The History of Jihad: From Muhammad to ISIS by Robert Spencer, Bombardier Books, US $27.00, Pp 348, August 2018, ISBN 978-1682616598
Islam and other religions — Paganism, Christianity, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, and many others — have clashed since the rise of Islam in the mid-seventh century. After subduing Arabia’s pagans, Prophet of Islam Muhammad invited Roman Emperor to convert to Islam. When the Roman Emperor refused, Muhammad unleashed a jihad on Christendom that still continues. At about the same time, Muhammad’s followers attacked and slaughtered the Jews in the town of Khaiber by the hundreds for breaking a covenant with the Muslims. In The History of Jihad, Robert Spencer tells the story of more than fourteen centuries of Islam’s war on the rest of the world in the name of jihad. Contrary to the wide-spread belief among Western scholars and policy-makers that Islam is a peaceful religion and Islamic terrorism is relatively new, Spencer shows that Islam has been at war with the rest of the world since mid-century
The History of Jihad provides an overview of jihad activity from the time of Muhammad to the present day — from Arabia to North Africa and Persia, from Spain to India, from Tel Aviv to New York City. Spencer shows that there is no period since the beginning of Islam that was characterized by large-scale peaceful coexistence between Muslims and non-Muslims. There was no time when mainstream and dominant Muslim authorities taught the equality of non-Muslims with Muslims, or obsolescence of jihad. In short, with virtually no interruption, there has always been jihad. In the Islamic theology, jihad is primarily warfare against unbelievers. Spencer says that the Quran and the hadith collections contain numerous exhortations to fight against the infidels until they pay the jizya (poll tax) with submission and feel subdued.
The triple imperative of conversion, subjugation, or death is reinforced in Islamic law. Spencer quotes a leading Sunni jurist, Ahmed ibn Naqib al-Misri, who wrote that the “lesser jihad” means “war against non-Muslims.” Al-Misri directs the Muslim community to make war “upon Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians… until they become Muslims or pay the non-Muslim poll tax.” Al-Misri also adds that Muslims must not wage jihad in order to enrich themselves, but only for the cause of Islam. And when the infidels hear the call to Islam, they will “hence perceive that they are attacked for the sake of religion, and not for the sake of taking their property, or making slaves of their children, and on this consideration it is possible that they may be induced to agree to the call, in order to save themselves from the trouble of war.” However, the thing will go badly for the non-Muslims who choose not to convert or pay the tax. Spencer rightly argues that these are old authorities, but none of these Sunni schools of jurisprudence have ever reformed or rejected these directives. The Shiite schools teach much the same things. Jihad as a spiritual struggle is a secondary concept at best for both, even though it bears the designation “greater jihad.”
Spencer writes that only in our strange age has this quite obvious fact been controverted, with those who point it out being excoriated as bigots. Nonetheless, the historical record speaks for itself, even more loudly and clearly than it usually does. On September 17, 2001, US President George W. Bush said, “These acts of violence against innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith. And it’s important for my fellow Americans to understand that.” The crowning victory in the effort to stigmatize resistance to jihad terror and Islamic supremacism came in February 2012, when the Obama Administration purge more than a thousand documents and presentations from counterterror training materials for the FBI and other agencies at the demand of Muslim groups. In the twenty-first century, Spencer argues, the European and North American leaders have brought almost certain doom on their countries no less unmistakable than that which befell Constantinople on May 29, 1453. The twenty-first century European and North American would have denounced the doomed Emperor Constantine XI, like his tragic predecessor Manuel II, as “Islamophobic,” like his exhortation to defend Constantinople to the death as “militaristic” and “xenophobic.”
Robert Spencer convincingly shows that jihadist terror has played a big role in the spread of Islam. He also shows that the word jihad meant armed warfare for the founder of Islam who himself fought many battles. The History of Jihad is a concise but comprehensive history of Islam’s war on the rest of the world. It is a meticulously researched book. Spencer has quoted primary and contemporary — mostly Muslim – sources which make the book really authentic. Robert Spencer has unmatchable scholarly credentials when it comes to Islam’s history and the role of jihad in the last fourteen centuries. What distinguishes Robert Spencer from other scholars of Islam is the fact that he is not an apologist for Islam. The History of Jihad is a required reading to understand Islam and global jihad.