History of Jihad, a thriller

The germination of Jihad and how it spread across the world is a historical fact that needs to be told.

History of Jihad, a thriller

Policy-makers faced with a major challenge, one that their successors may still have to deal with if they themselves don’t solve it, will first of all need to know the nature of that challenge. An urgent challenge for the contemporary world leaders is Jihād, literally “effort (in the way of Allah)”, effectively “Islamic war against the Infidels”.  For their use, and for everyone’s, Robert Spencer has written a remarkably complete account of the origins of the Jihad doctrine and the highlights of its applications in history. It is aptly titled History of Jihad: From Muhammad to ISIS (Post Hill Press, Nashville/New York, 2018) and dedicated to “the untold millions of victims of jihad”.

This well-written and fully referenced book is a mighty thriller, with even more suspense than most. After some turns in the plot, from Islamic expansion to Islamic decline and back to Islamic expansion, and from Unbeliever defeats to Unbeliever resistance and ascendancy on to Unbeliever self-undoing, it stops before the ending. We have yet to see if jihad will ultimately prevail. Even if it won’t, it seems likely to cause us lots more trouble before it goes.

The roots of Jihad are traced to the details of Mohammed’s career, as given in the Islamic source texts. (Spencer cautions beforehand that those chronicles do not live up to modern historiographical standards, and that a contemporary line of scholarship tries to reconstruct what truly happened behind the conserved version; but this “real” history is as yet tentative and without any influence on what Muslims believe or what Islamic law is based on, which still is the traditional account.) The whole array of techniques of conquest and subjugation that we know from jihadi history down to the present was already there: murders at night, executions at dawn, open battles at noon; enslavement, extortion, plunder, deportation, treachery, stratagems, broken promises, terror.

Nonetheless, I want to insist on a fact that might easily get overlooked in this catalogue of violence: Mohammed was no sadist, he just wanted his critics and enemies surrendered or dead, he didn’t bother to make them suffer. In general, Mohammed didn’t care for the pleasure of seeing his enemies in protracted pain, but kept his eye on the ultimate goal: surrender by all his enemies to his pretence of prophethood, i.e. world conquest. An exceptional but prominent case of torture, described in Spencer’s book, is when a man was asked where he had hidden his treasure. To loosen his tongue, the Prophet had him tortured, but when he refused to give in, he was just cleanly beheaded.

All these practices reappeared in ISIS warfare, and have made headlines worldwide as titillatingly shocking, though the media mostly kept their Islamic motive and prophetic precedent out of sight. Even there, torture was not routine: people were just beheaded. (Not that this justifies anything: in Auschwitz too, people were ‘only’ gassed, a swift and bloodless death.) The downed Jordanian pilot was burned to death only because his bombs had inflicted similarly excruciating deaths on civilians; it was not the general rule. Mohammed observed a certain economy of violence: no song need be made about dead unbelievers, but his real goal was not killing them, that only came when the ‘need’ arose. Instead, what he wanted most of all, what he really craved, was people’s acceptance of his personal delusion that he was Allah’s own unique spokesman. He really was a Mohammedan, as are his followers, though they abhor the term.

The prophet’s life-work, achieved through jihad, was the conquest of Arabia and the replacement of its multicultural society with a monolithic Islamic dictatorship. This was completed around the time of his death with the expulsion of the remaining Jews around Medina and the Christians of Yemen. Henceforth we would learn whether Jihad was only Mohammed’s whim or a constant of Islamic history. It only took a few months to take away any doubt: most Arabs returned to their native Paganism, some also started following new prophets like Musaylima, but Mohammed’s successor (Caliph) Abu Bakr swiftly came after them and forced them back into Islam.

The second Caliph, Umar, aided by his personal rival but great strategist Khalid bin al-Walid, then started a spectacular conquest of what is now known as the Near East, at the expense of the powerful Sassanian (Persian) and Byzantine empires. His successors would continue the Caliphate’s expansion by conquering North Africa and the entire Persian empire, until the conquest of Spain in 702 and of Sindh (the westernmost province of India, now southern Pakistan) in 712. In Western Europe, the conquest ended when an incursion into northern France was stopped by Charles the Hammer in 732 near Tours. In Spain, a small leftover Christian territory proved enough to start a Reconquista that would take almost eight centuries.

Everywhere the formula for dealing with the natives was the same: either convert to Islam or accept the subordinate status of Dhimmi with payment of a special toleration tax (jizya). In the case of India, a debate among Islamic jurisconsults would develop about whether Hindus could be accepted as Dhimmis: this status was meant for “People of the Book”, viz. Jews and Christians, not for outright Pagans. Different schools of jurisprudence developed, with the Hanbali school demanding conversion or death, pure and simple; but as the more lenient Hanafi school was to prevail in India, Hindus could, after a bloody period of subjugation, equally settle into the status of third-class citizen or Dhimmi.


In the Subcontinent, fierce Hindu resistance meant that for almost five centuries, the Muslim-controlled territory would remain confined to the northwest, more or less present-day Pakistan. Yet, while conquest was slow, the concomitant massacres and destruction were already impressive. Spencer bases himself on primary sources to sketch the successive episodes of conquest, e.g.:

‘The thirteenth-century Muslim historian Minhaj al-Siraj Juzjani, author of the Tabaqat-i Nasiri, a history of Islam’s rise, noted that as Mahmud [Ghaznavi] waged jihad in India, “he converted so many thousands of idol temples into masjids [mosques].” Mahmud broke the idols whenever he could, so as to demonstrate the power of Islam and the superiority of Allah to the gods of the people of India. When he defeated the Hindu ruler Raja Jaipal in 1001, he had Jaipal “paraded about in the streets so that his sons and chieftains might see him in that condition of shame, bonds and disgrace; and that the fear of Islam might fly abroad through the country of the infidels.”’ (p.131)

Or  quoting from historian Abu Nasr Muhammad al-Utbi: ‘Then at Mathura, al-Utbi added, “the Sultan gave orders that all the temples should be burnt with naptha and fire, and levelled with the ground.” At Kanauj, the Muslim historian continued, “there were nearly ten thousand temples.… Many of the inhabitants of the place fled in consequence of witnessing the fate of their deaf and dumb idols. Those who did not fly were put to death. The Sultan gave his soldiers leave to plunder and take prisoners.”

Then, at Shrawa,

“the Muslims paid no regard to the booty till they had satiated themselves with the slaughter of the infidels and worshippers of sun and fire. The friends of Allah searched the bodies of the slain for three days in order to obtain booty.…The booty amounted in gold and silver, rubies and pearls nearly to three thousand dirhams, and the number of prisoners may be conceived from the fact that each was sold for two to ten dirhams. They were afterwards taken to Ghazni and merchants came from distant cities to purchase them, so that the countries of Mawaraun-Nahr, Iraq and Khurasan were filled with them, and the fair and the dark, the rich and the poor, were commingled in one common slavery.”’ (p.133)

It is only in 1192 that Mohammed Shihabuddin Ghori and his lieutenants broke through the Hindu defences and in two years’ time conquered the entire territory from Delhi to the Bay of Bengal. They destroyed every Pagan institution they could lay their hands on. The Buddhist university of Nalanda burned for weeks on end, and its inmates were levelled as much as its books and buildings.

Here, Spencer makes a slight mistake: ‘In 1191 and 1192, Muhammad Ghori twice defeated a force of Rajputs led by the Hindu commander Prithviraj Chauhan’. (p.175) No, in the first battle, Prithviraj had been victorious, but had magnanimously set his defeated enemy free upon the promise that he wouldn’t do it again. But next year, Ghori came back, won, and was not that generous to Prithviraj, who was blinded and subsequently killed. The sequence illustrates the perfidiousness of those who have taken Mohammed’s jihad doctrine to heart.

The Ghori blitzkrieg would result in the Delhi Sultanate (1206-1526), one of the cruellest oppressive regimes in history, comprising at its height about half of India. But even the succeeding Moghul dynasty, started by Uzbek invaders, never succeeded in conquering all of India. Only in the late 17th century would the pendulum swing back with the rise of the Hindu rebel king Shivaji, whose Peshwa successors would reduce the Moghul empire to a shadow of itself (but then lose out to the British).

Spencer’s diagnosis for almost one thousand years of Muslim advances and Hindu retreat is given during the description of how Muslim warlords formed an alliance in 1565 to defeat the last remaining Hindu power, the Vijayanagar empire: ‘The Hindu resistance was seldom strong or well-organized. The Muslims had superior firepower, better organization, and in most cases, unity. Although there was always considerable internecine jihad between rival Muslim factions, the warring groups could usually unite against the infidels.’ (p.235) Till today, by contrast, Hindus have a hard time uniting.

The narrative repeatedly returns to India until the story of Partition and also that of the Rohingya Muslims. The latter is an almost unbelievable example of how the media story, tearfully commiserating with the poor hapless Muslims, diametrically differs from historical reality, where the Rohingyas have been waging jihad against their Buddhist neighbours since decades.


Ghori’s conquest had been made possible by an inter-Hindu quarrel. Prithviraj Chauhan, king of Delhi, had abducted Samyukta, the daughter of the neighbouring king Jayachandra, with her own cooperation. Romantic songs were composed about Prithviraj’s colourful adventures, but Jayachandra did not see it that way. He invited Ghori, who was glad to oblige this fissure in the Infidel defences. For Jayachandra’s services, Ghori ultimately had him beheaded too.

A similar scenario, Spencer recounts, played out in the conquest of Spain. The king of a remaining Christian enclave in North Africa was angry with the Visigoth king of Spain for having seduced his young daughter, and therefore encouraged the Muslim governor Tariq ibn Ziyad to invade Spain, helping him with strategic information.

The last Byzantine Prime Minister, Lukas Notaras, who was to live through (but die in) the Ottoman conquest of his remainder-empire, had rejected theological concessions to Latin Christianity in exchange for the urgently needed military help: “Better the turban of the Sultan than the tiara of the Pope.” (p.197) Yes, there were reasons not to trust the Popish camp, and people of principle are attached to their distinctive dogmas; but did that outweigh what was to come through jihad? Given the complete destruction of the Byzantine population through either slaughter or slavery, his view can be reckoned as falsified through reality.

Shortly after, Martin Luther would nonetheless repeat this maxim that the Turk was preferable to the Pope:

‘“The Turk is an avowed enemy of Christ. But the Pope is not. He is a secret enemy and persecutor, a false friend. For this reason, he is all the worse!” Luther’s broadside was one of the earliest examples of what was to become a near-universal tendency in the West: the downplaying of jihad atrocities and their use in arguments between Westerners to make one side look worse.’ (p.220-221)

To Luther’s credit, though, his actions failed to match his words, and he supported the Protestant princes who came to Vienna’s rescue against a Turkish siege in 1525.

When the Ottomans besieged Vienna in 1683, they could count on the collaboration of the Hungarian count Emmerich Tekeli, who had accounts to settle with the Habsburgs. Inter-Infidel quarrels have often been exploited by the Jihadis: war is a stratagem and exploiting disunity in the enemy camp is one of the oldest tactics. At any rate, Jihad was a merciless campaign of conquest, and it has been alive since the earliest days of Islam.

Surrender today

The next period of Islamic conquest was in the 15th-16th century, when the Balkans, Central India, Southeast Asia and parts of Africa largely fell to Islam. But this expansion was, from the late 17th century onwards, followed by stagnation and decline of the Ottoman and Moghul empires. Then followed loss of control over nominally Islamic countries to rising European colonialism, which even triggered increasing doubt about Islam.

Thus, after the French and British saved the Ottomans from a complete rout against Russia in the Crimea war but then forced them to sign a modernising treaty abolishing slavery and dhimmitude, the Ottoman grand vizier Ali Pasha advised the Caliph that the Islamic institution of dhimmitude was actually harmful to the country: ‘Ali Pasha was presaging the subversive idea that Kemal Ataturk would make the basis of his secular Turkish government after World War I: the reason for Turkish failure was Islam, and the only path to its resuscitation required discarding Islam, at least as a political system.’ (p.264) This ought to be revived as a model for Muslims today: the realisation that Islam is backward and ultimately bad for its followers.

But this long decline would, in turn, be followed by another period of expansion: today. This brings us, skipping over interesting chapters on the Ottoman decline, Napoleon in Egypt, the European-enforced and incomplete abolition of slavery, the end of the Moghul empire, the Mahdi uprising, the Armenian genocide, the Jerusalem mufti’s role in the Nazi genocide of the Jews etc., to the modern age. If we take “modern” to be 1970, the process of Westernisation, of an ever-weakening grip of Islam, of bare-headed Muslimas, seemed to be continuing. At that time, European countries thought nothing of importing massive amounts of guest workers from North Africa and Turkey, thinking that Islam had become a harmless folk custom, on its way out just like Christianity was for Europeans. British trade-unions recruited among Pakistanis on a Leftist platform, never seeing a need to even mention Islam. Even the Palestinian struggle against Israel donned the garb of Marxism and flirted with Cuba.

But when you shift “modern” to today, a completely different picture emerges.

In 1979, US president Jimmy Carter relaxed his support to the Shah of Iran, though the latter was besieged by both the Islamic and the Communist opposition. (It was not the first time that the US would betray its friends, ask Chiang Kai-shek, Batista, Van Thieu, Mobutu.) The void was soon filled by the ayatollahs, who promptly eliminated their Leftist allies. From then on, the message went around the world that Islam is the formula for success. After centuries of decline, an ambitious expansion could start.

In the 1980s, US president Ronald Reagan had in good faith appealed to the jihadis to contain Soviet expansionism in Afghanistan, which obtained its immediate goal. In spite of the revolution in Iran, the impression still prevailed among the Western bourgeoisie that Islam had become harmless. But then this collaboration spiralled into a mushroom growth of jihadi initiatives like al-Qaeda, the Taliban, 9/11 and many more recent terror attacks in the West, and ultimately ISIS. These spin-offs of the collaboration with the jihadis could have been contained if Western policy-makers had been guided by an awareness of the Islam problem, but instead they gave in to sentimental delusions, and reaped the bloody harvest.

Twenty-five years later, collaboration with jihad has become everyday policy. Our politicians, even and especially those who have Muslim countries bombed and invaded (Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Tony Blair, Nicholas Sarkozy, David Cameron, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, François Hollande), though they all have the blood of Muslim and other civilians in the Near East on their hands, have also praised Islam to the skies. None of them has ever uttered a word of Islam criticism, or ‘Islamophobia’ as they call it, and some of them have even organised repression against Islam critics. (Spencer himself was refused entry into the United Kingdom under Cameron, when Theresa May was home minister; and under Obama he was refused FBI protection for an Islam-critical event that did indeed become the target of an Islamic terror attack.) Their interventions in Iraq, Lybia and Syria destabilised authoritarian but modernist regimes and cleared the way for ayatollahs and ISIS.

Redefining jihad

In 1998, after bomb attacks on the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salam, Bill Clinton declared in a speech at the UN: ‘Some may have the world believe that almighty God himself, the merciful, grants a license to kill. But that is not our understanding of Islam.…’ (p.327-328)

This soon became the orthodoxy. Academics whitewash Islam’s history and theology, top feminists like Germaine Greer whitewash female genital mutilation, Amnesty International advocates the ‘freedom’ to wear the burqa. The media downplay Islamic terror and crime, and after every bomb attack, they hurry to ensure us that “it has nothing to do with Islam”, diametrically in conflict with the vows the terrorists themselves had taken before their deeds, often videotaped, or their leaders’ declarations afterwards. If at all they had to face the fact of terror, they blamed it on ‘troubled’ individuals or on one organisation, which then consisted (in David Cameron’s words) of ‘monsters, not Muslims’. And when Muslims use the word jihad, Westerners hurry to claim that it means the ‘great jihad’, a spiritual struggle, while the physical struggle is only the ‘little jihad’, moreover purely defensive.
Yet, in an interview in 2001, Osama bin Laden explained:

‘This matter isn’t about any specific person, and it is not about the al-Qai’dah Organization. We are the children of an Islamic Nation, with Prophet Muhammad as its leader. Our Lord is one, our Prophet is one, our Qibla [the direction Muslims face during prayer] is one, we are one nation [ummah], and our Book [the Qur’an] is one. And this blessed Book, with the tradition [sunnah] of our generous Prophet, has religiously commanded us [alzamatna] with the brotherhood of faith [ukhuwat al-imaan], and all the true believers [mu’mineen] are brothers. So the situation isn’t like the West portrays it, that there is an “organization” with a specific name (such as “al-Qai’dah”) and so on. (p.322-323)

Bin Laden’s mentor Sheikh Abdullah ‘Azzam’s written exhortation to Muslims to join the jihad in Afghanistan, Join the Caravan, is likewise studded with Qur’anic quotations and references to the life of Muhammad. Azzam denied that Muhammad ever understood jihad solely as a spiritual struggle. “The saying, ‘We have returned from the lesser Jihad [battle] to the greater Jihad,’ which people quote on the basis that it is a hadith, is in fact a false, fabricated hadith which has no basis. It is only a saying of Ibrahim bin Abi Ablah, one of the Successors, and it contradicts textual evidence and reality.” He quotes several authorities charging that ahadith narrated by Ibrahim bin Abi Ablah are false, including one who reports: “He was accused of forging hadith.” Azzam also invokes the medieval Islamic scholar Ibn Taymiyya, who wrote: “This hadith has no source and nobody whomsoever in the field of Islamic knowledge has narrated it. Jihad against the disbelievers is the most noble of actions and moreover, it is the most important action for the sake of mankind. (…) the Messenger of Allah (SAWS) used to go out on military expeditions or send out an army at least every two months.” He quotes a hadith in which Muhammad says that Islam’s “highest peak” is jihad.’ (p.324)


Indeed, in a matter of decades, Western Europe has lost the will to survive as a non-Muslim entity. It no longer resists Islamisation, so it has allowed millions upon millions of Muslims in without demanding any de-Islamisation from them. In India, this same internal weakening of resolve has been in evidence since Mahatma Gandhi’s rise to the Congress leadership in 1920. Both European and Hindu elites have taken to blathering that all religions are essentially saying the same thing, and they are allergic to any less-than-rosy study about Islam itself. India having started earlier on this delusional course, it reaped the fruits earlier: in 1947 it lost a fifth of its territory to the newly-created Islamic republic of Pakistan. In the concomitant genocide, it lost a million of its people, and again some two million in East Pakistan in 1971.
With the recent, partly self-inflicted terror attacks, in parallel with the rising demands of its ever-growing Muslim community, Europe is now catching up fast. One way the European and Hindu elites try to avoid having to face the challenge of jihad, is interreligious dialogue. They consider themselves very clever and enlightened, but their stratagem is quite old and history teaches how it tends to end:

‘In the early tenth century, the patriarch of Constantinople Nicholas I Mystikos made an early attempt at interfaith outreach, writing to the Abbasid caliph Muqtadir in cordial terms: “The two powers of the whole universe, the power of the Saracens and that of the Romans, stand out and radiate as the two great luminaries in the firmament; for this reason alone we must live in common as brothers although we differ in customs, manners and religion.” Like later attempts at interfaith outreach, this one was for naught. The jihad continued.’ (p.137)

The end of the story was that on 28 May 1453, emperor Constantine XI Paleologus could do no more than exhort his men to a terminal fight against the troops of ‘the mad and false Prophet, Mohammed’ (p.371), and that on 29 May, the Ottoman army conquered Constantinople, turning it into the capital of the Ottoman Caliphate.

But several years before the end came, Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus spoke some grim truths about Islam, that no non-Muslim doubted in his own day, though they became a scandal when repeated in our own. Manuel, ‘little-remembered after his death, shot to fame nearly six hundred years later, when on September 12, 2006, in Regensburg, Germany, Pope Benedict XVI dared to enunciate some truths about Islam that proved to be unpopular and unwelcome among Muslims worldwide. Most notoriously, the pope quoted Manuel on Islam: “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” (…) In the twenty-first century, Manuel’s words were denounced as “Islamophobic”.’ (p.196)

Spencer subtly but repeatedly sketches the contrast between the fierce resistance by our ancestors and today’s surrender mentality: “The Battle of Tours in 732 may have stopped the complete conquest and Islamization of Europe. The warriors of jihad would appear again in France, but they would not come close again to gaining control of the whole country until many centuries later, by vastly different means, when there was no longer a Charles Martel to stop them.”’ (p.94)

The absence of a much-needed Charles Martel is obvious among our politician, nowhere more striking than in the Papacy. In the past, there have been Popes who, out of dire necessity, paid tribute to jihadis, but even then they never put Islam on the same footing as Christianity. And when the power equation was a bit better, the Pope acted as a strategic centre for organising Crusades or to motivate kings for the defence of Vienna or the battle of Lepanto. Even the last Pope, Benedict XVI, has famously uttered some criticism of Islam. But the Pope, Francis, has voluntarily knelt before Muslims and kissed the Quran. It is just sickening to hear the inheritor of such a proud tradition now parrot the worst pro-Islamic propaganda lies.

Worse, ‘Pope Francis was not just a defender of Islam and the Qur’an but of the Sharia death penalty for blasphemy: after Islamic jihadists in January 2015 murdered cartoonists from the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, Francis obliquely justified the murders by saying that

“it is true that you must not react violently, but although we are good friends if [an aide] says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch, it’s normal. You can’t make a toy out of the religions of others. These people provoke and then [something can happen]. In freedom of expression, there are limits.”’ (p.357)

Jihadis who aren’t that well-informed about the reigning mentality in the Unbeliever camp, have shown no gratitude by threatening even Francis. An ISIS poster shows him beheaded. And that may well become the fate of all the other camp-followers on the Islamic jihad. They can only be rescued by Unbelievers: either the Muslims massively abandon Islamic belief, or those who don’t believe in either Islam or Islamophile propaganda somehow get the upper hand quickly.

About Author: Koenraad Elst

Koenraad Elst (°Leuven 1959) distinguished himself early on as eager to learn and to dissent. After a few hippie years, he studied at the KU Leuven, obtaining MA degrees in Sinology, Indology and Philosophy. After a research stay at Benares Hindu University, he did original fieldwork for a doctorate on Hindu nationalism, which he obtained magna cum laude in 1998. As an independent researcher, he earned laurels and ostracism with his findings on hot items like Islam, multiculturalism and the secular state, the roots of Indo-European, the Ayodhya temple/mosque dispute and Mahatma Gandhi's legacy. He also published on the interface of religion and politics, correlative cosmologies, the dark side of Buddhism, the reinvention of Hinduism, technical points of Indian and Chinese philosophies, various language policy issues, Maoism, the renewed relevance of Confucius in conservatism, the increasing Asian stamp on integrating world civilization, direct democracy, the defence of threatened freedoms, and the Belgian question. Regarding religion, he combines human sympathy with substantive skepticism.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.