I see. So you want to deny the premise that the early Muslims were militant. That premise is based on the traditional Islamic sources, which were written centuries after the events they were supposed to be recording.

As Donner says in Muhammad and the Believers, “The problem is that this detailed picture of Muhammad’s career is drawn not from documents or even stories dating from Muhammad’s time, but from literary sources that were compiled many years-sometimes centuries later…There is also reason to suspect that some-perhaps many-of the incidents related in these sources are not reliable accounts of things that actually happened but rather are legends created by later generations of Muslims to affirm Muhammad’s status as prophet, to help establish precedents shaping the later Muslim community’s ritual, social, or legal practices, or simply to fill out poorly known chapters in the life of their founder, about whom, understandably, later Muslims increasingly wished to know everything.” Moreover, “The vast ocean of traditional accounts from which the preceding brief sketch of Muhammad’s life is distilled contains so many contradictions and so much dubious storytelling that many historians have become reluctant to accept any of it at face value.” (50–51).

Regarding early Islamic militancy, Donner says the compilers of the later traditional sources ‘portrayed the expansion primarily as a series of conquests ( futuh ) , indeed, as the conquest by “Muslims” of “non-Muslims.” That is, they tended to focus on the military aspects of the expansion, emphasizing recruitment of soldiers, battles, the takeover of cities, and the conclusion of treaties. They paid much less attention to the way the early Believers integrated themselves into the fabric of local life in various localities and the nature of their relations with the “conquered” populations, including the degree to which local populations may have cooperated with the Believers or what kinds of concessions the Believers may have made to the “conquered” populations. Third, in describing the expansion as a conquest, they depicted it in terms that suggested that it was a process that succeeded with divine assistance, because the “conquerors” were so much fewer in number than the “conquered.” Only with God’s help, they suggest, could so few “Muslims” have come to dominate much larger populations of “non-Muslims” and rout their huge armies on the battlefield. In short, the later Muslim sources described the expansion in ways designed to legitimize retrospectively the Muslim hegemony of their own day over vast areas and populations that were, when they wrote, still predominantly non-Muslim’ (119–120).

So Donner tries to take a balanced view of the problematic sources, including the Koran. His skepticism towards the later traditional sources means he has to supplement them with some conjecture, as his critics point out. The more skeptical you are towards the sources, the easier your route to atheism.

But this is all irrelevant, because even Donner hardly denies that the early Muslims were militant. Notice that his earlier book is called The Early Islamic Conquests. And in the later book, where he stresses the early ecumenical view of the “Believers” or common monotheists, he still says, “Although, as noted above, the classic doctrine of jihad was not yet formulated, it also seems clear that by the end of Muhammad’s life the dominant attitude in the community had become the legitimation of, and the exhortation to pursue, ideological war. Unbelievers were now to be sought out and fought in order to make them submit to the new religious ideology of the Believers’ movement-even though the other, less aggressive, positions were still held by some…By the end of Muhammad’s life, then, the Believers were to be not merely a pietist movement with an emphasis on ethics and devotion to God, but a movement of militant piety, bent on aggressively searching out and destroying what they considered practices odious to God (especially polytheism) and intent on spreading rigorous observance of God’s injunctions” (85).

Again, ‘Toward the end of Muhammad’s life, the piety of the Believers’ movement became increasingly militant, so that the Believers more and more interceded in the sinful world around them, engaging in jihad in an effort to establish a righteous order and to spread what they considered to be true Belief. This activist or militant quality eventually came to include confronting unbelievers militarily — fighting or striving “in the path of God” (fi sabil allah, as the Qur’an states) — in order to vanquish unbelief. The Believers may even have felt that they were witnessing, in the military successes that are traditionally reported to have come in Muhammad’s last years, the beginnings of the great events leading up to the Last Day; for among these events would be their victory and the establishment of their hegemony, replacing the sinful polities around them’ (87–88).

Specifically, for example, ‘The rapid expansion of the community of Believers after Muhammad’s death has its roots in the events of the last years of his life. As we saw earlier, Muhammad and his followers began to meet with significant political success following his conclusion of the Hudaybiya agreement with Quraysh (6/628). It is reported that the terms of this agreement initially distressed some of Muhammad’s more ardent followers. They were perhaps opposed to the very idea of making any kind of”deal” with the still-hostile Meccan mushrikun. They were offended particularly by the refusal of Quraysh to allow Muhammad to be called “Apostle of God” in the document or to allow the Believers to enter the sacred area of Mecca that year. Despite their misgivings, however, Muhammad and his followers were able, shortly thereafter, to conquer the major northern oasis of Khaybar, to launch numerous other raids to the north, and to bring many hitherto unaligned groups of pastoral nomads into alliance with Medina. All of these activities solidified Muhammad’s military and political situation; in particular, the conquest of Khaybar, long an ally of Mecca against him, allowed Muhammad to make his final assault on Mecca without fear that Medina might be attacked by hostile forces coming from his rear’ (92–93).

Indeed, as Donner points out, the earliest reference to Muhammad, which Donner uses to prove that Muhammad existed, speaks of the Muslims’ militancy: “an early Syriac source by the Christian writer Thomas the Presbyter, dated to around 640 — that is, just a few years after Muhammad’s death — provides the earliest mention of Muhammad and informs us that his followers made a raid around Gaza” (53).

Knowledge condemns. Art redeems. I learned that as an artistic writer who did a doctorate in philosophy. We should try to see the dark comedy in all things.

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