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Islam: Empire of Faith, a PBS Documentary

Islam: Empire of Faith, a PBS Documentary

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Published by bassam.madany9541
As soon this PBS documentary started, I felt I was watching a thoroughly revisionist account of the history of the Middle Esst since the Rise of Islam in the Seventh Century A.D.
As soon this PBS documentary started, I felt I was watching a thoroughly revisionist account of the history of the Middle Esst since the Rise of Islam in the Seventh Century A.D.

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Published by: bassam.madany9541 on Apr 01, 2009
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09/01/2010

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“Islam: Empire of Faith”
Rev. Bassam M. Madany
In his Foreword to Bat Ye’or’s book,
The Decline of Christianity Under Islam:
 from Jihad to
 
 Dhimmitude
, Jacques Ellul was concerned about he called the
 Dhimmitude of the West.” 
 
He was referring to those Western writers andintellectuals who would adopt self-censorship when dealing with Islam. Such a behavior is similar to that of the Jews and Christians who came under Islam. Theconquering Arab Muslims called them,
“Dhimmis.” 
This status conferred uponthem the freedom to practice their religion on the condition that they refrain fromany criticism of Islam. Furthermore, they were not allowed to propagate their faith;and once a
Dhimmi
embraced Islam, he or she, could no longer go back to hisformer faith.
Apostasy was punishable by death.
I could not help thinking of these words of the late French Protestant scholar whenviewing a Public Television production,
Islam: Empire of Faith.
The majority of the speakers and commentators are Western, and are associated with suchinstitutions as the University of Saint Louis, Columbia University, Boston College,and Edinburgh University. At several intermissions during the two and half hour show, we were informed that the documentary was being made available
throughviewers like you.” 
 I doubt the veracity of this statement. How could such a lengthy program that took us to three continents, covered more than a millennium of world history, shown theviewers a multiple of people in movement, as well as great architecturalmonuments, been realized through the mere contributions of viewers!At this point, someone may question whether I am eligible to undertake a reviewof “
Islam: Empire of Faith.”
After all, I am an Eastern Christian. How could I befree from the prejudices that my people have harbored regarding Islam ever sincethe conquest of their homeland in the early seventh century? I admit that I am notentirely free from some bias. But it is not an attitude that has no legitimate andreasonable foundation. Furthermore, I do have the credentials to make anassessment of this documentary. I have lived a good deal of my life in the MiddleEast. I experienced some of the great upheavals that took place in that area in theaftermath of World War II. Even after moving to North America, I have kept up mystudies of the history of the Arabs and of Islam, both in Arabic and in English. Mycredentials are just as valid as those of the speakers who contributed their comments on
“Islam: Empire of Faith.”
As the documentary proceeded, I felt I was watching a thoroughly revisionisthistory of the Middle East since the rise of Islam. I have read Arabic books written by Muslim scholars and intellectuals that were far more objective than what I waswatching. Western scholars seldom show such an attitude toward Christianity. Justthree weeks prior to the airing of this program, the same
Public Television Station
aired on Easter Eve a program in which one journalist opined that,
“we are not
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sure whether Jesus Christ was a historical person.”
Could there have beenanything more shocking than casting doubts about the historicity of the person of Jesus Christ, just a few hours before Christians throughout the world were tocelebrate the resurrection of their Lord and Savior?The airing of 
“Islam: Empire of Faith”
had hardly begun before we were toldthat one fourth of mankind were followers of Islam. This is a preposterous claim.The world population today is around six billion. The Muslim world has, at themost, one billion adherents. The ratio should be around one sixth of the world isMuslim. That inflated number alerted me right away that I was watching a piece of  propaganda piece of history.When dealing with the experience of Muhammad in a cave near Mecca, thecommentator made no qualification when saying the Prophet’s
“mission wasgiven by Divine revelation.”
While it is accurate to report that in 622,Muhammad and some of his followers moved to Medina on account of thehostility that the leaders of Mecca, it is not accurate to state,
“Hostility alwaysbegan from Meccan side.”
Muslim historians extol the ability of the Prophet toorganize attacks against the Meccan caravans that were on their way to Syria.Details in the life of the Prophet that may offend Western viewers were totally leftout. Indeed, it was a truly sanitized biography!As to the early years of Islam, the age of the caliphate and the conquests, theimpression was given that the spread of this theistic religion was primarily due tothe power of the faith. But this is not the whole story. Certainly, the early Muslimswere fired with a tremendous zeal as they burst out of Arabia and entered theterritories of the Byzantine and Persian Empires. But the rapid success of their conquests was not exclusively due to the
“power of the faith.”
The two super  powers of the time,
Persia and the Eastern Roman Empire
(Byzantium) had been in violent conflict for several decades. They had exhausted their resourcesand bankrupted their treasuries in that rivalry. So, they were no longer able tosubsidize the Arabized kingdoms on the borders of the Arabian Peninsula that hadkept the Bedouin tribes in their homeland. Thus, when the flood of the Arabhorseman came from the south, Persia crumbled like a house of cards, whileByzantium lost its hold on Egypt and Syria.Muslims revere the early
“golden”
era of their history. That lasted a little over 25years. It was the age of the
“Rightly Guided Caliphs.” 
The conquest of the MiddleEast had begun, and soon North Africa was to come within the Empire. At thesame time, the golden age was not so bright and beautiful! Of the four Caliphsthat succeeded Muhammad after 632, three were assassinated. Ali, the fourthCaliph, who was a cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, was murdered by someof his disgruntled followers. After his death, the Caliphate became dynastic. Thecapital of the growing empire was moved from Medina to Damascus, Syria. TheCaliphs of this era, now belonging to the Sunni division of Islam, bore a fiercehostility to the family of Ali. One of their Caliphs ordered the massacre of Husein,
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Ali’s son and his entire family. Eventually, in 750 this Damascus based Caliphatecame to an abrupt end in a horrible blood bath. The leader of this revolt, Abul‘Abbas is known in Arab history as As-Saffah (the blood letter). He became thefirst caliph in the new dynasty that ruled the Islamic world from Baghdad for almost 500 years. Why not at least one paragraph about this tragic part of thehistory of the
“Empire of Faith?”
The brutality of the Crusaders was described in great detail. No Christian scholar would defend nowadays that tragic episode in the history of Western Christianity.But then, one may say that to the Western Christians at the time, the Crusades werea type of 
Reconquista.
Eventually they failed. Centuries later, the Spanish didmount their own
Reconquista,
and in 1492, they were successful in regaining their homeland. To this very day, in the eyes of Muslims, their conquests were divinelymandated. Thus, no criticism may be leveled against them. But non-Muslims maynot and should not claim any right to re-conquer what once was their ownhomeland!In commenting on this documentary in the
Winter 2002
issue of 
Middle EastQuarterly,
its editor, Martin Kramer wrote:
“The depiction of Islamic empire asan “empire of faith” is already a limiting one, since Islam was spread by fear aswell as faith, by conquest as well as commerce. Anyone who has taken anelementary course in Islamic history will know this. Anyone who has onlywatched this film will not.” 
 
Page 73I don’t have time to go over the other details that were thrust at the viewers bythose scholarly men and women who kept on extolling the greatness of Islam. Butthe apex of my horror was reached when the
Ottoman
period of Islamic historywas being recounted. The
Ottoman Turks
had come from Central Asia, andserved the Caliphs as mercenaries. Eventually, they adopted Islam. They becamethe defenders and spreaders of their new faith. They pushed the boundaries of theIslamic Empire into Eastern and Central Europe. They devised a military systemknown as the
“Devshirme.” 
That involved the forceful taking of young Christian boys from their families in the conquered parts of Europe, and forcing them toIslamize. Then, they were formed into an elite army corps that would go on toexpand the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire in Europe. This army was known asthe
Jannisary.
How did one of the commentators, a university professor from Ohio describe this barbaric and inhuman method that deprived Christian families of some of their male offspring? She said, that the Ottomans
“recruited Christian children.”
Was
“recruited” 
the proper word to use? What a blatant camouflage of an evil systemthat lasted for too long in Eastern Europe, and left deep scars on its inhabitants tothis very day!In referring to the deliberate omission of the dark side in the history of Islam,Martin Kramer wrote:
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