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 Issues | Islam | Islam and the West

Islam and the West

The following is reproduced with permission from an article by Geoff Locke.

Islam was originated (Muslims would say restored) by Muhammad in Arabia at the beginning of the seventh century AD. In the course of the next century it spread with remarkable speed Eastwards to India and West to the Atlantic. Muslims conquered most of Spain and invaded France, until defeated by Charles Martel at Tours in 732.

Sunnis and Shiites

  • Following the death of Muhammad in 632, leadership of Islam passed in turn to four caliphs (“successors”); the fourth caliph was Ali, Muhammad’s cousin.
  • Ali was assassinated and his son Husayn was defeated in civil war; the victorious Sunnis (now 80% of Muslims?) followed Sunna (the “tradition” of Muhammad).
  • The defeated Shia (the “party of Ali”) looks for an imam (“leader”) instead; the Ayatollah Khomeini was a recent example.
  • Shiites predominate in Iran and Southern Iraq, where they are once again free to commemorate the defeat of Husayn by lashing themselves with spiked chains.

The Abbasid Dynasty

  • From 750 to 1258 was Islam’s golden age; ancient learning (Greek philosophy to Indian numerals) was preserved and developed (including algebra and the zero).
  • Al-Azhar University was founded in Cairo and the House of Wisdom was built in the new Abbasid capital of Baghdad; Arabian Nights and The Rubaiyat appeared.
  • The Crusades (at least nine of them!) – launched in 1095 by Pope Urban II to recover the Holy Land – were eventually defeated over the next two centuries.
  • In 1258 Baghdad fell to the Mongol hordes, in a slaughter that killed 750,000 and destroyed three million books; the Mongols later converted to Islam.

Islam and Europe

  • The expulsion of Muslims from Spain began with the reconquest of Toledo in 1085, continued with the recapture of Granada in 1492 and concluded in 1609.
  • Muslims defeated the Serbs in 1389 at the Battle of Kosovo Field.
  • In 1529 Muslims were defeated at the gates of Vienna; their last siege of the city was defeated in 1683 and marked the beginning of Muslim geopolitical decline.
  • In 1798 Napoleon conquered Egypt and planned to go on to capture Mecca, but was beaten by Nelson at Aboukir Bay (the Battle of the Nile).

The Ottoman Empire

  • The Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople in 1453 and turned St Sophia into a mosque; Byzantine scholars fled westwards to Italy, triggering the Renaissance.
  • After 1683, the Ottomans were gradually driven from Hungary (1699), Greece (1821), Algeria (1830), Sudan (1898) and the Middle East generally (1918).
  • However, Britain and France were briefly allied with the Ottoman Empire against Russian expansion in the Crimean War (1853-6).
  • The Ottoman Empire was defeated in World War I and the “mother of all crimes” was committed in 1923 with the founding of modern – secular – Turkey.

The twentieth century

  • Post-WW1 the former Ottoman Empire was mandated under the League of Nations to Britain (Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Palestine) and France (Lebanon, Syria).
  • In 1917 Britain approved the Zionist principle of a Jewish homeland in Palestine (the Balfour Declaration); Israel declared its Independence in 1948.
  • In 1901 oil was discovered in Iran; by 1974, after yet another Arab-Israeli war, a major Arab oil embargo successfully inhibited West European support for Israel.
  • The Iranian Revolution of 1978-81 successfully held American embassy staff hostage in Tehran; was oil the token of Allah’s blessing on faithful Muslims?

Radical Islam

  • The Wahhabis: rigorous followers of Abd al-Wahhab (1703-92) in Saudi Arabia, the best known of whom is Osama bin Laden – trained by the CIA in Afghanistan.
  • The Muslim Brotherhood: an Egyptian movement resistant to Western culture, responsible for assassinating President Sadat and for much terrorism since.
  • Radical Shiites: Despite signing the Non-proliferation Treaty, Iran has admitted to a covert nuclear programme; moderate general election candidates were banned.
  • The Taliban: schooled in rural Pakistan, these anti-Western teachers took over the running of Afghanistan following the defeat of Soviet occupation.
  • Radical Islam, whether Sunni or Shiite, rejects not only Western infidelity (we are blasphemous crusaders) but also Muslim compromise with Westernism.


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