Here is a quick write up on the expansion of Islam according to a couple of Christian books I am working through on Islam (one by a former Muslim scholar turned Evangelical and the second put out by Caleb Project). I wanted to post it in order to get some dialogue going on our cultural understanding of Islam. It is distressing to me that there are so many shared similarities between Christianity and Islam, and yet it seems that Christians are generally willing to go on picking the speck out of Muhammad’s eye while the plank is still firmly in place in their own. Here are the works in question:
It is certainly no secret that history is written by the “winners.” However, in a nation that embraces freedom of speech and other inalienable rights, it is also no secret that nationalism, political affiliation, regional prejudices, and religious views will create lenses through which we view human history. Unfortunately, whatever the cause may be, the effect is always a myopic view of the past. If this is indeed indicative of how we “do history” as human beings, the careful and discerning consumption of accounts from a variety of traditions is the student’s best hope at deriving the truth. All philosophies of history aside, is it any more reasonable to base historicity on the account of a rival than it is to assert some sort of naive prime facie acceptance of an institution’s self-history? In the spirit of compassionate and heartfelt ministry, Braswell and Colin Chapman (“The Spread and Development of Islam” in Swartley) both present histories covering the expansion of Islam that soften the blow of the nationalist American and religious Judeo/Christian lenses, but one still cannot shake the feeling that the agenda colors the product.
Braswell claims that there are no less than five causes for the rapid spread of Islam. First, the Muslims encourage adherents to have large families. The outcome is a kind of grassroots population surge of constituents who are born and raised in the tenets of the faith. Second, Islam has strong roots in a mercantile mentality. Muslims have always been accustomed to adapting to life within distant cultures, because that is where travel associated with trade took them. Third, Islam is a “missionary religion.” Consequently, it is the duty of both individual Muslims and Muslim communities to spread the message of Muhammad to all corners of civilization. Fourth, Islam is presentable in simple to understand terms. While the relative complexity of Islamic theology is debatable, the interface that Muslim communities offer to non-Muslims is straight forward and easily disseminated. Finally, Braswell asserts that Islam is receptive of cultural distinctives, and is willing to integrate national or regional beliefs into itself.
Chapman cites that the spread of Islam was due to at least two reasons that Braswell does not breach. First, Chapman believes that Islam experienced prodigious growth largely because the Christian church failed to execute its own mission. The contention is that Christianity was so schismatic and untoward in matters of institutional propriety that it was impotent to stop the rise of a rival. Second, Chapman explains that Islam succeeded in imperialistic terms largely because of conquest and subsequent economic pressures exerted on those among the conquered that refused to immediately convert. Chapman is careful to note that the heavily culturalized view of Islamic military expansion as a cruel and bloody campaign against the infidel is hardly an accurate depiction.
While the spread of Islam may be alarming to many Christians and the exact details of how jihad is actually carried out are fuzzy, it is mostly tragic to see how the conflict between Christian/Islamic and Western/Middle Eastern factions has distorted some of the more meaningful contributions of Islamic expansion. Many will be shocked, if not struck with disbelief, to find out that Algebra, many of our medical advances, and educational system were all products of Islam. It was necessary, but (I suspect) wholly ineffective for both authors to mention the multitudinous contributions that Muslims have made to the joys and comforts of modern life. What will ultimately prove ineffective about their assertions is the continued blind adherence that many (Christians included) will continue to place in nationalism, political affiliation, regional prejudices, religious views, et al.