In Book Reviews, Books, Islam

We in the West are constantly being told that Islam is a religion of tolerance and peace. Indeed, the greater the atrocities committed in the name of Islam, the greater the protestations by Muslim spokesmen and political commentators that Islam is really a beautiful religion of decency and goodwill. And on the strength of these persistent claims, many people in the West have become sympathetic towards Islam, and some have even converted to it.

But is true Islam as noble and ennobling as many in the media and the arts and the academia would have us believe? Have devout Muslims like Osama bin Laden misunderstood what Islam is truly about? Or worse, are they knowingly distorting—and thereby hijacking—the teaching and the example of their prophet, Muhammad?

Robert Spencer has written two fine books on Islam to help non-Muslims answer these questions: The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth about Muhammad. Both books are published by Regency Publishing (Washington) and both are New York Times bestsellers.

Robert Spencer is a world renowned authority on Islam and has written seven books and hundreds of articles about Islamic history, theology and law. He is also the director of Jihad Watch, an organisation that attempts to raise awareness about the activities of the global jihadist movement. Jihad Watch runs a website (http:// that is updated every day with relevant news items from around the world; and it also offers a free email service of “a daily digest of updates”.

In his daily entries on his website, Spencer is sometimes a little sarcastic or acerbic. This should be understood as a measure of the frustration that he feels in having to state and restate the obvious in the face of ongoing cover-ups and obfuscations in the Western media. Happily, however, his books are moderate and restrained in tone and style.

Spencer’s book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam, is a superb introduction to Islam and offers a truthful (as opposed to a politically correct) overview of Islamic teaching and history. It is fast-paced and easy to read and does not presume a prior knowledge of Islam on the part of the reader. Spencer is well versed in the primary (canonical) writings of Islam, the Quran (Koran) and the Hadith, and he continually refers back to these documents as he presents his arguments and findings. And, for those unfamiliar with Islam or familiar only with the views of Western Islamic apologists, his findings are surprising and disturbing.

They include:

  • Muhammad did not teach “peace and tolerance”—he led armies and ordered the assassination of his enemies;
  • Islam teaches that Muslims must wage war to impose Islamic law on non-Muslim states;
  • What is known today as the “Islamic world” was created by a series of brutal conquests of non-Muslim lands;
  • The Crusades were not acts of unprovoked aggression by Europe against the Islamic world, but a delayed response to centuries of Muslim aggression;
  • Today’s jihad terrorists have the same motives and goals as the Muslims who fought the Crusaders;
  • The Quran commands Muslims to make war on Jews and Christians;
  • Muslim persecution of Christians has continued for 13 centuries—and still goes on.

In addition to the primary text, each chapter of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam contains supplemental information in shaded boxes. One series of boxes—titled “Just Like Today”—highlights the connection between the actions of Muslims today and the actions of Muhammad 1,300 years ago.

In a chapter on the treatment of women under Islam, Spencer notes that the Quran permits the marriage of pre-pubescent girls, referring to “your wives … who have not yet menstruated” (65:4); and he further notes that the Hadith records that Muhammad married one of his wives (Aisha) when she was six years old and consummated the marriage when she was nine years old. A “Just Like Today” box in the same chapter observes: “This has touched millions of women and girls in societies where the Quran is absolute truth and Muhammad is the model for all human behaviour. … [The late Iranian leader] Ayatollah Khomeini told the Muslim faithful that marrying a girl before she began menstruating was ‘a divine blessing.’ He counselled fathers: ‘Do your best to ensure that your daughters do not see their first blood in your house.’ Iranian girls can get married when they are as young as nine with parental permission, or thirteen without consent.” (p. 69)

Another “Just Like Today” box contains the following information: “The distaste that Muslims have for unbelievers, who are called the ‘vilest of creatures’ in the Quran (98:6), is not a thing of the past. The Iraqi Shiite leader Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Husayni Sistani, who has been hailed by many in the West as a reformer, a moderate, and a hope for democracy in Iraq and the Middle East at large, makes it quite clear in his religious rulings that the Islamic contempt for unbelievers is still very much in effect. … Among Sistani’s voluminous rulings on all manner of questions concerning Islamic law is this illuminating little list: ‘The following ten things are essentially najis [unclean]: 1. Urine; 2. Faeces; 3. Semen; 4. Dead body; 5. Blood; 6. Dog; 7. Pig; 8. Kafir [unbeliever]; 9. Alcoholic liquors; 10. The sweat of an animal who persistently eats najasat [ie, unclean things].’ Sastani adds, ‘the entire body of a Kafir [unbeliever], including his hair and nails, and all liquid substances of his body, are najis [unclean].’” (p.165)

Another set of boxes—the “[Eminent Person] on Islam” boxes—are also intriguing and illuminating. The “Winston Churchill on Islam” box, for example, contains this quote from the great British wartime Prime Minister: “How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries [ie, staunch believers/devoted admirers]! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next [life] of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property—either as a child, a wife, or a concubine—must delay the final extinction   of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men. Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities. … But the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. …” (p.92)

The “John Wesley on Islam” box is equally fascinating and quotes the great 18th century Christian preacher and revivalist as saying: “Ever since the religion of Islam appeared in the world, the espousers of it … have been as wolves and tigers to all other nations, rending and tearing all that fell into their merciless paws, and grinding them with their iron teeth; that numberless cities are raised from the foundation, and only their name remaining; that many countries which were once as the garden of God, are now a desolate wilderness; and that so many once numerous and powerful nations are vanished from the earth! Such was, and is this day, the rage, the fury, the revenge, of these destroyers of human kind.” (p.188)

While The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam offers the reader a basic introduction to Islam and is broad in its scope, Spencer’s second book, The Truth about Muhammad, offers the reader a comprehensive study of Islam’s founder and is narrow in its scope. This second book is saturated with relevant quotations from the Quran, the Hadith, the early Islamic biographies of Muhammad, and the early Islamic commentaries (tafsir) on the Quran. And although it is more scholarly and more finely detailed than the Guide, it is nonetheless every bit as accessible and arresting.

In The Truth about Muhammad, Spencer documents details about the Prophet’s life and teaching that, while common knowledge to devout Muslims, are virtually unknown to non-Muslims. It makes for astonishing and alarming reading.

Given Spencer’s use of accepted (indeed, revered) Islamic sources, I doubt that many devout Muslims would dispute the overall accuracy of his portrayal of Muhammad’s deeds and doctrines. What they would dispute is Spencer’s moral assessment of Muhammad’s life. For while he views Muhammad’s character and conduct as essentially deplorable, devout Muslims view them as entirely honourable.

Unfortunately for everyone, Muhammad made himself the standard by which Muslims should live. Spencer writes: “The Quran and Islamic tradition are clear that the Prophet is the supreme example for Muslims to follow. His importance to hundreds of millions of Muslims worldwide is rooted in the Quran, the Muslim holy book. In brief, he is ‘an excellent standard of character’ (68:4), and indeed, ‘he who obeys the Messenger [Muhammad], obeys Allah’ (4:80).” (p.8) Hence, when the authentic hadiths say that Muhammad sent assassins to dispatch poets who had insulted him in their poems, or that he expressly permitted his followers to lie and to feign apostasy in order to gain the trust of those whom they intended to kill, or that he ordered his companions to torture a captive to extract information he had about a hidden treasure, or that after attacking and subduing the Jews at Khaybar he “had their warriors killed, their offspring and women taken captives”, or that he gave captive women to his soldiers as war booty for their sexual pleasure, or that he had sex with a nine year old girl he had taken for wife, or that he ordered (and himself carried out) the stoning to death of adulterers—when the authentic hadiths report such doings of the Prophet, they do not disgrace the Prophet in the eyes of his followers, but rather give guidance concerning what his followers themselves may or must do forever after. Muslims reason that such things must be exemplary if Muhammad did them. Indeed, how could it be otherwise, given the Quran’s claim that he is “an excellent example of conduct” (33:21)?

The Truth about Muhammad is subtitled Founder of the World’s Most Intolerant Religion. As if to validate the subtitle, some of Muhammad’s devotees have issued threats and curses against Spencer. Muslims contributing to one Islamic internet forum, for example, have written:

  • To the Jew-lover Robert Spencer (may Allaah destroy him), if you or one of your brain-dead cult followers read this I want you to know that I hate you for the sake of Allaah and I make dua [ie, I pray] for your destruction.
  • We make dua [ie, we pray] Allah allows your blood to spill over our hands.
  • May Allah rip out his spine from his back and split his brains in two, and then put them both back, and then do it over and over again.
  • These writers display the very intolerance and hatred that Spencer documents as being characteristic of Muhammad. (But note: there is no hypocrisy or contradiction in the writers’ reactions. For they believe that Muhammad was such a man as they are: they simply cannot abide anyone saying that it is despicable to be such a man. They are not reacting against Spencer’s portrait of the prophet as, say, a killer of his opponents: they are reacting against Spencer’s moral assessment of such killings as murders.)

In view of the increasing hostility of Muslims towards the West, Spencer claims that “ignorance [about Muhammad] is increasingly a luxury the West can ill afford. Because jihadists (as well as ordinary Muslims) the world over invoke Muhammad as their example and guide, it is vitally important to know what Muhammad really said and how he lived.” (p. 170) The Truth about Muhammad is Spencer’s attempt to dispel our ignorance about the Prophet of Allah, the perfect Muslim.

Since the Islamic terrorist attacks on New York in 2001, Bali in 2002, Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005, many people in the West have become sympathetic towards Islam. Some have moved from sympathy to positive affirmation, believing Islam to be a religion of peace and tolerance. Some have even considered converting to Islam. And some actually have converted. In the main, this would not have happened if Westerners were conversant with the truths about Muhammad and Islam that Robert Spencer details in his two books.

The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and The Truth about Muhammad are invaluable weapons against the encroachment of Islam into Western society. Christians would do well to buy them, read them, and lend them to others to read.

Life Ministries has limited copies of Robert Spencer’s two books for sale: The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam – $27.95 plus $5.50 postage within WA. The Truth about Muhammad – $25.95 plus $5.50 postage within WA.
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