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§ 43. The Conquests of Islâm.

“The sword,” says Mohammed, “is the key of heaven and hell; a drop of blood shed in the cause of Allah, a night spent in arms, is of more avail than two months of fasting or prayer: whosoever falls in battle, his sins are forgiven, and at the day of judgment his limbs shall be supplied by the wings of angels and cherubim.” This is the secret of his success. Idolaters had to choose between Islâm, slavery, and death; Jews and Christians were allowed to purchase a limited toleration by the payment of tribute, but were otherwise kept in degrading bondage. History records no soldiers of greater bravery inspired by religion than the Moslem conquerors, except Cromwell’s Ironsides, and the Scotch Covenanters, who fought with purer motives for a nobler cause.

The Califs, Mohammed’s successors, who like him united the priestly and kingly dignity, carried on his conquests with the battle-cry: “Before you is paradise, behind you are death and hell.” Inspired by an intense fanaticism, and aided by the weakness of the Byzantine empire and the internal distractions of the Greek Church, the wild sons of the desert, who were content with the plainest food, and disciplined in the school of war, hardship and recklessness of life, subdued Palestine, Syria, and Egypt, embracing the classical soil of primitive Christianity. Thousands of Christian churches in the patriarchal dioceses of Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria, were ruthlessly destroyed, or converted into mosques. Twenty-one years after the death of Mohammed the Crescent ruled over a realm as large as the Roman Empire. Even Constantinople was besieged twice (668 and 717), although in vain. The terrible efficacy of the newly invented “Greek fire,” and the unusual severity of a long winter defeated the enemy, and saved Eastern and Northern Europe from the blight of the Koran. A large number of nominal Christians who had so fiercely quarreled with each other about unfruitful subtleties of their creeds, surrendered their faith to the conqueror. In 707 the North African provinces, where once St. Augustin had directed the attention of the church to the highest problems of theology and religion, fell into the hands of the Arabs.

In 711 they crossed from Africa to Spain and established an independent Califate at Cordova. The moral degeneracy and dissensions of the Western Goths facilitated their subjugation. Encouraged by such success, the Arabs crossed the Pyrenees and boasted that they would soon stable their horses in St. Peter’s cathedral in Rome, but the defeat of Abd-er Rahman by Charles Martel between Poitiers and Tours in 732—one hundred and ten years after the Hegira—checked their progress in the West, and in 1492—the same year in which Columbus discovered a new Continent—Ferdinand defeated the last Moslem army in Spain at the gates of Granada and drove them back to Africa. The palace and citadel of the Alhambra, with its court of lions, its delicate arabesques and fretwork, and its aromatic gardens and groves, still remains, a gorgeous ruin of the power of the Moorish kings.

In the East the Moslems made new conquests. In the ninth century they subdued Persia, Afghanistan, and a large part of India. They reduced the followers of Zoroaster to a few scattered communities, and conquered a vast territory of Brahminism and Buddhism even beyond the Ganges. The Seliuk Turks in the eleventh century, and the Mongols in the thirteenth, adopted the religion of the Califs whom they conquered. Constantinople fell at last into the hands of the Turks in 1453, and the magnificent church of St. Sophia, the glory of Justinian’s reign, was turned into a mosque where the Koran is read instead of the Gospel, the reader holding the drawn scimetar in his hand. From Constantinople the Turks threatened the German empire, and it was not till 1683 that they were finally defeated by Sobieski at the gates of Vienna and driven back across the Danube.

With the senseless fury of fanaticism and pillage the Tartar Turks have reduced the fairest portions of Eastern Europe to desolation and ruin. With sovereign contempt for all other religions, they subjected the Christians to a condition of virtual servitude, treating them like “dogs,” as they call them. They did not intermeddle with their internal affairs, but made merchandise of ecclesiastical offices. The death penalty was suspended over every attempt to convert a Mussulman. Apostasy from the faith is also treason to the state, and merits the severest punishment in this world, as well as everlasting damnation in the world to come.

After the Crimean war in 1856, the death penalty for apostasy was nominally abolished in the dominions of the Sultan, and in the Berlin Treaty of 1878 liberty of religion (more than mere toleration) was guaranteed to all existing sects in the Turkish empire, but the old fanaticism will yield only to superior force, and the guarantee of liberty is not understood to imply the liberty of propaganda among Moslems. Christian sects have liberty to prey on each other, but woe to them if they invade the sacred province of Islâm.162162    If Protestant missionaries enjoy more toleration and liberty in Turkey than in Roman Catholic Austria and in Greek Catholic Russia, it must be understood with the above limitation. Turkish toleration springs from proud contempt of Christianity in all its forms; Russian and Austrian intolerance, from despotism and bigoted devotion to a particular form of Christianity.

A Mohammedan tradition contains a curious prophecy that Christ, the son of Mary, will return as the last Calif to judge the world.163163    Among the traditional sayings of Mohammed is this (Gerock, l.c., p. 132): “I am nearest to Jesus, both as to the beginning and the end; for there is no prophet between me and Jesus; and at the end of time he will be my representative and my successor. The prophets are all brethren, as they have one father, though their mothers are different. The origin of all their religions is the same, and between me and Jesus there is no other prophet!’ The impression is gaining ground among the Moslems that they will be unable ultimately to withstand the steady progress of Christianity and Western civilization. The Sultan, the successor of the Califs, is a mere shadow on the throne trembling for his life. The dissolution of the Turkish empire, which may be looked for at no distant future, will break the backbone of lslâm, and open the way for the true solution of the Eastern question—the moral regeneration of the Lands of the Bible by the Christianity of the Bible.

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