Robert Spencer (Image credit: Facebook page of Robert Spencer)
For many years Robert Spencer has written extensively about Islam and jihad, debunking the common misconception according to which the theological-political system founded by Mohammed in the VII century, is essentially a religion of peace.
The director and founder of “Jihadwatch” has become the bugbear of the many apologists of Islam, both in the United States and abroad, who, in order to delegitimize his work have qualified him as an “islamophobe”, the smear definition used so often today as a stigma against all those who criticize Islam. With his usual irony, Spencer has titled his latest book, “Confessions of an Islamophobe”.
Mr. Spencer, Islam, like Judaism, does not have a central authority. In the Sunni world there are four main schools of jurisprudence, Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi`i and Hanbali. Apart from the different exegetical approach of these schools can we say that in the Islamic world there is a general consensus regarding the main role and duty of a devout Muslim?
Yes there is very much a consensus among all the madhahib - schools of jurisprudence - about the necessity to impose Islamic law over the world. This is not something about which there is disagreement. There is a great value placed upon Ijma, consensus in Islamic law. If something is agreed upon by the scholars of all the principal schools of jurisprudence, then it is considered to be settled and not to be open to discussion any longer. Mohammed is said to have stated “My community will not agree on an error” and so, unfortunately for non Muslims, regarding the teachings that the Muslim community must wage jihad warfare against non Muslims in order to impose Islamic law upon them and subjugate them as inferiors. These are points that are all agreed upon in all the schools of jurisprudence and as such are not considered to be opened to further reform or change.
According to the late Sudanese religious thinker Mahmoud Mohammed Taha, the Quran has two different and contrasting messages, one more peaceful, which the prophet Mohammed preached in Mecca, and the other more intolerant and violent, which he preached when he lived in Medina. Taha thought that only by repudiating the second message Islam could be brought to its essential message. For his ideas he was arrested and executed in Sudan in 1985. Would you like to comment?
Of course, Mahmud Mohamed Taha did not originate the division of the Quran into the Meccan suras and the Medina suras, this is something that is traditional and is part of classic Quranic exegesis among mainstream Islamic scholars, and certainly he did not originate the idea either that the Meccan passages are more peaceful than the Medina passages. Actually they are not kind to unbelievers and are constantly threatening them with hellfire but they are not counseling warfare against unbelievers either. As far as Taha is concerned, when he says that the Meccan passages are more tolerant and should take precedence over the Medina passages that counsel warfare, this is against the grain of standard Islamic theology which teaches that the Medinan passages, since they come later chronologically in Mohammed’s life, supersede the Meccan passages. In chapter 2 verse 106 of the Quran, Allah says “We do not abrogate a verse or cause to be forgotten, except that We bring forth one better than it or similar to it”. Thus the chronological precedence is absolute. If something comes later and it seems to contradict what comes earlier, then what comes later takes precedence. This means that warfare against unbelievers is always the highest and final stage of jihad for Quranic believers. Taha was condemned as a heretic because his views were not traditional and they constituted innovation, Bid‘ah, which is a great sin in Islam. So while I wish that it were so - that the Meccan passages superseded the Medinan passages and that Taha was correct - unfortunately his view goes against the tradition of Islamic theology and it was for that reason that he was executed.
We often hear the distinction between “political Islam” and an Islam which is not political. It sounds bizarre, as Islam has been political since its inception. What do you have to say about this?
You are absolutely right. Islam has been political since its inception. It is noteworthy that Mohammed was a prophet, or claimed to be a prophet according to the Islamic traditions, for twenty three years, and for the first twelve years when he was in Mecca, he was only a preacher of religious ideas. It was not until the hijra, when he and his followers moved to Medina, that he became a political and a military leader as well as a religious one. It was then that the Islamic calendar begins with year one, this is the year of the hijra of Mohammed to Medina. Muslims are beginning Islam at the point when it becomes political, not at the point when Mohammed begins to preach, when he begins to preach or state that there is no God but Allah and no other prophet but Mohammed. This shows in itself that the political aspect of Islam is considered by mainstream Muslims to be intrinsic to it and not separable from it. You have to have a political aspect for it to be Islam at all. The political is not separable from Islam, at least if you are speaking traditional.
One of the main modern Muslim sects, if not the main one, that brought back the necessity of jihad was the Muslim Brotherhood, founded by Hasan al Banna in Egypt in 1928. Al Banna was a puritan who thought that Islam at his purest and most strict required jihad against infidels. Is this so, the “purity” of Islam is coessential with jihad?
Yes, certainly because Islam considers Mohammed’s example to be paramount. The Quran says, chapter 33 verse 21, that Mohammed is the excellent example for believers, which is interpreted by Islamic scholars in an absolute sense, that if Mohammed did it it’s good and right and Muslims should do it as well. And so, as Mohammed waged jihad, the Quran counsels jihad. This is central, you cannot have Islam without jihad. There has never been Islam without jihad.
This is a question I have recently asked to renowned European scholar Bat Ye’or. We keep hearing that Islam has been a very important source during the Middle Ages for the coming into being of Western civilization, but basically all the contributions of Islam to the West in that period did not have specific Muslim roots. Do you agree?
Islam is the only religion in the world nowadays with a public relations arm, a concerned effort on the part of believers in order that nobody thinks bad about Islam and everybody thinks that Islam is a positive force. There is no other religion that works so hard in trying to make a good impression and no other religion needs to work so hard to make a good impression. Islamic apologists constantly explain to us that Islam is a religion of peace; they have to explain it because it’s not obvious, because Muslims are doing violence in the name of Islam every day.
There are constantly Islamic apologists also telling us that Islam has been responsible for wonderful achievements. This also is not obvious. Every Islamic state and majority Muslim country in the world is a backwater and a human rights abuser and certainly not a place that anyone would think of as a center of cultural learning. We are constantly told these deceptive lies that are designed to make us complacent in the face of the massive Muslim immigration to the West.
When it came to the matter of Islam’s achievements and inventions we are told that the Jewish and Christian dhimmi captives of the Islamic state of Caliphate Baghdad, the Abbasid Caliphate, a thousand years ago, that their translations of the classical Greek texts or their inventions in terms of medicine or other innovations, that those are all due to Islam. These people weren’t even Muslims, they were just living in the Islamic state. What we are facing is a concerned effort to make Westerners believe that the mass of Muslim immigration into Western countries is something they mustn’t be concerned about, because presumably there will be a new flowering of an Islamic Golden Age, and there will be inventions, and there will be learning, and there will be tolerance and peace. It is all nonsense. There never was in the past and there will not be now. It is all part of this public relations effort.
For Islamic theology, Islam is the primeval religion of humanity. This means that every other religion and specifically the two religions of the Book, Judaism and Christianity, are defective, full of errors and falsehoods. Only Islam is correct. However we often hear that Judaism, Christianity and Islam can get along together. Do you believe this is possible?
Yes, certainly Islam and Judaism and Christianity can get along just fine as long as Jews and Christians know their place and accept the second class status that Islamic law mandates for non-Muslims under the rule of Islam. In the Islamic state, according to Islamic law, Jews and Christians are free to practice their religions as long as they don’t build new houses of worship, or repair old ones, so that their communities are always in decline. They cannot hold authority over Muslims, so they must only hold the most menial jobs in society where they don’t have authority over anybody else and they have of course to pay the jizia, the special tax mandated by the Quran. They have to abide by all sorts of regulations that make sure that they are always reminded that they are renegades who have rejected the truth of Mohammed and Islam. So, they have to step off the sidewalk if a Muslim is coming, they are greeted with “Peace be upon the rightly guided” rather than “Peace be upon you”, which is the standard Muslim greeting for other Muslims, because a Muslim does not wish a non-Muslim peace. He wishes peace to the Muslims, peace be upon them, to the rightly guided.
There are all sorts of other daily humiliations, discriminations and harassment that are mandated in Islamic law for the Jews and Christians. This is how it was in Muslim Spain which was supposed to be such a wonderful, multicultural and tolerant place, and this is how it is in any other place where Islamic law is fully implemented. So that there is no place where in majority Muslim countries, or countries under Muslim rule, there has ever been equality of rights between Jews and Christians and Muslims and there will never be because Islam hasn’t changed.
What is your evaluation of President Trump’s decision of declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel and consequently to move the USA embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?
It is welcome, it is important, it is historical on a political level that I think has not been reached since Ronald Reagan called upon Michail Gorbacev to tear down the Berlin Wall. There are great parallels between the two things, because in both cases all the learned analysts, all the mainstream opinion makers, all the setters of policy told Reagan and Trump they must not do this. They were all wrong. Trump and Reagan have both gone against the main dream view that you have to appease those who are violent, that if you are facing people who are going to be murderous, then you give them what they want, you don’t stand up to them. Trump and Reagan both - Trump with this decision about Jerusalem and Reagan calling for the end of the Berlin Wall - have been standing against evil and calling it up for what it was. They have both showed immense courage in going against the accepted opinion and standing up to the violence, intimidation and bullying that everyone else wanted to appease and accommodate. I think that Trump will be remembered as one of the great courageous men of history for this decision.
If you were to sum up what is Islam for you in its essence what would you say?
Islam is many things for me, something that I have studied for all these years. Right now I am writing a history of jihad from Mohammed to ISIS which will show that jihad is a constant of Islamic history. Islam is a force that has oppressed many people, destroyed the life of many people in the world throughout history and today, and we need to call that up for what it is.
There are many people that claim that it is the source for all that is good in the world. If they want to pull these views I don’t have any problems if they are not trying to impose them upon me and trying to subjugate me under their rule. I believe very strongly in free societies in the West, in open societies where there is not one single opinion that is mandated by the elites that we all have to hold on to. I will fight to my last breath for the defense of these societies against this radically intolerant, violent, aggressive, supremacist and authoritarian political system.
This article, reprinted with permission of the author, previously appeared as Ferretti, Niram. “The Watchtower of Jihad: An interview with Robert Spencer.” L'Informale, 16 Dec. 2017.