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All Jihad All the Time

What Andrew Bostom's "The Legacy of Jihad" tells us about the history of Islam.

11:00 PM, Jan 29, 2006 • By DEAN BARNETT
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IN THE WAKE OF THE 9/11 ATTACKS, President Bush famously referred to Islam as a "religion of peace." To display solidarity with this notion, politicians of all rank in both America and Europe hurriedly made their way to the nearest mosque to show that, in spite of the destruction of the World Trade Center, they bore no animus to Islam.

Andrew Bostom, a Rhode Island based physician, had a different reaction. Until September 11 Bostom had been completely absorbed in his medical career. Afterwards, he began a singular effort to learn as much about Islam as possible.

The results of Bostom's study have recently been published in book form. The Legacy of Jihad, for which Bostom is both editor and a contributing writer, studies jihad from the 7th century to the present day. It is a thorough work; hardly an act of offensive jihad in the last 1,300 years has escaped Bostom's scholarship.

It's a disquieting read. Counter to President Bush's simplistic characterization of Islam as a religion of peace, the truth is far more nuanced; parts of the Koran call for peace, other verses have a decidedly different tenor.

In the 1,300 odd years of Islam's existence, there have been peaceful interpreters and practitioners of Islam and war-like ones. What The Legacy of Jihad shows is that whether the war-like interpreters of Islam "hijacked" a peaceful or religion or not, their presence has been a near constant menace for well over a millennium. In other words, popular and respected clerics such as Yussuf al-Qaradawi (who has vowed that Islam will conquer Europe and America) and war-mongering leaders such as Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadenijad are not historic anomalies. Instead, they are links in a chain of Islamic leaders who have practiced jihad passionately for almost 14 centuries.

BOSTOM'S BOOK is likely to be controversial because it traces a history that polite society often seems unwilling to discuss. He explains that phrases like "Islam expanded in the 8th and 9th century" are often used to describe the religion's history, but are rarely accompanied by an explanation of how this expansion occurred. The answer, Bostom reveals, is simple: It all happened through war.

Quoting Islamic scholars from the Dark Ages through the 20th century, Bostom documents the consistent and usually prevailing presence of an Islam bent on converting or conquering "non-believers." The Legacy of Jihad charts the development of a code whereby it was each Muslim's duty to spread the faith by war. What's more, Islamic scholars developed a depressingly detailed set of rules prescribing the correct way to treat non-believers. One thing in this code was paramount--the best non-believers could hope for was second-class citizen status and an oppressive "head-tax." Other options included slavery and death.

Bostom also debunks the comforting notion that such beliefs and practices are relics of ancient history. For instance, the Islamic slave trade that planted its roots over a millennium ago sadly continues to thrive today in places such as the Sudan.



The philosophy of offensive jihadists has also remained consistent through the ages. Not only does Bostom reprint passages from Islamic scholars from nearly a millennium ago belligerently calling for jihad, he shows the expansion of their thinking in the modern era. Perhaps most informative is a speech he reprints from Ayatollah Khomeini who wasn't enthusiastic about the "religion of peace" concept: Said Khomeini, "All those who study jihad will understand why Islam wants to conquer the world . . . Those who know nothing about Islam pretend that Islam counsels against war. [They] are witless!"



AMONG THE WITLESS are many American academics, such as Georgetown's John Esposito. In his book, What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam,Esposito describes jihad this way: "Literally 'struggle' or 'exertion.' 'Greater' jihad is the struggle within oneself to live a righteous life and submit oneself to God's will. 'Lesser' Jihad is the defense of the Muslim community."