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The Islam-West Conflict: A Historical Study

by Alamgir Hossain

24 Sep. 2012

The current conflict between Islam and the West ‚€” from human rights issues in Muslim countries, to anti-Western violence by radical Muslims, to their campaigns against liberal lifestyle and ethos and for instituting Sharia law in Western countries ‚€” should be seen not as separate from the historical Islam-West conflicts. Theologically, Islam was born to create a global Islamic state governed by laws of the Quran and Sunnah, i.e. Sharia. But most Muslims understand that the age-old campaign for the imposition of Sharia law through violent means in the West is unrealistic under current circumstances. However, current demographic trends suggest that Muslims would become ‚€” resulting from high birthrates and their increasing influx from overpopulated Muslim countries amidst decline in the native population ‚€” the dominant religious group in many Western countries by the middle of this century.[64] The current ratio of Muslim to non-Muslim birthrate is 3:1 in Europe;[65] Muslims constitute only 10% of the population in France, but 30% of the youths under the age of 20 are Muslims.[66] Lewis predicted in 2004 that ‚€˜Current trends show Europe will have a Moslem majority by the end of the 21st century at the latest‚€¶ Europe will be part of the Arabic West, of the Maghreb.‚€™[67]

With the Muslim population growing in leaps and bounds, the campaign for instituting Sharia laws, and, therefore, Islamic governance in Western countries will, in all likelihood, intensify over the coming decades. Whether or not would this campaign succeed remains to be seen. If it does, Islam will overcome its long-standing hurdle to Islamize the globe resolutely held back by the West for so many centuries.


With Marxist-Communist regimes‚€™ collapse ending the Cold War, Francis Fukuyama argued in 1989 that liberal democracy may signal the end-point of mankind‚€™s ideological evolution and the final form of governance, which would eventually be adopted globally.[1] Fukuyama‚€™s thesis had two seminal assumptions:

(a) Triumph of civilized liberal democracy globally

(b) Emergence of a nonconflictual world civilization

Samuel Huntington‚€™s Civilizational Clash thesis, proposed in 1993, challenged both assumptions of Fukuyama. Regarding the triumph of civilized liberal democracy globally, Huntington emphasized that ‚€˜Law and order‚€™, ‚€˜the first prerequisite of Civilization,‚€™ were evaporating or under threat everywhere ‚€” China, Japan and the United States included. Globally, ‚€˜Civilization seems in many respects to be yielding to barbarism‚€¶ a global Dark Age possibly descending on humanity,‚€™ he wrote.[2] Opposed to Fukuyama‚€™s proposed emergence of a nonconflictual world civilization, Huntington emphasized that conflicts in the world were not over. However, future conflicts would likely be fought along civilizational fault-lines over cultural or religious differences, not along national lines over ideological (political) or economic reasons. ‚€˜The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future,‚€™ he predicted.[3]

Identifying seven to eight major civilizations, namely Indian, Chinese, Asian, Islamic, Western etc., Huntington emphasized that, instead of converging towards universal liberalism globally, human consciousness within these civilizations is increasingly parochializing: people are becoming increasingly conscious of their cultural, religious or civilizational values. Huntington‚€™s thesis gets a significant space for Islamic resurgence, simply because religious resurgence amongst Muslims in recent decades much outweighs the rejuvenation of civilizational consciousness amongst other peoples. Islam has Bloody Borders, Muslims are involved in majority of the world‚€™s conflicts, says Huntington, which is rather evident. ‚€˜The overwhelming majority of fault line conflicts, however, have taken place along the boundary lopping across Eurasia and Africa that separates Muslims from non-Muslims,‚€™ he writes, adding, ‚€˜wherever one looks along the perimeter of Islam, Muslims have problems living peaceably with their neighbors.‚€™[4]

Although Huntington analyzes how different civilizations would likely interplay in reshaping the world-order in the emerging era, his analysis regarding Islam has become a bone of contention. Critics have attacked his whole thesis as a forced construction of an inevitable Islam‚€“West conflict, nonexistent in reality. Huntington‚€™s Clash of Civilizations, argues Robinson, is based on ‚€˜the old Western polemic against Islam, Western fears of Islam, and a strong dose of Orientalism‚€™. Robinson emphasizes that ‚€˜there is a long history of the Muslim and the Christian civilizations drawing on each other, and being enriched by each other, and this is a process which, whatever the rhetoric, still continues.‚€™[5] With Communism brought down, many critics have argued that the inherently hegemonic and militaristic West needed a new enemy: Huntington‚€™s thesis was an effort to invent one. It set out ‚€˜to identify ‚€œnew sources‚€ of international conflicts in the post-Cold War world.‚€™[6] Said mockingly called Huntington‚€™s thesis The Clash of Ignorance, concluding: ‚€˜‚€˜The Clash of Civilizations‚€™ thesis is a gimmick like ‚€˜The War of the Worlds,‚€™ better for reinforcing defensive self-pride than for critical understanding of the bewildering interdependence of our time.‚€™[7]

After the September 11 (2001) attacks in the U.S., the international media was abuzz with Huntington‚€™s thesis: his supporters saw his prophesy being fulfilled, while his opponents intensified their attacks on him for deliberately creating a paradigm that may fuel a fateful conflict between Islam and the West. His more avowed conspiratorial critics suggested that, prompted by Huntington‚€™s thesis, the U.S. administration itself committed the 9/11 attacks for advancing its hegemonic interests: the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, for example. On Huntington‚€™s dilemma, Ayaan Hirsi Ali concludes: ‚€˜Foretelling the future can be fun for astrologists, prophets and crystal-ball gazers. For academics, it is not. If you get it right, you will be damned like Samuel Huntington. If you get it wrong, you will be called a certified idiot.‚€™[8]

To former U.S. President Clinton‚€™s assertion that the West has no problems with Islam, Huntington retorted:

The relations between Islam and Christianity, both orthodox and Western, have often have been stormy. Each has been the other‚€™s Other. The twentieth century conflict between Liberal Democracy and Marxist-Leninism is only a fleeting and superficial historical phenomenon compared to the continuing and deeply conflictual relations between Islam and Christianity.[9]

A historical investigation, however, proves Huntington right. Islam, just two decades after its birth, came in conflict with the Christian West, and it has remained so except for rare brief respites. Who can deny the existence of the Crusades or the European colonial occupation of Islamic countries? Still, numerous scholars and critics have trashed the idea of Civilization Clash, especially one between Islam and the West. Christian Europe, not Islam, they argue, has been historically intolerant to non-Christians: Jews in Europe and Muslims in Spain. On the contrary, Christians, Jews and even Heathens found tolerance, peace and prosperity in the Muslim land. It is the Christian West that captured much of the Muslim and non-Muslim lands in the abhorrent colonial era. Islam could, therefore, pose no threat to the West.

In this study, the historical conflict between Islam and the West will be investigated aiming to understand what factors fueled it, and how its legacy affects the present Islam-West relations.

Islamic doctrine and the birth of Islam-West conflict

Islam was founded by the Prophet Muhammad in the Arabian Peninsula during the last 23 years of his life (610‚€“632 CE). While founding Islam, he had directed 70‚€“100 raids and wars. These wars were inspired, even directed, by verses of the Quran, the Islamic holy book, which Muslims believe, contains God‚€™s words in immutable forms for guiding humankind. Having captured the Arabian Peninsula, Muhammad organized two campaigns against the Christians of Muta and Tabuk in Syria, a part of Byzantium‚€”the world‚€™s most powerful empire. The commands of Islamic God (Allah) contained in Quranic verses are binding on Muslims for all time, whilst the Prophet Muhammad‚€™s actions and deeds constitute ideal templates for them to do likewise. Therefore, after Muhammad‚€™s death, his successors continued the tempo of his conquests. Within two decades, Muslims overran the world‚€™s second-mightiest empire, Persia, and captured the prized territory from Byzantium. Islamic depredations of Western Europe began in 652, exactly two decades after Muhammad‚€™s death when Muslims occupied Spain in 711, establishing Islamic rule lasting some 780 years. Europe sustained numerous Muslim attacks until the last decade of the seventeenth century.

In this context, it is critical to understand the Prophet Muhammad‚€™s doctrine of war that had inspired and enabled Muslims to easily overrun often much stronger oppositions over great parts of the world, and enabled them to own half of the know world.

The Islamic doctrine of war: The Prophet Muhammad, born in Mecca in Arabia c. 570, grew up as an idol-worshipping Pagan like his compatriots. At the age of 25, after marrying a wealthy Christianity-influenced woman, Khadija, and associating with her devout Christian cousin, Muhammad stopped worshipping idols. He allegedly obtained prophethood from God for preaching Islam in 610. Allah, his God, was the same Christian or Jewish God, who had allegedly sent 124,000 prophets, Muhammad being the last. Islam, claims Allah, is His final perfected religion chosen as His favor to all humankind [Quran 5:3][10] and it must be proclaimed over all other creeds [Quran 48:28]. It was chosen as the sole religion‚€”abrogating the rest‚€”for all mankind.

The Prophet Muhammad tried to preach his religion persuasively in his hometown, Mecca, for 13 years with very little success. His messages were hostile and insulting to existing religion and customs: he called himself and his followers the righteous, and those, who ignored his messages, were wicked, liars, wrong-doers and inventors of falsehood; he consigned them to eternal hellfire [Quran 56:41‚€“46, 17:20, 16:104‚€“5]. The Meccans generally ignored his message; he never faced violence from them. Having failed in Mecca he relocated in 622 to Medina‚€”about 250 miles North of Mecca‚€”where his creed becoming popular. Medina was inhabited by two religious communities: Pagans and Jews, the latter wealthier and more influential.[11] The Pagans joined his creed in large numbers, while the Jews mostly rejected it. Allah revealed many verses exhorting the Jews (also Christians) to accept Muhammad‚€™s new creed [Quran 2:30‚€“38, 240‚€“261], but failed to impress them.

Muhammad‚€™s community now strengthened and secured, Allah changed his strategy for making Islam to prevail over all religions. He then revealed the doctrine of ‚€˜Jihad‚€™ or ‚€˜holy war‚€™ against non-Muslims, who reject his faith. ‚€˜Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you‚€™ [Quran 2:190]. Allah now commands Muslims: ‚€˜‚€¶slay them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter‚€™[12] [Quran 2:191] and ‚€˜‚€¶fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah‚€™ [Quran 2:193]. Allah repeats: ‚€˜‚€¶fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah altogether and everywhere‚€¶‚€™ [Quran 8:39].

Muhammad‚€™s followers were unwilling to engage in this God-sanctioned violence against otherwise innocent people to which Allah revealed another verse to make fighting binding on Muslims even if they disliked it [Quran 2:216]. Still some peace-loving converts had hesitated about fighting, fearing bloodbaths; Allah admonished them as diseased and faint-hearted [Quran 47:20].

This way Allah gave Muslims the divine right to attack non-Muslims. He sanctioned: ‚€˜‚€¶some ye slew and ye made captive some. And He [Allah] caused you to inherit their land and their houses and their wealth‚€¶‚€™ [Quran 33:26‚€“27]. In other words, Allah commands Muslims to kill some (normally the adults) and enslave the rest (the women and children) of non-Muslim communities, and makes their lands and properties divinely sanctioned booty for Muslims. Alternatively, Allah sanctioned the banishment of non-Muslims enabling Muslims to acquire their homes, properties and lands: ‚€˜Allah had decreed banishment for them‚€¶ because they resisted Allah and His Messenger‚€¶‚€™ [Quran 59:3‚€“4]. Allah sanctioned that Muslims can keep the women, captured in such holy wars, as sex-slaves (concubines): ‚€˜O Prophet! Surely We [Allah] have made lawful to you your wives‚€¶ [and] those whom Allah has given to you as prisoners of war‚€™ [Quran 33:50].

The Islamic doctrine of global imperialism: Islam is a complete package of divine guidance for governing the spiritual, social and political aspects of human life and society. ‚€˜[Islam] is an all-embracing system, a complete code of life, bearing on and including every phase of human activity and every aspect of human conduct.‚€™[13] Through violent holy wars, Allah wants to establish Islamic rule, governed by the Islamic holy laws (Sharia), over all peoples. Allah owns the heaven and earth [Quran 24:42, 34:1] and holds absolute authority over them [Quran 57:5, 67:1]. He would make Muslims the inheritors of the earth [Quran 6:165], and help them triumph over it [Quran 24:55]. In order to realize His dream, as Muslims wage holy war, Allah will assist them in the fighting‚€”thereby, helping them capture the lands of non-Muslims bit by bit [Quran 21:44, 13:41].

In summary, Allah outlines in the Quran a blueprint for establishing a religio-political imperial state over the entire globe through Jihad. To inherit the earth, Allah commands, Muslims must kill the Polytheists wherever they are found, and enslave their women and children for converting to Islam, thereby capturing their lands for establishing Islamic rule [Quran 9:5]. For acquiring the lands controlled by monotheistic Jews and Christians, Muslims must fight them, Allah commands, until they feel subdued and subjugated to Muslim rule and pay special taxes [Quran 9:29]. Allah‚€™s desired global triumph of Islam will, thus, be completed.

With these unrestrained Godly sanctions of aggressive violence for establishing a global Islamic state, the Prophet Muhammad started attacking and plundering the non-Muslim communities of Medina and Arabia. In 624, he attacked and exiled the Jewish tribe of Banu Qainuqa from Medina, taking possession of their homes, lands and properties.[14] Next year, the same fate was visited the Jewish tribe of Banu Nadir.[15] Banu Quraiza, the last Jewish tribe of Medina, was attacked in 627. Their adult males‚€”600 to 900 of them‚€”were slaughtered, and their women and children were enslaved.[16] Medina, which had given Muhammad refuge a few years earlier, was thus denuded of non-Muslims.

Medina became the first seat of Muslim power. From here, the Islamic imperial state was to expand in all directions. Khaybar‚€”a Jewish stronghold, some 115 kilometers North of Medina‚€”was overrun in 629. Mecca, the heart of Islam and Muhammad‚€™s birthplace, was overrun in 630. Muhammad‚€™s biographies by pious Muslim historians list 70‚€“100 raids and wars directed by him, personally commanding 27 of them. In his attacks, he exiled entire tribes or slaughtered the men, and enslaved the women and children‚€”the enslaved generally had to embrace Islam. Muhammad brought entire Arabia under the feet of Islam during his nine-year campaign of conquests.

In 628, Muhammad, still quite weak militarily, dared sending emissaries to the world‚€™s most powerful rulers‚€”the King of Persia and Emperor Heraclius of Byzantium‚€”demanding that they submit to Islam, and accept Muhammad as their master, or face consequences.[17] Those rulers‚€”to their own peril‚€”ignored his threatening letters as the exuberance of a madman. Prophet Muhammad himself dared leading a 30,000-strong army in October 630 to the Byzantine border in Syria, but returned without going on the offensive.[18] His successors carried forward his Jihad campaigns for realizing God‚€™s dream of establishing a global Islamic kingdom. Within two decades, Muslims overran the mighty Persian Empire, and captured the Levant and Egypt‚€”the crown territories of Byzantium. Central Asia was annexed within the seventh century; North Africa was conquered in 698; Northwest India in 712‚€“15; Central and North India by the early thirteenth century; and South India in the late sixteenth century. Similar conquests were undertaken in other fronts. Islamic campaigns against Western Europe and the ensuing conflicts are discussed in following sections.

The clash between Islam and the West

Conflicts in the Mediterranean Islands and Sicily (652‚€“1091): Muslims brought Prophet Muhammad‚€™s campaign of holy war to the far-off shores of Western Europe exactly two decades after his death. The Mediterranean island of Sicily suffered the first Jihad raid involving pillage and plunder in 652, which was repeated in 669, 703, 728, 729, 730, 731, 733, 734, 740 and 752. Muslims also attacked other Mediterranean islands ‚€” Sardinia, Ischia, Corsica and Lampedusa, then under the Byzantine control. They devastated Ischia and Lampedusa in 813, attacked Sardinia and Corsica in the same year and Crete in 824.

The early Muslim incursions (652‚€“752) on Sicily failed to gain a foothold for Islam. The Islamic conquest of Sicily started in real earnest when an Aghlabid Muslim army from Tunis landed in Mazara del Vallo in 827. This started a long series of battles: Palermo fell in 831, Pantelleria in 835, and Messina in 843. Cefal√Ļ and Enna resisted Muslim assaults for many years before being overrun, and razed to the ground in 858 and 859, respectively. Syracuse succumbed to Muslim assaults in 878, and its whole population‚€”including those taken refuge in churches‚€”were massacred.[19] Catania fell in 900 and Taormina in 902. Sicily came under Muslim control completely in about 915. Palermo, renamed al-Madinah, became the new Islamic capital of the Emirate of Sicily, and Arabic replaced Greek as the national language. A Norman conquest of Muslim Sicily, started in 1061, led to eventual expulsion of Muslims in 1091.

Spain and France: In 711, Musa ibn Nusair, the Muslim governor of North Africa and his General, Tariq, crossed the Mediterranean Sea to attack Spain. The reigning Visigoth King Rodrigo was defeated followed by mass slaughter and enslavement, plunder and pillage; the churches and synagogues were destroyed, and often replaced by mosques. The whirlwind march of Muslim conquest moved northward: Toledo, Barcelona, and Girona were easily captured. By 716, most of Iberia, except a few northern tracts, was under the Muslim control.[20]

Meanwhile, Caliph al-Walid called Musa back to Damascus. He marched back in a Romanesque procession with the Caliph‚€™s one-fifth share of the spoils: caravans of un-dreamt of wealth and slaves, including 30,000 virgins captured from the Visigothic families alone.[21]

The Muslim army crossed the mountainous borderline of the Pyrenees into the Frankish territory. The Visigothic Kingdom of Septimania [Languedoc] in Southern France quickly succumbed (720). Muslims marched on, and attacked Toulouse in 721, suffering severe reverses by an Aquitanian-Frank confederate force led by Duke Eudo of Aquitaine. An allegedly 375,000-strong Islamic army was thoroughly destroyed.[22] Although the figure is undoubtedly hyperbolic, it was, nonetheless, one of the worst military defeats in Muslim history.

The Muslim army, dedicated to holy wars in the cause of their God, could hardly be restrained. In 725, their raids reached Autun in the Frankish territory. A 60,000-strong Muslim army marched on penetrating deep into France, and defeated Duke Eudo at Aquitaine. Muslims sacked Aquitaine, and burned down Bordeaux. They defeated Duke Eudo again near Agen with Eudo fleeing northward. As they engaged in plundering, pillaging and burning the towns and churches, Charles Martel joined Eudo, and took up position between Poitiers and Tours. As the Frankish army stood immobile like a wall of ice, the Muslim army made repeated small-scale charges only to be beaten back every time. They tried all trickery to dislodge the Frankish line, which, despite suffering heavily, stood its ground for one whole autumn. Muslims launched the final charge on the first day of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan (732 CE). In order to rally the sagging morale of his increasingly disheartened fighters, Muslim commander Abd al-Rahman, the governor of Al-Andalus [Iberia], led the charge himself, and perished, which led to retreat of Muslims overnight. Balat ech shuada ‚€” the road of the martyr of the faith ‚€” had ended on this front.

From Spain, Muslims continued, albeit unsuccessfully, their incursions on the French borders for another two centuries.[23]Had they succeeded in this battle, there was no one to stop them in Europe; Europe would be Islamic today.[24] Edward Gibbon remarked tellingly: ‚€˜‚€¶perhaps the interpretation of the Quran would now be taught in the schools of Oxford and her pulpit might demonstrate to a circumcised people the sanctity and truth of the revelation of Mahomet.‚€™[25]

An indigenous Spanish revolt against Muslim occupiers, called Reconquista, began in 718 lasting nearly eight centuries, and the Muslim colonists were completely dislodged from power in 1492.

Southern Italy:[26] The Muslim warriors, checked at the border of France on the Iberian front, also made strenuous efforts to penetrate into Europe through the Mediterranean Italian Coast. The invaders devastated the coastal town of Centumcellae [Civitavecchia] in 813 and again in 829. Hereafter, Islamic incursions into mainland Italy came from Sicily, where Muslims had established a colony.[27] In 840, the Arabs made an incursion deep into Italy and devastated the monastery of Subiaco. In 840, they conquered the coastal towns off Benevento; Carolingian Emperor Ludovico II succeeded in ousting them in 871.

In 845, the Arabs penetrated deep inland capturing Capo Miseno (Naples) and Ponza near Rome, making it their base for attacking Rome. In 846, they ransacked Brindisi, and conquered Taranto near the Southwest tip of Italy; Byzantine Emperor Basil I succeeded in freeing Taranto in 880.

On 28 August 846, a Muslim fleet arrived at the mouth of river Tiber, and sailed to attack Rome. Meanwhile, a Muslim army from Civitavecchia and another from Portus and Ostia marched on-land to join the expedition. They failed to penetrate the enclosing walls around Rome, solidly defended by the Romans. The Arabs vandalized and plundered the churches of St. Peter and St. Paul. The Saxons, Longobards, Frisians and Franks staunchly defended St. Peter, perishing to the last man. The invaders destroyed all the churches of the district of Suburb. Pope Leo IV, forced to flee Rome briefly, appealed for help from the neighboring kingdoms. Responding to his plea, Marquis Guy of Spoleto counterattacked and defeated the Arabs. While fleeing partly towards Civitavecchia and partly towards Fondi, the Arabs indulged in ruin and devastation of the country. At Gaeta, the Longobard army clashed with them again. Guy of Spoleto found himself in serious difficulties, but the Byzantine troops of Cesarius from Naples arrived in time to rescue him. This attack prompted the Pope to undertake the construction of the Civitas Leonina in 848 to protect the Vatican Hill.

In 848, Muslim invaders attacked and sacked Ancona on the western coast of Italy. The next year, a huge Muslim naval fleet set off to attack Rome, and met the Italian naval fleet at the mouth of river Tiber near Ostia. In the confrontation, the Arabs were routed.

In 856, the Arabs attacked and destroyed the Cathedral of Canosa in Puglia. They assaulted and occupied Ascoli in 861, slaughtered the children, and carried away the inhabitants as captives. In 872, they attacked and besieged Salerno for six months, before being freed by Emperor Ludovicus II.

In 876, they entered the Roman territory again, and attacked Latium and Umbria, slaughtering the inhabitants, enslaving them and sacking the villages, before marching towards Rome; they turned the Roman country into an unhealthy desert. Pope John VIII (872‚€“882) defeated the Arabs at Circeo, and freed 600 enslaved Christians from 18 Muslim vessels. He attempted to expel the Arabs after the depredations, but with little help from European kings forthcoming, he failed and was forced to pay tribute. Muslims continued their devastation of Latium both on the coast and inland. Subiaco was destroyed for a second time.

Muslim invaders continued consolidating their conquest of the Roman country: they went on to capture Tivoli [Saracinesco], Sabina [Ciciliano], Narni, Nepi, Orte, Tiburtino countries, Sacco valley, Tuscia and Argentario Mountain. Their depredations continued through the 880s and 890s. By this time, Muslims had plans to establish an Emirate in Southern Italy. In 916, Marquis Adalbertus of Tusca, Marquis Albericus of Spoleto, Prince Landulf of Capua and Benevento, Prince Gaimar of Salerno, the dukes of Gaeta and Naples and Byzantine Emperor Constantine entered into an anti-Arab alliance, with Pope John X personally heading the land troops. The Arabs were totally defeated, and mainland Italy was freed from the invaders, although Sicily remained under the Muslim control until 1091. Later on, Muslims attacked Venice (Italy) in the 1420s, albeit from another front.

Ottoman attacks on Europe form the Byzantine front: At the time of Islam‚€™s birth, Byzantium (Eastern Roman Empire) had bridged tracts of Europe with West Asia and North Africa. Muslim invaders captured Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Tiberias, Cana, Tyre, Sidon, Damascus, Caesarea and Egypt from Byzantium quite early in bloody battles. They made naval attacks on Constantinople, the Byzantine capital, first in 674, then in 677‚€“78 and 717‚€“18, suffering severe reverses in each case.

In 838, Amorium (Anatolia) was captured and devastated, yielding so large a number of slaves that Caliph al-Mutasim sold them in batches of five or ten, while Sultan Alp Arslan devastated Armenia (also Georgia) in 1064: those not enslaved were slaughtered.[28] The biggest Muslim blow to Byzantium yet came in 1071 when Sultan Alp Arslan defeated the Byzantine army at Manzikert (Armenia) bringing the Muslim army ominously close for a land-attack on Constantinople. By the mid-fourteenth century, the Byzantine Empire on the east was mostly captured except the tiny Bosporus or Istanbul Strait. This enabled the Ottoman army to cross over to Europe via Thrace, east of Constantinople, in the 1350s. In the 1360s, Islamic invaders seized Adrianople [now Edirne] and Philippopolis [Plovdiv]. Adrianople became a royal residence in 1366 to facilitate the Ottoman conquest of Europe.[29]

In the early 1370s, General Murad started making incursions deeper into Europe. Having himself become the Sultan in 1383, Murad intensified his campaigns, capturing the Bulgarian capital Sofia and the city of NiŇ° in 1385. Although the Serbs inflicted a crushing defeat on the Ottomans in 1387 in the battle of Plocnik, they marched anew deep into Europe two years later (1389). They defeated a Serbian-Bulgarian coalition army at the battlefield of Kosovo Polje. Murad quickly advanced into Bulgaria, and captured the cities of Dr√°ma, Kav√°la and Seres (Serr√°i), but the Sultan was killed by valiant Serb warrior, MiloŇ° Obilic. Having lost the capital Kosovo, the Jerusalem of the Serbian Empire, the Balkan was lost to the Muslim invaders.

Sultan Murad‚€™s successor Beyazid I ordered mass-slaughter of all captives to avenge his father‚€™s death, earning him the title of Yildirim, the Lightning Bolt. He went on to capture most of Bulgaria and northern Greece in 1389‚€“95, and laid a long-lasting siege on Constantinople in 1391‚€“98. At the 1396 battle of Nicopolis, his forces met the Venetian-Hungarian army, reinforced by Frankish knights, and led by king Sigismund of Hungary. In a deceptive ploy of feigning negotiations, the Ottomans tricked the Bulgarians and Frankish knights into laying down their weapons, and then slaughtered them mercilessly, winning the battle.

In the 1410s, the Ottomans moved their capital to Adrianople on the European side of Constantinople for reinforcing conquest and control in Europe. Sultan Mehmed invaded Albania and the Byzantine-controlled areas in Southern Greece. Following Mehmed‚€™s death in 1421, his son Sultan Murad II laid a siege on Constantinople for a couple of months in 1423, extracting additional tributes from Byzantium.

In 1423, Sultan Murad II initiated Jihad against Venice by attacking Salonika (Thessaloniki), and killing several Venetian soldiers. In response, Venice declared war against the Ottomans. Sultan Murad swiftly sent his forces to seize Salonika, while Venetian reinforcements arrived, leading to a battle situation. The Ottomans, again in a deceptive ploy of negotiating peace, sent a delegation to the gate. The delegation, comprising of deadly Janissary soldiers‚€”seeing an opportunity‚€”suddenly fell upon the unprepared Venetian guards stationed outside, slaying them swiftly before forces inside could react, and then set the wooden gate on fire using naphtha balls. Once the gate collapsed, the Ottoman forces charged on, forcing the Venetians flee to their ships. As the Turks began plundering the city, the Venetian fleet started bombarding it, forcing them to flee. New Venetian reinforcements arrived to rescue the city. In 1430, a large Ottoman fleet again made a surprise attack on Salonika. Unable to withstand sustained Ottoman attacks, desperate Venetians surrendered Salonika and the surrounding lands in 1432.

In 1441, the Holy Roman Empire, Poland and Albania made an alliance, and inflicted a number of humiliating defeats on the Ottomans in 1443‚€“44. The Ottomans soon recovered, and defeated the Hungarians in the second battle of Kosovo in 1448; they went on to invade Serbia, and attack Central Albania. In 1450, they attacked Albania again.

Under the next Sultan, Mehmed II (r. 1451‚€“81) ‚€” known as Fatih, the Conqueror ‚€” the Ottomans inflicted the final blow on Constantinople. After a three-month siege, it was overrun on May 29, 1453. The Sultan allowed his soldiers to plunder and slaughter for three days, which they were entitled to. The Christian (Greek) population were mercilessly slaughtered; nearly four-fifths of the city was burned down. The magnificent Cathedrals were reduced to rubble with some converted to mosques; the Basilica of Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque in 1462. Having defied repeated Muslim attacks for 780 years, Constantinople ‚€” the long-coveted capital of the Eastern Roman Empire and eastern centre of Christianity ‚€” finally fell into the Muslim hands.[30]

With Constantinople fallen, Ottoman assaults on Europe gained a new momentum. They attacked Serbia in 1454, Novi Brod and Krusevac [Alacahisar] in 1455, while Moldavia agreed to pay tributes. In 1456, the Ottomans attacked Belgrade, and defeated Serbia in 1459. In 1460, they captured the Duchy of Athens and much of the Morea, while they captured the last Byzantine state of Trebizond (Trabzon) in 1461, and conquered the Genoese holdings in the Aegean Sea. In 1463, they annexed Bosnia, conquered Herzegovina in 1465 while the Crimean Khanates were reduced to Ottoman suzerainty in 1475. In 1476, the Ottomans waged campaigns against Hungary and Wallachia, making Wallachia a vassal state. In 1477‚€“78, they raided Italy and captured the Venetian forts in Albania. In 1480, they landed at Otranto in Southern Italy, and laid the first Ottoman siege on Rhodes in 1480‚€“81. In 1497, the Ottomans made the final subjugation of Albania, conquered Montenegro in 1499, and battled with Venice in 1499‚€“1502. Moldavia was made a vassal state in 1512.

In 1529, the Ottoman Turks stunned Europe by laying a siege on Vienna, the capital of the Holy Roman Empire (Austro-Hungarian Empire), and the gateway into Germany (Prussia), Switzerland, France and Italy. Pope Innocentius XI appealed for a joint European resistance to which Spain, Portugal, Poland and various Catholic princes of Germany responded. As the Ottomans moved close to Vienna, a German volunteer-force ‚€” consisting of teenagers to septuagenarians, led by seventy-year-old Niklas Graf Salm ‚€” heroically beat back the invaders.

By the 16th century, extensive Ottoman conquest had reduced Western Europe into a heavily truncated and cornered Christian landmass, desperately resisting an inescapable Ottoman takeover. Meanwhile the Safavid dynasty of Shiite Islam rose in Persia (1502‚€“1736). Viewed as heretics by the Sunni Ottomans and vice versa, a sustained internecine confrontation between the two leading Muslim powers ensued. The Ottomans engaged the Safavids in bitter wars in 1514‚€“16, 1526‚€“55, 1577‚€“90, 1602‚€“12, 1616‚€“18, 1623‚€“38 and 1705‚€“15. This brought much sought respites to beleaguered Europe. Busbecq, the ambassador of the Holy Roman Empire to Istanbul (1554‚€“62), resonated with this desperate sentiment in remarking that it was the threat from Persia to the Turkish Empire that saved Europe from imminent Ottoman conquest.[31]

While distracted by Safavid Persia in West Asia, the Ottomans engaged the Habsburg rulers in Hungary in 1528‚€“33, in the Mediterranean in 1532‚€“46, and again in Hungary in 1537‚€“44 and 1551‚€“62. Renewed Ottoman assaults in the Mediterranean (1551‚€“81) led to the famous Battle of Lepanto (Greece, 1571), in which the Turks suffered their first major defeat in Europe. This victory sent out waves of joy across Europe, while the Turkish archive rather nonchalantly mentioned: ‚€˜‚€˜The fleet of the divinely guided Empire met the fleet of the wretched infidels and the will of Allah turned the other way.‚€™‚€™[32]

The Ottomans engaged Hungary again in 1562 and Poland in 1614‚€“21. In 1645‚€“70, they engaged the Venetians, while they attacked Transylvania in 1657‚€“62 and Poland again in 1671‚€“76. The stage for the final battle to decide the end-point of Ottoman incursions into Europe had arrived. Control over Serbia, Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary consolidated, the Ottomans attacked Vienna again in 1683 in their final sally to overrun Europe. On 14 July 1683, a 140,000-strong Ottoman force laid a two-month siege on Vienna. As Vienna was about to collapse, Austro-German and Polish contingents came to the rescue. Jan Sobieski, the Polish warrior King, leading his 30,000-strong army, showed brilliant commandership, breaking the Turkish siege on September 12. The invaders lost some 15,000 fighters, while Western allies lost 4,000 lives. The Turks, nonetheless, returned with a massive 80,000 white slaves,[33] a coveted commodity in the Muslim world.

Muslims at some point ruled the whole of Spain, Portugal, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Albania, Greece, Bulgaria and Romania. They ruled parts of France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Poland, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union. The second Ottoman retreat from Vienna, whilst saving Europe, also decisively proved Europe‚€™s military supremacy over their Muslim opponents. The fortune of Islam-Europe confrontation had dramatically changed in Europe‚€™s favor. The Ottoman rulers were progressively expelled eventually from all parts of Western Europe. They continued ruling some Balkan regions until the early 20th century, which ended in the 1910s. Moreover, starting in mid-18th century, Britain, Holland, France and Italy (Portugal and Spain to lesser extents) eventually captured most of the Islamic lands by the early 20th century.[34] Only Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia ‚€” of little economic or strategic importance ‚€” plus Iran and the Ottoman Turkey, remained outside the European control. When European powers eventually withdrew from their formerly Muslim-ruled colonies, countries dominated by Muslims came under Muslim control. Elsewhere they lost political powers to non-Muslim indigenous majorities (i.e. India) often through democratic processes.

Crusades: European counterattack against Jihad

The Crusades (1096‚€“1291) ‚€” launched by Christian Europe to take control of Jerusalem, the birth place of Jesus Christ and the Christian Holy Land ‚€” is the most condemned chapter in the collective European history. The Crusades, the Christian Holy War, were in reality a counterattack against Islamic Holy War (Jihad), waged aggressively some 470 years earlier. Prophet Muhammad had himself sent an expedition against the Christians of Muta in Syria, while he himself led another holy war expedition against the Byzantine border in Syria, bringing a number of small Christian principalities under the Muslim control. On his death-bed (632), he had instructed his followers to expel the Jews and Christians from Arabia,[35]which was completed by 644.[36] Two years after his death, Muslims captured Palestine (634), and Jerusalem in 638 from Byzantine control. Sophronius, the Christian patriarch of Jerusalem (634‚€“638), who surrendered the city to Muslim invaders, saw them as ‚€˜‚€˜godless barbarians‚€™‚€™ who ‚€˜‚€˜burnt churches, destroyed monasteries, profaned crosses, and horribly blasphemed against Christ and the church‚€™‚€™. The devastation was so extensive that, the next year, ‚€˜thousands died as a result of famine and plague consequent to the destruction and pillage.‚€™[37]

Caliph Omar (r. 634‚€“644) allowed the Jews and Christians to live as ‚€˜dhimmi [protected] subjects‚€™ in Jerusalem under the sufferance of many humiliating disabilities, and payment of discriminatory taxes [jizyah] as outlined in the canonical Islamic ordnance, the Pact of Omar. According to the Pact, the life of dhimmis was out of the pale of law if they refused to do anything Muslims demanded, said anything unfitting about Prophet Muhammad, his religion and the Quran, committed fornication with or married Muslim women, robbed Muslims, turned Muslims away from Islam, or helped Muslims‚€™ enemies or spies. They had to wear zunnar [cloth-belt] clearly visible above their clothes (to distinguish themselves from Muslims), and use peculiar saddles and manners of riding, and make their kalansuwas [cap] different from those of Muslims. They could not take the crest of the road, nor the chief seat in assemblies when Muslims were present. They could not display the cross, nor build a church or place of assembly for prayers, nor beat the Nakus [church bell], nor say Jesus was the son of God.[38] The Christians and Jews of Jerusalem lived under these degrading terms and economic exploitations for centuries, although not all Muslim rulers imposed these rules strictly.

The rather belated Crusades to free Jerusalem were galvanized by a series of preceding events. Christians, including from Europe, were required to pay exorbitant fees to visit their holy places in Jerusalem. In 943, Muslims destroyed the churches of Ramleh, Caesarea and Ascalon; Fatimid Caliph Muizz burned part of the Church of Holy Sephulchre in 969; the patriarch of Jerusalem was burned alive in 975 on spying charges. In 1009, Caliph Hakim unleashed violent persecution of Christians and Jews, stopped pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and destroyed the Church of Holy Sephulchre, rebuilt by Byzantine Emperor Constantine VIII.[39]

Meanwhile, the Millenarian Christians in Europe, anticipating the impending end of the world a millennium after Jesus, flocked to the Holy Land in large numbers for experiencing a blessed death. These pilgrims were harassed and maltreated by Muslims in Jerusalem. They returned with humiliation and anger, and spread their stories of sufferings in Europe. Later on, when the famous French pilgrim and zealot, Peter the Hermit (d. 1115), tried to visit the Holy Land, he was prevented and tortured by Muslims. Returning home, he went about telling his humiliating tales agitating a campaign for freeing Jerusalem. His revivalist campaign mobilized crusading sentiments across Europe creating a sense of Christendom united against Muslims (Islamdom).[40]

Meanwhile, the defeat of the Byzantine emperor in Manzikert (Armenia) in 1071 had brought Islamic incursions close to Constantinople. In 1076, the Seljuk Turks captured Jerusalem from the Fatimid rulers of Egypt, and committed atrocious cruelties on the inhabitants arousing indignation in Europe. With the Byzantine emperor defeated, the persecuted Christians of Jerusalem could now appeal only to Europe for their protection.[41] Fearful of impending Turk encroachments on Constantinople, Byzantine Emperor Alexis, foregoing his pride and rivalry with the Pope, also appealed to Europe for assisting their eastern brothers and sisters.[42]

All these factors were converging together when the Normans, blessed by the Pope, had just evicted Muslims from Sicily (1191). Pope Urban II, excited by all these factors, took up the cause of freeing the Holy Land from Muslims. In 1095, he delivered an unprecedented, emotive and high-pitched, speech in Southern France for freeing Jerusalem, reciting ‚€˜tales of Moslem atrocity‚€™ and ‚€˜distributed crosses‚€™.[43] Also desirous of uniting the Eastern and Western Churches, Pope Urban urged the bickering Christian rulers of Europe to unite on a ‚€˜Truce of God‚€™. In an enthusiastic response, an armed cavalry force of 15,000 ‚€” consisting of 5,000 knights and the rest infantry ‚€” were soon marching eastward wearing large red crosses. Meanwhile, Peter the Hermit had led an enthusiastic peasant-force through Europe ahead of the knights, the so-called Peoples‚€™ Crusade.

There began the infamous Crusades: the harrowing battles between Cross and the Crescent, between the Christian West and the Islamic East ‚€” a clash between two inimical civilizations. The Crusades were poorly planned and armed, and often disunited, military campaigns primarily meant for recapturing the Holy Land. The Crusaders also focused on recapturing the former Christian lands of West Asia and North Africa occupied by Muslims. This inaugurated a series of eight campaigns from Christian Europe to Muslim West Asia, beginning in 1095. In the first campaign, three great Crusader contingents, marching separately from France, converged on a Constantinople rendezvous before marching forward. They went on to restore some territories to Byzantine suzerainty, and also established four Latin kingdoms in West Asia: 1) Edessa in Armenia (1098), 2) Antioch, the cradle of the first organized church (1098), 3) Jerusalem, incorporating territories from Beirut to the Red Sea (1099), and 4) Tripoli (1109). These were the first and the last acquisitions by the Crusaders.[44]

Thereafter, Muslim power improved, while disunity amongst the Crusader Kingdoms weakened their position. The first Muslim counterattack against the Crusaders fell upon Edessa in 1144. In 1187, the famed Sultan Saladin inflicted the decisive blow upon the Crusaders. Saladin devised a trap that the legendary and revered True Cross, allegedly disappeared from Jerusalem after its capture by Persia in 612, was in his possession. Aware of the reverence Christians held for it, and the effort they would make to acquire it, Saladin challenged the Crusaders that if their God really willed, they would be able to recapture it from his hands. If so, he promised: ‚€˜I shall return to the faith of Christ‚€™.

Saladin chose Hattin, two days‚€™ journey from Jerusalem, as the place of confrontation amidst a searing Middle Eastern summer. He had sanded up all the water-wells along the way, and destroyed the Maronite Christian villages that could have supplied the Crusaders with water and supplies. Falling into Saladin‚€™s trap, the Crusaders left their fortified position in Jerusalem and Antioch, marching across the hot and dry desert of Northern Israel towards Lake Tiberias. They reached Hattin, exhausted and burning with thirst. Meanwhile, the Muslim army had hidden itself, nowhere to be seen. Thinking that it was a false call, the thirsty Crusaders left their vantage position, and rushed towards the Lake. As they started gulping water, Muslims came out of their hidings, and subjected the unprepared Crusaders ‚€˜to an incessant shower of arrows the like of which they had never experienced. Of the 20,000 knights and footmen, only a few remained alive through apostasy or capture‚€™.[45] Having destroyed the main Crusader army, Saladin marched on and captured Jerusalem, where all Crusaders were put to death, and the Christian population was captives, and sold into slavery.

This loss of the Holy Land shocked Europe, rousing a renewed Crusading zeal. A series of new Crusades were undertaken in 1189‚€“92, 1202‚€“04, 1212 and 1217‚€“21, and a few more thereafter, but all failed. In the 1189‚€“92 Crusade, the three mightiest sovereigns of Europe ‚€” Phillip Augustus (France), Frederick Barbarosa (Germany) and Richard the Lion-Heart (England) ‚€” jointly marched to recapture Jerusalem again. Spectacular battles with brilliant military valour on both sides were fought particularly at Acre (Akka), but the military genius of Saladin won. The strategic and strongest Crusader garrison at Antioch fell to Muslims in 1268; all the 15,000 fighters captured therein were slaughtered, and some 100,000 Christians enslaved and sold.[46] Acre, the last city of some military importance held by the Crusaders, fell in 1291. The Crusaders had been exterminated from West Asia.

The brutalities committed by either side in the course of the Crusades were harrowing, with the Crusaders probably outdoing their opponents to a good extent. They enacted every cruelty Muslims had inflicted upon Christians over the previous five centuries, but with a greater intensity. Worse still to modern conscience was the Children‚€™s Crusade of 1212, in which thousands of children from Europe marched to the Holy Land. Most of them died of hunger and disease; the rest were enslaved and sold by Muslims.

The Crusaders, especially in their first campaign, also committed unspeakable cruelties against Jewish communities that they came across along their journey. According to Prof Gerard Sloyan, ‚€˜The Muslims were the ‚€œinfidel‚€ targets in the attempted recapture of the holy places in Palestine. However, the pillage and slaughter committed by Christian mobs against Jews on the way linger long in Jewish memory.‚€™[47] The first Crusaders killed nearly 10,000 Jews during the first six months alone.[48]

Nonetheless, barbaric cruelties were committed by both sides in the course of the Crusades, each side suffering millions of deaths. There were ‚€˜‚€¶savage barbarities on both sides. Both were guilty of rapine and plunder and the wholesale massacre of civilian populations, including women and children,‚€™ writes Walker.[49]

The colonial era

The Crusades, although failed, held back Muslim incursions into Europe for more than two centuries. Having driven out the Crusaders, the Ottoman Turks renewed their religio-imperial expansion into Europe; and they were poised to overrun Western Europe in the sixteenth century, if not for the intra-Muslim Ottoman-Safavid conflicts. Meanwhile, Renaissance had begun in Europe bringing new vitality and excellence in science and technology. When the Ottomans were repulsed from Vienna in 1683, Europe‚€™s military supremacy over her age-old dreaded eastern enemy had been decidedly established. Muslims were gradually driven out of Western Europe, while Russia rolled them back from Central Asia. The Ottomans tried to master Western warfare technology but failed. Having suffered humiliating defeats one after another, Turkey, the long-standing terror of Europe, had become the ‚€˜sick man of Europe‚€™.[50]

The subsequent industrial revolution in Europe, and the discovery and mastery of sea-routes, brought European merchants to the Muslim world, beginning in early sixteenth century. This commercial interest later turned into imperial ambition. The British East India Company, which had come to India as merchants in 1600, ousted the Muslim governor of Bengal in 1757, and obtained the tax-collecting authority in 1765. It eventually took political control of most of India by 1850. The Portuguese had similarly ousted Muslim rulers from the Malay Peninsula in 1511, later replaced by the Dutch and British. The Spaniards stopped the advancing Muslims in Southern Philippines in 1565. France, Britain and Italy captured Muslim-ruled lands in Africa. In the course of the First World War, Britain and France occupied the Turkish lands, namely Syria and Palestine, while the Balkan territories gained independence in 1910s.

When Western imperialists ‚€” namely Britain, France, Holland and Italy ‚€” extended their colonial rule, there was much change in Europe: following the Enlightenment, secularism had taken hold, replacing theocracy in political systems. The European colonists, except the Portuguese and Spaniards, came mainly for commercial interests; they had very little interest in proselytization, although missionaries also came with them. The European colonists tried to secularize the Islamic polity in occupied Muslim lands, which often had large non-Muslim populations groaning under the yoke of cruel Islamic laws (i.e. Sharia).

Islamic jurists have traditionally divided the world into two domains: Dar al-Islam (House of Islam) and Dar al-Harb (House of war). Dar al-Islam is the domains under Muslim rule, while Dar al-Harb is a territory under non-Muslim rule, against which Muslims must declare open-ended war (i.e. Jihad), until it has been brought under the Muslim control. The non-Islamic colonial rule in Muslim lands, therefore, caused strong revulsions amongst Muslims. To Allah, non-Muslim rule is tyranny and oppression. He commands Muslims even to migrate from such lands to Muslim-ruled ones [Quran 4:97‚€“100]. As a result, Jihad, which had inspired Muslims to undertake conquests to most parts of the known world, again became handy for them to inspire the Muslim masses to drive out the European colonists. While European powers found it relatively easy to deal with their non-Muslim subjects, Muslims waged the dreaded Jihad against colonial rulers causing serious problems for them. Jihad excites the pious on a suicidal mission, because it opens to them, they believe, the opportunity for martyrdom, which lands them directly in the Islamic Paradise [Quran 9:111], which is the sole aim of their earthly life. Therefore, a small number of dedicated Jihadis can cause great damage and destruction to their opponents. Armed Muslim resistance against colonial Western powers ‚€” namely the revolts of Dipa Negara (1825‚€“30) and Atjeh-war (1873‚€“1904) in Indonesia, the Mahdist movement against the British and Italians in Somalia (1899‚€“1920), the nineteenth-century Islamic resistance against the British in India (including the Sepoy Mutiny, 1857), the Algerian resistance against the French, the nineteenth-century Urabi resistance against the British in Egypt, the Sanusi resistance in Libya against the Italians, the Mahdist resistance led by Muhammad Ahmad (d. 1885) in the Sudan, the Ottoman Jihad declarations against the Western powers (1914), the Muslim resistance to British colonialism in Palestine ‚€” were all instigated and fought under the banner of Jihad.[51]


Edward Said laments the fact that Islam was believed in Europe to ‚€˜be demonic religion of apostasy, blasphemy and obscurity‚€™ and ‚€˜a fearless and warlike creed‚€™ set about destroying Christianity during most of the Middle Ages and the early part of Renaissance.[52] This is indeed true, but Said ignores the fact that this Western disdain of Islam was mutual, not a one-way thing. In truth, Islam was born believing that Christianity is an erroneous religion. ‚€˜Just as Christianity long viewed Islam as a heretical movement stemming from their own faith, Muslims see Christianity as an earlier and faulty version of Islam,‚€™ notes Pipes.[53] To Muslims, argues Lewis, ‚€˜Christianity was an abrogated religion, which its followers absurdly insisted on retaining instead of accepting God‚€™s final words (i.e., Islam).‚€™[54] ‚€˜Muslims saw Western Europe as a cold and inhospitable region, inhabited by barbarians,‚€™[55] while, ‚€˜Europe was seen [by Muslims] in the same light as the remoter lands of Africa‚€”an outer darkness of barbarism from which there was nothing to learn and little even to be imported except slaves and raw materials.‚€™[56]

If history is to be the judge in conjunction with the fundamental creed of Islam, medieval Europe was correct in viewing Islam as ‚€˜a fearless and warlike creed‚€™. Concerning the European claim that Islam was a heretical Christian creed, Muhammad, indeed, founded Islam by absorbing the current religious and cultural ideas, thoughts, and practices of the Arab society, borrowing most heavily from Christianity. ‚€˜Muhammad knew Islam was not a new religion and the revelations contained in the Koran merely confirmed already existing scriptures‚€¶ of the Jews, Christians and others‚€™, notes Ibn Warraq.[57] The Islamic world, likewise, was also somewhat correct in seeing Western Europe as a land of barbarians, because the Muslim holy warriors, bursting out of Arabia, had captured the world‚€™s greatest civilizations‚€”Persia, Levant, Egypt, North Africa, India and parts of China‚€”acquiring their wealth, intellectual treasures and brains. This enabled them become the world‚€™s richest and intellectually advanced civilization. Muslims also acquired the brilliant intellectual treasures of ancient Greece, which, following the trail of Alexander‚€™s conquest, had also moved eastwards to Egypt and the Levant. At the same time, Europe was sunk in darkness and semi-barbarism, caused by Christian obscurantism, as well as the battering and conquest of Western Europe by the so-called barbarian tribes of North Europe ‚€” the Goths (Visigoths, Ostrogoths), Vandals, Vikings and Normans etc. ‚€” from the fifth century.

Undeniably, there was a fierce sustained clash between Islam and the Christian West. Islam was born to wage this conflict not only against Christendom, but also against all peoples of the world. And ‚€˜Europe had been threatened or attacked in its front, rear and soft belly (by Muslims),‚€™ writes Hitti.[58] In this conflict of Islam against the rest, Western Europe stood out as the most obstinate, even dreaded, opponent. ‚€˜Europe was by far the most important infidel enemy. ‚€¶the great Jihad per excellence, the major battlefields of the House of Islam and the House of War, was in Europe,‚€™ writes Lewis.[59] Muslims captured non-Muslim lands in North Africa, West and Central Asia, the Middle East, and the Indian Subcontinent making them their eternal colonies or abode. But in Europe, they faced the strongest resistance; they were uprooted from Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Hungary, France, Germany, and so on. Europe also struck back as the dreaded Crusaders, and again as the colonial masters.

The early Islam-West conflict, the Crescent against the Cross or Jihad against the Crusades, had changed to Jihad against secular-liberalism in the colonial era. Economic exploitations aside, the European colonists succeeded in secularizing the polity in Islamic countries to a significant extent. Sharia, hitherto unquestioned governing laws in Islamic lands, was mostly dismantled except in family matters. The heavily oppressed, degraded and exploited non-Muslim subjects were liberated, and made equal citizens; widespread slavery and slave-concubinage were largely abolished. Western ideas of liberalism, secularism, feminism, democracy, socialism and social equality etc., diametrically opposed to Sharia law, also came to the Muslim world, heavily influencing the Muslim elite. Kemal Ataturk in Turkey and the Shahs in Iran instituted liberal secularism dismantling Sharia, gave non-Muslims equal rights and liberated women.

Whilst these transformations were taking place amongst educated Muslim elites and rulers, Wahhabism ‚€” a militantly puritanical Islamic movement, born in Saudi Arabia in the 18th century ‚€” was spreading amongst Muslims globally. It called for purifying the religious, social and political orders of Muslim societies to conform to the holy Quran and prophetic traditions. After the West evacuated, the relatively secular ruling elites in Muslim countries came under increasing pressure from this movement, forcing them to increasingly de-secularize and re-Islamize the polity. Since the spike in oil-price in the 1970s, Saudi Arabia has invested tens of billions of dollars to promote the puritanical Wahhabi Islam amongst Muslims globally, including in the West. Iran and Libya, amongst others, have also invested heavily to promote Islamic revivalism.[60]

Whatever secularization the colonial West had left behind in their former Muslim colonies is being wiped out, while Muslim immigrants in the West, visibly more receptive of puritanical Islam, are trying to undermine secular-liberal values and way of life in their adopted homelands. All major Islamic organizations in the West ‚€” from the Muslim Council of Britain to the Council for American Islam Relations (CAIR, USA) ‚€” seek to institute Sharia laws. Omar Ahmed, Chairman of CAIR, hoped the Quran to ‚€˜be the highest authority in America, and Islam the only accepted religion on earth‚€™.[61] According to a recent poll, some 40% of Muslims in Britain support the introduction of Sharia and 37% oppose it. Some 33% support the creation of a worldwide Muslim caliphate with only 25% opposed to the idea.[62] The British government recently conceded to making the rulings of a Sharia Court legal in civil and some criminal matters (domestic violence).[63] Sharia Courts for Muslims, operational in Canada since 1991, were abolished in 2006 after a vigorous campaign by human rights activists.

Freedom of expression, homosexuality and coeducation etc. amongst many other things, not compatible with the Sharia or Islam, are already being strained or attacked by Muslims in many Western countries. While mainstream Muslims push for the introduction of Sharia laws through nonviolent means, the age-old violent confrontation is being revived and intensified by al-Qaeda and like-minded radical Islamic groups in recent decades. Despite the difference in modus operandi, both the militant and the Sharia-loving nonviolent Muslims have the same end goal: the rule of Sharia globally.


The current conflict between Islam and the West ‚€” from human rights issues in Muslim countries, to anti-Western violence by radical Muslims, to their campaigns against liberal lifestyle and ethos and for instituting Sharia law in Western countries ‚€” should be seen not as separate from the historical Islam-West conflicts. Theologically, Islam was born to create a global Islamic state governed by laws of the Quran and Sunnah, i.e. Sharia. But most Muslims understand that the age-old campaign for the imposition of Sharia law through violent means in the West is unrealistic under current circumstances. However, current demographic trends suggest that Muslims would become ‚€” resulting from high birthrates and their increasing influx from overpopulated Muslim countries amidst decline in the native population ‚€” the dominant religious group in many Western countries by the middle of this century.[64] The current ratio of Muslim to non-Muslim birthrate is 3:1 in Europe;[65] Muslims constitute only 10% of the population in France, but 30% of the youths under the age of 20 are Muslims.[66] Lewis predicted in 2004 that ‚€˜Current trends show Europe will have a Moslem majority by the end of the 21stcentury at the latest‚€¶ Europe will be part of the Arabic West, of the Maghreb.‚€™[67]

With the Muslim population growing in leaps and bounds, the campaign for instituting Sharia laws, and, therefore, Islamic governance in Western countries will, in all likelihood, intensify over the coming decades. Whether or not would this campaign succeed remains to be seen. If it does, Islam will overcome its long-standing hurdle to Islamize the globe resolutely held back by the West for so many centuries.


[1] Fukuyama F (1989) The End of History?, The National Interest, Summer, p. 4

[2] Huntington SP (1996) The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, Simon & Schuster, New York, p. 321

[3] Huntington SP (1993) The clash of civilizations? Foreign Affairs, New York, Vol. 72:3, p. 22-23

[4] Huntington (1996), p. 255-56

[5] Robinson F (2000) Islam and Muslim history in South Asia, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, p. 42

[6] Hossein-Zadeh I (2006) The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, p. 100

[7] Said EW (2001) The Clash of Ignorance, The Nation, 4th October

[8] Ali AH (2006) The Owl and the Ostrich, 2006-2007 Grano Speakers Series, Toronto, 11 October.

[9] Huntington (1996), p. 209

[10] Quran 5:3 stands for The Quranic, chapter 5, verse 3. Three most accepted translations of The Quran, intended for Western audience, is found here:

[11] Maududi AA (1993), Historical Background to Surah Al-Hashr; In Towards Understanding the Quran, (Trs. Ansari ZI), Markazi Maktaba Islamic Publishers, New Delhi

[12] This verse is directed against the community of Mecca. The claim that the Meccans had driven Muslims out is not supported by historical documents. The Prophet‚€™s biographies clearly say his emigration was willing. It, at best, meant that Meccans‚€™ rejection of his creed made him leave, not forcibly driving him out. The ultimate purpose of Allah‚€™s command for holy war was to ‚€œprevail justice and faith in Allah altogether and everywhere‚€ [Quran 8:39]. This means that any non-Islamic religious practice or opposition to Islam is ‚€œinjustice‚€ or ‚€œTumult or oppression‚€ in the language of Allah or the Quran.

[13] Umaruddin M (2003) The Ethical Philosophy of Al-Ghazzali, Adam Publishers & Distributors, New Delhi, p. 307

[14] Ibn Ishaq (2004 imprint) The Life of Muhammad, trans. A Guillaume, Oxford University Press, Karachi, p. 363-64

[15] Ibid, p. 437-439

[16] Ibid, p. 461-70

[17] Muir W (1894) The Life of Mahomet, London (reprinted by Voice of India, New Delhi, 1992), p. 368-74

[18] Ibn Ishaq, p. 602-9

[19] Bostom, p. 421-22

[20] O‚€™Shea S (2006) Sea of Faith: Islam and Christianity in the Medieval Mediterranean World, Walker & Company, New York, p. 66-69

[21] Hitti, PK (1961) The Near East in History: A 5000 Year Story, D. Van Nostrand Company, New York, p. 224-25,229-30

[22] O‚€™Shea, p. 70

[23] Hitti, p. 308

[24] Nehru J (1989) Glimpses of World History, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, p. 146

[25] Pipes (1983) In the Path of God, Basic Books, New York, p. 86

[26] Most of the information in this section is taken from Mediterranean Sea: From Centumcellae to the Garigliano;

[27] Hitti, p. 308

[28] Warraq, p. 231

[29] Hitti, p. 330

[30] Hitti, p. 331

[31] Lewis (2002) What Went Wrong: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response, Phoenix, London, p. 10

[32] Lewis (2002), p. 12

[33] Erdem YH (1996) Slavery in the Ottoman Empire and Its Demise, 1800-1909, Macmillan, London, p. 30

[34] Russia took large parts of Central Asian regions, while China, Burma and Thailand also captured lands, previously conquered by Muslims

[35] Ibn Ishaq, p. 525

[36] Sahih Al-Bukhari, trans. MM Khan, Kitab Bhavan, New Delhi, 1984, p. 307-8 (This a 8-9th compilation of prophetic traditions, consider semi-sacred by Muslims)

[37] Ibn Warraq (1995) Why I m Not a Muslim, Prometheus Books, New York, p. 219

[38] Triton AS (1970) The Caliphs and Their Non-Muslim Subjects, Frank Cass & Co Ltd, London, p. 12-24

[39] Walker B (1998) Foundations of Islam, Rupa & Co, New Delhi, p. 243

[40] Nehru, p. 178-79

[41] Walker, p. 243

[42] Nehru, p. 179; Hitti, p. 308

[43] Hitti, p. 308

[44] Hitti, p. 310-12

[45] Hitti, p. 313

[46] Hitti, p. 316

[47] Sloyan GS, Christian Persecution of Jews over the Centuries, Unites State‚€™s Holocaust Memorial Museum;

[48] A Brief History of Antisemitism, In The Holocaust Project;

[49] Walker, p. 245

[50] Hitti, p. 342

[51] Peters R (1979) Islam and Colonialism: The Doctrine of Jihad in Modern History, Mouton Publishers, The Hague, p. 39-104; Lewis, B (1993) Islam and the West, Oxford University Press, New York, p. 39

[52] Said EW (1997), Islam and the West in Covering Islam: How the Media and Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World, Vintage, London, p. 5

[53] Pipes D (1983) p. 77

[54] Lewis (1993), p. 7

[55] Pipes (1983), p. 80

[56] Lewis (2002), p. 4

[57] Ibn Warraq, p. 34

[58] Hitti, p. 308

[59] Lewis (1993), p. 10

[60] Pipes (1983), p. 297-331

[61] CAIR, Wikipedia,

[62] Gardham D, Muslim students back killing in the name of Islam, Telegraph (UK), 27 July 2008

[63] Matthew Hickley, Islamic sharia courts in Britain are now 'legally binding', 15 September 2008

[64] Pipes D (2003) Militant Islam Comes to America, W W Norton & Company, New York, p. 23-25; Simpson L and Finney N (2007) Minority White Cities? In Annual conference of the British Society for Population Studies, September 11-13

[65] Shabeeb, Nabil, Muslims in Greater Europe, Islam Online, 01 July 2004

[66] Stein, Mark, It‚€™s the Demography Stupid, The Spectator, 16 November, 2005

[67] Islamic Europe? The Weekly Standard, 4 October 2004



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