May 6, 2022

On April 24, the grand imam of Islam’s most prestigious institution, Al Azhar, delivered an address before the heads of state, with Egyptian president al-Sisi sitting in the front row, during state-level celebrations of Laylat al-Qadr (the “Night of Power”), which, in Islamic teaching, is the night when Allah first revealed the Koran to Muhammad.

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Considering the occasion of the speech and the speech-deliverer himself, Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, Islam was praised to the ceiling.  Of especial interest, however, was al-Tayeb’s rendition of history.  At one point, he said:

In just a few years after the death of the prophet Muhammad (Allah pray on and grant him peace), the Islamic conquests [literally, “openings,” futuhat] caused the two most powerful empires that divided and controlled every corner of the Middle East to collapse, and their lands in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and North Africa to become Islamic lands to this very day.

This is true.  The two empires the sheikh refers to are the Eastern Roman Empire (“Byzantium”) and the Sassanian Empire of Persia.  Most of the lands cited by al-Tayeb — from Syria and Egypt in the east to Morocco and Algeria in the west — were Christian and governed by the Eastern Roman Empire.  Only Iran and parts of Iraq were under Sassanian rule and Zoroastrian in religion.  During the seventh century, the Muslims conquered and Islamized all of these lands.

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As usual, however, when it comes to Islamic retellings, facts are quickly mingled with fiction.  After making the above statement, al-Tayeb offered this:

These [Muslim] conquests were not conquests of colonization that rely on the methods of plunder, oppression, control, and the policies of domination and dependency, [all of which] leave nations in ruin.

He went on to condemn conquests of colonization that are about oppression and plunder — a swipe at Europe’s historic colonization of the Middle East — before continuing:

Yes, the Islamic conquests [openings] were not like this — dominating peoples and controlling them with the arrogance of force and weapons; rather, they led to a new avalanche of life — full of knowledge, justice, freedom, and equality — which flowed in the veins of those [once] powerless people.

It is difficult to emphasize how utterly surreal such claims are for those familiar with Islam’s true history.  The conquests of all the Christian lands mentioned by the grand imam (from Syria in the east to Morocco in the west), as well as the lands of later Islamic conquests — ignored by al-Tayeb, as they were eventually overturned — in Spain, the Mediterranean islands, Asia Minor, the Balkans, etc. — featured bloodshed, massacres, terror, enslavement, plunder, and the oppression of the conquered and exploitation of their resources.  Page after page of Sword and Scimitar: Fourteen Centuries of War between Islam and the West clearly document this, based on both Christian and Muslim sources.

Even more absurd is the grand imam’s claim that the Christian and Zoroastrian peoples living under the Eastern Roman and Sassanian empires were happy to be “liberated” by the sword of Islam, and that — seeing that Islam was a religion of “knowledge, justice, freedom, and equality” — they eagerly responded by converting in droves.