To understand Islam, you must understand the harsh circumstances into which the religion was born.  The Arabian Peninsula at the time of Muhammad (b.570 AD) was a barren and desolate region with a scorching sun and oppressive heat by day, and a chilling cold at night.  There was little vegetative growth, and the nomadic inhabitants lived between jagged rocks and sifting sand dunes.

While Europe and much of the Middle East was transitioning from the Roman to the Byzantine Empire, with roads, irrigation canals, aqueducts, and a culture that included philosophical discourse and theater, the Arabians lived short and brutal lives in warring tribes with very little to offer the rest of the world beyond their own harsh existence.

This explains the inherent hostility in the Qur’an to music and art, which some extremists, such as the Taliban, take quite literally.  The religion does not encourage the pursuit of knowledge outside of itself, and it has sometimes been referred to as “the religion which has produced nothing but religion


from Oriana Fallaci, The Rage and the Pride)

The inhospitable climate protected the peninsula from conquest and cultural influence, although the Persians did manage to impose a written language along the coastal edges of the region, which is the origin of Arabic.  No foreign army felt that sheep and goats were worth taking from the desert fighters and the area was remarkably isolated.  The renaissance of knowledge that the rest of the world had been experiencing since the Greek revival was largely missed out on by the Arabs, whose entire energies were devoted to daily survival against the ruthless environment and other tribes. 

For these people, morality was dictated merely by necessity, and obligations did not extend beyond one’s tribe.  This is a critical basis for the development of the Islamic attitude toward those outside the faith, including the moral principle that the ethics of any act are determined only by whether or not it benefits Muslims.

There were pagan traditions in Arabia, particularly among those based in the trading centers, such as Mecca and MedinaKaaba, the cube-like structure at Mecca that houses a black rock, was worshipped by certain tribes with a circling ritual that was later borrowed by  Muhammad’s followers (there were at five other such structures in Arabia at the time).  Likewise, Allah was the name that had been given to the moon god, many centuries before Muhammad's time.

Muhammad later created Islam based on these crude pagan practices as well as basic theological elements of Christianity and Judaism according to his own (often inaccurate) understanding.  His erroneous interpretation of Christianity, for example, is often attributed to an early experience with fringe cults in the Palestinian region (then known as Syria).

Early Life at Mecca

Muhammad was born around 570 AD in Mecca.  He grew up poor and orphaned on the margins of society, which was controlled by tribal chiefs and trading merchants.  He worked for his uncle, Abu Talib, as a camel herder.  Although his uncle had some standing in the community, Muhammad himself did not rise above his lowly station until he was 25, when he met and married a wealthy widow who was 15 years older.

His wife's business gave him opportunity to travel and acquire knowledge that was not quite as accessible to the local population.  He would later use this to his advantage by

incorporating it into his "revelations" from Allah, particularly the tales from other religion.

Having now attained a comfortable lifestyle and the idle time that wealth affords, Muhammad would wander off occasionally for periods of meditation and contemplation.  One day, at the age of 40, he told his wife that he had been visited by the angel Gabriel.  Thus began a series of revelations which lasted almost until his death 23 years later.  The Qur’an is based on the oral traditions of these revelations.  The Hadith is a collection of narrations of the life and deeds of Muhammad.  The Sira is his recorded biography.  The Sunnah is the said to be his way of life.

With his wife’s influence and support, Muhammad began trying to convert those around him to his new religion - an amalgamation of Judeo-Christian theology and pagan tradition that grew more sophisticated over time.  In the beginning, he did his best to compromise his teachings with the predominant beliefs of the community’s elders, such as combining all 300 of their idols under the name “Allah.” 

Preaching and Persecution at Mecca

According to Muslim historians, the Meccans did not mind Muhammad preaching his religion, nor did they feel threatened by it.  This changed only after the self-proclaimed prophet began attacking the local religion, including the customs and ancestors of the people (Ishaq 167).  This was enough to stir up the resentment of the influential leaders of Mecca, who then mocked his humble background against his pretentious claims.

Still, Mecca at the time was a tolerant society.  Muhammad was allowed to attack the local customs for thirteen years, even though the town's economy depended on the annual pilgrimage attended by visiting pagans.

At first, Muhammad was only successful with friends and family.  After thirteen years, “the street preacher” could boast only about 70 determined followers, who called themselves called Muslims.

Relations with the Meccans turned particularly sour after an episode known as "the Satanic Verses," in which Muhammad agreed to recognize the local gods in addition to Allah.  This delighted the Meccans, who generously extended their welcome.  But Muhammad soon changed his mind after seeing his own people begin to lose faith in him.  He claimed that Satan had spoken through him, and he rescinded recognition of

the Meccan gods (Tabari 1192).

The locals intensified their mockery of Muslims and made life difficult for them.  Although Muslims today often use the word "persecution" to describe this ordeal (justifiably, in some cases), it is important to note that the earliest and most reliable biographers (Ishaq and Tabari) do not record the death of a single Muslim at the hands of a Meccan during this period.

This fact is a source of embarrassment to Muslims, since Muhammad was the first to use deadly force... and at a later time, when it was unnecessary.  As such, sympathetic narratives of the early Meccan years usually exaggerate the struggle of the Muslims with claims that they were "under constant torture."  This is highly unlikely, however, since the only Muslim to die was an older woman who "fell prematurely" from stress, not physical torture (Muhammad's own daughter would die in the same fashion from harassment by Muslims soon after his death).

Modern storytellers and filmmakers (such as those behind 1976's The Message) have been known to invent fictional victims of Meccan murder, either to dramatize their own tale or to provide justification for what followed.  But, in fact, the only Muslim whose life was truly in danger was that of Muhammad - after 13 years of being allowed to mock the local religion.

The Hijra - Flight from Mecca to Medina

The death of his uncle, Abu Talib, in 619 left Muhammad without a protector against the Meccan leaders, who were losing patience with him.  The true agitator in this situation, however, is quite clearly Muhammad himself, as even Muslim historians note.  Note this account of what happened at Abu Talib's deathbed, as the Meccans implored him one last time for peace with his nephew:

Abu Sufyan, with other sundry notables, went to Abu Talib and said: "You know the trouble that exists between us and your nephew, so call him and let us make an agreement that he will leave us alone and we will leave him alone; let him have his religion and we will have ours." (Ishaq 278)

Muhammad rejected the offer of peaceful co-existence.  His new religion was obviously  intended to dominate all others, not be on equal standing with them.

His search for political alliance led him to make a treaty of war against the Meccans with the people of Medina, another Arab town to the north (Ishaq 299-301).  This was too much for the Meccans to take, and so they finally sought to capture Muhammad and put him to death.

Although this sounds harsh against Western standards, it is important to note the contrast between their reaction and that of Muhammad, when he had the opportunity to deal with perceived treachery in Medina at a later date.

The Meccans limited their aggression to Muhammad himself.  This is quite clear from the episode in which Muhammad escapes his home by using his son-in-law, Ali, to trick his would-be assassins into thinking that they had him cornered (Ishaq 326).  No harm was done to Ali or his wife, both of whom remained in the city for several days to complete Muhammad's business transactions.

Compare this to the episode of the Banu Qurayza (detailed below), in which Muhammad slaughtered an entire tribe of people based on their leader having switched loyalties in a conflict in which they didn't even participate.

The year that Muhammad fled Mecca for Medina was 622, which marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar.

Medina and the Origin of Jihad

Stinging from the rejection of his own town and tribe, it was at Medina that Muhammad's message began to become more intolerant and ruthless - particularly as he gained power.

To fund his quest for control, Muhammad directed his followers to raid Meccan caravans in the holy months, when the victims would least expect it.  Revelations were conveniently provided to him, which allowed his people to murder innocent drivers and steal in his service.  The people around him gradually developed a lust for things that could be taken in battle, including material comforts and captured women and children. 

Often the people captured in battle would be brought before the self-proclaimed prophet, where they would plead for their lives, arguing, for example, that they would never have treated the Muslims that way.  The Hadith are quite clear in portraying Muhammad as largely unmoved by their pleas, and ordering their deaths anyway, often by horrible means.  In one case, he orders a man slain, telling him that “hell-fire” will take care of the poor fellow’s orphaned daughter.

The raids on caravans preceded the first major battle involving a Muslim army, the Battle of Badr.  This was the spot where the Meccans had sent their own army to protect their caravans from Muslim raiders.   Although, Muslims today like to claim that they only attack in self-defense, this was clearly not the case in Muhammad's time.  In fact, he had to compel his reluctant warriors with promises of paradise and assurances that their religion was more important than the lives of others.

The Consolidation of Power

Muhammad defeated the Meccan army at Badr, which emboldened him to begin dividing and conquering the three local Jewish tribes at Median, which had made the mistake of accepting his presence but rejecting his claims to prophethood.  These were the Banu Qaynuqa, the Banu Nadir, and the Banu Quyrayza.  How each of these tribes met their fate is insightful into the Muslim mindset, which employs an inherent double standard in relations with those outside the faith.

To try and gain their favor, Muhammad briefly preached that Christians and Jews could attain salvation through their own faith.  In fact, he changed his followers' direction for prayer from Mecca to Jerusalem, which prompted the Jews' tolerance of him while he worked surreptitiously for the power to dominate them.  These earlier concessions and teachings were later revoked by Muhammad, since the Jews ultimately refused his religion.  The rare early verses of tolerance in the Qur'an are abrogated by later verses such as 9:29.

The Qaynuqawere driven from their homes and land on the pretext that one of their own had harassed a Muslim woman.  Although the offender was killed prior to this by a Muslim, the Muslim was also killed by Jews in retaliation for the first murder.

After laying siege to the entire community and defeating the tribe, Muhammad wanted to put every male member to death, but was talked out of it by an associate - something that Allah later "rebuked" him over.  The Qaynuqa were forced into exile and the Muslims took their possessions and property, making it their own.  Muhammad personally reserved a fifth of the ill-gotten gain for himself.

The episode helped ingrain within Islam the immature principle of group identity, whereby any member of a religion or social unit outside of Islam is just as guilty as any of their peers who insult or harm a Muslim - and just as deserving of punishment.  Muhammad's punishments usually did not fit the crime.

Members of the second tribe, the Banu Nadir, were accused of plotting to kill Muhammad, even though no one lost their life.  For this, Muhammad laid siege to their community, forcing the people to surrender.  Like the Qaynuqa, these original inhabitants of Medina were then banished from their homes and land by the Muslim newcomers, who again took as much as they could for themselves.

In a critical example of how deception is sanctioned under Islam, a surviving contingent of the Banu Nadir (under Usayr ibn Zarim) was tricked into leaving their fortress by promise of peace talks.  The contingent of Muslims sent by Muhammad to escort them, however, easily slaughtered them once the victims let down their guard . 

The Qurayza Massacre

By the time the Banu Qurayza met their fate, Muhammad was wealthy and powerful from his defeat of the other two tribes.

The Jews of the Banu Qurayza tasted Muhammad's wrath after a portion half-heartedly sided with Meccan armies during a siege of Medina (the Battle of the Trench).  More than likely, those who did were trying to preempt Muhammad's designs against them after seeing what he had done to the other Jews.

Although they later surrendered peacefully to the Muslims, Muhammad determined to have every man of the tribe executed, along with every boy that had reached the initial stages of puberty (between the ages of 12 and 14).  He had a ditch dug outside of the town and had the victims brought in several groups.  Each person would be forced to kneel, and their head would be cut off and then dumped along with the body into the trench.

Between 700 and 900 men and boys were slaughtered by the Muslims after their surrender.

The surviving children of the men became slaves of the Muslims, and their widows became the sex slaves of their own killers.  This included the Jewish girl, Reihana, who became one of Muhammad's personal concubines the very night that her husband was killed.  The prophet of Islam apparently "enjoyed her pleasures" (ie. raped her) even as the execution of her people was taking place.

Women were much like any other possession taken in battle, to be done with however their captors pleased.  Muhammad ordered that a fifth be reserved for him, many of who became his sex slaves, in addition to his twelve wives.  Some of these he doled out to others.

At one point following a battle, Muhammad providedinstructions on how women should be raped after capture, telling his men not to worry about coitus interruptus, since "Allah has written whom he is going to create."

Following the battle against the Hunain, late in his life, Muhammad's men were reluctant to rape the captured women in front of their husbands (who were apparently still alive to witness the abomination), but Allah came to the rescue with a handy "revelation" that allowed this.  (This is the origin of Sura 4:24 according to Abu Dawud 2150).

The Origin of Islamic Imperialism

The tribes around the Muslims began to convert to Islam out of self-preservation.  Those that didn’t were gradually defeated in battle in a pattern that became the blueprint for the successful establishment of Islam as a world religion.  Typically, the enemy’s trust would be gained by non-intrusive measures in which the Muslims would insert themselves into the foreign community while professing their respect for local traditions and political structures.  As they began to gain power, however, they would divide loyalties and exercise violence to acquire local hegemony. 

The excuse for military campaign began to shrink to the point that it hardly existed at all.  Muhammad told his followers that Muslims were meant to rule over other people, and this seemed to be the drivingforce behind Jihad.   

This is demonstrated most plainly by the brutal conquest of the people of Khaybar, a peaceful farming community that was not at war with the Muslims.  Muhammad marched against them anyway, taking them by surprise and easily defeating them.  He had many of the men killed, simply for defending their town, and enslaved the women and children.

Muhammad suspected that the town's treasurer was holding out and had his men barbarically torturethe poor fellow by building a fire on his chest until he revealed the location of hidden treasure.  Afterwards, the prophet of Islam beheaded the man and "married" his wife on the same day that she became a widow (she was forced to first pass through the hands of one of his lieutenants).  Given that the woman's father was also killed by Muhammad, it isn't much of a stretch to say that true love had very little to do with this "marriage."

A Life of Hedonism and Narcissism

Muhammad's personal life became the picture of hedonism and excess, all justified by frequent “revelations.” 

The man, who earlier in his career had justified his claims as a prophet by sayingthat he "asked for no reward" from others, reversed course and began to demand a fifth of all booty taken from conquered tribes.  According to his biographers, he became fatfrom living off this enormous share of ill-gotten gain. 

In the span of a dozen years, he married eleven women and had access to an array of sex slaves.  When he wanted a woman, even if she were the wife of another man, his own daughter-in-law, or a child as young as 6, he was able to justify his lust and inevitable consummation with an appeal to Allah’s revealed will for his sex life- which was then preserved forever in the Qur'an, to be faithfully memorized by future generations for him whom it has no possible relevance.

(For the Muslim faithful, it must surely be a source of embarrassment that Allah evidently had more interest in Muhammad's personal sex life than he did about tolerance.  There are also far more open-ended verses that advocate "fighting in the cause of Allah" than in showing love for all people.  Allah encourages sex with slaves as well)

Muhammad also had personal critics executed, including poets.  One of these was a mother of five children, who was stabbed to death by Muhammad's envoy after a suckling infant was removed from her breast.  Other innocent people were killed merely because they were of a different religion).

The double standards of Islam that are so recognizable today were ingrained by the prophet of Islam during his lifetime.  An example would be the death of Um Kirfa, a middle-aged woman who had the bad fortune to be the aunt of a tribal leader who raided one of Muhammad's caravans (in the same fashion that Muhammad raided others).

Missing the apparent irony, Muhammad did not take kindly to having done to him what he had been doing to non-Muslims.  He had the woman's legs tied separately to two camels, then set the camels off in opposite directions, tearing the woman's body in two.  He also killed her two young sons - presumably in gruesome fashion - as well.

Today's Muslims inherent this legacy of self-interest and disregard for those outside the faith.  They may or may not agree with terrorist attacks on non-Muslims, but they are nearly united in their belief that the victims have no right to strike back, even if it is in self-defense.

The Taking of Mecca

Though many of the Arab and Jewish tribes were eliminated and absorbed through military victory and forced conversion, the city of Mecca required a different sort of strategy. 

In 628, six years after fleeing, Muhammad’s followers were allowed to re-enter the city under an agreement whereby he set aside his title as “Prophet of Allah.”  This was a temporary ploy that enabled him to gain a political foothold in the city through the same “fifth column” activities that are still used today by organizations such as the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), which use their host’s language of religious tolerance to disguise an ulterior agenda that includes systematic discrimination against non-Muslims.

Many of his followers were disappointed that Muhammad had made concessions to the Meccans, not understanding how it actually fit perfectly with his ultimate agenda of domination.  It was during this time that he led the campaign against the Khaybar, to assuage their lust for blood and looting.

Technically, Muhammad was the first to break the treatywith the Meccans when he violated the portion of it that restricted him from accepting members of the other tribe into his camp.  Although he had no personal obligation to it himself, the prophet of Islam held the other party to the letter of the law, particularly after he amassed the power to conquer in overwhelming fashion. 

The excuse that Muhammad eventually used to march his armies into Mecca was provided when a tribe allied to the Meccans conducted a raid on a tribe allied with the Medinans.  Although a true man of peace would have heeded the fact that his enemy did not want war, and used non-violent means to resolve the tension while respecting sovereignty, Muhammad merely wanted power and vengeance.

This became the pattern of Islam's dramatic expanse following Muhammad's death.  Muslims would conquer a region and sign "peace treaties" with new neighbors.  Then, when they were confident in their military strength, the Muslims would look for an excuse to provoke a conflict and renew aggression.

Following Mecca's surrender, Muhammad put to death those who had previously insulted him.  One of the persons sentenced was his former scribe, who had written revelations that Muhammad said were from Allah.  The scribe had previously recommended changes to the wording that Muhammad offered (based on some of the bad grammar and ineloquent language of Allah) and the "prophet" agreed.  This caused the scribe to apostatize based on his belief that real revelations should have been immutable.

Although the scribe escaped death by "converting to Islam" at the point of a sword, others weren't so lucky.  One was a slave girl who was executed on Muhammad's order because she had written songs mocking him.

In what would also become the model for future Muslim military conquests, those Meccans who would not convert to Islam were required to pay a tax (the jizya) and accept third-class status.  Not surprisingly, almost the entire city - which had previously rejected his message - immediately "converted" to Islam once Muhammad came back with a sword in this hand.

To this day, people of other religions are barred even from entering Mecca, the city where Muhammad was free to preach in contradiction to the established religion.  Islam is far less tolerant even than the more primitive faiths that it supplanted.  A person preaching the original Arab polytheism on the streets of Mecca today would be quickly executed.

Jihad and Jizya

Tellingly, some of the most violent verses in the Qur'an were handed down following Muhammad's ascension to power, when there was no threat to the Muslim people.  The 9th Sura of the Qur'an exhorts Muslims to Jihad and dominance over other religions:

"Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Messenger have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book, until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection."  (9:29)

The verse that follows curses Christians and Jews by name and says "May Allah destroy them" (as with other sections of the Qur'an, it is unclear whether it is Allah or Muhammad speaking).

Muhammad ordered 30,000 men to march on Christian lands (which were Byzantine at the time).  It is possible that he believed false rumors of an army amassed against him, but there is absolutely no evidence of such a force having been assembled.  Instead, Muhammad subjugated the local people and extorted "protection" money from them - something that has come to be known as the jizya(a tax that non-Muslims pay to Muslims).

Another episode from this period that offers insight into the legacy of Muhammad is the forced conversion of the al-Harith, one of the last Arab tribes to hold out against Muslim hegemony.  Muhammad gave the chief of the tribe three days to accept Islam before sending his army to destroy them.

Not surprisingly, the entire people immediately accepted the Religion of Peace!

The Legacy of Islamic Imperialism

Muhammad died of a fever at the age of 63, with his violent religion now firmly rooted in the Arab lands.  Through his teachings, his followers viewed worldly life as a constant physical battle between the House of Peace (Dar al-Salaam) and the House of War (Dar al-Harb).

Over the next fourteen centuries, the bloody legacy of this extraordinary individual would be a constant challenge to those living on the borders of the religion’s hegemony.  The violence that Muslim armies would visit on people across North Africa, the Middle East, Europe and into Asia as far as the Indian subcontinent is a tribute to a founder who condoned subjugation, rape, murder and forced conversion in the cause of the spread of his religion.

In Muhammad's words: "I have been ordered to fight the people till they say: 'None has the right to be worshipped but Allah.' And if they say so, pray like our prayers, face our Qibla and slaughter as we slaughter, then their blood and property will be sacred to us and we will not interfere with them..."  (Bukhari 8:387)

It is certainly the basis not just for modern day terror campaigns against Western infidels (and Hindus and Buddhists) but also the broad apathy that Muslims across the world have to the violence, which is an obvious enabler.

As Indonesian cleric, Abu Bakar Bashir recently put it, "If the West wants to have peace, then they have to accept Islamic