In my class on the history of the modern Middle East, we started the semester with a discussion about Islam and Muhammad. Our professor told us that Muhammad and the city of Medina acted in self-defense against the city of Mecca (623-630 AD).
Yet in the very textbook she assigned to us, it says the exact opposite:
Even as he was consolidating his position in Medina, Muhammad made plans to disrupt the caravan trade on which Mecca’s prosperity depended. Within a year of his arrival in Medina, he ordered the first of what would become an ongoing series of raids on Meccan caravans. The initial raid occurred during one of the sacred pilgrimage months, when, according to established custom, hostilities were to be suspended. This was disturbing to many of the Muslims of Medina who continued to respect existing traditions. However, a divine revelation sanctified warfare against unbelievers and designated all Muslims who engaged in spreading Islam through force of arms as deserving of special merit. [How convenient!]
In retaliation for Muhammad’s attacks on their caravans, the Meccans launched several campaigns against the Muslims in Medina, but each time, the outnumbered Muslim forces managed to hold their own and even to gain limited victories. Muhammad emerged during these encounters as an innovative military tactician, and his success in thwarting the Meccans enhanced his prestige among the neighboring tribes. Many swore their allegiance to him not because they fully understood or accepted the religious message of Islam but because association with Muhammad’s endeavor appeared to guarantee victory, and with victory came the spoils of war…. In 630, Muhammad led a force of 10,000 men to the outskirts of Mecca….
Thus, from the beginning, Muhammad advocated and practiced the spread of Islam by force and violence (623-630 AD). And let’s remember that he is the supreme example in Islam of how Muslims should behave and live their lives.