As I expected, posting on the burning of the Qur’an struck a nerve. A couple of friends have been doing some thinking here and here. Their thoughts are worthwhile. There’s another stone I hoped to turn over today. That is, a lot folks who don’t know about different religious traditions have a tendency to lump them all together. They say things like, “Religion has caused more bloodshed than anything else in human history.” I suspect that no religion, not even blood-thirsty Islam, can hold a candle to the religion of the state (Communism) in the 20th century. But I digress. These types of folks look at the worldwide bloodshed caused by Islam, shake their heads and say, “That’s just religion for you.” In some cases the ignorance typified in such comments is invincible by human means. In other cases, people simply don’t know and are not closed to learning. In such cases, the ignorance can be alleviated with some sound instruction.
What I am attempting to do in this post is to contrast the Christian takeover of Europe with the Muslim takeover of the Middle East and the northern parts of Africa. What I’m not attempting to do is say that everything done in the name of Christ is fuzzy bunnies, and that everything done in the name of Allah bloody carnage. I want to leave the reader with a distinct notion of the way Christianity spread, and I want that notion to be in vibrant contrast to the notion of the way Islam spread. These origins are important, as they necessarily reverberate and echo down the corridors of time, influencing the later practitioners of each religion. Christianity is what it is partially because of how it started and how it spread. Islam is what it is for the same reasons.
CHRISTIANITY: The main figure in Christianity is Jesus Christ. He’s the one who died a sacrificial death to redeem the world to God. He suffered to remove human suffering. He gave himself up to be tortured and murdered for the life of the world. Christianity started with self-sacrifice for the sake of others in execution of Jesus of Nazareth ca. AD 30. From the time of Christ’s resurrection, Christianity was persecuted, first by the Jews, later by the Romans. It was not religio licita (a legal religion that was free from official Roman persecution) until AD 313 and was eventually received as the official Roman state religion in AD 380. As Rome fell and the Barbarian tribes swept into Europe, there were wars, some of them involving Christological conceptions (Arianism) and blood was indeed shed. But more profoundly impactful were the great missionaries of the 5th, 6th, and 7th centuries. I’m not going to tell the stories, but they’re worth knowing. They’re worth retelling to your children, and they again to theirs. They’re stories of selfless heroism in service to Christ and to humanity. These missionaries gave their lives to extend Christianity through preaching and service. Many of them left their homes and families and went to distant countries and lands. They poured themselves out peacefully to serve Christ. St. Patrick, usually associated with Ireland, was actually English. Columba is associated with Scotland, but was Irish. Aidan is associated with England, but was Irish. Augustine of Canterbury is associated with England, but was Italian. Boniface is associated with Germany, but was English. You get the idea. Christianity is spread through preaching the Gospel, Baptism, the Eucharist. It takes lives dedicated to serve others to spread Christianity. HUBBA HUBBA!
ISLAM: The central figure in Islam is, of course, the prophet Muhammad. He was born, by Western (read: Christian) reckoning in AD 571. Maybe another time I’ll contrast the personal lives of Jesus and Muhammad, but suffice it to say that in 622, Muhammad fled from Mecca to Medina. In Medina, he basically took over, raised an army and, in 630, he waged war on Mecca. He took over Mecca and established Islam as the super-dominant religious, military, and social force in all of the Arabian Peninsula. Muhammad died two years after the conquest, in 632. The prophet died, but his conquest went on. There were conquests basically non-stop until ca. AD 750 (and they continue to this day). See the map to cover this time period. Also, see Wikipedia’s article for a lot more information.
Muslim Conquests to AD 750
These conquests were not “go preach the Word and serve people for Allah,” they were filled with violence and forced conversions (at the end of a sword). These conquests were “convert or be killed in the name of Allah.” Note the contrast of origins: Jesus was a selfless servant, one who gave his life for the world. Muhammad was a warlord, extending his rule through violence. Note the development: Christianity was under persecution for 300 years. Islam was the persecutor from the time of Muhammad. Note the takeover: Christianity flourished by the work of selfless missionaries. Islam flourished by murdering all that stood in its way.
Now, I submit that these two very different origins and expansions ought to be enough to show that Islam is vastly different from Christianity. It is enough to prove that not all religions are the same and cause bloodshed after the same fashion. I also submit that the subsequent developments of both Christianity and Islam are deeply influenced by the events outlined above. So, here’s a question for you: Which religion would you rather have take over your neighborhood? Maybe a more important question is which religion is responsible for creating the blessed society in which your neighborhood exists?
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