Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times
The title of the first chapter of Geert Wilders’ recent book against Islam, Marked for Death: Islam’s War Against the West and Me, is provocative enough to merit attention: the Axe versus the pen. By citing some violent and murderous acts of some Muslim individuals or groups, Wilders wants to associate Islam with axe and the Western civilization and Christianity with pen. He takes pride in religious freedoms in Christianity and the Western civilization, while at the same time, he tries to take away freedoms of the Muslims, in the same book. You cannot have your cake and eat it too!
The very first verses of the Quran revealed to the prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, at the beginning of his ministry, highlight the fundamental role of pen in human civilization:
Convey thou in the name of thy Lord Who created,
Created man from a clot of blood.
Convey! And thy Lord is Most Generous,
Who taught man by the pen,
Taught man what he knew not. (Al Quran 96:2-6)
A few decades ago Vatican had similar narcissistic proclamations about religious freedoms in the Second Vatican Council, 21st ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church (1962–65), announced by Pope John XXIII on Jan. 25, 1959.[i] The work of the council continued under Pope John’s successor, Paul VI, and sessions were convened each autumn until the work of the council was completed on Dec. 8, 1965. Sixteen documents were enacted by the council fathers, one of these were on religious freedoms.[ii] The document started with the following paragraph, in recognition of freedom of thought and religion:
A sense of the dignity of the human person has been impressing itself more and more deeply on the consciousness of contemporary man,(1) and the demand is increasingly made that men should act on their own judgment, enjoying and making use of a responsible freedom, not driven by coercion but motivated by a sense of duty. The demand is likewise made that constitutional limits should be set to the powers of government, in order that there may be no encroachment on the rightful freedom of the person and of associations. This demand for freedom in human society chiefly regards the quest for the values proper to the human spirit. It regards, in the first place, the free exercise of religion in society. This Vatican Council takes careful note of these desires in the minds of men. It proposes to declare them to be greatly in accord with truth and justice. To this end, it searches into the sacred tradition and doctrine of the Church-the treasury out of which the Church continually brings forth new things that are in harmony with the things that are old.[iii]
Neither the Second Vatican Council in the last century, nor Wilders, more recently, explained to us the reasons of 50 million casualties of the World War II and as to why Adolf Hitler tried to wipe out all the Jews? What are we to make of the forced Baptism of Jews by Roman Emperor Heraclius, who was a contemporary of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him? How are we to reconcile the large scale forced conversions of European pagans by Charlemagne also known as Charles the Great, who was crowned Imperator Augustus by Pope Leo III on 25 December, 800 CE in Rome? Last but not the least, what about the Spanish inquisitions, to convert the Muslims and the Jews, by force, until no Muslim was left in Europe in 1492 CE?
“This Vatican Council likewise professes its belief that it is upon the human conscience that these obligations fall and exert their binding force,” the Second Vatican Council declared, “The truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, as it makes its entrance into the mind at once quietly and with power.” [iv] So, after all, the countless forced conversions being ordered or condoned by ‘infallible’ Popes of the time, were not righteous or in keeping with Catholic teachings or human nature.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community agrees with the concept of religious freedom as claimed by Wilders and the Second Vatican Council. We agree with the overall concept. Yes. Yes indeed! But, there is a little catch. Religious freedom has not been practiced by Christianity historically. Islam has not been recognized in Italy, as a religion, at least not until 2010.[v] Islam is not an established religion in Italy and there is only one official mosque in the country, Rome’s Grand Mosque. Politicians from the ruling coalition cite different excuses as obstacles to recognizing Islam as an official religion in Italy. Until now, only the Catholic Church, Judaism and other established churches including Lutherans, Evangelists, Waldensians and 7th-day Adventists have received the income tax revenue from the Italian government.[vi] If Churches are not allowed in Saudi Arabia, the right wing Christian apologists blow up in flames of anger and fury. Thanks to the one sided media coverage, the violation of religious freedom in Saudi Arabia is well known to most but the violations in Italy have been a well guarded secret until recently. By insisting on vicarious atonement, which means Jesus dying on the cross for the sins of others, a metaphor completely missing in other religions, Christianity is fundamentally at odds with all other religious traditions, be it Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism or Zoroastrianism. Islam on the other hand has a unifying paradigm, which suggests that Abraham, Isaac, David, Solomon, John the Baptist, Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Ram, Confucius, Dao and Zoroaster, were prophets of God and were all inspired by love of one True God and mankind.
“There is a quality which one associates with a high degree of human culture, and that is tolerance. One of the commonest charges brought against Islam historically, and as a religion, by Western writers is that it is intolerant,” wrote the first British Muslim, Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall (1875 – 1936), “This is turning the tables with a vengeance when one remembers various facts:- One remembers that not a Muslim is left alive in Spain or Sicily of Apulia. One remembers that not a Muslim was left alive and not a mosque left standing in Greece after the great rebellion in 1821. One remembers how the Muslims of the Balkan peninsula, once the majority, have been systematically reduced with the approval of the whole of Europe, how the Christian under Muslim rule have in recent times been urged on to rebel and massacre the Muslims, and how reprisals by the latter have been condemned as quite uncalled for. One remembers how the Jews were persecuted throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, what they suffered in Spain after the expulsion of the Moors and what they suffered in Czarist Russia and Poland even in our own day, while in the Muslim Empire Christians and Jews had liberty of conscience and full self-government in all internal affairs of their communities.
In Spain under the Umayyads and in Baghdad under the Abbasid Khalifas, Christians and Jews, equally with Muslims, were admitted to the schools and Universities-not only that, but were boarded and lodged in hostels at the cost of the State. When the Moors were driven out of Spain, the Christian conquerors held a terrific persecution of the Jews. Those who were fortunate enough to escape fled, some of them to Morocco and many hundreds to the Turkish Empire, where their descendants still live in separate communities, and still speak among themselves an antiquated form of Spanish. The Muslim Empire was a refuge for all those who fled from persecution by the Inquisition; and though the position which the Jews and Christian occupied there was inferior to that of Muslims it was infinitely to be preferred to the that of any Muslims, Jews or heretics-nay, even any really learned and enlightened man — in contemporary Europe.”[vii]
Christian apologists have always ignored many a teachings of Jesus, especially, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3) Wilders wrote in the first chapter of his book, “There is no better metaphor to illustrate the difference between the Western values and the ‘true faith value of Islam’ than the difference between a pen and an axe. We settle our arguments with the former; Islam uses the latter.” Wilders claim is belied by history. Freedom of speech goes hand in hand with freedom of religion and Europe and Americas enjoyed very little of that until recent times. Let me document this from the pen of the third President of USA, Thomas Jefferson. As Christians, belonging to minority sects, escaped from Europe in search of religious freedom to North America in the seventeenth century, a full millennium after the Holy Quran had described religious freedoms for every human, they found none in Americas. Jefferson wrote in his only published book, during his life time, Notes on the State of Virginia (1781):
The first settlers in this country were emigrants from England, of the English church, just at a point of time when it was flushed with complete victory over the religious of all other persuasions. Possessed, as they became, of the powers of making, administering, and executing the laws, they shewed equal intolerance in this country with their Presbyterian brethren, who had emigrated to the northern government. The poor Quakers were flying from persecution in England. They cast their eyes on these new countries as asylums of civil and religious freedom; but they found them free only for the reigning sect. Several acts of the Virginia assembly of 1659, 1662, and 1693, had made it penal in parents to refuse to have their children baptized; had prohibited the unlawful assembling of Quakers; had made it penal for any master of a vessel to bring a Quaker into the state; had ordered those already here, and such as should come thereafter, to be imprisoned till they should abjure the country; provided a milder punishment for their first and second return, but death for their third; had inhibited all persons from suffering their meetings in or near their houses, entertaining them individually, or disposing of books which supported their tenets. If no capital execution took place here, as did in New-England, it was not owing to the moderation of the church, or spirit of the legislature, as may be inferred from the law itself; but to historical circumstances which have not been handed down to us. The Anglicans retained full possession of the country about a century.[viii]
Islam not only gave freedom of speech, but also taught politeness in speech, truth and nothing but the truth and honest testimony, even if it hurts ones dear ones. Perhaps Wilders has not seen these Islamic values in the Western civilization yet. His half truths build a vitriolic propaganda against Islam no different from the war mongering of Pope Urban II, at the time of the First Crusade. Read the account of the taking over of Jerusalem in the seventh century by Umar, may God be pleased with him, and reclaiming of the holy city by Urban II four centuries later and you will be convinced of the great enormity of what is called the First Crusade. I have examined the Treaty of Jerusalem signed by Umar Farooq, in my other articles and here I will give some account of the First Crusade, mostly in the words Thomas Asbridge, a Senior Lecturer in Medieval History at Queen Mary, university of London, from his recent book, The First Crusade: A New History: The Roots of Conflict between Christianity and Islam published by the Oxford Press in 2004. He writes in the first chapter:
The image of Muslims as brutal oppressors conjured by Pope Urban was pure propaganda – if anything, Islam had proved over the preceding centuries to be more tolerant of other religions than Catholic Christendom. Likewise, the fevered spontaneity of Bohemond’s decision to take the cross, dutifully recorded by one of his followers, was almost certainly a facade masking calculated ambition.
A race absolutely alien to God has invaded the land of Christians, has reduced the people with sword, rapine and flame. These men have destroyed the altars polluted by their foul practices. They have circumcised the Christians, either spreading the blood from the circumcisions on the altars or pouring it into the baptismal fonts. And they cut open the navels of those whom they choose to torment with loathsome death, tear out their most vital organs and tie them to a stake, drag them around and flog them, before killing them as they lie prone on the ground with all their entrails out. What shall I say of the appalling violation of women, of which it is more evil to speak than to keep silent?On whom, therefore, does the task lie of avenging this, of redeeming this situation, if not on you, upon whom above all nations God has bestowed outstanding glory in arms, magnitude of heart, litheness of body and strength to humble anyone who resists you.
A central feature of Urban’s doctrine was the denigration and dehumanisation of Islam. He set out from the start to launch a holy War against what he called ‘the savagery of the Saracens’, a ‘barbarian’ people capable of incomprehensible levels of cruelty and brutality.Their supposed crimes were enacted upon two groups. Eastern Christians, in particular the Byzantines, had been ‘overrun right up to the Mediterranean Sea’. Urban described how the Muslims, ‘occupying more and more of the land on the borders of [Byzantium], were slaughtering and capturing many, destroying churches and laying waste to the kingdom of God. So, if you leave them alone much longer they will further grind under their heels the faithful of God’. The pope also maintained that Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land were being subjected to horrific abuse and exploitation. While the wealthy were regularly beaten and stripped of their fortunes by illegal taxes, the poor endured even more terrible treatment:
‘Non-existent money is extracted from them by intolerable tortures, the hard skin on their heels being cut open and peeled back to investigate whether perhaps they have inserted something under it. The cruelty of these impious men goes even to the length that, thinking the wretches have eaten gold or silver, they either put scammony in their drink and force them to vomit or void their vitals, or – and this is unspeakable – they stretch asunder the coverings of all the intestines after ripping open their stomachs with a blade and reveal with horrible mutilation whatever nature keeps secret.’
These accusations had little or no basis in fact, but they did serve Urban’s purpose. By expounding upon the alleged crimes of Islam, he sought to ignite an explosion of vengeful passion among his Latin audience, while his attempts to degrade Muslims as ‘sub-human’ opened the floodgates of extreme, brutal reciprocity. This, the pope argued, was to be no shameful war of equals, between God’s children, but a ‘just’ and ‘holy’ struggle in which an ‘alien’ people could be punished without remorse and with utter ruthlessness. Urban was activating one of the most potent impulses in human society: the definition of the ‘other’. Across countless generations of human history, tribes, cities, nations and peoples have sought to delineate their own identities through comparison to their neighbours or own identities through comparison to their neighbours or enemies. By conditioning Latin Europe to view Islam as a species apart, the pope stood to gain not only by facilitating his proposed campaign, but also by propelling the West towards unification.
Crusades, military expeditions, beginning in the late 11th century, that were organized by Western Christians in response to centuries of Muslim wars of expansion. Their objectives were to check the spread of Islam, to retake control of the Holy Land, to conquer pagan areas, and to recapture formerly Christian territories; they were seen by many of their participants as a means of redemption and expiation for sins. Between 1095, when the First Crusade was launched, and 1291, when the Latin Christians were finally expelled from their kingdom in Syria, there were numerous expeditions to the Holy Land, to Spain, and even to the Baltic; the Crusades continued for several centuries after 1291, usually as military campaigns intended to halt or slow the advance of Muslim power or to conquer pagan areas. Crusading declined rapidly during the 16th century with the advent of the Protestant Reformation and the decline of papal authority.
As the Nazis fetched communistsI remained silentI wasn’t a communistAs they jailed social-democratsI remained silentI wasn’t a social-democratAs they targeted trade-unionistsI remained silentI wasn’t a trade-unionistAs they got the JewsI remained silentI wasn’t a JewAs they came to get hold of meThere wasn’t anyone left who could protest.
Freedom of thought, speech and religion go hand in hand. It has been proclaimed by the Quran, in a commonly known verse: “There shall be no compulsion in faith. Surely. guidance has become distinct from error; whosoever refuses to be led by those who transgress, and believes in Allah. has surely grasped a strong handle which knows no breaking. Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing” (Al Quran 2: 257) The freedom of religion has been the subject of several additional verses of the Holy Quran, for example, “Proclaim: It is the Truth from your Lord; wherefore let him who will believe, and let him who will disbelieve” (Al Quran 18:30) And: “Proclaim: O ye people, now has the truth come to you from your Lord. So whosoever follows the guidance, follows it only for the good of his own soul, and whosoever errs, errs only to its loss. I am not appointed a keeper over you. Follow that which is revealed to thee and be steadfast until Allah pronounce His judgment. He is the best of Judges” (Al Quran 10:109-110).
Given these universal Quranic teachings, no wonder, while Heraclius was Baptizing all Jews by force, the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad, may peace be on him was signing a Covenant recognizing rights of Christian monks. The Covenant perhaps had 18 articles and started with the recognition of universality of prophethood, hinting at the universality of human rights:
As God is great and governeth, from whom all the prophets are come, for there remaineth no record of injustice against God; through the gifts that are given unto men, Mohammed, the son of Abdallah, the Apostle of God, and careful guardian of the whole world, has written the present instrument, to all those that are his national people, and of his religion, as a secure and positive promise to be accomplished to the Christian nation and relations of the Nazareen, whosoever they may be, whether they be the noble or the vulgar, the honourable or otherwise, saying thus:
I. Whosoever of my nation shall presume to break my promise and oath which is contained in this present agreement, destroys the promise of God, acts contrary to the oath and will be a resister of the faith (which God forbid!) for he becometh worthy of the curse, whether he be the king himself or a poor man, or what person soever he may be.
II. That whenever any of the monks in his travels shall happen to settle on any mountain, hill, village, or in any other habitable place, on the sea or in deserts, or in any convent, church, or house of prayer, I shall be in the midst of them, as the preserver and protector of them, their goods and effects, with my soul, aid and protection, jointly with all my national people, because they are a part of my own people, and an honour to me.
III. Moreover, I command all officers not to require any poll tax of them or any other tribute, because they shall not be forced or compelled to anything of this kind.
IV. None shall presume to change their judges or governors, but they shall remain in their office without being deposed.
V. No one shall molest them when they are travelling on the road.
VI. Whatever churches they are possessed of, no one is to deprive them of them.
VII. Whosoever shall annul any of these my decrees, let him know positively that he annuls the ordinance of God.
The rest of the details can be read from the pen of a Christian writer, John Davenport, who covered all the details in his book, An apology for Mohammed and the Koran, 1869.
The Quran explains that it is only within the competence of God, the Almighty, to make a person believe, but even He does not force anyone to believe. He leaves everyone to exercise his or her reason and judgment. If He does that, it behooves no one else to try to force people to believe. This is the concept of free will in Islam: “If thy Lord had enforced His will. surely, all who are on the earth would have believed together. Canst thou. then, force people to become believers?” (Al Quran 10:100) Additionally, “Indeed, We have revealed to thee the Book with truth for the good of mankind. So whoever follows guidance, follows it to the benefit of his own soul; and whoever goes astray. goes astray only to’ its detriment. Thou art not appointed a guardian over them.” (Al Quran 39: 42) Sir Zafrulla Khan was the first Foreign Minister of Pakistan and served concurrently as leader of Pakistan’s delegation to the UN (1947–54). He also served as president of the UN General Assembly in 1962–63, and as the President of International Court of Justice from 1970 to 1973. He has beautifully explained the freedom of thought and religion in his short book, Islam and Human Rights. He has insightfully co-related the 30 articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Quranic teachings. He writes:
The Quran invites. indeed enjoins, reflection and the exercise of reason. understanding and judgment at every step. Failure to do so counts as a serious default for which an individual is accountable. It thus seeks to foster the development of these faculties and actively promotes freedom of thought, opinion and expression.
‘In the creation of the heavens and the earth and in the alternation of the night and the day there are indeed Signs for those who possess understanding; those who remember Allah standing. sitting and lying on their sides and ponder over the creation of the heavens and the earth’ (3: 191-192).
‘We sent Our Messengers with clear Signs and Scriptures, and We have sent down to thee the Reminder that thou mayest explain to. mankind that which has been sent down to them and that they may reflect’ (16:5).[ix]
When Umar Farooq, the second Caliph of Islam took over Jerusalem, in February of 638 CE, after a peaceful siege, no blood was shed. The transfer of power was peaceful, but, the psychological, emotional and theological wounds have not healed after fourteen centuries. The recent turn of events have made things worse. Karen Armstrong wrote in 1991, “Now it seems that the Cold War against the Soviet Union is about to be replaced by a Cold War against Islam.” With the unfortunate events of September 11, 2001, internet revolution, reduction of our planet into a Global village, the events of previous millennia have once again come crushing down on the consciousness of genuinely literate men and women. To solve this complexity and conundrum, let us briefly study the history of Jerusalem, the early history of Islam, and the two Empires at the time of the Prophet Muhammad’s birth, the Roman Empire and the Persian Empire. According to the famous psychiatrist, Carl Jung, who was a contemporary and one time friend of Sigmund Freud, the past experiences of our fore-fathers become our subconscious, which he calls archetypes. In other words past history does not go away with the passage of time, rather it stays with us in our subconscious. So, it is important for us to dig up this old history, analyze ourselves, and to heal these old wounds as they are affecting our present day psyche and peace on our planet. To learn further details of how and why Geert Wilders is suffering from these old historic wounds, of his own making, see my article, Fall of Jerusalem in 638: A Theological Crisis for Christianity!
The Messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani, the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has explained the defensive nature of Jihad in early Islam, a concept that was later corrupted by some, in the medieval ages. He wrote more than a century ago:
The root of the Arabic word Jihad means striving and has been metaphorically applied to fighting in the cause of religion. …
Why did Islam have to resort to fighting and what is the purpose of Jihad? With the very birth of Islam it was confronted with great difficulties and all peoples conceived enmity against it. It has always been the case that on the advent of a Prophet or a Messenger his opponents, perceiving that his followers are a company of earnest, righteous and courageous people who are likely to march forward quickly, begin to entertain rancor and jealousy against them. More particularly is that the case with the divines and leaders of every religion…. They begin to devise projects to harm the new faith. Very often they feel in their hearts that by persecuting a righteous one of God they have become subject to God’s wrath and their wrongful conduct also betrays that their hearts feel guilty, yet the fierce fire of jealousy drives them into the pits of enmity. These were the causes which not only prevented the leaders of the polytheists and the Jews and the Christians from accepting the truth, but also incited them to bitter enmity and they began to consider means of wiping out Islam from the face of the earth. As in the beginning the number of Muslims was small, their opponents, out of the natural arrogance which inspires the minds of people who consider themselves superior to the followers of the new faith in respect of wealth, numbers, esteem and rank, treated the Muslims with bitter hostility as they did not desire that Islam, the heavenly plant, should take root upon the earth. They put forth their utmost effort to destroy the righteous and left out no means of causing them hurt. They were afraid lest the new religion should become firmly established and its progress might ruin their own religion and culture. Out of this fear, which terrified their hearts, they had recourse to every type of coercion and cruelty in the attempt to destroy Islam. They killed Muslims savagely and during a long period which extended over thirteen years, they persisted in this form of persecution. The swords of these wild beasts cut to pieces most cruelly the faithful servants of God who were the pride of mankind; and orphan children and weak and humble women were slaughtered in the streets of Mecca. Throughout this period it was the Divine command that evil should not be opposed and the righteous ones carried out the command in every case. The streets became red with their blood but they raised no cry. They were slaughtered like sacrificial lambs but they breathed no sigh. The Holy Messenger of God, upon whom be the endless peace of heaven and earth, was repeatedly made the target of stones that drew his blood; yet that mountain of truth and steadfastness bore all these torments with a Jihad with the Sword cheerful and loving heart. This attitude of humility and steadfastness encouraged their enemies to intensify their persecution and they made this holy community their quarry. Then God who does not permit that cruelty and mercilessness should exceed all bounds turned with compassion towards His persecuted servants and His wrath was kindled against the wicked, and He informed His servants through the Holy Qur’an that He was a witness to everything that had been inflicted upon them and that He now gave them permission to oppose their opponents and that He was Mighty and would not leave the wrongdoers unpunished. This was the commandment which was designated Jihad. The original text of this commandment is there in the Holy Qur’an, which is as follows:
‘Permission to fight is given to those against whom war is made, because they have been wronged — and Allah indeed has power to help them. Those who have been driven out from their homes unjustly.’ (Al Quran 22:40-41).[xii]
To read additional excerpts by the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community about, why and how coercion is prohibited in Islam, read a chapter on Jihad in the volume titled Essence of Islam – Volume II.
In his first chapter, Geert Wilders presents cases of individual violence by some Muslims or some groups of Muslims and we, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, condemn any violence in the name of religion and we ourselves are often victims of such violence. But, where we take issue with Wilders is his broad generalizations and stereotyping. He wants to paint Islam with a broad brush and assign guilt to all Muslims by assigning guilt by association. He fails to candidly discuss that many moderate Muslims consider every human life to be sacred and worth infinite value and abhor any shedding of blood and violence in the name of Islam. Incidentally, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community believes that there is no worldly or secular punishment of blasphemy or apostasy.[x] Whereas, Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) stated that heretics should be given the death penalty if they could not be redeemed by the Church, stating, “About heretics there are two things to say. Their sin deserves banishment not only from the church by excommunication but also from the world by death.”[xi] The broad generalization by Wilders only serve the cause of ‘the axe’ and ‘the sword’ and not ‘the pen!’
We need to be reminded that Pope Urban II’s irresponsible speech led to mass murder and attempted genocide in Jerusalem at the time of the First Crusade and Wilders writings are no different. I rest my case until we meet again in another post.
[i] “Second Vatican Council”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2012. Web. 02 Jun. 2012
[ix] Muhammad Zafrulla Khan. Islam and Human Rights. Raqeem Press, Tilford, Surrey, UK, 1988. Pages 119-120.
[xii] Government Angrezi Aur Jihad, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 17, pp. 3-6.