Author Robert Spencer has studied Islam for more than 20 years, writing and lecturing on the impact its teachings have on believers and Muslim societies in general.

The author of Onward Muslim Soldiers: How Jihad Still Threatens America and the West and Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World's Fastest-Growing Faith, Spencer recently teamed up with Daniel Ali, a Catholic convert from Islam, to author Inside Islam: A Guide for Catholics.

Published by Ascension Press, the book consists of 100 questions and answers about the world's fastest-growing religion, ranging from its historical origins to an analysis of its teachings.

Register correspondent Brian McGuire spoke with Spencer about the book and about Islam.

Why did you write this book and for whom was it written?

Daniel and I wrote this book in order to help Catholics become informed about Islam — to clear away common misunderstandings and distortions and to give Catholics an accurate and complete introduction to the Islamic faith and the challenges it poses to Christians. It was written for Catholics, but it can be read profitably by anyone of good will.

Is there one thing you hope all readers will take from it?

We hope readers will understand the truth about Islam, recognize the gravity of the challenge from the Islamic world, and pray and act accordingly in line with the Beatitudes.

This book does not offer a flattering portrait of Islam. Do you believe the Koran is a book that should be taken seriously?

Certainly the Koran should be taken seriously. Millions of people worldwide do, and they have serious intentions for the rest of the

world arising from that. Catholics need to be aware of this.

You discuss among the obstacles to evangelization with Muslims their acceptance of contradiction within the Koran. What approach do you recommend?

Prayer and fasting. Do not confront Muslims with these contradictions; this will easily degenerate into a war of apparently contradictory passages from the Bible versus Koran contradictions. Rather, a positive approach stressing the love, mercy and self-sacrifice that are unique to Christianity is preferable.

Your book carries a sobering message about the way non-Muslims are viewed in the Muslim world.

Indeed. Muslims consider Islam to be the final and perfect revelation, completing God's revelations to mankind and abrogating all previous messages — such as the Torah and the Gospel. Traditional Islam views Jews and Christians as renegades who have wickedly rejected this final and perfect revelation. Many Muslims view the world today from this perspective.

Islam as it is presented in this book would horrify secular readers in the West, particularly on the question of equality.

It is not politically correct to say it, but the Muslim sources show that the idea of the equality of rights and dignity of all people is simply not a part of traditional Islam.

Do you agree with President Bush that Islam is a religion of peace?

No. There are millions of peaceful Muslims in the world today, but Islam is unique among the world's religions in having a broad and highly developed theology, law and tradition mandating violence against nonbelievers. This is a fact that is borne out by all the schools of Islamic jurisprudence.

I respect the president and understand that he might have political reasons for saying what he says about Islam, but in Islamic terms it is simply inaccurate.

A recent article in the New York Times highlighted what one reporter perceived as a growing anger in the streets of Saudi Arabia toward Al Qaeda. The reporter went on to imply that this could end up helping Western efforts at rooting out terrorism. Is this a plausible reading of events?

I hope it's true. That story emphasizes, however, that Al Qaeda has lost support in Saudi Arabia by killing Muslims. No one seems concerned about non-Muslim deaths, and this is a manifestation of the huge and absolute division between believers and unbelievers that runs through the core texts of Islam.

President Bush has vowed to promote freedom in the Muslim world as an antidote to terror and oppression. Is this a plausible goal?

It is to a certain extent, but I am sure the president is aware that from its beginning, Islam has been a political and social system as well as an individual faith.

That means many Muslims in Iraq and elsewhere will oppose any democratic initiative on the grounds that democracy is a Western import, and an unnecessary one at that, since Islam already offers the perfect ordering for society in Islamic law, the Shariah.

Do you believe, as some do, that development in Muslim countries will erase the conflict between Westerners and Islam?

The conflict between the West and Islam, contrary to popular belief, is not a result of poverty in Muslim lands. The great Islamic empires of the past were the richest nations in the world in their day, but that didn't stop them from pressing militarily into Christendom for 1,000 years.

Today, Osama bin Laden is a very rich man, and studies show that generally terrorists are relatively affluent and well educated. This conflict stems from religious principles and motivations, not from a lack of development.

You mention in the book that Islam is growing at a historically unprecedented rate when compared with Christianity. What do you think this expansion will mean for Western countries during the next 50 years?

If demographic trends continue, several countries in Europe — Holland, France, Germany and possibly others — will have Muslim majorities by mid-century. Since many of these Muslims believe that once Muslims are a majority in a nation, that nation should be ruled by Islamic law, I think it is likely that this century will see either cataclysmic conflicts in Europe or the abject surrender of what was once Catholic Europe as Islamic principles clash with Western secularism.

Brian McGuire writes from Albany, New York.