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9/11: Did the Qur’an really make them do it?

PHILIP JENKINS

In the past few weeks, I have been asked regularly what lessons we learned from the experience of September 11, and I have despaired of finding much new to say about the terrorist themes because I’ve lived with these issues for so long. I was teaching courses and seminars on terrorism back in the mid-1980s, and in my last offering — in 1996 —our major class project was to assess the likely political and social implications of bringing down the World Trade Center.

On reflection, the greatest lesson I learned from the 9/11 horror concerned religion, and specifically how we in the West viewed the great world faiths. And the lessons are as much about Us as about Them. After 9/11, many commentators went beyond focusing on the particular ideology of the perpetrators to speak in terms of a broad clash of cultures and civilizations. They focused intensely on Islam, trying to determine just what features of that faith led its adherents to violence and bloodshed. Many writers have presented Islam as a stark contrast to Christianity and Judaism, and portrayed a struggle of darkness against light.

The Qur’an, in this view, is something like a terrorist manifesto: the book oozes violence, with so many verses about battles, swords and blood. Fanaticism seems hard-wired into the faith. Are the core texts of Islam so repulsive that they will prevent Muslim societies ever evolving to civilized and democratic communities? Why can’t they learn to be like us?

Reversing the gaze

What’s so startling about this approach is what it says about how little Christians and Jews seem to know about their own scriptures, and their own history. Absent from such discussions is any sense of the extraordinarily violent and unforgiving passages that litter the Hebrew Bible, which is also the Christian Old Testament.

The Bible is an extraordinarily violent book: many passages quote God as commanding acts of genocide, ethnic cleansing and racially-based mass murder. To take just one example of many, when God orders the conquest of Canaan, he supposedly commands his followers to exterminate the native inhabitants: “you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.” One passage in Exodus tells how the Amalekite tribe ambushed the children of Israel migrating through the wilderness. In response, the Bible’s God commands eternal war against that people, to annihilate them and blot out their memory. And God showed no patience for those who resisted commands to slay. According to the first book of Samuel, God orders King Saul to strike at the Amalekite people, killing every man, woman, child, and animal. When Saul fails to annihilate the enemy, he earns a scolding from the prophet Samuel, who himself slaughters and dismembers the Amalekite king. Saul’s sin was failing to be sufficiently thorough in genocide, and his reluctance led to his own destruction.

The striking fact here is not that such passages exist, but that they have been so utterly forgotten by so many devoted Bible-readers. So equally have the actual real world consequences of these texts. When we compare the Qur’an and the Bible, we might be tempted to see a critical difference between the texts. While the Bible reports violence in the distant past, the Qur’an commands violence here and now. The Bible, in this view, records ancient campaigns against forgotten peoples, which are of interest only to archaeologists, while the Qur’an commands “Fight infidels!”, an order valid in any age.

Biblical texts of terror: not just ancient history

But such a contrast is false. However later commentators have read it, it is not obvious that the Qur’an was commanding violence without end against unbelievers, as opposed to warfare against specific Arabian tribes or factions in the seventh century CE. On the other hand, many generations of Christian and Jewish readers have found no difficulty in applying the Biblical commands in their own day.

If the Bible aims its harshest words at ancient peoples who no longer exist as identifiable ethnic groups — Amalekites or Canaanites — plenty of later commentators, Christian and Jewish, have had no problem in applying those imprecations to modern races and nations. Protestants have seen Catholics as Amalekites, and killed them accordingly (and vice versa); White Americans used the story against Native peoples; modern-day Hutus in Rwanda used the Amalekite tale to justify killing Tutsis. The last Christian who will seek to exterminate another nation on the pretense of killing Amalekites and Canaanites has not yet been born. In 1994, the Amalekite command sparked one of the worst massacres in the history of modern Israel, when a Jewish terrorist slaughtered dozens of Muslims worshipping in a Hebron mosque.

In comparing the Bible and the Qur’an, I stress that I am discussing the scriptures, rather than the historical experience either of Islam, or of Christianity and Judaism. Islam has a long history of conquest and religious warfare, in which Muslim armies and regimes subjugated or slaughtered members of other faiths: armed military jihad in the name of God is no myth. From the seventh century through the seventeenth, Muslim rulers cited religious justifications for their wars of conquest and imperial expansion, just as Christian Western powers would from the Renaissance onwards.

Only a wide-ranging historian with a truly global vision could comment plausibly as to whether, across the centuries, more aggression and destruction has been undertaken in the name of Islam than of Christianity. I have no idea how you might measure the body count. But in terms of the violent and unacceptable faces of their fundamental scriptures, differences between the faiths are minimal.

Understanding our sacred texts, understanding each other…

I draw two lessons from this. One, of course, is about the relationship of scriptures to real-world behavior. To say that terrorists or extremists can find religious texts to justify their acts (as the 9/11 hijackers did) does not mean that their violence actually grows from those scriptural roots.

Such an assumption itself is based on the crude fundamentalist formulation that everything in a given religion must somehow be authorized in scripture — or, conversely, that the mere existence of a scriptural text means that its doctrines must shape later history. When Christians or Jews point to violent parts of the Qur’an (or the Hadith) and suggest that those elements taint the whole religion, they open themselves to the obvious question: what about their own faiths? If the founding text shapes the whole religion, then Judaism and Christianity deserve the utmost condemnation as religions of savagery. Of course, they are no such thing; nor is Islam.

It’s also instructive to see how so many Bible readers fail to see these violent passages, and what that says about the nature of faith. When I write something about these topics, I can usually rely on receiving an outraged email from someone who quotes a gruesome passage attributed to the Qur’an, and then asks, roughly, “So where does Jesus say anything like this? Where does the New Testament say anything like this?” When I respond by pointing out texts in Joshua or Deuteronomy, I know I’ll get a response on the lines of “Oh, that’s not the Bible, it’s just the Old Testament.” That’s an alarming indication of a Christianity that has gone far astray from its Old Testament roots.

…and strengthening faith

It would be easy to cite these gruesome Biblical stories as a foundation for a New Atheist rant, and that’s absolutely not my intent. Paradoxically, what I have been trying to do in recent years, especially in my book Laying Down the Sword: Why We Can’t Ignore the Bible’s Violent Verses, is to show that Christians need not just to acknowledge the worst and grimmest scriptural texts, but even to use them as a means of strengthening faith and understanding.  Christianity only makes sense as the culmination of the whole Hebrew Bible, including its most unsettling portions.

Jesus was Yeshua, Yesu, whose name echoed Joshua, and it commemorated that great and deeply flawed warrior. In the Greek text, both names appear as Iesous: one Iesous slaughtered Canaanites, another healed the daughter of a Canaanite woman. Also, according to the New Testament, Jesus was immersed in the Hebrew Bible and, specifically, in the book of Deuteronomy, which contains so many stumbling blocks for modern-day believers. Paul was no less fascinated. If you take Deuteronomy out of the New Testament, that later work loses much of its structure and rationale. Christians need to be reading the whole Bible, including those tales of Canaanites and Amalekites, and comprehending them, not pretending they don’t exist.

The more Westerners probe the unacceptable portions of the Quran, the more urgent becomes the need to confront the texts of terror in their own heritage.

Philip Jenkins is the Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Humanities at Pennsylvania State University. His book Laying Down the Sword: Why We Can’t Ignore the Bible’s Violent Verses will be released by HarperCollins in October. Among his more than twenty previously published titles are The Next Christendom: The Rise of Global Christianity (2002), Decade of Nightmares: The End of the 1960s and the Making of Eighties America (2006), The Lost History of Christianity (2008), and Jesus Wars (2010).

{ 22 comments… add one }

  • Edward Brynes September 10, 2011, 5:38 pm

    The wars of the Jews with Canaanites, Amalekites, and others were mandated against specific peoples, in a specific region, and at a specific time period. Although there are extreme right-wing parties in Israel today that want to reclaim the Middle East as far as the Euphrates, they are merely political parties, not terrorists. This is not true of the warfare in the Quran, which is against all unbelievers and knows no geographical boundaries. Islam has a record of imperialism and colonialism from its inception up to the declining days of the Ottoman Empire — when, of course, such behavior became impossible because of the West’s military superiority. The peoples who were conquered and plundered were as far west as Spain and as far east as India, and all of this took place before the Crusades.

    • Suleiman Bachoo September 11, 2012, 6:11 pm

      Apparently that is why Islam has been established as a universal religion but the terms; colonialism and imperialism is not fully applicable because in true sense Islam has not ordained that. It has been given leverage due to propagation of the same and self defense hence being misunderstood has an aggressive religion.

  • yes, buy September 10, 2011, 7:56 pm

    I won’t speak for Judaism, Christians do have Jesus. I am certainly aware of Old Testament violence. His ways are higher than our ways. Perhaps the danger for the tenuous Jewish state warranted the violence.

    But with Jesus, there is no shortage of pacifist quotes. “Peter put down your sword…”

    In contrast, Mohammed was a ruthless general who had no qualms with his soldiers raping captive women in front of their husbands (as long as they didn’t practice coitus interruptus). To say, “They both have their violent origins and so are equivalent” is simply lying with a shred of truth.

    • dude March 13, 2012, 11:52 am

      name one woman the prophet raped!
      its a challenge. dont chicken out

      • Suleiman Bachoo September 11, 2012, 6:16 pm

        Same challenge expressed here by the way according to Hart Muhammed(saw) is more influential than Jesus(Pbuh) and yes dont chicken out.

  • Roque Nuevo September 10, 2011, 10:31 pm

    You’re correct to point to the extreme violence within the Jewish/Christian holy books and so forth; you’re even correct to assume that this does not in any way determine the political culture of Jewish/Christian civilizations, etc etc. You’re way off target when you leave it at that. That’s because the analogy doesn’t hold in the case of Islam. Its holy scriptures are law and the words and deeds of its prophet are enjoined to us as the words and deeds of a perfect human being, the living example of the new, Islamic man, etc etc. Nobody goes around committing mass murder under the biblical injunctions of smiting their enemies. In the Islamic world, they do.

  • James Johnson September 10, 2011, 10:56 pm

    The problem in your analysis is Quranic abrogation. The concept of “abrogation” in the Quran is that Allah chose to reveal ayat (singular ayah – means a sign or miracle, commonly a verse in the Quran) that supercede earlier ayat in the same Quran. The central ayah that deals with abrogation is Surah 2:106:

    None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar: Knowest thou not that Allah Hath power over all things?

    The bible has a similar but opposite doctrine in that Jesus, through his grace freed the people from the harshness of the old testiment.

  • Alan September 11, 2011, 1:04 am

    “Only a wide-ranging historian with a truly global vision could comment plausibly as to whether, across the centuries, more aggression and destruction has been undertaken in the name of Islam than of Christianity. I have no idea how you might measure the body count. But in terms of the violent and unacceptable faces of their fundamental scriptures, differences between the faiths are minimal.”

    All it would take is a simple listing of wars and their causes. Such a list can be found in a recent comprehensive compilation of the history of human warfare, The Encyclopedia of Wars by Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod which documents 1763 wars, of which 123 have been classified to involve a religious conflict, or about 7% of all wars. It is interesting to note that 66 of these wars (more than 50%) involved Islam, which did not even exist as a religion for the first 3,000 years of recorded human warfare.” The remaining wars are spread out over the remaining thousands of religious groups of the world and over a much longer period of time. And since the U.S is flavored as one of the most Christian nations of all time it should be involved in the most religious wars. Yet the U.S has only been involved in a handful of wars total and only one of those wars has any religious impulse – The War on Terror which was the result of the bombing of the WTC by a few Islamists.

    Perhaps the difference in the involvement in wars IS due to fundamental differences in the faiths.

  • Lavaux September 11, 2011, 7:19 am

    Islam and Christianity revere equally violent scriptures, which is why the faithful of both religions are committing mass murder nowadays in the name of their god. Uh … what’s that? Christians aren’t committing mass murder in the name of their god? Oh. Well then, I guess Mr. Jenkins’ embarrassing exercise in multi-culti self-flagellation doesn’t hang together logically (assuming he’s a Christian, of course).

    Hence, some assistance in clear thinking is needed, here. Follow the bouncing ball, everyone: (1) The Muslims who promote, commit and celebrate the wanton murder of infidels in the pursuit of jihad understand their scripture and faith as commanding them to do so; (2) their understanding may be incorrect; (3) their understanding may be correct; (4) either way, their understanding has nothing to do with Christianity. Put differently, regardless of how the rape victim was dressed, the rape was not her fault.

  • John Gibbons September 13, 2011, 2:16 pm

    I am going to address select replies in order, stating what I find wrong with them:
    First, Mr. Byrnes.
    “Islam has a record of imperialism and colonialism from its inception up to the declining days of the Ottoman Empire—when, of course, such behavior became impossible because of the West’s military superiority.”
    I find this statement outrageous for a few reasons. First, despite what you have read from Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron about the poor treatment of the Greeks, or any other European opinions on the tyranny of the Ottomans, the Ottoman Empire was usually very good to its conquered subjects. This comes from Sir Adolphus Slade, a British Admiral who found the Ottomans to be more civil to their subjects than the Europeans in many ways.
    Next, whatever imperialism and colonialism Muslims might have perpetrated pales in comparison to the practices of Christian Europe. There were no Muslims at the Congress of Vienna, when Europe divided up Africa, nor were Muslims given rights to conquer new lands in the Treaty of Tordesillas. Instead, this treaty, written by Pope Alexander VI, split the new lands between Portugal and Spain, never mind what the natives had to say about their land being parceled out to European powers. The violence of Spain and Portugal in the New World was all done in the name of God.

    Second, the unnamed reply on September 10th.
    The comparison you attempt between Mohammed and Jesus is inappropriate. Mohammed was a prophet, maybe the most holy of Islam, but he was entirely human and capable of mistakes, so to suggest that the imperfect actions of Mohammed represent Allah is incorrect.

    Third, Roque Nuevo.
    “Nobody goes around committing mass murder under the biblical injunctions of smiting their enemies. In the Islamic world, they do.” I find this to be incorrect. Ander Behring Breivik, the man who committed the attacks in Norway earlier this year, was clearly connected to Christianity. If you wish to make the argument that he was an extremist who clearly misunderstood the Bible, I would agree, and maybe you would agree the same logic could be applied to the extremists who committed the 9/11 attacks.

    I am now going to skip ahead to Lavaux’s response, since I find it to be one of the more inflammatory comments.
    “Uh…what’s that? Christians aren’t committing mass murder in the name of their god?”
    As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, Anders Behring Breivik was a Christian who did commit mass murder in the name of his god. If you wish to say that he is not connected to Christianity (as other have tried to do) his manifesto and video say otherwise.

    The point of my reply is not to proclaim the evils of Christianity, but to say that every religion has a dirty past. I also wanted to defend Mr. Jenkins’ work, though I am in no way associated with him, so if you have any serious problems with my reply, they should be directed towards me, not him.

    • Joe May 15, 2012, 9:31 pm

      I enjoyed reading your explanation. Very impressed with your knowledge, and ability to bring sense to so much ignorance expressed by peoples of the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic faiths who know hardly anything about their own religions, and yet are first to offer bigoted judgments that goes on polarizing the Moslem and Chirstian World. There are 52 predominantly Moslem countries in the world, can we afford to pick fights with them ?

  • Edward Brynes September 13, 2011, 9:09 pm

    To John Gibbons:

    Yes, I do have serious problems with your reply.

    For information about how peoples were treated under Islamic conquest, consider Bay Ye’Or’s books, for example, The Decline of Eastern Christianity: from Jihad to Dhimmitude (1996), or Islamic Imperialism by Efraim Karsh. Or consider the fate of Moses Maimonides under the Almohad Dynasty in Spain; he was forced to convert to Islam and the Jews under this regime were kept in a humiliating state of “dhimmitude”. The treatment of religious minorities under the Muslim conquerors varied but it was by no means mostly favorable. The predatory character of Muslim conquest is well-known. For many years Muslims in North Africa conducted raids on Europe, which they were able to do because they controlled the Mediterrannean Sea. In fact they were still doing so in the nineteenth century. The Crusades, usually considered as an offense against Muslims, were in fact a response to the conquests of Muslims in the Holy land, described by Bat Ye’Or. The character of Jihad according to classical Muslim jurists is well nown and has been documented by Andrew Bostom.

    Sir Adolphus Slade was a nineteenth-century Brit who served as an admiral in in the Ottoman Navy. It’s hardly surprising that he should have the views you cite. Aside from a likely bias, he only represents one nineteenth century view. Nor do I understand why Muslims (i.e., the Ottomans) had to be represented at the Congress of Vienna, which was intended to settle boundaries in Europe, not the Middle East or Africa, or the Treaty of Tordesillas, which divided up the New World, not Muslim lands. Why should Europeans be obliged to grant lands to the Ottomans at either of these conferences, when Muslims had not been involved in them? You might just as illogically argue that the Ottomans should have given Europeans some of their lands in Asia Minor or northern Africa.

    All of the above is just a beginning.

    • Joe May 15, 2012, 9:35 pm

      Two of the worst tragedies of humanities, were caused by the Christian Nations, World War I and World War II.

  • John Gibbons September 15, 2011, 1:54 am

    To Edward Byrnes:

    I was never trying to imply that Islam’s conquests were clean of injustice, as the very idea of conquest eliminates that possibility. I was specifically addressing the supposed injustice of the Ottoman Empire to conquered peoples, which had often been commented on by European writers, especially those of the Enlightenment, who had never been within the empire. And on the treatment of religious minorities, Muslims rulers may have often been intolerant, but Christian rulers have been the same. The Inquisitions and the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre are the first things that come readily to mind, as well as the Crusades, which may have been a response to Muslim conquests, but they also involved Christians massacring Jews, especially the German Crusade (considered a part of the First Crusade), the Second Crusade and the Shepherds’ Crusades. Also, dhimmitude was humiliating and deplorable, but at least dhimmis were allowed to practice their religion instead of being exiled, forced to convert, or killed. The last three options likely occurred in Muslim reigns as well, but they definitely did throughout Christian reigns. So how Muslim conquerors treated religious minorities was probably not favorable the majority of time, but neither was Christian rulers’ treatment.

    On Sir Adolphus Slade, he wrote that the Ottoman Empire was often better to its minorities and peasantry than the rest of Europe before he had a position in the Turkish navy, so the bias you mentioned is not as great. And if you would like another European in the Ottoman Empire who found the Ottomans to be civilized, I suggest Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.

    You are very right to correct me on the point of the Congress of Vienna, I made a mistake there. I meant the Berlin Conference, the conference where the European powers partitioned Africa. And the point that I was making with both the reference to that and the Treaty of Tordesillas was that you accused Islam of rampant imperialism, but make no mention of the imperialism of Christianity or the West, nor its lasting impact on societies. I was not saying that I thought Muslims should be present at either events, but that they were not and the events were entirely Western affairs of exploitation. I thought it unfair to attack Islam for colonialism without recognizing Christianity’s own background. Also the idea of Europe granting the lands that were covered by either the Berlin Conference or the Treaty of Tordesillas to the Ottoman Empire is impossible not solely because it was illogical, but because they were not Europe’s land to grant. But as history shows, they were lands for Europe to steal. So once again, I am only trying to make the point that Christianity has a dirty past as well as Islam, and if you wanted to judge Islam on its history, Christianity should be up next.

  • Zandrey September 15, 2011, 4:27 am

    I am afraid that all this has gotten a bit heated, and that a little calm interjection may be helpful. (Disclaimer: I am an MA student of philosophy currently writing a thesis comparing the Justice, state, and war theories of classical china, classical Islam, and classical “west.”)

    The primary issue that faces us is not whether terrorists use the Qur’an to justify their actions, or even if the Ottomans did so. After all, we could all selectively cite just about any source to justify just about anything. The key issue is whether the message of the Qur’an calls for anything different than the western theories of Just War; as we are attempting to compare the elements.

    Many commentators and pundits have done an academically grotesque job of dealing with these issues, by partially citing verses, citing out of context verses (such as omitting the verses immediately before and after the one cited), or taking the “interpretation” of some terrorist group as an accurate one.
    In doing so, they are employing the same strategy as the terrorists and extremists – though for rather different ends. Partial citations are a good way to misrepresent the truth. I’ll provide you with an example:

    The Wahabi sect of Islam – the short pants, wrapped up women, Taliban, etc. – take the the Hadith (“Do not let your clothes drag on the ground, out of arrogance/haughtiness”) and apply it selectively to their society. Thus, men wear 3/4 pants, lest the pant leg touch the ground. However, the wives of these very individuals are wrapped up in Burkhas that sweep the street for a foot in every direction. So what has happened, is that these people have taken a recommendation of the Messenger; they looked only at the first half of the one-sentence recommendation, and then applied it to the MEN of the society only.
    [By the way, the Hadith is referring to such dragging as you can see today on Kate and William's wedding - i.e. the 10' train of silk - or other lavish displays of wealth as practiced by kings and nobles the world over. It is the height of hubris to drag 50' of expensive silk behind you to display that wealth, while so many people have essentially nothing to wear.]

    Returning to the issue at hand, the partial reporting and understanding of sources and citations, leads to the obvious issue of getting it wrong.

    Let’s examine one of the most often quoted* Hadith, in support of Islam as a violent religion – both by the extremists and the West. [* Partial quotes.]
    The quote, as given by the Western media as well as the terrorists goes: “Mohammad said, ‘Heaven is in/beneath the shadows of swords.’”
    The full Hadith, as reported by Muslim – in Muhtesar Sahih Muslim; selection by: Hadith Hafiz Zekiyyuddin Abdu-l-Azim el-Munziri ed-Dimishki – goes as follows: “From Ebu-n-Nadir, from Abdullah b. ebi Evfa; sent a letter to Omer (Second Kalif) when the latter had embarked towards the territory of an enemy, and informed him that – when the Messenger was on a campaign where He had battled an enemy, He waited until the sun had began falling from its zenith, rose and said: ‘O people, do not desire/seek a battle with an enemy. Seek protection from Allah. When you fight them, be patient! Know that Heaven is in/beneath the shadows of swords.’”

    Now, once we actually have the whole Hadith, it becomes clear that the words are not an inflammatory statement intended to rouse Muslims to kill everything that moves. In fact, it begins with the exact opposite – do NOT seek or desire battle. Once the battle is inevitable or engaged, be patient; or rather remain steadfast or committed. The reason why, is that the through such dedication – when the only course left is battle – they fight for justice.

    We may also note that Muslims are supposed to go to war only when such war is justified, and have not only the right, but an obligation to refuse. Hadith: All Muslims are required to hear and obey the leader; unless he orders something contrary to Islam, in which case they should neither hear nor obey.”

    The topic is rather extensive, but after 2 years of research, the actual sources of Islam seem to recommend a better ideology of warfare, than those of Classical western traditions – ie. The Just War Theory. Part of the reason may be their singularity, rather than the nearly two millennia of patchwork analysis That occured between a number of disparate authors; from Aristotle and Cicero, to St. Augustine, St. Aquinas, Kant, Locke, Groitus, etc.

    In any case, the issue is not so simple as what you see on the news, especially when the news here in the States is owned primarily by a handful of companies who have a vested business interest (backed up by hundreds of millions of dollars in lobbying) in reporting only certain sides of any story.

    For Further reading, you can read Brian Orend’s “Morality of War,” just about anything by Michael Walzer, and selected works of Muhammad Asad, Majid Khadduri, Sayed Muhammad Naquib, and others.

    Thank you.

  • Edward Brynes September 15, 2011, 1:57 pm

    To John Gibbons

    Spell my name correctly. You have gotten it wrong twice. I thought of addressing you as John Gibbous but decided not to.

    Any comparison of the expansionist history of the two faiths ought to include the entire time span of both. Islam was born in the 7th century CE; Christianity about 650 years before. There is no indication that Christianity conquered the Roman Empire by force, and it could not have, given the Roman legions. The New Testament is full of statements on non-violence (quite a contrast with the Quran.) Islam expanded over the entire Middle East and North Africa by violent conquest, including the plunder of vanquished communities and the subordination of their peoples. The books by Bat Ye’Or that I mentioned in my previous post presents this in detail. Bat Ye’Or herself relies on primary sources.

    Christian sects did attack each other. and also Jews, both before and after the establishment of Christianity in the Empire. It does not appear, though, that Pagans were put to death to any significant degree, although their temples were often destroyed. Also Christianity did not embark on any career of conquest until much later. The fall of the Christianized Empire has
    been attributed by no less than Edward Gibbon to the pacific orientation of Christianity. Nor did the early medieval kingdoms that followed, such as the Carolingian state, make any attempt to attack the Muslim-conquered lands except in an attempt to take back lands that were lost, or defend themselves, as with Charles Martel’s repulsion of the Muslims at Poitiers in 732, or the reconquest of Spain from the 8th century on.

    So what’s the score, up to the Crusades? I don’t see any imperialism and colonialism on the part of Christianity.

    Then there was an effort to push the Muslim dominated area back, but this was only partly successful and it did not last. The new empire of the Ottomans then expanded over the Middle East and completed its conquest of the Byzantine Empire by taking Constantinople in 1453. Nor did Ottoman expansionism stop there; there was further expansion into Europe, ending with the siege of Vienna in 1683, when Europeans drove the back. Muslim expansion after that date became implausible given the decline of Ottoman military power. But Muslim pirates on the North African coast continued to raid the Mediterranean coast of Europe up to the nineteenth century, as I previously pointed out.

    Europe did become expansionist in the 16th and 17th centuries. But remember, Islam has been expansionist for about a thousand years by that time. European (and later, American and American ) expansionism lasted from the 16th century to the 20th, i.e., about 500 years. After World War I, expansionism in the West was dead.

    So, that’s a rough attempt to keep score: 1300 years of expansionism out of 1400 years, versus 500 out of 2000.

  • Edward Brynes September 15, 2011, 6:51 pm

    To Zandrey:

    Bassam Tibi is a highly qualified academic with whose works you may likely be familiar. Here is a quotation from his essay “War and Peace in Islam” in The Ethics of War and Peace: Religions and Secular Perspectives ed. by Terry Nardin (Princeton U.P., 1996):
    —-
    The common foundation for all Islamic concepts of war and peace is a worldview based on the distinction between the “abode of Islam” (dar al-Islam), the “home of peace” (dar al-salam) (Q. 10.25), and the non-Muslim world, the “house of war” (dar al-harb). This distinction was the hallmark of the Islamic system before the globalization of European society and the rise of the modern international system. In fact, however, the division of the world in early Islam into the abode of peace and the world of unbelievers clashed with reality long before the intrusion of Europe into the Muslim world …. The establishment of the new Islamic polity at Medina and the spread of the new religion were accomplished by waging war. … In this formative period as well as during the period of classical Islam, Islamic militancy was reinforced by the superiority of Muslims over their enemies. Islamic jurists never dealt with relations with non-Muslims under conditions other than those of “the house of war,” except for the temporary cessation of hostilities under a limited truce…. Despite its incompatibility with the current international system, there has yet to be an authoritative revision of this worldview.
    —-
    So how does this square with the superiority of the Islamic concept of the just war? Under what conditions can unbelievers have the right to hold their beliefs undisturbed and without political and military pressure from Muslims? None that I can see.

  • Joshua Mccamant October 13, 2011, 9:22 pm

    Interesting read

    • Jose February 16, 2012, 3:18 pm

      Thanks for miankg this article available.I think Irshad Manji has referred to the Toronto alleged terrorists as such. So should everyone until such time as their trials end in convictions.Peter Mountain

  • Fatih Goksu October 31, 2011, 12:56 pm

    I just want to thank you for your nice article. Its a great one

  • Coleman Glenn October 31, 2011, 7:21 pm

    While I think it’s valuable to look at the Qur’ an and the Bible together and notice that both could be interpreted to justify violence, I think it’s a mistake to assume that Islam and Christianity view their sacred texts in the same way. For the most part, even Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians have taken on a fairly Protestant approach to the Bible – every believer has an obligation and a right to approach the text and see how it speaks to them personally, to make their own decision on interpretation (although this is a little more restricted within Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy). It’s a mistake to assume that the majority of Muslims approach their text the same way. There has not been a Protestant reformation in Islam. From the Wikipedia article on Madh’hab, or the Muslim schools of law: “Generally, Sunni Muslims prefer one madhhab out of the four (normally a regional preference) but also believe that ijtihad must be exercised by the contemporary scholars capable of doing so. Most rely on taqlid, or acceptance of religious rulings and epistemology from a higher religious authority in deferring meanings of analysis and derivation of legal practices instead of relying on subjective readings.” The same is true in Shia, as far as I know – there’s much more emphasis placed on scholarly interpretation, and much less on everyone following his own interpretation. And so, even though it’s useful to realize that there are various different ways of interpreting the Qur’ an, I think it’s vital to look particularly at what the different schools teach (and which schools terrorists, for example, subscribe to), since as I understand it the scholarly interpretations can take on almost as much weight as the Qur’ an in terms of what an individual Muslim believes. This doesn’t contradict anything in your post, I don’t think – you even mention that a religion is much more than its sacred text – but I do think it’s worth pointing out that there are these two very different approaches to the texts. We can’t simply say, “I as a Christian am able to come to a personal understanding of the Bible as being anti-violent – why can’t that Muslim do the same?” since many of them believe that the proper way to read the text is through a lens of centuries-old scholarship.

  • leigh November 22, 2011, 9:21 am

    The bottom line is that Islam has as its role model Mohmmad(Allah tells his followers in the Quran many many times to obey Mohammad).The more pertinent question is which role model best represents God, Mohammad or Jesus.To revert to original Islam is to follow the words and deeds of Mohammad. To revert to original Chrisitanity is to follow the words and deeds of Jesus. To anticipate the usual response Jesus rejected the role of king/military ruler-for he knew it corrupted and lead to killing and murder . Mohammad embraced it like a typical earthly power seeker.