In June 2016, the Presbyterian Church USA held its 222nd General Assembly in Portland, Oregon. A Muslim community leader gave the invocation, praying, “Lead us on the straight path — the path of all the prophets: Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad.”
This prayer was drawn from the Fatihah, the opening chapter of the Koran: “Show us the straight path, the path of those whom Thou hast favoured; Not the [path] of those who earn Thine anger nor of those who go astray.”
Muslims understand “those who earn Thine anger” to be the Jews and “those who go astray” to be Christians. The Presbyterians thought this was a prayer for interfaith understanding, but it was actually a veiled insult to the Christian audience.
Now, I draw a clear distinction between most Muslims and the radicalized, political Muslims known as Islamists. I was born in the Middle East, and I have many dear friends and acquaintances who embrace Islam. I don’t want anyone to misunderstand my genuine affection and appreciation for Muslim people.
But we need to understand the history of the Islamist movement. Islam was founded in the seventh century by Muhammad with a goal of an Islamic world empire. Islam expanded rapidly under Umar ibn al-Khattab, Muhammad’s chief disciple and the second caliph. Umar conquered most of the Byzantine Empire and all of Persia within a few years.
Islam didn’t spread the way Christianity spread — by free-will evangelistic appeal. Islam spread by the sword. It advanced as Islamic warriors conquered the Middle East, North Africa, and parts of Europe. The history of Islam is a history of bloody struggle.
The armies of Islam swept up from North Africa to conquer much of the Iberian Peninsula (modern Spain). The Islamic advance across Europe was stopped in 732 by Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours, France. Historian Victor Davis Hanson called it “a landmark battle that marked the high tide of the Muslim advance into Europe.” By the end of the tenth century, the Islamic Empire was in decline.
Political Islam enjoyed a resurgence from the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries, conquering much of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Constantinople, a fortress of Christianity, fell to the Ottomans in 1453 and became Istanbul, the Ottoman capital. In Muslim-conquered lands, Christian boys were taken from their parents, reared as Muslims, and made to serve the armies of Islam. Christian churches became mosques.
In 1683, the Ottomans laid siege for two months to the gates of Vienna. On September 11, 1683, in the Battle of Vienna, defenders of the Holy Roman Empire under King John III Sobieski defeated the Ottomans. That victory saved Western civilization from destruction.
Ancient history, some say. Yet the warfare we see today continues that history. Radical Islamists still refer to Christians as “Crusaders” (al-Salibia), and what we call “ancient history” they consider “current events.”
Opponents of Christianity are quick to recall the crimes and massacres committed by the Crusaders in the eleventh through fifteenth centuries. I don’t defend the crimes committed in the name of Christ during the Middle Ages.
But people forget that the Crusades were a reaction to more than four centuries of Islamic conquest. Historian Robert Louis Wilken observed, “By the middle of the eighth century more than fifty percent of the Christian world had fallen under Muslim rule.” The Islamists conquered cities that once cradled the early church, including Antioch, Damascus, and Jerusalem. They obliterated the once-vital church of North Africa, home of Augustine of Hippo and Cyprian of Carthage.
Crusaders entered the fray not as aggressors, but as defenders of a faith under siege. The Crusades were an attempt to turn back the tide of Islamic expansionism — a tide that threatens Western civilization today.
In the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, the Islamic world was in decline — defeated at Vienna and humiliated by European colonialism. Today, however, the Islamists are advancing once more while Western civilization retreats. Islamic revivalists seek to fulfill the prophecies of a global Caliphate.
Radical Islamists reject civilized values. Such principles as peace, freedom, tolerance, and individual human rights are scorned by political Islam. They still fight a war that began in the seventh century.
As George Santayana observed, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We have forgotten our history, but the Islamists remember.
Until we, too, remember our past, we are condemned to repeat it.
Adapted from The Barbarians are Here: Preventing the Collapse of Western Civilization in Times of Terrorism by Dr. Michael Youssef (Worthy Publishing, 2017). Dr. Youssef is the founding pastor of the Church of the Apostles in Atlanta, Georgia, and the author of more than 30 books. Find him online at www.ltw.org and follow him on Twitter: @MichaelAYoussef.