This series was published at a time of fervid interest in the religion called Islam. The term “9/11” had come into common parlance, referring to September 11, 2001, the date when terrorists–acting, they declared, in the name of Allah–destroyed the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and a wing of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., killing some twenty-eight hundred people with three hijacked airplanes. A fourth plane fell short of its mark in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania (near Pittsburgh), killing everyone on board.
But mass murder in the cause of Islam was not confined to America. Within a six-month period the following year, 118 people perished when police liberated the eight-hundred-plus audience held hostage in Moscow’s Palace of Culture–before their captors could set off the planted bombs that would have killed them all. Two weeks later, a nightclub was blown up at Bali, island paradise of Indonesia, killing 180 young vacationers. Fifteen days after that, about two hundred people perished in Nigerian riots after Muslim terrorists began setting gasoline-soaked Christians afire to protest a beauty contest. In addition to all this, there were the “little” incidents–six murdered at a Christian school in Pakistan, and four days later, another three shot down at a Christian hospital. At Sidon in Lebanon, Bonnie Witherall, 31, of Lynden, Washington, opened the door of her Alliance Church prenatal clinic one morning and found herself confronting a strange man. He shot her first through the mouth, then put two bullets through her head.
Over all these incidents, the same cry was heard–“Allahu Akbar!”–the Muslim proclamation that “God is great!” Beyond the mere horror of these events, something else was gravely disturbing. In the popular culture of America, all great religions are the same, favoring gentleness, kindness, universal forgiveness, and unfailing mercy. So what these people were doing seemed incomprehensible.
But all the great religions are not the same. While they are remarkably in accord on many moral issues and certainly agree on the existence of God, they are not in accord on the nature of that God, nor in particular on how he would have us treat our enemies. To forgive them is a Christian idea. Comprehending such calamities as 9/11, therefore, means realizing how Islam came about, beginning with the fascinating man Muhammad himself. Such is the chief purpose of this volume.
It has a second purpose. While Christianity and Islam share a common heritage in the Old Testament, they differ dramatically in their origins. From the first Islam was not merely a spiritual movement. It was also a political and military one. In its formative centuries it spread by the sword and it took over governments. Christianity, for its first three pivotal centuries, was spread by the witness of suffering, first by the suffering of Jesus on the cross, then by the ineradicable spectacle of suffering Christian martyrs. While Christians in later years would often fail lamentably to preserve this distinction, it would always remain a standing witness to the Way, the Truth, and the Life that was its Founder.
Christians are frequently castigated in the media over the Crusades, the two hundred-year effort to establish a Christian state in Palestine. This is customarily portrayed as an unprovoked Christian attack. But the Crusades were, in fact, a counterattack, an attempt by Christians to recover the lands and peoples that had been wrested from them during the Muslim conquests three hundred years earlier–as described in this book. The story of the Crusades will be told in a future volume, but the implication of this one is clear–the Christian confrontation with Islam goes back to Islam’s origins, and it is not over.
To read any of the stories contained in Volume Five of The Christians, Their First Two Thousand Years click on its title on the menu to the right. If you prefer to experience the stories beautifully laid out in print with hundreds of magnificent illustrations of the period then we encourage you to support this project by ordering the book from The Christians website.