The Greatest Threat to the Western World
Dr. Jim Denison
In November 2008, an Arab newspaper in London reported that Osama bin Laden is planning an attack against the United States that will “outdo by far” September 11. The warning was printed on the front page of Al-Quds Al-Arabi and was widely reported in major Italian papers. The paper is edited by Abdel al-Bari Atwan, said to be the last journalist to interview bin Laden in 1996. According to the report, bin Laden is personally following preparations for an attack against the U.S. which will “change the face of world politics and economics.”
Why? Why did bin Laden’s organization attack America on 9-11? Why do they continue their war against the U.S. and the West?
Islam is now front-page news every day. 1.2 billion people, 19% of the world’s population, are followers of the Muslim faith. There are more Muslims in America than Episcopalians or Presbyterians. In a few years, Muslims will outnumber Jews to become the second-largest religion in our country. There are more than 1,100 mosques around the country.
What do Muslims believe? What differentiates “radical Islam” from the rest of the Muslim world? What does it all mean for us?
A brief history
Let’s begin at the beginning. Islam was founded by Muhammad (A.D. 570-632), in the midst of religious pluralism, idolatry, and division among his Arab people in Mecca and the Arabian peninsula.
Muhammad’s father died before he was born; his mother died when he was six years of age. He was born in the city of Mecca and raised by his grandfather and then his uncle, Abu Bekr. At the age of 40, he had become a successful businessman when he began receiving a series of visions or “revelations” which became the Qur’an.
At the time, his people worshiped the seven planets, the moon, and the stars. Many venerated family household gods and various angels. Others were involved in fire worship contributed by the Magians from Persia. There was also a corrupt form of Judaism and heretical Christianity present.
Gabriel and Muhammad
According to Islam, Muhammad was visited by the angel Gabriel in the year 610 and told that God’s previous revelations to the Jews and the Christians had been corrupted. As a result, God was revealing his word and will a third time through Muhammad.
Of the pantheon of gods worshiped in the day, Muhammad was “led” to choose the one known as “Allah” (Arabic for “the god”) as the only true God. He began preaching in Mecca, inviting the people to join him in his new faith, but most rejected his message.
In the year 622, Muhammad and his small band of followers migrated to a city called Yathrib, now renamed “Medina” (“city of the prophet”). There they established the first Islamic state. The Muslim calendar begins from the day of this migration (the hijira or “flight”).
Muhammad’s hatred of idols led him to place an immense emphasis on the unity and transcendence of God. At first he believed that Jews and Christians would accept his message, and had his followers kneel toward Jerusalem to pray. When they did not, he taught them to turn their backs on Jerusalem by bowing toward Mecca; this is their practice today.
Muhammad’s culture was characterized by tribal warfare, brutality, and promiscuity. He emphasized divine control, and opposed religious liberty and separation of church and state. Since Allah is Lord, he must be Lord of all. Thus Muhammad created a civilization, not merely a religion—a way of life for all people, governing personal autonomy and all morality. Islam attempts to provide the answers to every conceivable detail of belief and daily life.
Muhammad left no designated heirs. The “caliphs” (Arabic for “successors”) continued his movement, led first by Abu Bekr. Soon, however, divisions began to emerge. Most Muslims followed the caliphs and their successors; these are known as Sunnis today. But some believed that only the fourth caliph (Muhammad’s son-in-law) was the true successor Muhammad, and have supported his successors; they are the Shiites (“party of Ali”). 90% of Muslims are Sunnis; 10% are Shiites, living primarily in Iran.
The spread of Islam
Islam’s growth worldwide has been the fastest of any religion in history. Within a single decade, A.D. 622-632, Muhammad united the nomadic tribes of the Arabian peninsula into a single cohesive nation, gave them a monotheistic religion in place of their polytheistic, tribal faiths, organized a powerful society and state, and launched his world-wide movement.
Muhammad died in 632 and was succeeded by Abu Bekr. Under his reign and afterward Islam continued to spread, promoted by extensive military campaigns. Within a century after the death of Muhammad, the Islamic empire stretched from Arabia west through North Africa, to Southern France and Spain; also north of Arabia through the Middle East and east throughout Central Asia, to the borders of China. In the process, Islamic expansion took in much of the oldest and strongest Christian territory.
The spread of Islam in western Europe was finally checked by Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours (in France) in A.D. 732, exactly a century after the death of Muhammad. Spain was later reclaimed for Christianity, but a wide belt of territory from Morocco to Pakistan and Indonesia remained Muslim, and has so to this day.
In the meantime a series of Crusades were conducted from A.D. 1095 to 1291, making the Christian mission to Muslims immeasurably more difficult. Islam has dominated the Middle East for the last 12 centuries, threatening Europe during much of that time. Today it extends from the Atlantic to the Philippines. In Africa it is currently making tremendous advances.
Islam in America
There are between 1.8 million (David Barrett’s estimate) and 4.6 million (Islamic Society of North America’s estimate) Muslims in this country. Most put the figure at between 3 and 4 million. This is a “denomination” larger than either the Assemblies of God or the Episcopal Church in the United States. In the next thirty years Muslims will outnumber Jews to become the second-largest religion in our country.