How Muslims Understand History
By Louis Palme
“This day I have perfected your religion for you and completed my favour to you. I have chosen Islam to be your faith.” (Surah 5:3)
This pronouncement was “handed down” to Muhammad on his final pilgrimage to Mecca in 632. It takes a stretch of the imagination to consider Islam perfected at that time. Of the five Pillars of Islam, prayer and charity were not yet defined. One hundred years after Muhammad’s death, five different “schools” still could not agree on the tenants of Sharia law.
Faith is a virtue, but blind faith can sometimes trap people in an imaginary world divorced from reality. Muslims not only believe that their religion is “perfect,” but they also believe that all events in history were not only “Islamic,” but they were the perfect will of Allah.
To Muslims, it’s quite simple: Allah created the world and everyone in it. What sense would there be for there to be more than one religion in Allah’s creation? Allah would never allow that! Therefore, Adam was a Muslim, Abraham was a Muslim, David was a Muslim, and of course, Jesus was a Muslim. Because some drifted away from Islam, Muhammad was sent to bring them back.
Also, all of the territories of the world are actually Muslim territories. Yes, unfortunately some Muslim lands have been occupied by people who have rejected Islam. It is the right and duty for Muslims to reclaim those territories for Allah. Thus, there is no such thing as Islamic imperialism – only Islamic restoration.
What non-Muslims call terrorism are merely situations where Muslims engage in carrying out Allah’s justice – commanding the good and forbidding evil. It would be an insult to Allah for people who reject Him to go unpunished.
This gets us to Surah 5:32, which Muslims frequently quote (in an abbreviated form) as evidence that Muslims are opposed to violence and extremism: “Whosoever kills an innocent human being, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind; and whosoever saves the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind.” President Obama actually quoted the same line in his speech at Al Azhar University in Cairo in 2009. (See: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/04/us/politics/04obama.text.html )
There are two major problems with this quote: 1) There are over 50 English translations of the Quran, but there is no known English translation of the Quran that uses “innocent” in this verse. (See http://islamawakened.com/quran/5/32/); 2) This edict applies specifically to the “Children of Israel.” The verse after 5:32 gives the punishments ordained for Muslims — execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land.” These, of course, are extreme punishments forbidden by the 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Articles 5 and 9 of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
For Muslims, however, this edict in 5:32 was merely the natural result of Muslim Cain killing Muslim Abel, and hence it applies to all people, not just “the Children of Israel.”
The sheer will of Allah to make something happen overrides any reasonable test of historical accuracy
In the Eleventh Century, Muslim scholars got into a heated debate over whether the Quran was created over time or whether it just existed in its entirety from the beginning of time. Reason would hold that specific contemporary passages about Muhammad’s infidelity (66:3) and Muhammad marrying his daughter-in-law (Surah 33:37) could not have existed “from the beginning of time.” Of the course, the latter view would jeopardize the statement that the Quran was the verbal word of Allah. This controversy is sometimes referred to the Mu’tazilite – Ash’arite debate. Ultimately it was concluded that Islamic knowledge belonged to a category of knowledge that cannot be obtained by reason. (See: Robert R. Reilly, The Closing of the Muslim Mind, (2010), page 109.)
This view is actually codified into Sharia Law, where it is an act of apostasy punishable by death to believe that “things in themselves or by their own nature have any causal influence independent of the will of Allah.” (Al-Misri, Reliance of the Traveller, paragraph o8.7(17)) This provision is a reflection of Surah 16:78-79: “Allah has power over all things. . .Do they not see the birds that wing their flight in heaven’s vault? None but Allah sustains them.” (See also Surah 67:19.)
If the will of Allah trumps reason, there is no need for historical explanations or logical analyses of historical claims. All of that is a waste of time.
Islamic History Often Compiled from Contradictory Tales
When historian Patricia Crone set out to understand why Mecca – an isolated town far from the main trade routes – became such an important center of religion and commerce at the time of Muhammad, she hoped to rely on commercial correspondence and accounts of travelers to Mecca. Unfortunately, such documentation did not exist. The Quran actually mentions only 16 places, cities, or countries by name. (Compared with 1,172 in the Bible.) The hadith accounts are numerous, but they were compiled almost 100 years after-the-fact, and they contain numerous contradictions.
Dr. Crone concluded, “It is clear, then, that much of the classical understanding of the Quran rests on the work of popular storytellers, such storytellers being the first to propose particular historical contexts for particular verses. . . That these accounts represent some fifteen different versions of the same event is unlikely to be disputed by anyone. Which one of them is true, then? Evidently none. . . There was no continuous transmission. Ibn Ishaq, Waqidi, and others were cut off from the past: like the modern scholar, they could not get behind their sources.” (Patricia Crone, Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam. (2004), pages 216 – 226.)
This problem shows up in public school social studies textbooks today. In a single textbook (Discovery, Medieval and Early Modern History – 2017), there is a series of inconsistencies and outright contradictions. Clearly, there was no attempt to make a unified presentation. Nowhere is this more evident than in the description of Muhammad’s return to Mecca. There are three different versions of the event, and not one tells the whole story. It even states that Muhammad wrote the Quran while he was in Medina. How could a text be so sloppy? Other accounts indicate that Saudi Arabia destroyed most of the historical evidence that did exist in Mecca and Medina. See: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/medina-saudis-take-a-bulldozer-to-islams-history-8228795.html
Islamophobia is actually contemporary English for fitna
Muhammad’s first “booty” raid was at Nakhla, where Muslims killed one merchant, captured another and took their merchandise. The attack was justified as revenge for fitna — opposing Islam. Here is how it was stated in the Quran:
Say: “Fighting therein is a grave (offence); but graver is it in the sight of Allah to prevent access to the path of Allah, to deny Him, to prevent access to the Sacred Mosque, and drive out its members. Tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter.” (2:217 – Yusuf Ali)
The Arabic word for tumult and oppression is fitna. That Arabic word is actually used in several English translations. Here are some other renderings: oppression, to disbelieve, tumult, dissention, sedition, persecution, persecution for creed or opinion , temptation, disorder (rooted in rebellion to Allah and recognizing no laws), faithlessness, disbelief in Allah, fitnah (to create disorder), mischief, corruption, mischief mongering, turmoil, mischievous behavior, treason, temptation to idolatry, civil strife, idolatry, provocation. (See: http://www.islamawakened.com/quran/2/217/ ) Why so many meanings for fitna? For the same reason that Islamophobia is used in so many situations. Anything that resists, opposes, or hinders the advance of Islam is considered fitna or Islamophobia. Is such a grave offense in the view of Muslims that slaughtering the offenders is a lesser crime.
With this interpretation in hand, it is easy for Muslim historians to argue that all fighting by Muslims has been “defensive” in nature. For them, resisting fitna is a defensive act. Ironically, Islam uses a Christian parable by Jesus to justify their actions. Once Muhammad had achieved submission of all of the tribes in the Arabian Peninsula, he sent messages to surrounding rulers inviting them to submit to Islam. Here is one example from Ibn Ishaq’s The Life of Muhammad, page 655 f:
Muhammad sent a letter to Heraclius the Byzantine ruler of Syria saying, ”If you accept Islam you will be safe; if you accept Islam, Allah gives you a double reward; if you turn back, the sin of the husbandmen will be upon you,” i.e., the burden of it. To understand this veiled threat, see Jesus’ parable of the tenants in the vineyard in Matthew 21:33 f. When the tenants refused to pay rent and actually killed the landlord’s son who came to collect the rent, the landlord returned himself. Jesus asked the chief priests what the landlord would do. They said, “He will certainly kill those evil men and rent the vineyard out to other tenants, who will give him his share of the harvest at the right time.” Muhammad saw himself as the rightful landlord and his letter to Heraclius was a demand for submission.
Of course, the Muslim view of history hasn’t been embraced by the non-Muslim world. In “multicultural” Sicily, Muslims were driven out in 1189. Muslim rule in Andalucía (Spain) was considered by Muslims the golden age of Muslim-Christian-Jewish harmony, but the Muslims were expelled in 1609. Millions of Muslims self-evacuated India when that country won its independence in 1947. Today, the government of Myanmar is trying to rid itself of illegal Muslim immigrants from Pakistan/Bangladesh. If Allah bequeathed the world to Muslims, they have hardly earned or maintained that trust.