Ever since the Crusades, people in the west have seen the prophet Muhammad as a sinister figure. During the 12th century, Christians were fighting brutal holy wars against Muslims, even though Jesus had told his followers to love their enemies, not to exterminate them. The scholar monks of Europe stigmatised Muhammad as a cruel warlord who established the false religion of Islam by the sword. They also, with ill-concealed envy, berated him as a lecher and sexual pervert at a time when the popes were attempting to impose celibacy on the reluctant clergy. Our Islamophobia became entwined with our chronic anti-Semitism; Jews and Muslims, the victims of the crusaders, became the shadow self of Europe, the enemies of decent civilisation and the opposite of "us".
Our suspicion of Islam is alive and well. Indeed, understandably perhaps, it has hardened as a result of terrorist atrocities apparently committed in its name. Yet despite the religious rhetoric, these terrorists are motivated by politics rather than religion. Like "fundamentalists" in other traditions, their ideology is deliberately and defiantly unorthodox. Until the 1950s, no major Muslim thinker had made holy war a central pillar of Islam. The Muslim ideologues Abu ala Mawdudi (1903-79) and Sayyid Qutb (1906-66), among the first to do so, knew they were proposing a controversial innovation. They believed it was justified by the current political emergency.
The criminal activities of terrorists have given the old western prejudice a new lease of life. People often seem eager to believe the worst about Muhammad, are reluctant to put his life in its historical perspective and assume the Jewish and Christian traditions lack the flaws they attribute to Islam. This entrenched hostility informs Robert Spencer's misnamed biography The Truth about Muhammad, subtitled Founder of the World's Most Intolerant Religion.
Spencer has studied Islam for 20 years, largely, it seems, to prove that it is an evil, inherently violent religion. He is a hero of the American right and author of the US bestseller The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam. Like any book written in hatred, his new work is a depressing read. Spencer makes no attempt to explain the historical, political, economic and spiritual circumstances of 7th-century Arabia, without which it is impossible to understand the complexities of Muhammad's life. Consequently he makes basic and bad mistakes of fact. Even more damaging, he deliberately manipulates the evidence.
The traditions of any religion are multifarious. It is easy, therefore, to quote so selectively that the main thrust of the faith is distorted. But Spencer is not interested in balance. He picks out only those aspects of Islamic tradition that support his thesis. For example, he cites only passages from the Koran that are hostile to Jews and Christians and does not mention the numerous verses that insist on the continuity of Islam with the People of the Book: "Say to them: We believe what you believe; your God and our God is one."
Islam has a far better record than either Christianity or Judaism of appreciating other faiths. In Muslim Spain, relations between the three religions of Abraham were uniquely harmonious in medieval Europe. The Christian Byzantines had forbidden Jews from residing in Jerusalem, but when Caliph Umar conquered the city in AD638, he invited them to return and was hailed as the precursor of the Messiah. Spencer doesn't refer to this. Jewish-Muslim relations certainly have declined as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict, but this departs from centuries of peaceful and often positive co-existence. When discussing Muhammad's war with Mecca, Spencer never cites the Koran's condemnation of all warfare as an "awesome evil", its prohibition of aggression or its insistence that only self-defence justifies armed conflict. He ignores the Koranic emphasis on the primacy of forgiveness and peaceful negotiation: the second the enemy asks for peace, Muslims must lay down their arms and accept any terms offered, however disadvantageous. There is no mention of Muhammad's non-violent campaign that ended the conflict.
People would be offended by an account of Judaism that dwelled exclusively on Joshua's massacres and never mentioned Rabbi Hillel's Golden Rule, or a description of Christianity based on the bellicose Book of Revelation that failed to cite the Sermon on the Mount. But the widespread ignorance about Islam in the west makes many vulnerable to Spencer's polemic; he is telling them what they are predisposed to hear. His book is a gift to extremists who can use it to "prove" to those Muslims who have been alienated by events in Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq that the west is incurably hostile to their faith.
Eliot Weinberger is a poet whose interest in Islam began at the time of the first Gulf war. His slim volume, Muhammad, is also a selective anthology about the Prophet. His avowed aim is to "give a small sense of the awe surrounding this historical and sacred figure, at a time of the demonisation of the Muslim world in much of the media". Many of the passages he quotes are indeed mystical and beautiful, but others are likely to confirm some readers in their prejudice. Without knowing their provenance, how can we respond to such statements as "He said that he who plays chess is like one who has dyed his hand in the blood of a pig" or "Filling the stomach with pus is better than stuffing the brain with poetry"?
It is difficult to see how selecting only these dubious traditions as examples could advance mutual understanding. The second section of this anthology is devoted to anecdotes about Muhammad's wives that smack of prurient gossip. Western readers need historical perspective to understand the significance of the Prophet's domestic arrangements, his respect for his wives, and the free and forthright way in which they approached him. Equally eccentric are the stories cited by Weinberger to describe miracles attributed to the Prophet: the Koran makes it clear that Muhammad did not perform miracles and insists that he was an ordinary human being, with no divine powers.
It is, therefore, a relief to turn to Barnaby Rogerson's more balanced and nuanced account of early Muslim history in The Heirs of the Prophet Muhammad. Rogerson is a travel writer by trade; his explanation of the Sunni/Shia divide is theologically simplistic, but his account of the rashidun, the first four "rightly guided" caliphs who succeeded the Prophet, is historically sound, accessible and clears up many western misconceptions about this crucial period.
Rogerson makes it clear, for example, that the wars of conquest and the establishment of the Islamic empire after Muhammad's death were not inspired by religious ideology but by pragmatic politics. The idea that Islam should conquer the world was alien to the Koran and there was no attempt to convert Jews or Christians. Islam was for the Arabs, the sons of Ishmael, as Judaism was for the descendants of Isaac and Christianity for the followers of Jesus.
Rogerson also shows that Muslim tradition is multi-layered and many-faceted. The early historians regularly gave two or three variant accounts of an incident in the life of the Prophet; readers were expected to make up their own minds.
Similarly, there are at least four contrasting and sometimes conflicting versions of the Exodus story in the Hebrew Bible, and in the New Testament the four evangelists interpret the life of Jesus quite differently. To choose one tradition and ignore the rest - as Weinberger and Spencer do - is distorting.
Professor Tariq Ramadan has studied Islam at the University of Geneva and al-Azhar University in Cairo and is currently senior research fellow at St Antony's College, Oxford. The Messenger is easily the most scholarly and knowledgeable of these four biographies of Muhammad, but it is also practical and relevant, drawing lessons from the Prophet's life that are crucial for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Ramadan makes it clear, for example, that Muhammad did not shun non-Muslims as "unbelievers" but from the beginning co-operated with them in the pursuit of the common good. Islam was not a closed system at variance with other traditions. Muhammad insisted that relations between the different groups must be egalitarian. Even warfare must not obviate the primary duty of justice and respect.
When the Muslims were forced to leave Mecca because they were persecuted by the Meccan establishment, Ramadan shows, they had to adapt to the alien customs of their new home in Medina, where, for example, women enjoyed more freedom than in Mecca. The hijrah ("migration") was a test of intelligence; the emigrants had to recognise that some of their customs were cultural rather than Islamic, and had to learn foreign practices.
Ramadan also makes it clear that, in the Koran, jihad was not synonymous with "holy war". The verb jihada should rather be translated: "making an effort". The first time the word is used in the Koran, it signified a "resistance to oppression" (25:26) that was intellectual and spiritual rather than militant. Muslims were required to oppose the lies and terror of those who were motivated solely by self-interest; they had to be patient and enduring. Only after the hijrah, when they encountered the enmity of Mecca, did the word jihad take connotations of self-defence and armed resistance in the face of military aggression. Even so, in mainstream Muslim tradition, the greatest jihad was not warfare but reform of one's own society and heart; as Muhammad explained to one of his companions, the true jihad was an inner struggle against egotism.
The Koran teaches that, while warfare must be avoided whenever possible, it is sometimes necessary to resist humanity's natural propensity to expansionism and oppression, which all too often seeks to obliterate the diversity and religious pluralism that is God's will. If they do wage war, Muslims must behave ethically. "Do not kill women, children and old people," Abu Bakr, the first caliph, commanded his troops. "Do not commit treacherous actions. Do not burn houses and cornfields." Muslims must be especially careful not to destroy monasteries where Christian monks served God in prayer.
Ramadan could have devoted more time to such contentious issues as the veiling of women, polygamy and Muhammad's treatment of some (though by no means all) of the Jewish tribes of Medina. But his account restores the balance that is so often lacking in western narratives. Muhammad was not a belligerent warrior. Ramadan shows that he constantly emphasised the importance of "gentleness" (ar-rafiq), "tolerance" (al-ana) and clemency (al-hilm).
It will be interesting to see how The Messenger is received. Ramadan is clearly addressing issues that inspire some Muslims to distort their religion. Western people often complain that they never hear from "moderate" Muslims, but when such Muslims do speak out they are frequently dismissed as apologists and hagiographers. Until we all learn to approach one another with generosity and respect, we cannot hope for peace.
Karen Armstrong is the author of "Muhammad: Prophet For Our Time".
Source: Financial Times
Jesus once declared to the Jews "Before Abraham was, I am". The Jews sought to stone Jesus for this truth which seemed to them a gross error. The disciples of Jesus precede any order by faith in their victorious Master. As such, I declare similarly "Before Mohammad was, I am a Muslim", for which the followers of Mohammad might seek to stone me for what looks like blasphemy. If Muslim means "upright person", this is Biblically correct. God made man upright although men have become crooked by inventing crooked paths and walking on them. Zion is a place of God's dealing to the world's mankind. Christ, God's anointed King is soon to direct the affairs of the Nations from Zion after purging the earth of its worldlings, the enemies of true Islam many of whom may be verbally possessing the terminology even when their relationship with Isa is void.
One can not become righteous by possessing terminologies but by coming to faith and practicing the commandments.
possible way. This is perhaps one of they way to make more
money and draw the attention of the Whole World by criticising
the a spotless leader of human race the Prophet Mohammad
(PBUH) the Leader about home the Encyclopedia Brittanica says
that "Mohammad is the most successful of all Prophets and
religious personalities". He was political, spiritual leader,
philosopher, thinker for humanity, social worker, good father,
good husband and having unparalleled strong honest and
to guide the entire human being of the world with the true
message of Allah the straight path and oneness of Allah.
So the point I am trying to make is that if some critics knowingly
or unknowingly say something against Mohammad(PBUH) it will
be the hottest topic to be read and spread all over. So one
should not back down from the truth because the truth of Allah
will prevail and it will eventually win the heart of the millions and
millions of people of the world from the message of Prophet
Mohammad (PBUH). May Allah bless us all and you in particular
for this wonderful article.
Praise to the almighty, you indeed read well that reflects in your writing- unbelievable summary and you discovered him - the truth, congratulations my brother,, once you have submitted to the one God all you previous sins are forgiven, - I feel happy and jealous for you that you are sinless as like a baby again.
Live well and live remembering God - God will remember you, he promised it to humanity. It takes more than courage nowadays to be a muslim but noting stops one knowing God is watching you and he is in your side.
You know some thing all the first generation muslims (the best of the muslims will ever walk on this earth) they all were converts / reverts as you - you are fortunate for God's mercy. May Allah gives you the strength to carry your faith. Is not it wonderful to know the truth = because has set you free. Praise be to God. We may not know each other but i feel we all are connected by his creation power as the children of Adam and one community of believers - true believers. Oh Allah thank you and protect my brother Edward Cotter - reward him for turning to peace.
The Muslims ruled India for about a thousand years. If they wanted, they had the power of converting each and every non-Muslim of India to Islam. Today more than 80% of the population of India are non-Muslims. All these non-Muslim Indians are bearing witness today that Islam was not spread by the sword. [Dr Zakir Naik]
The famous historian, Thomas Carlyle, in his book 'Heroes and Hero worship', refers to this misconception about the spread of Islam: 'The sword indeed, but where will you get your sword? Every new opinion, at its starting is precisely in a minority of one. In one man's head alone. There it dwells as yet. One man alone of the whole world believes it, there is one man against all men. That he takes a sword and try to propagate with that, will do little for him. You must get your sword! On the whole, a thing will propagate itself as it can.'
May this stand true for all time. Then there is no cause for conflict but co-operation and goodwill. As an established and settled Christian in the heart, I can not take quietness but resistance with all strength and wisdom to the end when faced with enforcement of any new master beside the blessed Messiah Y'Shua the only begotten Son of the only ONE true God. No lone prophet after that, no crowning person that precedes the beginning but God and Him alone and us by Him in the Messiah. Shalom.
Thank you for your comment and for sharing your experience with islam.
I would, however, like to correct a few misconceptions. I know that Karen Armstrong is a non-muslim. I think most people know this.
Furthermore, I have formed my opinion of islam based on its books: the Koran and ahadith. It is my right to be appalled by Muhammad's life and I am.
I fond is bizarre that most muslim apologists assume that those who are appalled by islam have not read its books. Though, indeed, some (or even many) may not have, I for one have read them. I have also read various articles from various muslims on the "beauty" of islam.
I have not found this "beauty, peace, tolerance" that they speak of. I have NEVER witnessed it in the islamic regimes that uphold islamic laws and values. I have NEVER found it in the Koran and its words. I have not found it in the conduct of Muhammad- whom islam deems to be the prophet for all time.
Now, muslims will call me "blind".Nonetheless, I take this type of blindness to be a compliment for surely the one who calls Muhammad a good example gropes in darkness... That is my view- based on what I have read from islam's books.
You're free to arrive at a different conclusion. But kindly refrain from assuming that I do not know anything about islam.
Psalm basically represents the nervous Christian who watch helplessly as their brothers and sisters in Christ embrace Islam by the droves. He is very aware that his outdated religion with its history of disdain for science, a scripture riddled with absurdities and adherents who have taken hypocrisy to an art form, does not speak for mans intellect, and he is deathly scared. When one cannot stand their ground in civil discourse, because such a discourse will reveal Christianity for what it is, a rag of theological nonsense, ( watch the debate between Zakir Naik and William Cambel to know what I mean) combined with a history of bloodshed, they take to lying and slandering the Prophet of Islam (pbuh). Islam is a phenomenon that is well outside of the control of such pitiful vermin such as psalm, if its left alone it grows and spreads, if its attacked and slandered it uses that to its advantage and finds ways to still grow and spread..even if the televangelists with their 2000 dollar Armani's and gold necklaces who prey on peoples pain, suffering and ignorance may hate it.
At first as I was upset by your comment, but I put it into perspective of someone who doesn't know Karen Armstrong. She is a non-muslim author on numerous books on religion who has a rather balanced view on the faiths. To say she is trying to rewrite history is a bit of a distortion.
On my personal journey through Islam, I have found nothing of what you talk about in your comment. Going through western journalism, it is easy to see what you are talking about. That's western journalism. If you want to know what Islam is about, go to the source: the Qur'an.
If you go to the source, you will see that the religion is a religion of peace, mercy, and compassion. Don't go to what others have said it says, but read it for yourself. Don't read others interpretations on incomplete verses taken out of context. While the Qur'an may at first seem strange in it's layout to a westerner, the power of the revelation will come through. The miracle of the Qur'an is, indeed, that it will reveal itself as its miracle.
May God guide you and open your heart
You have eyes but you are blind, you have ear but you are deaf, you have a tangue but you are really dumb.
You are one of those fanatics critical of every thing Islam or Muslims, but you are so ignorant that only Satan can convince you to read the facts to understand.
You are talking about Karen Armstrong - you do not know who she is, never read her books, but idiot enough to talk.
One billion Muslims and growing faster than all other religion combined, why, ask your self why, because of the simplicity and clear truth of the practice of the prophet, know your Bible says "truth will set you free". unless you are an idiot.
Please read with open heart about Islam and its prothets (Adam to Abraham, Moses to Jesus and Muhammand) and may the creator of all of them help you, but as long as you seek help of Satan it will not happen. Peace my brother, open your heart and read.
You point your bony finger at Islam but you have three bony fingers pointing at yourself.
Honestly, what kind of religion do you practice that you have to spew toxic hatred at Islam rather than talk about the good of your own faith.
Sounds like you are a little jealous of what Islam has to offer to humanity.
The only way you can promote your faith is by demonizing Islam which in your soul you know is superior than your religion of hatred.
Harith Al-Ash'ari (RAA) reported Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said:"I declare obligatory upon you five things; Allah (SWT) has commanded me to do so. They are: organization, listening, obeying, making Hijrah, and making Jihad for the cause of Allah.
Ms Armstrong writes "When discussing Muhammad's war with Mecca, Spencer never cites the Koran's condemnation of all warfare as an "awesome evil", its prohibition of aggression or its insistence that only self-defence justifies armed conflict.".
Well who was fighting in self-defense? Muslims or Hindus? Hindus never (and I mean never) invaded Arabia. One cannot ignore this history. If war is awful, then why did muslims invade Indian sub-continent, Europe, and Africa -- Egypt, Sudan and even Persia?
Moreover, who invaded Europe and North Africa in 7th and 8th century? Who conquered Spain, Portugal and North Africa? It were not the Barbarians.
Ms Armstrong writes "In Muslim Spain, relations between the three religions of Abraham were uniquely harmonious in medieval Europe.". If the muslim rule in Spain was so benign and the relations so harmonious, then why did they Reconquer it (even if it took them 800 years)? Was this Reconquest an extension of crusades (which were a failure). Well, we all know the aftermath of Reconquest -- forced migration of Jews and Muslims, and then Spanish Inquisition.
Ms Armstrong mentions Barnaby Rogerson as a travel writer and then gives him the same weight as if he were a historian!! Come on lady, you are a professor. Be logical.
Like it or not, one cannot whitewash history or even ignore it. Accept it what it is. We live in a free society which thrives in free inquiry; nobody is going to give you a break.
No wonder I have no respect for professors like Karen Armstrong.
The author applies another historical re-write. The Crusades, madam, were a result of muslim aggression against Christians. It is also laughable how the article argues that the muslim wars of aggression post-Muhammad were "political". If that is your justification, then you must be happy to extend the SAME justification for EVERY war ever fought by Christians- which you've gone all-out in trying to defame.
It is also most unbelievable that the author has implied that negative views of islam derive from ignorance, hatred, islamophobia, etc. The harsh reality is that some of us have read these "holy books" of islam and are appalled. I, for one, am appalled that any group of people would stoop to the level of calling a man like Muhammad a "prophet". His life left a trail of blood, sex slavery and misery for non-muslims. I also judge islam by its heart- Saudi Arabia (which promotes religious intolerance). This is clear evidence that islam knows no religious tolerance.
The author is entitled to her opinion. Nonetheless, attempting to re-write facts hardly assists islam.