Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Islam and Christianity

Ephraim Karsh’s book, “Islamic Imperialism: A History.” Mr. Karsh is Professor and Head of the Mediterranean Studies Programme, King’s College, University of London. His book is published by Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2006.

In his Introduction to the book, Professor Karsh writes:

“The worlds of Christianity and Islam, however, have developed differently in one fundamental respect. The Christian faith won over an existing empire in an extremely slow and painful process and its universalism was originally conceived in spiritual terms that made a clear distinction between God and Caesar. By the time it was embraced by the Byzantine emperors as a tool for buttressing their imperial claims, three centuries after its foundation, Christianity had in place a countervailing ecclesiastical institution with an abiding authority over the wills and actions of all believers. The birth of Islam, by contrast, was inextricably linked with the creation of a world empire and its universalism was inherently imperialist. It did not distinguish between temporal and religious powers, which were combined in the person of Muhammad, who derived his authority directly from Allah and acted at one and the same time as head of the state and head of the church. This allowed the prophet to cloak his political ambitions with a religious aura and to channel Islam’s energies into ‘its instruments of aggressive expansion, there [being] no internal organism of equal force to counterbalance it.’”

As we see, the perennial problem of Islam resides in the fact that right from its beginnings politics was intimately wedded to the faith. In fact, Islam as a religious faith would not have achieved any success had Muhammad not immigrated to Medina, where he became both Prophet and Ruler. His triumph over his enemies in Mecca was a military victory. In 630, he entered the holy city as a Fateh, i.e. a Conqueror. This explains why Muslim historiographers called the expansion of Islam throughout the world al-Futuhat, i.e. Conquests. The Ottoman sultan that conquered Constantinople in 1453 is known as Muhammad al-Fateh, i.e. the Conqueror!

Professor Karsh continued:

“Whereas Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God, Muhammad used God’s name to build an earthly kingdom. He spent the last ten years of his life fighting to unify Arabia under his reign. Had it not been for his sudden death on June 8, 632, he would have most probably expanded his rule well beyond the peninsula. Even so, within a decade of Muhammad’s death a vast empire, stretching from Iran to Egypt and from Yemen to northern Syria, had come into being under the banner of Islam in one of the most remarkable examples of empire-building in world history. Long after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the abolition of the caliphate in the wake of World War I, the link between religion, politics, and society remains very much alive in the Muslim and Arab world.” Pp. 5, 6

No comments: