In a meeting with representatives of science in Germany on September 12, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI quoted a short segment of a dialog between Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian. The Pope said:
“In the seventh conversation, from an edition by Professor Theodore Khoury, the emperor must have known that Surah 2: 256 reads: There is no compulsion in religion.” According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Muhammad was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur’an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the ‘Book’ and the ‘infidels,’ he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: ‘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 emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. ‘God,’ he says, ‘is not pleased by blood—and not acting reasonably is contrary to God’s nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats…to convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death…”.
The Pope certainly does not suggest that the emperor was right in the quoted remark. If anything, he implies that its “starting brusqueness” was a rhetorical used for argumentative or discursive purpose. The statement is placed in the context of theological debate, which the pope clearly suggests has value and importance. As a result, segments of Muslim community around the world demonstrated and demanded an apology from the pontiff. They argue that Islam did not use the sword to convert people. They also stated that Islam is a “peaceful religion”. Some demanded that the pope be executed. This article gives background about the Islamic conquest of the Middle East and parts of Europe.
Before the rise of Islam in the seventh century, The Middle East was inhabited by Semites mainly Christians and Jews in addition to Tribes whose origin was Arab. There were also Greeks and Persians. Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, died in 632 A.D. He was succeeded by the first caliph Abu Bakr (632-634) who defeated the so-called false prophets, Tulayha and Musaylima and reduced the rebellious tribes. Abu Bakr initiated the first incursion into Iraq under Khalid ibn al-Walid (633). Hira, the ancient Lakhmid capital, and Obolla were taken and its population were put to ransom.
In Syria, the Muslim Arabs defeated Theodore, brother of the Emperor Heraclius at Ajnadyn (Jannabatayn) between Gaza and Jerusalem (634). Abu Bakr died in 634, he was succeeded by Omar, who first assumed the title of Amir al-Mu’mineen (Prince of the Faithful) and established the primacy of the Muslim Arabs over their taxpaying subjects. He defeated the Byzantines at Marj al-Saffar, near Damascus by Khalid (635). Damascus and Emessa were taken after the defeat of the Byzantines at Yarmuk, south of the Tiberias (636). Alepo and Antioch were taken in the same year. Jerusalem was capitulated in 638 and Caesarea was captured in 640. Mesopotamia was subjugated between 639 and 641. The Persians were defeated by Sa’ad ibn abi-Waqqas at Qadisiya (637); Stesiphon (Al-Madain) was taken in 637. The final defeat of the Persians took place at Nahawand in 641.
Egypt was attacked by the forces of Amr ibn al’As in 639 and Babylon fell to the Muslim Arabs in 642. In 642 All of Egypt was capitulated to the Muslim forces. In 644 Omar was assassinated, he was succeeded by Othman (644-656). Under his leadership, Cyprus was captured (649). Between 673 and 678, the Muslim fleet besieged Constantinople, but was unable to occupy the city. They invaded Cilicia (710-711) and pacified North Africa between 708 and 711.
In 711 Muslim Arabs invaded Spain under Tariq ibn al-Walid, they defeated the Goths in Wadi Bekka. Cordova and the capital of Toledo were captured. Half of Spain was under the rule of Tariq. Muslim Arabs crossed the Pyrenees and invaded southern France, but were defeated at Poitiers (Tours) by Charles Martel. They conquered Georgia between 727 and 733.
Throughout the period, Christian, Jews and pagans were forced to convert to Islam; otherwise, they had to pay what is known as the “Jizya”, which means ‘head tax’. Paying off the “Jizya” would allow the person to protect his head from the sword.
From the eleventh to the thirteenth century, the Crusaders attempted to bring Christianity and Christian rule to the Holy Land. From the fourteenth to the seventeenth century, the Ottoman Turks reversed the balance and expanded their rule over the Middle East and the Balkans. Nicaea was taken in 1331; in 1345 the Ottomans crossed into Europe, their first settlement in Europe occurred in 1354 at Tzympe on Gallipoli. Between 1369 and 1372, the Ottomans conquered Bulgaria to the Balkan Mountains; they defeated the Serbs at Cernomen on the Maritza River; they captured Sophia, and in February-May 1453, they laid siege to Constantinople (modern Istanbul) and captured the Byzantine capital once and for all.
Muslim occupation of the Middle East and elsewhere was not tolerant towards their subjugated people, mainly the Christians, the Jews and the Hindus. They confiscated Christian churches, Jewish synagogues and Hindu temples; they instituted the “Jizya” system (paying off head tax to protect one’s head from the sword), which is stated in the Quran; they forced non-Muslims subjects to wear special garments for identification; they refused to accept testimonies in the courts from non-Muslims; they called their subjugated people “dhimmi”. i.e. the ‘insulted ones’.
The Quran calls Christians and Jews: “Kafir” (i.e. infidel, disbeliever in Islam), “Apes”, “Pigs” (Q.5: 61), “Those who incur Allah’s wrath”, and “Those who have gone astray”, “Whose adobe in Fiery Hell.” Christians and Jews did not choose these names for themselves. Yet Muslims benefit from the civilization of the people the Quran calls “Kafir, Apes, Pigs, etc. These are the people who make their cars, airplanes, television sets, radios, computers, etc.
On the political side, every single constitution of the Muslim States of the Middle East (except Lebanon and Turkey) stipulates that the religion of the state must be Islam, or the laws of the state should be bases on the Islamic Shari’a (i.e. the Quran, the Hadith and other interpretations given by Muslim commentators). In other constitutional articles in those Islamic countries, the religion of the head of state must be Islam.
Muslims have not recognized the fact that their culture seems much less likely to develop stable democratic political systems, or advance human rights and freedom of expression. Bombing of mosques, churches and synagogues, and sending out suicide bombers to kill innocent men, women and children and destruction of property does not advance a civilization, to the contrary, it pulls it backward.
In a recent speech, Muammar Qaddafi, president of Libya, insulted Christians by saying that “Christians should put photos of naked women next to Jesus”. There were no Christian demonstrations in Europe or the United States or elsewhere in the world to protest his statement. The Libyan Embassies were not attacked anywhere in the world. Yet not a single Muslim leader or religious authority voiced an objection to Qaddafi’s statement.
Pope Benedict expressed the feelings of a Byzantine Emperor in his speech. He did not defend the speech nor did he agree to what the Emperor said in the fourteenth century. Yet Muslims around the world demonstrated against the Pope and the United States; they call for the execution of the Pope; they attacked innocent Christians by killing a nun in Somalia, whose job was to help Muslim children in that war stricken country. Again, not a single Muslim leader or religious authority objected to these acts of violence.
If the world has to submit to these outrageous demonstrations and acts of violence for a speech given by the Pontiff, then the freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of religion and other freedoms that the free world has adopted --and are expressed clearly in the Constitutions throughout Europe and the United States--, all of those should be nullified so that the Islamic mob will run the lives of the Europeans and the Americans.
In the seventh century, Christians who were subjugated agreed to give the second successor of the prophet of Islam Umar bin khattab, a proclamation know as “The Pact of Umar”. Here are some of the conditions put on the Christians:
- We (Christians) shall not build in our cities or in their neighborhood, new monasteries, churches, covenants, or monk’s cells, nor shall we repair, by day or by night, such of them as fall in ruins or are situated in the quarters of the Muslims.
- We shall not manifest our religion publicly nor convert anyone to it. We shall not prevent any of our kin from entering Islam if they wish it.
- We shall not mount on saddles, nor shall we gird swords nor bear any kind of arms nor carry them on our persons.
- We shall not sell fermented drinks.
- We shall clip the fronts of our heads.
- We shall always dress in the same way wherever we may be, and we shall bind the zunnar (belt) round our waists.
- We shall not display our crosses or our books in the roads or markets of the Muslims. We shall use only clappers in our churches very softly. We shall not raise our voices when following our dead. We shall not show lights on any roads of the Muslims or in their markets. We shall not bury our dead near the Muslims.
The Arab historian, al-Tartushi, Siraj al-Muluk says that when this letter was brought to Umar, he added, “We shall not strike a Muslim”. Christians accepted these conditions for themselves and for the people of their community, and in return they received safe-conduct. The author claims that Umar ibn al-khattab replied: Sign what they ask, but add two clauses and imposed them addition to those which they have undertaken. These are: “They shall not buy anyone made prisoner by the Muslims,” and “Whoever strikes a Muslim with deliberate intent shall forfeit the protection of this pact.”
Muslim demonstrators do not have to pour their anger on the Pope who, during an academic gathering, quoted a Byzantine emperor. All they have to do is read the books that were written by their own historians about the Islamic occupation of other countries, they all mention the sword as a means of “jihad”. The emperor was not the first person to ask the question about the use of the sword during the “jihad”. In his book “al Itqan fi ‘Ulum al Qur’an”, the author “al Suyuti” states clearly that some of the interpreters of the Qur’an call the Quranic verse 9:5 as the verse of the sword. What does the verse say? “And when the forbidden months have passed, kill the ‘MUSHRIKOON’ (Christians and Hindus, who worship someone else beside God) wherever you find them and take them prisoners, and beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they repent and observe Prayer and pay the zakat, then leave their way free.” This verse became a pretext for executing people who do not believe in Islam.
Gabriel Sawma is a lawyer dealing with international law, mainly the European Union Law, the Middle East and Islamic Shari’a Laws. Author of a book titled, “The Qur’an: Misinterpreted, Mistranslated, and Misread. The Aramaic Language of the Qur’an”, available on amazon.com. syriacaramaicquran.com