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The Sword of Islam


By Dr. Ibrahim B. Syed

President, Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc.

Louisville, KY

Pope Benedict XVI created uproar by quoting the words of a 14th-century Byzantine emperor: “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

Apparently trying to prove the pope wrong, ignorant  Muslims responded by attacking churches, murdering a nun and condemning Benedict to death.

The Pope's imputing to the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) the teaching of spreading his faith by the sword is absurd and refuted even by scholars of his own faith, for example it is written by A.S Tritton in his book Islam, "The picture of the Muslim soldier advancing with a sword in one hand and the Koran in the other is quite false." And De Lacy O’ Leary in his book "Islam at the crossroads” states, "History makes it clear, however, that the legend of fanatical Muslims sweeping through the world and forcing Islam at the point of the sword upon conquered races is one the most fantastically absurd myths that historians have ever repeated."

To judge Islam, one has to judge it by its doctrine and history.


The fact is Prophet Muhammad never called for spreading Islam with the sword. The Quran states in Surah (chapter) al-Nahl, v. 134, "Invite to the path of thy Lord with wisdom and good advice, and argue with them kindly, for Thy Lord is well aware of those who go astray and He is aware of those who follow true guidance."

Indeed, the very next verse states that "if thou should punish (aggressors) punish only in proportion to the aggression inflicted upon you, but if ye be patient, it will be better for the patient."

The expansion of the Muslim Empire within 100 years after the Prophet's death has two reasons: the political ambitions of the Muslim Rulers and an invitation from the Christians who wanted to be liberated from the Byzantine rule by assisting the Muslims.

They gradually embraced Islam to the extent that they even changed their mother tongue to Arabic.


Which sword of Islam made Indonesia to become the largest Muslim country in terms of population size? Islam spread to many countries by Sufis, Indian and Arabian merchants and sailors who had exemplified to the natives the Islamic ideals of honesty, purity and faithfulness.


Muslims ruled Spain for 700 years, then why did they fail to convert the Christians into Islam by using the sword?  The Muslims ruled India for about 1000 years. Today India's population is 1.1 billion, and at least 80 per cent are Hindus. Why the Muslims failed to convert the Hindus into Islam by using the sword?


On the other hand, people believe that Christianity spread from Rome to European countries, North and South America by love. Really?  One can know the truth by reading the history books written by Christian Scholars.

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks an estimated 20,000 Americans have embraced Islam. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world and by 2025 it will be largest religion in the world, as one out of three will be a Muslim.


It was the Church that invented the Indulgences and Simony systems, it was the Catholic world that invented the Inquisitions, the pogroms, and all other abominations associated with its dark practices against critics and opponents, including Christians who didn't extend fealty to Rome.

And the Crusades? And the Holocaust? Must we re-open these dark chapters again? Do we have to remind his holiness that in the past century alone, over a hundred million Christians were killed by other Christians in numerous wars, including two world wars?


The war on Terrorism is a myth. The US administration has spent over 300 billion dollars on the war on Terrorism. It is worth every penny to invest money on the weapons of anti-terrorism. The weapons of anti-terrorism are freedom from occupation, freedom from dictatorships, elimination of corruption (6 of the top 10 most corrupt countries are Muslim countries), giving opportunities to the Muslim population in political activity, education (65 per cent are illiterate) and employment ( a staggering  40 to 60 % are unemployed in Muslim countries).




The Pope's imputing to the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) the teaching of spreading his faith by the sword is absurd and refuted even by scholars of his own faith, for example it is written by A.S Tritton in his book Islam, "The picture of the Muslim soldier advancing with a sword in one hand and the Koran in the other is quite false." And De Lacy O’ Leary in his book "Islam at the crossroads” states, "History makes it clear, however, that the legend of fanatical Muslims sweeping through the world and forcing Islam at the point of the sword upon conquered races is one the most fantastically absurd myths that historians have ever repeated."

According to the Quran, "There is no compulsion in religion" (2:256), thus, no one can be forced to become a Muslim. While it is true that in many places where Muslim armies went to liberate people or the land, they did carry the sword as that was the weapon used at that time. However, Islam did not spread by the sword because in many places where there are Muslims now, in the Far East like Indonesia, in China, and many parts of Africa, there are no records of any Muslim armies going there. To say that Islam was spread by the sword would be to say that Christianity was spread by guns, F-16's and atomic bombs, etc., which is not true. Christianity spread by the missionary works of Christians. Ten-percent of all Arabs are Christians. The "Sword of Islam" could not convert all the non-Muslim minorities in Muslim countries. In India, where Muslims ruled for 700 years, they are still a minority. In the U.S.A., Islam is the fastest growing religion and has 6 million followers without any sword around.


Pope Benedict XVI has told diplomats from Islamic countries that the peace of the world relies upon them learning to respect one another, to discuss differences constructively, and to recognise the call within both faiths to reject violence decisively.


In response, Muslim scholars have called for a reassessment of the past, and for the churches to face up to their own history of violence in a frank re-assessment of the historical relations between the two faiths.


The Pope’s plea came in a special meeting on 25 September 2006 with Islamic leaders at the pontiff’s residence, in which the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics stressed his respect for Muslims, following a furore about a speech in which he quoted a 14th century Christian emperor who referred to "evil and inhuman" aspects of the religion.


"I should like to reiterate today all the esteem and the profound respect that I have for Muslim believers," Pope Benedict told the ambassadors of Islamic countries accredited to the Holy See, as well as representatives of various Muslim communities in Italy.


For the sake of the world, Christians and Muslims needed to learn to work together, Pope Benedict declared, "to guard against all forms of intolerance and to oppose all manifestations of violence".


Pope Benedict XVI's reference to dark aspects in Islam's history also opened up fresh examinations of its own past as conqueror, inquisitor and patron of missionaries whose zeal sometimes led to harsh actions against those of other faiths, points out Brian Murphy of Associated Press.


Many Islamic leaders have appealed, in turn, for onlookers not to judge their faith's nearly 1,400-year history solely by modern calls for ‘holy war’, which they say is a clear distortion of the Qur’an’s teaching about jihad as a spiritual struggle, and Muslim rage over Benedict's 12 September speech in Germany.


"There is this impression among Muslims that the pope was saying, 'We are superior and we are without problems,'" explained Ali El-Samman, president of the interfaith committee for Egypt's High Islamic Council. "The history books will tell you otherwise."


In recent years the Vatican has tried to clear away some of its historical baggage, says Murphy. This includes a well-publicised (but subsequently overlooked) 2001 apology by Pope John Paul II for the medieval Crusades, which are widely seen both by Muslims and Orthodox Christians as Western invasions.


Meanwhile, a professor of Islamic law at Qatar University, Muhammad Ayash al-Kubaisi, has proposed on the website of the Al-Jazeera television that Christians should study their own turbulent past and that a constructive way forward might be a public debate about the history of Muslim-Christian relations.


In 1099 Christian crusaders captured Jerusalem and began wholesale attacks on its population, including Muslims and Jews, historians say. At the same time in other parts of the Muslim world, a golden age had its intellectual hub in Baghdad.


In the early 13th century, Crusaders sacked Constantinople, the ancient centre of Greek-led Byzantium, in part to use the plunder to fund more forays into Muslim lands. The Byzantine Empire never fully recovered from the blow.


"No religion is without their unholy periods," commented the Rev Khalil Samir, a Vatican envoy for interfaith links in Lebanon. "To admit this is an important step to real understanding and dialogue."





ope Benedict XVI has still not apologized for equating Islam with violence in a speech and now seems to be using the ensuing controversy to forge an allegiance with conservative Muslims, Canada's largest Arab organization says.


"He should come clean," Khaled Mouammar, president of the Canadian Arab Federation, said yesterday after meeting with the Toronto Star editorial board.


His strong reaction stood in sharp contrast to those of Muslim envoys to the Vatican who met Benedict yesterday to discuss fallout from a speech the Pope gave Sept. 12.


At a German university, Benedict quoted 14th-century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus, a Greek Orthodox Christian, as saying the Prophet Muhammad commanded "to spread by the sword the faith he preached."


That unleashed anger in the Muslim world, forcing the Pope repeatedly to say he regretted the reaction to his speech.


Mouammar said all Arabs felt targeted by the remarks, even those who are not Muslim.


"My wife was infuriated and she's Catholic," Mouammar, a Christian Palestinian, told the Star's editorial board.


Mohamed Boudjenane, federation executive director, said Benedict's words need to be seen in the context of others from the Roman Catholic leader, who laments Christianity's waning influence in Europe and argues against Muslim Turkey joining the European Union.


"That Pope has a precedent with the Islamic world," said Boudjenane, a Muslim.


Yesterday, Benedict met envoys from Muslim nations and representatives of Italian Muslim groups at his summer residence outside Rome. He used the 30-minute meeting to call for more interfaith dialogue.


Mouammar stressed that the Pope still has not apologized for the comments themselves, only the reaction to them.


"He has never apologized that he really condoned what this emperor said," Mouammar said. "He should say: `I am sorry that I quoted this guy and based my conclusions on him.'"


The Pope repeatedly has said he does not agree with the emperor he quoted. Mouammar does not accept this explanation because the Pope based his conclusion in the speech — that reason and violence are not compatible — on the emperor's statement.


"He indirectly agreed," Mouammar said.


Some at yesterday's meeting with the Pope saw good in it.


Mario Scialoja, adviser to the Italian section of the World Muslim League, told Reuters News Agency he had not expected "another (papal) apology.


"He recalled the differences but expressed his willingness to continue in a cordial and fruitful dialogue," said Scialoja, who described the pontiff's speech as "very good and warm."


Nearly all those at the meeting drove off without comment.


The Pope used the word "dialogue" eight times during his five-minute address at Castel Gandolfo.


He said Catholics and Muslims should focus on what they agree on, not on what divides them.


"It is imperative that Christians and Muslims engage with one another (on) the numerous challenges that present themselves to humanity, especially those concerning the defence and promotion of the dignity of the human person and of the rights ensuing from that dignity," the Pope said.


Mouammar said such a plea would only appeal to conservative Muslims. "He is talking about family-values issues, such as same-sex marriage, abortion, that sort of thing."


Boudjenane said the Vatican stand on such issues would appeal to the conservative "fringe" of Islam, but not to more moderate Muslims.


Iraq's ambassador to the Holy See said the pontiff's meeting with Muslims should end the anger over his address at the university in Regensburg where he once taught theology.


"The Holy Father stated his profound respect for Islam. This is what we were expecting," Iraqi envoy Albert Edward Ismail Yelda said, as he left. "It is now time to put what happened behind and build bridges."


Al-Jazeera, in Arabic, carried Benedict's speech live.


Others attending included a diplomat from Indonesia, where Christian-Muslim tensions were heightened last week by the execution of three Catholic militants.


Saudi Arabia, the seat of Islam, does not maintain diplomatic relations with the Vatican.


with files from Star wire services

Karen Armstrong
Monday September 18, 2006
The Guardian,,1874786,00.html

In the 12th century, Peter the Venerable, Abbot of Cluny, initiated a dialogue with the Islamic world. "I approach you not with arms, but with words," he wrote to the Muslims whom he imagined reading his book, "not with force, but with reason, not with hatred, but with love." Yet his treatise was entitled Summary of the Whole Heresy of the Diabolical Sect of the Saracens and segued repeatedly into spluttering intransigence. Words failed Peter when he contemplated the "bestial cruelty" of Islam, which, he claimed, had established itself by the sword. Was Muhammad a true prophet? "I shall be worse than a donkey if I agree," he expostulated, "worse than cattle if I assent!"

Peter was writing at the time of the Crusades. Even when Christians were trying to be fair, their entrenched loathing of Islam made it impossible for them to approach it objectively. For Peter, Islam was so self-evidently evil that it did not seem to occur to him that the Muslims he approached with such "love" might be offended by his remarks. This medieval cast of mind is still alive and well.

Last week, Pope Benedict XVI quoted, without qualification and with apparent approval, the words of the 14th-century Byzantine emperor Manuel II: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." The Vatican seemed bemused by the Muslim outrage occasioned by the Pope's words, claiming that the Holy Father had simply intended "to cultivate an attitude of respect and dialogue toward the other religions and cultures, and obviously also towards Islam".

But the Pope's good intentions seem far from obvious. Hatred of Islam is so ubiquitous and so deeply rooted in western culture that it brings together people who are usually at daggers drawn. Neither the Danish cartoonists, who published the offensive caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad last February, nor the Christian fundamentalists who have called him a paedophile and a terrorist, would ordinarily make common cause with the Pope; yet on the subject of Islam they are in full agreement.

Our Islamophobia dates back to the time of the Crusades, and is entwined with our chronic anti-semitism. Some of the first Crusaders began their journey to the Holy Land by massacring the Jewish communities along the Rhine valley; the Crusaders ended their campaign in 1099 by slaughtering some 30,000 Muslims and Jews in Jerusalem. It is always difficult to forgive people we know we have wronged. Thenceforth Jews and Muslims became the shadow-self of Christendom, the mirror image of everything that we hoped we were not - or feared that we were.

The fearful fantasies created by Europeans at this time endured for centuries and reveal a buried anxiety about Christian identity and behaviour. When the popes called for a Crusade to the Holy Land, Christians often persecuted the local Jewish communities: why march 3,000 miles to Palestine to liberate the tomb of Christ, and leave unscathed the people who had - or so the Crusaders mistakenly assumed - actually killed Jesus. Jews were believed to kill little children and mix their blood with the leavened bread of Passover: this "blood libel" regularly inspired pogroms in Europe, and the image of the Jew as the child slayer laid bare an almost Oedipal terror of the parent faith.

Jesus had told his followers to love their enemies, not to exterminate them. It was when the Christians of Europe were fighting brutal holy wars against Muslims in the Middle East that Islam first became known in the west as the religion of the sword. At this time, when the popes were trying to impose celibacy on the reluctant clergy, Muhammad was portrayed by the scholar monks of Europe as a lecher, and Islam condemned - with ill-concealed envy - as a faith that encouraged Muslims to indulge their basest sexual instincts. At a time when European social order was deeply hierarchical, despite the egalitarian message of the gospel, Islam was condemned for giving too much respect to women and other menials.

In a state of unhealthy denial, Christians were projecting subterranean disquiet about their activities on to the victims of the Crusades, creating fantastic enemies in their own image and likeness. This habit has persisted. The Muslims who have objected so vociferously to the Pope's denigration of Islam have accused him of "hypocrisy", pointing out that the Catholic church is ill-placed to condemn violent jihad when it has itself been guilty of unholy violence in crusades, persecutions and inquisitions and, under Pope Pius XII, tacitly condoned the Nazi Holocaust.

Pope Benedict delivered his controversial speech in Germany the day after the fifth anniversary of September 11. It is difficult to believe that his reference to an inherently violent strain in Islam was entirely accidental. He has, most unfortunately, withdrawn from the interfaith initiatives inaugurated by his predecessor, John Paul II, at a time when they are more desperately needed than ever. Coming on the heels of the Danish cartoon crisis, his remarks were extremely dangerous. They will convince more Muslims that the west is incurably Islamophobic and engaged in a new crusade.

We simply cannot afford this type of bigotry. The trouble is that too many people in the western world unconsciously share this prejudice, convinced that Islam and the Qur'an are addicted to violence. The 9/11 terrorists, who in fact violated essential Islamic principles, have confirmed this deep-rooted western perception and are seen as typical Muslims instead of the deviants they really were.

With disturbing regularity, this medieval conviction surfaces every time there is trouble in the Middle East. Yet until the 20th century, Islam was a far more tolerant and peaceful faith than Christianity. The Qur'an strictly forbids any coercion in religion and regards all rightly guided religion as coming from God; and despite the western belief to the contrary, Muslims did not impose their faith by the sword.

The early conquests in Persia and Byzantium after the Prophet's death were inspired by political rather than religious aspirations. Until the middle of the eighth century, Jews and Christians in the Muslim empire were actively discouraged from conversion to Islam, as, according to Qur'anic teaching, they had received authentic revelations of their own. The extremism and intolerance that have surfaced in the Muslim world in our own day are a response to intractable political problems - oil, Palestine, the occupation of Muslim lands, the prevelance of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East, and the west's perceived "double standards" - and not to an ingrained religious imperative.

But the old myth of Islam as a chronically violent faith persists, and surfaces at the most inappropriate moments. As one of the received ideas of the west, it seems well-nigh impossible to eradicate. Indeed, we may even be strengthening it by falling back into our old habits of projection. As we see the violence - in Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon - for which we bear a measure of responsibility, there is a temptation, perhaps, to blame it all on "Islam". But if we are feeding our prejudice in this way, we do so at our peril.

· Karen Armstrong is the author of Islam: A Short History



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