One of the most intriguing, beloved, and imitated characters in contemporary fiction is Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s master of observation and deduction. The hit television show Elementary has updated this super-sleuth, given him a female partner but maintained his genius at putting together the right conclusions from available, if not always observable to others, evidence. We, too, make everyday deductions based on experiences and observations. Let’s see how we do with drawing some conclusions from the following clues. Are there any budding Sherlock’s in my readership?

Clue #1: Imagine that you just read the following news release:

“Two American emissaries to the ruler of Tripoli have been on a mission to purchase back from slavery several merchants who had been shipwrecked off the shores of that North African nation. The Muslim ruler of the country demands tribute [extortion?] money, but the negotiations reached an impasse when they were told, ‘It was . . . written in the Koran, that all Nations who should not have acknowledged their [the Muslims’] authority were sinners, that is was their right and duty to make war upon whoever they could find and to make Slaves of all they could take as prisoners, and that every Mussulman [follower of Islam] who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise.’1 The state department has not released a decision as to whether to give in to the demands.”

Clue #2: A brief note on a book by Captain James Riley: Sufferings in Africa.

Captain James Riley published a detailed account of his experiences as a slave in the nations on the northern coast of Africa, a region inhabited by people who are devout followers of Islam. This narrative describes the wanderings of Riley and his men after their shipwreck and their capture by Islamic Arabs who populate the region. His descriptions transport the reader to deserts of sand and hard-packed earth where camels are the primary mode of transportation.

Captain Riley brings to life a people who live in these arid wastes and capture anyone to make them slaves. He evokes our pity with vivid details of the bodily deprivations suffered by his crew and the dreadful conditions imposed on them by their captors. He concludes his travels with insights as to his native captors: “They attack the small towns in the vicinity of the desart [sic], on all sides; which are walled in to ward off their incursions: if they are successful, they put all to the sword, burn the towns, and retire again to the desart [sic] with their spoils. Such is the wandering Arab of the great African Desart: his hand is against every man, and consequently every man’s hand is against him.”2

Clue #3: The two American emissaries in the first clue were Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, and the year was 1785.

Clue #4: The book in question was first published in 1817 and described Captain Riley’s experiences between August and October 1815 when he gained his release from his captors. At the time of its publication many of his men were still wandering the desert as slaves to the Muslims in the region.

Questions to help you make your deductions:

  • What military anthem references the “shores of Tripoli” and why?
  • Are the dates of these incidents significant?
  • From these historical events what can you infer about Islam?
  • What does this history have to do with us in 2020?

In next week’s post, I’ll review a book on this issue: Sword and Scimitar by Raymond Ibrahim. Stay tuned!

After that, look for a theological discussion involving Islam and Christianity. Maybe Lazarus will join us.



1 Michael B. Oren, Power, Faith, and Fantasy, New York, Norton, 2007, p. 27

2 James Riley, Sufferings in Africa, New York, Clarkson N. Potter, 1965, p. 316