Strange as it may seem, there are a certain number of highly
educated men, European gentlemen, who have actually joined Islam, that is,
who are personal converts to Mohammedanism. I myself have known and talked
to some half-dozen of them in various parts of the world, and there are a
very much larger number of similar men, well instructed Europeans, who,
having lost their faith in Catholicism or in some form of Protestantism in
which they were brought up, feel sympathy with the Mohammedan social
scheme although they do not actually join it or profess belief in its
religion. We constantly meet men of this kind today among those who have
travelled in the East.
(1) It did not rise within the Church, that is, within the
frontiers of our civilization. Its heresiarch was not a man originally
Catholic who led away Catholic followers by his novel doctrine as did
Arius or Calvin. He was an outsider born a pagan, living among pagans, and
never baptized. He adopted Christian doctrines and selected among them in
the true heresiarch fashion. He dropped those that did not suit him and
insisted on those that did_which is the mark of the heresiarch_but he did
not do this as from within; his action was external.
The fall of Constantinople at the end of the Middle Ages (1453)
was only the beginning of further Mohammedan advances. Islam swept all
over the Balkans; it took all the Eastern Mediterranean islands, Crete and
Rhodes and the rest; it completely occupied Greece; it began pushing up
the Danube valley and northwards into the great plains; it destroyed the
ancient kingdom of Hungary in the fatal battle of Mohacs and at last, in
the first third of the sixteenth century, just at the moment when the
storm of the Reformation had broken out Islam threatened Europe close at
hand, bringing pressure upon the heart of the Empire, at Vienna.
It is not generally appreciated how the success of Luther’s
religious revolution against Catholicism in Germany was due to the way in
which Mohammedan pressure from the East was paralysing the central
authority of the German Emperors. They had to compromise with the leaders
of the religious revolution and try to patch up a sort of awkward peace
between the irreconcilable claims of Catholic authority and Protestant
religious theory in order to meet the enemy at their gates; the enemy
which had already overthrown Hungary and might well overthrow all of
Southern Germany and perhaps reach the Rhine. If Islam had succeeded in
doing this during the chaos of violent civil dissension among the Germans,
due to the launching of the Reformation, our civilization would have been
as effectively destroyed as it would have been if the first rush of the
Mohammedans through Spain had not been checked and beaten back eight
centuries earlier in the middle of France.
Today we are accustomed to think of the Mohammedan world as
something backward and stagnant, in all material affairs at least. We
cannot imagine a great Mohammedan fleet made up of modern ironclads and
submarines, or a great modern Mohammedan army fully equipped with modern
artillery, flying power and the rest. But not so very long ago,
Government centred at Constantinople had better artillery and better army
equipment of every kind than had we Christians in the West. The last
effort they made to destroy Christendom was contemporary with the end of
the reign of Charles II in England and of his brother James and of the
usurper William III. It failed during the last years of the seventeenth
century, only just over two hundred years ago. Vienna, as we saw, was
almost taken and only saved by the Christian army under the command of the
King of Poland on a date that ought to be among the most famous in
history-_September 11, 1683. But the peril remained, Islam was still
immensely powerful within a few marches of Austria and it was not until
the great victory of Prince Eugene at Zenta in 1697 and the capture of
Belgrade that the tide really turned_and by that time we were at the end
of the seventeenth century.
It should be fully grasped that the generation of Dean Swift, the
men who saw the court of Louis XIV in old age, the men who saw the
Hanoverians brought in as puppet Kings for England by the dominating
English wealthy class, the men who saw the apparent extinction of Irish
freedom after the failure of James II’s campaign at the Boyne and the
later surrender of Limerick, all that lifetime which overlapped between
the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth century,
was dominated by a vivid memory of a Mohammedan threat which had nearly
nearly made good and which apparently might in the near future be
repeated. The Europeans of that time thought of Mohammedanism as we think
of Bolshevism or as white men in Asia think of Japanese power today.
What happened was something quite unexpected; the Mohammedan power
began to break down on the material side. The Mohammedans lost the power
of competing successfully with the Christians in the making of those
instruments whereby dominion is assured; armament, methods of
communication and all the rest of it. Not only did they not advance, they
went back. Their artillery became much worse than ours. While our use of
the sea vastly increased, theirs sank away till they had no first class
ships with which to fight naval battles.
All during the nineteenth century the process continued. As a
result, Mohammedan North Africa was gradually subjected to European
control; the last independent piece to go being Morocco. Egypt fell under
the control of England. Long before that Greece had been liberated, and
the Balkan States. Half a lifetime ago it was taken for granted everywhere
that the last remnants of Mohammedan power in Europe would disappear
To what was due this collapse? I have never seen an answer to that
question. There was no moral disintegration from within, there was no
intellectual breakdown; you will find the Egyptian or Syrian student
today, if you talk to him on any philosophical or scientific subject which
he has studied, to be the equal of any European. If Islam has no physical
science now applied to any of its problems, in arms and communications, it
has apparently ceased to be part of our world and fallen definitely below
it. Of every dozen Mohammedans in the world today, eleven are actually or
virtually subjects of an Occidental power.It would seem, I repeat, as
though the great duel was now decided.
But can we be certain it is so decided? I doubt it very much. It
has always seemed to me possible, and even probable, that there would be a
resurrection of Islam and that our sons or our grandsons would see the
renewal of that tremendous struggle between the Christian culture and what
has been for more than a thousand years its greatest opponent.
And so on with the other heresies. But Mohammedanism, though it
also contained errors side by side with those great truths, flourished
thirteen hundred years have passed since its first great victories in
Syria. The causes of this vitality are very difficult to explore, and
perhaps cannot be reached. For myself I should ascribe it in some part to
the fact that Mohammedanism being a thing from the outside, a heresy that
did not arise from within the body of the Christian community but beyond
its frontiers, has always possessed a reservoir of men, newcomers pouring
in to revivify its energies. But that cannot be a full explanation;
perhaps Mohammedanism would have died but for the successive waves of
recruitment from the desert and from Asia; perhaps it would have died if
the Caliphate at Baghdad had been left entirely to itself; and if the
Moors in the West had not been able to draw upon continual recruitment
from the South.
In view of this, anyone with a knowledge of history is bound to
ask himself whether we shall not see in the future a revival of Mohammedan
political power, and the renewal of the old pressure of Islam upon
These things being so, the recrudescence of Islam, the possibility
of that terror under which we lived for centuries reappearing, and of our
civilization again fighting for its life against what was its chief enemy
for a thousand years, seems fantastic. Who in the Mohammedan world today
can manufacture and maintain the complicated instruments of modern war?
Where is the political machinery whereby the religion of Islam can play an
equal part in the modern world?
I say the suggestion that Islam may re-arise sounds fantastic_but
this is only because men are always powerfully affected by the immediate
past:_one might say that they are blinded by it.
Cultures spring from religions; ultimately the vital force which
maintains any culture is its philosophy, its attitude toward the universe;(Change the thought to our universe)
the decay of a religion involves the decay of the culture corresponding to
it_we see that most clearly in the breakdown of Christendom today. The bad
work begun at the Reformation is bearing its final fruit in the
dissolution of our ancestral doctrines_the very structure of our society
In the place of the old Christian enthusiasms of Europe there
came, for a time, the enthusiasm for nationality, the religion of
patriotism. But self-worship is not enough, and the forces which are
making for the destruction of our culture, notably the Jewish Communist
propaganda from Moscow, have a likelier future before them than our
There was another more intelligent suggestion made in the
nineteenth century, which was this:_that the decline of Islam had
proceeded from its fatal habit of perpetual civil division: the splitting
up and changeability of political authority among the Mohammedans. But
that weakness of theirs was present from the beginning; it is inherent in
the very nature of the Arabian temperament from which they started. Over
and over again this individualism of theirs, this “fissiparous” tendency
of theirs, has gravely weakened them; yet over and over again they have
suddenly united under a leader and accomplished the greatest things.
Now it is probable enough that on these lines_unity under a
leader_the return of Islam may arrive. There is no leader as yet, but
enthusiasm might bring one and there are signs enough in the political
heavens today of what we may have to expect from the revolt of Islam at
some future date_perhaps not far distant.
The truth is that Islam permanently wounded the
east of our civilization in such fashion the barbarism partly returned.
The Great and Enduring Heresy of Mohammed [Part II]
by Hilaire Belloc
[A Heresy Without the Church]
If anyone sets down… points [of the heresy that Mohammed created] that orthodox Catholicism has [something] in common with Mohammedanism, and those points only, one might imagine if one went no further that there should have been no cause of quarrel. Mohammed would almost seem in this aspect to be a sort of missionary, preaching and spreading by the energy of his character the chief and fundamental doctrines of the Catholic Church among those who had hitherto been degraded pagans of the Desert. He gave to Our Lord the highest reverence, and to Our Lady also, for that matter. On the day of judgment (another Catholic idea which he taught) it was Our Lord, according to Mohammed, who would be the judge of mankind, not he, Mohammed. The Mother of Christ, Our Lady, “the Lady Miriam” was ever for him the first of womankind. His followers even got from the early fathers some vague hint of her Conception.
But the central point where this new heresy struck home with a mortal blow against Catholic tradition was a full denial of the Incarnation.
Mohammed did not merely take the first steps toward that denial, as the Arians and their followers had done; he advanced a clear affirmation, full and complete, against the whole doctrine of an incarnate God. He taught that Our Lord [Jesus] was the greatest of all the prophets, but still only a prophet: a man like other men. He eliminated the Trinity altogether.
With that denial of the Incarnation went the whole sacramental structure. He refused to know anything of the Eucharist, with its Real Presence; he stopped the sacrifice of the Mass, and therefore the institution of a special priesthood. In other words, he, like so many other lesser heresiarchs, founded his heresy on simplification.
Catholic doctrine was true (he seemed to say), but it had become encumbered with false accretions; it had become complicated by needless man-made additions, including the idea that its founder was Divine, and the growth of a parasitical caste of priests who battened on a late, imagined, system of Sacraments which they alone could administer. All those corrupt accretions must be swept away.
There is thus a very great deal in common between the enthusiasm with which Mohammed’s teaching attacked the priesthood, the Mass and the sacraments, and the enthusiasm with which Calvinism, the central motive force of the Reformation, did the same. As we all know, the new teaching relaxed the marriage laws_but in practice this did not affect the mass of his followers who still remained monogamous. It made divorce as easy as possible, for the sacramental idea of marriage disappeared. It insisted upon the equality of men, and it necessarily had that further factor in which it resembled Calvinism_the sense of predestination, the sense of fate; of what the followers of John Knox were always calling “the immutable decrees of God.”
Mohammed’s teaching never developed among the mass of his followers, or in his own mind, a detailed theology. He was content to accept all that appealed to him in the Catholic scheme and to reject all that seemed to him, and to so many others of his time, too complicated or mysterious to be true. Simplicity was the note of the whole affair; and since all heresies draw their strength from some true doctrine, Mohammedanism drew its strength from the true Catholic doctrines which it retained: the equality of all men before God_”All true believers are brothers.” It zealously preached and throve on the paramount claims of justice, social and economic.
Now, why did this new, simple, energetic heresy have its sudden overwhelming success?
One answer is that it won battles. It won them at once, as we shall see when we come to the history of the thing. But winning battles could not have made Islam permanent or even strong had there not been a state of affairs awaiting some such message and ready to accept it.
Both in the world of Hither Asia and in the Graeco-Roman world of the Mediterranean, but especially in the latter, society had fallen, much as our society has today, into a tangle wherein the bulk of men were disappointed and angry and seeking for a solution to the whole group of social strains. There was indebtedness everywhere; the power of money and consequent usury. There was slavery everywhere. Society reposed upon it, as ours reposes upon wage slavery today. There was weariness and discontent with theological debate, which, for all its intensity, had grown out of touch with the masses. There lay upon the freemen, already tortured with debt, a heavy burden of imperial taxation; and there was the irritant of existing central government interfering with men’s lives; there was the tyranny of the lawyers and their charges.
The marvel seems to be, not so much that the new emancipation swept over men much as we might imagine Communism to sweep over our industrial world today, but that there should still have remained, as there remained for generations, a prolonged and stubborn resistance to Mohammedanism.
There you have, I think, the nature of Islam and of its first original blaze of victory.
To all this Islam came as a vast relief and a solution of strain. The slave who admitted that Mohammed was the prophet of God and that the new teaching had, therefore, divine authority, ceased to be a slave. The slave who adopted Islam was henceforward free. The debtor who “accepted” was rid of his debts. Usury was forbidden. The small farmer was relieved not only of his debts but of his crushing taxation. Above all, justice could be had without buying it from lawyers . . . All this in theory. The practice was not nearly so complete. Many a convert remained a debtor, many were still slaves. But wherever Islam conquered there was a new spirit of freedom and relaxation.
It was the combination of all these things, the attractive simplicity of the doctrine, the sweeping away of clerical and imperial discipline, the huge immediate practical advantage of freedom for the slave and riddance of anxiety for the debtor, the crowning advantage of free justice under few and simple new laws easily understood_that formed the driving force behind the astonishing Mohammedan social victory. The courts were everywhere accessible to all without payment and giving verdicts which all could understand. The Mohammedan movement was essentially a “Reformation,” and we can discover numerous affinities between Islam and the Protestant Reformers_on Images, on the Mass, on Celibacy, etc.
My Comment: Considering the Violent and radical history of the faith of Islam, one would wonder if Mohammed, by reading the Christian bible and the Psalms he would follow the literal meaning of some of the text, taken out of context to his delight, or took such text in its literal sense instead of its abstract or impressionistic meaning. As follows:
149:4 For the LORD taketh pleasure in his people: he will beautify the meek with salvation.
149:5 Let the saints be joyful in glory: let them sing aloud upon their beds.
149:6 Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hand;
149:7 To execute vengeance upon the heathen, and punishments upon the people;
149:8 To bind their kings with chains, and their nobles with fetters of iron; to carry out the sentence pre-ordained; this honor is for all his faithful.