“Islam, as the jihads in Spain, France, Italy, and Asia Minor show, was hostile to the West from its inception. There was no peaceful co-existence.; there were only brief periods in between jihad invasions. Christian overtures to establish a lasting peace accord were invariably answered by a repetition of the triple choice: conversion, submission, or war. To ascribe a thousand years of hostility between Islam and the West to the Crusades is to fall prey to the peculiar Western malady of civilizational self-loathing and blaming the West for all the ills of the world.” — Robert Spencer, The History of Jihad, 2018.1
“In the twenty-first century, the leaders of Europe, as well as many in North America, have brought an almost certain doom on their countries no less unmistakable than that which befell Constantinople on May 29, 1453. … As the fourteen-hundred year Islamic jihad against the free world continues to advance, the best allies the warriors of jihad have are the very people they have in their sights.” — Robert Spencer, The History of Jihad, 2018.2
The great wars of world history were as much products of the mind as they were of the battlefield, perhaps more so. Thucydides did as much to change the world in writing about the Peloponnesian War as did the Athenians and Spartans in fighting it. Since the arrival of the Prophet Mohammed in Mecca and Medina in the seventh century, a constant warfare has surrounded Islam as it pursues its self-proclaimed mission in this world. Raymond Ibrahim, in his recent book Sword and Scimitar, gives a graphic description of the more famous of those world-shaking battles fought between Islamic forces and those of Byzantium, Persia, and Europe.3 Had not Europeans won at least some of these battles, notably at Tours and Vienna, what we know as Europe could not have existed today. Robert Reilly’s The Closing of the Muslim Mind and Samir Kalil Samir’s 111 Questions on Islam consider in detail the “idea side” of Islam.4
What Robert Spencer does in The History of Jihad is to carefully work his way, century by century, through the record of the greater and lesser wars of Islamic jihad, right up to the present. Yet, in a sense, the world has not seen many “jihadist wars” over the centuries. What we see is only one on-going clash that rises and falls in intensity according to the tides of war and the energy of the Islamic nations to fight them, and of their neighbors to resist them. The same issue is always at stake: namely does Islam rule the conquered or not? One can perhaps speak of jihad as merely a spiritual warfare. But jihad is also and primarily a military action against some definite enemy. Jihad itself is ruled by the Islamic concept of conquest and Islamic law. We always see that prisoners are taken as slaves. Booty is divided among the victors. Local idols are destroyed. Much blood flows.5
Islam is serious about itself. Spencer cites the following comment of Ruhollah Khomeini: “Allah did not create man so that he could have fun. The aim of creation was for mankind to be put to the test through hardship and prayer. An Islamist regime must be serious in every field. There are no jokes in Islam.”6Such a passage makes it clear why Islam is often called a “Puritan” faith. Even the harem, which seems like a place of delight, is ruled by custom and law. “The Qur’an dictates that a Muslim man may have sexual relations with ‘captives of the right-hand,’ that is, captured non-Muslim women. The Qur’an also says that women should veil themselves so that they may not be molested, with the implication being that if they are not veiled, they may indeed be molested.”7
Islam, as we see it today, makes up about a fifth of the world’s total population spread around the world in some forty countries. Since most Muslim states show a much higher birth-rate than their adversaries, we can expect its proportion of the world’s population to increase significantly in the near future. Historically, Islam expanded by conquest. It went north from Arabia to the Byzantine and Persian Empires. It next went west across North Africa and south to Central Africa; it turned north again to Spain and France. Islamic forces attacked the islands in the Mediterranean, Italy, Greece, and the Balkans. Other Islamic armies went east to the South of Russia, to the very frontier of China, and into India where some of the bloodiest battles were fought. Indonesia and its Islands are among the only major Islamic nations that were not initially conquered by force of arms.
Islam is a religion, and this fact is the first truth about it. For many non-Muslims, who cannot comprehend why religion can be such a force, this is a most difficult concept to understand. After reading the Qur’an, Islam can probably be best imagined as a Judeo-Christian heresy. The Qur’an is filled with passages mindful in some way or another of Judeo-Christian sources, however much they are transformed into Islam’s own peculiar tenets. The Qur’an takes pains, for example, to deny the possibility of an Incarnation or a Trinity; Jesus Christ is but a pious prophet, not God Incarnate.
Islam has an inner dynamism of its own. It sees its purpose as the conquest of the world for Allah so that all may be subject to him. Above all, Allah is to be praised. Men must submit to Allah’s will, whatever it is. It cannot ever be wrong. Islam sees the world as divided between the peace of Islam, which by definition means rule according to Islamic law, and the world of war, that is, those places not yet under Islamic law.
Everyone in the world, Islam holds, is born a Muslim and only loses his initial faith by bad teachings of family or other religions or philosophies. Once a Muslim, it is never permitted to leave its fold. Its laws severely punish any blasphemy against Mohammed, Allah, or the Qur’an. What characterizes Allah, and hence Islam, is not logos, or reason, but will. The will of Allah can change to its opposite without any objection or warning. The world is founded in this arbitrary will. If by the will of Allah anything existing thing can become something else, we cannot investigate it for its order or causes as it need not be what it appears to be. This restriction includes us. If Allah wills it, what is once wrong can become right.
The foundation of Islam is its Holy Book, the Qur’an. Spencer is careful to cite the Qur’an at every turn. This book, the Qur’an, is said to be the direct revelation through Mohammed who is not strictly its author; Allah is. Though Islam has many clerics and imams that issue edicts, it has no central interpretative authority. However, definite customs and interpretations of the text of the Qur’an do exist with some four different legal schools. The office of the caliphate, when occupied, did serve as a central ruling source.
The world mission of Islam is seen to last over time, gradually seeking to expand when it could. What is of interest to Islamic culture is not science or politics in the normal sense. It sees the ills of the world in terms of its own beliefs, of adherence or non-adherence to Islamic laws. Muslim armies, in imposing Islamic law on newly conquered peoples, are understood to be doing the work of Allah. If they die in this cause, they receive the promised reward. A believing Muslim cannot be really content so long as some sphere of humanity lies outside the Sharia. If Islam is not growing and expanding, the Muslim will think that Allah has abandoned him.
There are many factions within Islam itself. Not only is their warfare against the infidels, there is conflict over their own law. The historic and on-going struggles between Shiite and Sunni Muslims are only the most well-known. But these divisions usually do not mean any over-all disagreement over the end of subjecting the world to Allah. It is difficult for modern non-Muslims to take seriously the idea that a religious mission can abide over time, over centuries, and itself be the central motivating spirit of its believers. Part of this difficulty concerns the use of force and war as a positive mandate of religion. But there is no doubt that in various ways the Qur’an justifies the use of force in expanding Islam.
The structure of Spencer’s book reflects this difficulty of understanding Islam. Some ninety percent of the book is a careful, minute description of the war record of Islam. To understand Islam, one has to know the book, the Qur’an, the various sayings of Mohammed, and the record of what Muslim believers have done to achieve the purpose of Islam in the world. Since it is only rarely taught or even understood, the record of Islamic armies needs this detailed presentation. In one sense, it is the same story repeated over and over again from the seventh century to the twenty-first. Spenser brings this history to life.
Islam is still pretty much in possession of the territories that it conquered in its early years of expansion. Spain, the Balkans, and the Islands in the Mediterranean are the exceptions. Islamic law holds that once a country is conquered, even if expelled later, it still remains by rights Muslim. What is new in the twenty-first century is a resurgence of Islam, something anticipated in modern decades by very few, with Hilaire Belloc being a notable exception. The Crusades were last ditch defensive efforts of Europe to save itself in earlier centuries. Spencer, however, does not see this self-defensive effort happening again. Islam has long sought to make inroads into Europe. What seems possible now to the many Muslim thinkers that Spencer records is the extension of Islam into Europe and America. This extension or invasion as symbolized by the influx of large numbers of refugees has made Islam a presence in almost every European country but especially in Sweden, Britain, Spain, France, and Germany.
A second object of Spencer’s book is to ask the pressing question of why modern non-Muslims choose not understand this record as normative for Islam. Hence, we have the confused efforts to speak of “terrorists” versus “peaceful” Muslims. The terrorists are said to have nothing to do with Islam, while the peaceful Muslims are just going about their quiet business. Peace, however, in Islam is the condition and state when everyone is Muslim. In this sense, as Spencer points out in several places, there can be no permanent peace with Islam and really no “dialogue” that is not aimed at furthering the purpose of Islam. In short, Islam does not assimilate. It establishes its own organization within any larger political unit where it finds itself. Spencer recounts the billions of dollars the Saudi regime has spent in building mosque-complexes all over Europe and America. A mosque now exists in almost any large city in Europe or America.
The pattern of Islamic conquest holds fairly steady over time. Whether it be in Syria, Libya, Nigeria, Turkey, or India, whether we deal with Zoroastrians. Jews, or Christians, when once any are conquered by Islamic forces, they will be offered a choice of how they choose to live: either convert, pay a tax, or die. Almost invariably conquered places of worship are either destroyed completely or converted into mosques. One of the striking things about Spencer’s overview is the place of slavery in Islam. When not killed outright, conquered men, women, and children are sold as slaves. The vagaries of the various slave markets are noted by Spencer.
Spencer presents a narrative of the Islamic world and mind. He almost always presents Islamic history in terms of contemporary Muslim writers; he knows what Islamic thinkers use and present to justify their views. The reader also is aware that within Islam is found a dynamism that does not let it forget its own vocation of world conquest. Most Western thinkers will look for motives that are non-religious to explain the energy found in Islam. Yet, the evidence seems conclusive. Islam cannot rest if some non-Muslim part of the world continues to exist. We cannot pretend that war and bloodshed are not part of the historic record and of the teachings within Islam. So long as the Qur’an is kept in its integrity, these ideas will keep recurring within Islam.
Spencer does not think that the West will ultimately recognize the nature of this movement to conquer the world and to impose the Sharia on all nations as a sign of submission to Allah. He uses the word “doom”. He maintains that the people who would suffer most under Sharia are precisely those who cannot or will not take the teachings and historic record of Islam seriously. Spencer does not pretend to be a prophet, but he does offer a judgment based on a careful attention to facts. To diligently seek to oppose jihad and all that goes with it would be a turn of events that Spencer certainly hopes will come about. But if it is not to come about, it will be because it is prevented from doing so. And that requires a respectful and attentive look at what Islam has invariably done in the past and what its Holy Book outlines for it.
To read this book is to be caught up in many historic battles. It is to endure the sight of much bloodshed. It is to realize that historic Muslim victories have proved unchangeable. Islam is rapidly developing ways to practice jihad when it is not a major military power. It is learning how to rule and invade simply by immigration and settling in lands that tolerate it. It has learned to live in the West and to use its freedom to advance its own religious and cultural agenda. In the meantime, most of the non-Muslims in Muslim lands have been killed or have left the Near East. The persecution of Christians in the near-East goes on.8
Why—to answer the second part of Spencer’s thesis—are people so reluctant to see this historic record and the causes behind it? Several possibilities exist. 1) Liberalism does not take religion or permanent principles to be unchangeable. Therefore, when Muslims settle under democratic laws, they will gradually themselves become relativists. 2) The second is what I call the “sleeping dog thesis.” The adage “let sleeping dogs lie” means, in this case, that there is no sense in stirring up Muslim masses. The historical record is true and simply tells us to have nothing to do with Islam. 3) A third view would be that Islam is less dangerous than Christianity. Thus, given a choice, we should favor Islam. 4) The fourth reason is a legitimate fear of confronting such a fanatical foe. More bloodshed would arise from confronting it than leaving alone at all costs. In short, we do not confront Islam because we know, from reading Spencer’s book, what to expect.
The History of Jihad: From Muhammad to ISIS
By Robert Spencer
New York: Bombardier Books 2018
Hardcover, 448 pages
1 Robert Spencer, The History of Jihad: From Muhammad to ISIS (New York: Bombardier Books 2018), 151.
2 I id, 371.
3 Raymond Ibrahim, Sword and Scimitar: Fourteen Centuries of War between Islam and the West (New York: De Capo Press 2018)–Review: Schall, “On the Purpose of Islam,” Catholic World Report, October 24, 2018). See also David Pinault, The Crucifix on Mecca’s Front Porch: A Christian Companion to the Study of Islam (San Francisco: Ignatius Press 2018)–Review: Schall, “To Rome through Mecca,” Catholic World Report, September 7, 2018).
4 Robert Reilly, The Closing of the Muslim Mind (Wilmington: ISI Books 2011); Samir Kalil Samir, 111 Questions on Islam (San Francisco: Ignatius Press 2008). See also Joshua Mitchell, Tocqueville in Arabia(Chicago: University of Chicago Press 2013).
5 See also Laurent Murawiec, The Mind of Jihad (Washington: The Hudson Institute, 2003).
6Spenser, ibid, 320.
7 Ibid, 356.
8 See George Marlin, Christian Persecution in the Near-East: A Modern Tragedy (South Bend, In.: St. Augustine’s Press, 2015); Robert Royal, The Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century (New York: Crossroads 2000).