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  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 7, No. 4, 2008
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Robert J. Lewis
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robert spencer's

reviewed by


[Far too often, after a promising initial launching or first run, a distinguished book or film will disappear from public view and go gently into oblivion. In the spirit of finally 'getting it right,' Arts & Opinion tries to catch some of these on-their-way-out works and return them to the dawn's early light. One such work is Onward Muslim Soldiers by Robert Spencer.ed.]


Faiths must not be allowed to hide their depradation
behind our toleration. Leon Wieseltier

The title of this book could conceivably be a headline for a news item in a Western newspaper. Throughout the closing days of 2003, and early in 2004, we lived with a heightened sense of danger as the terror alerts kept rising, and several air flights to the U.S. were canceled. Thanks to Robert Spencer’s Onward Muslim Soldiers, we have on hand a non-varnished description of this new era in global history.

Soon after 9/11, September 2001, the contents of Muhammad Ata’s suitcase were discovered. In it were found the Arabic text of the instructions he gave his fellow-conspirators on the eve of their horrific attack on New York and Washington, DC. After exhorting them to remain calm, and rejoice in anticipation of their attack on the symbols of the hated West, he quoted an Arabic poem: “Smile in the face of death, O young man, For you are on your way to immortality in paradise.” Then, he went on quoting several Qur’anic texts to bolster their resolve to become the vanguard of a new type of shuhada (martyrs) in the path of Allah. What Ata’s hastily composed hand-written notes revealed, Robert Spencer documents in his book on Islamic Jihad.

What we had observed in Spencer’s Islam Unveiled (2002), we find strengthened and well-documented in Onward Muslim Soldiers. The book has ample references to jihad in the authoritative texts of Islam: the Qur’an, Hadith (plural: Ahadith), as well as in the recognized commentaries of both Sunni and Shi’ite Islam. Based on these texts and the history of the Islamic conquests in Asia, Africa, and Europe, one cannot avoid the conclusion that Jihad is part and parcel of the Islamic tradition.

The reason why many of our contemporaries find it difficult to accept this fact is that they regard Islam as simply a religious faith, like Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Shinto. But Islam is, and has always been, far more than a religion in the accepted sense of the word. It began as a religious faith in Mecca (610), and then it progressed into an expansionist religio-political system from Medina (622). Eventually Islam produced a distinctively Islamic culture and worldview in Baghdad and Cordoba (after 800).

Most Americans have an added difficulty as they seek to understand Islam. The birth of the United States in 1776 occurred at a time when the last major Islamic power, the Ottoman Empire, was in a state of rapid decline. It finally disintegrated at the end of World War I when most of its territories were taken over by European colonialists. Up to the mid-forties of the 20th century, the United States had very little to do with Islamic countries. The meeting of President Roosevelt with King Saud on a U.S. destroyer in the Suez Canal during World War II, marked the beginning of America’s practical encounter with Islam.

Now Onward Muslim Soldiers provides us with this much needed guide to understanding the true nature of Islam, and its attitude to the rest of the world. This book is organized around three parts. Part One deals with “Jihad Now.” Part Two covers the history of jihad under the rubric of “Jihad Then.” The title of Part Three is very disturbing, “The Great Jihad Cover-Up.”

This “Cover-Up” is evident, for example, in “The Carolina Qur’an Controversy” related on page 145. In 2002, the University of North Carolina assigned “a translation of a part of the Qur’an to all incoming freshmen,” that became a cause for genuine concern. The assigned book was Approaching the Qur’an: The Early Revelations, translated by Michael Sells. The “early revelations” of the subtitle are the Meccan suras . . . which preach tolerance and mutual coexistence without a hint of the doctrines of jihad and dhimmitude that unfold in the later Qur’anic revelations.”

Robert Spencer asks: “what was such a misleading misrepresentation designed to accomplish, especially in light of continuing threats from terrorists?” Sells has defended his decision to translate only early Meccan Suras on the grounds that they are the most accessible introduction to the Qur’an and Islamic study as a whole. That may be true, but taken in isolation as the only book a young non-Muslim would read about Islam, Approaching the Qur’an could be severely misleading about the nature of the religion as a whole and about the intentions and motives of Islamic terrorists, the very people who have made Islam such a hot topic for students.

This literary product of Professor Michael Sells, in keeping out the Medinan chapters of the Qur’an, does not surprise me. In May 2001, and later on in January 2002, PBS telecast a documentary, “Islam: Empire of Faith.” This expert on Islam was one of several Western commentators who contributed to this program, whose very title was historically questionable. How could the Islamic Empires of the Umayyads, Abbasids, Ottomans, and the Mughals, be described as “Empires of Faith” when they were all built on the “futuhat” i.e., on conquests? Neither Michael Sells nor any of his fellow-commentators ever referred to the impact of jihad on the native populations of the conquered territories, nor to such infamous institutions as “dhimmitude.” The apex of disinformation in “Empire of Faith” was reached when reference was made to the “devshirme” system of the Ottomans in Eastern Europe. The Western scholar described this barbaric institution of taking young Christian boys from their families, forcibly Islamizing them, and enrolling them in the elite Ottoman corps of the Janissaries as “recruitment.”

The author concludes his book with these sober words. “The theology and history of Islam bear out that this is how all too many Muslims have always understood their law. Until Islam undergoes a definitive and universal reform, this is how the warriors of jihad understand it today and will continue to understand it. This is the version of Islam that radical Muslims are pressing forward with bombs and guns and threats around the world. That is why the struggle against jihad is the struggle of every true lover of freedom.” P. 304

Onward Muslim Soldiers: How Jihad Still Threatens America and the West is a much-needed book. To read it and digest its contents is of utmost importance as we daily face the by-products of Jihadism all over our world. We thank Robert Spencer for his excellent work on a topic that remains as current as the daily newspaper, radio and the television news.

Bassam Michael Madany was the Arabic Broadcast minister of Back-to-God Hour, the radio ministry of the Christian Reformed Church, from 1958-1994. He is the author of The Bible and Islam: A Basic Guide to Sharing God’s Word with a Muslim.

Related articles:
Tariq Ali: Letter to a Muslim
Irshad Manji: Faith Without Fear
Secular Islam on the Rise
Rawi Hage's Long Day's Journey into Secularism
The Shape of Rape in Pakistan: Muhktaran Mai
Being Woman in Iraq: Judy Rebick
Edward Said: Chronicle of an Infitada Foretold

Female Genital Mutilation
Christopher Hitchens Tariq Ali Debate

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