Recent events have focused the world’s attention on the religion of Islam. A lot of ink has been spilled on the subject. But for all the discussion and debate, many people really do not know all that much about the religion’s founder. Because of the crucial importance of Muhammad to Muslims worldwide, it is imperative that we get a better understanding of this man.
Of course numerous biographies and accounts of the life of Muhammad already exist. Some are better than others. Many are hagiographic in nature, and/or seek to put only a positive spin on his life and teachings.
Robert Spencer’s new book seeks to provide a more balanced assessment of Muhammad, not shirking back from discussing various actions and teachings which are not so well known among the general public. He feels it is vital to look more closely at Muhammad because the “Qur’an and Islamic tradition are clear that the Prophet is the supreme example of behaviour for Muslims to follow”.
Indeed, the fact that terrorists and militants keep insisting that what they are doing is fully in accord with the example of Muhammad, (and the Qur’an and Hadith), makes it even more essential that we have a good grasp of what this leader did and said.
It makes a big difference whether Muhammad’s life and teachings are indeed the source of jihad violence, or if the two are unconnected. Spencer argues for the former, and this volume seeks to offer that proof.
He begins by offering a number of examples of militant jihadists claiming to be acting in concert with Muhammad’s teachings and life. As just one instance, the Danish cartoon controversy generated a world-wide wave of Muslim rage and protest. As a result some 140 people were killed and over 800 injured, with many living under death threats.
Many of the perpetrators of this Islamic rage claimed to be defending the honour of the prophet, and to be following his example.
Thus a careful look at the life and words of Muhammad is in order. Admittedly the historical information about the Prophet’s life is somewhat sketchy, and it is often difficult to ascertain what is authentic and what is not concerning his life and sayings.
Yet Spencer believes it is still worthwhile to try. And he is careful to use only Islamic sources for this task. He uses both the Qur’an and the Hadith, or traditions of the Prophet, to make his case. Also, there is the Sira, or biography of Muhammad. These three make up the Sunnah, or model, and are the source of what we know about Muhammad.
The rest of the book then examines in detail his life, his activities, and his teachings. Taken together, it becomes clear that Muhammad himself both used and approved of violence in the spread of Islam. Numerous examples of his own militant activities, and his blessing of them, demonstrate that the use of the sword is no aberration in Islam, but a central part of it.
Indeed, just reading the descriptions of the various raids, massacres, killings, and acts of terror makes it clear that if Muhammad’s life serves as an example of model behaviour (a “beautiful pattern” as the Qur’an puts it) to his followers, this is not a religion we should be widely promoting.
As Spencer notes, the testimony of the Prophet provided in the Qur’an and Hadith “favors not tolerance and harmony between Muslims and non-Muslims, but just the opposite”. Thus the violence undertaken by Muslims in the name of Muhammad seems to be fully justified by its own founder.
Of course critics will say all religions can produce violence and intolerance. Yet as Spencer points out, for a Muslim to be violent and in a continued state of war with unbelievers seems to flow from the example of Muhammad and the express commands of the Qur’an and Hadith.
On the other hand, if a Christian seeks to kill or use force for religious reasons in the name of Christ, he has no example or teaching of Jesus to justify such actions. Thus a Christian who uses force to convert others is an aberration, and not a true follower of Christ.
But a Muslim who uses coercion and force is simply following the example of his leader, and obeying the dictates of his own scripture. Says Spencer, “all the words and deeds of Muhammad to which the jihadists refer are amply attested in early Islamic traditions”.
Thus the question, ‘Are there peaceful Muslims?’ is the wrong question to be asking. Of course there are. Perhaps most are. But the real question to ask is, ‘Is Islam really a religion of peace?’ As Spencer demonstrates, it clearly seems not to be.
That basic fact must be acknowledged, or the violence and killings done in Muhammad’s name will simply continue. Spencer concludes his volume with some brief recommendations. For example, Western aid should be contingent upon renunciation of jihadist ideology. And within the West, funding should be withdrawn from radical groups, and channelled to moderate groups who denounce Islamic violence.
Spencer’s call to action here may be problematic, if Islam is indeed the real problem, not just interpretations of it. But he is right to suggest that we will get nowhere by denying the truth about what Muhammad really said and did.