Kenneth T. Hern
Raleigh Tavern Philosophical Society
Last year, when I began to focus on a topic that would and should be foreign to my normal harangue against the U. S. government growing out of control and tramping all over individual rights and freedoms, I settled on a historical analysis of the Ottoman Empire. The principal resource document I intended to use was Lord Kinross’ “The Ottoman Centuries, The Rise and fall of the Turkish Empire”.
The book is written with clarity and insight, in narrative form, and covers the broad economic, political and social issues while blending in the ruthlessness of the times. I believe our President, Cliff Fox, a founding member of The Raleigh Tavern Philosophical Society, has used this book as a resource document in one of his lecture series.
At our first meeting in September, Cliff gave a brilliant treatise on “The Legacy of the Millet System” which involved and revolved around the Ottoman Empire’s concept that each subject of the Sultan’s was classified by the state as a member of an ethno-religious community. Further, it was postulated that an individual’s identity, personal rights, social role and cultural environment were determined by their membership in their millet. In the September paper it was postulated that Islam had been founded on the principal of peace and fairness and individual liberty and certainly a case can be made for this hypothesis. In fact, in Mohammed’s last sermon, which I will quote in its entirety later, he spoke of the need for kindness and compassion.
However, it is equally important to remember the dying words of The Prophet, Mohammed, “Let there not be two religions in Arabia.”
Tonight, I intend to present a different view on the tolerance of Islam. It can be argued, and I postulate, that Islam was founded on violence and steeped in blood shed from its beginning. Its earliest advocates and leaders, including the Prophet Mohammed, acted as warriors and military commanders. The Prophet, Mohammed, is remembered as being a skillful military commander and a hard fighter. These are not the images one has of either Buddha or Christ or Gandhi for that matter.
It will also be postulated that the United States of America is putting its citizenry in harms way if it does not find a way to bring about a peace in the Middle East that includes the formation of a legitimate Palestinian State. The flames that leapt from the World Trade Center were ignited by burning coals of hatred and intrigue that have been smoldering for over a thousand years. Islam is the only civilization that has put the survival of the West in doubt, and it has done that at least twice. From the first Moorish landings in Spain to the second Turkish siege of Vienna, Europe was under constant threat from Islam. Once again, the West, this time the United States of America, is under siege from Islamic extremist.
To learn who first ignited these flames, let’s begin with The Prophet, himself.
The founder of Islam was born in about 570 A. D. He was born in considerable poverty and even by the standards of the desert he was uneducated and it is doubtful he ever learned to write. He probably acted as a shepherd’s boy until he was hired into the services of a rich widow, Kadija, to help with her herds and with the trading. It is said he traveled to Yemen and Syria but there is no evidence he was much of a trader. He was probably a good-looking young man who had the good fortune of finding favor with the rich widow and, over the objections of her family, she married him. He was twenty-five and she is reported to have been forty and they had several children. One of whom was named Abd Manif, the servant of the Meccan god Manif, which would indicate that at that time, Mohammed had made no religious discoveries of any consequence or conviction. To anyone visiting Mecca in A. D. 600 he would have been seen sitting about and listening to talk. He wasn’t a very good poet and was possibly a shy man with no distinguishing features.
These descriptions are, of course, speculative because very little is actually known of his internal life at that time. Imaginative writers have supposed that he had great spiritual struggles; that he went out into the desert in agonies of doubt and divine desire. Sir Mark Sykes has written, “In the silence of the desert night, in the bright heat of noontide desert day, he, as do all men, had known and felt himself alone yet not in solitude, for the desert is of God, and in the desert no man may deny Him.” Maybe that is so, but there is no evidence of any such trips into the desert for purposes of meditation.
Most assuredly he was thinking deeply of the things about him. He had watched the pilgrimage crowds streaming into Mecca, and noted the threads of insincerity and superstition in the paganism of the town. It oppressed his mind. There is a possibility he had seen Christian churches in Syria and certainly he knew of the Jews and their religion and had heard their scorn for the black stone of the Kaaba (remnants of a meteorite) that ruled over the three hundred odd tribal gods of Arabia. The Jews had, perhaps converted him to a belief in the One True God, without his knowing what had happened to him.
At last he could no longer keep his belief to himself and when he was about forty he began to talk about the reality of God to his wife and a few very close associates. He began to recite certain verses that he claimed had been revealed to him by an angel. They involved the assertion of the unity of God and some acceptable generalizations about righteousness. He also insisted upon a future life, the fear of hell for the negligent and evil, and the reservation of paradise for the believer in The One God. Except for his claim to be a new prophet, there does not seem to have been anything very new about these doctrines at the time. Mohammed stressed that the prophets before him, especially Jesus and Abraham, had been divine teachers, but that he crowned and completed their teachings. Buddhism, however, he never mentioned because most likely he never had heard of Buddha. In A. D. 600, desert Arabia was a theological backwater.
There was one problem with the Prophet’s message. Mecca, which partly subsisted upon its polytheistic cult was therefore holding on to idols when all the rest of the world was giving them up. The citizens would consider his message to not only be seditious and scandalous but economically devastating.
Therefore, the Prophet kept his new religion a secret for several years and shared his thoughts only with a small group of simple people, namely his wife, Kadija, Ali, an adopted son, Zeid, a slave, and Abu Bekr, a friend and an admirer. Thereafter, it continued as an obscure sect in a few households of Mecca, so obscure and unimportant that the leading men of the town did not trouble about it in the least. Then it began to gather strength. Mohammed began to preach more openly, to teach the doctrine of a future life, and to threaten idolaters and unbelievers with hell fire. He seems to have preached with considerable effect and it appeared to many that he was aiming at a sort of dictatorship of Mecca, and drawing many susceptible and discontented people to his side. It was at this time that the first attempts were made to discourage and suppress the new movement.
For a brief moment in time, it has been reported that, Mohammed wavered in his newfound belief and even came into the courtyard of the Kaaba and declared that the gods and goddesses of Mecca might, after all, be real, might be a species of saints with a power of intercession. His recantation did not last long and he repented and said the devil had possessed his tongue and he denounced idolatry again with renewed vigor. The struggle against the antiquated deities was renewed again more grimly and with no hope of reconciliation.
Prior to, and at the time of his recantation, Mecca was a place of pilgrimage and a sanctuary and no blood was to be shed within its walls. Nevertheless, things were made extremely disagreeable for the followers of the new teacher. Boycott and confiscation were used against them and some were driven to take refuge elsewhere. The Prophet went unscratched because he was well connected and because his opponents did not want to start a blood feud.
At the end of ten years of prophesizing, at the age of fifty, the Prophet found himself altogether unsuccessful in Mecca. His first wife, Kadija, had died along with several other of his chief supporters. He fled Mecca and sought refuge in the city of Tiaf but the locals stoned him and ran him out of the city. At this darkest of times, he learned of his approval and acceptance from an unexpected place. The city of Medina was torn by internal dissension and many of its people, during the pilgrimage to Mecca, had been attracted by his teaching and it is possible the teachings of the Jews in Medina had shaken the ancient idolatry of many of the locals. An invitation was sent to him to come to Medina and rule in the name of his God.
Shrewdly, Mohammed did not go at once. Instead, he sent a disciple before him to destroy the idols and to preach in Medina. Then he began to send other followers to await his coming because he did not want to trust himself to strangers. In the end, only he and Abu Bekr remained in Mecca and the delay almost cost the Prophet his life.
The elders of Mecca had become aware of what was happening in Medina and they realized the danger to them if this seditious prophet soon found himself master of a town on their main caravan route to Syria. Blood feud or no blood feud, and all customs aside, it was decided that Mohammed must die. They arranged that he should be murdered in his bed but Mohammed and Abu Bekr had fled in the night.
The flight (The Hegira) was an adventurous one with expert trackers in hot pursuit. Mohammed and Abu Bekr avoided their pursuers by hiding in caves where provisions and camels had been hidden in anticipation of an attack on The Prophet. A great detour was required in order to avoid the angered Meccans and on September 20, 622, The Prophet and his faithful companion were received with great joy upon their arrival into Medina.
Until the Hegira, until he was fifty-one, the character of the founder of Islam is a matter of speculation and dispute. Thereafter, the light shines on him in abundance and we discover a man of great imaginative powers but also one possessed with most of the virtues and defects of the Bedouin Arab.
The opening of his reign was very Bedouin and for over a year he and his followers would raid the various caravans on their way to Mecca. For an entire year, this illicit band of raiders was never successful. Then came the faux pas, the ultimate scandal and the breaking of an ancient Arab rule in the sacred month of Rahab. A party of Muslims, in this season of profound peace, treacherously attacked a small caravan and killed a man. It was their only success, and they did it by the order of The Prophet. It was the first terrorist attack by a group of Muslims!
The people of Mecca struck back and sent a force of seven hundred men to protect the next caravan heading for Mecca. Mohammed sent forth an army of about three hundred and in the battle of Badr, Mohammed and his followers were victorious as they killed about fifty or sixty of the enemy. Mohammed would return in triumph to Medina and he was inspired by his victory and by Allah to order the assassination of a number of his opponents among the Jews in the town who had treated his prophetic claims with a disagreeable levity. This was The Prophet’s second act of terrorism!
But Mecca resolved to avenge Badr, and on a battlefield near Medina, inflicted an indecisive defeat upon The Prophet’s followers. Mohammed was knocked down and nearly killed, and there was much running away among his followers. The Meccans, however, did not push their advantage and drive forward into Medina and inconclusive hostilities continued for several years.
Finally, Mecca made a concentrated effort to stamp out, once and for all, The Prophet and his followers. They gathered a mixed force of over 10,000 men, an enormous force for the time and place. It was, of course, an entirely undisciplined force of camel riders, horsemen, and foot soldiers and they were prepared for nothing more than the usual desert scrimmage. They carried no siege equipment and were armed only with bows, spears and swords.
Having lived in Arabia and being reasonably familiar with the area I can see this rag tag army rattling out of the desert. I see them in a cloud of dust as they come charging down on Medina expecting to find a smaller, but similar force to their own among the hovels and houses of Medina.
To their chagrin, they found a disconcerting phenomenon, a trench and a wall. Mohammed, the dastardly cad, had entrenched himself in Medina. What a poor sport they thought him to be. How dare he resort to such trickery. They shouted obscenities across the trench at their enemies. They rode around in circles, shot a few arrows over the trench and finally alit from their mounts to argue about this amazing outrage. They could arrive at no decision and Mohammed and his followers would not come out. The rains began to fall, the tents of the allies got wet and the cooking difficult, views became divergent and tempers gave way, and at last this great host of misfits dwindled away into their various places without ever having given battle. The year was A. D. 627.
Near the city of Medina was a castle of Jews, against whom Mohammed was already incensed because of their disrespect for his theology. They had shown a tendency to side with the probable victor in this last struggle and Mohammed now fell upon them, killed all the men, nine hundred of them, and enslaved the women and children. This was the Prophet’s third act of terrorism and never again would the city of Mecca rally against him as one by one the town’s leading men came over to his side.
A truce and a treaty were struck and the rule of the Prophet was extended formally into Mecca. The gist of the agreement was that the faithful should turn towards Mecca when they prayed instead of turning towards Jerusalem, as they had done in the past, and that Mecca should be the pilgrimage center of the new faithful. In 629 the Prophet came to the town as its master.
The image of Manif, the god after whom he had once named his son, was smashed under his feet as he entered the Kaaba.
Thereafter his power extended, there were battles, treacheries and massacres. But, on the whole he prevailed, until he was master of all Arabia, and, when he was master of all Arabia in 632, he died at age sixty-two.
In the last year of his life, he made his final pilgrimage from Medina to Mecca. He then made a great sermon, which some authorities dispute as to the authenticity of the words. However, there can be no dispute that the world of Islam, a world still of hundreds of millions of people, receives these words to this day as its rule of life, and to a great extent observes them.
These are the last words of the Prophet.
“Ye people: Harken to my words; for I know not whether, after this year, I shall ever be amongst you here again. Your lives and property are sacred and inviolable amongst one another until the end of time.
The lord hath ordained to every man the share of his inheritance; a testament is not lawful to the prejudice of heirs.
The child belongeth to the parent; and the violator of wedlock shall be stoned.
Whoever claimeth falsely another for his father, or another for his master, the curse of God and the angels and of all mankind shall rest upon him.
Ye people! Ye have rights demandable of your wives, and they have rights demandable of you. Upon them it is incumbent not to violate their conjugal faith nor commit any act of open impropriety; which things if they do, ye have authority to shut them up in separate apartments and to beat them with stripes, yet not severely. But if they refrain therefrom, clothe them and feed them suitably. And threat your women well, for they are with you as captives and prisoners; they have not power over anything as regards themselves. And ye have verily taken them on the security of God, and have made their persons lawful unto you by the words of God.
And your slaves, see that ye feed them with such food as ye eat yourselves, and clothe them with the stuff ye wear. And if they commit a fault which ye are not inclined to forgive, then sell them, for they are the servants of the Lord, and are not to be tormented.
Ye people! Harken to my speech and comprehend the same. Know that every Muslim is the brother of every other Muslim. All of you are on the same equality.
I will return to the Prophet’s last sermon later but for now let’s compare orthodox Christianity with orthodox Islam. Both are intolerant religions and it can be proven that Christians can be as cruel as any when it comes to methods of conversion. Consider Norway's King Olaf Trygvesson. One rival who refused to convert to Christianity at the turn of the last millennium was tied to a wooden beam. The king himself forced an adder down his throat, then put a hot iron to the snake's tail. Wrote James Reston Jr. in The Last Apocalypse: "The region, feeling the heat of Olaf's poker, quickly came over to Christ."
Compare this method of persuasion with the options of converting to Islam. There were three. First, you could convert and not pay taxes (except for zakat) and never serve as a slave. Second, you could pay taxes and not convert. Or, third, you could die by the sword. These are not real complicated choices; a no brainer as it were.
Many positives have come from the Arabs after the time of The Prophet. They have made contributions to the sciences including mathematics, physics, chemistry, medicine and astrology. In math they built on the foundations of Greek mathematicians. The origin of the so-called Arabic numerals is obscure but the zero, which was unknown until the ninth century, when it was invented by a Muslim mathematician named Muhammad Ibn Musa, who also was the first to use the decimal notation, and who gave the digits the value of position. This, however, is disputed by many Indians, who claim the zero and the decimal system as a distinctly Indian contribution. In geometry the Arabs added very little to Euclid, but algebra is practically their creation. They also developed spherical geometry, inventing the sine, tangent, and cotangent. In physics they invented the pendulum and produced works on optics. Their knowledge of astronomy was considerable and they built several observatories and constructed many astronomical instruments that are still in use today.
In chemistry they made a good beginning, discovering new substances such as potash, silver nitrate, nitric and sulfuric acid and alcohol. (Interestingly, alcohol is an Arabic word, which is not used, too often in their everyday language today. It has been replaced with the word “sadiq”, which literally translated means, my friend.) In medicine they made great advances over the work of the Greeks. They studied hygiene, and their materia medica was practically the same as ours today. Their surgeons understood the use of anaesthetics, and performed some of the most difficult operations known by using hashish as an anesthetic. I will return to the use of hashish later.
They manufactured paper, a technology they probably learned from the Chinese by way of central Asia, and Europeans would acquire this knowledge from the Arabs. This is, I think, an important event because of its contribution to the intellectual life of mankind going forward.
Please note, I did not speak of the Arab’s contribution to art, which has been considerable. They worked with all metals including gold, silver, copper, bronze, iron and steel. They made glass and pottery of the finest quality and they knew the secrets of dyeing and their use of textile fabrics, especially the weaving of carpets, is renowned. In art, and in his life in general, there is a disturbing feature of the Arab Muslim. In the common matters of life, and apart from any culture, the Arab displays an extreme disinclination to strip his body or look upon a body. (I consider this a serious matter and will return to it later.)
All this exceptional mental effort went on in the Muslim world in spite of a very considerable amount of political disorder following the death of The Prophet. Abu Bekr, the Prophet’s dearest and closest friend, became Caliph (Kalifa = successor) in an informal shouting match held at Medina. The true embodiment of the spirit of Islam was not Mohammed but Abu Bekr. There is little doubt, in my mind, that if Mohammed was the mind and imagination of primitive Islam, Abu Bekr was its conscience and will. It was Mohammed who said the thing but it was Abu Bekr who believed the thing. It was Abu Bekr’s unflinching confidence in the righteousness of Allah which prevented a split between Medina and Mecca and which beat back a wide spread insurrection of the Bedouin against taxation for the common cause, and carried out a great plundering raid into Syria that the Prophet had projected. Abu Bekr, with the faith that can move mountains set himself simply and sanely to organize the subjugation of the whole world to Allah. He was following on with the intent of The Prophet who had written from Medina to all the monarchs of the world in 628 that they should convert and join him. We should all give thanks to Allah that there were not scores of younger men with Abu Bekr’s quality and still they almost succeeded because Arabia was now the center of faith and will.
In short order, the Arabs conquered Syria as Damascus soon fell and a year later the Muslims entered Antioch.
Abu Bekr would die in 634 to be replaced as Caliph by Omar, the Prophet’s brother-in-law. It is during the reign of Omar (634-644) that the main conquests of the Muslims occurred. The Byzantine Empire was pushed out of Syria altogether. Armenia was overrun and all Mesopotamia was conquered. Egypt passed almost passively from Greek to Arab and in a few years the Semitic race, in the name of Allah and His Prophet, had recovered nearly all the dominions it had lost to the Aryan Persians a thousand years before. Jerusalem fell early, making a treaty without standing siege. The true cross, which had been carried off by the Persians a dozen years before, and elaborately restored by Heraclius, passed once more out of the rule of Christians. But, it was still in Christian hands because they were to be tolerated, paying only a poll tax and all the churches and all the relics were left in their possession.
Jerusalem made a peculiar condition for its surrender. The city would only give itself to the Caliph Omar in person. He came to Jerusalem in 638. He traveled the 600 miles on a camel with only one attendant and took possession from the Patriarch of Jerusalem, who had apparently taken over the city from its Byzantine rulers.
In 644 Othman becomes the third Caliph. He was no early convert and unlike Abu Bekr and Omar, was right at home in fine silk robes while being attended by many. He had been supported by Ayesha, the favorite wife of The Prophet, who had always been jealous of Fatima, The Prophet’s daughter and wife of Ali, who was an adopted son of The Prophet.
In 656 Othman, an old man of 80, was stoned in the streets of Medina by a mob, chased to his house and murdered. Ali, at last, became Caliph, only to be murdered in 661. Islam was rent into two parts by the spites, greed and partisan silliness of a handful of men and women in Medina. The quarrel still lives and to this day one main division, the Shiites, maintain the hereditary right of Ali to be Caliph as an article of faith. They are prominent in Iran and India. The other main section, the Sunnis, deny this was The Prophet’s wish and ultimatum. The Sunnis are prevalent in Saudi Arabia.
There are volumes of literature on this subject and, for purposes of tonight’s presentation I refer only to Hasan, a son of Ali, poisoned by his wife, and of his brother Husein, who was killed. These are the two chief Shiite martyrs.
This schism, this rift in Islam between two warring factions, is clear evidence that The Prophet left no clear scheme for a stable government embodying and concentrating the general will of the faithful and no effective form to express the real spirit of democracy that pervades the essential teaching of Islam.
His own rule was unlimited autocracy and autocratic Islam has remained. Politically, Islam was not an advance, but a retrogression from the traditional freedoms and customary laws of the desert. The breach in the pilgrims’ truce that led to the battle of Badr is an early black mark on Islam. Nominally, Allah is its chief ruler – but practically, its master has always been whatever man was vigorous enough and unscrupulous enough to snatch and hold the caliphate and, subject to revolts and assassinations, its final law has been that man’s will.
Islam has another built in stumbling block. The Prophet left a meticulous prescription of methods of prayer and worship and no loopholes were left for the sacrificial priest of the older religions to creep back into the new faith. Islam, to this day, has learned doctors, teachers and preachers but it has no priests. It does have, however, thousands of lawyers. Mostly men of the old school, Mullahs, Imams and other authorities who dominate Islamic practice and religion, which is based primarily on traditional Koranic interpretations that aren’t embracing of modernity, pluralism or the equality of women.
For centuries, many, if not most of the Muslim dominated governments, have remained in power by striking a bargain with the Mullahs and Imams. Those in power, stay in power and the Mullahs and Imams get the monopoly on the madrasas, Islamic schools, there by controlling religious practice and education forever. For more than a thousand years, Islam has stood still because the Mullahs, who became de facto clergy instead of genuine scholars, have closed the door on ijtehad (reinterpreting Islam in light of modernity). All that the Mullahs can, or will, tell anyone today, is how to go back a thousand years thus producing angry, frustrated young Islamist like Osama bin Laden.
And, a thousand years ago, in about 1071, lived the most dangerous terrorist of them all, Hasan Sabah a legendary, Persian Shiite known as “The Old Man of The Mountain”. The most lasting testimony to his effectiveness, the very word, “assassin” comes from the English bastardization of “hashishin” or those under the influence of hashish.
Reportedly, he cast a spell over his young recruits by doping them up with hashish. This evil, hate filled man, perfected terrorism as a weapon. His was no weapon of state, but a weapon of a single, driven man who used a radical form of Islam to mesmerize his followers and to send them forth to kill and destroy. One of his earliest victims was Nizam-ul-Mulk. At the age of ninety Nizam was discredited at the orders of the principal sultana, Toorkan Khatoon, who feared he would oppose her son's accession to the throne, and she hired Hasan Sabah, who ordered one of his followers to assassinate Nizam-ul-Mulk, whose name is a title meaning harmony of the kingdom, and who wrote “Rules for Kings”, which is also known in Europe as “The Book of Government”.
Youths brought from the harsh, arid desert, young men who had never known anything but dates, camel’s milk, or, the flesh of goats, were drugged with hashish by Hassan Sabah. While drugged, they were transported to the Garden of Alamut, a secret valley in the mountains nearby where all manner of delicious fruits, gorgeous flowers, and shading trees were grown.
There were fountains that flowed with wine or milk and all about were beautiful, sensuous women. Suddenly, they were surrounded by all manner of luxuries and permitted to enjoy the company of such beauty as only appears in dreams.
After a few days the young men were drugged again and taken back to the harsh, outside world. The Old Man told them they had been transported to paradise and that he could return them at any time at will. Furthermore, he told them, if they died in his service they would be returned to paradise immediately.
Hassan Sabah used an inference in the Koran to create an image of the after life that no young man could refuse. It is from a degenerate Persian, not the Koran, that the myth of a paradise, filled with buxom women, is born.
In 1071 from Alamut, in the historic Valley of the Assassins, Hasan Sabah opened his school for fanatics, willing to go on suicidal missions in the name of Allah. Almost a thousand years later, 8,000 official madrassa schools and 25,000 unregistered ones, are in existence. Every day at least half a million boys in Pakistan, Afghanistan Iran and Iraq, with no jobs and no foreseeable future, are being trained in radical, virulently anti-Western Islamic fundamentalism.
This is a serious problem for the modern world because these thousands of young Muslims, including Osama bin Laden, are living in the past. Theirs is a throw back to an ancient rage. They fear modernity and pluralism. They resist any change because that is what they are being taught. Unfortunately, they have access to technology from a more complex system of firepower but they lack any feelings of guilt or responsibility that needs to be associated with the use of these modern, powerful weapons of destruction.
The War that America is now engaged in is not a War against a nation and Martin van Creveld, an Israeli professor and author of, “The Transformation of War”, argued that the states monopoly on war ended with the “Thirty Years War of 1914-1945”. He further stated that nuclear weapons had rendered war obsolete as waged by states and that future hostilities would take the form of low-intensity conflict, with fearsome power flowing to warlords in the Third World, private mercenary bands and even commercial companies. The “existing distinctions between war and crime will break down,” he prophesied years ago. The attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 have, for me, validated his prediction.
As stated earlier, Islam has twice threatened Western civilization and as late as 1683 its armies had penetrated all the way to Vienna. In their earlier conquests the Ottomans were imperial rulers and their societies were far advanced over the Europeans whom they sought to conquer. The West hated, feared and dreaded Islam but would never have considered them to be backwards, uncivilized or unclean. It was Western Europe that was filthy, where an old nun proudly claimed that in all the years she had been a nun, she had washed nothing more than her fingertips. It was the Christian Church that insisted the world was flat and found anyone who went against this, or any other doctrine, to be a heretic.
Today, the Muslim countries have a contemptuous image because Europe’s science, technology, and most certainly, its weaponry have eclipsed those of the Arabs and other Muslim countries.
Let’s not forget how recently this development occurred and that it is not irreversible. Beginning in the 16th century, the West won the world not by the superiority of ideas or values or religion but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact; non-Westerners, especially Muslims never do. Winston Churchill said it best when he wrote in The River War, “Christianity, is sheltered in the strong arms of science--the science against which it once vainly struggled--the civilization of modern cultures might fall, as fell the civilization of ancient Rome."
For centuries, Muslims have not had the firepower to go against the West, and, as nation against nation, they still do not have the muscle. However they now have a cause celeb, the creation of a Palestinian State, and with the faith of Abu Bekr to sustain them, and radical instructors to convince them that in any struggle they will either be victorious or in paradise, they are becoming a formidable opponent.
The West’s sponsorship, at the height of its power, vis-à-vis Islam, of a Jewish homeland in the Middle East laid the basis for on going Arab-Israeli conflict and galvanized all Muslims. The degree of hatred for what is believed to be America’s anti-Muslim, pro-Israeli culture values cannot be overestimated.
The above referenced 33,000 madrasas are turning out hundreds of thousands of radical recruits that have been galvanized around this cause and the cause of Islam in general. They are not being filled with hashish, as were the followers of Hasan Sabah, but, with a much more powerful drug, religion. Millennia of history has shown that religion is not a “small difference” but possibly the most profound difference that can exist between people. And Islam, even more than Christianity, is an absolutist faith as defined in The Prophet’s dying words, “Let there not be two religions in Arabia.”
In conclusion, there is overwhelming evidence that Islam from its inception was steeped in violence, murder and mayhem. So were other religions, not the least of which is Christianity and its forerunner, Judaism. But, the over riding force behind Islam is its intolerance to other religions, its insistence on keeping one’s clothes on, its demand that its women be subservient in public and that where Muslims are in power that Shari’a Law must prevail. These are very serious issues and differences between Muslims and others and the question is, can these differences ever be overcome?
The absolute answer is yes, but, with the qualifiers of how and when.
To begin this process will require the establishment of madrasas that practice ijtehad (reinterpreting Islam in light of modernity). The establishment of these schools is imperative because the final sermon of The Prophet must be reinterpreted so that enlightened Muslims do not consider women to be men’s captives and prisoners and it must be decreed that they, the women, have power over anything as regards themselves. Muslim women will accept this new doctrine much faster than Muslim males, but, make no mistake, this is not going to be an easy task even for the women. Let us also remember, the Koran forbids slavery. The fact that in Islamic law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property--either as a child, a wife, or a concubine--must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam can be modified.
Over time, these schools will also need to become coeducational and a young Muslim woman will learn that she can indeed be in a room alone with a man and still keep control of herself, something the Mullahs have been telling them for centuries they cannot do. They will need to refuse to wear the veil ever again, except as their free choice, but this too is a problem. It has been my experience that the thinner the veil the prettier the woman. The veil, it can be said, is not always a curse.
Just as important as learning about equal rights for women will be the need for the new students to at least “tolerate” another religion. In some Muslim countries this has already happened. Indonesia is a case in point as I have personally seen a Mosque and a Christian church standing side by side. Here again, this will be a complicated process because as stated above, religion is no small difference. Look at Israel or Palestine or the Holy Land or whatever you want to call it. Here is a tiny piece of land where three groups of people, all claiming to serve and believe in The One True God, are forever at each other’s throats because they have three different prophets, Moses, Mohammed and Jesus.
Unquestionably, the State of Israel must be accepted by the Arabs and other Muslims. But also, without question, a legitimate Palestinian State needs to be established. This will, to a degree, eliminate the us against them situation existing today. Abdul Aziz, the First King of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, suggested to F. D. R. that he not put a Jewish State in the Middle East. If he did, Abdul Aziz warned, there could never be peace in the region. F. D. R. promised to take this advice under consideration, but after his death, H. S. T. reneged on this promise. Which now brings up the question, where would one put a legitimate Palestinian State? Who would be asked and who would be willing to cede a portion of their territory to this worthy and noble cause?
The easy part may be finding a piece of land for the Palestinian state. The real problem that will follow is to find a way to have this newly formed nation, or any Islamic nation, accommodate and tolerate 21st century thinking. The modern nation-state rests on the idea that citizens are ultimately sovereign. An individual becomes a citizen by entering into a social contract that grants him civil rights and expects concurrent responsibilities of him. A citizen can still be part of a covenant between himself and the Creator, but the separation of religion and politics means that the state is not responsible for upholding the covenant.
Compare this concept with the most conservative Islamic view which ordains that the purpose of politics is to uphold Shari’a law in form and spirit. Upholding Shari’a law is not to realize democracy in the sense of its being government of the people, by the people and for the people, because the formula elevates humanity to the point where it usurps the sovereignty that lies only with Allah.
How many years or even centuries will it take to reconcile these fundamental differences or bring about these changes and how will it ever happen? I will be surprised if even Allah knows because even the omnipotent will be faced with the challenge and cry of those being asked to under go such a dramatic metamorphosis and who fervently state, “we will be modern, but, we will not be you”.