Medieval to Early Modern Times

This is the first of several articles that will seek to expose the treatment given to the subject of Islam in our public schools.

Medieval to Early Modern Times is a middle school world history textbook published by Holt, Rinehart, Winston publishers. It is one of a handful of textbooks used throughout the U.S. and adopted by local school boards.

The subject of Islam is contained within Unit 2 of the textbook: The Islamic World. Unit 2 consists of two chapters – Chapter 3: The Rise of Islam, and Chapter 4: The Spread of Islam.

The introductory information on Arab geography and life is accurate and not particularly noteworthy. However, beginning on page 59 with the section “Origins of Islam” we find the textbook making some rather troubling claims.

Page 59

A picture of page 59 can be downloaded and will aid in understanding the next several comments. There are many troubling aspects covered in just this one page.

  1. Note the “If YOU were there” leader to the page. The main idea here is to get the student to understand that those with wealth should, out of compassion for the less fortunate, share their wealth. I have no problem with this notion. However…
  2. The “Building Background” box then explains that the idea of people helping the poor is an important teaching of Islam, and this teaching seemed “new” to people of Arabia. This notion is also reinforced in the sidebar column “Main Ideas”, which suggests that Muhammad’s teachings seemed different to the Jews and Christians.
  3. Thus, in aggregate, this new notion that Islam brought to the world is that the wealthy should share with the poor – that we should have compassion on the poor.

This simply is not true. Both Judaism and Christianity have similar teaching; this idea was not born with Islam. The Jewish Torah (or Christian Old Testament) contained laws to provide for the poor and destitute, as does the Christian New Testament.

Muhammad Becomes a Prophet

The text does not say “Muslims believed Muhammad to be a prophet” or something similar. That Muhammad is a prophet is stated as a fact without qualification. Would textbook publishers make the same unqualified statement about Christianity; i.e. “Jesus was God in human flesh?” Or about Hinduism; i.e. “Humans can achieve Nirvana through reincarnation?”

Historians don’t know much about Muhammad. What they do know comes from religious writings.

By their own admission, the authors are not writing about history. They are teaching religion.

Page 61

You may download a picture of page 61.

Jews, Christians, and Muslims also recognize many of the same prophets. Muhammad taught that prophets such as Abraham, Moses, and Jesus had lived in earlier times.

Neither Jews nor Christians recognize or have ever recognized Abraham, Moses, or Jesus as prophets. This is a factual error.

Muhammad respected Jews and Christians as “people of the Book…”

While Muhammad did identify Jews and Christians as ‘people of the book,’ it is questionable how much respect he had for them. Many verses in the Qur’an warn Muslims to not take friends from among the Jews and Christians, or other less pleasant things about them:

  • Sura 5:51   O ye who believe! take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors: They are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them (for friendship) is of them. Verily Allah guideth not a people unjust.
  • Sura 9:30  The Jews call ‘Uzair a son of Allah, and the Christians call Christ the son of Allah. That is a saying from their mouth; (in this) they but imitate what the unbelievers of old used to say. Allah’s curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth!

These verses certainly do not seem very respectable toward Jews and Christians, yet they were uttered by the same Muhammad whom the textbook says respected Jews and Christians.

Page 62

Page 62 has little to comment on, with this one minor exception in the callout box for the map.

In Medina, Muhammad gained many new followers.

What is left unsaid is how Muhammad gained many new followers. If the authors had been dedicated to presenting an accurate picture of history, they would have included the how along with the what.

The historical reality is Muhammad gained many new followers by making them wealthy. Having been driven from Mecca, one of Muhammad’s first conquests after arriving at Medina was to capture a wealthy trade caravan en route to Mecca from Syria. This conflict in known as the Battle of Badr. After defeating the Meccan caravan, Muhammad divided the captured goods among his men, reserving one-fifth for himself. The men of Medina soon realized they could become very wealthy by following Muhammad. The growth of his followers had more to do with material wealth than the elegance or superiority of his message of Islam.

Page 63

You may download page 63.

Much is left unsaid on this page, and in the interest of historical accuracy, I will attempt to fill in some of the missing information. If one wishes to consult an accurate picture of this period of history, read the earliest biography of Muhammad’s life (herein after referred to as Ibn Ishaq): The Life of Muhammad, translated by Alfred Guillaume (Oxford University Press, 1955).

Islam Spreads in Arabia … Eventually, however, Muhammad’s teachings began to take root. … As the Muslim community in Medina grew stronger, other Arab tribes in the region began to accept Islam.

Left unsaid again is the how of this phenomenon. How was it that Islam spread quickly? What methods were employed? Was it simply on account of Muhammad’s persuasive message, or were other factors involved?

The reality: Although some converts were won through verbal persuasion, many converts, indeed most, were “won” to Islam by threat of physical harm.

  • When ‘Umayr came to Mecca he stayed there summoning people to Islam and treating those who opposed him violently so that through him many became Muslims. [Ibn Ishaq, p. 319]
  • The apostle send Khalid b. al-Walid in the month of Rabi’u l-Akhir in the year 10 to the B. al-Harith, and ordered him to invite them to Islam three days before he attacked them. If they accepted then he was to accept it from them; and if they declined he was to fight them… ‘If you accept Islam you will be safe’ so they accepted Islam as they were invited. [Ibn Ishaq, p. 645]
  • “All we did was to enjoin chastity and justice and call them to Islam, but they received it not, and they treated it as a joke, they ceased not so until I volunteered to attack them.” [Ibn Ishaq, p. 284]
  • God sent Muhammad with this religion and he strove for it until men accepted it voluntarily or by force. [Ibn Ishaq, p. 669]
  • Abu Dawud instructs Muslims that, “When you meet the polytheists, summon them to Islam, and if they accept, refrain from further hostilities toward them.” [Sunan Abu Dawud, volume 2, hadith 2606] The implication in this hadith is that if an invitation is given to Islam and it is not accepted, further hostilities are called for.

God told Muhammad that Muslims should face Mecca when they pray. Before, Muslims faced Jerusalem like Christians and Jews did.

There are at least two problems with the quote above.

  1. Christians have never prayed in any particular direction, and certainly have never been required to pray facing Jerusalem. This again is an historical error, in a textbook that is chartered with presenting history accurately.
  2. Muhammad changed the direction of prayer from Jerusalem to Mecca not because of a new revelation, but for political reasons. Muhammad attempted to present himself to the Jews of Medina as another prophet of the kind they would have been familiar with in the Old Testament. When the Jews finally rejected Muhammad, his attitude toward Jews changed dramatically. Muhammad became bitter toward them and changed the prayer direction to spite the Jews. This is the historical reality.

In 630, after several years of  fighting, the people of Mecca gave in. They welcomed Muhammad back to the city and accepted Islam as their religion.

Again, much is left unsaid, and what is said is inaccurate.

Muhammad advanced on Mecca with an army 10,000 strong from Medina. As he met Abu Sufyan, the recognized leader of Mecca at the time, Muhammad told him, “Isn’t it time you recognized that I am God’s apostle?” Abu Sufyan replied, “As to that I still have some doubt.” Abu Sufyan was then told, “Submit and testify that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is the apostle of God before you lose your head.” And thus Abu Sufyan submitted to Islam, and the rest of Mecca followed suit.

The apostle instructed his commanders when they entered Mecca only to fight those who resisted them, except a small number who were to be killed even if they were found beneath the curtain of the Ka’ba. The reason he ordered them killed was that they had been Muslim and used to write down revelations for Muhammad, but then apostatized and abandoned Islam. [Ibn Ishaq, pp. 540-550]

Muhammad taught that there was only one God. This Arabic writing says “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is his prophet.”

This phrase and the Arabic script accompanying it form the first pillar of Islam: the Shahada. To confess the shahada is to become a Muslim. This is pure religious indoctrination in a history text.

Page 67

Download a sample of page 67.

Before Muhammad’s time many Arabs owned slaves. Although slavery didn’t disappear among Muslims, the Qur’an encourages Muslims to free slaves.

Where does the Qur’an say such a thing? Here the authors make a claim without backing it up. The Qur’an says no such thing; if it had, then Muhammad would have been in violation of the Qur’an throughout his entire life. During his raids on other tribes, some of the most valuable spoils of war distributed among his followers was captured slaves: women and children.

It is not the intent in this article to detail all the examples of slavery in the Qur’an and in Muhammad’s life. Others have written on this extensively. Islam and Slavery by Samuel Green; Slavery in Islam; Qur’an, Hadith, and Scholars: Slavery.

The Qur’an describes the rights of women, including the rights to own property, earn money, and get an education. However, most Muslim women still have fewer rights than men.

They have fewer rights indeed. What is left unsaid by the authors is what the Qur’an says about women in areas other than the ones mentioned. The Qur’an, and even more so the Hadith of Muhammad, deny equality to women, accuse women of being half as intelligent as men, provide only half the inheritance to a woman as to a man, equate a woman’s testimony only half the value of a man’s, permit a man to divorce his wife at any time for any reason while denying the woman the same freedom, and so forth. Why do the authors omit these from the text, while attempting to show Islam as beneficial for women? Read the article Women in Islam – From Islam’s Sources.

Jihad refers to the inner struggle people go through in their effort to obey God and behave according to Islamic ways. Jihad can also mean the struggle to defend the Muslim community, or, historically, to convert people to Islam. The word has also been translated as “holy war.”

The authors here attempt to define jihad primarily as an inner spiritual struggle and secondarily as warfare. In reality it is just the opposite.

Jihad as a spiritual struggle has support in the traditions of Muhammad (never in the Qur’an), but even the traditions are not accepted by all as authentic.

Jihad as warfare, however, has strong support in both the Qur’an and hadith, as well as from Islamic legal scholars and jurists. For example, the Encyclopedia of Islam defines jihad as “according to general doctrine and in historical tradition, the jihad consists of military action with the object of the expansion of Islam and, if need be, its defense.” The manual of shari’a known as ‘Umdat al-Salik says jihad “means to war against non-Muslims, and is etymologically derived from mujahada, signifying warfare to establish the religion. Muhammad said, ‘I have been commanded to fight people until they testify that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.'”

One scholar on this subject says, “Few Muslim scholars or even apologists writing in non-European languages have ever made the exaggerated claims (re: spiritual struggle)…those who write in Arabic or other Muslim languages realize that it is pointless to present Jihad as anything other than militant warfare” (David Cook, Understanding Jihad, p. 43).

Page 83

Download an image of page 83.

Muslims generally practiced religious tolerance with the people they conquered. Jews and Christians in particular kept many of their rights… they had to pay a special tax … [and] follow the rules of the treaties.

With a few exceptions throughout history, Muslims have not practiced religious tolerance. It is an established historical fact that prior to his death in 632 Muhammad systematically eliminated every Jew from Arabia, either by exile, expulsion, or extermination. He personally slaughtered and beheaded every Jewish male of the Banu Qurayza tribe in Medina at the battle of the ditch in 627 AD.

As for Jews and Christians in conquered lands, they were free to practice their worship if they paid the “special tax” mentioned in the text. The tax they had to pay is called a jizya, and is based on Sura 9:29 in the Qur’an which says, “Fight in war against those who do not believe in Allah … until they pay the jizya out of hand and feel themselves subdued.”

Jews and Christians in Muslim lands who are obligated to pay jizya are known as dhimmi people and are viewed as second-class citizens. Dhimmis must be in subjection to their Muslim overlords, cannot own property, cannot hold public office, cannot vote; they are viewed as inferior. Egyptian historian Bat Ye’or has written extensively about Dhimmis in a number of books: The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam, The Dhimmi, and Islam and Dhimmitude. Bat Ye’or’s scholarship is impeccable and her works are used as college textbooks. It is unfortunate the authors of Medieval and Early Modern Times did not consult her works before publishing this piece of fictitious history.


I close this article by quoting from a report by Sandra Stotsky entitled “Stealth Curriculum.” In the foreword to the report, Chester E. Finn writes:

If American teachers of history were broadly educated and deeply knowledgeable about the subjects for which they’re responsible in the classroom, and if they were free to draw their information, textbooks, and other instructional materials from whatever sources they judge best, all within a framework of sound academic standards and results-based accountabilityunder that dreamy set of circumstances, this report would not be necessary.

The sad reality, however, is that many of our history teachers don’t know enough history. To make matters worse, the textbooks on which they typically depend are vast yet surprisingly shabby compendia of dull, dated, and denatured information. (See A Consumer’s Guide to High School History Textbooks,, for independent reviews of the most widely used texts and to see some examples of their shortcomings.) Thus, those teachers that seek to use their textbooks as a crutch to help fill the gaps in their own knowledge are not doing right by their students.

Indeed. And neither are textbook publishers and their authors.

2 thoughts on “Medieval to Early Modern Times

  1. Two colleagues and I reviewed the same chapters of this textbook (World History Medieval to Modern Times, 2006, Holt. We produced a supplement in 2010 with 22 corrections for the local middle school. After meeting with the history teacher, principal, assistant superintendent and superintendent the local Board of Education sent our supplement to the California Department of Education. They sent the report to the publisher for comment who declared them as unnecessary for fulfilling state requirements. The state rubber stamped the commentary.

    We have had radio, newspaper, townhall and television exposure and intend to continue our efforts with the California Board of Education as well as national publicity. The textbook’s historical inaccuracies (slavery and treatment of women), omissions (polygamy and the brutal treatment of prisoners and conquered people) and sanitization of Islamic sharia law and militant jihad trivialize a history that should be studied honestly, like all history, in order to better understand the issues of our time.

    We want to include our report on this website and would like to discuss our efforts with other contributors. Please contact us.

  2. My heart would fail with fear if not for the Name of the Lord who is our strong tower. Thank you for providing this timely and invaluable information. Parents need to wake up and discern the times.

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