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Islam and the West: A historical background

The latest anti-Islam “film,” concocted by a pathological hater of Islam, has raised many questions as to whether the sleazy feat was merely an isolated act done by a, lunatic individual or represented a deep-rooted anti-Islamic discourse, which has persisted for many centuries, defying enlightenment and the modern traditions of tolerance.


A reader from the United States recently wrote that he couldn’t understand why of all adherents of religions, only Muslims have an almost innate tendency to protest any offense against their religion and Prophet.

But then we haven’t seen many movies done specifically to malign and vilify Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, or, indeed Judaism? For example, atrocities and orgies of sex are a consistently explicit feature throughout the Old Testament, so why is it that we haven’t seen a movie or a work of “art” about Biblical genocidalism.

Some American writers, such as Tom Pane, did write briefly on the above-mentioned subject. But that was a long time ago when America enjoyed some freedom and independence before its present de facto enslavement by Jewish money and Jewish power.

In fact, the followers of Judaism and Christianity are in no moral position to point accusing- fingers at Islam and its Prophet. Their holy scriptures are rife with pornography, sex and genocide so much so that Islam seems quite angelic in comparison.

The following article is a reprint from 2006, written when the current Pope of the Vatican made some offensive remarks about the Prophet of Islam..

I am not an advocate of reviving old hatred. However, Muslims will not come to terms with offending their faith and their prophet under the precarious rubric of freedom of speech and expression.

Yes, violence is not acceptable l and should be avoided, but so is the incitement to violence by Peter the Hermits of our time.

Besides, America and France and other countries are not really morally qualified to lecture Muslims on the vices of violence. Have we forgotten that America killed millions of native Americans and called the genocide manifest destiny? Have forgotten the many other millions that the Yankees killed around the world-from Hanoi to Baghdad? And France , the fanatically secular country which claims to be based on liberty and equality? Has it forgotten its eternal shame in Algeria ? If it has we haven’t and we won’t.

Islam and the West: A historical background
Historically fear and hatred were the two main features characterizing Western Christian perceptions of Muslims. In Chanson de Roland, the great medieval French epic of the wars between Christians and Muslims, the Christian poet envisioned the religion of Islam as a trinity consisting of the Prophet Muhammed and two other entities, both of them Devils, Appolin and Tervagant.

This conceptualization, comic as it is, was typical of the manner in which Christian Europe viewed Islam and Muslims for several centuries.

Interestingly enough, some of these perceptions have lingered in some way or the other to this day. In fact, classical historical western canards about Islam and the Prophet Muhammed have witnessed a conspicuous revival in some western religious circles, especially among fundamentalist evangelical Christians, especially in the United States.

Some of these evangelicals, for example, have been disseminating the canard that Muslims worship “a moon-god” and that “Allah” is actually a pre-Islamic Arabian pagan deity. In 2004, Pat Robertson, head of the Christian Broadcasting Network and founder of CNN, said in a speech in Hertzlya, north of Tel Aviv, that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians was actually a conflict between the Judeo-Christian God and the Islam’s God-moon.!!

This totally vindictive un-objective discourse, says Mahmoud Nammoura, a Palestinian historian, reflects fears by these evangelicals that Islam constitutes the main threat and obstacle to their dispensationalist ideology.
“They see Islam, not Buddhism, not Hinduism, not Judaism, as the main ideological and geopolitical threat, this is why they come up with this rubbish.”

Heavy legacy
For many centuries, both Eastern and Western Christendom called Muslims Saracens. In the Iberian Peninsula, they called Muslims Moors, and people of the Iberian culture continued to call all Muslims “Moors” even if they met them in South East Asia. (e.g. the Moro Liberation Front in the Southern Philippines). In Most of Europe, Muslims were called Turks, and a convert to Islam was said to have “turned Turk” even if the conversion took place in a place as far away as India.

The massive crusades by the Franks against the Muslim East did succeed in demythologizing some of Western perceptions of Islam.

However, some of the classical European misconceptions about Islam persisted, even among the more educated class.

Translation of the Quran
In 1649, the first English translation of the Quran was published in London. This translation by Alexander Ross was based on a 1647 French translation by Andre du Tyer, who had been French consul in Egypt. Ross, utterly ignorant of Arabic and no great master of French, added an appendix to his “translation” of the Quran, titled “A needful caveat or admonition for them who desire to know what use may be made of, or if there be danger in reading the Alcoran.” It begins as follows:
“Good reader, the great Arabian Imposter now at least after a thousand years, is…arrived in England, and his Alcoran, or Gallimaufry of Errors (a brat as deformed as the parents, and as full of heresies as his scald-head was of scurffe) hath learned to speak English. I suppose this piece is exposed by translators to the publike view, no otherwise than some Monster brought out of Africa, for people to gaze, not to dote upon; and as the sight of the Monster, or Misshapen creature, should induce the beholder to praise God, who hath not made him such; so should the reading of this Alcoran excite us both to bless God’s judgments, who suffers so many countries to be blinded and inslaved with this misshapen issue of Mahomets braine.”

Ross’s views of Islam and the Quran were representative of his time. He was addressing a civilization which had had its mind made up about Islam for a thousand years, and the verdict was negative.

Although Ross’s conceptualization of Islam reflected the overall European rejection and fear of it, a few of his contemporaries, strangely enough, treated Islam much more objectively.
For example, Henry Stubbes, born in England in 1632, wrote several manuscripts on the Islamic faith entitled “Account of the Rise and Progress of Mahometanism, with the Life of Mahomet and a Vindication of Him and His Religion from the Calumnies of the Christians.”

Stubbes ridiculed the medieval Christian legends about Muhammed as “rubbish” e.g. that he had the falling sickness, i.e., was an epileptic, and that Muhammed’s inspiration came to him via a pet pigeon which used to eat peas from his ear.

In one of these manuscripts, entitled “the Character of Mahomet and Fabulous Inventions of the Christians Concerning him and his religion,” Stubbes presented a remarkable image of the Prophet, considering the general anti-Islamic prejudices and misperceptions of that time. He wrote:
“I doubt not but by this time your curiosity will prompt you to enquire after the portraiture of this extraordinary person. His great soul was lodged in a body of Middle size, he had a large head, a brown complexion but fresh color, a beard long and thick but not grey, a grave aspect wherein the awfulness of majesty seemed to be tempered with admirable sweetness which at once imprinted in the beholder’s respect, reverence and love. His eyes were quick and sparkling, his limbs exactly turned, his mien was great and noble, his motion free and easy, and every action had a grace so peculiar that it was impossible to see him with indifference.”

But, to reiterate, stubbes’ ideas on Islam were by no means popular, not within contemporary intellectual and religious circles, nor in society at large. This probably explains the fact that his treatise was not published until 1911.

According to Philip Hitti, author of “the Arabs”, the Christian medieval image of Islam was the aggregate product of a confluence of streams of multiple sources in Syro-Byzantine, Hispano-French, Sicillio-Italian and crusading literature.

This totally anti-Islamic literature conceptualized Muslims as pagans worshiping a false prophet who worked out his doctrine from Biblical sources under the tutelage of an Arian Monk. Such fabulous misrepresentations were caricatured not only in religious and literary works, but also in art. Dante in his “Divine Comedy” was thus prompted consequently to consign the Prophet and his son-in-law Ali, to the ninth hell reserved for sowers of scandals and schism.

Gradual change
Western perceptions of Islam began to change slowly as more Europeans came in contact with Muslims. However, these perceptions remained basically negative due to the fundamental doctrinal differences between Islam and Christianity. However, with the rise of Orientalism in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Europeans (and some Americans) began to view the world of Islam less imaginatively. European explorers, archaeologists and even missionaries began to tour the Islamic lands as the political influence of the West increased in various Islamic regions mainly due to the constant deterioration of the political and military influence of the Ottoman state, which led eventually to its collapse and downfall following WWI.

Following the downfall of the Ottoman state, or perhaps as a result of it, European powers occupied or came to control the bulk of Muslim lands in the Middle East. At this time, European attitudes morphed from fear and hatred to patronization and contempt.

Although European occupation of the Arab lands was seen mainly within the framework of European colonial expansionism, its religious dimensions were very conspicuous. After General Allenby conquered Jerusalem on December 10, 1917, Christians everywhere expressed their euphoric rejoicing at the “Christian” victory against the “infidel” Turks.

An article published in 1917 in the catholic magazine “America” captioned “Crusaders in Khaki,” congratulated Christians that the Holy Land was finally in Christian hands.
“Over the Mosque of Omar, the crescent has been lowered before the cross. A sigh of relief and a hymn of gratitude have gone up from the nations that sill worship Christ…They can sign their Te Deum, for Bethlehem and Gethsemane, Calvary and the Holy Sepulcher are once more in Christian hands.”

Arrogance and hegemony
According to Nammoura, who has written two books on western-Islamic relations, the adoption of the Balfour declaration by Britain in 1917 encapsulated western hostility and contempt toward Islam.

“The religious dimension in that infamous declaration was very apparent. The fact that Britain viewed the creation of a national home for Jews in Palestine at the expense of its Christian and Muslim inhabitants reflected utter disregard for the rights and survival for the Arabs.”

Nammoura, however, explains “current western attitudes” vis-à-vis Islam and Muslims, in cultural, not religious terms.

He says the current hostility toward Islam in many western circles is an expression of “cultural arrogance” and “civilizational hegemony.”

This view is supported by another Muslim intellectual, Bassam Jarar, considered one of the most prominent Islamic thinkers in occupied Palestinian territories.

He argues that “growing vilification of Islam” in some western circles is “a subconscious reflex to Muslim resilience and steadfastness in the face of the West’s cultural onslaught.”

“They can’t easily come to terms with the fact that a militarily and politically defeated umma (community) is asserting a pro-active presence in the heart of the West and is aspiring to present itself as an alternative to western civilization.”

When asked if the ongoing crisis was a vindication of Samuel Huntington’s theory of “conflict of civilizations,” Jarar said a conflict between the Islamic and western civilizations was not “inevitable.”
“It is not inevitable if they are (westerners) faithful to democracy. Let them allow the free market of ideas to take its course.”

Jarar believes that while the cartoon crisis has a negative aura, and might rekindle old prejudices, it will eventually have a positive income.

“I believe this is going to be a good lesson for both Muslims and Westerners. It might lead to a greater understanding in the long range.”

A western view
Fr. Peter Du Burl of the Bethlehem University, a Catholic University funded by the Vatican, Believes that Christian anti-Muslim attitudes should be viewed within the context of a complex relation between Islam and Christianity.

“As you know, a Christian who has not seriously studied Islam cannot take the Holy Quran at face value; there are too many contradictions to Christian beliefs.”


Burl thinks it is wrong to overlook or marginalize the religious dimension in the west-Islam relationship, contending that it is wrong to view the west as living in a “post-religious era.” “I think the west is more religious than some Muslims would think and the Muslim east is more secular than some Muslims would admit..”

Non the less, Du Burl, who has been living in the West Bank for many years, believes that the road to western -Muslim understanding, though long and painful, is never the less, not blocked.

“The Islamic mission to the world comes into conflict with other missions, and such ‘missions’ have much to learn from one another. We are in the process of learning now, very painfully. The enemy is always reduced to a stereotype; who is easier to kill.”

He recognizes though that Christian perceptions of Muslims and Muslim perceptions of Christians do involve “stereotypes” which he said ought to be dis-embedded and replaced by real discourse, exchange, self-knowledge, learning about others and prayers.

“If there is to be a greater understanding in the long range, it has to start with critical respect for the religious component in both cultures. In many ways, the ‘west’ is a handy myth that helps undifferentiated minds and hearts to focus on an enemy.”

By Khalid Amayreh
Source: palestine-info.co.uk