by Denis MacEoin

PBS may also be charged with having broadcast religious propaganda in place of balanced educational, instructional, and public information material, despite elaborate claims to the contrary.

The Muslim Brotherhood, in a 1991 memoir, spoke of its "work in America as a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within."

The role played by radical individuals in a PBS broadcast and website raises many serious questions, not just for the trustees of PBS, but for national agencies responsible for accuracy in the U.S. media.

If PBS does not publicly correct this confusion and revoke its association with the project, may we not ask just how trusted — and publicly financed — this outlet should really be?

For more than ten years, the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at the University of Connecticut has singled out America's Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) as the country's most trusted public institution.[1] A 2012 poll for PBS,[2] carried out by independent survey consultants Harris Interactive and ORC Online Caravan found that public trust in PBS (at 26%) was far higher than in any other U.S. institution, such as the courts of law (13%), newspapers (6%), the Federal government (5%) or Congress (4%). That these figures have been consistent for so many years, would seem a strong indicator of PBS's publicly funded role at the heart of America's democracy. Almost 90% of US households[3] with televisions watch PBS.

This resembles the situation in Great Britain, where the BBC also tops a poll[4] on public trust: (31%) compared to the commercial channels (17%) and the upmarket press (15%), who come in second and third place, and well above politicians.

Public trust in the BBC, however, has dropped severely[5] since the revelation of television presenter Jimmy Savile's extensive paedophile escapades while working for the broadcaster. Savile apart, there are many who seriously distrust the BBC's reputedly balanced news coverage with respect to Israel[6] and the Islamic world.[7]

It is with Islam too that PBS betrays its own reputation for trustworthiness and lack of bias.

To explain this, it would help first to see how PBS ended up, no doubt with the best of intentions, presenting to the American public a series of apologetics about Islam — all still available.

One can start by concentrating on just two items: a film entitled Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet, currently available on DVD; and a website[8] of the same name based around it. Both the documentary and the materials on the PBS website are more or less pure apologetics about Muhammad and certain aspects of Islam. But more than that, serious questions surround individuals who appear in the film and organizations that contributed to its funding. Neither all the interviewees nor all of the funding bodies can be said to have acted in bad faith. The focus is on others, who have gravely exposed PBS to charges of inadequate monitoring of textual content, interviewee selection, and association with external agencies. They may also be charged with having broadcast, through a film and on the internet, religious propaganda in place of balanced educational, instructional, and public information material, despite elaborate claims to the contrary.

The film Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet premiered on December 18, 2002, to wide praise across America. A Los Angeles Times review described it as "a candid, thoughtful, flowing, visually stunning film... that is as timely as documentaries get... this important film delivers again and again." Others followed suit. The documentary has since been rebroadcast on more than 600 individual PBS stations. The U.S. viewership is estimated at more than 10 million. The documentary received worldwide broadcast in many languages on National Geographic International in December 2003, and to many other countries. The film is used in thousands of communities, schools, universities, religious congregations, and civic organizations throughout the United States to increase Americans' "understanding" of Muslims and Islam. Guides to facilitate discussions of the film's themes are available through the 20,000 Dialogues[9] project and the Islam Project.[10] The DVD of the film was re-issued in 2011 and includes the dialogue guide and lesson plans for teachers to use the film in the classroom.

This was clearly a major project that has done much to influence American perceptions of Islam. In principle, a well-balanced film and website, which emphasize the many positive aspects of Islam, are a much-needed counter to many books and websites providing the American public with exaggerated and inaccurate images of Islam and Muslims. There is much to be gained from better knowledge and superior information as a route to community integration within America's melting pot. Such a project is exactly the sort of thing PBS should be broadcasting. But with Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet, PBS lost its way and created not a balanced and educationally sound approach to that purpose, but an explicit piece of Islamic propaganda that presses all the buttons of Muslim missionizing (da'wa) and apologetics.

If the film and the online text had been announced as aids for proselytization, created by an Islamic foundation and designed to attract potential converts, there would be no need to criticize it. Muslims have the same rights as evangelical Christians, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Baha'is, or the followers of any other missionary religion, sect or cult, to produce and disseminate material explaining and summoning others to their faith. But for such a blatant document of apologetics to be spread throughout America in the guise of a PBS broadcast creates quite a different issue.

Because they carry the PBS imprimatur, the film and the website appear to carry an authority beyond that of a self-certified enterprise. Because they have solicited advice from academics, their validity and objectivity appear assured. Because the dominant voice in the documentary is that of Karen Armstrong, a non-Muslim and former nun, the appearance of a strong Islamic input is negated. These and other factors lend the work a spurious authority. We are indeed on treacherous waters. To show just how treacherous these waters are, one must start by looking at the sponsorship of the film and the individuals taking part in it.

Of the 18 sponsors of the film, only two are non-Muslim and 16 are Muslim trusts, foundations and individuals. The full list of donors is only given on the film, not on the website. It should be clear from this alone that it would be much to expect great balance. Many of these sponsors seem perfectly above-board, and represent individuals who are pious Muslims and who define themselves as loyal Americans. They do not give cause for concern. Some are respectable in themselves but carry other associations. Arabian Bulk Trade,[11] for example, is a commercial enterprise, but it is based in Saudi Arabia, where the official religion is hardline Wahhabi Islam. Others seem less transparent and are linked to dubious organizations.

The Sabadia Family Foundation[12] is run by disgraced defense contractor, Rahim Sabadia[13] (Abdur Rahim Noormohamed), a major funder of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), outed in 2008 as an unindicted co-conspirator in the trial of the Holy Land Foundation,[14] a significant source of funds to the terrorist group Hamas. Sabadia donated money directly to the Holy Land Foundation (and indirectly to Hamas), and to the American Muslim Foundation. This latter organization was founded and run by a leading Islamist, Abdurahman Alamoudi,[15] a financier of al-Qa'ida and an active supporter of Hamas, Hizbullah, and other terror groups. Alamoudi is currently serving a 23-year prison sentence for, among other things, involvement in a conspiracy to assassinate a Saudi prince.

Sabadia has also donated generously to Islamic Relief USA,[16] a charity linked[17] directly to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, and to radical mosques and imams in the U.S. Among these is the Masjid Al-Islam[18] in Oakland, whose imam, Abdul Alim Musa,[19] founded As-Sabiqun,[20] a Hamas-supporting, anti-integrationist, anti-American radical Islamic entity.

Sabadia himself has a criminal record dating back to 1985. Immigration authorities ordered him out of America ten years earlier, but he used subterfuge to remain and become a U.S. citizen. David Rusin has explained:[21]

According to a decision[22] from an Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) district director dated May 23, 1977, Noormohamed/Sabadia entered the U.S. from Switzerland in January 1976 on a non-immigrant visa for business in New York on behalf of a textile company. He soon went to Dallas and joined his brother Moosa in a separate venture exporting electronics. When his six-month admission was nearly up, Noormohamed/Sabadia applied for permanent residence based on the claim that he was a qualified investor. The INS official ruled that he did not meet the requirements, rejected his application, and instructed him to leave the country, declaring: "It can only be concluded that you and your brother did not enter the United States in good faith as non-immigrants without any intention of circumventing the quota restrictions of the Immigration and Nationality Act, as amended." In other words, they had planned to remain in the U.S. from the start. The INS district director dismissed a motion[23] to reconsider his decision, the INS regional commissioner affirmed the denial,[24] the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas backed the INS,[25] and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals approved the ruling.[26] Yet Noormohamed/Sabadia managed to stay.

In 2010, he lost his secret-level clearance with the U.S. Navy, and in 2014 he was tried for making "a materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statement and representation in a matter within the jurisdiction of a department or agency of the United States."[a]

Can PBS or the video's production company, Kikim Media, have been carrying out due diligence when taking money from a man such as Rahim Sabadia? Apparently not. Did they do so for any of the institutions and individuals who financed or took part in the film? Quite possibly not.

Another sponsor was the Irfan Kathwari Foundation,[27] a pro-integration body founded by M. Farooq Kathwari,[28] a Kashmiri American whose son Irfan went to Afghanistan to fight the Russians and died as a jihad fighter during an attack on Kabul. The foundation's participation in the film certainly makes sense in an integrationist context. But Kathwari is himself not above suspicion of radical Islamist links.[29] In 2004, he was a speaker at the annual conference of ISNA, the Islamic Society of North America,[30] previously identified as a Muslim Brotherhood front organization as well as an unindicted co-conspirator in the trial of the Holy Land Foundation.

Five years later, he sponsored and acted as the keynote speaker at a conference held by the Kashmir Corps and co-sponsored by the Muslim Student Association (MSU),[31] a Saudi-funded organization established by members of the Muslim Brotherhood in the U.S. and an associate of ISNA.

The Muslim Brotherhood, in a 1991 memoir, spoke of its "work in America as a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within," and referred to the MSU as an associate body.[b]

According to Militant Islam Monitor,[32] Kathwari and his family are "high profile promoters of the Kashmiri separatist cause."

Kathwari's work for integration may be genuine, inspired by the growing alienation of Muslims in the U.S. But his connections to Muslim Brotherhood-linked bodies suggest at best a lack of care in his associations and identify him, not as a thorough radical, but as a believer with strong convictions that influence the causes to which his foundation donates.

It is difficult to report on the remaining eleven individuals and couples who have donated to the PBS project, often because it is difficult to identify them distinctly from others of the same name. Those who can be identified appear to be without connections to any form of Islamic radicalism. There is, however, one exception. Jukaku Tayeb,[33] who has served as president of the Michigan chapter[34] of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Hamas-linked Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR),[35] which was recently declared a terrorist group by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt. There he served under its executive director, Dawud Walid,[36] an anti-American, anti-Israeli radical. Here again, it would seem as if due diligence was not performed.

A total of 20 advisors, all apparently acting in a personal capacity, worked with the production team. Of these, only three are non-Muslims — but non-Muslims with a marked reputation as apologists for Islam. The majority seem above reproach and are not remarkable as providers of information on the life of the prophet or the beliefs and activities of ordinary Muslims living in the United States. There is much to be commended in the latter thread, as will be seen when we come to examine the individuals who appear in the film to share their convictions and personal histories.

Some of the advisors, however, give cause for concern. Muzammil Siddiqi[37] studied initially at the Salafi Islamic University of Medina, the world's core educational centre for Islamic radicalism.[c] From 1976 to 1980, he worked for the Wahhabi Muslim World League's Office to the United Nations. He later acted as president of the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) between 1997 and 2000, before being invited to act as an advisor to the Muhammad film project. He has made public statements[38] endorsing the execution of homosexuals and has called[39] for the eventual governance of the U.S. by Muslims through shari'a law. As early as 1992, he acted as a translator for Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman,[40] "The Blind Sheikh," a radical terrorist imam who planned the first World Trade Center bombing[41] one year later. Siddiqi supported jihad in Afghanistan and Israel, and stated that he hopes for an Islamic state to control what is now Israel and the Palestinian territories. All his links from an early age are terrorist-connected and radical. How did the PBS fail to see this when none of the information was secret?

Ingrid Mattson, a convert to Islam, was described as, "Perhaps the most noticed figure among American Muslim women" in a 2010 New York Times article.[42] She served as the head of ISNA up to 2010. Campus Watch has used direct quotations from her speeches and writings to identify her as a radical.[43] Mattson says that "People of faith have a certain kind of solidarity with others of their faith community that transcends the basic rights and duties of citizenship." She denies that there are jihadist sleeper cells in the U.S. She defends the extremist Wahhabi form of Islam. She praises the father of modern Islamic radicalism, Abu Ala Mawdudi. She has claimed more than once that "Muslim women have the same legal rights as Muslim men," which is patent nonsense.[d] She has spoken of the "brutality" of the Israel government. She rejects dialogue or friendship with many non-Muslims: "it is not permitted for a Muslim to maintain a close friendship with a highly intelligent person who engages him or her in stimulating conversation, if that person continuously derides the sacred." (All citations are based on the Campus Watch article.) Again, no due diligence seems to have been carried out by PBS.

Another advisor, Zahid Bukhari,[44] later served as president[45] of the Islamic Council of North America (ICNA), co-founded the National Islamic Shura Council, which consists of ISNA and ICNA, and has been chaired by the formerly mentioned Muzammil Siddiqi. Bukhari has stated that "Muslims may have difficulties with ... Jews because of founding of the state of Israel."

Azizah al-Hibri,[46] a Lebanese-American woman who has played down[47] the influence of Wahhabism in the U.S., has condemned the Western press for "sensationalizing" Taliban atrocities in order to "attack Islam;" cautioned the United States against fighting Osama bin Laden during the month of Ramadan;[48] has supported a Salafi approach[49] to modernity, and has asserted[50] that Islamic jurisprudence is superior to Western codes of law. She has written[51] and lectured extensively on Islam's compatibility with women's rights, human rights, and democracy by whitewashing the elements of Islamic doctrine[52] and law that contradict these values.

In line with this, Al-Hibri has bafflingly asserted that the Qur'an encourages freedom of religion, freedom of thought, and democratic, consultative government. Indeed, she adds, even more bafflingly, the very concept of the separation of church and state came from Islam. None of those statements is true, nor can anyone who has read the Qur'an or studied shari'a law imagine they are. Given that the punishment for apostasy[53] in Islam is death,[54] and that Islam means "submission,"[e] neither freedom of religion nor freedom of thought seems to be an Islamic value. And since an authentic Muslim society must rely on laws "revealed" by God, which may not be altered or added to, and must be governed by a caliph (or, for the Shi'a, an Imam), democracy and democratic laws, which are created by man, are totally anathema.

There is more whitewashing of this kind in the narratives and testimonies within the film and the texts on the website.

Finally, less is known of advisor Faizul Khan, other than that he was an ISNA member and the Assistant Director of the Wahhabi Muslim World League chapter in New York.

Again, there is nothing to suggest that the majority of the film project's funders and advisors are anything but sincere, moderate and patriotic American Muslims. However, several who have been and, in some cases, still are associated with radical Islamist organizations, are clearly propagandists working to an agenda that exaggerates the glories of Islam while whitewashing the negative aspects of the faith or the activities of Wahhabis, Salafis, the Muslim Brotherhood or other people whose long-term aim is to supplant a democratic America with a strict form of Islamic rule. Today's radicals take their inspiration from a range of writers whose works are freely available in the United States: Hasan al-Banna,[55] founder of the Muslim Brotherhood (1906-1949); Sayyid Qutb,[56] the MB's most famous ideologue (1906-1966), and Sayyid Abu'l-A'la Mawdudi.[57] These men, like their hundreds of thousands of protégés round the world, advocated a total remaking of all political systems, replacing democracy with absolutist Islamic rule under the jurisdiction of shari'a law.

The role played by radical individuals in a PBS broadcast and website raises many serious questions, not just for the trustees of the PBS but for national agencies responsible for accuracy in the U.S. media.

Let us examine the identities of the individuals who appear in the film as narrators or interviewees. As with the donors and advisors, doubtless most of those who took part in the film were innocent of ulterior motives. Najah Bazzy, a Muslim Critical Care Nurse from Dearborn, for example, comes across as a shining example of a devout woman devoted to her patients, an American citizen whose family is well integrated in wider society, and a model of faith-inspired care for humanity. So too, Kevin James, a convert who works as a Supervising Fire Marshall for the New York Fire Department and who was one of the firemen to attend the World Trade Center after its destruction on 9/11/2001, is a fine American whose faith inspires him to his duties as a citizen and service within his faith community. Much of the film is devoted to showing the many ways in which Muslim Americans strive for acceptance and to do good in the world. They are solid refutations of the tirades many Muslims in the West have suffered.

Of the sixteen named participants, only three are non-Muslims, although viewers may be forgiven for thinking that Karen Armstrong, who provides the strongest voice here, is the most devoted to Muhammad as a great man and a prophet. The materials on the website were written and edited by Michael Wolfe of Kikim Media, a convert; Alexander Kroenemer, co-founder of Unity Productions Foundation, also a convert, and Michael Schwarz, a Jew, and by members of the advisory board.

Karen Armstrong, who provides the strongest voice in the film Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet, comes across as a starry-eyed ingénue and the most devoted to Muhammad as a great man and a prophet. Her incompetence as a historian and her naivety in uncritical defense of her idol make her dangerous. (Image source: Video screenshot from Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet)

Professor John Voll[58] of Georgetown University is a recognized scholar of Islam who appears several times in the movie. His credentials should not be questioned, but his evident bias towards Muhammad and Islam makes him less a neutral observer than an apologist. When the University of South Florida (USF) fired Sami Al-Arian,[59] a professor charged with aiding the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad,[60] Voll condemned USF[61] for "caving in to public pressure at the expense of academic integrity," citing "McCarthyite popular pressures for dismissal." Arian was finally deported[62] from the United States on February 6, 2015.

Voll has also tried to explain away Islamic terrorism as a hostile response to American power, suggesting that, if American might were absent, there would be no need for terrorism. This leaves unexplained earlier Salafi rejection of the West in general from fear of modernity, democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and human rights legislation.

Another prominent speaker is M. Cherif Bassiouni,[63] Emeritus Professor of Law at DePaul University, where he taught from 1964-2012. He is an Egyptian-American who moved to the U.S. in 1961. Bassiouni is often referred to as "the father of international criminal law"[64] and is the author of a book entitled, Crimes against Humanity. He has held many positions in the United Nations, has received awards and medals by the dozen, and in 1999 was nominated for a Nobel Prize. A formidable figure indeed, it is not surprising that he was chosen to speak several times in the film. An intelligent and persuasive author who speaks about the dangers of "Islamophobia" and modern jihadi violence, he nevertheless dismisses critics of Islam and defends several extremist groups. In a 2007 interview[65] with Iran's Press TV, Bassiouni opposed the boycott of Hamas. "Hamas," he says, "was democratically elected and is not a violent movement. The statement in its charter about Israel's destruction does not imply it poses a threat to Israel or the world. This is just not true," he stressed.

That a man of such erudition and a compelling knowledge of human rights would say that Hamas "is not a violent movement" is profoundly worrying. In a lengthy essay[66] published by Loonwatch in 2010, Bassiouni writes well about genuine Islamophobia but defends Hamas, the Holy Land Foundation, CAIR, ISNA and other groups. He also attacks Israel for defending itself — without suggesting what else it might do, apart from surrender — and argues, as so many do, that Islamist terrorism has nothing to do with Islam or the Qur'an. This, despite the constant use of Qur'anic verses and hadith selections by Islamic State, Hamas, al-Qa'ida and others to justify their actions in conformity with the shari'a law of jihad. This is congruent with Bassiouni's membership[67] of the Advisory Board of the Free Gaza Movement, alongside some of the most notorious anti-Semitic and anti-Israel activists, from Noam Chomsky to John Pilger and British Baroness Tonge. In 2010, Bassiouni openly supported[68] the Free Gaza Movement and its flotilla,[69] which not only included armed extremists, but also broke maritime law by entering a restricted area without permission. That was hardly an honest position for an acclaimed professor of law to take. On several occasions, he challenged the FBI[70] in court for the right to amend documents in which he was linked with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and other paramilitary organizations. On each occasion, his appeals were turned down.

Here, perhaps more than ever, it is clear that PBS did not exercise due diligence. Bassiouni will have seemed beyond reproach, but it is perfectly clear that in his defense of Islam, he is an extremist. He uses his position to cover up anything that might prove either an embarrassment to Muslims or a criticism of Islam. He has argued,[71] for example, in the Chicago Tribune and elsewhere, that Islamic law does not punish apostasy — a statement that might have come as a surprise to the many thousands of Muslim apostates and heretics who have been executed from the time of Muhammad to the present day. In its Freedom of Thought 2013[72] report, the International Humanist and Ethical Union found that apostates (including atheists) and blasphemers can be sentenced to death in 13 countries, all of which are Muslim states. To what extent, therefore, can Bassiouni be trusted as an objective authority on Islamic law?

Having revealed the extremism of some of the project's funders, advisors and on-screen speakers, it is important to say again that there is much in the film that pleases. The most regular presence is the critical care nurse Najah Baggy, at work, with her family, and volunteering with a charity. Kevin James, the fireman and arson investigator, is a charismatic and sincere advocate of balanced integration. Muslims such as these are ordinary Americans who order their lives through a pious application of the ethics and principles of a deeply ingrained religious faith.

There are lessons to be learned from such scenes, lessons of tolerance towards Muslims who are actively well-integrated within U.S. society, who understand American values, and who are no different from the country's loyal Jews, Mormons, Amish, Baha'is, and other members of minority faith communities.

It is not this aspect of the film that deserves criticism. Quite the opposite. What causes concern is simply the powerful influence exerted on film and text by Muslims who are, as shown, not particularly integrated or who positively resist any real integration at all.

Equally, it is important to focus on the narrative of the prophet Muhammad that runs through the documentary and the online texts. As mentioned, this narrative is far from balanced or neutral. It does not serve as a genuine educational text, despite having been circulated so widely to American schools and college students in the absence of anything to reflect a different point of view — not least a neutral and accurate interpretation of Muhammad and Islam.

The narrative of the film is thoroughly hagiographic. Hagiography is not considered as a proper basis for history in modern U.S. non-religious educational institutions. The film's Muhammad narrative departs not an inch from traditional Islamic accounts, from Ibn Ishaq to current missionary pamphlets. It avoids any of the issues that have been raised about Muhammad's life and prophetic career over the past sixty or so years by Western scholars, such as William Montgomery Watt,[73] the French Marxist historian and linguist Maxime Rodinson,[74] whose biography Mohammed was controversial in the Muslim world, or Princeton's Patricia Crone, whose erudite and groundbreaking studies of the earliest Islamic period sent ripples through academic circles.

In order to exemplify this lack of critical content and attitude, it will be enough to focus on the contribution made to Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet by popular British writer Karen Armstrong, of whom Hugh Fitzgerald has written:[75] "For Karen Armstrong history does not exist. It is putty in the hands of the person who writes about history. You use it to make a point, to do good as you see it. And whatever you need to twist or omit is justified by the purity of your intentions — and Karen Armstrong always has the purest of intentions."

Here are some examples of Armstrong's take on Islam, taken almost at random from her book, Islam: A Short History (2000). "The emancipation of women was a project dear to the Prophet's heart" (p. 14), or "... Jews, like Christians, enjoyed full religious liberty in the Islamic empires. Anti-Semitism is a Christian vice.... Hatred of the Jews became marked in the Muslim world only after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent loss of Arab Palestine" (p. 18), or this: "the word islam is etymologically related to salam [peace], and in these early years Islam did promote cohesion and concord" (p. 21)." This last really does show Armstrong's amateurishness. The words islam and salam do indeed come from the same root, but islam is derived from a totally different verbal form and means "submission," not "peace."

On screen, Armstrong comes across as a starry-eyed ingénue, even more in awe and wonderment of the prophet of Islam than any of the Muslims in the film. Her incompetence as a historian and her naivety in uncritical defense of her idol make her a dangerous woman, insofar as she blocks all routes to an as-accurate-as-possible understanding of a man who brought about great changes in the world, yet sparked off centuries of jihad, unequal treatment of non-Muslims; divided the world between his believers and all other humans, and who must, therefore, be subjected to a combination of praise and criticism.

Here are some of Armstrong's ruminations on Muhammad and his impact on Arab society, taken from the PBS documentary: "He [Muhammad] brought peace and new hope to Arabia." In fact, immediately after Muhammad's death on June 8, 632, rivalries between his Meccan and Medinan followers burst out, while many Arab tribes abandoned the new faith. The first caliph, Abu Bakr,[76] sent out armed forces to drive the apostate tribes back to Islam or to slaughter those who refused, thereby launching the Wars of the Ridda (Apostasy) that lasted for a year or more. Under the third and fourth caliphs, civil war broke out between Muslims. Muhammad's grandson Husayn, with his family and followers were slaughtered ruthlessly by the forces of the Caliph Yazid at the Battle of Karbala in 680. And while all this was happening, half the world was reeling under the impact of the Arab jihad conquests. "Peace and new hope?"

Armstrong praises Muhammad's care for the well-being of women without mentioning his use of captured women as concubines for his troops, or men's freedom to divorce their wives or to marry more than one woman and take concubines. She discusses Muhammad's most beloved wife, A'isha, but make no mention of her being nine years old when her marriage was consummated. She deals with the massacre in 627 of the males of a Jewish tribe, the Banu Qurayza,[77] and the enslavement of all their women and children, but in doing so, she places all the blame on the Jews, describing their many supposed defects, and agreeing that they were punished for supposed treachery. She summarizes matters thus: "This cannot be seen as anti-Semitism per se. Muhammad had nothing against the Jewish people per se or the Jewish religion." It is as if she has never read the Qur'an's many anti-Semitic verses[78] dictated in his later years. Here are some:

At 1:22:56, Armstrong develops this simplistic account of Muhammad and the Jews: "The Qur'an continues to tell Muslims to honour the peoples of the Book [Jews and Christians] and to honour their religions as authentic."

In fact, the later passages of the Qur'an do nothing of the sort, as we have just seen; Armstrong, who claims to be a scholar of Islam, should know that. Jewish and Christian beliefs are derided (such as that the Trinity constitutes polytheism; that Jesus is not the Son of God; that the crucifixion was a fake; that the Torah and Gospels were tampered with by their priests and rabbis), and that Muslims are told not to take Jews and Christians as friends: "O you who believe! do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends; they are friends of each other; and whoever amongst you takes them for a friend, then surely he is one of them; surely Allah does not guide the unjust people." (Qur'an 5:51 and elsewhere).

According to al-Bukhari, the words: "those who earn Thine anger and those who go astray" in the most recited sura (1) of the Qur'an refers specifically to the Jews and Christians (Sahih al-Bukhari, vol. 1, Book 12, hadith 749).

Armstrong then goes on: "And the Jewish tribes who had not given help to the Meccans continued to live in Medina completely unmolested. Muhammad was not trying to exterminate and to get rid of very dangerous internal enemies." What on earth is she saying? The massacre of the Banu Qurayza took place in the year 627, immediately after the Battle of the Trench. By then Muhammad had already expelled the other two Jewish tribes in Medina: the Banu Qaynuqa in 624 and the Nadir in 625. And Armstrong fails to mention that in 628 Muhammad himself led an expedition to the Jewish oasis of Khaybar, where the Banu Nadir had found refuge with other Jewish tribes. Muhammad then defeated the Jews in the Battle of Khaybar, took their land and imposed heavy quotas on their produce afterwards. Has Armstrong never heard the oft-repeated chant "Khaybar, Khaybar, Ya Yahud: Jaysh Muhammad sa-ya'ud"? "[Remember] Khaybar, oh you Jews: the army of Muhammad is coming back!"?

In the same section, Armstrong further distorts history when she says that, after his victory over the Meccans, Muhammad "stopped the fighting." This is also a total re-write of historical fact. During his career, Muhammad ordered or accompanied one hundred raids and expeditions.[79] He conquered Mecca in December 629. Between then and his death in 632, he sent out forces on 28 expeditions and battles, including an expedition to Tabuk, which effectively began the Arab invasion of the Byzantine empire and the wider Arab conquests to the east and west. In May 632, about three months before his death, Muhammad sent out an army under Usama bin Zayd that invaded Palestine. The local population there were "slaughtered" by Muslims, who went about "destroying, burning and taking as many captives as they could".[f]

Why on earth would a PBS documentary feature — more prominently than anyone — a woman with no academic expertise in Islam, no apparent knowledge of any Islamic language, no background in Islamic historical research, who delivered a hagiographic approach to the biography of the prophet — all accompanied by a marked tendency to exaggerate, distort, and omit facts? And this lack is coupled with her own uncritical missionary zeal for her spiritual quest in the belief that all religions are wonderful and that everything about Islam is unbelievably, super-duper, far above all we have ever thought. Why would a non-historian with evangelical zeal for fantasy be allowed to speak in any film even purporting to be a documentary?

It would matter far less if this were aired as fiction, or a project by an overtly recognized Muslim da'wa [outreach] organization.

The problem is that the propaganda and apologetics are hidden from the public, and the whole thing is presented under the flag of America's most trusted institution. If PBS does not publicly correct this confusion and revoke its association with the project, may we not ask just how trusted — and publicly-financed — this outlet should really be?


















































































[a] For further details of Sabadia, see David J. Rusin, "Rahim Sabadia: Portrait of a Disgraced Defense Contractor," PJ Media, 28 May 2014, and Matt Pearce, Brook Williams, "Did Islamic charities cost security contractor his security clearance?" Orange County Register, June 3, 2011, and an Immigration and Naturalization Service document.

[b] For more on the MSA, see "Muslim Students Association of the U.S. and Canada (MSA)", Discover the Networks, and links listed there; also, links here.

[c] For fuller details of this institution and its role in radicalizing Muslims in the West, see Chris Heffelfinger, Radical Islam in America: Salafism's Journey from Arabia to the West, Washington D.C., 2011, pp. 64 ff.; Michael Farquhar, "The Islamic University of Medina since 1961: The Politics of Religious Mission and the Making of Modern Salafi Pedagogy," Conference paper.

[d] In Islamic law, a woman can only marry one man at a time, whereas a man may marry up to four women and take concubines. A Muslim woman may only marry a Muslim, but a Muslim man may also marry a Jewish or Christian woman. A woman's inheritance is normally half that of a man's. In cases of divorce, a woman may only be granted custody of her children up to the age of seven, whereupon it is automatically awarded to the father. A man has the right to divorce his wife just by saying "I divorce you," but a woman must apply for a khula, for which she has to return her dowry, obtain her husband's consent, and seek a judicial ruling. If a man wants to remarry a divorced wife, she has to marry and have sexual relations with another man, who must then divorce her. A man is legally entitled to demand sex with his wife at any time or in any place, and if she does not comply "the angels will curse her until dawn." In countries such as Iran, Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia, women are required to wear part or full veils. Men have few restrictions on dress.

[e] The word "islam" is a verbal noun from the Arabic verb aslama. Aslama is from the same root as salama, meaning to make peace, but it is a totally different form of the root, which produces several complete verbs, nouns, adjectives etc. Âslama means "to surrender or to submit".

[f] Moshe Gil, A History of Palestine, Cambridge University Press, 1997, pp. 31-32

Denis MacEoin is a lecturer in Arabic and Islamic Studies and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute. He has contributed to the massive "Encyclopedia of Islam" (2nd ed.), the "Encyclopedia Iranica," the "Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam in the Modern World" and other reference works on Islam. This article appeared February 12, 2015 on the Gatestone Institute's website and it is archived at

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