The advantage of every great religion comes from the momentum of its growth. Yet that same growth inevitably leads to a crisis of identity, often more than once. Christianity for instance, despite modeling itself after the “Prince of Peace”, who is quoted as having forgiven His murderers even as they were in the act, was prone in its time of temporal power to sponsoring wars and conquests, and of coercing kings to its obedience. So it should be no surprise that Islam has found its way to excess and violence at times.
I have written more than once that most Muslims, the overwhelming majority, are humble and peace-loving, decent folk who simply want to obey God and live quietly and in justice. The present wave of malicious hatred sweeping Islam is not supported by the majority of Muslims, yet no great effort has been made to stand against it, and the Jihadists take this impetus to press forward in bloodlust. At some point the Jihadists will be opposed by an effective counterforce, and when this happens a great many innocents will die. Sadly, it is increasingly difficult to see how to stop this.
Part of the problem comes from Islam’s own history. At the age of 41 the Prophet Mohammed took part in the War of Fijar. Five years after his initial revelation from Allah, Mohammed and his followers were attacked by the Quaraish, who attempted to kill the new sect at its origin. Between 613 AD and 624 AD the Muslim movement was forced to flee three times from enemies intent on killing them for their beliefs. In 624 AD Mohammed and the Muslims seized Medina by force at the Battle of Badr. A series of battles and ongoing war was the theme of life until 630 AD and decisive battles at Hunsin, Auras, and Taif. As a result, the Quran focuses on a holy duty to fight for the faith, quite literally commanding Muslims to kill unbelievers. This is the birthstory of Islam.
After the death of Mohammed, the evangelism of Islam was simple and direct – submit or die. The war expanded in all directions, seizing Syria in 637 AD, as well as Jerusalem. The Muslims then advanced in Egypt (639 AD) , Persia (642 AD), and so into Asia Minor (646 AD) and North Africa (647 AD). In 666 AD Muslims were raiding Sicily, and laid siege to Constantinople in 677 AD. Conquest, pillaging and plunder became the way of the Crescent for many generations, as the bloody Caliphs surged across North Africa to the Atlantic, then North into Spain and then France. For all the talk about the violence of the Crusades, it must be understood that the long war began with an extensive invasion of Southern Europe by men dedicated to the proposition that everything and everyone before them would be taken as convert, property, or victim.
The Muslim empire after Tours (732 AD) backed off somewhat, as the Caliphs and Sultans sat back to consolidate their gains, in much the same way that third-generation Mafiasos tried to go “legitimate” on their ill-gotten wealth. But the empire did not hold, and Islam fell from temporal power, especially as men discovered they could hold power with only token tribute to the Mosque and the Mullah. Also, as often happens when a faith matures, Muslim scholars studied the Quran and the hadiths of the Prophet much more closely, and discovered lessons that many of the earlier Muslims had ignored. So there came to be four main classes of Muslim; the politician who played at Islam to his own benefit, the Jihadist who feared Islam had lost its way and become complacent, the scholars who studied the deeper teachings of the Prophet, and the common Muslim, who wanted to obey Allah and please Him, but also mainly wanted to live his life with as little suffering and trouble as possible. These classes are very much like what one finds in any major religion, though the proportionate memberships shifts over the years and according to what is going on.
The second half of the Twentieth Century saw the Middle East rise sharply in world prominence, wealth, and importance, and the first three groups all saw their chance to advance their cause, and too often at the cost of the ordinary Muslim. OPEC, the PLO, and countless militant groups which sought to “represent” Islam and the Arab world through violence and organized hatred, all demonstrate the force of Islam moving once again in conquest, but this time pursuing disparate goals of nationalism, commerce, and the forced evangelism of the Middle East back to Islam. What the West has not yet seen, is that Islam is divided against itself this time, and must either resolve the internal conflict or devolve into regional conflagration.
(to be continued)