CHARLOTTE, N.C., September 3, 2015 — One of the great myths of contemporary religion is buried in the mirage that represents the growth of Islam.
A recent column by Islamic scholar and writer Raymond Ibrahim not only dispels those mistaken ideas, but also explains in common-sense language what everyone should understand about Islamic expansion both past and present.
Not only does Ibrahim’s analysis explain much about what modern day experts call “moderate Muslims,” it also provides keen insights into the motivations of ISIS.
Ibrahim writes, “Early historical sources—both Muslim and non-Muslim—make clear that the Islamic empire was forged by the sword; that people embraced Islam, not so much out of sincere faith, but for a myriad of reasons—from converting in order to enjoy the boons of being on the ‘winning team’ to converting in order to evade the dooms of being on the ‘losing team.’ Modern day Muslims and other apologists—primarily in academia, government, and mainstream media—reject this idea.”
Using seventh-century Egypt as the basis for his rationale, Ibrahim points out, and backs up with historical evidence, that “Alexandria was one of the most important ecclesiastical centers of ancient Christian learning along with Rome and Antioch, one of the original three sees. … in recent times, both the oldest parchment to contain words from the Gospel (dating to the 1stcentury) and the oldest image of Christ were discovered in separate regions of Egypt.”
During that time in history, unlike today, “whatever religion a person was born into was accepted with absolute conviction.”
This statement by Ibrahim is critical in two ways. First, it explains why so many “converted” Muslims perpetuated the religion through centuries of ancestral evolution.
More importantly however, it also explains why the Hijrah in 622 A.D., when Muhammad left Mecca and traveled to Medina to establish the foundations of Islam, was such a significant historical event. For a seventh-century person to leave his tribal roots to re-establish himself elsewhere was a personal decision of major proportions.
Thomas Madden, a historian of medieval Europe and the crusades, sums it up this way: “(T)he medieval world was not the modern world. For medieval people, religion was not something one just did at church. It was their science, their philosophy, their politics, their identity, and their hope for salvation. It was not a personal preference but an abiding and universal truth.”
Ibrahim cites Madden again in his column: “It is easy enough for modern people to dismiss the crusades as morally repugnant or cynically evil. Such judgements, however, tell us more about the observer than the observed. They are based on uniquely modern (and, therefore, Western) values. If, from the safety of our modern world, we are quick to condemn the medieval crusader, we should be mindful that he would be just as quick to condemn us (regarding our values and priorities) … In both societies, the medieval and the modern, people fight for what is most dear to them.”
Given the brutality of the conquering Arabic armies and the hardships of survival in the harsh desert climate, many Christians opted to convert to Islam rather than face persecution or the extreme financial consequences of jizya, or Islamic taxation levied against non-Muslims.
In essence, the converts became “Muslims in name only,” which is key to understanding the growth of Islam and its millions of so-called “moderate” Muslims.
“Bouts of extreme persecution regularly flared up,” writes Ibrahim. “And with each one, more and more Christians converted to Islam in order to find relief.
“Today the whole of North Africa is reportedly 99% Muslim — yet few are aware that it was (a) Christian majority in the 7th century when Islam invaded. Once all these Christians converted to Islam, all their progeny became Muslim in perpetuity, thanks to Islam’s apostasy law, which bans Muslims from leaving Islam on pain of death.”
It is, in fact, quite possible that if the penalty for conversion from Islam had been ignored some 14 centuries ago, Islam as we know it today could very easily have died with the Prophet Muhammad in 632.
Ibrahim points out, “Past and present, Islam has been a religion of coercion. More than half the territory that once made up Christendom — including Egypt, Syria, Turkey, North Africa — converted to Islam due to bouts of extreme violence and ongoing financial bleeding.”
Consider that thought next time someone criticizes the crusades or attempts to denounce Christianity by apologizing for simply attempting to regain territory that was “stolen” by marauding Islamic expansion.
And then consider Ibrahim’s most salient point. “The Islamic State and like organizations and Muslims around the world are not aberrations but continuations.”
The concept is not difficult to grasp, but it has major implications for understanding Islam as we know it today.
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award-winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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