On This Date in History: It was a relatively quiet day on September 11, 2001. The national media was absorbed with Shark Attacks and the Chandra Levy investigation. That’s all we heard about. That’s what the news folks thought was important and those stories dominated the headlines. By September 12, those stories were nowhere to be found because on this date in 2001, two of the largest buildings in the world, the World Trade Center Twin Towers in New York City were struck by two hijacked airliners. A third hijacked airliner struck the worlds largest building, The Pentagon in Washington, DC. Hijackers on a 4th airliner that day is suspected to be enroute for supposed another suicide attack. Speculation is that it was headed to Washington DC with the intended target either the White House or the Capitol building. But, passengers on board fought the hijackers and the plane did not make it to its intended target. Instead it crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. In all, over 3000 Americans died that day. I’ve posted an explainer of why the Twin Towers came down while the Empire State Building survived being struck by a bomber just after the conclusion of World War II. It wasn’t the first time that terrorists tried to bring down the Twin Towers. On February 26, 1993 a huge bomb exploded in the basement of one of the towers in an attempt to undermine the foundation. The terrorists tried to bring down the building once, then succeeded the second time around.
The world has seen the video of the planes. There are numerous witnesses and records of phone calls from people on the planes. Yet, amazingly, you will find comments all over the internet and in the media from people who insist that events of that day was a government plot. In recent years, the day seems to have become more politicized. Last years, it was discovered the an appointed official in the adminstration, Van Jones, signed a petition in 2004 that called for the exposure of the “official lies and cover up surrounding the events of 911.” Jones later apologized and resigned his position as “Green Czar.” The president, in 2009, called for the day to be designated as a day of service. That caused some reaction from those who thought that a day of rememberance would have been more appropriate. This year, we have the guy in Florida who has gained world wide attention with his threat to mark the 9th anniversary of the attack on America by burning the Qur’an. Also, the controversy regarding the proposed Mosque near the World Trade Center site in New York continues to smolder.
But, how much do Americans really know about Islam? Many people do not realize that America’s war with the Barbary Pirates was a conflict with Muslims halfway around the world. We’ve heard all sorts of things in the media but I suspect that most people probably have never really done a study, let alone read the Qur’an to draw conclusions for themselves. Often, we let other people or tv networks tell us what is supposed to be the truth and believe the conclusions of those whom we want to believe instead of actually doing some homework and making a judgement for ourselves. Now, there is no way to fully explain Islam in a limited space, any more than it is possible to explain Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism or any of the world’s religions. But, I can offer a brief historical, not theological, perspective of the origins of Islam in an effort to perhaps encourage others to really look into the subject so that they may be able to think for themselves and draw their own conclusions. Remember, I am drawing from historians, not theologians with the bulk of the information coming from the perspective of Professor of History Dr. Dennis Sherman, most recently from the John Jay College, City University of New York and Dr. Joyce Salisbury. Professor Emerita from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
In the early 7th century, what is commonly referred to today as the Middle East was sorta sandwiched in between two great empires. It belonged neither to the Byzantine Empire nor the Persian Empire. The specific area to which I refer would be the Arabian Peninsula and it featured some settled populations which often surrounded an oasis. Like today, much of the region was desert. Bedouin tribes roamed the region and, in large measure, the Arabs worhiped objects like springs or stones and also a large ancient meteor that had landed before any written history. During the wars between the Byzantines and Persians, the land route to the Far East became rather hazardous through the region known as Mesopotamia and so traders from Egypt and Constantinople thought it may be a safer route to travel through the town of Mecca on their way to the Red Sea. Seveal oasis towns profited greatly from the increase in trade, most notably, Mecca. It just so happened that the ancient meteorite was housed in a shrine at Mecca. So Bedouins and other Arabs came to the city and, with trade thriving, they mixed with Christians and Jews. In some sense, it was rather cosmopolitan and new ideas spread throughout the Arabian Peninsula.
Now, Muhammad (570-632) was an orphan who was taken in by his uncle in Mecca. He grew up to be a merchant and did pretty well for himself in business and in marriage. He wed a wealthy widow who was also a successful businesswoman. He was considered to be a good an honest man. When he was 40 years old, Muhammad claimed to have had visions. He said he had visions while he slept in which an angel said, “Recite! Thy Lord…taught by the pen, taught that which they knew not unto men.” When he woke up, he said he saw the angel Gabriel. What is interesting is that this Gabriel was the same Gabriel that visited Mary in Christian history and told of the coming of Jesus. Gabriel is said to have told Mary about Jesus and some 600 years later told Muhammad to be the apostle to his people. Over the next 20 years, Islamic tradition claims that he received 114 more revelations. Those revelations were recorded as the word of God (Allah) in the Arabic language.
Muhammad believed the God who spoke to him was the same God who spoke to the Jews and the Christians and that he, Muhammad, was to join the prophets who followed before him: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus. He said all of these men spoke the truth but that the Jews and Christians had strayed away from their truth and added to the simple truth of the Gospels by developing theological complexity. So, I suppose that the idea is that Allah was speaking through Muhammad in order to restate the truth that had been lost and set the world straight. One must remember that, by this time, the Christian church had indeed become part of the Roman Empire. In my view, Christianity in the 7th century probably would not have been recognized by Paul of Tarsus who influenced the spread of Christianity by word of mouth. Also, think of the statues and paintings made popular in the Christian church while considering that the edict that images of Muhammad are forbidden arise from the desire to prevent Muhammad from becoming the focus or deification of the faith rather than the message.
The word Islam means “surrender to God” or “submit” and when Muhammad finally began to speak of his visions, the only person who intially would listen to him and convert was his wife. A few friends listened and considered what he was saying but the city had become pretty wealthy and business boomed partly due to pilgrims coming to worship the meteorite. So, there wasn’t a whole lot of interest in a prophet who might disrupt the apple cart. So, in 622, Muhammad and a few followers left Mecca for Medina, about 250 miles to the North. Like the birth of Christ marks the beginning of the new era in the Christian calendar, Muslims consider 622AD as year 1 on their calendar. From Medina, the word spread to Bedouin tribes who converted and then focused their warfare on unbelievers instead of on each other. Eventually, they all came together as a single group and in 628 AD, Muhammad returned to Mecca. Salisbury and Sherman describe his return as a “victorious” return. PBS has an outline of the violence and concept of Jihad the developed during the period. Many of the city dwellers in Mecca who would not listen to Muhammad 6 years prior suddenly were convinced when Muhammad returned with his followers and Bedouin tribesman. In ancient times, it was not uncommon for new religions to adopt some aspect of a previous belief system so the meteorites shrine was kept as the meteor itself was deemed to be sacred to Allah. To this day, Pilgrims converge on Mecca and the shrine as focal point to prayer.
That is a brief early history of Islam and is certainly not complete. But, it should be enough to encourage more interest in how Islam initially spread. Remember, Christianity spread for about 6 centuries by word of mouth before it was taken in by the Roman empire. And, there is a link between Judaism, Christianity and Islam; in fact, it can be argued there are several links. That makes the events of today even more complex and confusing considering that so much controversy, ill-will and violence has continued for centuries between 3 religions that have, at the very least, loose links of commonality. That attacks of September 11, 20o1 one remain incomprehensible to me and the words of Sir Winston Churchill to the students of the Harrow School in England in a speech just after the Battle of Britain in 1940 should apply to Americans today:
“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
However, it may be instructive to learn for ourselves…to not let others to tell you what to think or what is true or not true. Don’t necessarily believe what I have written or only the work of Salisbury or Sherman or the guy in Florida or the guy trying to build the mosque in New York, the President of the United States or a leader from the Middle East. Instead, take the time to research and look at the entire historiography so that, when you draw a conclusion, you have a substanative foundation for your views. It’s an important subject and one that will most likely be with us for all of our lifetimes. We should never forget this date in history, but it may be more important to determine how we as a nation and as individuals will proceed in the future. It seems to me that we have yet to reach a consensus on how we move forward from here and its not going to get any better until everyone understands more fully the context of the situation.
Weather Bottom Line: The warm front of which I spoke yesterday will lift through the region early Saturday morning. There may be some rain and t’storms associated with the warm front. That will open the door for warm, moist, unstable air from the south and we will probably have enough time for the atmosphere to load up ahead of a cold front that will move through the area Saturday evening. With temperatures rising to the mid to upper 80’s on Saturday afternoon and moisture surging northward, the cold front will have plenty to work with and so rain and t’storms are likely. It is still not out of the question for some of the storms could be rather strong. Sunday will be quite pleasant with highs in the upper 70’s and low 80’s and tons of sun.