Here is yet another episode of our sporadic series, “Why Can’t Muslims Debate?” Jihad Watch reader Unknown sent me this yesterday, and since I just wrote about how Islamic apologists tend not to offer evidence for their views, but simply to indulge in ad hominem smears, I thought I should respond to this attempt to “expose” me, since it at least purports to show where and how I am wrong — and I think a response is particularly called for since this comes from a representative of that bastion of integrity and fair dealing, the Council on American Islamic Relations. “Exposing Robert Spencer: Juvenlie [sic!] Hadith Interpretations,” by Omer Subhani at his blog:
One very distinct similarity between Robert Spencer and modern day Salafis is their inability to distinguish between hadith and fiqh….
Yes, that’s why I write things like this, in a post from May 2006: “This is a matter of fact, abundantly established by the texts not just of the Qur’an, but of Hadith and fiqh.” Not that I know the difference between those last two. I’m just repetitive and redundant that way.
Anyway, there follows a paragraph stating commonplaces that I have never disputed, and so will not bother to reproduce here. And then:
One of the things that I have noticed about Robert Spencer is how similar he is in his interpretations of hadith to Salafis. […]
I would guess that somewhere someone had a meeting and decided this was the line on me: I’m just like the Islamic extremists. Even that stooge who doesn’t know that he is a stooge, Dinesh D’Souza, has picked up on this. I report on how jihadists use the Qur’an, Sunnah, and fiqh to justify their actions, so therefore I am validating their interpretation of Islam.
For example, when I noted in connection with my Blogging the Qur’an series that traditional Islamic theology denies free will, Zahed Amanullah of Alt.Muslim responded not by refuting my evidence or even offering evidence for an opposing point of view, but merely by saying, “Robert allies himself with the extremists in their common interpretation of Islam being a religion of endless conflict.”
Oh. That must mean the Islamic texts I quote don’t say what they say!
Anyway, then Omer Subhani goes on at some length about the nuance of authentic interpretation of the Islamic sources, and ends up with this:
A very real example of this type of pseudo scholarship is committed by Spencer. I have noted in many other posts on this blog how Spencer manipulates or takes out of context or blatantly gets wrong points of the Islamic faith. I recently saw three new points that made me astonished to say the least. These were some very juvenile interpretations by Spencer, who at the very least attempts to portray himself as a respectable scholar on Islam.
Spencer was answering criticism by al-Arabiyya about his book on the Prophet, peace and prayers be upon him. In the reply to al-Arabiyya Spencer defends himself against three charges. I will go through them one by one:
The book claims that Muhammad said terrorism made him victorious and that he used to tempt people with paradise so they would crush his enemies.
Yeah, I made all that up, and cast it into the canonical hadith by means of my Zionist black arts.
“I have been made victorious with terror” — so says Muhammad not according to me, but according to Bukhari (Vol. 4, Book 52, Number 220). Sahih Bukhari is the hadith collection, that is, the collection of traditions of Muhammad, that Muslims consider most reliable.
This is probably the most juvenile attempt at scholarship I have seen Spencer take and he quotes this hadith quite often. When the Prophet says “terror” does he mean “terrorism?” Obviously he does not, but Spencer feels free to make the two words synonymous. When we click on the link Spencer provides it takes us to the USC hadith web compendium, which shows us th hadith from Sahih Bukhari. The relevant hadith states the following:
Volume 4, Book 52, Number 220:
Narrated Abu Huraira:
Allah’s Apostle said, “I have been sent with the shortest expressions bearing the widest meanings, and I have been made victorious with terror (cast in the hearts of the enemy), and while I was sleeping, the keys of the treasures of the world were brought to me and put in my hand.”
As you can see, what is being implied with “terror” is that the enemies of Islam during the time of the Prophet had “terror” or fear or any other synonym of terror you could think of put into their hearts so they would be scared of fighting the Muslims. I think that’s quite obvious to anyone who reads the hadith in context and without Spencer’s pathetic attempt at manipulation. Spencer doesn’t even attempt to distance himself from the al-Arabiyya statement, which says that Spencer says that Muhammad said “terrorism” made him victorious. There is quite a difference between having fear or “terror” put into the hearts of your opponents (through various means – like angels coming down from the heavens) and “terrorism,” which the U.S. State Department defines as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.” If Spencer wants to stand by that definition then he will presumably have to answer questions about how what defined “terrorism” in seventh century Arabia. He will also have to answer why he did not quote the entire hadith and what exactly the word translated as “terror” means in the original Arabic – did it mean terrorism as we understand it today? It’s good homework for Spencer.
Okay, let’s see. Subhani says I wrongly conflate “terror” with “terrorism,” and don’t quote the whole hadith. The “terror”/”terrorism” confusion he will have to take up with Al-Arabiya, since it is they who used the word “terrorism” where I used “terror.” Here is the actual quote from my book The Truth About Muhammad, pp. 165-166:
Looking back on his prophetic career, Muhammad remarked: “I have been sent with the shortest expressions bearing the widest meanings, and I have been made victorious with terror (cast in the hearts of the enemy), and while I was sleeping, the keys of the treasures of the world were brought to me and put in my hand.” It is one of his most arresting statements. It is true that his Qur’an is quite brief, especially in comparison to the Old and even the New Testaments; whether its contents truly bear the “widest meanings,” however, is a matter for the contention of theologians. That he was made “victorious with terror” is undeniable, given the tumultuous history of his prophetic career, with its raids, wars, and assassinations.
Whoops — I seem to have quoted the whole hadith also, as Subhani says I didn’t. Why didn’t I quote the whole thing in the article? Because it wasn’t relevant: Al-Arabiya implied that I fabricated this quote from Muhammad, and so I was showing that the quote was actually from the Hadith. It was they who misstated that I referred to “terrorism” when I actually quoted Muhammad accurately in speaking of “terror.”
Why didn’t I pick up on the distinction between the two in the article? Because I don’t make as much of it as Subhani does. Striking abject fear into the hearts of the enemy sounds to me like something one could do rather efficiently by committing “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets.”
Did Muhammad ever commit “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets”? Why, yes: see, for example, the raid on Khaybar. Muhammad was not responding to any provocation when he led a Muslim force against the Khaybar oasis, which was inhabited by Jews — many of whom he had previously exiled from Medina. One of the Muslims later remembered: “We met the workers of Khaybar coming out in the morning with their spades and baskets.” That sounds like noncombatants to me. “When they saw the apostle and the army they cried, “˜Muhammad with his force,” and turned tail and fled. The apostle said, “˜Allah Akbar! Khaybar is destroyed. When we arrive in a people’s square it is a bad morning for those who have been warned.–
Was that “terror” or “terrorism”? I don’t care. That’s a distinction without a difference.
Back to Subhani:
The second point comes up in the same sentence, where Spencer is noted by al-Arabiyya as stating that the Prophet would tempt his Companions with Paradise in order to fight his enemies.
And what about that bit about Paradise? Here’s another ahadith: “On the day of the battle of Uhud, a man came to the Prophet and said, ‘Can you tell me where I will be if I should get martyred?’ The Prophet replied, ‘In Paradise.’ The man threw away some dates he was carrying in his hand, and fought till he was martyred” (Bukhari Volume 5, Book 59, Number 377).
Yes, more of Spencer’s lies!
Well, I can’t say he is lying, but it is also obvious here that what Spencer is attempting to do is portray the Prophet as some sort of brainwashing opportunist who said whatever would appeal to his Companions in order to get them to do his work. Spencer can interpret this hadith as he wants, but to those who are unaware the Prophet had told his Companions many times before the Battle of Uhud about what the rewards would be for one who fought and died in combat for the sake of God. The example of Haritha, the young boy killed before the Battle of Badr began, is sufficient as an example. The other point is that there were many Companions who saw the souls of those slain in battle being taken by the angels up into the heavens and their bodies washed as they ascended upward. It’s one thing to tempt someone to do something, but another thing to cause people to see angels flying around during a battle.
Are you following the thread here? Al-Arabiya charges me with saying that Muhammad promised Paradise to those who fought in jihad warfare. I show again that this is from the Hadith. Subhani, by way of showing how I am wrong, says that those killed in jihad warfare went to Paradise.
Maybe there is some subtlety here that I am missing!
Moving along, Spencer says that the Prophet,peace and prayers be upon him, broke the Treaty of Hudaibiya. […]
Then Subhani quotes me about how a woman came from the Quraysh to the Muslims, and Muhammad refuses to return her, thus breaking the treaty. Subhani continues:
This is easily answered by referring to Martin Lings’ Muhammad. On page 259 he says “So when Umm Kulthum’s two full brothers came to take her back, the Prophet refused to let them have her, and Quraysh accepted his refusal without protest. There had been no mention of women in the treaty.” Lings notes that the revelation came to the Prophet before Umm Kulthum escaped to Medina. Lings’ biography is noted to be almost a carbon copy translation of ibn Hisham’s biography of the Messenger of Allah, peace and prayers be upon him. If the Muslims had broken the treaty it could be easily assumed that the Quraysh would have been looking to wage another battle or at the very least to promote the news that the Prophet had finally shown signs of being treacherous. But to no avail, the Quraysh, much to Spencer’s disappointment, made no fuss about women coming back. This sort of thing is called a loop hole and the Prophet made use of it and coincidentally the Quraysh did not protest the action. The treaty remained in tact until confederates of Quraysh broke the treaty and allowed the Muslims to finally wage the final battle which would consolidate their hold over the Hejaz.
The treaty contained no provision about returning women — that is just legalistic hair-splitting. And the fact that the Quraysh didn’t fight over this could have been for any number of reasons — chiefly that they were no longer in the position of strength they had once enjoyed, which was why Muhammad felt free to break the treaty in the first place.
Last but not least, Spencer says the Prophet said to kill all Jews.
And as for the bit about killing Jews, both of the earliest biographers of Muhammad, Ibn Ishaq and Ibn Sa’d, both zealous Muslims, record his telling his followers at a certain point: “Kill any Jew that falls into your power.”
I tried to find his source on this. I don’t own a copy of either seerah he mentions.
It’s in Guillaume’s edition of Ibn Ishaq, p. 369, and the Kitab Bhavan edition of Ibn Sa’d, volume II, page 36.
I Googled the statement and found his book through Google Books. In it, Spencer says that this was a “blanket command” ordered by the Prophet. Also, he says that “This was not a military order.” He says this statement was issued after the assassination of Ka’b ibn Ashraf right after the Battle of Badr. If what Spencer says is true then the Companions should have been rid of the Bani Qurayzah (a Jewish tribe living in Medina) much earlier than after the Battle of the Trench because they were still living in Medina when this statement was uttered by the Prophet. If it was a blanket command and was not a military order then what did the statement mean exactly? Spencer does not clarify, but the assumption he implies in his book is that Muslims should kill any Jew they encounter. Again, this assumption does not work because the Bani Qurayzah were still living as neighbors of the Muslims within Medina.
“Spencer does not clarify, but the assumption he implies in his book is that Muslims should kill any Jew they encounter.” Utter twaddle. Subhani’s argument here seems to be, If Muhammad says this, why didn’t the Muslims do it? There could be any number of reasons, of course. Maybe he wasn’t referring to those Jewish tribes with whom the Muslims had a treaty, as they did with some at that point. Maybe because he also ultimately told the Muslims to subjugate the Jews as dhimmis (Qur’an 9:29), as I have discussed many, many times, not just to kill them all.
In any case, all of the points Spencer brings up demonstrate once again either his lack of knowledge about Islamic sources or his disdain and negative opinion of the Prophet of Islam. There is a reason he is invited almost solely by right wing organizations. He is not a credible source on Islam. In fact, his scholarship is as shoddy as most Salafi scholars. It seems the two were made for one another.
Mr. Subhani, regarding shoddy scholarship, you know what they say about glass houses and stones.