but rather one that traces its way back to the earliest biographers of the Prophet.

In specific, Muhammad’s level of participation in these wars is disputed.  On the one hand, some Shia biographers reject the idea that Muhammad partook in them at all.  Meanwhile, Sunni biographers write that Muhammad simply accompanied his uncle but did not directly fight in these wars.  He only took on a very limited support role: picking up enemy arrows from the battlefield.  At the most, he fired off a few arrows, but did not kill anyone.

Not only was Muhammad’s role severely limited, but even this he would later express regret over.  Muhammad later recounted: “I had witnessed that war with my uncle and shot a few arrows therein. How I wish I had never done so!” [1] Spencer conveniently omits this very important fact, one that mitigates Muhammad’s participation in the war, especially in regards to his views about war and peace.

Like World War I, the Sacrilegious War was sparked over a murder and resulted in great turmoil due to “entangling alliances.”  Once hostilities ceased, many of the tribes decided to convene a sort of “League of Nations” to prevent future wars.  The Arabian tribes assembled at the house of a man named Abdullah bin Judan and “forged the League of the Virtuous [Hilf al-Fudul].  The major aims of the League were to prevent wars from breaking out and to protect the weak and the defenseless from their enemies.” [2] Members would “henceforth and forever stand on the side of the victim of injustice,” instead of simply siding based on tribal loyalty. [3] It was hoped that such an arrangement would prevent the blood feuds that were common in that time.

Muhammad took part in the signing of the League of the Virtuous, and it left its indelible mark on him.  He would later say: “I witnessed in the house of Abdullah bin Judan a pact made that I wouldn’t have exchanged for the choicest of herds; and if it had been suggested after Islam, I would have responded positively to it.” [4] (“The choicest herd” is the ancient equivalent of saying: “I wouldn’t trade it in even for a Ferrari.”) Muhammad said further: “If further such pacts be made for the cause of the oppressed and I be called, I would certainly respond.” [5]

The ideals of the League of the Virtuous–of standing for justice regardless of family or tribal loyalty–finds its way into the Quran:

O you who believe, stand firmly for justice, witnesses before God, even if it be against your own selves, your parents or relatives, or whether it be against rich or poor. (4:135)

Throughout his career, Muhammad opposed tribal warfare and blood feuds.  Meanwhile, the Quran instructed the believers to defend the oppressed by fighting the oppressors:

What reason could you have for not fighting in God’s cause–for those men, women and children who are oppressed and cry out, “Our Lord, rescue us from this town whose people are oppressors!  By Your Grace, give us a protector and a savior!” (4:75)

The Sacrilegious War and the League of the Virtuous played a pivotal role in Muhammad’s views on matters of war and peace–but not in the way that Spencer implies it to (i.e. “he was born a warrior!”).  Instead, Muhammad became a “veteran against the war” and greatly supported the idea of a League of the Virtuous, a body intended to bring peace on earth–one that would end violence, bloodshed, and war.

By omitting key details, Spencer willfully misleads the reader.  This is just within the first three lines of his biography of Muhammad.  As we shall see, the deception just gets worse.

To be continued…

Danios was the Brass Crescent Award Honorary Mention for Best Writer in 2010 and the Brass Crescent Award Winner for Best Writer in 2011.

[1] Muhammad Husayn Haykal, Hayat Muhammad, p.62
[2] S. Ali Asgher Razwy, A Restatement of the History of Islam and Muslims, p.24.
Prof. Joseph Morrison Skelly writes on p.39 of Political Islam: “Hilf al-Fudul was an agreement among several pre-Islamic Arab tribes in the seventh century to prevent injustice and to aid those who had been wronged.”
[3] Haykal, p.62
[4] Ibn Kathir, Al-Sira Al-Nabawiyya, p.188
[5] A.H. Qasmi, International Encyclopaedia of Islam, p.113

Posted in Feature, Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 2, 2012 by loonwatch

(image from an Islamophobic website)

DISCLAIMER: LoonWatch has not endorsed any candidate for President of the United States.  This article should not be seen as such.

Islamophobes absolutely hate Ron Paul.  Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch and Pamela Geller of Atlas Shrugs–the King and Queen of Islamophobia on the internet–dedicate page after page on their hate blogs lambasting the Congressman and presidential hopeful.

Why do they hate Ron Paul so much?

There are three major reasons why they detest him:

(1) Ron Paul stands up for American Muslims against Islamophobia.  For example, he defended the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque,” arguing that the entire controversy was “all about hate and Islamophobia.”

(2) He has been one of the most vocal opponents of the Bush-Obama curtailments of civil liberties that specifically target Muslims.

(3) Paul is the only major presidential candidate to oppose America’s wars in the Muslim world.  Even more importantly, Ron Paul links reason #1 above (the Lesser Islamophobia) to reason #3 (the Greater Islamophobia), arguing that “in order to perpetuate this foreign policy…they have to perpetuate this hate toward Islam.”

This third reason is also why mainstream politicians and the mainstream media dislike Ron Paul and have tried their utmost to destroy him.  Fox political pundit Bill O’Reilly argued that Paul’s views on foreign policy “disqualifies him” as a candidate for president.  Here is exactly what O’Reilly said:

His foreign policy disqualifies him in my eyes as an American…

Bill O’Reilly has inadvertently touched upon something very deep and meaningful:  ”As an American,” foreign policy must include waging war.  To do without war would simply be un-American.

One recalls the words of H. Rap Brown, the chairman of the civil rights group Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), who famously declared in 1967:

Violence is as American as cherry pie.

Brown uttered this statement during the height of the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War.  While blacks were being beaten up and hosed down in the streets of America, the United States was raining death down upon the Vietnamese population halfway across the earth.

H. Rap Brown was not the only one in the civil rights movement who linked the struggle of blacks in America to the struggle of the darker skinned peoples of the world.  For instance, Martin Luther King, Jr. called America “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today” for its war-making:

The Soviet Union brought attention to America’s “Negro problem.”  Michael L. Krenn writes on pp.89-90 of Race and U.S. Foreign Policy During the Cold War:

By 1949, according to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, “the ‘Negro question’ [was] [o]ne of the principal Soviet propaganda themes regarding the United States.” “[T]he Soviet press hammers away unceasingly on such things as ‘lynch law,’ segregation, racial discrimination, deprivation of political rights, etc., seeking to build up a picture of an America in which the Negroes are brutally downtrodden with no hope of improving their status under the existing form of government.”  An [American] Embassy official believed that “this attention to the Negro problem serves political ends desired by the Soviet Union and has nothing whatsoever to do with any desire to better the Negro’s position.”

Apparently, only the United States is allowed to saber rattle and invade countries on the grounds that the “existing form of government” is discriminatory or unjust to part of its population.

With the world’s spotlight on America’s treatment of its darker-skinned citizens–and those same citizens linking their struggle to America’s foreign wars against darker-skinned peoples–the United States moved in the direction of racial integration in the 1970′s.  America’s longest war was also grudgingly brought to an end.

But today, despite the fact that we have been waging wars for two decades in the Muslim world and in just the last couple years bombed over half a dozen Muslim countries, the anti-war movement is, at least compared to the 1960′s and 70′s, all but dead.

Ron Paul is one of the only major political figures–and the only major presidential candidate–to oppose America’s wars.

And that is why he is in the cross-hairs of anti-Muslim bigots, who see the world in apocalyptic holy war terms: the jihad will bring an end to Western civilization as we know it so we must destroy them first!  This is their fundamental world view, which is why sustaining and protracting the wars against the Muslim world is their greatest desire.

Ron Paul threatens that paradigm.  He dares to cogitate that it is our military interventions in the Muslim world that result in Islamic terrorism against the United States and her allies.  He had the chutzpah to include 9/11 in this: “They attack us because we’ve been over there. We’ve been bombing Iraq for 10 years.”

In the American national discourse, this is next to blasphemy.  But, in the rest of the world (especially in Muslim countries), this is not just common knowledge, it’s common sense.  In fact, nothing could be more obvious.

It’s precisely because this idea is so obvious and self-evident that it must simply never be uttered in the United States.  Anyone who does so must be condemned as unpatriotic and, worse, as Unserious.  Such a person’s character must be viciously attacked.

That’s exactly what is happening to Ron Paul.  Unfortunately, Paul deserves much of the blame for making himself such an easy target.  The racist newsletters are a gold-mine for his opponents.  Pamela Geller gleefully called them a “bombshell,” arguing that his presidential bid is now “unrecoverable” and that “[h]e is done.”

The evidence against Ron Paul, that he wrote those vile things against black people, is certainly very strong.  The only saving grace for Paul is the fact that those racist screeds do not sound anything like him.  Whether or not this alone can outweigh the proof against him, I do not know.  Whatever the case, Paul’s delay in disassociating himself from the letters, his ever-changing excuses, and his questionable associations are enough to condemn him.  (A balanced article on Ron Paul was written by the indefatigable Glenn Greenwald.)

Under normal circumstances, I’d have nothing but absolute contempt for Ron Paul.  In fact, even if he didn’t have such racism-related baggage,  a progressive like myself would have nothing to do with a man who wants to get rid of social welfare programs, the Department of Education, etc. etc.  When it comes to domestic issues, there is probably very little Ron Paul and I would see eye-to-eye on.  Worse yet, I find many of his views on such matters to be outside the realms of reasonableness–I’d go so far as to call them loony.

Yet, many progressives like myself are finding themselves inexorably drawn to Ron Paul.  That is because he is the only major presidential candidate to oppose America’s wars.  Stated another way: the rest of the candidates–including the incumbent president (who expanded the War on Terror)–are war-makers.  Ron Paul is the only peace candidate.

This says a lot about the state of our union more than it does about Ron Paul.  War-making has become such a staple of American life that the only man who stands a chance (and a slim one at that) of bringing an end to Endless War is a loony, fringe candidate with a questionable and possibly racist past.

I have been criticized by some Islamophobes for daring to say anything positive about Ron Paul.  But, the fact that a person of my views (a progressive peacenik) is forced to consider Ron Paul is indicative of how truly violent and warlike our country has become (or, rather, has always been).  This underscores my main counter-argument to the Supreme Islamophobic Myth: we, as part of the Judeo-Christian West, have been and are still, just as, if not more, violent and warlike than the Muslim world.

This fact is underscored even more by the fact that the reason why Ron Paul has been “disqualified” as a realistic candidate is because, in the words of Bill O’Reilly, of his peace-loving foreign policy.  Imagine, for instance, if an Iranian candidate for the Iranian presidency could never realistically win unless he advocated for war against other countries.  What would it say about Iranians if they, by convention and consensus, refused to elect someone who advocated peaceful relations with the rest of the world?

One would expect that progressive peaceniks like myself would have more options to choose from than just one candidate.  But because warmongering is an essential component of being president of the United States (and serving in the military is almost a prerequisite to getting elected–imagine if Iranians would demand that their leaders must have sometime in their lives fought jihad), there is virtually nobody to vote for.

In an earlier article, I wrote of how war has been a part of the American psyche since the very beginning, from 1776 all the way to the present.  We’ve never gone a decade without a major war, and no president in our history can truly be considered a peacetime president.  Yet, somehow even after waging wars for more than 91% of our existence, we look at ourselves as peace-makers and “those Moozlums over there” as violent and warlike.

A verse from the Quran is most fitting here: “When it is said to them: ‘Do not make mischief on earth,’ they say: ‘We are but peace-makers.’  In fact, they are the mischief-makers, but they realize it not.” (2:11-12)

*  *  *  *  *

Something else that reinforces my argument is the fact that even Ron Paul, the single peace proponent in the presidential race, does not seem to oppose war based on peacenik principles.  He usually raises financial and political arguments against the wars, instead of humanitarian ones: We’re bankrupting ourselves.  Or: These wars result in terrorism (against us).

Our moral compass should not be dictated by money or self-interest.  We should oppose these wars because killing innocent civilians is morally atrocious.  This is what should be the main argument:

Not this:

Let me clarify: there is nothing wrong with raising financial and political arguments as secondary reasons to end the wars.  In fact, I would encourage doing so.  But, the primary motivation behind opposing wars should be less self-centered (the war is costing us too much money, they may retaliate with terrorism against us, too many of our young soldiers are risking their lives over there), but more humanitarian towards the victims of our aggression: we are killing innocent civilians.

Ron Paul’s emphasis on financial and political reasons, as opposed to humanitarian concerns, seems to be consistent with his ideology.  (After all, he supported Israel’s bombing of Iraq in 1981 and seems unconcerned if Israel bombs Iran on its own accord.  This indicates to me that it is not the dead in Iraq or Iran that bothers him so much, but only that it would cost us money to kill them or would risk retaliation against us for doing so.)  What does it say about America if even the one and only supposed peace candidate is against wars not out of humanitarian reasons but financial and political concerns?

Even if I am being too harsh on Ron Paul and it’s just a political consideration to focus on financial and political reasons, what does it say about us Americans that we can only be convinced based on our wallets and not on our consciences?

*  *  *  *  *

I don’t say this very often, but Pamela Geller was absolutely right when she said  about Ron Paul that “[h]e is done.”  He most certainly is.  And so dies the only candidate who could have ended America’s Endless Wars.

One should point out, however, that just because the Islamophobes have found the Kryptonite that will kill Ron Paul (the racist newsletters) this doesn’t change the fact that Paul’s foreign policy views were correct.

Let this be a lesson to groupies and fan boys of Ron Paul, a lesson that groupies and fan boys of Barack Obama should also heed: do not put your hopes in a man, because if you do, that man will often, if not always, disappoint you. Put your faith in a conviction instead.  If you hold on tightly enough to the conviction and not the man, it will persevere.

Danios was the Brass Crescent Award Honorary Mention for Best Writer in 2010 and the Brass Crescent Award Winner for Best Writer in 2011.  

DISCLAIMER: LoonWatch has not endorsed any candidate for President of the United States.  This article should not be seen as such.

“We’re at War!” — And We Have Been Since 1776: 214 Years of American War-Making

Posted in Feature, Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 20, 2011 by loonwatch

“I should welcome almost any war, for I think this country needs one.” -President Theodore Roosevelt, at the turn of the century [1]

Islam is inherently more violent than other religions.  This is the Supreme Islamophobic Myth.  Yes, there are other core beliefs of Islamophobia (Islam is sexist, oppressive, discriminatory, the list goes on…), but nothing is more critical to anti-Muslim bigots than associating Islam with violence, war, and terrorism.  This, in turn, is used to justify bombing, invading, and occupying Muslim countries–what I call the Supreme Islamophobic Crime.

We see this quite clearly in the jingoistic rhetoric against Iran, a Muslim country that is portrayed as being inherently violent and warlike.  This is then flipped around, using the argument that we must attack them before they attack us.

Yet, this is a Myth–the Mother of all Myths.  It is the United States that has been waging wars of aggression, not Iran.  Ahmed Rehab challenged Bill O’Reilly on this point by asking him: “How many countries has Iran attacked in the past 50 years?”  The answer is, of course, zero. Meanwhile, the United States and her “stalwart ally” Israel have attacked numerous Muslim countries, as I recently portrayed in this graphic:

The U.S., in the name of fighting terror, is waging seemingly Endless War in the Muslim world.   The “We are at War” mentality defines a generation of Americans, with many young adults having lived their entire lives while the country has been “at war.”  For them, war is the norm.

But if the future of America promises Endless War, be rest assured that this is no different than her past.  Below, I have reproduced a year-by-year timeline of America’s wars, which reveals something quite interesting: since the United States was founded in 1776, she has been at war during 214 out of her 235 calendar years of existence.  In other words, there were only 21 calendar years in which the U.S. did not wage any wars.

To put this in perspective:

* Pick any year since 1776 and there is about a 91% chance that America was involved in some war during that calendar year.

* No U.S. president truly qualifies as a peacetime president.  Instead, all U.S. presidents can technically be considered “war presidents.”

* The U.S. has never gone a decade without war.

* The only time the U.S. went five years without war (1935-40) was during the isolationist period of the Great Depression.

When we look at the present situation (see map above) and our violent past (see timeline below), is it not a bit hypocritical of us to point the finger at Muslims?  Whenever I hear “good Judeo-Christian American patriots” telling me how violent Muslims are and how Islam supposedly endorses Perpetual War–I cannot help but think of how their own “Judeo-Christian nation” has been locked in perpetual warfare since its inception.

The U.S. was born out of ethnic cleansing, a violent process that had started long before 1776 and would not be complete until 1900.  In other words, more than half of America’s existence (about 53%) has been marked by the active process of ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population, which was ultimately all but destroyed.

If the Islamophobes insist that the Armenian Genocide, which took place in the span of eight years, defines the Ottoman Empire (which existed for over 600 years, meaning the Armenian Genocide lasted only 1% of its existence), then would they be consistent and use this logic to argue that the ethnic cleansing of the American Indians (which spanned more than a century and a quarter, or 53% of America’s existence) defines the United States?  Or would they use it to demean Christianity overall as they do Islam? (Note: Benjamin Taghov has made this comparison on our website before; see here.)

By looking at America’s many wars throughout history, it becomes apparent that it is not radical Islam that propels the country to war.  Rather, it is America’s trajectory of war and conquest, which has always been in the direction of expanding hegemony.  In the start, the country expanded by occupying American Indian lands, portraying its indigenous population as inherently violent and warlike.  In 1823, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall wrote: “The tribes of Indians inhabiting this country were fierce savages, whose occupation was war…” [2]

The American Indians were thought to be an existential threat to the United States (a classic case of projection or role inversion): John Quincy Adams, for example, wrote that “the savage Indians” were out to “wage an exterminating war” against the “peaceful inhabitants” of the United States [3].  It was the same message then as it is now: we must attack them before they attack us.

As Indian land was gobbled up by the use of force and fraud, the U.S. border expanded to the periphery of Mexico (which at that time consisted of most of the West Coast and Southwest of the modern United States).  Hungry for this land too, the U.S. invaded Mexico, and “Mexicans were portrayed as violent and treacherous bandits who terrorized” the people [4].  American belligerence towards Mexico heated up in the 1800′s, culminated in the U.S. annexation of half of Mexico’s land (leaving right-wingers today to wonder “why so many Mexicans are in our country?”), and seamlessly transitioned into the Banana Wars of the early 1900′s.

Once the Americans had successfully implemented Manifest Destiny by conquering the land from sea to shining sea, the Monroe Doctrine was used to expand American influence in the Caribbean and Central America.  Thus began the Banana Wars, a series of military interventions from 1898 all the way to 1934, which attempted to expand American hegemony to the south of its borders.  America’s brutality in this part of the world is not well-known to most Americans, but it is well-documented.

During this time period, Hispanics were portrayed as “cunningly dangerous bandits” [5].  The Banana Wars came to an end in 1934 with the adoption of the “Good Neighbor Policy,” a policy that was adopted because “World War II was looming in Europe and Asia” and the U.S. wanted “to secure Latin American allegiances and hemispheric unity as a protection against foreign invasion” [6].

For a brief period, from 1935-1940, America rested from war, thanks to the emergence of isolationism during the Great Depression.  But, with the start of World War II, the U.S. emerged as a super-power, ever hungry for more conflict.  Thus began the Cold War period from 1945 all the way to 1991, with the U.S. fighting “the (exaggerated) menace of Communism” all over the world, even when it meant bombing, invading, and occupying countries that had done no harm to the U.S.

The Cold War had not even ended before the U.S. found its new target: the Middle East and the Muslim world.  By 1990, the U.S. was already bombing Iraq in the First Gulf War–a country that the U.S. would go on to bomb for over two decades.  Needing another boogieman now that the Soviet Union was dead, the U.S. turned to “radical Islam” as the enemy.  And that’s why you have the map as it is above.

It should be noted that American plans to dominate the Middle East date back to at least the end of World War II, when it was decided that the region was of critical strategic value.  Now that the U.S. has followed through on this plan, do you think “radical Islam” is really “an existential threat” just as American Indians were “fierce savages” waging “an exterminating war” against the “peaceful inhabitants” of the United States; or how Mexicans were “violent” and “terrorized” people; or how Central Americans were “dangerous bandits”?  The rampant Islamophobia that abounds today is part of a long tradition of vilifying, Other-izing, and dehumanizing the indigenous populations of lands that need to controlled.

The objects of American aggression have certainly changed with time, but the primary motivating factor behind U.S. wars of aggression have always been the same: expansion of U.S. hegemony.  The Muslim world is being bombed, invaded, and occupied by the United States not because of radical Islam or any inherent flaw in themselves.  Rather, it is being so attacked because it is in the path of the American juggernaut, which is always in need of war.

*  *  *  *  *

Here is a graphic depiction of U.S. wars:

And here is the year-by-year timeline of America’s major wars:

[Note: This is a non-exhaustive list, and I purposefully excluded all sorts of military interventions so as to be very conservative; the list excludes, for example, “peaceful means” used to ethnically cleanse the land of American Indians, i.e. fraudulent treaties and other coercive means; it excludes many outright massacres of American Indians; it further excludes several instances of the U.S. landing troops in various countries to “protect American interests”; it also excludes virtually all CIA interventions and other covert wars; lastly, I may have omitted wars due to my own ignorance of them, although I am sure that readers will give their input so we can add to the list as needed.]

Year-by-year Timeline of America’s Major Wars (1776-2011)

1776 – American Revolutionary War, Chickamagua Wars, Second Cherokee War, Pennamite-Yankee War

1777 – American Revolutionary War, Chickamauga Wars, Second Cherokee War, Pennamite-Yankee War

1778 – American Revolutionary War, Chickamauga Wars, Pennamite-Yankee War

1779 – American Revolutionary War, Chickamauga Wars, Pennamite-Yankee War

1780 – American Revolutionary War, Chickamauga Wars, Pennamite-Yankee War

1781 – American Revolutionary War, Chickamauga Wars, Pennamite-Yankee War

1782 – American Revolutionary War, Chickamauga Wars, Pennamite-Yankee War

1783 – American Revolutionary War, Chickamauga Wars, Pennamite-Yankee War

1784 – Chickamauga Wars, Pennamite-Yankee War, Oconee War

1785 – Chickamauga Wars, Northwest Indian War

1786 – Chickamauga Wars, Northwest Indian War

1787 – Chickamauga Wars, Northwest Indian War

1788 – Chickamauga Wars, Northwest Indian War

1789 – Chickamauga Wars, Northwest Indian War

1790 – Chickamauga Wars, Northwest Indian War

1791 – Chickamauga Wars, Northwest Indian War

1792 – Chickamauga Wars, Northwest Indian War

1793 – Chickamauga Wars, Northwest Indian War

1794 – Chickamauga Wars, Northwest Indian War

1795 – Northwest Indian War

1796 – No major war

1797 – No major war

1798 – Quasi-War

1799 – Quasi-War

1800 – Quasi-War

1801 – First Barbary War

1802 – First Barbary War

1803 – First Barbary War

1804 – First Barbary War

1805 – First Barbary War

1806 – Sabine Expedition

1807 – No major war

1808 – No major war

1809 – No major war

1810 – U.S. occupies Spanish-held West Florida

1811 – Tecumseh’s War

1812 – War of 1812, Tecumseh’s War, Seminole Wars, U.S. occupies Spanish-held Amelia Island and other parts of East Florida

1813 – War of 1812, Tecumseh’s War, Peoria War, Creek War, U.S. expands its territory in West Florida

1814 – War of 1812, Creek War, U.S. expands its territory in Florida, Anti-piracy war

1815 – War of 1812, Second Barbary War, Anti-piracy war

1816 – First Seminole War, Anti-piracy war

1817 – First Seminole War, Anti-piracy war

1818 – First Seminole War, Anti-piracy war

1819 – Yellowstone Expedition, Anti-piracy war

1820 – Yellowstone Expedition, Anti-piracy war

1821 – Anti-piracy war (see note above)

1822 – Anti-piracy war (see note above)

1823 – Anti-piracy war, Arikara War

1824 – Anti-piracy war

1825 – Yellowstone Expedition, Anti-piracy war

1826 – No major war

1827 – Winnebago War

1828 – No major war

1829 – No major war

1830 – No major war 

1831 – Sac and Fox Indian War

1832 – Black Hawk War

1833 – Cherokee Indian War

1834 – Cherokee Indian War, Pawnee Indian Territory Campaign

1835 – Cherokee Indian War, Seminole Wars, Second Creek War

1836 – Cherokee Indian War, Seminole Wars, Second Creek War, Missouri-Iowa Border War

1837 – Cherokee Indian War, Seminole Wars, Second Creek War, Osage Indian War, Buckshot War

1838 – Cherokee Indian War, Seminole Wars, Buckshot War, Heatherly Indian War

1839 – Cherokee Indian War, Seminole Wars

1840 – Seminole Wars, U.S. naval forces invade Fiji Islands

1841 – Seminole Wars, U.S. naval forces invade McKean Island, Gilbert Islands, and Samoa

1842 – Seminole Wars

1843 – U.S. forces clash with Chinese, U.S. troops invade African coast

1844 – Texas-Indian Wars

1845 – Texas-Indian Wars

1846 – Mexican-American War, Texas-Indian Wars

1847 – Mexican-American War, Texas-Indian Wars

1848 – Mexican-American War, Texas-Indian Wars, Cayuse War

1849 – Texas-Indian Wars, Cayuse War, Southwest Indian Wars, Navajo Wars, Skirmish between 1st Cavalry and Indians

1850 – Texas-Indian Wars, Cayuse War, Southwest Indian Wars, Navajo Wars, Yuma War, California Indian Wars, Pitt River Expedition

1851 – Texas-Indian Wars, Cayuse War, Southwest Indian Wars, Navajo Wars, Apache Wars, Yuma War, Utah Indian Wars, California Indian Wars

1852 – Texas-Indian Wars, Cayuse War, Southwest Indian Wars, Navajo Wars, Yuma War, Utah Indian Wars, California Indian Wars

1853 – Texas-Indian Wars, Cayuse War, Southwest Indian Wars, Navajo Wars, Yuma War, Utah Indian Wars, Walker War, California Indian Wars

1854 – Texas-Indian Wars, Cayuse War, Southwest Indian Wars, Navajo Wars, Apache Wars, California Indian Wars, Skirmish between 1st Cavalry and Indians

1855 – Seminole Wars, Texas-Indian Wars, Cayuse War, Southwest Indian Wars, Navajo Wars, Apache Wars, California Indian Wars, Yakima War, Winnas Expedition, Klickitat War, Puget Sound War, Rogue River Wars, U.S. forces invade Fiji Islands and Uruguay

1856 – Seminole Wars, Texas-Indian Wars, Southwest Indian Wars, Navajo Wars, California Indian Wars, Puget Sound War, Rogue River Wars, Tintic War

1857 – Seminole Wars, Texas-Indian Wars, Southwest Indian Wars, Navajo Wars, California Indian Wars, Utah War, Conflict in Nicaragua

1858 – Seminole Wars, Texas-Indian Wars, Southwest Indian Wars, Navajo Wars, Mohave War, California Indian Wars, Spokane-Coeur d’Alene-Paloos War, Utah War, U.S. forces invade Fiji Islands and Uruguay

1859 Texas-Indian Wars, Southwest Indian Wars, Navajo Wars, California Indian Wars, Pecos Expedition, Antelope Hills Expedition, Bear River Expedition, John Brown’s raid, U.S. forces launch attack against Paraguay, U.S. forces invade Mexico

1860 – Texas-Indian Wars, Southwest Indian Wars, Navajo Wars, Apache Wars, California Indian Wars, Paiute War, Kiowa-Comanche War

1861 – American Civil War, Texas-Indian Wars, Southwest Indian Wars, Navajo Wars, Apache Wars, California Indian Wars, Cheyenne Campaign

1862 – American Civil War, Texas-Indian Wars, Southwest Indian Wars, Navajo Wars, Apache Wars, California Indian Wars, Cheyenne Campaign, Dakota War of 1862,

1863 – American Civil War, Texas-Indian Wars, Southwest Indian Wars, Navajo Wars, Apache Wars, California Indian Wars, Cheyenne Campaign, Colorado War, Goshute War

1864 – American Civil War, Texas-Indian Wars, Navajo Wars, Apache Wars, California Indian Wars, Cheyenne Campaign, Colorado War, Snake War

1865 – American Civil War, Texas-Indian Wars, Navajo Wars, Apache Wars, California Indian Wars, Colorado War, Snake War, Utah’s Black Hawk War

1866 – Texas-Indian Wars, Navajo Wars, Apache Wars, California Indian Wars, Skirmish between 1st Cavalry and Indians, Snake War, Utah’s Black Hawk War, Red Cloud’s War, Franklin County War, U.S. invades Mexico, Conflict with China

1867 – Texas-Indian Wars, Long Walk of the Navajo, Apache Wars, Skirmish between 1st Cavalry and Indians, Snake War, Utah’s Black Hawk War, Red Cloud’s War, Comanche Wars, Franklin County War, U.S. troops occupy Nicaragua and attack Taiwan

1868 – Texas-Indian Wars, Long Walk of the Navajo, Apache Wars, Skirmish between 1st Cavalry and Indians, Snake War, Utah’s Black Hawk War, Red Cloud’s War, Comanche Wars, Battle of Washita River, Franklin County War

1869 – Texas-Indian Wars, Apache Wars, Skirmish between 1st Cavalry and Indians, Utah’s Black Hawk War, Comanche Wars, Franklin County War

1870 – Texas-Indian Wars, Apache Wars, Skirmish between 1st Cavalry and Indians, Utah’s Black Hawk War, Comanche Wars, Franklin County War

1871 – Texas-Indian Wars, Apache Wars, Skirmish between 1st Cavalry and Indians, Utah’s Black Hawk War, Comanche Wars, Franklin County War, Kingsley Cave Massacre, U.S. forces invade Korea

1872 – Texas-Indian Wars, Apache Wars, Utah’s Black Hawk War, Comanche Wars, Modoc War, Franklin County War

1873 – Texas-Indian Wars, Comanche Wars, Modoc War, Apache Wars, Cypress Hills Massacre, U.S. forces invade Mexico

1874 – Texas-Indian Wars, Comanche Wars, Red River War, Mason County War, U.S. forces invade Mexico

1875 – Conflict in Mexico, Texas-Indian Wars, Comanche Wars, Eastern Nevada, Mason County War, Colfax County War, U.S. forces invade Mexico

1876 – Texas-Indian Wars, Black Hills War, Mason County War, U.S. forces invade Mexico

1877 – Texas-Indian Wars, Skirmish between 1st Cavalry and Indians, Black Hills War, Nez Perce War, Mason County War, Lincoln County War, San Elizario Salt War, U.S. forces invade Mexico

1878 – Paiute Indian conflict, Bannock War, Cheyenne War, Lincoln County War, U.S. forces invade Mexico

1879 – Cheyenne War, Sheepeater Indian War, White River War, U.S. forces invade Mexico

1880 – U.S. forces invade Mexico

1881 – U.S. forces invade Mexico

1882 – U.S. forces invade Mexico

1883 – U.S. forces invade Mexico

1884 – U.S. forces invade Mexico

1885 – Apache Wars, Eastern Nevada Expedition, U.S. forces invade Mexico

1886 – Apache Wars, Pleasant Valley War, U.S. forces invade Mexico

1887 – U.S. forces invade Mexico

1888 – U.S. show of force against Haiti, U.S. forces invade Mexico

1889 – U.S. forces invade Mexico

1890 – Sioux Indian War, Skirmish between 1st Cavalry and Indians, Ghost Dance War, Wounded Knee, U.S. forces invade Mexico

1891 – Sioux Indian War, Ghost Dance War, U.S. forces invade Mexico

1892 – Johnson County War, U.S. forces invade Mexico

1893 – U.S. forces invade Mexico and Hawaii

1894 – U.S. forces invade Mexico

1895 – U.S. forces invade Mexico, Bannock Indian Disturbances

1896 – U.S. forces invade Mexico

1897 – No major war

1898 – Spanish-American War, Battle of Leech Lake, Chippewa Indian Disturbances

1899 – Philippine-American War, Banana Wars

1900 – Philippine-American War, Banana Wars

1901 – Philippine-American War, Banana Wars

1902 – Philippine-American War, Banana Wars

1903 – Philippine-American War, Banana Wars

1904 – Philippine-American War, Banana Wars

1905 – Philippine-American War, Banana Wars

1906 – Philippine-American War, Banana Wars

1907 – Philippine-American War, Banana Wars

1908 – Philippine-American War, Banana Wars

1909 – Philippine-American War, Banana Wars

1910 – Philippine-American War, Banana Wars

1911 – Philippine-American War, Banana Wars

1912 – Philippine-American War, Banana Wars

1913 – Philippine-American War, Banana Wars, New Mexico Navajo War

1914 – Banana Wars, U.S. invades Mexico

1915 – Banana Wars, U.S. invades Mexico, Colorado Paiute War

1916 – Banana Wars, U.S. invades Mexico

1917 – Banana Wars, World War I, U.S. invades Mexico

1918 – Banana Wars, World War I, U.S invades Mexico

1919 – Banana Wars, U.S. invades Mexico

1920 – Banana Wars

1921 – Banana Wars

1922 – Banana Wars

1923 – Banana Wars, Posey War

1924 – Banana Wars

1925 – Banana Wars

1926 – Banana Wars

1927 – Banana Wars

1928 – Banana Wars

1930 – Banana Wars

1931 – Banana Wars

1932 – Banana Wars

1933 – Banana Wars

1934 – Banana Wars

1935 – No major war

1936 – No major war

1937 – No major war

1938 – No major war

1939 – No major war

1940 – No major war

1941 – World War II

1942 – World War II

1943 – Wold War II

1944 – World War II

1945 – World War II

1946 – Cold War (U.S. occupies the Philippines and South Korea)

1947 – Cold War (U.S. occupies South Korea, U.S. forces land in Greece to fight Communists)

1948 – Cold War (U.S. forces aid Chinese Nationalist Party against Communists)

1949 – Cold War (U.S. forces aid Chinese Nationalist Party against Communists)

1950 – Korean War, Jayuga Uprising

1951 – Korean War

1952 – Korean War

1953 – Korean War

1954 – Covert War in Guatemala

1955 – Vietnam War

1956 – Vietnam War

1957 – Vietnam War

1958 – Vietnam War

1959 – Vietnam War, Conflict in Haiti

1960 – Vietam War

1961 – Vietnam War

1962 – Vietnam War, Cold War (Cuban Missile Crisis; U.S. marines fight Communists in Thailand)

1963 – Vietnam War

1964 – Vietnam War

1965 – Vietnam War, U.S. occupation of Dominican Republic

1966 – Vietnam War, U.S. occupation of Dominican Republic

1967 – Vietnam War

1968 – Vietnam War

1969 – Vietnam War

1970 – Vietnam War

1971 – Vietnam War

1972 – Vietnam War

1973 – Vietnam War, U.S. aids Israel in Yom Kippur War

1974 – Vietnam War

1975 – Vietnam War

1976 – No major war

1977 – No major war

1978 – No major war

1979 – Cold War (CIA proxy war in Afghanistan)

1980 – Cold War (CIA proxy war in Afghanistan)

1981 – Cold War (CIA proxy war in Afghanistan and Nicaragua), First Gulf of Sidra Incident

1982 – Cold War (CIA proxy war in Afghanistan and Nicaragua), Conflict in Lebanon

1983 – Cold War (Invasion of Grenada, CIA proxy war in Afghanistan and Nicaragua), Conflict in Lebanon

1984 – Cold War (CIA proxy war in Afghanistan and Nicaragua), Conflict in Persian Gulf

1985 – Cold War (CIA proxy war in Afghanistan and Nicaragua)

1986 – Cold War (CIA proxy war in Afghanistan and Nicaragua)

1987 – Conflict in Persian Gulf

1988 – Conflict in Persian Gulf, U.S. occupation of Panama

1989 – Second Gulf of Sidra Incident, U.S. occupation of Panama, Conflict in Philippines

1990 – First Gulf War, U.S. occupation of Panama

1991 – First Gulf War

1992 – Conflict in Iraq

1993 – Conflict in Iraq

1994 – Conflict in Iraq, U.S. invades Haiti

1995 – Conflict in Iraq, U.S. invades Haiti, NATO bombing of Bosnia and Herzegovina

1996 – Conflict in Iraq

1997 – No major war

1998 – Bombing of Iraq, Missile strikes against Afghanistan and Sudan

1999 – Kosovo War

2000 – No major war

2001 – War on Terror in Afghanistan

2002 – War on Terror in Afghanistan and Yemen

2003 – War on Terror in Afghanistan, and Iraq

2004 – War on Terror in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Yemen

2005 – War on Terror in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Yemen

2006 – War on Terror in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Yemen

2007 – War on Terror in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen

2008 – War on Terror in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Yemen

2009 – War on Terror in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Yemen

2010 – War on Terror in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Yemen

2011 – War on Terror in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen; Conflict in Libya (Libyan Civil War)

President Barack Obama repeated the now infamous words of George W. Bush, declaring: “We are at war…”  Yes, and we have been, ever since 1776.

Danios was the Brass Crescent Award Honorary Mention for Best Writer in 2010 and the Brass Crescent Award Winner for Best Writer in 2011.  

Update I:

It goes without saying that I am not arguing that all of America’s wars listed above were wars of aggression and therefore unjustified–but arguably the vast majority of them were.

Update II:

To put this into greater perspective, Iran has not invaded a country since 1795, which was 216 years ago. (h/t LW’s Ilisha)


[1] Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States, p.297

[2] Steuter, Erin. At War with Metaphor, p.43

[3] Chomsky, Noam. Deterring Democracy, p.34

[4] Mraz, John. Looking for Mexico, p.60

[5] Ching, Erik. Reframing Latin America, p.228

[6] Ibid.