Was the Pope Wrong?
By Timothy R. Furnish
Mr. Furnish, Ph.D (Islamic History), is Assistant Professor, History, Georgia Perimeter College, Dunwoody, GA 30338. Mr. Furnish is the author of Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, their Jihads and Osama bin Laden (Praeger, 2005).
One might think that Muslims would be offended because the head of the world’s largest Christian denomination considers them, well, unreasonable. But the rent-a-mobs in Gaza and Kashmir are proving the truth of his assertion in that regard. As for the numerous statements by Muslim spokesmen that the pope is “ignorant” of Islam and Islamic history—well, the reality is that they simply can’t handle the truth.
First, Muhammad was not just a man claiming that God spoke through him; he was also a political and military leader. Driven out of Mecca and taking the reins of power in Medina, Muhammad and the Muslims spread their faith not just via da`is (missionaries), but by the sword; in fact, Jews in Medina who refused to accept Muhammad’s prophethood (and who, to be accurate, were accused of plotting against King Muhammad) were killed or enslaved. The conquest of Mecca in 630 CE was accomplished at swordpoint, not by persuasion. The creation of a huge Islamic Empire by the first four caliphs, the Umayyads and the Abbasids (between 632 and the end of the first millennium CE) was carried out via conquest—not by handing out brochures. Granted, Jews and Christians within the Muslim-ruled territories from the Pyrenees to the Indus were not all forced to convert—but the relegation to second-class status known as dhimmah led, eventually, to the majority of people in North Africa and the Middle East converting to Islam.
The initial phase of Islamic conquests resulted in about half the territory of the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire switching hands. For several centuries the borders stabilized and the Byzantines ruled a state pushed back into Anatolia and the Balkan Peninsula. But in the 14th century CE a new wave of Muslim jihadists, the Ottoman Turks, were again moving on Byzantine lands. This was the situation facing Manuel II, and no doubt his view of Islam as “evil and inhuman” was in no small measure influenced by watching what was left of his empire disintegrating. (Indeed, less than three decades after his death Constantinople would fall to the Ottoman ruler Mehmet II.) One might ask how many Muslims setting fire to Christian churches, or to effigies of the pope, are even aware of this? I suspect that even if they were, it would make no difference.
For, in the view of some Muslims, it is not unreasonable to spread their religion by violence, for two reasons: 1) it is the final revelation of God to humanity and 2) the Qur’an enjoins it. To paraphrase Dr. Henry Jones (Indiana’s father): “goose-stepping morons like yourselves should be reading your holy book instead of burning churches.” If they did, they would discover that:
Surah Muhammad :3 says “When you meet the unbelievers on the battlefield, strike off their heads….
Surah Anfal :12 says “I shall cast terror into the hearts of the infidels. Strike off their heads, strike off the tips of their fingers.”
Surah al-Nisa’:74 says “Let those who would exchange the life of this world for the hereafter, fight for the cause of God….”
Surah al-Nisa’:56 says “The true believer fights for the cause of God, but the infidel fights for the devil.”
Surah al-Nisa’:101 says “The unbelievers are your inveterate enemies.”
Surah al-Ma’idah :51 says “Believers, take neither Jews nor Christians for your friends.”
Only in a truly Bizarro world can those passages NOT be an incitement for some to violence, to “evil and inhuman” acts. Are there other passages in the Qur’an mitigating these? Yes. But many of these more benevolent passages are also considered by many Muslims to have been abrogated by the more martial ones.