by Rev. Bassam M. Madany
Radio, television, and the print media, brought us several articles and commentaries on the occasion of the Fifth Anniversary of September 11, 2001. The New York Post Online edition published an article by Ralph Peters, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, with this title, “Islam-Haters: An Enemy Within.” He referred to “a rotten core of American extremists,” without naming them, “who are standing in the way of properly dealing with the global menace of jihadism.”
On September 12, 2006, Robert Spencer, an authority on the history of Islam, and author of several books on the subject, responded on FrontPageMagazine.com, with an article entitled, “Ralph Peters’ Fog of Confusion.” For a full text of the article, please go to FrontPageMag.com.
It is not my intention to deal with all the charges of Ralph Peters, but I restrict myself to a comment he made about God, as He is revealed in one of the historical Books of the Old Testament. In his article that appeared on the New York Post Online edition, on September 7, 2006, Mr. Peters criticized those he termed as “Islam-Haters” for pointing to references in the Qur’an that support violence against non-Muslims:
“As for the books and Web sites listing all those passages encouraging violence against the infidel, well, we could fill entire libraries with bloody-minded texts from the Christian past. And as a believing Christian, I must acknowledge that there’s nothing in the Koran as merciless as God’s behavior in the Book of Joshua.”
A few days later, Ralph Peters made similar remarks during the “Symposium: 9/11 Five Years Later,” that was presided over by Jamie Glazov of FrontPageMamazine.com published on 9/11/06 (Symposium: 9/11 Five Years Later).
“Blanket hatred is blanket hatred, no matter how piously it’s couched in terms of patriotism or ‘defending our civilization.’ I cited the Book of Joshua because of the grotesque thirst for blood of our own Old Testament deity--far uglier than anything in the Koran (which is simply stream-of-consciousness nonsense--Mohammed should sue James Joyce for plagiarism). We could compile endless volumes of Christian hate speech that’s stacked up over the past thousand years (it really hit its stride in the tenth century). Unfair to cite only the Muslim hate-mongers without noting that we’ve had plenty of our own.”
It is so unfortunate that a retired United States officer who has had some experiences overseas, including tours of duty in Muslim lands, and who regards himself as “a believing Christian,” manifests such an ignorance of both Christianity and Islam. Not keeping his confusion to himself, he goes public by equating Christianity with Islam, as far as encouraging violence towards those who don’t belong to their communities.
Some of his sentences were extremely shocking, in fact revolting. “I cited the Book of Joshua because of the grotesque thirst for blood of our own Old Testament deity…”... “And as a believing Christian, I must acknowledge that there’s nothing in the Koran as merciless as God’s behavior in the Book of Joshua.”
I don’t know how much Mr. Peters knows of Church History, but his views are identical with those of the notorious Second Century heretic, Marcion (110-160) who held that the God of the Old Testament was “jealous, wrathful, and legalistic.” This early heresy was thoroughly condemned by the early church.
While a Westerner who appears frequently on television, speaking on matters of war and peace, claims that Christians have been as violent as Muslims; some liberal Arab writers affirm that Islam, both in its sacred texts, and throughout its 1400-year history, has been a violent faith. Recently, on a Kuwaiti Arabic-language website devoted to dialogue, modernization, and reformation, an article dealt with the theme, “Is Islam a Tolerant Religion?”
An English-language website of ex-Muslims, FaithFreedom.Org, quoted at length from the above mentioned article, adding some comments that I now share with our readers, before making my own observations.
The moderate Arab Muslim writer began,
“I do expect to get responses from those who claim that Islam is a tolerant religion, and who would refer me to several religious texts, in the Qur’an, and the Sunna, that prove their point. On the other hand, there are many more texts that prove the very opposite. So, the problem that faces Muslims today is that those who yield authority in Muslim countries refer to the second set of texts, namely to those that advocate intolerance vis-à-vis the ‘Other,’ or, the ‘Different.’
“In order for the Muslim world to live at peace with the other civilizations, it is of utmost importance that the religious leaders of Islam face honestly this question: ‘Is Islam a religion of peace?’ We need a serious response from them in order to curb the activities of the Jihadists and Irhabists (terrorists) who have highjacked Islam. They must clarify Islam’s position regarding this mad violence that has gripped the Muslim world, and spilled into many other lands. They have to cleanse Islam from all the vestiges of terrorism; otherwise, all of us will be paying a heavy price for their inaction. Is there anyone, anybody listening to me?”
Another article appeared on the same website dealing with the necessity of reformation in Islam. Its author’s thesis was that those chapters (surahs) of the Qur’an that were revealed to Muhammad in Mecca (610-622) had a peaceful message, when the Prophet was weak. But after his migration to Medina in 622 and until his death in 632, when he assumed the role of prophet and ruler of the nascent Islamic Umma (community), the tone of the revelations changed, becoming intolerant of opposition, and advocating violence towards non-Muslims. Thus, to bring about a reformation in Islam today, it is necessary to regard the Meccan surahs as normative; while considering the Medinan surahs as no longer applicable to the here and now.
A frequent commentator on the site of FaithFreedom.org, analyzed the article on reformation in Islam, and wrote his evaluation of about the impossibility of separating the two parts of the Qur’an:
“While the goal of these reformists is laudable, unfortunately it is simply a shot in the dark. Islam is firmly entrenched in the entire Qur’an, the Hadith, and the Sunna. Neither these authoritative texts, nor the way they have been expounded during the last fourteen centuries, allow for any disjunction between the teachings of the “Meccan Surahs” and the “Medinan Surahs” of the Qur’an. The orthodox doctrine regarding the text of the Qur’an is its uncreatedness. There can be no pick and choose between the revelation that ‘descended’ in Mecca, and the revelation that came later on in Medina.
“Unfortunately for Muslim reformers, they do not have the same tradition vis-à-vis the Qur’an as Christians have regarding the Bible. What I mean is that in the Christian tradition, the teachings of the Old Testaments must be interpreted in the light of the New Testament. Thus, since the New Testament clearly teaches two distinct and separate realms: the realm of God, and the realm of “Caesar,” it leaves no room for the establishment of a theocracy in areas of the world where Christians dominate. Furthermore, such parts of the Old Testament that deal with the conquest of the Promised Land, and the various aspects of the Mosaic law, excepting the Ten Commandments, are regarded as pertaining to a specific temporary era, and thus, are not normative for the present.
“What I mean is that the Christian Scriptures themselves describe two phases of revelation, the first being preparatory for the second phase, which is final. As mentioned above, it is the New Testament itself that authoritatively endorses this view, and is not a later addition to the Christian tradition. It is true that after the conversion of Emperor Constantine, the lines of demarcation separating Church and State became blurred. And after the fall of Rome, the Western Church began to interfere in the affairs of the State. However, such changes were contrary to the teachings of the Bible. So the Reformers of the 16th Century simply called for a return to the Biblical teachings, not only regarding spiritual matters, but equally in connection with the affairs of the state.
“Muslim scholars today, interested in some kind of reform, don’t have the ‘luxury’ that Luther, Calvin, and Knox had, almost five hundred years ago. Their Holy Book doesn’t allow for such a radical hermeneutic as called-for by the author of the article” i.e., considering only the early parts of the Qur’an (revealed in Mecca) are normative for the present.
Thus far the quotations from the FaithFreedom website.
It is too bad that Ralph Peters, who regards himself as a believing Christian, doesn’t seem to know enough about his faith as not to make irresponsible comments about the God of the Old Testament, making Him altogether different from the God of the New Testament. He must have never heard of the well-known adage of St Augustine, “In the Old Testament, the New Testament lies concealed, but in the New Testament, the Old Testament is revealed.”
Another basic error of Ralph Peters is his ignorance of the history of Islam during the last fourteen centuries. In this connection, I would like to quote from an excellent book, “ISLAMIC IMPERIALISM: A HISTORY” The author, Ephraim Karsh, is Professor and Head of the Mediterranean Studies Programme, King’s College, University of London. It was published in 2006 by Yale University Press, New Haven and London.
Writing in his Introduction, Professor Karsh contrasts Christianity and 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
How tragic indeed that some Western “experts” spout such irresponsible words positing equivalence between the Christian Scriptures and the Qur’an, and go on claiming that “we could fill entire libraries with bloody-minded texts from the Christian past.” These are not words based on genuine historical research, but are emotional outbursts that do not advance the cause of peaceful coexistence between Islam and the rest of the world.
I end my article by quoting these sober words of Professor Karsh, taken from his Epilogue:
“Contrary to widespread assumptions, these attacks, [reference here is to 9/11/2001] and for that matter Arab and Muslim, anti-Americanism, have little to do with US international behavior or its Middle Eastern policy. America’s position as the pre-eminent world power blocks Arab and Islamic imperialist aspirations. As such, it is a natural target for aggression. Osama bin Laden and other Islamists’s war is not against America per se, but is rather the most recent manifestation of the millenarian jihad for a universal Islamic empire (or umma). This is a vision by no means confined to an extremist fringe in Islam, as illustrated by the overwhelming support for the 9/11 attacks throughout the Arab and Islamic worlds.” P. 234
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