It never ceases to amaze me, the lengths to which some people will go to justify themselves and their beliefs. Front Page magazine has a story about a Muslim author who claims that the Islamic conquest of Egypt in the 7th century was about liberating Muslims. Raymond Ibrahim first tells us who this author is:
Consider the case of Fadel Soliman, a celebrated Sharia expert and Arab media darling, who regularly appears on al-Jazeera. Director of the Bridges Foundation—which teaches Muslims “how to present Islam” to non-Muslims—Soliman also lectures at Western universities, churches, and governmental agencies, including the U.S. Dept. of Defense.
He was also the Muslim chaplain at American University in Washington from 2001-2004, so it’s not like he’s some semi-literate tribal imam in Waziristan who makes stuff up because he doesn’t know any better. Keep that in mind when you read this:
His new Arabic book, Copts: Muslims Before Muhammad, asserts that, at the time of the Muslim conquest of Egypt (c. 640), the vast majority of Egyptians were not, as history has long taught, Christians, but rather prototypical Muslims, or muwahidin, who were actually being oppressed by Christians: hence, the Muslim conquest of Egypt wasreally about “liberating” fellow Muslims. Soliman’s evidence is that the Arian sect, which rejected the claim that Jesus was coequal with God, was present in 4th century Egypt. Therefore, according to Soliman, the indigenous Egyptians were practicing Islam hundreds of years before it was founded in the 7th century.
This would come as a major surprise to the Copts, who are not now and never have been Arians, but who rather are Monophysites who rejected the Chalcedonian declaration regarding the two natures of Christ. (They do not dispute that Christ has both a human and a divine nature, but there are disagreements over how to express the relationship between the two.) That the Arian heresy arose in Egypt, and that it held the allegiance of some portion of the population for some period of time, if of course true; it’s also true that by the time of Cyril of Alexandria (Patriarch, 412-444), Arianism in Egypt had been essentially crushed and the church had moved on to other issues. It is also the case that “Arianism” was hardly a united, single theological school or idea, and to correlate the philosophical meanderings of the Arians and semi-Arians with Islam is only possible if one ignores all but the superficial similarities between the two. For instance, the Arians certainly accepted the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, and salvation in His name, as true and historical, which Islam does not. Finally, even if one wanted to ignore these differences and say that the Arians were proto-Muslims and that Islam came to liberate them from the oppression of the Trinitarian Christians, the Arians weren’t Copts!
So on pretty much any level, this claim is nonsensical. So why make it? Ibrahim suggests a couple of possibilities:
Needless to say, no historian has ever suggested that Muslims invaded Egypt to liberate “proto-Muslims.” Rather, the Muslim historians who wrote our primary sources on Islam, candidly and refreshingly present the conquests as they were—conquests, for the glory and empowerment of Islam and its followers at the expense of unbelieving infidels.
Of course, with the weakening of Islam in the modern era, embarrassed Muslims began to euphemize their imperialistic history, portraying jihad as “defensive,” “spiritual,” etc.—culminating with Soliman’s fairy tale. Even the unapologetic Sayyid Qutb, the sheikh of “radical Islam,” interpreted jihad and the conquests as “altruistic” endeavors to “liberate” mankind.
The question remains: Are Islam’s apologists disingenuous or deluded? When it comes to “bridge-building” Soliman—who provides “sensitivity training” to the FBI and Pentagon—one is inclined to answer in the former: his book contains academic crimes, including flagrant mistranslations to support his thesis and wild, but undocumented, assertions (for example, that the Arians, like the Muslims, used to proclaim “There is no god but Allah and Jesus is his prophet”).
That said, Muslim self-deception—typified by the impulsive need to always exonerate Islam—is a very real and widespread phenomenon.
Whether it’s self-deception or deliberate falsehood, either way it say something sad and unfortunate about at least some Muslims. Not that there aren’t Christians who are detached from reality, but this kind of thing is all too prevalent in the Muslim world, as a periodic perusal of sites such as the Middle East Media Research Institute will demonstrate.