353ISLAM.DOC: NOTES FROM VARIOUS SOURCES, March 17, 1997
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
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
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. Muhammad'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 Muhammad's death, there was a succession struggle among his followers. Abu
Bakr, Muhammad 's close friend, was elected by the majority. 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 Shiism as an inherently radical Islamist sect, but that is an
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 East.
Following eight centuries of Roman rule, the Empire was ravaged by northern Teutonic
barbarians. 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 others. 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 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
Muhammad. 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
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 a
kind of frontier. Muslims had looked to Europe like imperial Europe viewed colonial
America and as an independent U.S. 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 this 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
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.
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 momentum 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
conquest 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. Eastern Europeans (Slavic peoples) were sold 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
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 his History of
Europe, a standard work read by European school children 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
The irony of the destruction of Muslim Spain was that it was also fatal for the Jews,
without 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
their main rivals as bearer of God's final revelation to humankind. And hence there
followed a series of conflicts, 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 call 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. The re-conquests for Christendom of Sicily, Spain, and Portugal from Islam
were followed by expulsion or forcible conversion of Muslims by Christians. Even the
Republic of Venice, which thrived on trade with the Levant, had difficulty tolerating
one small inn for visiting Turkish merchants. 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 "turned Turk!"
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 authority.
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
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 U.S. created Israel as a means of ridding themselves of their Jewish
Because Zionism arose as a reaction to anti-Semitism and benefited from anti-Semitism,
some many Muslims see Israel as the outcome of a conspiracy between imperialism and
Zionism at the expense of Muslims. They resent the idea that Palestinians were
considered 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 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 pros, 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 on 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 was founded in Egypt in 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
Brothers are forbidden to act as a political party, they nevertheless all 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
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 the 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
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, Islamists were ruthlessly
suppressed 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 their actions have not been condemned by Islamic
authorities. 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.