The esteemed scholar, Arabist, and publicist Prof. Dr. Hans Jansen is a Professor in Leiden, the Netherlands, and a specialist in political Islam. He was Houtsma professor for Contemporary Islamic Thought in the Department of Arabic, Persian and Turkish at the University of Utrecht until his retirement in 2008.
The essay “De opmars van de islam” (“The advance of Islam”), was published in: Profetisch Perspectief, Volume 14, Spring 2009, Number 62, pp. 45-50; and on the Dutch website HoeiBoei, March 20, 2009.
The embedded links were added by the translator, our Flemish correspondent VH.
The Advance of Islam
“Islamic ideology is not resistant to the free word”
By the Arabist Hans Jansen
In less than four centuries Christianity was able to win the Roman Empire over to itself. This happened from the bottom up, without force or violence, without government intervention or support. On the contrary, the government of the Roman Empire, by persecuting Christians from time to time, hindered Christianization with force and violence.
During the period the Roman Empire was being Christianized, the process occurred more or less in what is now known as the Middle East, plus in Europe up to the Danube and the Rhine. That doesn’t mean to say that there were no Christians outside that area. By about 300-350, to the east of the Roman Empire in Persia, a fair number of Christians could be found (later known as the Nestorians). Also just outside the borders of the Roman Empire there lived the Armenians and Georgians, who by about 300 were not only majority Christian, but had adopted Christianity as a state religion. In the Roman Empire that happened shortly thereafter.
The Muslims managed to conquer roughly the same area as that of the ancient Roman Empire in about a century, with the exception of Western Europe, where they were stopped in France by Charles Martel (732), and with the exception of Turkey and the current Balkans, where the Muslims were stopped by the Eastern Roman Empire, the Byzantines, until the middle of the fifteenth century.
Nevertheless it was a tremendous military achievement for the Muslims to conquer in such a short time a territory that stretched from Toledo to Gibraltar, Tunis, Cairo, Damascus, Baghdad, Mecca, and beyond. According to Islamic tradition, Muhammad, who was the beginning of this wave of violence, died in 632. Exactly a century later, a temporary end came to the military expansion of Islam because of the defeat of the Muslims at Poitiers in central France.
There is not a single Muslim who is unaware of this century of conquests. The military successes of that time are generally perceived by Islamic theologians as proof of the truth of Islam and the correctness of the statements made by Muhammad about himself and his mission. This century of conquest plays a major role in Islamic apologetics. If Islam were not God’s own religion, Muslims reason, and if Muhammad were not the messenger of God, they think, then these conquests would not have taken place and would not have been so successful. These conquests can be considered as akbar dalaala alla Sidq muHammad, “the best proof of the sincerity of Muhammad,” as a comment in the Qur’an at one point expresses it.
Europeans who are not used to employing this kind of reasoning in a debate are sometimes left mute when they are for the first time confronted with this assertion. At some of the meetings that purportedly contributed to the dialogue between Christianity and Islam, this argument was used. Perhaps that is, after all, a good thing, because what is the use of having a quarrel?
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But it is a ridiculous Islamic fallacy. When Christianity was able to win the Middle East and Europe over, it was without using violence. Should the Christians then be impressed that others, namely the Muslims, have managed to conquer such an area using brute military violence? No, of course not. On the contrary.
We should not enter into silly contests of miracles, but may establish that a religion like this needed to make use of the force of arms to achieve approximately the same thing that Christianity managed to achieve without violence. This of course proves nothing, but does make one think, and takes away from their hands one of their main “pieces of evidence” for Islam. In their propaganda, therefore, Muslims are eager to point to the later violent nature of churches and Christianity, in the centuries after Emperor Constantine, the emperor who made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. That of course is true. Man is inclined towards all kinds of evil. Once the power of the state during the fourth century AD came into Christian hands, it was obviously made use of in a way that was considered normal in those days. But that was only after the triumph of Christianity.
Those who wish to may apologize for the later Christian violence, even though their personal share in the mistakes that were committed during those centuries is small. Because of the “confession” that is part of the Christian liturgy, Christians are perhaps trained too well in the confession of guilt, and that contrasts with the views of most Muslims, who are in fact proud of the warfare of Islam against the Christians, and of the military triumphs that were achieved, at least in the early days. Later the balance of power changed in favor of Christianity. But we need to understand fully that the Muslims could have stayed at home in Medina. They did not do so; they marched out to battle. According to Islamic tradition, Muhammad settled in Medina in 622, and since then the Muslims have increasingly engaged their neighbors with the use of arms. Time and again, the Muslims declared war on their neighbors at the borders of their ever growing empire.
That is their choice. It might also have turned out differently. They could have tried the same way which allowed Christianity to flourish in its first three centuries. That is what the Muslims did not do, instead following Muhammad as example as they went into one after another armed conflict with their neighbors, to increase the area where Islam rules. The imperialist wars of conquest these fights and battles have been part of are not something for which Muslims will ever pardoned for. To this day they consider — and this is what modern people find the strangest — that the success that the early Muslims were able to obtain on the battlefield is a proof of God’s favor. Oddly enough, the defeats suffered by the Muslims are not seen by them as a proof to the contrary. For if God is interfering with their wars, then, for example, in the conflict between Israel and the Arabs he is on the side of Israel.
Once the Muslims were the masters of the Middle East, they started — and it can not be said otherwise — to the harass and bully powerless Christians who were in the majority in their captive nations. For the Christians of Egypt, for example, this has been defined in the History of the Patriarchs of the Egyptian Church, a book in many parts, attributed to Bishop Severus ibn al-Mukaffa. How unfortunate, sad, and incomprehensible that no one at the top of the Christian Democratic parties is prepared to read this book (which is translated into English). Did not the Romans state that the gods first blind those they want to pervert?
For the Jews in Egypt this bullying is demonstrated beyond any doubt by the so-called Genizah documents, a vast collection of correspondence, fragments of accounts, receipts, etc., from the medieval Jewish community in Cairo. Israeli intellectuals and politicians are to some extent familiar with this so-called Cairo Genizah; they at least consider it a part of the history of Judaism, unlike Christian intellectuals, theologians, priests, bishops and politicians who have never even heard of Severus ibn al-Mukaffa.
The Muslims themselves write very openly about this harassment in the manuals of the sharia and in fatwas. Historically therefore, there is no doubt whatsoever. The literary tradition in chronicles of the victims (Severus), archeology (Genizah), and the administration and reporting (Sharia) of the perpetrators totally agree. That is not often so, and therefore you might think that a crowd of scientists would have focused on this episode in history.
But that seems not to be the case. Research with a scientific approach that might anger the Muslim elite is usually ignored by Western scholars. Not because the members of that elite might raise arms themselves, for they are all nice civilized people without blood on their hands. For the bloodshed they have radicals like Mohammed B. at their disposal. They do not need to do that themselves. Light and in all ways civilized pressure on Western researchers and colleagues (to whom half a word will do) is enough to create a wall of silence.
What does the harassment consist of according to the Muslims themselves? The core of it is summed up on a list that is known as “the Pact of Omar”. There were two Caliph Omars; the first from 634 to 644, the second from 717 to 720. Both are mentioned as the monarch under whom these rules were issued. In Arabic, this list has a bit clearer name: the “conditions”, shuruuT of Omar. These are on the conditions under which the Christians, the Samaritans, and the Jews within the areas that are conquered by Islam may hold on to their religion. They must distinguish themselves by the color of their clothing or headgear as non-Muslim. This is where the yellow star for the Jews derives from. They are not allowed to carry arms or own them (and are therefore completely helpless). Riding horses is prohibited. In combination with the prohibition on possession of weapons this obviously made a trip of any magnitude impossible in the early days.
Annually every non-Muslim person had to pay a personal tax. When it was handed over, the tax collector had to strike a blow on the neck of the non-Muslim, which was meant as a symbolic beheading. The purpose of this was to remind the non-Muslim that he had been overcome by the superior Muslim armies, and even though he was spared from being a prisoner of war, enslaved or decapitated, this would only be as long as the Muslim rulers were pleased to do so. Whoever thinks that this is all a theory should read the books of Bat Ye’or, or the forthcoming book by the Australian theologian Marc Durie*. Whoever could not pay the tax had the choice between becoming Muslim or death. Even under all these humiliations the oriental Christians prefer to remain silent, and we in the West owe the greatest respect to all those who have managed to endure this century after century without becoming disloyal to their church.
The Sharia, the Islamic law, as revealed in the manuals written by Muslims for Muslims, adds a few nice things to this. Major maintenance to church buildings is no longer needed and therefore forbidden, because Islam is coming to replace Christianity. It is not permitted to build new churches and synagogues. When a Muslim accuses a Christian or Jew of “insulting the prophet”, the Christian or Jew in question usually can only be saved by becoming a Muslim. Children whose father is unknown are considered Muslim. Muslim children must be raised by Muslims, so the churches never had the opportunity to care for the children of unmarried mothers, for example, by hiding them in a monastery. The list is long, and nowadays can be found in many reference books, and it gives a pretty good idea of how false and mean people can be to one another, while always looking up piously and muttering that it is only about the implementation of the laws of God.
Christians are not allowed to marry Muslim women, although Muslims are allowed to marry Christian women. This has led to many hormone-driven conversions of young Christian men. For Christian and Jewish girls who were married off to their Muslim lord and master, this brought a lot of humiliation with it. Christians cannot be a witness for the prosecution in court cases against Muslims. This has and had enormous consequences for criminal law in Sharia. The Muslim prohibition of music and wine also affects church music and the Eucharistic wine. It is almost unbelievable, but Christians and Jews who grew up under Islamic supremacy have usually fully internalized these rules. The Dutch also internalize these rules more and more and find it self-evident that the Muslim demands in this area must be met, and according to good Dutch custom, they sometimes are even ahead of the requirements that Islam demands.
What is nice about the game is that Islam does not even explicitly make such demands. That forces Christians who live under the authority of Islam to constantly ask themselves what is allowed and what is not allowed. The inhabitants of the Middle East have developed a good feel for that, but nevertheless sometimes get it wrong. Someone who has been raised in a free country may possibly never learn this; think of the British teacher in Sudan who gave a teddy bear the name Muhammad, and then only with the greatest difficulty managed to save her life. The wonderful Roman rule nulla poena sine lege, “no punishment without [clear] law” is obviously not the case under Islamic law.
This vagueness of the rules of Sharia is highly praised by the friends of Islam as the “flexibility” of the Sharia. From the Islamic perspective this flexibility is very effective, because it forces Christians to constantly ask themselves what their Muslim masters desire of them. And it’s bizarre to see how much trouble the Dutch also go to prevent their Muslim neighbors from feeling displeased. Islam, unlike most other religions, is capable of having a decisive influence on the lives of those who do not adhere to that religion. Just grab a newspaper and see the examples.
With so many juridical rules that favor the Muslims and Islam, it is a miracle that about the year 1000 AD Muslims and Christians were still equal in number in the Middle East. Only in remote areas has Christianity managed to survive, as with the Maronites in the mountains of Lebanon. After the Crusades the percentage of Christians in the Muslim world dropped further, to about ten to fifteen percent; it remained roughly the same until the eighties of the last century. Only in exile, in the United States of America and Australia, have the Christian traditions that formed under Islamic supervision managed to maintain themselves.
After 9-11 and the millennium a lot quickly changed in this respect. In Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Turkey, the last of the remaining native Christians are trying ho get out. The hurricane of Sharia fanaticism — mostly called Islamic fundamentalism or radicalism by us — was noted by many of them much earlier than by us in the West. It will not take more than a few years before the last Arabic, Turkish or Syrian Christians will have left Nazareth, Bethlehem, Greater Syria, Turkey and Iraq. In Muslim eyes this is a historically important development, which coincides with the peaceful conquest of Europe by Islam. To us here in Europe this doesn’t matter at all; on the contrary, with boundless naïveté we are building mosques for our immigrants from the Islamic world. While the elite plays the fiddle of multiculturalism, the suburbs are already burning.
Mosques play a central role in the rise of the Islam. The mosque is not only the prayer house, it is also the command center of jihad. The daily commands to order must be issued from the pulpit in the mosque. The stoning for adultery and beheading of apostates takes place in front of the mosque. The army that marches out on jihad departs from the mosque. Since the relief of Vienna in 1683, jihad against unbelief and unbelievers is no longer practiced by states, but by private organizations like the elusive Al-Qaeda, because a state that wages jihad would be destroyed by the Western military. In contrast, masked individuals who shoot from an ambush are harder to combat.
The shame about their own cowardice has disappeared; to come out in the open to fight is characterized as simply stupid. The hiding of the heroes of the jihad between defenseless citizens is a routine maneuver. Intense complaints if the enemy also happens to hurt those citizens belong to the daily game with the ignorantly stupid Western news agencies. Kamikaze-artists who in addition to themselves bring death to dozens of others receive from the hands of Islamic clergymen like Al-Qaradawi the crown of martyrdom. This Al-Qaradawi also preaches that God’s last punishment of the Jews was carried out “by Hitler against the Jews, but the next punishment must be at the hands of the Muslims” (January 30, 2009). This Al-Qaradawi is brought to Amsterdam by influential PvdA politicians [Socialists, Labour] and seen as their mentor. Deeper than this the Netherlands cannot fall, you maybe think. But then you are mistaken.
The advance of Islam can still go much further than is the case in Western Europe at the moment, and can only be stopped when we ensure that future victims of the jihad (i.e., the population of the Netherlands and the rest of Europe) retain their freedom of expression. Muhammad, the founder of Islam, always took special care to silence his possible critics first, usually by assassination, just like his namesake Mohammed Bouyeri who carried out the assassination of Theo van Gogh. The Islamic tradition itself teaches that only after Muhammad had silenced his opponents with violence could the process of Islamization begin. It is therefore of the utmost importance that we in the Netherlands (and anywhere else in the Free World) do not go any further towards the prohibition of criticism of Islam, because Islamic ideology is not resistant to the free word.
Christianity on the contrary, is. Christianity is the religion of the word, reason, love, and freedom. Islam on the contrary is the religion of violence, coercion, fear, and obedience. The nature of man is such that it will be a close contest as to which the two religions will win.
* An article by Dr. Marc Durie on a number of Islamic presumptions, “Isa, the Muslim Jesus”, can be read here. — VH.
Cross-posted at the International Free Press Society.