That which is happening in the Middle East in 2015 is what was happening in the Middle East 14 centuries ago. That which happened in Europe last week, Muslims killing Christians and other “infidels,” is what was happening in Europe 14 centuries ago.
The phenomenon of Muslims killing Muslims, in great numbers and with unimaginable cruelty is one that began during the lifetime of Muhammad, the Prophet. Incidents of Muslims killing Christians, Jews and other infidels in Europe were going on in Europe within a few years of Mohammad’s death.
Islam through its early history
571 AD Although Mohammed was born in the small oasis town of Mecca, probably in 571 AD, had his first “call” or revelation there before he was 40 years old, and was able to get a few converts to his new notion of there being only one God, he ran afoul of the local power establishment. The hostility of the people in Mecca motivated Muhammad and his few followers to leave his birthplace around 622 AD and move to Medina, another small town about 200 miles north.
630 AD He was a more successful preacher in Medina and soon had several thousand devotees. When he had enough converts, he led an army of about 10,000 back to Mecca and attacked the then-reigning pagan establishment there. About a thousand people were killed in the fighting, but, under the threat of Muhammad’s sword, the survivors in Mecca converted to his new religion. He ruled his acquired little kingdom as its undisputed leader in all matters religious, political, economic and military.
It is important to emphasize early in this discourse that Islam is not merely a religion. As conceived and administered by Muhammad, and as operated to this day by his strictest followers, Islam is a system that controls religious, political, economic and military affairs in societies where it holds power. All power in a strict Muslim community or state is under the control of a single man. Never a woman. Always a man. Whether he be titled a caliph or an imam or an ayatollah, it is a single man who rules all things in a fundamentalist Muslim society.
There are no known instances in which democracy has been successful or long-lasting in a strict Muslim society.
While it is true that secular leaders — presidents, prime ministers, generals, non-clerical dictators — sometimes take control and, in fact, have more power than then-reigning ayatollah or caliph, that is not as Muhammad intended, nor does it work that way it when faithful followers are in power.
632 AD When Muhammad died in 632 AD, his closest followers chose one of their own, an early convert named Abu Bakr, as his successor, thus creating the first of a great many caliphs, an absolute ruler in all things in an Islamic society.
Peace in paradise did not long prevail. Abu Bakr died after a reign of just two years and the inner circle chose Umar ibn al-Khattab (hereinafter “Umar”)* as the second caliph. Although Umar seems to have been supported by most Muslims, he was murdered after ruling for around 10 years. 642 AD The Muslim bosses then picked a fellow named Uthman as the third caliph. Uthman was murdered in his own quarters in June, 656 AD by mutinous fellow Muslims.
656 AD The rebels named Ali as the new caliph. Ali was a cousin of Muhammad and was married to one of The Prophet’s daughters, Fatima. The rebellion that attended Ali’s ascension to the caliphate was what historians consider the first civil war — Muslims against Muslims — after the death of Muhammad. Internecine fighting between Muslims was only just beginning. After a reign of only five years, Ali, too, was murdered — again by a Muslim, who was part of a group that rebelled against Ali.
Thus, three of the first four caliphs who followed Muhammad were murdered by other Muslims during violent rebellions. There were, in fact, two civil wars, Muslim vs. Muslim, within 50 years of The Prophet’s demise.
661 AD After Ali’s death, his son Hasan renounced his claim to the caliphate in favor of Muawiya, who had been a military leader in the first civil war that had installed Ali as caliph.
Although the Muslims were busy fighting among themselves, they were no less aggressive in attacking Byzantine Christians and other “infidels” in the region. Islam was spread by conquest. The early Muslims seemed to like fighting and were very good at it.
650 AD A little more than a hundred years after Muhammad’s death Islam had spread from small towns in what is now Saudi Arabia to include most of what is now Syria, Iran, Iraq and Jordan. Much of the then surviving Roman empire had been conquered by Muslim armies.
Many thousands of Christians, Zoroastrian, and pagans were converted to Islam under threat of death. There were notable instances in which not all “infidels” were forced to either convert to Islam or be killed. In some cases non-Muslims were useful to the Muslim rulers as administrators or skilled professionals, and those might be allowed to retain their Christian or pagan faith. These non-Muslim citizens, however, were citizens of lower rank, having fewer rights and often compelled to pay special taxes not levied on Muslims. Even Muslim converts, particularly if they were non-Arabs, had fewer citizenship rights and could not advance to the highest political or economic rank.
Muslim conquerors were generally careful not to demand what they could not enforce by the sword and were often careful not to cut off their own noses. They sometimes showed a practical leniency to non-Muslims or lesser Muslims — so long as these second class people were generally subservient to the rule of the caliph.
712 AD The Islamic conquests and conversions extended to Africa, India, and China. The Muslim armies also conquered substantial parts of Europe and “converted” many of the inhabitants. By 712 AD most of the Iberian Peninsula, what is modern Spain and Portugal, was under Muslim control and governed by Sharia law. Sharia means “way” or “path”; it is the legal framework within which the public and many private aspects of life are regulated for those living in a legal system derived from the religious precepts of Islam, particularly those of the Quran and the Hadith.
Muslims ruled Sicily and parts of southern France early in the 8th century
While conquering much of the then known world, the early Muslims did not abandon fighting among themselves. By the eighth century Muslims throughout the empire were bitterly and violently divided between Shi’ite and Sunnis.
747 AD The black flags used today by ISIS in Iraq and Syria would not have been completely unfamiliar during those early times. In June, 747, AD rebellious Muslims in Persia (Iran) unfurled black flags in their revolt against the ruling caliphate there.
During the 9th and 10th centuries the overall strength of the Muslim empire in the Middle East, Europe, Asia and Africa started to decline, due in large part to continual and bloody conflicts between Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims. By the dawn of the 11th century AD, the power of the caliphs had largely been superseded by military and secular leaders.
1055 AD The Islamic Empire was invigorated in several ways in the 11th century when a Turk named Tughrul lead his army into Iraq and captured Baghdad. Turks had first come into the Muslim Empire in the mid 9th century as military slaves. They were fierce warriors; they quickly elevated themselves above slave status; and the caliphs employed more and more of them as soldiers. It was nearly inevitable that the growing Turkish military forces became more powerful than the caliphs who had hired them.
The Turks essentially took over the empire of Islam, although they maintained the caliphs in nominal authority. The Turks embraced Islam with enthusiasm and restored much fanatical zeal to the cause of Islam.
1095 AD In 1095 AD the Byzantine Catholic Emperor, Alexios I, had become alarmed by the increasing dominance of the Turks, and he asked Pope Urban II to help raise troops to oppose the Turks. Urban quickly issued a call to arms and hundreds of thousands of European Catholics in control of Jerusalem and the Middle East formed Crusader armies that invaded the Middle East. In a series of Crusades stretching over about 250 years Catholic armies fought Turkish Muslim armies and succeeded for a time in wresting control of Jerusalem from the Muslims. The Crusades were a fascinating part of the history of Europe and the Middle East and deserve attention from those interested in history. However, this article is about Islam and we abbreviate this portion with this simple observation: much treasure and much blood were spent on the Crusades, but they ended with the Turkish Muslims in control of Jerusalem.
1182 AD From far away in Mongolia, in far northeastern Asia, an extraordinary leader emerged early in the 12th century. Genghis Khan, who had grown up in grinding poverty, displayed remarkable leadership skills before he was ten years old. He became one of the most effective and feared military leaders known at any time or place in history. He united dozens of nomadic tribes in northeast Asia and became the potentate of all the Mongols by the time he was in his mid 20s. While considered among the most brutal warriors ever known, he was tolerant as to religious beliefs. He was himself a Tengrist, an Asian religion with elements of animism, totemism and ancestor worship, but he consulted with Buddhist monks, both Christian and Muslim missionaries, and Taoists.
Genghis Khan conquered much of Asia and lands as far east as Iran by the time of his death in 1227. Within a few years of the great Khan’s death his successors had conquered territory stretching from Egypt to Peking, a distance of 6,000 miles. It is believed to have been the largest contiguous territory ever assembled in the history of the world.
1295 AD The Mongols converted to Islam in 1295 AD and ushered in a period of relative peace and tolerance in the Middle East.
1299 AD The Ottoman Turks succeeded the Mongols in a process that included stabilizing the empire through the craftiness of a dead sultan’s concubine, a woman named Shajar al-Durr. She concealed the old man’s death and issued orders in his name until his son could arrive and assume command.
The span of the Ottoman Empire is generall given as 623 years, from 1299 to 1922 AD. The Ottoman Turk sultans generally ruled their empire with strict adherence to Islamic law.
1453 AD On May 29, 1453 the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople, named for the first Christian Roman Emperor, the seat of eastern Christendom. That city became a Muslim stronghold and was renamed Istanbul.
1922 AD The end of the Ottoman Empire was sealed with its defeat as Germany’s ally in World War I. Allied actions after the war brought about the official end of the Ottoman Empire and replaced it in political discussions with a new term: The Middle East.
The conflict between Islam and Christianity
Nowhere else in the world is the inherent conflict between Islam and Christianity more exemplified than in Constantinople/Istanbul and throughout modern Turkey. Christianity and Islam are the only two major “missionary” religions in the world. Adherents of both religions are commanded by their basic texts to seek converts throughout the world. (“Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel” etc.) The intrinsic conflict of the two religions has been clear for 1,400 years and never more than today in modern Turkey.
Both Peter and Paul preached in Antioch in southern Turkey, not far from the border with Syria. It was in Antioch that the followers of Christ were first called “Christians.” The patriarchal home of the Eastern Orthodox (Greek) Church is still in Constantinople/Istanbul as it has been since the Fourth Century
Once the home of millions of Christians, there are now only 160,000 Christians of all denominations left in Turkey, about two-tenths of one percent (.02%) of the country’s population. The percentage of Christians in modern Turkey fell from 19 percent in 1914 to 2.5 percent 13 years later in 1927. Hundreds of Christian churches in Turkey have either been destroyed or converted to mosques in the last century, and that process is being aggressively continued in 2015 by the Turkish government.
Christians have been persecuted, have fled Turkey, have been forced to leave and millions have been exterminated. Between 1890 and the present day an estimated three million Christians have been murdered in Turkey.
Perhaps the best documented massacre of Christians in modern times was that of Armenian Christians, starting in 1915 and continuing for about seven years. The Turks killed about 1.5-million Armenian Christians by starvation and outright murder during that period. It was the first extermination of a religious or ethnic group to be called a genocide. The murder of Armenian Christians by Muslim Turks has been officially designated as genocide by the United Nations, by the European Parliament and the governments of 29 countries including Russia, Brazil, France, and Germany. However, to this date, the government of modern Turkey still refuses to admit that the Armenian Massacre, the first genocide of the 20th century, even occurred.
That, in extremely brief form, is the first 1,300 years of the conflict between Islam and Christian
*In these articles Islamic leaders will usually be referred to only by the most commonly used of his three or four names.