Today America finds itself embroiled in the midst of war which is even now lengthening. We are confronted by an enemy, not unconquerable, but surprisingly resilient.
At the center of Iraqi culture is Islam, a religion which dominates the culture, politics and lifestyle of this Middle Eastern nation. Islam is at the source of the resilience of Iraq. We find in studying Islam that there are many different sects, which correspond to denominations, each of which holds many diverse ideas and interpetations of that religion.
The beliefs and ideas that dominate much of the country Iraq are probably the most fundamental to the Islamic faith proposed almost 1500 years ago by the prophet Mohammed. Not all Muslims today will fit into this description. However, we can begin to get an understanding of the culture of Iraq by studying Islam’s beginnings
The Beginnings of Islam
Islam took its rise in the peninsula of Arabia, a country of sandy deserts, fertile valleys annd rock-bound coasts. The Arabs, who were the first people to embrace the religion of Islam, are identical with the Saracens or the Moors who conquered huge areas of the known world in the 7th and 8th centuries. The inhabitants of Arabia during medieval times may be divided into three classes:
1) Large numbers of Jews, who after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., had fled to Arabia, where their descendents had exerted a beneficient influence by their high culture and the purity of their religious faith.
2) Christians from the Roman Empire whom the imperial persecutions and the doctrinal controversies among the differents sects had driven to settle in Arabia.
3) The ruling race, which was composed of the descendants of Ishmael, one of the sons of Abraham; these were the true Arabs, or Saracens. They worshiped the heavenly bodies and their most holy place was the Kaaba, in the city of Mecca. The Kaaba was believed to have been built by angels and to have been let down from heaven.
Mohammed was born at Mecca, in the year 570 A.D. His father was an Arab and his mother a Jewess. His real name was Abul Kasem Ibn Abdullah. His assumed name, Mohammed, is derived from the Arabic Hammada, which means “one to be praised,” or “the desired one.” His mother died when he was six years of age and he was adopted by his uncle, who treated him with great kindness.
According to legend, he was born with the seal of prophecy written on his back in letters of light, and three shining angels hailed him as the “Prince of Mankind.” While a boy, he earned his living as a shepherd – a disreputable occupation among the Arabs, but one in which he afterward gloried, saying that Moses and David and other great prophets had first been shepherds. He never learned to read or write.
On a journey to Syria with his uncle, he passed through a number of Jewish and Christian communities, and even spent some time in a Nestorian* monastery at Bozrah, Syria, and learned much about Judaism and Christianity.
Although naturally inclined to a life of quiet contemplation, Mohammed was forced by poverty to undertake a commercial career. Mohammed made several journeys to Syria for a wealthy widow of Mecca, named Kadijah, and in his 25th year they were married. Only one child of theirs, a daughter named Fatima, survived who became a mother of many descendants of the prophet.
Mohammed proclaims himself a prophet
Mohammed often retired to the desert or the mountain for meditation and prayer. While meditating on Mount Hira, near Mecca, in his fortieth year, he fell into a trance and, as he reported, received a call from the Archangel Gabriel. In great fear he returned home and related his vision to his wife, who consoled him, and said that he had been chosen as the prophet of his people.
For a long time no other visions came, and when he determined to commit suicide by hurling himself over a precipice, Gabriel appeared to him again. Mohammed now announced himself as a prophet and the founder of a new religion. The revelations which he said were made to him continued for more than twenty years and are embodied in the Koran, which contains elements of Christianity, Judaism and the pagan Arabic religions.
The First 12 Years of Islam
Mohammed’s first “revelation” took place in 610 A.D. For three years, Mohammed labored among the members of his family and his intimate friends, making about 40 converts, of whom his wife was the first. He then deetermined to assert more boldly his God-given office of prophet and lawgiver.
Thousands of pilgrims flocked to Mecca to visit the holy Kaaba and kiss its sacred stone. Taking his stand daily near the Kaaba, he preached the new religion and proclaimed himself the prophet of God. He boldly attacked their idolatry, and reasoned with those who opposed him. His doctrines were later committed to writing by his followers and the book was called the Koran.
During the nine years of preaching, much strife was stirred up and few converts were made. At last, Mohammed’s cousin Ali precipitated a serious conflict by declaring that he would do personal violence to such as would not recognize Mohammed as the Prophet of God.
The threats of Ali raised such a storm of wrath that Mohammed was compelled to flee from Mecca to save his life. His departure at this time, July 15, 622, is known as the Hegira and marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar. For ten days he and his devoted band of followers toiled over the burning sands and rugged rocks of the desert until they reached Medina, 250 miles to the north. In Medina he was hailed as a prophet and multitudes of converts were made to his faith.
He at first proclaimed that those who accepted Islam must do so voluntarily, but this principle was soon abandoned and, at the head of his conquering army, he offered the vanquished their choice of three things: The acceptance of Islam, the payment of tribute, or death by the sword.
The Return to Mecca
Within two years of the Hegira, Mohammed took the field against his enemies and routed them in battle. He then conquered several Jewish and Christian tribes and watched in prison the massacre of 600 Jews in one day, while their wives and children were sold into slavery.
In the eighth year of the Hegira, he finally marched on Mecca and captured it with little opposition. On entering the city he went directly to the Kaaba where under his orders all the idols were brroken. From that time the Kaaba became the chief temple of the new worship.
In the tenth year of the Hegira, Mohammed visited Mecca with an army of 40,000 Muslims. Soon after his arrival, he was taken violently ill. Realizing that he was dying, he exclaimed, “The Lord destroy the Jews and the Christians! Let there not remain any faith but that of Islam throughout the whole of Arabia! Lord, grant me pardon and join me to thy companionship on high!”
Western Asia and North Africa
After the death of Mohammed, the caliphs continued the conquests he had begun. Caliphs were successors whose authority extended into both civil and religious affairs. They stimulated their followers with the assurance, “Before you is paradise, behind you is death and hell.”
Palestine, Syria and Egypt were at this time dominated by the Greek Church. Large numbers of its adherents who had fiercely quarreled among themselves over nice points in their creed, with little care for the essentials of Christianity, easily exchanged their faith for that presented to them at sword’s point.
The land in which Christ had healed and taught was quickly overrun. Syria soon yielded to the Muslim arms. Thousands of Christian church buildings in and near Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria were either destroyed or converted into mosques. Twenty-one years after the death of Mohammed, the rule of Islam extended over a territory as great as the Roman Empire.
Even Constantinople was beseiged twice and probably would have fallen but for the severity of an unusually cold winter. In 707 A.D. the Muslims swept over the provinces of Northern Africa, bringing into subjection the entire country between the Great Desert and the Mediterranean.
The Conquest of Spain
Even the sea could not check the conquering hordes of Islam. In 711 A.D. they crossed the Styrait of Gibraltar and attacked the Visigoths, whose moral and physical degeneracy was so great that they made only a feeble resistance, and Spain fell under Islamic rule.
The teachings of Mohammed spurred them to rapid conquests: “The sword,” said Mohammed, “is the key of heaven and hell; a drop of blood shed in the cause of Allah, a night spent in arms, is of more avail than two months of fasting and prayer; whosoever falls in battle, his sins are forgiven, and at the day of judgment his limbs shall be supplied by the wings of angels.”
The fanaticism aroused by such words was a leading factor in his success. To the Jews and Christians, they permitted some liberty upon payment of a heavy tribute, but the idolater was compelled to embrace Islam or face slavery or death.
Plans for World Conquest
The purpose of the Islamic armies was to sweep from Arabia over the northern part of Africa, subdue Spain, conquer Gaul (France), subjugate Italy, spread the Muslim faith through Germany, overrun Greece, capture Constantinople, and finally cross over into Asia Minor (Turkey), after having converted Africa Europe, and Asia into a vast Muslim Empire.
Encouraged by their easy conquest in Spain, the Muslims crossed the Pyrenees, and overran the valley of the Rhone. They directed their march toward Tours (shown on map: 120 miles southwest of Paris). At Tours was situated the much of the wealth of Europe at that time. The treasures of the Cathedral of St. Martin were the target of Abd-el-Rhaman, the Muslim leader, who set out to pillage it. On the road he met the brave German forces.
The Battle of Tours
On Saturday, October 11, 732, the battle began by a fierce charge of the Muslims shouting their famous war-cry, “Allah-Akbar!” (God is great!) But never before did they meet such resistance – the Germans did not yield one foot. All day long the charges were repeated, every one leaving its quota of Muslim dead.
The confident spirit with which the Muslims entered into battle gave place to anxiety and then to fear. At this moment, the German forces took up the offensive and threw themselves upon the wearied and discouraged Muslims, who were unable to resist the terrific onslaughts.
They fought bravely for a while, then fled from the field despairing and leaving everything but their horses and their arms behind them. Abd-el-Rhaman had fallen in the dreadful carnage and there was no one to rally the scattered hosts. That one afternoon, Europe emerged triumphant and their enemies were forever repelled. The Muslims withdrew into Spain, where they and their descendants remained for over 700 years and never again appeared north of the Pyrenees.
The leader of the Franks at the Battle of Tours was Charles Martel, a German king, who became the hero of Europe. The name of Charles Martel (that is, Charles the Hammer) was bestowed upon him in recognition of his great victory at Tours. His grandson, King Charlemagne, later did much to unify Europe and became the greatest figure of medieval Europe.
The lesson to be learned here is that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. We have recently seen the effect of Islam’s goal of total world conquest on the modern political scene. A study at the teachings of Islam and how they have affected the Muslim nations should give us a good understanding of the nature of the battle America now faces.
The Koran (Qur’an) and the Sonna form the authoritative basis for the religion of Islam. The Koran consists of laws, histories, legends and precepts which Mohammed professed to receive directly from God or through the Angel Gabriel. Mohammed could neither read nor write; so the Koran in written form was unknown to him. It is divided into 114 chapters and it is composed absolutely without any system of arrangement. It has neither beginning, middle, nor end.
The Sonna is a commentary on the Koran and consists of Mohammed’s sayings and doings, as handed by tradition and reduced to writing about a century after the Hegira.
The Koran opposes the polytheism of Greece and Rome, as well as the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. The faith of Islam in this particular is embodied in this passage of the Koran: “There is no god but God.” Abraham, Moses and Jesus are viewed by Islam as being lesser prophets than Mohammed who revealed the complete will of God to mankind.
The Final Judgment
The Koran teaches that on the last day the bodies of all persons shall rise and they shall be judged according to their good or bad conduct while on earth. After judgment, all must cross a bridge which passes over hell and ends in paradise. The bridge is finer than a hair, sharper than a sword and beset on both sides by briers and thorns. The good reach the end in safety and are welcomed by Mohammed and other prophets into an abode of bliss, while the wickled fall from the bridge into hell, where they endure endless tortures.
Muslims are supposed to pray five times a day. A muezzin or public crier announces the time for prayer from a mineret of each mosque. While praying the worshipper must be faced toward Mecca. Prayer consists of prostrations and the recitation of passages from the Koran. Public prayers are held in mosques on Friday at noon when, in addition to the prayers, a sermon is delivered. Women are not ordinarily admitted into the mosques.
For the space of one specified lunar month a year, a Muslim fasting season occurs. The Muslim is commanded to abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and every other kind of sensual delight from the time when it is light enough to distinguish a white thread from a black one until sunset. The Muslim fast is obligatory and is regarded as a means of gaining heaven. At other times of the year fasts are optional.
Pilgrimage, Alms and Bearing Arms
Every Muslim is expected to make at least one pilgrimage to Mecca in the course of his life. Each pilgrim marches three times around the Kaaba, a black stone supposed to have fallen from heaven with Adam, while kissing or touching the stone each time. Almsgiving is regarded as an effectual means of obtaining admission into heaven.
But Mohammed taught that the most meritorious of all actions was to propagate Islam by the force of arms. The call to take up arms against the “infidels” is called the Jihaad, or holy war, and has plagued the inteernational scene since the time of Mohammed.
Culture and Learning
One of the positive aspects of Islam was the unification of national government and the preservation of culture and learning in the nations which they conquered. During the period of conquest the Arabs imposed their religion upon all conquered nations. But they absorbed something of every culture that they conquered – from the Persians, philosophy; from the Greeks, science and literature; from the Hindus, mathematics.
They became investigators in the field s of astronomy, chemistry and mathematics. The Arabs preserved the scientific works of the Greeks throughout the Dark Ages. Learning first returned to Europe through the Arabian schools in Spain.
Muslim men were allowed to have four legal wives. The role of women is subservient to that of men. The use of all alcoholic beverages is prohibited.
Islam seems to be a mixture of many good and evil elements. It seems that the personal failings of Mohammed brought a creed of cruelty and self-indulgence into a system that otherwise harmonized with Judeo-Christian thinking of the medieval era.
Islam legalizes the slaughter and plunder of all “infidels” and extols polygamy giving sanction to man’s lowest instincts and destroying the dignity of women. Furthermore, a strong “works-righteousness” viewpoint pervades the teachings of Islam and has given rise to a proud, self-righteous attitude among those who are successful in keeping the commands of the religion.
Recent historians incline to the belief that in the beginning of his career Mohammed was a sincere and enthusiastic reformer, and some have even compared him with Jesus of Nazareth. But afterwards his motives became less pure and he became dominated by a desire for conquest. He was a better man in the period of his adversity and persecution than during his prosperity and triumph.
Like many other famous characters, he arose from poverty and obscurity to greatness and then decayed under the sunshine of wealth and power. He started with the desire to win his countrymen from idolatry to the worship of the one true God, but he gradually became ambitious to be known as the founder of a universal religion which was to be extended by the sword.
For twenty-four years he had but one wife, and he preached monogamy. However, only two months after his first wife’s death, he married again and afterward had fourteen legal wives. His favorite wife, Ayesha, he married when she was nine and he was 53 years old.
“To compare such a man with Jesus,” says historian Philip Schaff, “is preposterous and even blasphemous.”