An Interview With Robert Spencer About “The Complete Infidel’s Guide to the Koran”
Can you talk about what was referred to as the Koran’s “strange teachings on Christians and Christianity?”
Well, I suppose that would probably be referring to the fact that Islam teaches that Jesus Christ was a Muslim prophet. The Koran teaches that He, Moses, Noah, Abraham and all of the Biblical prophets were Muslim prophets who taught Islam and then their teachings were twisted by their followers to create Judaism and Christianity. The true authentic teachings of all these people according to the Koran were identical to those of Muhammad.
Okay, so would you say that Islamic beliefs and Christianity are just not incompatible. You can’t believe the same things about say Jesus, Moses, that kind of thing and be a Christian and a Muslim, right?
Well it’s kind of an odd thing because actually there have been headlines over the last year about an Episcopalian priest who converted to Islam and claims that she was able simultaneously to remain an Episcopalian priest. But, by any sense of logic or the laws of non-contradiction, that’s really not possible.
The Koran says that anybody who believes that Jesus is the Son of God is under the curse of God and is an unbeliever. The Koran says that. The Bible on the other hand, the New Testament, says that if you don’t have the Son, you don’t have the Father. These things obviously are not compatible in any rational sense.
Okay, here’s something that the book is also supposed to explain from a teaser I saw: “The strange story of how the Koran was compiled and the explosive significance of the existence of alternative versions.” Can you talk about that a bit?
I sure can, John. The Islamic teaching about the Koran is that it’s a perfect book that existed forever with a law and is eternal — and then was delivered piecemeal over a period of 23 years through the angel Gabriel to Muhammad in perfect form. Thus, there are no variants, there are no textual difficulties, it is something that was supposed to have been miraculously protected.
Now, reality is different. In reality, there are textual variants and there were even Islamic traditions about textual variants at a time when the Koran was being compiled. Although most of them were destroyed, some of them still exist. Their very existence challenges the canonical understanding of what the Koran is.
Since they show that it is essentially a human book with the human derivation, it ought to, for thoughtful Muslims, open the door for genuine reform — and one would hope the rejection of the violent teachings that are embedded within the Koran — although I think that it’s doubtful that there will ever be that level of self-reflection on a large scale within the Islamic world.
Another teaser from the book is that the Koran is essentially all about the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Explain that to people, too.
Sure. The Koran is not arranged historically. It’s not arranged chronologically, it’s not arranged either in the order of the revelations that Muhammad received, or in the order of the Biblical prophets that we’ve been discussing. Rather, there are mentions of Noah, Abraham, Moses, Solomon, John the Baptist, and Jesus all mixed together. They come in and out at various points of the Biblical prophets as well.
There is no arrangement to this material other than the prophets are invoked in order to make a point. The most common point that the prophets are mentioned in order to make is that Muhammad is a prophet like them.
Most of the time, in other words, the stories of the Biblical prophets are told in the Koran not as such, not in order to explain what the messages are of those prophets to the world, but in order to show that their message was identical to Muhammad’s and that their reception was identical to the reception that Muhammad was receiving. Thus these stories are told essentially for the primary point of showing that Muhammad was another prophet of Allah and not in order to make any other point or only secondarily to make any other point.
Now, your book is on the Koran, but you mention the Hadith as well. Can you talk about the Hadith and explain its relevance?
The Hadith is a tradition of the words and deeds of Muhammad — and the words and deeds of Muhammad ultimately are normative for Islamic law when they are deemed authentic by Islamic scholars. The Koran cannot really be understood without the Hadith, because the Hadith, actually in many cases, fills in stories that are only elliptically told in the Koran.
I mean the Koran refers to incidents and things that happen in Muhammad’s life sometimes without filling in the details of the story for those who were not present as if it assumes that all the hearers will know what is being referred to. The Hadith fills in that missing material and often gives supplementary material of what Muhammad said and did under the circumstances of the time… That makes it such that the Koran really cannot fully be understood without the Hadith and cannot be studied in isolation one from it.
Now you may or may not agree with this categorization, but I’m going to respectfully put it up out there and let you respond. The majority of Muslims around the world seem to be decent, non-violent people who genuinely believe Islam means peace. Do you ever feel as if with what you’re writing, you’re reaching out to those people and saying your interpretation of Islam is wrong? You either need to leave your religion or become a Jihadist?
Well, I would never say that to anyone. What I’m saying is that the Islamic jihadists are saying that. They’re using the texts and teachings of the Koran and the mainstream understandings of those teachings within the Islamic traditions in order to gain recruits among peaceful Muslims and to justify their actions.
What Muslims do with that is really essentially up to them. Ultimately there are many things they could do. I would never say that a large scale reform would be impossible although I think that it would face extraordinary difficulties. Those difficulties would ultimately be based on the fact that the Islamic jihadists make such canny use of the teachings of the Koran and of Islamic tradition in order to justify what they’re doing. That makes reform very difficult — also, of course, the fact that you’ll be killed as an apostate if you deviate from these teachings. But, the more Muslims who ignore the Koranic teaching on Islamic jihad and the warfare against unbelievers the better off we all are. I would never say anything to those people but more power to you.
And last question: Charles Johnson has taken a number of shots at you, among other people, over the last year and a half. Anything you want to say publicly about that?
Charles Johnson is a liar. Charles Johnson is a defamation artist. Charles Johnson is a trafficker in guilt by association.
The fact that I spoke last at a: conference in Brussels that was attended by members of the Vlaams Belang party* suddenly means, as far as Johnson is concerned, that I endorse the entire program of the Vlaams Belang party* which he has incidentally consistently misrepresented in any case. I make no endorsements of any political party whether European or domestic and I have no contact whatsoever with racists or neo-fascists.
Charles Johnson is engaged in a large scale effort to defame and destroy people like me, Pamela Geller, and others who are fighting against the jihad and Islamization of the United States and Europe.
All I can say about that is that the evidence is clear as to what I believe and what my positions are in terms of defending the United States Constitution, and the freedoms of speech, conscience and legal equality for all people that are threatened by Islamic Sharia. Charles Johnson has placed himself in the position of being an ally and a useful idiot for those like the Council on American Islamic Relations that have worked consistently against those freedoms.
Robert, outstanding.: Thank you.
* Note: There was a difficult to hear portion of the interview where European political parties were mentioned and my transcriptionist had trouble with it. I incorrectly remembered BNP being the party referenced. After checking into it further, it was actually Vlaams Belang. That has been corrected.
* Note #2: Robert Spencer emailed and wanted me to add the following: “I have consistently opposed the BNP and all racism and neofascism, contrary to Johnson’s lies.”
John Hawkins:: From what I’m seeing out there in the blogosphere, there’s an enormous amount of anger at this deal that
I read and enjoyed Amy Alkon’s book, I See Rude People: One woman’s battle to beat some manners into impolite