Al-Azhar, the Muslim world’s most prestigious if not authoritative Islamic university, recently blasted Jerome, the archbishop of Athens and all Greece, for saying during a January 14 interview that “Islam, its people, is not a religion but a political party” — that Muslims are “the people of war … who seek expansion,” which is a “characteristic of Islam.”
Instead of replying with outrage and accusations of “Islamophobia” — as Turkey and other nations did, on January 19, the Observatory, a branch of Al-Azhar, denounced “these irresponsible statements by the archbishop of Athens,” adding that they are “merely farcical and empty claims — trivialities unworthy of responding to or discussing.”
Why? Because, continued Al Azhar, “Islam is the final, heavenly message that Allah Almighty sent to our master Muhammad, the seal of the prophets and apostles, to bring humanity from out of the darkness and clutches of ignorance and into the light of truth and the sun of guidance.”
To anyone unconvinced by this hagiographic explanation, Al-Azhar continued:
Accusing Muslims of being people of war and expansion is a pure lie — a fraud and falsification of Muslim history, which is replete with forgiveness and pardon[.] … The Prophet’s invasions were either in defense of Muslims or to discipline those who reneged on their pacts[.] … [Islamic history] is inconsistent with the claim that Muslims want to expand!
Indeed, the only thing not inconsistent here is Al-Azhar’s denial of the militant, expansionist history of Islam. For example, on April 30, 2020, during his televised program, which is watched by millions in Egypt and the Arab world, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb — Al-Azhar’s grand imam and Pope Francis’s close ally — declared that “Islam doesn’t seek war or bloodshed, and Muslims only fight back to defend themselves.”
This somewhat surreal claim was even the grand conclusion reached at — and therefore making a mockery of — a recent mega-conference dedicated to finding solutions to “extremism.” Al-Azhar hosted the conference in Egypt by Al-Azhar, convening leading representatives from 46 Muslim nations. Sheikh al-Tayeb capped off the two-day conference by again declaring:
Jihad in Islam is not synonymous with fighting; rather, the fighting practiced by Prophet Muhammad and his companions is one of its types; and it is to ward off the aggression of the aggressors against Muslims, as opposed to killing those who offend in [matters of] religion, as the extremists claim. The established sharia rule in Islam bans antagonism for those who oppose the religion. Fighting them is forbidden — as long as they do not fight Muslims.
Needless to say, such claims fly in the face of more than a millennium of well-documented Islamic history. Beginning with Muhammad — whose later wars were hardly defensive, but rather raids meant to empower and aggrandize himself and his followers over non-Muslims — and under the first “righteous” caliphs and virtually all subsequent sultans and rulers, jihad consisted of “inviting” neighboring non-Muslims to embrace Islam or at the very least submit themselves to its political authority (as second-class dhimmis); if non-Muslims refused, as they almost always did, if they insisted on maintaining their own religious identity and freedom from Islam, then jihad was proclaimed, the non-Muslims’ lands were invaded, and the aftermath looked like an ISIS setting, with pyramids of heads, burned churches and other temples of worship, and slave markets of women and children littering the landscape.
One need only look at a map of the Muslim world today and realize that the vast majority of it — all of the Middle East, North Africa, Turkey, Central Asia, as far east as Pakistan and farther — was taken by violent conquest in the name of jihad. There is nothing “defensive” about that.
Indeed, within the context of his interview, Archbishop Jerome’s words were especially accurate, for he was discussing the Islamic conquest of Constantinople in 1453. As with the aforementioned Muslim conquests preceding it, the only reason it was attacked and its citizens treated in mind-boggling ways is because it refused to submit to Islam, preferring to remain Christian, as it had been for over a thousand years.
In short, the history and subsequent expansion of Islam is almost entirely based on violent conquest, or jihad. Anyone who denies that — and that goes for the Muslim world’s most prestigious and authoritative institution, Al-Azhar — is the one making “farcical and empty claims — trivialities unworthy of responding to or discussing.”
Raymond Ibrahim, author of Sword and Scimitar: Fourteen Centuries of War between Islam and the West, is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a Judith Rosen Friedman Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute.