Thursday, September 28, 2006

Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time

That's not a cynical thought; it's the title of Karen Armstrong's new book (and a cynical thought). Efraim Karsh reviews Armstrong's book for the New York Sun.

He explains that Armstrong is one of those that claims that 'Jihad' is the quest for self-improvement as opposed to Holy War--that Islamist terrorist attacks are extremist reactions to arrogant US policy. As a result, according to Karsh:
"Muslims have never nurtured dreams of world conquest," wrote Karen Armstrong, a prominent representative of this view, shortly after September 11. "They had no designs on Europe, for example, even though Europeans imagined that they did. Once Muslim rule had been established in Spain, it was recognized that the empire could not expand indefinitely."
But the Moslem occupation of Spain, 2,000 miles from Arabia, was not the end of their imperialism--from there they invaded France, where they were defeated in 732 at the battle of Poitiers.

Bernard Lewis goes into even more detail. In What Went Wrong, Lewis describes century by century of Moslem expansionism:
In the course of the seventh century, Muslim armies advancing from Arabia conquered Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and North Africa, all until then part of Christendom, and most of the new recruits to Islam, west of Iran and Arabia, were indeed converts from Christianity. (p.4, emphasis added)
That, of course, was just the beginning. During the eighth century, Lewis describes how, using North Africa as their base, the Arab forces were joined by Berber converts as they went into Spain and Portugal and invaded France.

In the ninth century they conquered Sicily and sacked Rome--resulting in the Christian counter-attack known as the Crusades, hardly the offensive unprovoked attack that the Arab world condemns.

In the thirteenth century, the Tartars conquered Russia and later converted to Islam--meaning that Russia and much of Eastern Europe was subjected to Moslem rule till they freed themselves in the late 15th century.

During a third wave of attacks, the Ottoman Turks conquered Anatolia, captured Constantinople, invaded the Balkan peninsula and reached as far as Vienna.

Armstrong also writes that Mohammed himself was really a man of peace:
"whose aim was peace and practical compassion" and who "literally sweated with the effort to bring peace to war-torn Arabia"; an altruistic social reformer of modest political ambitions, whose life was "a tireless campaign against greed, injustice, and arrogance" and who founded "a religion and cultural tradition that was not based on the sword but whose name — ‘Islam' — signified peace and reconciliation."
Karsh counters that such a description is a whitewash, because in fact:
the Qur'anic revelations during Muhammad's Medina years abound with verses extolling the virtues of fighting "in the path of Allah," as do the countless sayings and traditions (hadith) attributed to the prophet. As he told his followers in his farewell address: "I was ordered to fight all men until they say ‘There is no god but Allah.'" Had it not been for his sudden death, Muhammad probably would have expanded his control well beyond the peninsula.
But Armstrong goes even further in painting her picture of Mohammed and Islam:
Ms. Armstrong glibly claims that "Later in the Islamic empires, Jews would enjoy full religious liberty and anti-Semitism would not become a Muslim vice until the Arab/Israeli conflict became acute in the mid-twentieth century." For one thing, such ahistorical analysis ignores the deep anti-Jewish bigotry dating to Islam's earliest days, which made it highly receptive to the worst precepts of Christian anti-Semitism, such as the "blood libel." For another thing, Armstrong overlooks Islam's pervasive mistreatment of its non-Muslim subjects, or Dhimmis as they are commonly known, who have been allowed to practice their religions in return for a distinctly inferior legal and institutional status, rife with social indignities and at times open persecution. [emphasis added]
Jews had "full religious liberty"? Jews were dhimmis and by definition had second class citizen status, with limits on any form of public religious expression that would annoy their Moslem rulers.

Wikipedia has a documented, if disputed, section on the limitations on the religious practice of dhimmis:

Although dhimmis were allowed to perform their religious rituals, they were obliged to do so in a manner not conspicuous to Muslims. Display of non-Muslim religious symbols, such as crosses or icons, was prohibited on buildings and on clothing (unless mandated as part of distinctive clothing). Loud prayers were forbidden, as was the ringing of church bells or the trumpeting of shofars. According to one hadith, Muhammad said: "The bell is the musical instrument of the Satan." (Sahih Muslim 24:5279). This hadith actually refers to music in general, this is not aimed at Church bells.

Dhimmis had the right to choose their own religious leaders: patriarchs for Christians, exilarchs and geonim for Jews. However, the choice of the community was subject to the approval of the Muslim authorities, who sometimes blocked candidates or took the side of the party that offered the larger bribe.

Dhimmis were prohibited from proselytizing on pain of death. Neither were they allowed to obstruct the spread of Islam in any manner. Other restrictions included a prohibition on publishing or sale of non-Muslim religious literature and a ban on teaching the Qur’an.

As required by the Pact of Umar, dhimmis had to bury their dead without loud lamentations and prayers. Incidents of harassment of dhimmi funeral processions by Muslims, involving pelting with stones, battery, spitting, or cursing, even by Muslim children, were common regardless of place and time. [go to their site for hyperlinks and footnotes]

But historically, Moslems resorted to more than just harrassment in their mistreatment of Jews. Mitchell Bard gives a summary:

At various times, Jews in Muslim lands were able to live in relative peace and thrive culturally and economically. The position of the Jews was never secure, however, and changes in the political or social climate would often lead to persecution, violence and death. Jews were generally viewed with contempt by their Muslim neighbors; peaceful coexistence between the two groups involved the subordination and degradation of the Jews.

When Jews were perceived as having achieved too comfortable a position in Islamic society, anti-Semitism would surface, often with devastating results: On December 30, 1066, Joseph HaNagid, the Jewish vizier of Granada, Spain, was crucified by an Arab mob that proceeded to raze the Jewish quarter of the city and slaughter its 5,000 inhabitants. The riot was incited by Muslim preachers who had angrily objected to what they saw as inordinate Jewish political power.

Similarly, in 1465, Arab mobs in Fez slaughtered thousands of Jews, leaving only 11 alive, after a Jewish deputy vizier treated a Muslim woman in "an offensive manner." The killings touched off a wave of similar massacres throughout Morocco.

Other mass murders of Jews in Arab lands occurred in Morocco in the 8th century, where whole communities were wiped out by Muslim ruler Idris I; North Africa in the 12th century, where the Almohads either forcibly converted or decimated several communities; Libya in 1785, where Ali Burzi Pasha murdered hundreds of Jews; Algiers, where Jews were massacred in 1805, 1815 and 1830 and Marrakesh, Morocco, where more than 300 hundred Jews were murdered between 1864 and 1880.)

Decrees ordering the destruction of synagogues were enacted in Egypt and Syria (1014, 1293-4, 1301-2), Iraq (854-859, 1344) and Yemen (1676). Despite the Koran's prohibition, Jews were forced to convert to Islam or face death in Yemen (1165 and 1678), Morocco (1275, 1465 and 1790-92) and Baghdad (1333 and 1344).

Karsh fittingly concludes his review of Armstrong's book:
"If we are to avoid catastrophe, the Muslim and Western worlds must learn not merely to tolerate but to appreciate one another," Ms. Armstrong emphatically concludes her book. I couldn't agree more. Provided of course this is done in good faith and without rewriting the historical truth, let alone violently suppressing critical minds and dissenting voices.
Armstrong's book will not bring us any closer to the goal which Armstrong claims to seek.

Crossposted at Israpundit

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