Islam Without Camouflage and Our “See No Islam” Intelligentsia

H.A.R. Gibb on D.S. Margoliouth (d. 1940) “…the criticism of other, and often less qualified, scholars seldom moved him from his convictions.”

From “David Samuel Margoliouth, 1858-1940,” an obituary by the great Islamic scholar H. A. R. Gibb, published in the  Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, No. 3 (July., 1940), pp. 392-394:


“It would be no exaggeration to say that for the last thirty five years Professor Margoliouth was, in the eyes of lay and learned alike, the leading Arabic scholar in England. By virtue of his publications, learning and personality, and the position which he held in this Society, he was regarded in the international circle of Orientalists as the chief representative of Oriental Studies in Great Britain, while his long tenure of the Laudian Professorship at Oxford had contributed to give him an almost legendary reputation amongst non-Orientalists and even in the Islamic countries of the East.


…With the appearance of Mohammed and the Rise of Islam in the “Heroes of the Nations” series in 1905, Margoliouth for the first time came before the wider public as an interpreter of Islam. This essay was followed by Mohammedanism in the Home University Library in 1911, and a more important series of Hibbert Lectures on the Early Development of Mohammedanism, published in 1914, as well as a number of articles contributed to various encyclopedias. All three books had a substantial success, and have stood for a generation as the standard English works on their subjects…The solid learning which had gone into the making of them was universally respected, and the last of the three especially threw new light on many disputed questions.”


Margoliouth’s biography Mohammed and the Rise of Islam (pp. vi-vii), recognized Islam’s prophet as  “…a great man, who solved a political problem of appalling difficulty—the construction of a state and empire out of the Arab tribes.” And Margoliouth, “…endeavored, in recounting the mode in which he [Muhammad] accomplished this, to do justice to his intellectual ability and to observe towards him the respectful attitude which greatness deserves; but otherwise this book does not aim at being either an apology or indictment.” Referencing foundational Muslim sources (i.e., the canonical hadith collection of Bukhari; Ibn Hanbal’s Musnad; and the Sira of Ibn Ishaq), Margoliouth unapologetically elucidates (on p. 149) the following:


“When he [Muhammad] was at the head of a robber community it is probable that the demoralizing influence began to be felt; it was then that men who had never broken an oath learnt that they might evade their obligations, and that men to whom the blood of clansmen had been as their own began to shed it with impunity in the cause of God; and that lying and treachery in the cause of Islam received divine approval, hesitation to perjure oneself in that cause being represented as a weakness. It was then, too, that Moslems became distinguished by the obscenity of their language. It was then, too, that the coveting of goods and wives (possessed by the Unbelievers) was avowed without discouragement from the Prophet.”


And returning to the subject of Muhammad and the advent of Islam in his 1939, What Did They Teach? Mohammed, (p. 61) Margoliouth described the permanent threat posed by Islam’s sine qua non institution, the jihad:


“The claim of Islam to dominate all other religions led to a division of the world which was merely an expansion of that which had its beginnings in Meccah, into the “home of Islam” and “the home of war”: any non-Muslim state which claimed independence was ipso facto at war with the Islamic state. The jihad war for the subjection of unbelievers, became a duty of the Islamic government, in the Prophet’s time at Medinah incumbent on all Muslims physically capable of taking part in it, at a later time reckoned among duties incumbent on the community as a whole.”


Will our “See No Islam” intelligentsia take notice of Margoliouth’s timeless insights—“faster, please”?


Hope springs eternal.

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