May 25, 2015
Does This Sound Familiar?

There is a city named Urfa, a regional commercial center in southeast Turkey not far from the Syrian border. It seems an ordinary enough place for the Middle East. But it hides a secret history. And it hides it very well indeed.

Today Edessa scarcely looks like a likely place to which to bring such an important relic of Christ in the earliest centuries. Now named Urfa, it stands in the southeastern border country of Turkey, serving as the commercial center for a somewhat desolate region stretching to the Syrian boundary thirty miles to the south. It is a bustling, thoroughly Moslem town. ... As the guidebooks say, there are few historical remains of any note, and not a single surviving Christian church.

The fact is that the town's appearance is an accident of history, created in the twelfth century when Turkish Moslems took the city, dispersed the Christian population, and wiped out every feature of Christian civilization. For below the tightly packed houses and shops that comprise modern Urfa, under the name Edessa, was one of the famed cities of Christendom. In those days it attracted Christian pilgrims from more than a thousand miles away. It bristled with some three hundred churches and monasteries. In its surrounding cave tombs, now dung-smelling and desolate, lived a population of thousands of hermits and monks, many shunning bread, meat, and wine and leading "so extraordinary a life that it can scarcely be described."
          from The Shroud of Turin by Ian Wilson, revised edition, 1979, page 127.

Does this sound familiar? The time was the twelfth century, but it's the same thing that's happening today. It's what ISIS — the so-called Islamic State — is doing now in the regions they have captured in Syria and Iraq. They are destroying Christian churches with dynamite and bulldozers. They are doing the same with the houses of worship belonging to Jews, Yazidis, and any other non-Muslim group. They are killing or enslaving everyone they can get their hands on that were associated with those places.

There is a common thread in these actions. The ISIS fanatics, like their ideological forbears, want to destroy anything and everything that came before them and their way of thinking and belief. Thus, they are destroying libraries and museums all over Iraq and Syria, including the large ones in Mosul. They are committing crimes against humanity, destroying historic sites including Nimrud (see here, too), Hatra, and Ninevah, as well as the Assyrian capital of Khorsabad. They have also destroyed Jonah's Tomb and a number of other religious tombs and shrines. The same things will probably now happen in Palmyra in Syria.

The ISIS destructive impulse is being applied to more than just pre-Muslim and non-Muslim sites. It also applies to anything that is not part of their particular flavor of Islam. That's because "ISIS is part of a puritanical strain of Islam that considers all religious shrines — Islamic, Christian, Jewish, etc. — idolatrous." So, in addition to anything non-Muslim, they are destroying sites belonging to every group except — as I already noted — their particular flavor of Islam, whether Sufi or Shia or Sunni or anything else. And it has bigger plans for the future — Rome, of course, and the pyramids of Egypt (pre-Islam, non-Muslim) as well as Islam's most sacred mosque (and the Ka'aba) in Mecca. In essence, ISIS seems intent on demonstrating that its members are incapable of moving up to become members of the human race.

But this is not new. As the quotation at the top of this posting attests, Muslim groups have exhibited this kind of behavior for centuries, including the total destruction of Edessa and the ideology-based vandalism in the royal palace (dating from India's Mughal period) at Fatehpur Sikri in India to name just two. The current barbarian set — the Muslim Brotherhood, Taliban, al Qaeda, and Islamic State — are historically recent, but this kind of uncivilized Islamic behavior goes straight back to the time of Mohammed.

ISIS et al. proclaim themselves as fundamentalists. They say they are going back to the original Islam, but it seems to be more like Islam 2.0 — the second version of Islam. The original Islam that Mohammed preached in Mecca was peaceful and tolerant. It was only later that the kind of violent and intolerant ideology characteristic of ISIS began to be preached. Did Mohammed succumb to temptation, as suggested here, and change the revelation given him by Allah's angel for an ideology that would bring him wealth and power? Or were the Mohammed of Islam version 1 and the Mohammed of Islam version 2 two different people? If so, that would make the original Mohammed an early victim of identity theft.

Either way, if ISIS really wants to go back to the original Islam, it and its adherents will have to return to Mohammed's original teachings in Mecca, and become civilized human beings instead of the monsters they are today.

Category: Religion (Islam)
 


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