Role of Religion in Middle Eastern Conflicts
From Muhammad to Islamists
Birth of a Prophet: Individual vs. Community
In about year 610, an Arab merchant in Mecca in the Hijaz, who had never heard of the Prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel,
had an experience like theirs. Muhammad reacted to a growing cult of self sufficiency among his tribe. In the old nomadic days,
the needs of the tribe came before the individual. The vendetta, or blood feud, was the only way to ensure a modicum of peace
among the tribes in the absence of a central authority. If a chief failed to retaliate, his tribe would lose respect.
The Christian doctrine of the after–life made each individual a sacred value. At issue for pre–Islamic Arabs became how they
could square the tribal ideal of subordination of the individual to the group with the Christian idea of individual worth.
Muhammad died in 632, and he managed to bring most tribes of Arabia under a united community. The pre–Islamic Arab world
seemed doomed to perpetual barbarism because of constant warfare among tribes. And Jews and Christians with whom
Muhammad came in contact taunted Muslims as a barbarous people that had not received divine revelations.
ARABIA: ISLAM’S BIRTHPLACE
From Mecca to Medina, to Jerusalem: Holy Cities of Islam
The western part of Arabia, the Hijaz, was a place where caravans carried goods to the Mediterranean. Mecca became a
settlement located around a Kabah, or cube. Meccans claimed Gabriel as a patriarch and prophet. Through contacts with
Christians and Jews, Meccans acquired awareness of monotheism. Revelations of Muhammad established his role as Prophet
and messenger of God. The message of Muhammad disturbed the ruling order, prompted him and followers to flee Mecca to
what later became known as Medina, City of Enlightenment. The flight marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar. With
Medina as his base, Muhammad proceeded to enter Mecca, and upon returning, he destroyed the pagan idols. Upon his death in
632, he flew to heaven on a white stead from Jerusalem.
KORAN OR RECITATION
Koran, the Torah, and the New Testament:
Same God, Different Messengers
Unlike the Torah of the Jews, which was revealed to Moses in one session on Mount Sinai, the Koran was revealed to
Muhammad bit by bit over a period of 25 years. And the New Testament of Christianity was revealed to the followers of Jesus
over time. The Koran is neither a narrative nor an argument that has to be presented in sequential order. The Koran reflects
themes like God’s presence in the natural world and the lives of the prophets. The Koran singles out prophets who were familiar
to the Arabs like Abraham, Moses, and Jesus.
The Koran does not hold other religious traditions as false or incomplete but shows each new prophet as confirming and
continuing the insights of others. Hence, Muslims accept the teachings of Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. But Jews and Christians
do not accept the teachings of Muhammad. Nor to Jews accept the word of Jesus; and Christians consider Jesus as the son of
God, and they believe that Abraham and Moses were prophets. But all three religions accept the idea that there is only one God,
Intolerance of Injustice
In practical terms, Islam meant that Muslims must submit to the duty of creating a just, equitable society where the poor and
vulnerable are treated decently. The intolerance that many in the West condemn in Islam today does not spring from any rival
vision of God but from an intolerance of injustice, whether committed by their rulers or by powerful Western countries.
In the Koran, the only just war is for self defense. But sometimes it is necessary to fight for decent values. Muhammad was not
a warlord who imposed his religion on a reluctant world by force of arms. Muhammad was fighting for his life, evolving a
theology of just war in the Koran, and he never forced anyone to convert to his religion. Because Muhammad surrendered to
God, Muslims were to imitate him in their daily lives. But once Muslim pilgrims make the haij and enter the sanctuary of the
mosque, violence of any kind is forbidden. Hence, there was universal outrage against Iranian pilgrims who instigated a riot in
1987, in which 402 died.
JEWS AND MUSLIMS
Jews in the Koran
Jews used to assemble in mosques to hear stories about Muslims, poke holes in the logic, and scoff at Islam. Mohammed’s
rejection by Jews was perhaps his greatest disappointment and called his religion into question. The polemic against Jews in the
Koran reflects the Jewish rejection. But from friendly Jews of Medina, early Muslims had learned the story of Ishmael,
Abraham’s elder son born by his concubine Hagar. But when he and his wife Sarah had Isaac, she became jealous and
demanded that he get rid of Hagar and Ishmael. This family fight produced tensions between the Jews and the Arabs, conflicts
that still exist today.
To comfort Abraham, God promised that Ishmael would also be the father of a great nation. Arabian Jews added some local
legends of their own, saying that God had left Hagar and Ishmael in the valley of Mecca, where God had taken care of them.
Later, Abraham visited Ishmael; father and son then built the Kabah, the first temple of the one God. Ishmael had become
father of the Arabs, and like the Jews they too were sons of Abraham. The story was like music to the ears of Muhammad. He
was bringing Arabs their own scripture and could root their faith in the piety of their ancestors.
Islam has been concerned with the ships closest to it on the ocean, the religions descended from the monotheism of Abraham.
Jews are often astonished by the extent of common ground between Judaism and Islam. Aspects of Islam that seem alien to
Christians like the revealed Law present no problem to Jews. Although Jews achieved eminence in the Muslim world of the
Middle Ages, the Koran also blames Jews for plotting against Muhammad when he treated them with trust. While Christians and
Muslims treat Mary, mother of Jesus with great respect, Jews do not, and thus receive the scorn of Muslims. And Christians
have blamed Jews for the death of Christ, and many Christians justified their anti–Semitism thereafter.
SPLIT WITHIN ISLAM: SUNNI AND SHIA MUSLIMS
Following Mohammed’s death, there was a succession struggle among his followers. The majority elected Abu Bakr,
Mohammed’s close friend. But some believed that Muhammad would have preferred his cousin and son–in–law, Ali, who
himself had accepted Abu Bakr’s leadership. Ali became the fourth caliph, and the Shia would eventually call him the first Imam
or leader of the community.
The split between the Sunnis and Shia was political rather than doctrinal. The split heralded the import of politics into the
Muslim religion. The Shia are the partisans of Ali and developed a piety of protest. Since the Iranian revolution, many in the
West regarded Shi'ism as an inherently radical Islamist sect, but that is an overstatement.
Shia is an Arabic word meaning party or faction and originally meant the party of Ali, whose followers thought he should have
been caliph. In their own perception, the Shi’a are the opposition in Islam. They are defenders of the oppressed and opponents
of privilege. Sunni Muslims tend to stand for the status quo, maintenance of the existing political order, and above all the
existing religious order. Themes in Shi’a history include usurpation and tyranny, armed insurrection, and failure to gain power in
general. Sunni Muslims of the Ottoman Empire suppressed the Shia Muslims.
FROM THE ROMAN TO BYZANTIUM TO OTTOMAN EMPIRES
Alexander the Great was barely 22, when his Macedonian forces swept through the Middle East and India. His goal as leader of
the Greek empire was to unify the Middle East into a lasting empire to rekindle the glory that was Greece. Alexander’s empire
broke up into successor states ruled by his generals. And with his death in 323 BC, these states warred against each other until
the Romans arrived a century later. With the exceptions of Mesopotamia and Iran, the Roman Empire dominated entire Middle
Following eight centuries of Roman rule, northern Teutonic barbarians ravaged the Empire. They severed off the western half
of the Roman Empire in the 5th Century AD. Eastern Roman emperors of Byzantium controlled the Roman provinces of the
Middle East, while farther east there was the Persian Empire. Byzantium included Greeks, Syrians, Egyptians, and Jews, among
In 1453, Ottoman Turks conquered the Christian capital of Constantinople and destroyed the empire of Byzantium. Henceforth,
Christians of Russia would continue traditions developed by the Greeks.
The Emperor Constantine had transferred his throne to Constantinople, giving birth to the Byzantine Empire. When the
Ottoman Empire captured Constantinople from the Byzantines the Ottomans renamed it Istanbul. The greatest of the Ottoman
Emperors was Suleiman the Magnificent, 1520–1566. He extended the empire to include the Middle East and North Africa as
well as most of present–day Hungary and southeastern Europe.
CHRISTIAN RESISTANCE TO ISLAMIC EXPANSION
The negative image of Islam is partly a result of a perceived threat to the West from a militant Islam and in part due to
ignorance. Of all the world’s religions, Islam is closest to Christianity. Yet Christians often ridicule its founder, the Prophet
Consider attacks on the Koran in the western literature of Dante, Voltaire, and Carlyle. A negative image of Islam also is due to
Muslim threat to Europe in form of Ottoman conquests. Armies from Islamic countries had conquered parts of Europe and
threatened much of the rest for about several centuries. Armies of the last Islamic empire, the Ottoman, stood at the gates of
Vienna twice and almost occupied Vienna. During the eleventh and twelfth centuries, there were Crusades to the Holy Land
triggered by Muslim conquests in the West. Muslims felt victimized by western industrialization and colonialism.
Jihad or holy war literally means striving [in the path of God]. Only in the region of Christendom did Islam encounter sustained
resistance. The major battlefield of the House of Islam was in Europe. The first barriers to the advance of Islam from its
Arabian birthplace into neighboring lands were two rival empires of Persia and Byzantium, which controlled the area now called
the Middle East. The last Muslim state of western Europe was Grenada, conquered by Christians in 1492. A decade later, they
gave Muslims a choice of baptism, exile, or death.
From Ottoman Conqueror to Sick Man of Europe
While masters of the Balkan Peninsula, the Ottomans added Constantinople and renamed it Istanbul. They then launched a
series of expeditions into the plains of Hungary and twice, in 1529 and again in 1683, to the walls of Vienna. After the failure of
the second siege of Vienna in 1683, there followed a peace treaty of Carlowitz, signed in 1699. Thereafter, Europe still had a
Turkish problem; but it was Turkish weakness not strength that threatened the European balance of power. Conflicts among the
Great Powers centered about how to divide up the so–called Sick Man of Europe, the Ottoman Empire.
During the Renaissance, the struggle with Islam was no longer presented as one between true believers and infidels but between
Hellas and Persia, between the inheritors of Greek civilization and the remote Asian successors of the great kings of Persia.
For Muslims, Christendom in the Mediterranean and later in eastern Europe, had been like a border that blocked the path of
Islamic progress. Muslims had looked to Europe as imperial Europe viewed colonial America and as an independent United
States looked to its own west. By 1920, it seems that the triumph of Europe over Islam was total and final. The vast territories
and countless millions of Muslims in Asia and Africa were firmly under the control of European empires. Dismemberment of
the Ottoman Empire was confirmed in the Treaty of Sevres, signed by the Sultan’s representatives in August 1920.
During the 15th and 16th centuries, three new Muslim empires were founded: by the Ottoman Turks in Asia Minor and Eastern
Europe; in Iran; and in India. From Alexander of Macedonia’s conquests of Persia in 330 BC until the coming of Islam, the
Levant, together with Egypt and North Africa, and been a part of the Western world. But within a century of the Prophet’s
death in 632, the Muslim empire stretched from the borders of China to the Atlantic, from France to the outskirts of India, and
from the Caspian Sea to the Sahara.
When Christians came into possession of the Roman Empire until the seventh century, it would have been reasonable to
suppose that nothing could stop the universal expansion of Christianity. In the seventh century, Islam stopped Christian
expansion. But then Christendom forced a retraction of Islam. Indeed, Christianity even went on the offensive against Islam.
For contemporary Christians, the Crusades were religious wars to recover lost land of Christendom, and in particular, the holy
land where Christ lived, taught, and died. For almost a thousand years, from the first Moorish landing in Spain to the second
Turkish siege of Vienna, Europe was under constant threat from Islam. In the early centuries, it was a double threat—invasion
and conquest as well as conversion and assimilation.
European voyages to the New World brought vast lands under European rule and placed great wealth in bullion at European
disposal, and thus gave Europe new capability to resist and ultimately throw back the Muslim invaders. The whole complex
process of European expansion and empire in the last five centuries has it roots in the clash of Islam and Christendom.
Samuel Huntington used this historic conflict as a basis of making an inference that the post–Cold War era would witness a
return to a clash between Islam and a Judeo–Christian axis.
The Clash of Civilizations? Samuel P. Huntington
World politics is entering a new phase, in which the great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of international
conflict will be cultural. Civilizations–the highest cultural groupings of people–are differentiated from each other by religion,
history, language and tradition. These divisions are deep and increasing in importance. From Yugoslavia to the Middle East to
Central Asia, the fault lines of civilizations are the battle lines of the future. In this emerging era of cultural conflict the United
States must forge alliances with similar cultures and spread its values wherever possible. With alien civilizations the West must
be accommodating if possible, but confrontational if necessary. In the final analysis, however, all civilizations will have to learn
to tolerate each other.
An Historic Clash of Civilizations
The impetus that enabled the Spaniards and Portuguese to drive the Moors from the Iberian Peninsula, carried them across the
straits into Africa, around Africa, and beyond as into undreamed of lands. And the impetus carried the victorious Russians from
the liberation of Moscow to the Caspian and Black Sea and ultimately to a large part of Asia. So there was a pattern of
re–conquest followed by empire. The Ottoman defeat of Syria and Egypt in 1517, followed by the extension of Ottoman
suzerainty in North Africa as far as the Moroccan frontier, greatly strengthened the power of Muslims in the Mediterranean.
Russian victories over the Ottomans gave it the right of intervention and protection for all the Orthodox Christians of the
Ottoman Empire, including many in the Arabs lands as well as most of the Ottoman subjects in the Balkan Peninsula.
And by 1828, Russia was in possession of the territory now forming the three former Soviet republics of Georgia, Armenian,
and Azerbaijan. A new wave of advance began in 1911, with Russian pressures on Persia and a Russian military invasion of the
northern provinces of that country. Despite Persian resistance, it was effectively under Russian and British domination.
European pincers around the Islamic Middle East were coming together. They were finally closed during the first World War,
with the defeat and dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire and partition of its territories between the Allied and associated
powers. Ottomans sold Eastern Europeans (Slavic peoples) as slaves to Muslims markets across the Mediterranean or through
Spain. This traffic continued until Muslims decided to go to the source and collect their own slaves (Slavs). The establishment
of a strong European presence on both the eastern and western sides of the Islamic world that placed pressure on Muslims to
grant additional concessions to the Great Powers.
Islam had subordinated Christianity in its homelands in the Near East and in North Africa and Spain, forced the Roman Empire
of Byzantium onto the defensive, and converted the Empire of the Persians into a bulwark of Islam. As stated above,
Constantinople fell in 1453, and soon the Ottomans took up the challenge represented by Europe. Ottomans captured Belgrade
in 1521. And Europeans were then very concerned with the menace of Islam. In 1683, Ottomans besieged Vienna for the last
time and were by then a spent force.
For the first time, the Ottomans felt need to negotiate a peace treaty and to do so from a position of weakness as the defeated
party in a long and exhausting war. And in the Treaty of Paris of 1856, the European powers formally admitted the Sultan into
the concert of Europe. But even in 1916, many western authors feared a threat of a resurgent Islam. The retreat from Vienna
began a new era in Ottoman diplomatic relations.
Pope Innocent III identified Muhammad as the anti–Christ; almost 700 years later, a western explorer called Muhammad a dirty
and perfidious Arab. And in a book called History of Europe, a standard work read by European school children, the author
described Muhammad as cruel and crafty, lustful and ignorant, and made references to the crude outpourings of the Koran.
Europeans often describe Islam as a Boy Scout religion.
Muhammad thought that Islam was for Arabs as Judaism was for Jews. Like Christianity and Judaism, Islam emerged from a
Semitic experience but had collided with Greek rationalism in the Hellenic centers of the Middle East.
In 1492, the year Christopher Columbus discovered the New World, Ferdinand and Isabella also conquered Grenada in Spain,
the last Muslim stronghold in Europe. Later, Muslims would be expelled from the Iberian Peninsula, which had been their home
for 800 years.
The irony of the destruction of Muslim Spain was that it was also fatal for the Jews, who had been able to live as a protected
people under Islam. After the conquest, Christian monarchs gave Spanish Jews the choice of baptism or expulsion. But they
hounded Jewish converts during the Inquisition. Christians suspected converts of heresy. Christians expelled 150,00 Jews to
Turkey, the Balkans, and North Africa. Muslims of Spain had given Jews their best home they had ever had in the Diaspora.
JUDAISM, CHRISTIANITY, AND ISLAM
For Muslims, Christianity, like Judaism, was a predecessor deserving of toleration. While Islam distances itself from its
predecessors, there are similarities in scripture and traditions that link Islam with Christianity and with their common Judaic and
Hellenistic antecedents. Christianity and Islam recognize each other as main rivals who claim to be bearers of God’s final
revelation to humankind. And hence a series of conflicts followed, beginning with early holy wars, Crusades, and conquest and
re–conquest within Europe.
Unlike Moses, Muhammad was not forbidden to enter his Promised Land; still less did Muhammad suffer like Jesus—physical
death by martyrdom. The idea that there is a single truth for all humankind and that it is the duty of those who possess it to
share it with others begins with the advent of Christianity and reappears with the rise of Islam. When Christians and Muslims
called each other infidels, each group understood what the other meant, and in so doing, revealed their essential similarity.
For Christians, Judaism was a predecessor, an incomplete and superseded religion replaced by Christianity, but not in itself
false. Hence, Christians accorded Jews a measure of tolerance in medieval Europe. Although the tolerance was limited, Jews
somehow managed to survive under Christian rule. But Muslims barely survived under Christians. Expulsion or forcible
conversion of Muslims followed the re–conquests for Christendom of Sicily, Spain, and Portugal from Islam by Christians.
Even the Republic of Venice, which thrived on trade with the Levant, had difficulty tolerating one small inn for visiting Turkish
And Christians were reluctant to call Muslims by any name that would suggest a religious connotation. Christians preferred to
call them by ethnic names. The obvious purpose was to diminish the stature of Islam. And a convert to Islam was said to have
For Muslims, Islam is not merely a system of beliefs, it is also a way of life, with rules that include civil, criminal, and even
what westerners would call constitutional law. In classical Islamic history, there could not be a clash between Pope and
emperor: The caliph, the titular head of the Islamic state and community, combined in himself both political and religious
Regarding a comparison of Christianity and Islam, Christians who confessed to believe that Muhammad had received a true
message from God would have been heretics, ripe for the stake. In contrast, Muslims are obliged to accept the authenticity of
Jesus, while believing nonetheless that the message of Christians was not the last word. Muslims accepted Jews and Christians
not out of tolerance but of religious obligation. In contrast, when Christians conquered Spain, Jews and Muslims either had to
convert or be killed.
ISLAM, ZIONISM, ISRAEL,
AND MODERATE ARAB STATES
For some Muslims, defiance of the West is seen as the most effective way to assert Islamic values, regardless of how deeply
these values may have become corrupted. Regarding Israel, some Muslims see it as the manifestation of Western power in the
midst of the Islamic world. They view Israel as a Western country settled by Europeans and Americans in a Muslim land with
the support of former colonial masters, maintained by American arms and determined to expand further into Islamic lands.
Many Muslims believe that support of Israel can be ascribed to hypocrisy. They think that Europe and the United States created
Israel as a means of ridding themselves of their Jewish populations.
Because Zionism arose as a reaction to anti–Semitism and benefited from anti–Semitism, some Muslims see Israel as the
outcome of a conspiracy between imperialism and Zionism at the expense of Muslims. They resent the idea that Westerners
considered Palestinians as natives who could be pushed out of their lands by Europeans settlers.
Islam means self surrender to God. And Muslims are those who submit. But there is a great deal of misunderstanding about the
image of submission in Islam. The West often portrays Muslims as cringing before a tyrannical Lord and submitting as a beast
submits to its incomprehensible fate. Nothing could be further from the truth. Muslims fear God because they are realists. They
know that there are things to be feared and that all things have but one creator. Submission in Islam has little in common with
fatalism in the Western tradition. Muhammad means the Glorified. Muhammad is usually referred to in Arabic as the messenger
of God not just as a prophet as often described in the West.
Radical Islamists view Islam as being under double attack, from outside and from within. External enemies include imperialists,
sometimes known as the crusader, his ally the missionary, his puppet the Zionist, his rival, the communist. But it is the internal
enemy that is both more evil and more threatening. Internal enemies include diverse figures like King Faruk and President
Nasser of Egypt, the Shah of Iran, Assad of Syria, Saddam of Iraq. These men had in common a commitment to
modernization. Ataturk was the first Muslim ruler to disestablish Islam as a state religion and adopt European practices over a
range of public and social life.
It is easy to understand the rage of traditional Muslims confronted with the modern world. They have been schooled in a
religious culture where rightness meant supremacy, seen that supremacy lost in a world to Western power, lost in their own
country to foreign intruders with their Western protégés, lost in their own home to emancipated women and rebellious children.
The loss of Muslim territories was for several centuries unknown and thus inconceivable.
Between 1939 and 1945, European states fought out their wars on Middle East soil, with little concern for the peoples there.
Now it is the Middle Eastern powers that sometimes fight their wars on European soil with similar unconcern. And in financial
markets it is now Muslims who invest and lend vast sums in Europe. There are close of two million Muslims in Germany,
greater numbers of North Africans in France, and Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis in Austria, Spain, Italy, and Belgium.
These numbers constitute a massive and permanent Muslim presence in Europe.
The Muslim Brothers appeared in Egypt during 1928, and began political action in response to the Anglo–Egyptian treaty in
1936. The Brotherhood took up the cause of Palestine Arabs against Zionism and British rule. Another Anglo–Egyptian accord
in 1954 also sparked opposition from the Brothers. They tried to assassinate Nasser in October 1954, and he retaliated with
severe repressive measures. In Egypt, where the authorities forbid the Brothers to act as a political party, they nevertheless align
themselves with secular parties and hence have a presence in Parliament.
POLITICAL ISLAM VERSUS SECULAR ACTORS
Within the PLO, the main faction Fatah means conquest [for Islam gained in holy war]. But in fact, Fatah, is a secular
organization not a religion one. Hamas, Hezbollah (Party of God), and the Algerian Islamic Salvation Front are three
movements inspired by Islam to take radical political action.
Impact of the 1973 War: Rise of Islamic extremist groups in the 1970s and 1980s. Revivalists groups like the Muslim
Brotherhood existed before the War but took on new energy afterwards. Rise of religious fanaticism associated also with Iranian
Revolution of 1979. With rise of religion as a threat to moderate Arab regimes like Egypt, Arab–Israel conflict became less of a
threat. After PLO supported Saddam in the Gulf War, moderate Arab states cut off funds for Palestinians in the territories.
Fund cutoff gave Hamas an opening to supply services to Palestinians that PLO had been providing. A purpose of 1993
Israel–PLO accords was to counter Islamic extremism that was more of a threat to Israel than the demands of the more secular
Regarding Iran, it is home of the most authentically popular revolution in the Islamic world and has gone farthest in restoring
traditional Islamic norms in such matters as penal law, enforced religious observance, the position of women in the home and
society, and status of non–Muslim minorities.
Ottoman pan–Islamism achieved meager results but responded to a psychological feeling among Muslims who felt they were
under assault. Another attempt at Islamism was when the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem tried to mobilize support of world Muslim
opinion on behalf of Arabs of Palestine. He went to Germany in 1941, and tried to create an Axis–Islamic alliance. But the
Muslim world was just as disillusioned with an Ottoman Jihad made in Germany in World War II, as with an Arab revolt made
in England during World War I.
Political pan–Islamism during the inter–war era was a hopeless cause. Only two Muslim countries were genuinely
independent—Turkey and Iran. And Egyptian sponsored pan–Islamism was too obviously related to state purposes and failed to
arouse the necessary response from elsewhere. Although international attempts at pan–Islamism have produced limited results,
Islam has shown its strength much more in the internal politics of Muslim countries, e.g., in Tunisia. Bourguiba of Tunisia tried
to make development a holy war and abandon the month long fast of Ramadan because of the effect on productivity. He failed.
The Iran–Iraq war, 1980–1988, showed the power of Islam in the justifications of the war aims by the parties. On one hand,
Iranians sought to portray the war in religious terms, and painted themselves as defenders of Islam against a regime of atheists,
backsliders, and renegades. Their war was against the Ba’th Party not against the Iraqi people or the Arabs. On the other hand,
Iraqis spoke of a struggle against the Persians, using an Arabic term that referred to the conquering Arabs against Iranians.
The return to religious loyalties and the response to religious appeals have become stronger as the exponents of one secular
ideology after another have failed. Nationalism, socialism, communism failed to solve the rapidly mounting problems of the
Islamic world. Humiliation and frustration have so far discredited imported solutions and made increasing numbers of Muslims
ready to believe those who tell them that only in a return to their won true faith and divinely ordained way of life can they find
salvation in this world and the next.
In two Muslim countries—Iran and Sudan—Islamists have gained power. And they are held in uneasy restraint in Egypt and
Jordan. In Algeria, authorities suppressed Islamists after it appeared that they were posed to take power in an election. Only one
Muslim country—Turkey—holds regular elections in which different parties compete and campaign freely and in which
governments can fall and be replaced in a democratic process. And in Turkey, the Islamic Welfare Party won a majority of a
vote in 1995. The secular parties decided to enter into a coalition to block the Islamic party from forming the government. But it
did form a government in 1996. Even in radical states like Syria, the net effects of secularizing seems to be directed against
minority religions more than against Islam. But as regimes come closer to the populace, even if their verbiage is leftist in nature,
they tend to become more Islamic.
SEPARATION OF MOSQUE AND STATE?
There are now three sovereign religions in the Mediterranean: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Now add a fourth—secularism.
Marxism was type of secularism. Strong reaction against secularizing tendencies in Muslim countries. The primary enemy of
radical Muslims are the native secularizers. Those who seek to weaken and modify the Islamic base of the state by introducing
secular schools, laws, and courts are the enemy. And the archenemy is Ataturk, the first major secularist ruler in the Islamic
In pagan Rome, Caesar was God. Christians were taught to differentiate between what is due to Caesar and what is due to God.
For Muslims of the classical age, God was Caesar, and the sovereign—caliph or sultan—was merely his vice–regent on earth.
Secularism in the Christian world was an attempt to resolve the long and destructive struggle of church and state. Separation,
adopted by the American and French revolutions, was designed to prevent two things: use of religion by the state to reinforce
and extend its authority; and use of state power by the clergy to impose their doctrines on others. Looking at he contemporary
Middle East, both Jews and Muslims may have caught a Christian disease and should consider a Christian remedy, e.g.,
separation of mosque and state.
In our own day, self–styled fighters for Islam have brutally maltreated hostages and other innocent victims, and Islamic
authorities have not condemned their actions. But these are crimes against civility and humanity rather than crimes against
non–Muslims as such.
DIVERSITY WITHIN ISLAM
There are some 800 million Muslims in Asia, Africa, Europe, and to a lesser extent in the Americas. Some 40 Islamic states and
about 30 countries with sizable Muslim populations. Islamic world is no more homogenous than the Christian world. Great
political differences among Muslims: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the Gulf states, which are conservative, pro–western nations;
revolutionary Iran, which is anti–United States; the secular socialism of Syria and Iraq; disestablishment of Islam by
westernizing Turkey; the secular Palestinian National Authority; as well as Islamist Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah.
2. Author: Aiman F. Mackie, College of Literature, Science and the Arts ( amackie )
Date: Mar. 23, 1999 5:30 PM
23 March, 1999
Fuller and Lesser Questions for Discussion
With collapse of communism, are Islam and the West on a collision course?
Does political Islam seek to enhance power of states with large Muslim majorities in relations with stronger Western
Why is the role of Islam likely to grow in the internal politics of Muslim countries? What is the antidote to the growth of
radical Islam? Exposure to and inclusion in the political process will Islamic politics become less radical.
How will social and political change away from authoritarian orders in the Middle East affect the growth of political Islam?
Is it more a threat to the established orders of Arab states than political Islam is a danger to the West?
In what way is Eastern Orthodoxy closely linked with ethnicity? Greek, Armenian, Russian, Serbian churches linked with
ethnicity in a way that Roman Catholic churches are not linked to specific countries.
For almost a Millennium, how was the Islamic threat a main strategic problem for Europeans?
Why do some scholars anticipate that there will be another clash between Christendom and Islam? Because there was an
historic cold war between Christendom and Islam and because the East West Cold War is over,
What is the potential for a Muslim axis composed of Turkey, Bosnia, Albania, and Kosovo?
During the Cold War, why were tensions between Islam and Christendom overlooked?
Why is the West more a target of political Islam than the East? Because of the convergence of colonialism and Islamic
interactions with the West, it is a target of political Islam.
How have Western perceptions of Islam been affected by events like the Egyptian Revolution, nationalization of the Suez
Canal, subsequent military action by Britain and France against Egypt, the Arab oil embargo, Iranian revolution, Gulf
Re Muslim perceptions of the West, why do some Muslims blame the West for the reversal of Islamic civilization’s
dominance and its replacement with a Muslim sense of siege?
How does Islamic civilization reconcile its weakened and subordinate position in the contemporary world with the
manifestation of God’s favor bestowed on Islamic nations since its flowering in the seventh century?
What do Muslims say about Christians? They took a wrong turn and worshiped the messenger rather than God himself.
What do Christians say about Muslims? Muslims are heretics.
Both Christianity and Islam seek converts and are hence universalistic in their aspirations in contrast to Judaism.
How did many Muslims view the Crusades? As forerunners to Western imperialism and as precedents for establishment of
Israel, which some Muslims view as a permanent Western outpost in the heart of Islam.
Why is generally more difficult for Muslims to live under non–Muslim rule than the reverse? Because Muslims are
enjoined to create a Muslim political order while Christians are Jews are not.
Christians do not view themselves as a community as many Muslims and Jews do.
Because of power differentials between Islam and Western Christian nations, many Muslims view themselves under siege,
persecuted as terrorists, and perceived as the enemy in the West.
Muslims are the last ethnoreligious group that can be ridiculed and caricatured with impunity.
Some Muslims see the West as driven to put down every Muslim challenger whether it is Nasser, Qadhafi, Khomeni, or