When Will the World's Largest Sunni Religious Institution Disavow Colonization?
Editor's Note: In this article, Saied Shoaaib examines the divergent attitudes toward past colonialism and conquest by the Western and Islamic worlds. While the West is apologetic for past invasions, and even for the Crusades, which were a reaction to the conquest of Christian lands by Muslims, the head of the world’s most prestigious Sunni institution, al-Azhar, is not only unapologetic for Islamic invasions or even atrocities committed in the name of Islam, he offers Andalusia, that is Muslim-conquered Spain, as a model of peaceful coexistence. “Building bridges” seems to be a one-way street toward the supremacy of Islam.
It is difficult to find today Christian clergy proud of their colonial past. In contrast, many Muslims consider Islamic colonialism and imperialism sacred and part of their religion.
To be sure, the West has committed sins, but it has apologized for them. Meanwhile, Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the current Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, says that Islam and Muslims are completely innocent, and that the sole culprit is the West. His position totally ignores the Islamic colonial empire that occupied many countries, looting their wealth and committing massacres.
Sheikh Al-Tayeb not only failed to apologize for the atrocities listed above, but here are a few examples of what is being taught at the university he heads...
The Islamic Umayyad dynasty initiated the invasion of Spain; the Ottoman Turks followed to conquer European lands, including Bulgaria, Serbia, Macedonia, Greece, Montenegro, Croatia, Kosovo, Hungary, Albania, Georgia and the Balkans. They nearly occupied Paris and Vienna, as well. Pictured: The painting "The Turkish Siege of Vienna," in the Vienna Museum.
In Cairo, Egypt, in October, at an international symposium entitled, "Islam and the West: Diversity and Integration," Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb -- the current Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University, the world's largest Sunni religious institution -- pointed to Andalusia (Muslim-ruled Spain) as a model for the peaceful coexistence between Islam, Christianity and Judaism. It was a peculiar choice: Andalusia is not an example of cooperation; it is an example of the Arab colonization of Europe.
Those who occupied Andalusia were the Umayyad branch of the Quraysh tribe (the tribe of the Prophet Muhammad) from the Arabian Peninsula. They initiated the invasion; the Ottoman Turks followed to conquer European lands, including Bulgaria, Serbia, Macedonia, Greece, Montenegro, Croatia, Kosovo, Hungary, Albania, Georgia and the Balkans. They nearly occupied Paris and Vienna, as well.
During the symposium, Sheikh Al-Tayeb, who delivered the keynote address, said that his goal was to build bridges between Islam and the West.
However, if that was his goal, he would have been better off apologizing for the occupation of this part of Europe by Muslim Arabs, who had not faced any Western aggression at the time.
The Vatican, at the symposium, apologized and asked God's forgiveness for the mistakes of the Church over the past 2,000 years, including the wars that were launched in the name of Christianity after the collapse of the Islamic Ottoman colonial empire. There was also a clear apology for the Crusades and for Europe's attempt to reach Jerusalem and its environs -- land that was being taken from Christians and occupied by the Arabs of the Arabian Peninsula, whom the Christians then tried to repel; then later again by those who succeeded them.
It is difficult to find today Christian clergy proud of their colonial past. In contrast, many Muslims consider Islamic colonialism and imperialism a liberation of sacred land and part of their religion. There even seems to be a strong stream of Islam that believes that conquering the lands of others is the path to restoring the power and well-being of Muslims.
It therefore would have been appropriate for Al-Tayeb to use the platform of a symposium on the relations between Islam and the West to apologize for -- rather than to ignore -- the crimes of the Arab-Muslim empire, to "build the bridges" he discussed. Although it is true that in 2016, he stated that "there is not any text in the Qur'an about the Caliphate (the Islamic Empire), and some of Islamic caliphate regimes were not fair," he has never condemned the act of Islamic occupation or its crimes. Instead, he said, "There is no doubt that the caliphate is a beautiful dream that achieves the unity of the Muslims and guarantees their strength."
In other words, instead of using a conference on "Islam and the West" to take responsibility for any past conquests, it was used to accuse the West of being to blame for the East-West conflict.
According to Al-Tayeb, in what sounds like a psychological projection, the West is a "global force filled with arrogance and [claims] the right to control others and harness them to achieve their own interests, out of the feeling that it is a pure civilization [with] the absolute right to lead all peoples." This, he said, "is the pretext invoked by the old colonialist onslaught on other peoples and their wealth."
To be sure, the West has committed sins, but it apologizes for them. Meanwhile, the sheikh of Al-Azhar claims that Islam and Muslims are completely innocent, and that the sole culprit is the West. It is a position that completely ignores the Islamic colonial empire that occupied many countries, looting their wealth and committing massacres. Since the seventh century, and not even including southeast Asia, Muslims have invaded and now control the former great Byzantine Empire (now Turkey, where after the genocide of the Armenians and the Pontic Greeks in the last century there are few remaining Christians today), all of North Africa and the Middle East, Greece, Hungary, the Balkans, northern Cyprus and Spain. The genocide of the Armenians in the early twentieth century, for instance, claimed the lives of between one million and one and a half million innocent people.
In the Muslim conquests of India – between the 12th and 16th centuries -- cities were destroyed, people were slaughtered, and those women and children who survived were turned into slaves.
In the 1821 Constantinople Massacre, the Ottomans conducted mass executions, destroyed churches and looted the property of the Greek population.
Sheikh Al-Tayeb not only failed to apologize for the atrocities above, but here are a few examples of what is being taught at the university he heads:
Jews and Christians... are the enemies of God.
Fighting infidels is a duty for every wise, true, free and capable man.
It is permissible to fight infidels without warning and without inviting them to the religion of Islam.
The building of churches is prohibited in Dar al-Islam [lands occupied by Muslims]. Christians wear a different garment and are prevented from riding horses. Christian women are distinguished by wearing an iron collar around their necks.
Today, the West's main problem with many Islamic organizations -- both armed and unarmed -- is that many still dream of, and plan to implement, an "Islamic state" and subsequently the "Islamic colonial empire," or caliphate, across the globe. Perhaps an apology from the sheikh of Al-Azhar might be seen as a denial of the religious foundation of such an empire. Al-Azhar has 2,383 Egyptian students and 40,000 students from different Islamic countries. The institution trains and dispatches hundreds of imams to teach Islam everywhere in the world. In addition, all major Sunni religious educational institutions, such as Dar al-Ulum in India and the Islamic University of Pakistan, follow the teachings of Al-Azhar.
As long as the sheikh of Al-Azhar continues to herald, rather than disavow, the conquests that took place under the Islamic empire, his institution and those affected by it will not "build bridges" but rather continue to heap blame on the West -- which, passively and oddly, continues to accept it.
Saied Shoaaib is a Muslim writer and researcher, specializing in Islamic movements. He is so-author of the recently published book, Submission: The Danger of Political Islam to Canada – With a Warning to America, co-authored with Tom Quiggin, Tahir Gora, Jonathon Cotler, and Rick Gill with a foreword by Raheel Raza. The book is available on Amazon.com in both paperback and Kindle versions.
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This article was published by the Gatestone Institute on February 13, 2019, and can be viewed on their website by clicking here.