Islam is More Than a Religion - II

by Bassam M. Madany

Among the major world religions, Islam poses the greatest challenge to Christianity. For one thing, Islam claims to be the last message from God to mankind. This faith disputes all the fundamentals of the Christian faith: the authenticity of the Bible, the Trinity, the deity of Jesus Christ, his crucifixion, resurrection, and redemptive mission. Historically, Islam spread through conquest. It has reduced Christianity to a faith of a dwindling minority in the Middle East. In North Africa, it caused the church to disappear. Most North Americans do not realize that Islam is much more than a religion, in the ordinary sense of the word.

In Islam Is More Than a Religion, Part 1, I explained how Islam developed into a complex of religion, state, and culture in one entity. Two factors played a part in this phenomenon: One was the life and example of Muhammad, the founder of this religion, and the way he succeeded in making Islam the religion of all Arabia. The other factor was geopolitical: the two superpowers of the time, Byzantium and Persia, had exhausted themselves in their fierce rivalry. Thus, they were unable to withstand the onslaught of the Arab-Islamic armies that burst out of Arabia after the death of Muhammad in 632 AD.

In the remaining part of this article, I would like to explain in detail how Islam has managed to weaken Christianity, and in some places, completely displace it. My primary source is: The Decline of Eastern Christianity, From Jihad to Dhimmitude. (1) The author, Bat Ye'or, was born in Egypt, and was member of a sizable Jewish community that had lived in that country for centuries before Christ. The Jewish population of Egypt dwindled rapidly after the birth of Israel in 1948. Bat Ye'or (a Hebrew name that means, Daughter of the Nile), migrated to France and contributed several works on the topic of "Dhimmis" (Jews and Christian) under Islam. In 1991, this book was first published in French, and five years later, the English translation appeared.

Professor Jacques Ellul, a well-known French Protestant scholar of the University of Bordeaux, wrote the Foreword to the book. Ellul reminds us that an intrinsic part of the Islamic faith is jihad. While modern Islamic scholars have endeavored to re-define jihad, claiming that it is primarily a "struggle with self," Jacques Ellul points out that history proves that jihad means primarily, war against non-Muslims.

"But a major, twofold fact transforms the jihad into something quite different from traditional wars… The twofold factor is first the religious nature, then the fact that war has become an institution (and no longer an 'event'). In Islam, however, jihad is a religious obligation. It forms part of the duties that the believer must fulfill. It is Islam's normal path to expansion. " Pp. 18,19

"Hence, the second important specific characteristic is that the jihad is an institution, and not an event, that is to say it is part of the normal functioning of the Muslim world. The conquered populations change status (they become dhimmis), and the shari'a tends to be put into effect integrally, overthrowing the former law of the country. The conquered territories do not simply change 'owners.' Rather they are brought into a binding collective (religious) ideology --- with the exception of the dhimmi condition --- and are controlled by a highly perfected administrative machinery." P. 19

Coming now to our author's text, we are impressed by the thorough research and analysis of the sources that prove the thesis of Bat Ye'or, namely that the Islamic conquests had given birth for all time (within the Muslim world) of an institution that places the native populations into a permanently handicapped status. Writing about The Origin of Jihad, she put it in these words:

"The Jihad … linked the mores of great warlike nomadism with the conditions of existence of Muhammad in … Medina where he emigrated in 622, fleeing the persecutions of the pagans of Mecca. Lacking means of subsistence, the small emigrant Muslim community lived at the expense of the new converts in Medina. As this situation could not last, the Prophet organized armed incursions to intercept the caravans that traded with Mecca. Interpreter of the will of Allah, Muhammad combined the political power of a military leader, the religious power and the functions of a judge: 'Whosoever obeys the Messenger, thereby obeys God' (Koran 4:82). P. 37

To go over the details that Bat Ye'or mentions in her book may sound totally out of tune with the spirit of our times when a globalized and shrinking world requires all of us to live in harmony and forget the past. But what if some civilizations are not able to adjust their ideology to the modern situation? And what if, as we notice today, Islamic radicalism is impacting our world from Indonesia, passing through Pakistan, and into the Middle East? Are we supposed to engage in self-censorship and suppress facts that are based on ancient dogmas and that are still relevant on the global scene?

Here are a few more quotes:

"The religious obligation to fight the Christians required a permanent state of war which justified the organization of seasonal raids … They sometimes consisted of short pillaging incursions … to collect booty, steal livestock, and enslave the villagers… Provinces were ravaged and burned down, towns pillaged and destroyed, inhabitants massacred or deported." P. 48

"The two pillars of the nascent Islamic state in the conquered lands were the army --- formed by Arab tribes and the slaves taken as spoils of war --- and the conquered masses: tributaries, slaves, freed men, and converts, a workforce which fed the economic sector. The third pillar --- juridical power --- was being elaborated. It would undertake to balance and rectify the enormous demographic disparity between the conquered Peoples of the Book* and the Muslims." Pp. 69,70

Chapter 10 is titled: Conclusion. Bat Ye'or endeavors to bring together for the contemporary reader, a meaningful result of her research. Her goal is not merely to supply us with facts relating to the past fourteen centuries, but to enable us to understand the challenges that we face throughout the twenty-first century.

"In the lands conquered by jihad … the Peoples of the Book* formed majorities, among whom the Arabs of the first wave of Islamization and the Turks of the second wave were in the minority. Presumably the complex and little-known processes that transformed those majorities into minorities covered some three or four centuries for each wave of Islamization. By contracting it, the expression 'religious minorities' reverses a chronological process that had spread over centuries, whose result --- the minority condition --- is taken as its starting point. " P.243

"Decimated by razzias** in the countryside, they sought refuge in the towns which they developed and embellished. Branded with opprobrium, the conquerors still chose to drag them from region to region in order to revive ravaged lands and restore ruined towns. Once again, they built, again they worked. Once again they were driven out, again pillaged and ransomed. And as they dwindled, drained of their blood and spirit, civilization itself disappeared, decadence stagnated, barbarism reigned over lands which, previously, when they were theirs, were lands of civilization, of crops and of plenty." P. 265

"The elites who fled to Europe took their cultural baggage with them, their scholarship, and their knowledge of the classics of antiquity. Therefore, in the Christian lands of refuge --- Spain, Provence, Sicily, Italy --- cultural centers developed where Christians and Jews from Islamized lands taught to the young Europe the knowledge of the old pre-Islamic Orient, formerly translated into Arabic by their ancestors." P. 265

"And so this study would prefer to end with the a tribute. Indeed, as the centuries shed their leaves, these rejects of history disclose the infinite variety of the human character. Servile, corrupt, cowardly, pusillanimous, and presumptuous, but also learned, industrious, and heroic; all aspects blended and intermingled; faces of blood and tears, faces of wisdom and enquiry, molded in a thousand-year-old human magma which the historian only approaches with respect and without judgment." P. 265


(1) The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude, by Bat Ye'or. Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1996

*People of the Book: The Qur'an refers to both Jews and Christians as the People of the Book, i.e., the People of the Bible.

** Razzias: the raids undertaken by Muslim armies within Christian territories.

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