Mr. Kalsbeek is a teacher in Covenant Christian High School and a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church, Walker, Michigan.
“And the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do, the heads of them were two hundred; and all their brethren were at their commandment.”
“Death to the Great Satan!”
Strange isn’t it, that the “Christian” West should be identified by Islam as the “Great Satan”? However, there may be more truth than fiction to that Islamic judgment of the West. When one considers its moral decline in the last half-century, the West appears to have all the characteristics of Satan’s playground. Gene Edward Veith substantiates this:
The radical Islamic hatred of the West is motivated partly by their revulsion at the moral decadence of the West. The cultural influence of America overseas is no longer democratic ideals, political freedom, and economic prosperity as it was formerly, but rather sexual permissiveness, pornographic entertainment, legalized abortion, and an anti-cultural hedonism.1
On the other hand, Paul Marshall, general editor of the first global report on religious persecution, claims, “They ( Muslims, c.k.) attack the West because it’s Christian. They don’t attack Christians because they’re in the West.”2
Charles Colson agrees. He believes we are in the throes of a struggle of worldviews between extreme Islam and the Christian West. He describes this clash as follows:
Islam’s worldview sees God as remote, utterly transcendent. Christians worship a God who became flesh and intimately knowable and personal through the incarnation. Muslims believe that humans are born good but are corrupted by non-Islamic cultures. Christians believe we are fallen and thus in need of salvation.
This leads to profound differences. For Islamists, the best hope of salvation is to eliminate non-Muslim influences and to advance Islam (by force if necessary, for which there are heavenly rewards, as the terrorists believed). The Muslim faces an uncertain outcome on Judgment Day based on his works. Christians are confident of a full pardon because of Christ’s work.
Because they do not believe in original sin, fundamentalist Muslim leaders are utopian; they seek the perfect society by strictly enforcing Islamic law. But this utopian worldview has already brought tyranny and disaster, just as communist utopianism led to the tragic deaths of tens of millions in the former Soviet Union.
While Islamists want to enforce a theocracy, most Christians live peaceably with competing value systems. Christians believe in winning people through love, not conquest. Although most Muslims are peace-loving, the Qur’an does speak of jihads.3
So just how is modern-day Issachar to understand Islam? Is it peaceful or war-like? Why does Islam hate the West? Is it because the West is Christian, or because the West is decadent? In a series of articles we will attempt, the Lord willing, to answer these questions and at the same time become a little better acquainted with the Islamic worldview, its impact on the West, and its God-ordained role in the twenty-first century. First, a little history.
The beginnings of Islam have everything to do with Muhammad. The following brief history of his life will lay the foundation for understanding the Islamic worldview that began a mere 1,400 years agowith a single person and rapidly expanded to its present number of over one billion adherents:
Muhammad was born in Mecca about 570 A. D., into the prominent Quaraysh tribe. Muhammad was orphaned at six. His grandfather, formerly the custodian of the Kaaba (a pagan holy shrine, c.k.) and one-time head of the Meccan commonwealth, took charge of his upbringing. When the grandfather died, his uncle was … entrusted with Muhammad’s care.
In his youth he worked as a shepherd, and later rode with the camel caravans that carried frankincense and silk through Mecca to Syria. These travels undoubtedly brought Muhammad into contact with the Jewish and Christian beliefs of the tribes with whom he traded. (This explains some of the similarities between Islam and Judaism and Christianity, c.k.) Although uneducated, he gained respect as a businessman. At the age of 25, he married Khadija, a wealthy widow fifteen years older than he. This marriage gave him prestige and respect in Mecca, provided opportunities for participation in the civil councils, and leisure for contemplation. He frequently climbed to a small cave among the rocks of Mount Hira, just north of Mecca, to spend days in fasting and meditation.
In 610, at the age of forty, Muhammad received the first of many visions on Mount Hara. The vision reputedly called Muhammad to be a prophet of the one true God, known in Arabic as Allah, a word closely related to the Hebrew word Elohim used for God in the Old Testament. The first declaration of his call was to his wife who became his first convert. He soon gathered a small but loyal group of followers to whom he recited the messages received in later visions. (These messages would be collected after Muhammad’s death and used to formulate the Qur’an, c.k.)
Muhammad’s preaching began to undermine Mecca’s position as the center for an annual pilgrimage held in conjunction with a profitable trade fair. By condemning their deities, he offended not only the consciences of the Meccan leaders, but also their pocketbooks. The movement he was leading aroused strong persecution; yet, Muhammad persistently challenged the moral and social values governing Mecca under the powerful leadership of the Qurayshite oligarchy.
In the year 622, Muhammad and a trusted group of followers slipped away from Mecca and fled to the city of Medina. This flight, or Hegira, marks the year one of the Muslim era. Muslim years are counted A.H., or After the Hegira.
At Medina, as his movement grew rapidly, he became not only the spiritual leader, but also a legislator and a military leader. In Medina there were five tribes, two Arab and three Jewish. Muhammad united these tribes into a community of followers. (It is interesting to note that, early on, Muhammad was willing to tolerate the Jews and even seek their help to establish political power, c.k.) He continued to have a deep resentment toward the people of Mecca and used his position of power in Medina to raid the trade caravans heading to and from Mecca. Finally in 630, Muhammad led a force of 10,000 in taking control of Mecca.
Once in Mecca, Muhammad destroyed the idols of the Kaaba, and the pagan shrine of the Arabs. He retained the Black Stone as the most sacred relic of Islam and established the renewed Kaaba as the center of Islamic worship. (According to Muslim tradition, the Kaaba was originally built by Abraham and Ishmael, and the Black Stone was given to Abraham by the angel Gabriel, c.k.) With the destruction of the idols Muhammad destroyed the symbol of wealth and power of pagan Arabia. He established Islam as the sole religion of Mecca and himself as its only prophet. By the following year, 631, Islam had spread throughout Arabia and Muhammad was its undisputed leader.
By the time of his death in 632, Muhammad had seen the proclamation of his message spread from his immediate family through all the Arabian peninsula. Pagan idols had been destroyed and replaced with a belief in a single God. A land that had been torn by intertribal warfare was united by ties that made every Arab a brother in submission to the one God and His prophet Muhammad. Muhammad has rightly been judged the most influential Arab, and second to Jesus Christ as the most influential person in the history of the world.4
Much is made today of Muhammad’s initial tolerance of the “People of the Book” (Jews, Christians, and Muslims). However, once he gained power in Mecca and Medina, this changed. The three tribes of Jews, who had assisted Muhammad in establishing a power base in Medina, would be the first to feel this change. Initially some individual Jews were murdered, then two of the tribes were forced to leave while the third tribe was slaughtered. “Muhammad offered the men conversion to Islam as an alternative to death; upon their refusal, up to 900 were decapitated at the ditch, in front of their women and children.”5 Jihad (holy war) had begun! No fewer than 82 battles and skirmishes were fought in the name of Allah during the lifetime of Muhammad. Later the Qur’an would record in word what he had practiced in deed: “O ye who believe! Fight the Unbelievers who gird you about, and let them find firmness in you: and know that Allah is with those who fear Him” (Surah [chapter] 9 verse 123).
During the three decades following the death of Muhammad, there was considerable expansion of Islam at the expense of the Eastern Christian Empire. Christianity would lose some of its great centers of influence such as Jerusalem and Damascus. These losses and other Islamic conquests from the 600s to the 1200s would set the stage for a military response from Christendom.
Both Eastern and Western Christianity were threatened by the advancing armies of Islam. Not only had the Eastern Church lost Jerusalem, Damascus, and Egypt, on several occasions Islamic dynasties even threatened Constantinople itself, the loss of which would expose all of Europe to Islamic hordes. In the West the situation was, if anything, even worse. After rapidly advancing west across North Africa, by the early 700s they had even crossed the Strait of Gibraltar, and in the year 719 all of the Iberian peninsula (Spain and Portugal) was under Islamic control. Not even the Pyrenees Mountains hindered their advance; and it looked as if France would be Islam’s next victim. However, in Charles Martel the West would find a deliverer. As a result of his great victory at Tours in central France in 732, Europe in the providence of God would be preserved for Western Christianity.
Muslim armies were never to reach this point again. But their seeming invincibility resulting from decades of success had shattered the confidence of both Western and Eastern Christians. As a result, the Byzantines adopted essentially defensive strategies rather than engaging in frequent offensive campaigns, as was the case with the Muslim forces. These ongoing conflicts had sown destructive seeds, ensuring that further conflict was to come.6
During these years of Islamic conquest, non-Muslims living in Muslim-conquered lands would be on the receiving end of various forms of discrimination. Sometimes this would mean something as silly as requiring Jewish and Christian women to wear two shoes of different colors, at other times it might require the payment of the jizya poll tax, which reduced some Jewish and Christian communities to extreme poverty. No matter the burden, and sometimes this could even mean forms of physical persecution, always the pattern of jihad set by Mohammad as expressed in Qur’anic verses such as Surah 9:29 was followed:
Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day,
Nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger;
Nor acknowledge the Religion of Truth,
From among the People of the Book,
Until they pay the Jizyah with willing submission,
And feel themselves subdued.
Although many Islamic sympathizers today like to present Islam as a religion of tolerance, the Qur’an and history record a different picture. This can be seen from the three options that Muslim armies gave their opponents before battle: convert to Islam, agree to accept Islamic law and dominion, or be killed. Further, “It was accepted practice that Muslims had a right to the property of non-Muslims, and that Muslims could kidnap the wives of unbelievers and make them concubines. Enslaving Jews and Christians was considered a merciful alternative to execution.” 7
If this were not reason enough for a Christian reaction, the rise of the Saljuq (sometimes spelled Seljuk) Turks in the middle of the eleventh century would insure a Christian response. The Saljuq migration across Central Asia brought them into conflict with many Christian communities. The massacre of the Christian population of Armenia is a case in point. But this was not all. The Saljuqs trudged on and took control of Jerusalem from their fellow Muslims. Their occupation of the Holy Land compromised the safety of pious, Christian pilgrims desiring to make pilgrimages there in response to Rome’s teachings of works righteousness. The two Peters (Riddell & Cotterell) conclude:
Thus Eastern Christianity, after centuries of setbacks and losses, had seen virtually all its territorial domains in Asia and the Middle east lost to successive Islamic empires: the Umayyads, the Abbasids, and the Seljuqs. Above all, we need to remind ourselves that this was the age of Muslim imperialism. Though empires came and went, from the perspective of Christian Europe the Muslim empires had been the principal factor in the erosion of vast domains that had previously belonged to Christendom. A Christian counter-reaction was inevitable.8
Muhammad’s jihad was about to meet its match!
… to be continued.
1.Gene Edward Veith, “Praise the Lord, pass the ammo,” World 25 October, 2003:10.
2.Matt VandeBunte, “Analyst links 9/11 to religious war,” The Grand Rapids Press 4 October, 2003:B2.
3.Charles Colson, “Drawing the Battle Lines,” Christianity Today 7 January, 2002:80.
4.Daniel Schmeling, “The Foundation of Islam, Christian News 15 October, 2001:16.
5.Serge Trifkovic, The Sword of the Prophet (Boston, MA: Regina Orthodox Press, Inc., 2002) 44.
6.Peter G. Riddell and Peter Cotterell, Islam in Context (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003) 86.
7.Brett M. Decker, “Islam: A Religion of Conquest,” Human Events 22 September, 2003:22.
8.Riddell & Cotterell 94.