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March 20, 2024
By Bassam Michael Madany

Most Arab and Muslim writers, even those who claim to be moderate, hardly ever admit that Islam was responsible for the rise of a unique imperialistic venture in the history of mankind. No other major world religion combined religion with politics, church with state, as Islam has done during the last 1400 years. And no other religion spread primarily through the sword, as Islam has done. Muslims glorify their early Conquests, claiming that they were accomplished with the approval of Allah, who gave them the right to bring mankind under their rule.

The West has been imperialistic; I lived under the French presence in the Levant during my formative years. At the school I attended, most subjects were taught in French. We studied the history of the Near East, but the emphasis was on “Histoire de France.” The title of our geography book was “La France et ses Colonies.”

However, when the French departed, they left no lasting impact on the area. The same applies to the other European Empires: they began in the 19th century and spread for 150 years, only to disappear soon after WWII. An important feature of Western Empires is that they were outre mer, “Overseas.” Not so with Islam, it spread contiguously as a land empire, with a lasting impact on the native populations.

An excellent analysis of the Nature and Extent of Islamic Imperialism was done by the British author, V. S. Naipaul.

In 1979, he visited four non-Arab Islamic countries, Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Indonesia. He met with various people and discussed the impact of Islam on their daily lives. His first book, Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey, was published by Random House, New York, in 1982. Here are excerpts from his book:

“Islam in Iran was even more complicated. It was a divergence from the main belief; and this divergence had its roots in the political-racial dispute about the succession to the Prophet, who died in 632 A.D. Islam, almost from the start, had been an imperialism as well as a religion, with an early history remarkably like a speeded-up version of the history of Rome, developing from city-state to peninsular overlord, to empire, with stresses at every stage.” P. 7

Almost two decades later, Naipaul revisited these four Islamic countries and met with the persons he had talked to in the 1970s. He produced a follow-up book, Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions among the Converted People. It was published by Random House in 1998.

The author returned to the theme of his previous book, and pointed to the unique nature of Islamic imperialism, namely, to make “the Converted People” forget their entire past, as if history began with the Islamic Conquests of their countries. In the Prologue of this work, he wrote:

“Islam is in its origins, an Arab religion. Everyone not an Arab who is a Muslim is a convert. Islam is not simply a matter of conscience or private belief. It makes imperial demands. A convert’s worldview alters. His holy places are in Arab lands; his language is Arabic. His idea of history alters. He rejects his own; he becomes, whether he likes it or not, a part of the Arab story. The convert must turn away from everything that is his. The disturbance for societies is immense, and even after a thousand years can remain unresolved; the turning away must be done again and again. People develop fantasies about who and what they are; and in the Islam of the converted countries there is an element of neurosis and nihilism. These countries can be easily set on the boil.” P. xi

The historian Efraim Karsh dealt with the same subject in his book, Islamic Imperialism: A History, published by Yale University Press, New Haven, and London, in 2006. In his Introduction, Professor Karsh contrasted Christianity with Islam:

“The worlds of Christianity and Islam, however, have developed differently in one fundamental respect. The Christian faith won over an existing empire in an extremely slow and painful process, and its universalism was originally conceived in spiritual terms that made a clear distinction between God and Caesar. By the time it was embraced by the Byzantine emperors as a tool for buttressing their imperial claims, three centuries after its foundation, Christianity had in place a countervailing ecclesiastical institution with an abiding authority over the wills and actions of all believers.

“The birth of Islam, by contrast, was inextricably linked with the creation of a world empire and its universalism was inherently imperialist. It did not distinguish between temporal and religious powers, which were combined in the person of Muhammad, who derived his authority directly from Allah and acted at one and the same time as head of the state and head of the church. This allowed the prophet to cloak his political ambitions with a religious aura and to channel Islam’s energies into ‘its instruments of aggressive expansion, there [being] no internal organism of equal force to counterbalance it.’”P. 5

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