Islam is hard-wired with a "conquering" mentality that dates back to its earliest days, says a noted author, and that mentality was on display Friday at the Washington National Cathedral.
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Even in a service billed as a symbolic olive branch to Christianity, celebrated inside an iconic church, Islam's air of supremacy could not help but leak out, says Dr. Andrew Bostom, author of several books on Islam including "The Legacy of Jihad: Islamic Holy War and the Fate of Non-Muslims" in 2005 and "The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism: From Sacred Texts to Solemn History" in 2008.
Not that anyone in the Episcopal cathedral cared to notice.
"After viewing Friday’s ostensible exercise in 'ecumenism' at the National Cathedral, it is impossible for me to discern whether the Christian event organizers are more ethically, or intellectually cretinous," writes Bostom in his blog at AndrewBostom.org.
Bostom is an associate professor of medicine at Brown University Medical School and author of four exhaustive studies on Islam.
He said the verses that Imam Ebrahim Rasool, who is South Africa's ambassador to the U.S., read to those gathered for Friday's "call to prayer" were familiar to Muslims but probably did not resonate with many Christians. The verses are widely interpreted by the Muslim hadiths and Quranic commentaries as stinging rebukes of Christianity and Judaism, Bostom said. The hadiths are the written reports of the teachings of Muhammad.
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Rasool quoted only the latter portion of Quran 5:82, which says "you will find the nearest in love to the believers (Muslims) those who say: 'We are Christians.' That is because amongst them are priests and monks, and they are not arrogant."
But Rasool cleverly omitted the opening half of 5:82: "Verily, you will find the strongest among men in enmity to the believers (Muslims) the Jews and those who are Al-Mushrikun (i.e., 'idolatrous' Hindus, Buddhists and Animists)."
Bostom, who is Jewish, explained that part of the verse is about Christianity, but the imam didn't read the first part about Judaism.
"I don't blame him. He is a pious Muslim. That's what he is supposed to do. He's a proud Muslim. It's the church that makes me outraged," Bostom said.
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Rasool later invoked the Quran’s questionable intent toward Christians and all non-Muslims who refuse to submit to a Shariah-based Muslim order, quoting Quran 3:26: "Say 'O Allah! Possessor of the kingdom, You give the kingdom to whom You will, and You take the kingdom from whom You will, and You endue with honor whom You will, and You humiliate whom You will. In Your Hand is the good. Verily, You are Able to do all things.'"
While the above verse may sound innocuous to the untrained ear, Bostom cites authoritative Muslim interpretations, from classical to modern, which "consistently reveal its inherent threat of violent jihad conquest by Muslims against non-Muslims."
The commentaries span 600 years, Bostom says, starting with Ibn Kathir (d. 1373), one of the best-known historians and traditionalists of Syria during the reign of the Bahri Mamluks. His commentary on 3:26 states:
This Ayah [verse] encourages thanking Allah for the favors He granted His Messenger [Muhammad] and his Ummah [the Muslim community]. Allah transferred the prophethood from the Children of Israel to the Arab, Qurayshi [Muhammad’s Arab tribe], Meccan, unlettered Prophet, the Final and Last of all Prophets. … Hereafter, Allah allowed Muhammad’s Ummah to reach the eastern and western parts of the world and gave dominance to his religion [Islam] and Law [Shariah] over all other religions and laws.
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Following Rasool's sermon, a verse from the opening chapter of the Quran, the Fatiha, was recited. It doesn't specify Christians or Jews, but authoritative commentaries by Muslim scholars interpret it as a reference to members of the two religions.
"That verse, 1:7, is repeated by believing Muslims 17 times a day. It’s a curse on Christianity and Jews," Bostom said. "But it is more subtle than some of the other verses in the Quran, because it says those who have engendered Allah's anger, the Jews, and those who've gone astray, the Christians, if you look back to the very first exegeses of the Quran, that's exactly how Muslims are taught to interpret this verse, that they are following the correct path and those allegedly following the religions closest to them are wrong."
For a more modern analysis of the Fatiha's meaning to Muslims, Bostom turns to "The Quran: An Encyclopedia," a mainstream publication authored by 43 Muslim and non-Muslim academics. The prayer from the Quran mentions two groups of people, one blessed and one destined for wrath. The encyclopedia identifies them:
[T]he phrase in the daily prescribed prayers "Guide us to the straight path, to the path of those you have blessed, not of those who incurred [Your] wrath, nor of the misguided" (al-Fatiha, 1:5-7.) … mention two groups of people but do not say who they are. The Prophet [Muhammad] interpreted those who incurred God’s wrath as the Jews and the misguided as the Christians.
So the prayer spoken over the participants in Friday's Muslim service by Rasool reminded Muslims they are blessed while Christians and Jews are forsaken.
By citing 3:26 from the Quran, Rasool was clearly making a point about who Allah chose to humiliate, Bostom said.
"It's a little plain sounding, but the classical commentaries say it's about the conquests of Christian Byzantium and Zoroastrian Persia," he said. "And this is also about a contemporary threat, because they (the Christians) haven't learned."
Bostom cites the "very authoritative commentary" on the verse by the grand mufti of India, Maulana Muhammad Shafi, who died in 1976. Shafi brings current-day threatening overtones to the passage in 3:26 when he says "appearing in the form of a prayer this verse so eloquently brings into focus the most perfect power of Allah as it manifests itself in the rise and fall of nations and in the revolutions that rock countries."
The commentary goes on to say that Persia and Byzantium fell to Muslims and "the enemies of Islam have not learned their lesson from the rise and fall of past wielders of power for they judge events and personalities from the material angle while the truth is that all powers and governments of the world are in the hands of the most pristine power of Allah, the one in whose hands lies all honor and disgrace."
Rasool's quote from 5:82 in the Quran was tricky, Bostom said, but he does not blame Rasool for using the opportunity that was handed to him by the
Episcopalians who run the National Cathedral.
"That was a very deceptive ploy by Rasool to only recite the second part of 5:82. He says the ecumenical-sounding part but not the rest. It's incredible, but then he goes on to warn about the conquest of Byzantium and explained how that applies today," Bostom said.
"This is what's so incredibly different about Islam," he said. "The current grand imam of Cairo's Al-Azhar University, Ahmed Al-Tayeb – in terms of stature way beyond Mr. Rasool – he says this verse (5:82) of the Quran explains relations between Muslims and Jews.
"See how we suffer today from Jewish and Zionist interference in Muslim affairs, this is a cause of great distress in Muslims," said Al-Tayeb on Oct. 25, 2013, in a television interview.
"Can you imagine if Pope Francis made such a comment?" Bostom asked.
But the Christians in attendance Friday would have heard nothing inflammatory in these verses, Bostom said.
"When you read the commentaries, which explain the way Muslims are supposed to interpret the verses, every Christian in that church should be outraged," Bostom said. "He's succeeded at humiliating us, he's lording his creed over the infidel on the infidel's own turf."
To use a football metaphor, Bostom said, "This is like they're already up at least two or three touchdowns, and now he's slamming the football down on the turf, your turf."
"And they (the leaders of the National Cathedral) were oblivious to this. It had to be pointed out to them."
Looking through history's lens
When it was pointed out to the dean of the National Cathedral, Gary Hall, that two of the prayer service's sponsors, the Council on American Islamic Relations and Islamic Society of America, were created by the Muslim Brotherhood and that the service was held on the 100th anniversary of the Ottoman Turks' jihad against Christian Armenians, Hall responded as follows:
"I did not know that it was that anniversary. But knowing it now, it actually seems to be more appropriate to have an event that is on an anniversary of a hard time... There have been atrocities on both sides. There have been extremists on both sides."
Hall said Christians were just as guilty of violence as Muslims throughout history.
"The Christian church ... a few centuries before was doing similar kinds of things in the Holy Land with the Crusader states and the Crusades themselves," Hall told the reporter from Breitbart. "Almost every religious tradition is guilty at some point of fostering violence in the name of that religious tradition."
Bostom finds Hall's comments both factually misleading and ethically suspect. The Crusades, while they did include atrocious conduct by Christians, came after 400 years of vicious attacks by Muslims on Christians, he said.
Bostom also looks at the historical response by Christians to their own violent acts and compares it to the way Muslims have responded to their atrocities.
'Mea Culpa' and the Crusades
Modern Christians have displayed a healthy sense of "mea culpa" about the Crusades, but Muslims show no such remorse about their holy wars, he said.
"You could say, well, this is the way Westerners and Christians understand the principle of mea culpa, but you never get that from Muslims," he said. "You never hear them discuss the fact that it was 400 years of Muslim jihad campaigns, some of which were genocidal by Western standards, that preceded the Crusades.
"Heading east, they conquered Sindh Province in Pakistan and slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Hindus. You had the threat on Western Europe and the Seljuk Turks causing massive destruction on their way to the Holy Land, and those were the threats that Christians were under at the time the Pope called for the Crusades," Bostom said. "Sure, Christians talk openly about the atrocities … and there's a debate and always a strain of mea culpa in Christianity, but there's no such thing in Islam."
Then came the Ottoman wave of conquests that was not broken until 1683 at Vienna, Austria.
Not only does the principle of mea culpa not exist in Islam's major teachings, but the jihad is perceived as a just and holy endeavor, Bostom said.
"Just like jihad can't be criticized, it's like Muhammad can't be criticized, like Allah can't be criticized," Bostom said.
But to remove these criticisms from school textbooks as many American schools are now doing under pressure from CAIR can provide a distorted view of history.
Bostom said Muslims, in their own triumphant accounts, wrote of the booties they captured and the numbers they slaughtered in India and Central Asia.
"As they ravaged the Indian civilization in Afghanistan and India, smashed the Hindu idols and shrine, then grind them up and use them to pave the walkways up to the mosques," he said. "And look what's happening now in Israel with the whole issue of the Temple Mount. And this kind of exercise at the National Cathedral feeds and reinforces this supremacist strain that is in Islam that is hardwired into it. The creed believes Islam is the final revelation."
On a 13-year journey
Bostom said he has been on a 13-year journey to understand Islam as Muslims understand Islam.
"It was hard for me, in exploring the Quran over the last 13 years, until I learned you have to really look at the commentaries to see how Muslims have been taught to understand these verses over the years," Bostom said. "It's really important when in any doubt to go back to the authoritative commentaries. The harshest are the authoritative ones, and it's very consistent. Muhammad became increasingly intolerant of those who didn’t abide by his ways, and that's how it became a conquering creed, and that is the overriding theme."
But the conquering doesn’t have to be done by violence. And that's where events like last week's Friday call to prayer at the National Cathedral come into play.
Bostom said Muslims have "learned how to engage in Muslim-Christian dialogue as a form of conquest."
"Everywhere they go now it's, 'Oh, we need dialogue with this group, and we need dialogue with that group.'"
Bostom said he wasn't sure how the National Cathedral service was going to play out.
"It was actually very threatening. It's very demeaning," he said. "I thought maybe they would just cite some of the more pacifistic parts of the Quran or parts trying to get Arabs to pay attention to them. But, no, they don’t feel they have to do that. They feel they can do a traditional Muslim service that preaches all of its supremacism right there in a church.
"It's incredible to me how they did that. I guarantee you [the Episcopal leaders] will not look up the classical interpretation of these verses. They will remain in a state of denial," Bostom said.
"This is the way civilizations are lost."