Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
According to a Nov. 19, 2021 report, “An Egyptian court sentenced an 80-year-old-intellectual earlier this week to five years in prison over his remarks on the early Islamic conquests.” Ahmed Abdu‘ Maher, a high-profile lawyer, expert on Islam, and author of 14 books on Islamic history and jurisprudence, was found guilty of “contempt of Islam, stirring up sectarian strife and posing a threat to the national unity.”
One of Maher’s chief “crimes” is his view on the seventh and eighth century Arab conquests—a view based on a close and correct reading of both Muslim and non-Muslim sources: that Arabs conquerors invaded non-Muslim regions—specifically the Middle East, North Africa, and Spain—and engaged in atrocity after atrocity; that, while “spreading Islam” was the motive later Islamic historiography attributed to the Arabs, their true actions belied a lust for rape and rapine; and that they overthrew and supplanted much more advanced societies, to the region’s lasting regret.
Put differently, Maher’s views are identical with those presented in Sword and Scimitar: Fourteen Centuries of War between Islam and the West, particularly its first three chapters that revolve around the early Arab conquests. As the Nov. 19 report continues,
Maher claimed in many of his speeches, writings, and TV appearances, that the early Islamic conquests were “military invasions”, and called on Egypt’s top Islamic institution—Al-Azhar—to apologise on behalf of the Prophet Muhammad’s companions who led the raids. According to Maher, those “invasions aimed to enslave women rather than spread Islam” around the world.
Maher’s position naturally goes counter to the mainstream Islamic presentation of the early Arab conquests, which are referred to as futuhat—literally, “openings” for the light of Islam to enter (or fatah in the singular, as the Palestinian group tellingly calls itself). In this context, every land ever invaded or seized by Muslims was done “altruistically” to bring Islam to wayward infidels, who are seen as the aggressors for unjustly resisting Islam. Or, in the words of an article titled “The Wisdom of Jihad,” published by the popular website, Islam Question and Answer, jihad does not “only and simply mean to kill non-Muslims”; rather, “The kuffaar [non-Muslims] whom we fight will themselves benefit from jihad. We strive against them and fight them so that they will enter the religion of Allah which is acceptable to Him, which will lead to their salvation in this world and in the Hereafter.”
Maher made his position especially well-known back in early 2017, when the Muslim world was in an uproar after the announcement of President Donald Trump’s “Muslim ban” (as referred to by his woke enemies). Then, Maher had posted a video on YouTube (since removed, naturally, though not before I had translated relevant excerpts, which follow):
Friends, in regards to … Donald Trump, we wanted to ask our brothers—the fuqaha [jurists of Islamic law] and the ulema [scholars of Islam]—a question: if this man … were to coerce, through the power of arms, the greater majority of Muslims living in America … to become Christians, or pay jizya, otherwise he takes over their homes, kills their men and enslaves their women and girls, and sells them on slave markets; if he were to do all this, would he be considered a racist and a terrorist or not?
Of course, I’m just hypothesizing, and know that the Bible and its religion do not promote such things, but let’s just assume: Would he be a racist or not? Would he be a terrorist or not? How then [when one considers] that we have in our Islamic jurisprudence, which you teach us, and tell us that all the imams have agreed on, that the Islamic openings [i.e., conquests] are the way to disseminate Islam? This word “openings” [futuhat]—we must be sensitive to it! The Islamic openings mean swords and killing. The Islamic openings, through which homes, fortresses, and territories were devastated, these … [are part of] an Islam which you try to make us follow.
So I wonder O sheikh, O leader of this or that Islamic center in NY, would you like to see this done to your wife and daughter? Would you—this or that sheikh—accept that this be done to your children? That your daughter goes to this fighter [as a slave], your son to this fighter, a fifth [of booty] goes to the caliph and so forth? I mean, isn’t this what you refer to as the Sharia of Allah? … So let’s think about things in an effort to discern what’s right and what’s wrong.
In short, Maher asked the clerics of Islam what, precisely, they were complaining about. All that Trump had done is ban immigration from Muslim nations closely associated with terrorism. What if he actually treated Muslims in America the way Muslims have always treated non-Muslims under their authority—the way Islamic law, sharia, demands—that is, in a manner far worse than simply banning immigration from terrorist countries in the interest of national security?
For having such views and asking such questions, Maher has just been sentenced to five years imprisonment—the maximum penalty—in accordance with Article 98 F of the Egyptian penal code, better known as the “anti-blasphemy law,” which states that:
Detention for a period of not less than six months and not exceeding five years, or paying a fine of not less than five hundred pounds and not exceeding one thousand pounds shall be the penalty inflicted on whoever exploits and uses the religion in advocating and propagating by talk or in writing, or by any other method, extremist thoughts with the aim of instigating sedition and division or disdaining and contempting any of the heavenly religions or the sects belonging thereto, or prejudicing national unity or social peace.
Nor is Maher’s case an aberration; as the Nov. 19 report says, “Several other intellectuals, writers, and public figures have stood trial or received verdicts over the past few decades for their views under the infamous anti-blasphemy law.”
On Nov. 29, Maher appeared on BBC Arabic. He refused to offer an apology, insisted that all he had done is relay accurate history and ask commonsensical questions, and urged Egyptian President al-Sisi—now his only hope, as Maher’s recent five-year-imprisonment sentencing is final and cannot be appealed before a higher court—to consider pardoning him.
As obscene as Maher’s experiences are, it’s worth noting that something similar is happening in the West, though in reverse: whereas Muslim nations insist on portraying their brutal and savage heroes of the past as noble and pious, Western nations insist on portraying their noble and pious heroes of the past as brutal and savage (in a word, “racist”). As Western governments become more third-world dictatorial—and as their woke-war on history becomes more fanatical—look to see elements of Maher’s fate surfacing in the West.