By Rev. Bassam M. Madany
Most Americans as well as other Western people, assume that Islam is just a religion like any other of the world’s major religions which include Buddhism, Confucianism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, and Shinto. The assertion is almost universally made that “Islam is a peaceful religion,” and anything in Islam that might be termed radical, is only due to the extremists in its midst. Such extremists, or Islamists so-called, have highjacked this “peaceful” faith.
There is one basic fact about Islam that is not taken into consideration in this widely-held view. The world needs to understand that Islam is a synthesis of religion and politics in one indivisible entity. History bears this out for all with eyes to see. More importantly, the synthesis is supported by the authoritative texts of Islam: the Qur’an and the Hadith.
Muhammad claimed that in the year 610 A.D., Allah called him to be a prophet to all mankind. He soon began preaching the Oneness of Allah, and the vanity of idol worship. He claimed to have received “revelations” that “descended” upon him while he lived in Mecca. However, opposition arose from the leaders of that city forcing him to move to Medina in the year 622.
622 A.D. is a most significant date. It marks the first year in the Islamic lunar calendar, known as Anno Hejira, i.e. the Year of the Migration. An activist interpretation of continuing “revelations” was becoming manifest. Muhammad in Medina steadily fostered a distinctively political and juridical course of action. Opposition to him was then seen to be opposition to Allah. Some of the Surahs (Chapters) of the Qur’an sanctioned the use of force in opposing the enemies of the Prophet. And force was used so that by 630, Muhammad had vanquished his enemies, and returned in triumph to Mecca. Thus, before his death in 632, Muhammad had become both a Prophet and Political Leader of the New Community of Believers, known as the Umma.
The history of Islam proves the thesis that Islam is different from all other faiths. Here are the facts:
- Several Arab tribes gave their allegiance to Muhammad while he lived, but went back on Islam after he died. The first Caliph, Abu Bakr, waged war against them and forced them back into Islam. In Islamic history, they are known as “Huroob al-Radda,” i.e., the wars against Apostasy.
- The expansion of Islam took place by military force. Between 632 and 732, Muslim armies successfully overran the Persian Empire, and took Syria, Egypt, and North Africa from the Byzantine Empire. They were prevented from making even further expansion into Europe at the Battle of Tours/Poitiers that was fought on October 10, 732, between forces under the Frankish leader Charles Martel and a massive invading Islamic army led by Emir Abdul Rahman Al-Ghafiqi. During the battle, the Franks defeated the Islamic army and Emir Abdul Rahman was killed. This battle stopped the northward advance of Islam from the Iberian Peninsula.
- It must be noted that all the early and very deadly disputes among Muslims were of a political, and not of a religious nature:
- Caliphs Umar and Uthman were assassinated by disgruntled Muslims.
- Third Caliph Ali (cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad) had to face an insurrection by the Governor of Damascus, and was murdered by one of his own followers for having accepted arbitration with his opponent.
- A new dynastic Caliphate, the Umayyad, came into existence in 661, and made Damascus the capital of the expanding Islamic Empire. Enemies of this Umayyad dynasty brought it to an end, in a blood bath in 750.
- The Umayyads were followed by the Abbasid dynasty which moved the capital of the Islamic empire to Baghdad. It was mainly during the Abbasid’s relatively long history that Muslims engaged for a time in discussing theological and juridical subjects.
- The Turks took on the mantle of spreading Islam after the fall of Baghdad in the 13th century. They succeeded in expanding the Islamic Empire at the expense of the remnants of the Byzantine Empire. In 1453, the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople, and renamed it Istanbul. In 1529, they laid their first siege of Vienna. Then, in 1683 a huge Turkish army under Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa surrounded Vienna. The Ottomans failed for the second time to conquer Vienna, as John III, king of Poland, came to the help of the Austrians. A decade later, the Treaty of Karlowitz cost Turkey Hungary and other territories.
- The fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1918, and the abolishing of the Caliphate in 1924, caused a great crisis in Islamic history. But it did not change the basic beliefs of Islam. Islam remains a religious-political ideology which animates the radicals in the Arab-Muslim world, and gives legitimacy to the Taliban in Afghanistan, and al-Qaeda elsewhere.
- One little-known by-product of Islamic Jihadism is the continuing struggle between the Algerian government and the radical Islamist group, FIS (Front Islamique de Salut) Islamic Salvation Front. Since 1991, around 200,000 Algerian civilians have been murdered by members of FIS.
These facts of history should make it clear what the true nature of Islam is. To claim that Islam is a peaceful religion evades the real question whether Islam should even be regarded simply as a religion. More appropriately it should be seen as a thoroughly ideological synthesis of religion & politics in one indivisible entity.
The “War on Terror” as declared by President Bush in the aftermath of 11 September, 2001, evaded the true nature of the war. “Terror” is an abstract concept; one cannot fight abstractions. Muhammad Atta & his colleagues attacked vital centers and symbols of America by super-violent means due to their political-religious beliefs. It is unfortunate that political correctness has overtaken political discourse in the United States and the West in general, such that the authorities refuse to see the true identity of the enemy: Islamic Jihadism, which stems from the teachings of the Islamic faith. There is no logical or legitimate reason to keep using the meaningless term, “The War against Terror.” It is as a struggle against Islamist Jihadism! And this particular vision of Islam which is espoused by violent extremists needs to be understood. Is it reformable one might ask? There is reason for some hope. Arabic-language websites, operated by reform-minded intellectuals, denounce Islamism and Islamists as well. They are not afraid to propose far-reaching proposals on how to view certain passages from the Qur’an, particularly those known as the Sword Verses, by suggesting they should no longer be considered normative!