This Month in the History of Jihad
December has been a favorable month for the advancing jihad since its earliest days. (Note: citations for all quotations below can be found in The History of Jihad From Muhammad to ISIS.)
In December 633, the legendary Muslim warrior Khalid ibn al-Walid arrived at al-Firad, a fortress of one of the great powers of the day, the Sassanid Persian Empire. The other great power, the Byzantine Empire, seeing the Muslim advances all over Iraq, decided to aid the Persians against Khalid even though they had just fought a series of exhausting wars against each other. The Ninth Century Muslim historian Tabari has the Persians and Byzantines exchanging intelligence about Khalid: “This is a man who is fighting on the basis of religion. He has intelligence and knowledge. By God, he will most definitely be victorious, whereas we will most certainly fail.”
It is doubtful that Seventh Century Roman and Persian commanders were actually that defeatist, but they were certainly correct that Khalid was “fighting on the basis of religion.” Everywhere he had gone in Persia, he had called the people to accept Islam or pay the jizya, the Qur’an-mandated tax for the “People of the Book.” For Khalid, the invasion of Persia was an expedition to bring Islam to the Sassanid Empire, or to subjugate the Zoroastrians and Christians in Persia under the rule of the Muslims.
The Persians and Byzantines had every reason to be concerned. Khalid told his men: “Press your pursuit of them. Do not grant them any respite.” The Muslims won a decisive victory. Tabari notes that “the cavalry commander would corner a group of them with the spears of his men; having collected them, they would kill them. On the day of al-Firad, one hundred thousand men were slain in the battle and the pursuit.”
Around the same time, the Muslims were conquering the Holy Land. Sophronius, the patriarch of Jerusalem, in a sermon delivered in December 636 or 637, lamented the advent of “the Saracens” (he never referred to them as Muslims), “who, on account of our sins, have now risen up against us unexpectedly and ravage all with cruel and feral design, with impious and godless audacity.”
Sophronius deplored “so much destruction and plunder” and the “incessant outpourings of human blood.” He said that churches had been “pulled down” and “the cross mocked,” and that the “vengeful and God-hating Saracens … plunder cities, devastate fields, burn down villages, set on fire the holy churches, overturn the sacred monasteries, oppose the Byzantine armies arrayed against them, and in fighting raise up the trophies [of war] and add victory to victory.”
Once those victories had secured the conquest of a particular region, the native population had to be subjugated, with dire consequences if it forgot its subordinate station. On December 30, 1066, rioting Muslims -- enraged by the humiliation of a Jew having been appointed to rule over Muslims -- murdered four thousand Jews in Granada, in reputedly tolerant Muslim Spain. The maddened Muslim mob crucified the Jewish ruler, Joseph ibn Naghrila, and plundered the homes of the Jews.
Efforts to regain the territory lost to the jihadis were unsuccessful, except in Spain. Pope Eugene III in December 1145 called for a second Crusade, and an army was amassed, but it was soundly defeated by the Turks in Asia Minor and never even got close to achieving its objective of recapturing Edessa. The Muslim commander Nur ed-Din worked hard to revive the spirit of jihad among the Muslims, using a combination of threats and enticements. One emir who received his call to aid him in jihad against the Franks complained: “If I do not rush to Nur al-Din’s aid, he will strip me of my domain, for he has already written to the devotees and ascetics to request the aid of their prayers and to encourage them to incite the Muslims to jihad.”
If non-Muslims tried to free themselves from Islamic rule, they could lawfully be killed according to Islamic law. In the Ottoman Empire at the end of the 19th Century, Armenian desire for independence led to the beginning of the Armenian Genocide. At Urfa in December 1895, Armenians gathered in their cathedral and requested Ottoman government protection, which the officer in charge granted, surrounding the cathedral with troops. Then other Ottoman troops, along with local Muslim civilians, rampaged through the city, slaughtering Armenians and plundering their houses. A large group of young Armenians was taken to the local imam, who ordered them to be held down. An eyewitness said that the sheikh then recited some verses of the Qur’an and “cut their throats after the Mecca rite of sacrificing sheep.”
Throughout Islamic history, killing those who were considered to be enemies of Islam was considered a meritorious act. In 1948, Muslim Brotherhood founder Hasan al-Banna ordered one young member of the Brotherhood, a 23-year-old student named Abdel Magid Ahmed Hassan, to do his duty before Allah -- which, a sheikh explained to the young man, involved killing “the enemies of Islam and of Arabism.” Hassan agreed to murder anyone al-Banna told him to, and so on December 28, 1948, the young man gunned down Egypt’s prime minister, Mahmoud El Nokrashy Pasha.
Killing the enemies of Islam could also be done on an industrial scale. On December 22, 2011, U.S. District judge George B. Daniels ruled in Havlish, et al. v. bin Laden, et al., that Iran and Hizballah were liable for damages to be paid to relatives of the victims of the September 11, 2001 jihad attacks in New York and Washington, as both the Islamic Republic and its Lebanese proxy had actively aided al-Qaeda in planning and executing those attacks. Daniels found that Iran and Hizballah had cooperated and collaborated with al-Qaeda before 9/11 and continued to do so after the attacks.
Muslims also could be the victims of this violence. On December 15, 2014, the Islamic State (ISIS) -- which then controlled a significant expanse of territory in Iraq and Syria -- released a document entitled “Clarification [regarding] the Hudud,” punishments Allah specifies in the Qur’an. This was essentially the Islamic State’s penal code. Blasphemy against Islam was punishable by death, as per the Qur’an: “If they violate their oaths after pledging to keep their covenants, and attack your religion, you may fight the leaders of paganism -- you are no longer bound by your covenant with them -- that they may refrain” (Qur’an 9:12). Adulterers were to be stoned to death; fornicators would be given one hundred lashes and exile. Sodomy (homosexuality) was also to be punished by death, as per Muhammad’s reported words: “If you find anyone doing as Lot’s people did, kill the one who does it, and the one to whom it is done.”
This sensibility has come to the West, as is abundantly documented in The History of Jihad, and not just on 9/11, or in the form of terror attacks. On New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2015, Muslim migrants committed as many as two thousand rapes and sexual assaults in Cologne, Stockholm, and other major European cities. They were animated by the Qur’anic principle that infidel women can be taken as sex slaves (4:3, 4:24, 23:1-6, 33:50, 70:30).
It was just the latest front in a 1,400-year-old war that most people in the West have forgotten is even being fought.