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Spread by the Sword?

Qa'im

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بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

           

            Not only is Islam the second-largest religion in the world, but it is the world’s fastest growing religion. With globalization and the influx of Muslim immigration to the West, many people are reluctantly meeting Muslims for the first time. Fear of the unknown is common, but that fear is constantly perpetuated by images of violence in the Muslim world. As a visible minority with little political leverage, the Muslim community is an easy target for xenophobes, warmongers, and nationalists. The Muslim world is the needed bogeyman for the military-industrial complex, private security companies, and isolationist politicians to thrive. Rather than trying to understand the complex imperial and economic variables that cause violence in the Muslim world, it is both simpler and more cunning to resort to generalized arguments about Islam. This view, however, overlooks the many scientific and philosophical contributions Muslims have made to Western civilization. More importantly, it distorts the reality of the Muslim civilization’s mostly-tolerant history. The centuries-old narrative that Islam was “spread by the sword” is still popular today, and it causes Muslims living in the West to be looked at as a suspicious Trojan horse waiting to Islamize the world. It is therefore necessary for us to deconstruct this worldview. This paper will briefly explore the rise and expansion of Islam, and demonstrate that tolerance and plurality were founding principles of Islamic ethics.

            Since the early days of the Prophet Muhammad’s ministry, Islam’s relationship with non-Muslim communities has been notable. Shortly after the Muslim migration to Medina (then known as Yathrib) in 622 CE, the Prophet drafted the Constitution of Medina. This charter put an end to tribal infighting in Medina, created a new judicial system, guaranteed the mutual protection of Muslims and non-Muslims, and established a new “Community of Believers (mu’mineen)”. (Gil, 2004, pp. 21) This community would include the Jewish tribes of Medina, while still recognizing their distinct identity and laws. Although Bernard Lewis claims that the Constitution of Medina was a unilateral proclamation by Muhammad, (Lewis, 1993, pp. 22) Muslim sources generally referred to it as a pact between the Muslims and the Jews following the two pledges at `Aqaba. Furthermore, Wellhausen, a German orientalist, regarded this charter to be a multilateral agreement negotiated between all of the involved groups. (Gil, 2004, pp. 22)

            The Prophet Muhammad also ratified writs of protection to other communities. The Ashtiname of Muhammad, which was written by `Ali b. Abi Talib upon the commission of Muhammad, granted privileges to the Christian monks of St. Catherine’s Monastery in Egypt. (Ratliff, 2012, pp. 63) The document guarantees that Christians are not to be overtaxed, plundered, disturbed, or coerced into marriages. (Morrow, 2013) These covenants demonstrate that the Prophet pursued a peaceful and tolerant coexistence with other communities, and made his followers accountable to ethical principles of justice.            

The Prophet Muhammad very plainly stressed the equality of all people, regardless of tribe, colour, class, or ethnicity. While rights differed among subgroups of society, the Islamic civilization held no concept of the natural subordination of individuals or groups. (Hamid, 1982, pp. 127) Conversion to Islam only required a simple declaration of faith, while becoming a member of the ancient Greek polity was only possible for Greek male property owners. (Hamid, 1982, pp. 127)  The egalitarianism of the Quranic message was attractive to many who sought social refuge from the caste system and other forms of subordination. (Eaton, 1992, pp. 117)

The Caliphate’s medieval conquests, which occurred after the Prophet Muhammad, are the main source of agitation among those suspicious of Muslims. It should be noted that `Ali b. Abi Talib, who is considered the rightful successor to Muhammad by Shia Muslims, refrained from taking part in these conquests, despite being renowned as a great warrior. There should be no doubt that there were incidents that occurred during early expansion that are not in line with the teachings of the Prophet, especially during the ridda wars and the Battle of `Ulays. The Shia Imams consistently held the Caliphate accountable during mistrials and in moments of nepotism; and they struggled to establish social and economic justice in the Muslim world. But, the frame that the Islamic conquests were wholly or mostly negative is a Eurocentric view that does not account for other pieces of the puzzle.

            Many ancient texts document extensive Judeo-Christian support for the Muslim conquests of Byzantium and Persia. Jews in the Levant had expected a redeemer who would deliver them from the Roman occupiers. (Crone, 1977, pp. 3-6) The Romans had destroyed the Jerusalem Temple in 134 CE, outlawed Jews from living within ten miles of Jerusalem, disbanded the Jewish high court, taxed the Jews heavily, and persecuted them for siding with the Persians. This torment ignited a messianic fervour among medieval Jews, leading to a widespread anticipation of a saviour. One of the earliest non-Muslim references to the rise of Islam is the Doctrina Jacobi, a Greek Christian anti-Jewish polemical text written in 634 CE, just two years after the passing of Prophet Muhammad. The text describes “overjoyed” Jews celebrating the Muslim arrival in Byzantium. (Crone, 1977, pp. 3) Moreover, The Secrets of Simon ben Yohai, a Jewish apocalyptic text written between the seventh and eighth centuries CE, tells of the emergence of an Ishmaelite “prophet according to God’s will” who would save the Jewish people from their oppressors. (Crone, 1977, pp. 4-5)

The Islamic conquest of the Levant would restore Jewish access to Jerusalem and establish a polity that would include Muslims, Christians, and Jews alike. The Pact of Umar II, a writ of protection extended by `Umar b. `Abd al-`Aziz in the seventh century, promised safety and the right to worship to Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians in exchange for the payment of the poll tax (jizya). (Berger, 2006, pp. 88) While some orientalists have criticized the Pact’s prohibition on riding horses, Muslim clothing and building high structures, these stipulations may have been placed to prevent insurrections against Muslim garrisons, rather than to humiliate or subordinate non-Muslims.

            The Muslim treatment of non-Muslims was similarly commended by Near Eastern Christians. John bar Penkaye, an East Syriac Nestorian writer of the late seventh century, praised the Muslim overthrow of the Sassanid dynasty. In his Summary of World History, he writes, “We should not think of the advent [of the children of Hagar] as something ordinary, but as due to divine working. Before calling them, [God] had prepared them beforehand to hold Christians in honour, thus they also had a special commandment from God concerning our monastic station, that they should hold it in honour … God put victory in their hands.” (Pearse) This early Christian account documents the just conduct of Muslim rulers, likening it to divine intervention. Furthermore, after the Byzantines had seized control of Egypt and put the Coptic Patriarch Benjamin I of Alexandria into exile, the Muslim conquerors restored Benjamin I’s authority and brought order to the affairs of the Coptic Church.

Many cultures were drawn to Islam’s magnetic social appeal. Indonesia, which is the country with the highest population of Muslims, encountered Arab merchants in the thirteenth century. Along with the arrival of Muslim commercialism, Islamic stories and symbols were introduced to the population through traditional wayang puppet shows. (Hamish, 2011, pp. 46-51) In the Indian subcontinent, Islam provided social mobility to lower castes, giving people equal rights and freeing them from total subservience to the Brahmans. The transformative power of Sufism was also attractive to many Hindus who sought ascetic, mystical brotherhoods. (Lapidus, 1988, pp. 363) Sufi and Shia saints continue to be revered by Hindu and Sikh poets in India.

Although the Muslim empires had a tumultuous relationship with European Christians over the centuries, sizable Christian and Jewish communities with ancient origins continued to thrive in the Muslim world. Moorish and Ottoman confrontations with Christendom have propelled the misconception that Islam was spread by the sword. The fact is, however, that the conversion of the Near East to Islam occurred very gradually. By 800 CE, only 18% of Iraq’s population was Muslim. (Brown, 2016) Furthermore, Egypt, Spain, and the Levant did not attain a Muslim majority until the eleventh century. (Brown 2016) This means that the Muslims were a minority in the heartlands of their own civilization for hundreds of years. While poll taxes and other social pressures certainly promoted conversion to Islam, ancient churches, synagogues, temples, and other relics were maintained. Judeo-Christian populations even had rights to printing presses and European books in the Ottoman Empire – a privilege rarely granted to Muslims. (Brown, 2016) 14% of the Middle East remained Christian by 1910, with significant populations in Syria, Palestine and Egypt. (Brown, 2016)

On the other hand, Christendom had a relatively poor record with minorities. Although Iberia was mostly Muslim in the fifteenth century, all Muslims were expelled or forced to convert to Christianity in 1526. (Brown, 2016) In 1609, 3-4% of Spain’s population consisted of Christian descendants of Muslims, who were also expelled under King Philip the Third. Anti-Jewish pogroms were also common in pre and post-Enlightenment European history. While there are many ancient Christian communities in the Muslim world, there are practically no ancient Muslim communities in the Christian world, despite Islam’s long history in Spain, Portugal, Sicily, and Eastern Europe.

            In recent decades, the Muslim world’s relationship with its non-Muslim minority communities has suffered. Colonialism, neo-imperialism, military dictatorships, and poor economies have sometimes caused the alienation and scapegoating of ethnic and religious minorities in the Muslim world. In June 2014, the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which rose out of the destabilization of Iraq and Syria, routed Christians out of Mosul. This genocide marked the end of over a thousand years of continuous Muslim-Christian coexistence in the region. While ISIL’s actions are a black mark on modern Islamic history, ISIL’s main military and ideological opponents are other Muslims in the region and around the world. This paper demonstrates that normative Islam seeks unity under common ethical principles. It is vital for Muslims to revive an equitable, pluralistic and tolerant worldview, not just because diversity is strength, but because it is the ethos of our civilization.           

 

Bibliography

Berger, Julia Phillips., and Sue Parker. Gerson. Teaching Jewish History. Springfield, NJ: A.R.E. Pub., 2006. Print.

Pearse, John Bar Penkaye, Summary of World History (Rish Melle) (2010). N.p., n.d. Web. 9 July 2016.

Crone, Patricia, and Michael Cook. Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1977. Print.

Http://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4L23Z_agh1qeV_odQfV6Vg. "Dr. Jonathan AC Brown - The Message of Peace Spread by the Sword - UMaine IAW 2016." YouTube. YouTube, 2016. Web. 9 July 2016.

Eaton, Richard Maxwell. The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204-1760. Berkeley: U of California, 1993. Print.

Gil, Moshe, and David Strassler. Jews in Islamic Countries in the Middle Ages. Leiden: Brill, 2004. Print.

Harnish, David D., and Anne K. Rasmussen. Divine Inspirations: Music and Islam in Indonesia. New York: Oxford UP, 2011. Print.

Lapidus, Ira M. A History of Islamic Societies. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1988. Print

Lewis, Bernard. The Arabs in History. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1993. Print.

Morrow, John A. The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

Ratliff, Brandie, and Helen C. Evans. Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition, 7th-9th Century. New York, NY: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012. Print.

ʻInāyat, Ḥamīd. Modern Islamic Political Thought. Austin: U of Texas, 1982. Print.



21 Comments


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First of all there is proof that Imam Ali helped with those expanisions, namely the conquest of Persia. Shaykh Al-Korani has talked about this.

Secondly, in our Fiqh there is something called offensive Jihad. Whether that is the exclusive right of the infallible Imam or another person can call it is a different issue, the point is not every war in Islam is defensive. Some are expansionist and offensive. 

Sayyed Subah Shubbar nails it:

 

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@E.L King can you tell me why Imam Ali a.s. Got involved in those offensive wars? It's very common for Shia scholars and speakers that I've heard to say that Imam Ali a.s. didn't participate in these wars, and was only a judge, or took care of administrative side of things. Thanks.

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8 hours ago, YAli said:

@E.L King can you tell me why Imam Ali a.s. Got involved in those offensive wars? It's very common for Shia scholars and speakers that I've heard to say that Imam Ali a.s. didn't participate in these wars, and was only a judge, or took care of administrative side of things. Thanks.

He wasn't actually fighting, Shaykh Al-Korani makes the case that however he was organising the Muslims' Army

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On 3/8/2017 at 3:32 PM, E.L King said:

He wasn't actually fighting, Shaykh Al-Korani makes the case that however he was organising the Muslims' Army

If war on offensive is not justified by Allah SWT, why Imam Ali a.s. involve in organising 'the Muslim Army' ?

If war on offensive is justified by Allah SWT, why Imam Ali a.s. only involve in organising 'the Muslim Army' ?

If what Imam Ali a.s. was doing ( organising 'the Muslim Army') is justified/not justified by Allah SWT, :

a. what is the proof of Allah SWT's justification

b. is Imam Ali a.s.'s power of faith to Allah SWT is lower/higher than the power of the will of the Muslim Army ?

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@E.L King

@myouvial has a point, even organising the army would mean Imam Ali a.s. is involved in this 'unjust' war. It's still involvement, whether on the front-lines, or the "back office" to use today's business world language. 

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Whilst it's 'possible' that Islam is the fastest growing religion (though there is no empirical evidence of it; Indian Hindus are converting to Christianity in droves to escape the cast system), Atheism/Agnosticism, if they were considered a 'religion', would most likely account for a larger shift in individual beliefs.

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"Many cultures were drawn to Islam’s magnetic social appeal. Indonesia, which is the country with the highest population of Muslims, encountered Arab merchants in the thirteenth century. Along with the arrival of Muslim commercialism, Islamic stories and symbols were introduced to the population through traditional wayang puppet shows. (Hamish, 2011, pp. 46-51) In the Indian subcontinent, Islam provided social mobility to lower castes, giving people equal rights and freeing them from total subservience to the Brahmans. The transformative power of Sufism was also attractive to many Hindus who sought ascetic, mystical brotherhoods. (Lapidus, 1988, pp. 363) Sufi and Shia saints continue to be revered by Hindu and Sikh poets in India."

====

I do not have authentic reference, everything i know i keep in my mind.

I read from internet :

Mu'awiyah or his rezime send the mercenary to Sriwijaya Kingdom in South of Sumatera and they refer the Kingdom as the country of elephant (as there are a lot elephant at that era.)

Many tomb with the Islamic name (or may even Ahlul Bayt a.s.'s name such as Fatimah etc).

A lot of culture and the clue of Ahlul Bayt a.s. such as one of the son of Imam Ja'far Shadiq a.s. moved to Indonesia/Nusantara area.

So the introduction of Islam to Indonesia is far before 13th century. And the introduction is through culture adaptation (amal ma'ruf nahi munkar) not by sword. Eventhough there is Wahhabi movement in the beginning of 19 century in West/North Sumatera, but i guess i see how Allah SWT has His own Will/Destiny, and i hope the movement is getting loose foundation by the teaching of Ahlul Bayt a.s.

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On 3/6/2017 at 0:41 AM, E.L King said:

Secondly, in our Fiqh there is something called offensive Jihad. Whether that is the exclusive right of the infallible Imam or another person can call it is a different issue, the point is not every war in Islam is defensive. Some are expansionist and offensive. 

Sayyed Subah Shubbar nails it:

 

But when offensive jihad could happen exactly ?

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On 3/14/2017 at 6:17 AM, baqar said:

So, i just read this/your news today.

It seems Australia is worried about the existence of Saudi Arabia (at least from the opinion of the author).

"In the face of the Saudis' relentless, pernicious proselytising, what has Australia done? Cut its aid funding for Indonesian schools and more than halved the number of scholarships it offers to Indonesians to study in Australia."

Well, farewell human. Whatever wil be, it will be. Probably, slaughtering may happen in Indonesia again ?

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The basic of Indonesian politic is "bebas aktif" (maybe translated into 'free active') into achieving world peace as the "penjajahan" (or 'occupation') is against human right.

However, the application of "bebas aktif" can overlimit into tolerancy to what ever other countries do in abusing human right. This dangerous politic may achieve the upper limit into deadly (to the country itself) poisonous thinking.  

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On 3/10/2017 at 5:43 PM, Ya Aba 3abdillah said:

Whilst it's 'possible' that Islam is the fastest growing religion (though there is no empirical evidence of it; Indian Hindus are converting to Christianity in droves to escape the cast system), Atheism/Agnosticism, if they were considered a 'religion', would most likely account for a larger shift in individual beliefs.

Brother this is not accurate. Islam is the fastest growing religion by birth for which there is an abundance of evidence because virtually every country keeps records of its birth rates and a rough estimate of its religious demographics which are mostly accurate. This is something for which the empirical evidence is overwhelming. Just look at the rise in population in Muslim majority countries over the last 50 years, it's unbelievable. Islam is definitely growing, alhamdulillah.

The problem for the next generations will be defending it from the religion of secular humanism, which has in fact gripped the minds of Muslims to varying degrees and turned their mental conception of the world into one of kufr. The problem is that the ulema of the 60's recognized the kufr of communism because it declared open atheism, and they militantly opposed it. Although they recognize the philosophical problems of "the West" generally, there really has not been this militant and overt opposition to SECULAR HUMANISM which IS the religion of the modern world. The failure to name the phenomenon is, I think, in part why there has been such a lax response to what is easily a far bigger than anything else facing the ummah today. And it is coming in through soft power (cinema, news, etc.)

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On 08/03/2017 at 3:32 AM, E.L King said:

He wasn't actually fighting, Shaykh Al-Korani makes the case that however he was organising the Muslims' Army

Brother @Qa'im, could you shed some light on this? I'm confused now. If Imam Ali was involved in organising the Muslims' army, this is basically like him being a part of an offensive war. 

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57 minutes ago, Panzerwaffe said:

Most like 80  to 90 % of imam Ali's famous followers participated in these offensive wars as well

There's no doubt that there were offensive wars, but spreading the dominance of the Islamic caliphate's authority is not the same as spreading Islam by the sword. These wars were supported by Jews, Nestorians and Copts, and Muslims remained minorities in the heart of their own civilization for many centuries. There were certain societal pressures put in place that encouraged conversion (taxes, marriage laws, inheritance laws, economic and political opportunities for Muslims), but these conversions were very gradual. Even then, conversions in most cases were really just public declarations of faith, and then you entered the polis as an equal, regardless of religious or ethnic background. Of course there were legitimate grievances that dhimmis had throughout history, especially under the Almohads, but ancient Judaeo-Christian communities existed in large numbers in the Mideast up until the 20th century, while ancient Muslim communities in Spain, Portugal, France, Sicily, and elsewhere were decimated.

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