By James A. Haught
This is the fourth segment of a nine-part series on religious horrors, cruelties, atrocities and tragedies of all types.
Muhammad, who claimed to hear messages from the Angel Gabriel, roused followers who became his conquering army. He fought in nine battles and ordered others. His new faith of Islam spawned century after century of warfare.
After Muhammad’s death in 632, successor caliphs launched many holy wars – first against apostate tribes who seceded after the prophet died, then against neighboring lands. Arabic armies spread the religion to Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Egypt and Persia – then eastward to India and westward across North Africa to Spain. The Muslim advance finally was halted in a 732 battle at Tours, France.
Splinter groups caused endless uprisings. Shi’ites, who thought Muhammad’s son-in-law Ali should have become caliph, fought doomed wars against the Sunni majority. Kharijis, a splinter of Shi’ites, fought savagely for centuries as puritanical terrorists until they became nearly extinct. Ultra-fanatical Azariqis decreed death to all “sinners” and their families.
Assassins were a clique of suicide volunteers who sneaked past guards and stabbed Sunni caliphs – causing some other Sunni leaders to wear armor under their robes.
In the 1700s, Muhammad al-Wahhab preached that Islam had been corrupted, so he raised troops who slaughtered fellow Muslims. Wahhabis arose again in the early 1900s as Muslim Brothers.
In 1804, Nigerian holy man Usman dan Fodio declared a jihad that killed thousands and toppled the Sultan of Gobir. In 1854, Mali holy man Umar al-Hajj declared a jihad that killed many before it was suppressed. In the 1880s, holy man Muhammad Ahmad called himself the Madhi (divinely guided one) and waged a bloody jihad in the Nile Valley.
This is the historic background – leading to modern Islamic terrorists and suicide volunteers now the worst cause of bloodshed in the 21st century.
After Jews were driven from their homeland by Romans two millennia ago, they scattered across Europe and elsewhere, struggling to survive. But the rise of Christianity made them outcasts, branded as “Christ-killers” – often forced to live in ghettos and wear “badges of shame,” often hated and killed.
Catholic priests and theologians denounced them as “vipers” and “slayers of the Lord.” Church liturgy cited the “perfidious Jews.” St. John Chrysostom wrote: “The Jews sacrifice their children to Satan…. They are worse than wild beasts…. The synagogue is a brothel, a den of scoundrels, the temple of demons.”
In 1144, an English boy was found dead, and rumors flew that he had been sacrificed by Jews who used his blood in heinous rituals. This “blood libel” rapidly spread across Europe, causing massacres of Jews in dozens of cities. Tales of child sacrifice – sometimes preached in large churches – sent murderous mobs raging into ghettos.
The Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 decreed that host wafers miraculously turn into the actual flesh of Jesus during Catholic mass. Soon rumors spread that Jews stole host wafers and drove nails through them to crucify Jesus again. This tale caused a wave of massacres that killed thousands. A Bavarian knight named Rindfliesch raised a brigade that raided ghettos to avenge the tortured host. He exterminated 146 communities in six months.
When the Black Death swept Europe in the 1300s, rumors spread that Jews had poisoned wells. Hysterical mobs massacred thousands of Jews in several countries.
Periods of toleration, followed by periods of slaughter, ensued for centuries. In the late 1800s, as mutiny grew against Russia’s czars, Kremlin secret police planted fake writings to rouse public hatred of Jews, to deflect anger away from the czar. Three waves of pogroms ensued, each worse than the last, sacking 530 villages and killing 60,000 Jews.
Historian Dagobert Runes estimated that 3.5 million Jews were killed during the long era of Christian persecution – which set the stage for the Nazi Holocaust.
(Next: Reformation Wars)