A PANORAMIC VIEW

by Shirley W. Madany


The expansion of the Islamic world, and its lasting effect on the peoples and countries it conquered, is a subject so enormous that it can't be exhausted in a life time. The mystery of Islam and its more than one billion adherents at the turn of another millennium is becoming increasingly relevant no matter where you are living. Forty-five years of pursuing the subject, plus a keen interest in the history of our world since the birth of our Lord, explains my frequent attempts to contribute something which will help others to understand.

When I discovered R. B. Kuiper's book "The Church in History" I was still living in Winnipeg, Canada. I interested several of my friends in investing in a copy. Here was a well-balanced "panoramic" view of the growth of the church throughout history. Looking at it now, I reviewed the chapter which describes the Crusades--an event in history which Christians are inclined to apologize for now without being really sensitive to the circumstances which prevailed in Europe and the Holy Land at that time.

Another "panoramic" book in my possession which describes the dispersion of the Jews after the destruction of Jerusalem and takes their history right up to the devastation of World War II and the Warsaw ghetto, is "The Book of Abraham" by Marek Halter. Halter, was a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto at the age of five. He never forgot what he witnessed. His tale takes the Jews on their long trek across North Africa, into Spain, later France, and up to the discovery of the printing press by Gutenberg, and on through the lives of one family who descended from a "scribe" or family chronicler. Within its pages, inevitably, there is a vivid account of the suffering inflicted on the Jewish community by the crusaders themselves as they marched through Europe. There are many parts of our history which we would rather forget.

But speaking of history, when you repeat the Nicene Creed do you ever think about where and when it was written? How real are the early days of Christianity to you? Are the Bible lands and Bible history a part of your world? In this age of such instant communication I have often marvelled at the great amount of travels that were embarked on--sea voyages which would takes weeks or months of hazard from storms and sickness. We are inclined to transpose our environment backwards in time. We forget that before the discovery of the telegraph, when oceans were crossed by sailing ships, news traveled much more slowly. But travel it did. After the period of the Crusades, it is astonishing how many pilgrims made it to the Holy Land and back in spite of having to walk through areas of Europe where brigands abounded. It was essential then to travel in groups for there was safety in numbers. Eventually they would embark on small boats from a port in Italy, usually Venice, on ships where it was necessary for each person to provide his or her own food. There are some fascinating insights about such voyages in the pages of a rare book: Memoirs of a Medieval Woman: The Life and Times of Margery Kempe by Louise Collis. This intrepid Englishwoman actually survived a lengthy pilgrimage in the early 1400's through shear determination.

I have merely walked through the ruins of Ephesus in the company of crowds of tourists. I presumed that all the devastation and emptiness could be explained as being the result of the frequent earthquakes which plague that part of the world. But, no. There were other forces of destruction. It is with heightened comprehension I've read the following line from THE DECLINE OF EASTERN CHRISTIANITY UNDER ISLAM: From Jihad to Dhimmitude, by Bat Ye'or: "At the end of 'dar-al-Islam', seven thousand Greeks were deported into captivity when Ephesus was sacked (781). A little further on in the same paragraph: "At the sack of Thessaloniki (903), twenty-two thousand Christians were shared between Arab chiefs or sold into slavery." This important book is available from Associated University Presses, 440 Forsgate Drive, Cranbury, NJ 08512. I was quoting from a special section dealing exclusively with the subject of slavery as it pertained to the Islamic Jihad. The "sacking" of a city could be very destructive!

Beautiful Thessalonika. What a tempestuous history you have had! We have two letters to the Thessalonian Christians in our Holy Bible. These were real people, like you and I, but they lived in such a strategic part of the world that they experienced a constant traffic of conquering armies, which made them prey to wars and devastation. Even now when you tour Greece you note certain distinctive differences between southern and northern Greece--differences which indicate that not too long ago the whole area was under Ottoman Turkish rule.

The book by this Jewish historian has 522 pages, half of which are documentation. Naturally, in so carefully prepared a book there had to be a glossary. Let's just see what she gives as definition for three key words:

The author points out that this tragic history is told in very different terms by the conqueror and the conquered. We talk about the revisionism of history in today's text books. We gasp when someone refuses to believe that the Holocaust occurred during World War II. We should be just as disturbed and suspicious when our leaders, for the sake of politics and diplomacy, listen to our Turkish allies refusing to confess, admit or apologize for the genocide of the Armenian people early in this century. It is all documented just as surely as the Jewish Holocaust. In choosing her documents, the author has leaned heavily on the reports of European Consuls and Vice-Consuls, as well as on countless irrefutable records available from the meticulous works of Jewish scholars. I think in particular of the moving account of an observer of the death marches of the Armenians who suffered and died in full view of the populace of Mosul, in northern Iraq.

It is worth noting that present-day Jews, which include the scholar Bat Ye'or, are attempting to raise the level of awareness of the civilized world to the growing scale of persecution which is causing another depletion of the Christian population of the Middle East. The percentage of Christians to be found in each country of the Middle East is dropping rapidly as they flee to the far corners of the earth. After this there will be no place left to flee because Muslims are immigrating also. A special Sunday was observed last year to remember the persecuted Christians throughout the world. One of the voices being heard is that of Michael Horowitz. In an article in the Wall Street Journal he said:

"Current U.S. immigration policies are designed to make it difficult for besieged Christians to take advantage of our laws granting asylum to religious minorities fleeing persecution. In clear violation of these laws, the Immigration and Naturalization Service frequently returns or causes the return of Christian minorities to Islamic regimes where they face jail, torture and even murder." (July 6, 1995)

Bat Ye'or describes what is happening in the Sudan as completely comparable to the early days of the Ottoman empire. Children are being taken from their parents and sold as slaves. We simply have to be fully conscious of this when we read the high-sounding documents coming from Arabic or Turkish sources. "These sources speak through their ideological prism: the sanctity of jihad, the justice of the dhimma, the perfection of Islamic law. An unvarying stream it provokes no dispute nor interrogation; a serene certitude, an ideal discourse, in which the vanquished exist only to serve with gratitude the cause of Islam." Information obtained from "dhimmi" sources would, on the other hand, be filled with the passion of injustice.

Over and over however, our devoted author points out that the history of the Middle East would not have turned out as it did without the invaluable help of collaborators who would justify their conversion to Islam by indicting their former community. She goes to considerable pains to make sure that we become aware of this fact. Talking about the Ottoman conquest of Eastern Europe which covered four centuries she says:

"This long period was punctuated by wars and alliances between populations who moved from confrontation to collaboration. Thus one may discern a self-perpetuating Christian Islamophile current running consistently through history, even swelling the ranks of the Islamic armies, which strengthened and guided them toward the conquest of their former homelands."

Thus the minority (Muslims) subdued completely the majority (Christians)!

We can't change the past. But let's get the record straight. The dhimmis have to be allowed to have their part in telling their history. We are indebted to someone who has done twenty years of research in order to provide irrefutable evidence as to what happened when the Christian majority were forced into the position of second-class citizens in their own lands. Unfortunately, quite often the true story about the fate of the Eastern Christians remains unreported in the West.

Consider, for example, how many of our universities have Chairs on Islamic or Middle Eastern Studies. Many are taught by Muslim scholars who paint a golden picture of the treatment of the native populations within the various Islamic empires of the past. Not a word is ever mentioned about the marginalization of the Christians under Islamic rule. That sad state of affairs played a major role in the slow but steady disappearance of Christianity within the Household of Islam, (dar al-Islam).

It would be too much to hope that one book could make a significant dent upon this situation. But at least, a first step has been taken in providing a true and unvarnished story of what happened to an important and heroic part of the universal Christian church which came into the Islamic orbit. The study of the documents contained in THE DECLINE OF EASTERN CHRISTIANITY provides us with ample food for reflection.


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