Anthony Browne in the Spectator writes: on the myth of the tiny minority of extremists that has taken over Islam.
A year ago I had lunch with an eminent figure who asked if I thought she was mad. ‘No,’ I saidke politely, while thinking, ‘Yup.’ She had said she thought there was a secret plot by Muslims to take over the West. I have never been into conspiracy theories, and this one was definitely of the little-green-men variety. It is the sort of thing BNP thugs claim to justify their racial hatred.
Obviously, we all know about Osama bin Laden’s ambitions. And we are all aware of the loons of al-Muhajiroun waving placards saying ‘Islam is the future of Britain’. But these are all on the extremist fringe, representative of no one but themselves. Surely no one in Islam takes this sort of thing seriously? I started surfing the Islamic media.
Take Dr Al-Qaradawi, the controversial Egyptian imam who was recently fawned over by the Mayor of London even though he promotes the execution of homosexuals, the right of men to indulge in domestic violence, and the murder of innocent Jews. During the brouhaha it went unnoticed that he also wants to conquer Europe. Don’t take my word for it, just listen to him on his popular al-Jazeera TV show, Sharia and Life.
‘Islam will return to Europe. The conquest need not necessarily be by the sword. Perhaps we will conquer these lands without armies. We want an army of preachers and teachers who will present Islam in all languages and in all dialects,’ he broadcast in 1999, according to the Middle East Media Research Institute, which translates his programmes. On another programme he declared, ‘Europe will see that it suffers from a materialist culture, and it will seek a way out, it will seek a lifeboat. It will seek no life-saver but the message of Islam.’
Far from being on the fringe, his immensely popular programmes are watched by millions across the Middle East and Europe. The BBC cooed that he has ‘star’ status among the world’s Muslims.
Dr Al-Qaradawi, who is based in Qatar, is also the spiritual guide of the hardline Muslim Brotherhood, which is growing across Europe, and whose leader Muhammad Mahdi Othman ’Akef declared recently, ‘I have complete faith that Islam will invade Europe and America, because Islam has logic and a mission.’
In the most sacred mosque in Islam, Sheikh Abd al-Rahman al-Sudais of the Grand Mosque in Mecca uses his sermons to call for Jews to be ‘annihilated’ and to urge the overthrow of Western civilisation. ‘The most noble civilisation ever known to mankind is our Islamic civilisation. Today, Western civilisation is nothing more than the product of its encounter with our Islamic civilisation in Andalusia [mediaeval Spain]. The reason for [Western civilisation’s] bankruptcy is its reliance on the materialistic approach, and its detachment from religion and values. [This approach] has been one reason for the misery of the human race, for the proliferation of suicide, mental problems and for moral perversion. Only one nation is capable of resuscitating global civilisation, and that is the nation [of Islam].’
Al-Sudais is the highest imam appointed by our Saudi government ally, and his sermons are widely listened to across the Middle East. When he came to the UK in June to open the London Islamic Centre, thousands of British Muslims flocked to see him, our so-called race relations minister Fiona Mactaggart shared the platform, and Prince Charles sent a video message. He is probably the closest thing in Islam to the Pope, but I haven’t recently heard the Pope call for the overthrow of all other faiths.
Saudi Arabia, whose flag shows a sword, seems unabashed about its desire for Islam to take over the world. Its embassy in Washington recommends the home page of its Islamic affairs department, where it declares, ‘The Muslims are required to raise the banner of jihad in order to make the Word of Allah supreme in this world.’ Saudi Arabia has used billions of its petrodollars to export its particularly harsh form of Islam, Wahabism, paying for mosques and Islamic schools across the West. About 80 per cent of the US’s mosques are thought to be under Wahabi control.
Saudi Arabia’s education ministry encourages schoolchildren to despise Christianity and Judaism. A new schoolbook in the kingdom’s curriculum tells six-year-olds: ‘All religions other than Islam are false.’ A note for teachers says they should ‘ensure to explain’ this point. In Egypt, the schoolbook Studies in Theology: Traditions and Morals explains that a particularly ‘noble’ bit of the Koran is ‘encouraging the faithful to perform jihad in God’s cause, to behead the infidels, take them prisoner, break their power — all that in a style which contains the highest examples of urging to fight’.
A popular topic for discussion on Arabic TV channels is the best strategy for conquering the West. It seems to be agreed that since the West has overwhelming economic, military and scientific power, it could take some time, and a full frontal assault could prove counterproductive. Muslim immigration and conversion are seen as the best path.
Saudi Professor Nasser bin Suleiman al-Omar declared on al-Majd TV last month, ‘Islam is advancing according to a steady plan, to the point that tens of thousands of Muslims have joined the American army and Islam is the second largest religion in America. America will be destroyed. But we must be patient.’
Islam is now the second religion not just in the US but in Europe and Australia. Europe has 15 million Muslims, accounting for one in ten of the population in France, where the government now estimates 50,000 Christians are converting to Islam every year. In Brussels, Mohammed has been the most popular name for boy babies for the last four years. In Britain, attendance at mosques is now higher than it is in the Church of England.
Al-Qa’eda is criticised for being impatient, and waking the West up. Saudi preacher Sheikh Said al-Qahtani said on the Iqraa TV satellite channel, ‘We did not occupy the US, with eight million Muslims, using bombings. Had we been patient and let time take its course, instead of the eight million there could have been 80 million [Muslims], and 50 years later perhaps the US would have become Muslim.’
It is difficult to brush this off as an aberration of Islam, which is normally just tickety-boo letting the rest of the world indulge in its false beliefs. Dr Zaki Badawi, the moderate former director of the Islamic Cultural Centre in London, admitted, ‘Islam endeavours to expand in Britain. Islam is a universal religion. It aims to bring its message to all corners of the earth. It hopes that one day the whole of humanity will be one Muslim community.’
In Muslim tradition, the world is divided into Dar al-Islam, where Muslims rule, and Dar al-Harb, the ‘field of war’ where the infidels live. ‘The presumption is that the duty of jihad will continue, interrupted only by truces, until all the world either adopts the Muslim faith or submits to Muslim rule,’ wrote Professor Bernard Lewis in his bestseller The Crisis of Islam.’
The first jihad was in ad 630, when Mohammed led his army to conquer Mecca. He made a prediction that Islam would conquer the two most powerful Christian centres at the time, Constantinople and Rome. Within 100 years of his death, Muslim armies had conquered the previously Christian provinces of Syria, Palestine, Egypt and the rest of North Africa, as well as Spain, Portugal and southern Italy, until they were stopped at Poitiers in central France in ad 732. Muslim armies overthrew the ancient Zoroastrian empire of Persia, and conquered much of central Asia and Hindu India.
Ibn Warraq, a Pakistani who lost his Islamic faith, wrote in his book Why I am not a Muslim, ‘Although Europeans are constantly castigated for having imposed their insidious decadent values, culture and language on the Third World, no one cares to point out that Islam colonised lands that were the homes of advanced and ancient civilisations.’
It took 700 years for the Spanish to get their country back in the prolonged ‘Reconquista’. In the meantime the Turks, a central Asian people, had been converted to Islam and had conquered the ancient Christian land of Anatolia (now called Turkey). In 1453 they captured Constantinople — fulfilling Mohammed’s first prediction — which was the centre of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The glorious Hagia Sophia, which had been one of the most important churches in Christendom for nearly 1,000 years after it was built in ad 537, was turned into a mosque, and minarets were added. The Turks went on to occupy Greece and much of the Balkans for four centuries, turning the Parthenon into a mosque and besieging Vienna, before retreating as their power waned.
In the Middle East, there are regular calls for Mohammed’s second prediction to come true. Sheikh Muhammad bin Abd al-Rahman al-’Arifi, imam of the mosque of the Saudi government’s King Fahd Defence Academy, wrote recently, ‘We will control the land of the Vatican; we will control Rome and introduce Islam in it.’
Not all conversion has been by the sword. Muslim traders peaceably converted Indonesia, now the most populous Islamic nation. But nor have the conquests stopped. Islam has continued spreading in sub-Saharan Africa, most notably in Nigeria and Sudan. Abyssinia — Ethiopia — is an ancient Christian land where Muslims have come to outnumber Christians only in the last 100 years. Just 50 years ago, Lebanon was still predominantly Christian; it is now predominantly Muslim.
Of course, Christianity has been just as much a conquering religion. Spanish armies ruthlessly destroyed ancient civilisations in Central and South America to spread the message of love. Christians colonised the Americas and Australia, committing genocide as they went, while missionaries such as Livingstone converted most of Africa.
But the difference is that Christendom has — by and large — stopped conquering and converting, and indeed in Europe simply stopped believing. Even President Bush’s most trenchant critics don’t believe he conquered Afghanistan and Iraq to spread the word of Jesus. It is ironic that by deposing Saddam, who ran the most secular of Arab regimes, the US actually transferred power to the imams.
I believe in a free market in religions, and it is inevitable that if you believe your religion is true, then you believe others are false. But this market is seriously rigged. In Saudi Arabia the government bans all churches, while in Europe governments pay to build Islamic cultural centres. While in many Islamic countries preaching Christianity is banned, in Western Christian countries the right to preach Islam is enshrined in law. Christians are free to convert to Islam, while Muslims who convert to Christianity can expect either death threats or a death sentence. The Pope keeps apologising for the Crusades (even though they were just attempts to get back former Christian lands) while his opposite numbers call for the overthrow of Christendom.
In Christian countries, those who warn about Islamification, such as the film star Brigitte Bardot, are prosecuted, while in Muslim countries those who call for the Islamification of the world are turned into TV celebrities. In the West, schools teach comparative religion, while in Muslim countries schools teach that Islam is the only true faith. David Blunkett in effect wants to ban criticism of Islam, a protection not enjoyed by Christianity in Muslim countries. Millions of Muslims move to Christian countries, but virtually no Christians move to Muslim ones.
In the last century some Christians justified the persecution and mass murder of Jews by claiming that Jews wanted to take over the world. But these fascist fantasies were based on deliberate lies, such as the notorious fake book The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Now, many in the Muslim world are open about their desire for Islam to conquer the West.
Anthony Browne is Europe correspondent for the Times.