Was Muhammad a seventh-century Bill Moyers? PBS turned him into one on Thursday night. PBS’s Muhammad was a diplomat, poverty activist and sensitive liberal. While he wasn’t a “21st century” advocate of feminism, one of PBS’s propagandists conceded (PBS pooh-poohed “anachronistic” judgments for the sake of this documentary), he came pretty darn close. He was certainly the Alan Alda of Arabia. What about his polygamy? Well, don’t start jumping to conclusions. It was not a symbol of heavy-handed patriarchy — PBS’s usual interpretation of polygamy — but a kind of jobs program/welfare system for widows.
Yes, Muhammad was a “warrior” but only a “defensive” one. Yes, he presided over a mass execution of Jews but this wasn’t “anti-Semitism per se.” “Most scholars of this episode agree that neither party acted outside the bounds of normal relations in 7th century Arabia,” PBS helpfully adds on its webpage.
What must rigorous Muslims think of PBS’s polyannish spin on Muhammad and Islam? The documentary wasn’t so much respectful as condescending. PBS, in its vast superiority, is picking Islam up and elevating it to PBS’s lofty level. One of the more condescending moments in the documentary showed an Americanized father suggesting to his teenage Islamic daughter that she seriously rethink her permanent commitment to Islamic headdress. The daughter impressively responds that she is accountable to God above her peers, and that her father must answer to God too. But this serious point is quickly muted as PBS shifts the family scene to the father joshing the daughter in the kitchen nook. See, Muslims are just as flaky about religion as we PBS liberals are!
PBS’s idea of respecting Islam is to distort it. Believing Christians oppose Islam, but they accept it on its own terms. Liberals don’t. They will only accept it on their terms.
Is PBS the magisterium of Islam? It trots out experts who say confidently that warring on the infidel is “contrary to Islam.” How would PBS know? Does it have the catechetical power to turn the Koran into an appendix to the platform of the Democratic Party? At one point in the documentary, a go-to-PBS.org-for-the-real-meaning-of-jihad bubble appeared on the bottom of the screen. If you go to it, you will search in vain for Islam’s understanding of jihad, but you will find PBS’s. Jihad is a self-improvement concept, according to PBS. Yoga, writing checks to NOW, eating right — that’ s jihad for PBS.
You see, PBS’s grasp of Islam far exceeds that of Muslim sheiks who call for holy war. They just don’t understand their own religion as purely as PBS producers do.
If PBS’s Islamic theology is correct, then Islam stands as one of the greatest misunderstandings in history. For a religion not of the sword, as PBS insists, Muhammad’s followers wielded it quite frequently. Those who lived with Muhammad and listened to him somehow concluded — who knows, perhaps from seeing him war himself — that spreading Islam by force of arms was okay. Silly them. Laboring under this misunderstanding, they went on to conquer parts of Italy, Spain, Portugal, Hungary, Russia, the Balkans, North Africa, the Middle East, Persia, Christian Byzantium, and India. What a misunderstanding! Under the tutelage of Bill Moyers, they would have seen that Islam justifies not imperialism, but only “defensive warfare” and only the “improvement of one’s self as the ‘greater’ jihad,” as PBS’s webpage puts it. The “Prophet warned against those who claim to be fighting for the sake of righteousness,” says PBS.
How unfortunate that Muhammad’s disciples did not know his words as well as PBS. Instead of circling Christendom, they would have stayed in Medina and just watched Dr. Phil.