I've often noted that one of the reasons it is difficult to talk with Muslims about Muhammad and Islam is that Muhammad and Islam are the last things they want to talk about. Ask a Muslim a question about Muhammad, and he'll ask you a question about Moses!
True to form, Loonwatch introduced an announced series on Jihad by talking about - guess who - Moses. Following a detailed analysis of his wars, Loonwatch said they would continue with a discussion of the wars of Muhammad. I'm looking forward to that, and wonder which approach they will take.
Will it be the classic "Stages of Jihad" approach taught by Muslim scholars such as Yusuf al-Qaradawi? He states that Jihad was revealed to Muhammad in three stages. When Muslims first faced opposition in Mecca, Allah's instructions were to be patient, pray, and not retaliate (Quran 4: 77). After the first Muslims migrated to Medina, permission to fight was given to "those who were fought against" (Quran 22:39). In the final stage, Muhammad was ordered to fight the unbelievers until there was no more Fitnah (Quran 2:193), defined by Qaradawi as persecution or oppression of the believers, and until Allah alone was worshipped (Quran 8:39). If Loonwatch takes that approach, it will be interesting to read their explanation of how Usama bin Ladin is wrong for believing that same war is continuing today.
Or will Loonwatch choose the rose-tinted glasses approach of Reza Aslan, who in No god but God describes Muhammad's practice of robbing trade caravans as follows, "Just to make sure the Quraysh got Muhammad's message challenging Mecca's religious and economic hegemony over the Peninsula, he sent his followers out into the desert to take part in the time-honored Arab tradition of caravan raiding. In pre-Islamic Arabia, caravan raiding was a legitimate means for small clans to benefit from the wealth of larger ones. It was in no way considered stealing, and as long as no violence occurred and no blood was shed, there was no need for retribution. The raiding party would quickly descend on a caravan - usually at its rear - and carry off whatever they could get their hands on before being discovered. These periodic raids were certainly a nuisance for the caravan leaders, but in general they were considered part of the innate hazards of transporting large amounts of goods through a vast and unprotected desert."
So robbing caravans carrying the foodstuffs entire Arab tribes depended upon for survival was just a matter of boys will be boys, like university students on spring break in Daytona? Tell that to Amr bin al-Hadrami. He was leading a trade caravan carrying dry raisins, leather, and other goods when Muhammad's marauders decided to attack. Historian Ibn Ishaq records that the Muslims determined to kill as many caravan personnel as possible before making off with the booty. Amr was killed with an arrow, the others were taken prisoner and later released for ransom, and Muhammad was given one-fifth of all the stolen merchandise.
Perhaps Loonwatch will adopt the argument of Tariq Ramadan, who justifies the raids in his book The Footsteps of the Prophet by saying they were to take back the equivalent of the properties in Mecca that were expropriated from the Muslims who migrated to Medina with Muhammad. I like this! So if someone from Philadelphia steals my car, I can just go to Philadelphia and steal someone's car in retaliation? I wonder how far that would get me in court! But even more serious is the fact that Tariq's claim is without any historical documentation. It is important to understand that there are only a few extant writings of the early history of Islam. Their well-known authors include Ibn Hisham, Ibn Ishaq, Al-Wakidi, Ibn Sa'd, and al-Tabari. Apart from that, there is nothing. If what Tariq said was true, it would have been recorded by these early historians, but there is nothing there. It is easy for Tariq to claim to unknowing and gullible Westerners that the properties and belongings of the immigrants were stolen after their departure, but it is only his speculation, his attempt to justify Muhammad's raids.
Perhaps Loonwatch will take the even more fanciful approach of author Muhammad Haykal in his book The Life of Muhammad. Haykal argues that the raids were really intended to make peace with the Quraysh and other enemies of Muhammad. The Muslims had to show themselves strong, according to Haykal, to entice the other tribes to seek peace with them.
Behind all these justifications is the claim that Muhammad's raids were somehow a form of self-defense. It is impossible to read them in the original Islamic source documents - not the apologies written by Aslan and Ramadan and others 14 centuries later - and conclude they were in any way undertaken in self-defense. Page after page of the original biographies read like this, "And after three months in Medina, the Prophet sent out his army against this or that tribe." These raids were aggressive acts of war to gain wealth and power.
The camel caravans were the economic life-line for the Arab tribes in Muhammad's day. The goods that were bought and sold in destinations such as Damascus provided the foodstuffs and supplies that enabled the Arabs to live. When Muhammad moved to Medina, he could have developed his own caravans, but found it easier to simply rob the caravans of others. It will be interesting to see how Loonwatch handles that.