Heeding the Times from Harry Antonides' Desk

Onward Muslim Soldiers:
How Jihad Still Threatens America and the West,
By Robert Spencer, Regnery Publishing, Inc, 352 pp,

But the truth is that Islam is not the name of a ‘Religion,’ nor is ‘Muslim’ the title of a ‘Nation.’ In reality Islam is a revolutionary ideology and programme which seeks to alter the social order of the whole world and rebuild it in conformity with its tenets and ideals. (Sayyid Abul A’la Maududi, 1903-1979) 

There is one question that will not go away when considering the place of Islam in the modern world: Is it a religion of peace or war? 

To put in other words: Were the perpetrators of 9/11 true to Islam, as they claimed? Or were they fanatics who violated the basic teachings of that religion? 

War or Peace?

The problem is that both adherents of lslam and non-Muslim experts disagree fundamentally about this. A related problem is that the Koran and other authoritative Islamic writings contain injunctions that come down on opposite sides of this issue. That’s why those who want clarity need to look at the history of Islam and its scriptures (the Koran, Hadith, the life of Muhammad), as well as the texts of its authoritative commentators. 

Robert Spencer, who has been a longtime student of Islam, has done just that in his Onward Muslim Soldiers. The author takes a well-documented look at the notion of jihad (holy warfare) in the teachings and practices of Islam, which burst on the world scene in the first half of the seventh century. 

This book is divided into three parts. Part one is an overview of the current state of jihad, especially in Europe. Part two deals with jihad in history with special attention to the Koran and the words and actions of the Prophet Muhammad. Part three deals with what the author calls the jihad cover-up and concludes with some suggestions for responding to jihad terrorism. It includes a superb index. 

The Koran and the other Islamic writings clearly teach that Muslims are called to strive in the defence and expansion of the Islamic faith. The controversy now rages about the true meaning of jihad. Some say that it merely refers to the inner struggle of the believing Muslim to become a better person, that is, a more faithful follower of the Prophet Muhammad. 

They insist that jihad does not mean the use of violence and war to advance the cause of Islam. They are quick to refer to sections of the Koran that state there shall not be any compulsion in religion (Sura 2:256) or that forbid suicide (Sura 2:195). 

The problem is that this interpretation does not correspond with other injunctions in the Koran and in related Islamic texts, nor does it reflect the history of Islam. 

The outspoken ex-Muslim Ibn Warraq has described the Koran as the most “gnomic, elusive, and allusive of holy scriptures,” enabling readers to come to quite different conclusions about its message. Nevertheless, the preponderance as well as the vehemence of the warlike injunctions leave little doubt about the Koran’s radical message of antagonism toward non-Muslims. Following are a few excerpts: 

When the sacred months are over slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them, If they repent and take to prayer and render the alms levy, allow them to go their way. God is forgiving and merciful. (Sura 9:5) 

Fight against such of those to whom the Scriptures were given as believe in neither God nor the Last Day, who do not forbid what God and His apostle have forbidden, and do not embrace the true Faith, until they pay tribute out of hand and are utterly subdued. (Sura 9:29) 

The Prophet Muhammad, as recorded by imam Muhammad Ibn Ismail al-Bukhari (810-870), explained his own role in waging war on behalf of the religion he founded: 

I have been ordered (by Allah) to fight against the people until they testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and perform  As-Salat (prayers) and give Zakat [obligatory charity], so if they perform all that, then they save their lives and properties from me except for Islamic laws, and their reckoning (accounts) will be with (done by) Allah. 

Jihad Revived

Although the notion of jihad has waxed and waned during the fourteen centuries of Islam, it is a central part of Islamic teaching. It functioned powerfully during the early centuries of Islam’s rapid spread across northern Africa, Spain, the Middle East and even into India. As Islam went through a long period of decline, jihad was de-emphasized, to be again revived with the rise of radical Islam in the modern era. 

The contemporary branch of radical Islam can be traced to a number of influential leaders and organizations. One whose influence is dominant  in Saudi Arabia was Sunni reformist Sheikh Muhammad ibn Abdul al-Wahhab (1703-1792). He believed that Islam had fallen into severe decline because it had wandered from the purity and wholeness of its first three centuries. Consequently, he called the faithful back to the right path by stressing the absolute division between the followers of Allah and all the others, that is, the infidels. 

The Saudi kingdom has used its immense oil-generated wealth to finance the spread of Wahhabism through a network of schools and mosques. By now there are thousands of mosques in Europe and North America where radical imams preach to the faithful that they must never become at home in their new homeland but that it is their duty to strive for making it into an Islamic country. 

A major figure in the 20th century revival of radical Islam was the Egyptian Hasan al -Banna (1906-1949), founder and spiritual guide of the Islamic extremist Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Banna is the author of a collection of key texts from the Koran and the Hadith (Risalat al-Ma’thurat). 

He preached a message of revolt against the Western colonial powers, which he held responsible for the downtrodden Muslim world. This combination of anti-colonialism and Islamic jihad provided the fuel that has inspired large numbers of Muslim militant organizations, including Hamas, Hezbollah and Al Queda. 

Al-Banna insisted that Muslims must wage war against Jews and Christians. He wrote: “In [Muslim] Tradition there is a clear indication of the obligation to fight the People of the Book [that is, Jews and Christians], and of the fact that God doubles the reward of those who fight them. Jihad is not against polytheists alone, but against all who do not embrace Islam.” 

The Enemy Within

Onward Muslim Soldiers provides a great deal of information about the authoritative Islamic scriptures, its major teachers throughout Islam’s history, the real story of the cruel treatment of non-Muslims by means of a policy of discrimination and humiliation (dhimmitude), and in many cases death of the infidels. 

The author faults the many Western academic and media experts who serve as apologists for the Islamic religion while white-washing the actions of Muslim extremists. He names names and cites specific examples of willful ignorance and deliberate misrepresentations. One such historic event is the genocide committed by the Turkish Muslim government on the mostly Christian Armenians, beginning in 1894. Two more waves of large-scale murder and destruction followed in 1915-1916 and in 1922-1923, which killed 1.5 million people. 

Spencer describes the many aggressive Muslim organizations in the U.S., which are politically astute in putting a positive slant to all information about Islam and its adherents. The Council on American Islamic Relations and the International Institute of Islamic Thought are two of the most vocal mouthpieces for Islam in the U.S. These organizations insist that jihad does not mean holy war but only refers to the personal struggles of believers within themselves. But then Spencer reports that they refuse to face up to the elements of radical Islam in the U.S. In fact, they treat all questions about the loyalty of American Muslims as evidence of “anti-Muslim bigotry.” 

When Spencer referred to Sheikh Muhammad Hisham Kabanni, an outspoken enemy of radical lslam, who has stated that eighty per cent of American mosques are controlled by extremists, CAIR representative Ibrahim Hooper called that a falsehood put out “by hate-mongers like Mr. Spencer.”  

Spencer cites specific examples of Islamic teachings within America that are intended to instill in students a hatred towards Christians and Jews. A text distributed in the U.S. by the Saudi-funded World Assembly of Muslim Youth states that “Judaism and Christianity are deviant religions.” Another text warns that Muslims must not “associate with idolaters, deviants and the misguided” who are to “be hated and despised … [The] Qur’an forbade taking Jews and Christians as friends, and that applies to every Jew and Christian, with no consideration as to whether they are at war with Islam or not.” 

Can We Meet the Challenge of Militant Islam?

To a generation that does “not do God” in its politics, as famously remarked by a British advisor to Prime Minister Blair, radical Islam is a total mystery. They simply do not grasp that at the heart of Islam lies the conviction that the Koran is the latest and perfect revelation of God. 

This premise leads to the conviction that Islam has the answers to all the questions about human existence. The militants take that to mean that all people must bow to Allah – by force if necessary. Al-Banna formulated this central doctrine of Islam as follows: “Islam is a faith and worship, a country and a citizenship, a religion and a state. It is a spirituality and hard work. It is a Qur’an and a sword.”   

Spencer is at his best when making his case on the basis of specific events and a careful analysis of the major Islamic texts, not only of the Koran and the Hadith but also of some of their most influential interpreters. 

This book is a rich source of information about the words and actions of those who believe that it is their duty to “alter the social order of the whole world.” The author convincingly shows that militant Islam is an enemy of freedom and justice, as those norms have been embodied in the best of Western tradition. (Regrettably, that tradition is now in serious decline, but that is another story.) 

The good news is that this is not the entire story. For within Islam there is a segment of believers who fundamentally disagree with the militants who consider Osama bin Laden their spiritual leader and the perpetrators of 9/11 heroes and martyrs for a righteous cause. How this internal conflict within Islam will be resolved is hard to predict. But a great deal, for good or ill, rides on the outcome of this conflict.* 

The widely respected authority on Islam, Bernard Lewis, has extensively written about the clash between Islam and the West. Furthermore, he has pointed out that there is also a clash within Islam itself between extremist Muslims and the moderates who want to live in peace and freedom. He concludes with this memorable observation: 

One can only hope that, in time, the cause of freedom [within Islam] will triumph once again as it has already triumphed over the Nazis and the Communists. If it does not, the outlook for the Islamic world, and perhaps for the West, will be grim. (Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong? p.165) 

*It is highly significant, and encouraging, that a number of Spanish Muslim clerics issued a strongly-worded statement on March 11 in which they condemned Osama bin Laden as an apostate. They denounced the ongoing attacks on America, the West, Muslims and all innocent people as a “heinous crime and a mortal sin.” This important document is available on the website of Free Muslims Against Terrorism.