Two notes regarding Islam’s purported hatred of Christians

 

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.
The Mosque of ‘Umar is to the left of the photographer, and just slightly behind him or her.

 

In response to my posting of a photograph, a couple of days ago, showing Muslim men forming a protective ring around St. George’s Coptic Orthodox Church in Sohag, Egypt, a few people have written in (on Facebook, in the blog comments section, and directly to me) to assure me that such a thing is impossible.  All Muslims always want to destroy churches and obliterate Christianity, and no Muslim would ever defend a Christian church.

 

This is flatly false, and I offer two pieces of evidence here to support my claim:

 

1)  

 

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, in Jerusalem, is, for many mainstream Christians, the holiest place on earth.  It marks the traditional spot both of Christ’s crucifixion and his burial, and, thus, also of his resurrection from the grave.  Built under Constantine the Great, it was severely damaged when, in AD 614, the Persians conquered the city.  (These were, to be clear, pre-Islamic Persians; their Islamization was still three decades off, at the very least.)  It was reconstructed after the Byzantines retook the city under Heraclius, with no major changes to the original plan and incorporating substantial portions of the Constantinian building.

 

In AD 637 — just six years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad — Arab Muslim armies took Jerusalem from Byzantine control.  The Caliph ‘Umar, successor to Muhammad and ruler of the rising Arab empire, entered the city and, among other things, was given a tour of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher by the Christian Patriarch Sophronius.  They were reputedly still within the building when the Muslim call for the noon prayer sounded.  Sophronius invited ‘Umar to spread his prayer rug within the Church and to perform the salat there, but ‘Umar declined.  Why did he say No?  Was it because Christian churches are defiled places of idolatrous worship?  No.  He gave his reason as follows:  If he were to pray there, his soldiers would see what he had done and would feel that they too could pray within the Church.  And, soon, they would effectively take the building over and turn it into a mosque.  So he spread his rug on the ground out in front of the Church, and prayed there.  And, still today, if you visit the Holy Sepulcher and stand with your back to the main entrance, if you look forward and slightly to your right, at about one o’clock or two o’clock, you will, if you look carefully, see across the Church’s southern courtyard a small, architecturally undistinguished place of Muslim worship called “The Mosque of ‘Umar.”

 

2)

 

Here’s a favorite passage of mine from the Qur’an, a passage that is typically taken, by both Muslim commentators and Western scholars, to refer to Syriac Christian monks and to the lamps of a monastery:

 

“God is the light of the heavens and the earth.  The similitude of his light is like a niche in which is a lamp, and the lamp in a glass.  The glass is like a pearly star, kindled from a blessed olive tree of neither the east nor the west, whose oil would almost glow even if no fire touched it.  Light upon light.  God guides to his light whomever he will, and he mints similitudes for the people.  And God knows all things.

“[Such niches are] in houses which God has permitted to be raised, wherein his name is remembered and he is praised morning and evening

“[By] men whom neither commerce nor sale distracts from remembrance of God and the performance of prayer and the giving of alms, fearing a day on which hearts and eyes will be overturned,

“That God may reward them according to the best of their works and increase them from his graciousness.”  (Qur’an 24:35-38, my fairly hasty translation)

 

Nobody can reasonably infer disrespect for devout Christians, let alone some sort of commandment to destroy Christian churches, from either this Qur’anic passage or the story of the Caliph ‘Umar in Jerusalem.

Qur’an 24:35 (the first verse translated above) in simple Arabic calligraphy

 

 

  • Steven Glover

    I respect your understanding of this religion and its tenets, but I can’t understand why we hear nothing, or very little, from the obvious majority of Muslims who must not agree with what has happened and is happening in Egypt as Churches are burned and people killed. Now, understanding the biases that exist on our own News organizations, is there indeed an outcry in the Muslim world that we are not hearing? Can’t, what appears to be a “silent majority”, do something about what is happening in their societies?

    • DanielPeterson

      Extremists and terrorists are intimidating. That, I suspect, is one reason. But there are Muslims who object to this sort of thing. It was to call attention to that that I posted the photograph two days ago of a defensive ring of Muslim men around a Coptic church.

  • Michael Towns

    I also respect your views. But what about the burning of Christian churches in Egypt? (Some of which have been there longer than the Muslims).

    http://gatesofvienna.net/2013/08/the-roster-of-christian-persecution-in-egypt/

    “The representatives of the Christian Churches have drawn up a list which we publish below. The list was handed over to AsiaNews by the Press Office of the Catholic Church in Egypt.

    Catholic churches and convents

    1.Franciscan church and school (road 23) — burned (Suez)

    2.Monastery of the Holy Shepherd and hospital — burned (Suez)

    3.Church of the Good Shepherd, Monastery of the Good Shepherd — burned in molotov attack (Asuit)

    4.Coptic Catholic Church of St. George — burned (Minya, Upper Egypt)

    5.Church of the Jesuits — burned (Minya, Upper Egypt)

    6.Fatima Basilica — attacked — Heliopolis

    7.Coptic Catholic Church of St. Mark — burned (Minya — Upper Egypt)

    8.Franciscan convent (Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary) — burned (Beni Suef, Upper Egypt)

    9.Church of St. Teresa — burned (Asuit, Upper Egypt)

    10.Franciscan Church and School — burned (Asuit, Upper Egypt)

    11.Convent of St Joseph and school — burned (Minya, Upper Egypt)

    12.Coptic Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart — torched (Minya, Upper Egypt)

    13.Convent of the Sisters of Saint Mary — attacked (Cairo)

    14.School of the Holy Shepherd — attacked (Minya, Upper Egypt)

    Orthodox and Evangelical Churches

    1.Anglican Church of St. Saviour — burned (Suez)

    2.Evangelical Church of St Michael — surrounded and sacked (Asuit, Upper Egypt)

    3.Coptic Orthodox Church of St. George — Burned (Minya, Upper Egypt)

    4.Church of Al-Esla — burned (Asuit, Upper Egypt)

    5.Adventist Church — burned, the pastor and his wife abducted (Asuit, Upper Egypt)

    6.Church of the Apostles — burned (Asuit, Upper Egypt)

    7.Church of the Holy renewal — burned (Asuit, Upper Egypt)

    8.Diocesan Centre Coptic Orthodox Qusiya — burned (Asuit, Upper Egypt)

    9.Church of St. George — burned (Arish, North Egypt)

    10.Church of St. George in al-Wasta — burned (Beni Suef, Upper Egypt)

    11.Church of the Virgin Mary — attacked (Maadi, Cairo)

    12.Church of the Virgin Mary — attacked (Mostorod, Cairo)

    13.Coptic Orthodox Church of St. George — attacked (Helwan, Cairo)

    14.Church of St. Mary of El Naziah — burned (Fayoum, Upper Egypt)

    15.Church of Santa Damiana — sacked and burned (Fayoum, Upper Egypt)

    16.Church of St. Theodore — burned (Fayoum, Upper Egypt)

    17.Evangelical Church of al-Zorby — Sacked and destroyed (Fayoum, Upper Egypt)

    18.Church of St. Joseph — burned (Fayoum, Upper Egypt)

    19.Franciscan School — burned (Fayoum, Upper Egypt)

    20.Coptic Orthodox Diocesan Center of St. Paul — burned (Gharbiya, Delta)

    21.Coptic Orthodox Church of St. Anthony — burned (Giza)

    22.Coptic Church of St. George — burned (Atfeeh, Giza)

    23.Church of the Virgin Mary and father Abraham — burned (Delga, Deir Mawas, Minya, Upper Egypt)

    24.Church of St. Mina Abu Hilal Kebly — burned (Minya, Upper Egypt)

    25.Baptist Church in Beni Mazar — burned (Minya, Upper Egypt)

    26.Church of Amir Tawadros — burned (Minya, Upper Egypt)

    27.Evangelical Church — burned (Minya, Upper Egypt)

    28.Church of Anba Moussa al-Aswad- burned (Minya, Upper Egypt)

    29.Church of the Apostles — burned (Minya, Upper Egypt)

    30.Church of St Mary — arson attempt (Qena, Upper Egypt)

    31.Coptic Church of St. George — burned (Sohag, Upper Egypt)

    32.Church of Santa Damiana — Attacked and burned (Sohag, Upper Egypt)

    33.Church of the Virgin Mary — burned (Sohag, Upper Egypt)

    34.Church of St. Mark and community center — burned (Sohag, Upper Egypt)

    35.Church of Anba Abram — destroyed and burned (Sohag, Upper Egypt)

    Christian institutions

    1.House of Fr. Angelos (pastor of the church of the Virgin Mary and Father Abraham) — burned (Minya, Upper Egypt)

    2.Properties and shops of Christians — Burnt (Arish, North Egypt)

    3.17 Christian homes attacked and looted (Minya, Upper Egypt)

    4.Christian homes — Attach (Asuit, Upper Egypt)

    5.Offices of the Evangelical Foundation — burned (Minya, Upper Egypt)

    6.Stores, pharmacies, hotels owned by Christians — attacked and looted (Luxor, Upper Egypt)

    7.Library of the Bible Society — burned (Cairo)

    8.Bible Society — burned (Fayoum, Upper Egypt)

    9.Bible Society- burned (Asuit, North Egypt).”

    I don’t blame ALL Muslims for these atrocities. But obviously, a large number of Muslims are hateful, bigoted, violent barbarians. How many mosques have we Christians burned lately?

    • DanielPeterson

      Memories are short. Lots of Muslim buildings were destroyed, and lots of Muslims killed, by Serbian and other Christians in the recent Balkan conflicts.

      I don’t deny for a moment that the Islamic world right now is in a mess, but please reflect on the implication of your own statement that some of the recently destroyed churches and monasteries have been there since prior to the advent of Islam in Egypt — which occurred in the first half of the seventh century. In other words, they’ve been there for roughly fourteen centuries. This seems on its face to suggest that the recent barbarism is atypical and aberrant.

      • Michael Towns

        On its face, yes. But consider the facts on the ground in Cairo right now. The military is hunting the Muslim Brotherhood like dogs, and what do Muslim Brotherhood folks do? They somehow find time to burn down…..not tanks, not the soldiers that are firing weapons at them, but Christians.

        Muslims are firing weapons at Muslims, and those Muslims turn around and burn dozens of Christian churches down.

        I’d like the general mass of Muslims, particularly in the Middle East, to wake up and join the twentieth century. Forget about the 21st, let’s just set a small goal and see if they can get to 1901.

        If I sound bitter, it’s because after several years of studying *modern* Arabic culture, I am left disgusted.

        • DanielPeterson

          Again, please note the implications of what you yourself have said: Muslims are shooting at Muslims, and one of those Muslim factions burns churches — but the other one apparently doesn’t.

          Which, surely, suggests that it’s not Islam as such that is dictating the burning of churches. (And, in fact, for anybody who understands the dynamics currently playing out in Egypt, it’s plainly not.)

          As for your disgust at modern Arabic culture — which you seem to conflate with modern Islamic culture, despite the fact that a substantial minority of Arabs are Christians, and despite the fact that most Muslims aren’t Arabs — I’m afraid that I don’t share your disgust. I guess I just don’t know it well enough.

          And, please, how can you dismiss the fact that those churches and monasteries survived for fourteen centuries under Islamic rule as only superficial evidence (“on its face, yes”) for my claim that the recent destruction of them is aberrant in terms of the past fourteen hundred years?

          • Michael Towns

            First of all, I am not interested in a credential-measuring contest with you (since I’d most assuredly lose). However, please allow me to point out that I work as an Arabic linguist, have more than a passing knowledge of Middle East history, culture, and religious culture, and definitely know the differences between progressive secular Muslims and the Other Kind. I can read, write, speak, and listen to Arabic with a more than passing proficiency. I watch episodes of Ittijah al-Muakes and Fi-al-umaq. I am not some Fox News red neck slamming my fist on the table and yelling “‘Merica!”. I know the differences between Salafis, Wahabbis, Shias, Sunnis, Alawis, Zaidis, Sufis, etc., etc., etc.

            I am well aware that a large proportion of Arabs are Christian. Are you aware that their numbers are dwindling? Care to guess why?

            I am well aware that most Muslims are not Arab — however, I’m not sure why you brought that up since it has nothing to do with Egypt right now.

            “Again, please note the implications of what you yourself have said:
            Muslims are shooting at Muslims, and one of those Muslim factions burns
            churches — but the other one apparently doesn’t.”

            – Yes, the implications are rather interesting. One group claims to be secular and the other group claims to be true believers. Which group happens to be burning down Christian churches?

            “Which, surely, suggests that it’s not Islam as such that is dictating the burning of churches.”

            – No, not “as such”, although you’d have a hard time convincing me and a lot of other people that Islam has *nothing* to do with it.

            Look, Bro. Peterson, I like you and agree with you on almost everything else. But it’s going to take more than posting a singular photo of progressive Muslims and the Surat Al-Nur to convince folks that these folks *are* in fact being driven by their interpretations of Islam, interpretations, by the way, that carry a large cachet in the Middle East at large.

          • DanielPeterson

            “I . . . definitely know the differences between progressive secular Muslims and the Other Kind.”

            But the Islamic world isn’t divided in so simply binary a way, “progressive secular Muslims and the Other Kind.”

            There are devout Muslims — I know many of them — who aren’t of the “Other Kind.”

            “I am well aware that a large proportion of Arabs are Christian. Are you aware that their numbers are dwindling?”

            Yes. In the sense that some are converting but many are emigrating.

            “Care to guess why?”

            I don’t need to guess.

            “I am well aware that most Muslims are not Arab — however, I’m not sure why you brought that up since it has nothing to do with Egypt right now.”

            In the context of a discussion of Islam, you brought up Arab culture — which is shared by Christians as well as by Muslims.

            “One group claims to be secular and the other group claims to be true believers.”

            No. That’s too simple. Those who oppose the Muslim Brotherhood aren’t all (or even mostly) secular. When news of President Morsi’s overthrow reached Tahrir Square, there were shouts from the demonstrators there, who had been demanding his ouster, of “Allahu akbar!” And the coup was publicly endorsed by the Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria (which is one reason why Coptic churches are under attack by Morsi’s supporters) standing side by side with the Grand Shaykh of al-Azhar, the foremost Islamic university in the Arab world.

            “Which group happens to be burning down Christian churches?”

            Some of the Salafists are. Not all of them. Not even — if we can believe one poster on this very thread, who claims to be a member of the Brotherhood and to oppose the burning of churches — all of the members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

            “‘Which, surely, suggests that it’s not Islam as such that is dictating the burning of churches.’
            – No, not ‘as such’, although you’d have a hard time convincing me and a lot of other people that Islam has *nothing* to do with it.”

            I wouldn’t make the attempt. I don’t believe anything so sillyt. Again, though, the situation isn’t as black and white as you seem inclined to make it.

            “it’s going to take more than posting a singular photo of progressive Muslims and the Surat Al-Nur to convince folks that these folks *are* in fact being driven by their interpretations of Islam, interpretations, by the way, that carry a large cachet in the Middle East at large.”

            So — just to be clear — you think that the people ringing the church weren’t motivated at all by their understanding of Islam, and/or may actually have been going against their understanding of Islam?

            If that’s your claim, upon what do you base it?

            I suspect, however, that that isn’t your claim, and that you intended to write “that these folks AREN’T in fact being driven by their interpretations of Islam.”

            If THAT’S what you mean to say, you’re shadow boxing with a straw man, since that’s not what I think and it’s nothing that I feel any need to argue for.

  • ian torres

    Hi there I’m from the Philippines. Though I’m quite a distance away, I’d like to share my own “part of the world”, at the promptings of hearing some people who have gotten the idea that Muslims must hate non-Muslims. As some people already know my country is dominantly Catholic Christian. We have next door
    neighboring countries that are Islam but we are generally on good terms
    with each other. (Anyone still seeing Jihadist and Muslim as one in
    their mind should go to Malaysia and see that they can be as peaceful,
    urbanized and modern as any other person in the world.) I attend mass in
    a Catholic chapel that has a Mosque just across the hall and the people who attend these two places don’t mind at all. As I walk home
    from mass I get to buy stuff from stores along the way, a good deal of
    them are owned by Muslims. Yes there’s this issue with the so-called “Islamic Liberation Front” down south in our country,
    but like many terrorists, they’re just a bunch of bullies who
    unfortunately use the cover of Islam to justify their acts. Just like some bullies who justify their acts as “patriotic acts” or other “acts of loyalty”. They have
    hurt, harassed and killed Muslims as well as Christians; their
    movement is more motivated on political than their religious beliefs. On
    another note, we’ve also had a good number of Iranians studying in our
    country. Some of them chose to stay and now live here. These people are
    just people; they can be as mean and as nice as everybody else. One of
    my favorite eating spots is down across the street where this Iranian
    had set up a Persian restaurant. Really love their food! I really do hope we can learn get along.

    • DanielPeterson

      Thank you, Ian Torres, for your valuable perspective. I’ve never been to the Philippines, unfortunately, but I’ve spent a little bit of time in Malaysia, and I was deeply (and positively) impressed by the Muslims I met there.

  • MarciDiCrucis

    I believe that because of his devout Islamic faith Saladin was also respectful of Christianity and Churches.

  • David_Naas

    If we judge all adherents of any particular religion, philosophy, or political outlook by their worst, most bigoted and fundamentalist (did I slip there) members, of course we will easily condemn that religion. I say ‘easily’, for it is unfortunately a basic human trait to condemn the Other rather than try to understand (thinking hurts, don’t y’know).
    Mormons, above all people ought to be sensitive to that sort of thinking.
    All that being said (I have no credentials of any kind), there are aspects of “folk-cultural Islam” that I really do have a problem with, especially in its treatment of women. There are also aspects of cultural Islam that put the rest of the world o shame.
    However, to issue blanket denunciations of any group is not the mark of an intelligent, humble person, no matter what faith one may profess.

  • Barbara Jones

    I fully realise that I am not an intellectual, that I have no knowledge of the Quran, but I do know that I have many, many Muslim friends, both here in Australia and elsewhere in the World, and they are ALL of them, without any hesitation, condemning the conflict and atrocities that have happened in the past, and are happening all around us now…

    The problems in Egypt are disastrous in the very least, and my heart goes out to all those who are caught up in this terrible state of affairs…

    I can understand why the Muslims surrounded the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, it is, even though a Christian edifice, still a religious one, and even though Muslims don’t believe, as we do that Jesus Christ was and is the Son of God, they do revere Him as a Prophet…

    Why can’t we as a human race be more tolerant of others who believe differently to ourselves, is it just beyond our natures?


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