Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Islam and the Rise & Fall of Christianity

Muslims know their history. Christians, by and large, do not know theirs. September 11th, for instance, has historical significance. In March of 1936, Belloc wrote about the last real campaign of the Muslim Turks to invade Christian lands: "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." This was the turning point. Following this memorable date, Islamic civilization with all of its political dominance declined while Christian civilization grew more prosperous and powerful.

The Cordoba Initiative, the Islamic movement behind the building of the mosque at Ground Zero, has a great deal of historical meaning for Muslims as well. For sake of the brevity, I will quote an article from the Catholic Culture website: "Originally the site of a Catholic church dedicated to St. James, it was converted to a mosque after the Islamic conquest of southern Spain in the 8th century, and it was converted back to a cathedral when Spain’s Catholic monarchy wrested control of Cordoba from the Muslims in the 13th century." Whatever religious, political and cultural gains were made by Christians after the 13th century, and especially after September 11, 1683, the making of a Ground Zero mosque by the Cordoba Initiative would undoubtedly symbolize for Muslims the recapturing of what was lost during those years.

With that said, Phil Jenkins, in the The Lost History of Christianity, gives us some insights about the tension between Christianity and Islam over the last thousand years. You might be surprised to know how much ground the Church lost to Islam between the eighth-century and the seventeenth-century. But under the wise counsel of God and the Blessed Virgin interceding on our behalf, there is always hope for the future.

Here are some historical considerations to keep mind from the book:

The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia- and How it Died
By: Phil Jenkins

"Dechristianization is one of the least studied aspects of Christian history. Partly, the lack of interest in vanishing churches is a matter of practicality, in that dying organizations tend not to produce records of their own extinction."

"The Statistics of decline are sobering. Look, for instance, at Asia Minor, the region that is often mentioned throughout the New Testament: it is here that we find such historic names as Iconium and Ephesus, Galatia and Bithynia, the seven cities of the book of Revelation...Still in the [year] 1050, the region had 373 bishoprics, and the inhabitants were virtually all Christian, overwhelmingly members of the Orthodox Church. Four hundred years later, the Christian proportion had fallen to 10 or 15 percent of the population, and we can find just three bishops. According to one estimate, the number of Asian Christians fell, between [the year] 1200 and 1500, from 21 million to 3.4 million." [Today, in what was New Testament territory, Muslims are the majority. Where the bells of Cathedrals once rang for the Divine Liturgy, people now hear the "adhan" from the mosques, the call to prayer.]

"Where the African church failed was in not carrying Christianity beyond the Romanized inhabitants of the cities and the great estates and not sinking the roots into the world of native peoples...the African Church made next to no progress in taking the faith to the villages and neighboring tribes, nor, critically, had they tried to evangelize in local languages."

"The strength of early and medieval Christianity was that it created a sanctified landscape in which Christian institutions were visible everywhere."

"Throughout the Middle Ages, Christians saw Muhammad as a schismatic rather than the leader of an alien faith."

"An early story reports that when he captured the sanctuary of Mecca, Muhammad ordered the destruction of all the idols in the temple, except for a figure of the Virgin and child."

"Mark Twain remarked on how often the world had turned out for the burial of Roman Catholicism, only to find it postponed yet again..."

"Nothing so clearly indicates the imminent revival of a religion as a rising torrent of prophecies about its demise."


These are valuable insights and historical lessons. I hope and pray that Christians can learn and adapt accordingly.

Permit me to leave you with one more quote that inspires hope. It is by St. Louis de Monfort, from the book True Devotion. Referring to the Christians of the end times and the nature of their mission, he said:

"These are the great men who are to come; but Mary is the one who, by the order of the Most High, shall fashion them for the purpose of extending His [Jesus] empire over that of the impious, the idolaters and the Muslims. But when and how shall this be? God alone knows."