Much of history since the seventh century has been shaped by an unending conflict between the One True Church and Islam.
Today’s Church having fallen into a sorry state with many of her members no longer understanding that they belong to the One True Church, the conflict between her and the false religion is widely seen now as ended. Indeed, that it is ended, or ought never to have existed, is positively averred by many, including high Church officials. It is even claimed that followers of Christ and followers of Mohammed worship “the same God.”
So anxious are Church officials not to offend followers of the false religion that they have taken the lead in no longer referring to it according to the name by which it was known to Christians until a few years ago. That was Mohammedanism. Today they call the thing Islam, exactly as would a good Mohammedan — who is now supposed to be known only as a Muslim.
It is ignored that leading Mohammedan personalities routinely continue to speak of Christians as “infidels,” “infidel dogs,” “devils,” and so on. Alas, the most fervently irenic ecumaniacs cannot hide the news when a Mohammedan in a position to do something about it declares a jihad or “holy war” against the “infidels.” A recent example of that was when Osama bin Laden called for such from his Afghan redoubt. It was terribly embarrassing for all the Christians who lack sufficient belief in their religion to fight for it anymore.
Though it was far from being the case in the past, unwillingness to uphold the Faith and Christian interests in general now characterizes most of the world once known as Christendom. For instance, now that the Mohammedans have been allowed to construct one of the world’s largest mosques in the very capital of Christianity, Rome, it becomes difficult to remember that within the lifetime of very many yet living, Italy was still Catholic enough that a head of that nation’s government, Benito Mussolini, agreed to permit the same thing — provided the construction of a Catholic cathedral were allowed in Mecca. Naturally Mussolini’s proposal went unanswered. Of course, he was a Fascist and nobody wants to be considered one of those. Indeed, that is probably why so many today fear being taken for Christians, as they might by speaking forthrightly on the historical conflict between their Faith and Mohammedanism. Christian and “fascist,” after all, are terms that have been made more-or-less synonymous in this day and age. To speak of Mohammedanism instead of Islam has to be hopelessly retrograde.
It is the language that will be used in the lines that follow, lines that will trace some of the history of the conflict between Christians and Mohammedans, the reasons for it, and where it stands today. However, the purpose of these lines will be less to treat of Mohammedanism than to recall the heroism of warriors and saints who withstood and very often triumphed over one of the chief historical threats to the Faith. This will be to speak of men who still believed sufficiently in the Faith to fight for it. Recalling the depth of their belief and willingness to sacrifice will provide a perspective for viewing more recent events and developments.
Keeping the right perspective is important when a subject like the present one is at hand. We may want to acknowledge, for example, what has been emphasized by others: that Christian knights on Crusade learned something about chivalry from their Mohammedan adversaries. For the right perspective, however, we shall also want to remember what others ignore: that, for example, North Africa was the granary of Europe at the time of St. Augustine. It was the Mohammedans who turned the region into a desert after they conquered it.
If political correctness now requires that fact to be ignored, it touches upon the principal religious difference between ourselves and the Mohammedans. This difference goes a long way toward explaining why the Mohammedans, virtually from the inception of their false religion, have sought to subjugate Christians. It is fitting, therefore, to have it in mind as we outline the historical record of their effort, and the Christian resistance to it.
The so-called Catechism of the Catholic Church that was published a few years ago says that Christians and Mohammedans worship “the same God,” but the Mohammedans do not agree. They hold that our belief in the Holy Trinity makes us polytheists, and it puts us in violation of their fundamental dogma: “There is no God but the true God; and Mohammed is His prophet.” The “true God” is the Mohammedan’s unitarian Allah.1 This fundamental dogma amounts to the entirety of the Mohammedan’s Creed.
Of course, it is our belief in the Holy Trinity, and specifically belief in its Second Person becoming incarnate, that makes us Christians, not polytheists, but the greatest cultivators of this world and its goods that the world has ever known. After all, if the world is good enough for God to come into it, it must be very good indeed. It is to be cherished, tended, made more fecund, its goods multiplied by our husbandry. In comparison to our trinitarian belief, the Mohammedan’s unitarianism is sterile. It should not be surprising that it would produce a desert where Christians had fields of wheat and vineyards.
Vineyards? It is a tangential point, but it should not be surprising, either, that a religion that produces deserts would also prohibit the drinking of alcohol, and Mohammedanism does that. Christians (Catholics, that is) know that like other goods, even including love, alcohol can be abused, but it exists wherever they live. That is the case even in predominantly Mohammedan lands. For instance, having tasted a couple of them, this writer can attest that Christians living around Mosul in northern Iraq make some quite good wines.
At least they did in years past. It is unclear how much vitality Iraq’s once-thriving Christian communities still possess after all the bombing of the Gulf War, all the bombing since then, and all the deprivation caused by U.S.-dictated economic sanctions. (Reference to Iraq is far from irrelevant to the present discussion. The belligerency directed against that predominantly Mohammedan country exemplifies the attitude and actual policies of much of the formerly Christian, U.S.-led West toward Mohammedans in general. On the one hand, we oppose them in the Middle East because they have too often threatened Israel and our oil supplies. On the other, we support them in Europe (Bosnia and Kosovo) because their success will further deChristianize the Continent. For a like reason — that it will further dilute America’s former Christian identity — their growing presence here at home is welcomed officially. That is, even as our identity was broadened from Christian to “Judeo-Christian” during the past 50 years, is it too farfetched to imagine it being broadened still further to become Islamo-Judeo-Christian?)
The Mohammedan conquest of North Africa and subsequent conversion of Christian lands like Egypt began less than a hundred years after the death of the founder of the false religion. It was part of a gigantic pincers movement aimed at Christianity’s heartland, Europe. With Mohammedanism’s home country, Arabia, as its base, it engulfed North Africa, leapt the Straits of Gibraltar, drove up the Iberian Peninsula, crossed the Pyrenees, and advanced as far as Poitiers in France before it was beaten back across the mountains. That was in the west. In the east, it moved in a northerly direction, despoiling the Christian Byzantine Empire’s Levantine provinces, but was halted at the empire’s capital, Constantinople. It would be centuries later, but the great city would eventually fall, Mohammedans would occupy most of the Balkans, and be stopped only at the gates of Vienna. That was as late as 1683. In a few moments we shall look more closely at the Mohammedan drive to conquer the “polytheists” of Europe, but we need to pause to consider “the Prophet” himself.
Mohammed was born in Mecca in 570. Quite a lot is known about him, but not everything. We know that his father was named Abdalluh and that he died either before Mohammed was born or when he was still an infant. We know his mother died when he was six and that he was then raised by an uncle, Abu Talib. We also know that after spending his youth and young manhood as a shepherd and caravan attendant, he married a rich widow, a woman fifteen years older than himself, when he was 25. She bore him six children, only one of whom, his daughter Fatima, outlived him. We do not know how much he knew about Christianity.
The great Hilaire Belloc regarded Mohammedanism as a heresy, like another of the chief historical threats to the Faith, Protestantism. One ought always to hesitate before challenging Belloc, but he can be wrong. He (and G.K. Chesterton) was wrong about the French Revolution. It was not a good thing. The view here is that he was also wrong about Mohammedanism. It should not be seen as a heresy.
Still, the Prophet clearly knew something about Christianity, probably in its Nestorian form, because there are elements of it in the false religion he put together. However, there are also Jewish elements in it, and elements of pagan cults, including the famous pilgrimage to Mecca required of every Mohammedan, that still existed in Arabia at the time of his birth.
To see Mohammedanism as merely a heresy is like regarding another false and very powerful and dangerous religion, Mormonism, as no more than that. The latter may formally call itself the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, but strictly speaking there is practically nothing Christian about its bizarre theology.
Our mention of Mormonism is not accidental. There are similarities between Mohammed and Mormonism’s founder, Joseph Smith. Both claimed their religion was “revealed” to them by angelic visitations, both produced a “holy” book as a consequence, and, most of all, they both seem essentially to have made things up as they went along. Of course, men who followed them also added to the original “revelation,” or took it in a wholly different direction. Brigham Young and others were certainly responsible for some of the weirder features of Mormonism. After Mohammed, you get people like the Alawites. They take their name from Ali, Fatima’s husband. President Hafez al-Assad of Syria is one, as are hundreds of thousands of his countrymen, Syria being their main center. Instead of prostrating themselves in the direction of Mecca when they pray, they bow toward the sun because they believe that is where Ali lives.
In a word, the Alawites have about the same relation to Mohammedanism as the Mormons have to Christianity, and Mohammedanism itself is no more closely related to the One True Church.
It was when he was 40 that Mohammed claimed to have his first visitation from the Archangel Gabriel. The purported visitations continued for twenty-two years. What Gabriel “revealed” on these occasions are the basis of the Koran, Mohammed’s “holy” book. It is one of two collections of sayings or teachings that are the foundation of Mohammedanism. The other is the Sunna, or Hadith. It is a compilation of things the Prophet is supposed to have said or done during his lifetime. Scholars believe it was completed in the form in which it now exists during the 9th century.
After Gabriel’s claimed visits to Mohammed began, he told his wife what was being “revealed” to him. She was his first convert. He soon made others. Before long, and given the religious views they espoused, their number was sufficiently large to constitute a disturbance of the peace in the eyes of Mecca’s pagan elders. Mohammed and his followers were obliged to move to another place, Medina. This was in 622. The move is known in Arabic as the Hegira (emigration) and is the event from which Mohammedans date their (lunar) calendar.
Mohammed and his followers made themselves the masters of Medina. It was from there that they mounted raids on trading caravans bound for Mecca, disrupting the latter’s commerce and enriching themselves. By 630 they were strong enough to ride on Mecca and conquer it. The Prophet died two years later.
He is not the only prophet recognized by the religion he fabricated. Adam, the first man, is another, and this is significant because God forgave him his transgression in Eden, according to the Mohammedans. Thus do they reject Original Sin. Other prophets include Noah, Abraham, Moses, and even Jesus. Mohammed, however, is the “Seal of all Prophets.” Others revealed truth merely partially. Revelation became complete with the Koran. Thus its teachings are infallible.
It is not simply in asserting that its teachings are infallible that the false religion of Mohammed challenges the One True Church. In the very name by which they call it, Islam, his followers pretend it is universal. Islam means “to surrender to the will of God,” and according to Mohammedans even nature does that. That is, nature is claimed to be part of Islam since it operates under God’s laws. It is by their refusal to recognize Islam as universal — as the religion of all mankind — that Christians become unfaithful — “infidels.”
Mohammedans are angered when their false religion is called Mohammedanism instead of Islam. They say it makes them sound like followers of a man instead of the universal religion. Normally, any Christian with good manners would agree that it is polite to call someone by whatever name he wants. However, it is precisely because Mohammedans are followers of a man and not of the universal religion that Mohammedanism is the appropriate name for the thing made up by their “Prophet” from elements of Christianity, Judaism, paganism and out of thin air. There cannot be two universal religions. The truly universal one is known by that very name: Catholic. To call Mohammedanism Islam is to concede its pretended universality.*
It is the rival claims to universality, or, more exactly, the claim made by Mohammed’s followers to it, that put Mohammedanism and the Faith in fundamental conflict — this apart from their unitarianism and our belief in the Holy Trinity
In history, the conflict has taken the form of periodic jihads or “holy” wars. These have always been wars of conquest, or were meant to be. The object, according to the Mohammedans, is not to convert Christians. Rather, the purpose is to assume political power in the conquered lands in order to implement the Koran’s teachings in society. In a word, the object is to make the “universal” religion universal. It merely follows suit that Christians convert after Mohammedans have conquered a land.
Indeed it does. Countless Christians have converted — have apostatized — once they found themselves living under the Koran. Today’s Mohammedans in Bosnia and Kosovo — descendants of yesterday’s apostates — are living testimony of that.
At least in Europe, far more Christians have remained faithful under Mohammedan occupation than ever apostatized. How? By what means? The recently beatified Aloysius Cardinal Stepinac of Catholic Croatia in former Yugoslavia once explained: “The invasion of the Turks could have been enough to wipe us completely off the map, and yet we can testify to four centuries of a resistance unparalleled in history. Who could claim we achieved this through our own unaided strength? Surely it was on the contrary thanks to the help of her of whom the Church speaks ‘as terrible as an army set in battle array’.”
Of course His Eminence was talking about Our Lady. As we now consider some of the history of the Christian resistance to Mohammedanism, we shall see how she has always been in its forefront.
The particular Turkish invasion of Europe of which Bl. Cardinal Stepinac spoke — there have been many — reached its furthest point in 1527. It might have swallowed more than the lands of former Yugoslavia except that it was stopped at Fiume on the Adriatic coast. More specifically, it got no farther than a sanctuary consecrated to Our Lady of Trsat. In Croatia, the tradition is that the House of Loretto was put down at that spot as it was being angelically transported from the Holy Land. There it rested for a time before being moved on to Italy, where it is now enclosed in a great shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Loretto.
The delivery of Constantinople in 718 can seem as almost as miraculous as the translation of the House of Loretto from the Holy Land to Italy. We have already said that Mohammedanism’s advance into Europe from the east was halted there at that time, but it was not the first Mohammedan assault on the Byzantine capital.
In the 5th century Emperor Leo V had built a great Holy Reliquary Church to house a veil that belonged to the Blessed Virgin Mary when she was on earth. In effect, the entire church constituted a reliquary for the precious relic. In 678 the Mohammedans besieged Constantinople. The veil was removed from the church and processed through the streets of the city. Soon afterward, the Mohammedans were beaten back, an event still commemorated in the liturgy of the Eastern Church. Our Lady also began to be venerated at the Holy Reliquary Church under the title of Strategos , Commander in War.
She was viewed as that even more so after the siege and victory of 718. The months’ long siege of that year was at its fiercest by the eve of the Feast of the Assumption. On that day the veil of Our Lady was once again processed through the streets for the veneration of the populace. The very next morning the Mohammedans quit their siege and began to withdraw.
There would be other Mohammedan assaults on Constantinople during the following centuries, but the city did not fall until 1453. By then, not much else remained of the great empire of which it had been the capital. By then, also, the East was no longer in communion with the One True Church. As for the veil of Our Lady, it had earlier been sent to a king of France as a gift. This providential move saved the exquisite relic, for after the fall of Constantinople, the Mohammedans razed the Holy Reliquary Church, so that no trace of it exists today. The veil is enshrined at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Chartres.
It was in Poitiers in France, we have said, that the Mohammedan assault on Europe from the west was decisively beaten back. That was in 732. Prior to the battle numerous field altars were erected for the celebration of Mass. The battle itself took place on a Saturday, the day that belongs to Our Lady in Catholic tradition. Charles Martel, the victor, publicly attributed the success to her.
Though defeated at Poitiers in 732, the last Mohammedans were not driven from France until 778. That was by Charlemagne. Toward the end of his campaign, he came up against an especially strong defense mounted by a particular Saracen prince. If the man could not be beat at arms, Charlemagne decided, he would see if he could be converted. A truce was arranged and the Bishop of Le Puy was sent through the lines. He spoke to the prince of Our Lady. “I am her servant,” he said. “Be you her soldier.” Thanks to this appeal, which is to say thanks to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the prince converted.
As a Christian, he took the name Lorda. It became the name of the small territory he governed. We now know it as Lourdes.
Charlemagne drove the Mohammedans from France, but on their side of the Pyrenees it would be seven centuries before the Spanish got the last of them out. This immense and heroic struggle is known in Iberia as the Reconquista, the Reconquest.
It began in a truly earnest way in the second half of the 11th century, but there were victories before then. The first, the one from which the Reconquista is dated, was at Covadonga in the Asturias in 718.
The battle was fought by the Christians under the auspices of the Madonna of Covadonga, who became known thenceforth as Our Lady of Battles. On pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in August, 1989 — several years before there would be a catechism teaching that Christians and Mohammedans worship “the same God” — Pope John Paul II declared: “Covadonga is one of the foundation stones of Europe. It is why in my pilgrimage to Compostela, to the sources of Christian Europe, I confidently lay at the feet of the Madonna of Covadonga the project of a Christian Europe that has not rejected the roots from which it grew.”
As the Reconquista began to make real headway after the 11th century and the Mohammedan tide receded, the construction of Christian shrines marked the withdrawal like milestones of it. King Jaime of Aragon built more than 1,000. King St. Ferdinand of Castile and Leon built still more. (This warrior-king and canonized saint — he died in 1252 — never rode into a fight without an ivory statuette of Our Lady of Battles lashed to his saddle.)
The last Mohammedan kingdom in Spain, that of Granada, was vanquished in 1492 by Ferdinand and Isabella, known in Spanish history as los reyes catolicos, the Catholic monarchs. That same year, of course, and under their patronage, Christopher Columbus made his first voyage to the New World, which he claimed for Christ and His Mother.
As with Spain, captains and missionaries from Portugal would also fight and labor to make the Western Hemisphere Catholic. The reconquest of that land was begun in 1143 by King Alfonso, known to his countrymen as the Conqueror. He vowed that if he took Santarem from the Mohammedans, he would build a monastery dedicated to Our Lady. It still stands. When Lisbon capitulated to him he saw to the erection of two churches consecrated to Our Lady, one of them established in what had been the Mohammedans’ chief mosque in the Portuguese capital.
Even as the Mohammedans were being beaten back in the west, their pressure on the eastern flank of Europe increased following the fall of Constantinople. For a time it was successfully resisted. For instance, the Hungarian knight John Hunyadi beat off a Turkish advance on Belgrade in 1456, for which victory Pope Callistus III ordered the Angelus to be recited at midday because that was the hour when the Mohammedans were vanquished. How many Catholics today recite the Angelus at noon without knowing why? How different the world would be right now if Hunyadi’s victory had been definitive! We would not see thousands of American troops in Bosnia protecting a Mohammedan government. Nor would American planes — at the time of this writing — be bombing the very city once saved by Hunyadi, Belgrade.
Alas, within decades of Hunyadi’s victory, the ablest ruler ever produced by the Turks appeared on the world scene. This was Suleiman, called the Magnificent. He became Sultan in 1520. Belgrade fell to his forces the next year. There followed in 1526 the disastrous defeat of the Hungarians in the Battle of Mohacs. Their king, Louis II, was killed in this battle and his capital, Budapest, was sacked by the Turks. Suleiman would be stopped before he could take Vienna, but it would be centuries before much of Hungary and most of the Balkans were rescued from the Ottoman yoke.
That the U.S. government in the name of tolerance, diversity and religious freedom is now shoring up Mohammedan power in Europe should be a source of shame to every American Christian.
Even as Suleiman was consolidating Mohammedan power in the Balkans, much of the Mediterranean became a Turkish lake. The island of Rhodes fell in 1522. Soon afterward, Suleiman barely failed to take Malta, which was all that stood between him and Italy. The Turks fell back in the direction of Cyprus and Crete, which was then a colony of the Republic of Venice.
By itself, Cyprus would be all the springboard needed for the Ottoman conquest of Europe. The danger of its becoming that was made worse because by now the unity of Christendom was shattered, the nations of Europe no longer faced the Mohammedan threat as one. Indeed, following in the traces of the Protestant revolt commonly referred to as the Reformation, Christians were now fighting Christians in the series of conflicts we call the Wars of Religion.
In the circumstances, much of Europe beyond the Balkans could have fallen under the Mohammedan heel save for the outcome of one of the most momentous battles in all history. The pope of the day, St. Pius V, feared the worst as soon as he heard in 1571 that the Turks were attacking Cyprus.
Because Spanish troops then stationed in Sicily were the Christian force that could most readily be deployed into the eastern Mediterranean, St. Pius appealed to Phillip II to counter the Turkish threat. Phillip agreed and a fleet of Venetian, papal and Spanish ships was assembled to transport the troops. The fleet got no further than Crete, however. When it was learned there that Nicosia in Cyprus had fallen to the Turks, the Genoese commander of the Spanish ships, Andrea Doria, sailed off, leaving the Venetian and papal commanders in the lurch.
The situation became still more dangerous when Famagusta, the last Christian stronghold on Cyprus, fell. By then, fortunately, a Christian fleet was reassembled. This one would set forth under a single commander, one named by St. Pius. He was Don John of Austria, natural son of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and thus half-brother of Phillip II. Early in our present century G.K. Chesterton celebrated him in one of the most stirring poems in the English language, Lepanto .
The Gulf of Lepanto at the western end of the larger Gulf of Corinth was the site of the momentous battle between Christian and Turkish fleets of which we speak. The Christian fleet of 280 galleys, 100 brigantines and frigates, 15,000 sailors and rowers and 31,000 soldiers had set out with the pope’s blessing: “Go forth in the name of Christ to combat His foes. You will be victorious.” Prior to sailing, a fast of three days was observed and Confession and Holy Communion made available to everyone. Meantime, in Rome, Pope St. Pius called on Confraternities of the Rosary to pray and then redouble their prayers for a Christian victory. He ordered monasteries and convents to keep a vigil of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
The actual day of battle was October 7, a Sunday. As the signal to engage the Turks, the papal banner was hoisted on Don John’s flagship. Thousands of virile voices cheered the sight. (Because Pope Pius XII declared her Empress of All the Americas, U.S. Catholics should know that Don John also had a banner of Our Lady of Guadalupe on board his ship.)
In those days, battles at sea were fought like ones on land. The technology did not exist for them to be waged from “over the horizon” as today. The job of the admirals and sailors was to bring the ships into contact with the enemy. Then the artillerymen and infantry took over. Combat became hand-to-hand when soldiers boarded an enemy vessel.
The Christian warriors at Lepanto could not have distinguished themselves more. Out of a Mohammedan fleet of 300 ships, 90 were sunk or burned and 130 captured. More important, more than 25,000 Mohammedans were killed or wounded.
Christian losses: 8,000 killed or wounded, less than a third of the Mohammedans’.
No wonder Pope St. Pius would speak as he did when he learned of the battle’s outcome by supernatural means. He was conferring in Rome with the Holy See’s treasurer on the day of the fight. Suddenly he broke off the talk, stepped to a window and seemed to be listening to an interior voice. Then he cried to his treasurer: “Run and give thanks to God in His church! Our army has won the victory!”
Of course the army did not win unaided. Pope St. Pius knew it and intended that the Battle of Lepanto would be commemorated every year with a Feast of St. Mary of Victory. However, his successor, Gregory VIII, named the feast for Our Lady of the Rosary.
Many Catholics mistakenly believe that we now observe this feast because of the victory at Lepanto. In fact, Pope Gregory authorized its observance in no more than a limited number of churches — ones that erected altars especially for the purpose. It was not until Prince Eugene of Austria defeated the Turks at a battle in Hungary in 1716 that Pope Clement XI extended the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary to the Universal Church in thanksgiving for that victory.
Recalling that fact serves to remind us that although Lepanto was decisive insofar as the Turks would never again menace Christian Europe from the sea, as long as they remained ensconced in the Balkans they still threatened the Catholic heartland.
That was never more so than 1683 when a Turkish army of 300,000 marched on Vienna, the capital of the Holy Roman Empire. Fortunately, the Pope of the day, Innocent XI, had recently brokered an alliance between the Empire and the Kingdom of Poland, which was also menaced by the Mohammedans. Thus, even as Pope Innocent ordered the recitation in Rome of rosaries for the deliverance of Vienna and special devotions were made to Mary Help of Christians (her picture hangs in the Capuchin Church in Vienna), Poland’s King, John Sobieski, was rushing by a series of forced marches to the assistance of his new ally. Thus, also, after John Hunyadi at Belgrade and Don John of Austria at Lepanto, a great Christian victory over Mohammedans would be led by a third John.
The army he led was vastly outnumbered by the Turks, but Sobieski hit them so hard, and the appearance of his force before the gates of the city was such a surprise, the Mohammedans did not simply retreat. They fled. So precipitous was their flight, most of their stores and baggage were left behind. The stores included coffee. This is when the Viennese, now Europe’s most famous coffee-drinkers, discovered the beverage.
Since we speak of foodstuffs, perhaps it ought to be noted that if we do not observe the Feast of the Our Lady of the Rosary because of Lepanto, as many think, something else did directly result. Because of their contribution to the victory in 1571, Spaniards — whether in Spain itself or in Spanish overseas territories — were dispensed from Friday abstinence as long as it was the rule in the Church.
We have been considering here the defense of Christian lands and the Christian Faith from one of the principal historical threats to them, Mohammedanism. Christians, however, have not always been on the defensive in the face of this threat. Indeed, they were not at Lepanto. Don John went looking for the Turks. In fact, we know that Ali Pasha, the Turkish commander, was incredulous when he learned it was the case. He could not believe the “infidels” would dare to challenge Turkish might.
Other Mohammedan rulers and generals have also learned something about Christian daring, and never more so than during the series of epic military campaigns we know as the Crusades.
But they were more than military campaigns, however epic. There are those who now apologize for them, as if believing in the Faith strongly enough to fight for it were shameful, but to recall the Crusades is to remember when Christian knighthood was in full flower. To recall them is to remember when, for a time, the Cross supplanted the Crescent in the Holy Land. It is too much to remember in an article already nearing its end. Let us not slight the subject by giving it less attention than it deserves.
For lack of space, we also must ignore another important subject: the coming into being of certain religious orders as a Christian response to Mohammedan barbarity. (No, chivalry is not entirely foreign to the Mohammedan, but the Christian standards that brought it to its most complete flowering are.) Only the Recording Angel can know the exact number of religious who gave themselves as ransom to liberate brothers in the Faith from Mohammedan capitivity.
In a way, that continues. That is, our own century has not been without Christian witness, even to the point of martyrdom, given in Mohammedan lands. One thinks, in this regard, of the yet uncanonized but saintly Charles de Foucauld, about whom too little is known by English-speaking Catholics. Then there were the eight monks from various European countries murdered in their monastery in Algeria just last year.
Algeria. The former Catholic cathedral in its capital, Algiers, can stand as a perfect symbol of former Christendom’s decline into its own form of barbarity. When Algeria became independent in 1962 it was not a colony of France, contrary to popular belief. Administratively it was a fully integrated Departement of the nation, as much a part of France as Massachusetts or California are states of the U.S. The European population, which was far from exclusively ethnic French, was overwhelmingly Catholic. But after independence, the Archbishop of Algiers voluntarily — no one asked for it — turned over his cathedral to the Mohammedans for its transformation into a mosque! How much better simply to have blown it up!
There are other symbols, beginning in Algeria. A few years ago, all the world heard about it when a Jewish cemetery in Carpentras, in the South of France, was desecrated. The desecration of any cemetery is a grave evil, but the world outside France does not know there is no Catholic cemetery in Algeria that has not been violated since independence. Mohammedans have broken into all the tombs to steal jewelry and other valuables buried with the faithful departed.
What a horror! There are others. Consider that in Spain, where King St. Ferdinand once rode into battle with a statuette of Our Lady lashed to his saddle, there are 300,000-500,000 North African Mohammedans living today. Worse, in recent years 5,000 Spaniards are documented as having converted to the false religion! There is a symbol.
This writer can find no figures for the number of conversions in France, but he remembers visiting the Traditional Benedictine Monastery of Our Lady of Fontgombault in 1991. One day, while the monks were chanting one of the morning offices, a busload of schoolkids showed up. Most of them were obviously unused to being in church. You could tell because, for instance, a number of the boys (the influence of MTV is everywhere) were wearing backwards baseball caps. I had to signal them to remove them. Their teacher didn’t. I spoke to her after the office was done. She explained that her pupils were studying the religions (plural) of France. They would soon be visiting a mosque.
French President Jacques Chirac would approve. His first foreign trip after being elected was to Morocco, the very land where Charles de Foucauld was martyred. He took the occasion to hail Mohammedanism as “the second religion of France.” Of course he called it Islam.
So does President Bill Clinton. Last January 19 the White House issued the following press release: “Warm greetings to Muslims across America and around the world as you mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan and celebrate the festival of Id al-Fitr. The month of fasting that you have just completed demands discipline and a spirit of sacrifice. But it also delivers a profound reward: the opportunity to show people of every faith what is precious about Islam — its charity, its generosity, and its essential humanity. All people in the world are moved by your observance of Ramadan and by the devotion and dignity that make Islam one of the world’s great religions. As you welcome the appearance of the new moon and the close of Ramadan, Hillary joins me in extending best wishes for a memorable celebration and for peace, health, and prosperity in the year to come.”
If the separation between mosque and state seems to have disappeared under the Clinton Administration — we should remember, too, that intensified bombing of Iraq late last year was timed so it would not take place during Ramadan, but there was no respite in the bombing of Yugoslavia for Orthodox Easter this past spring — it ought to be obsrved that the development is not brand new. During George Bush’s Gulf War at the beginning of this decade, Mohammedan “sensitivity” was honored to the point that the crucifixes, holy medals and rosaries of American military personnel in Saudi Arabia had to be kept hidden and chaplains were made to celebrate Mass in secret.
Though the number is obviously rapidly growing, no one knows exactly how many Mohammedans are now in the U.S. Not even the number of those who are in the country legally is certain. But mosques are becoming an increasingly common sight in cities and suburbs alike, and in the Midwest as well as in the big coastal cities. From the various sources consulted by this writer, I conclude that there must be about 6 million Mohammedans in the country. That would make them already more numerous than Jewish Americans. Here and there, they have begun to outnumber the members of some Christian bodies. It has been reported, for example, that there are now more Mohammedans in Chicago than there are Presbyterians.
They are making converts, and not all of them are African Americans, not “black Muslims.” As in Spain, Catholics in the U.S. are being lost to the false religion. This writer recently read an article by one such, an article explaining the reasons for his conversion. It appeared in The Muslim Observer , a weekly newspaper published in Michigan and distributed nationally.
The man gave two main reasons for his abandoning the Faith. The first was the widespread jettisoning of the historical Mass. That showed him “the Church’s teachings are changeable.” The second reason (this was predictable): Catholic belief in the Holy Trinity. The doctrine made “no sense” to the man.
One wonders, given the state of catechesis in recent decades, how much “sense” it makes to many others. I can testify that in my 35 years as a Catholic, I have never heard a homily on the subject. All of my understanding of it comes from books and discussion with men more learned than myself. How many, more mystified, perhaps, than I ever was, will seek out the right books, or have the opportunity of conversation with learned men?
And there, it seems, lies the great threat of Mohammedanism today. It is not so much that Christians are again falling victim to the “Sword of Islam,” though that is the case in Pakistan, Indonesia, North Africa, the Balkans and elsewhere. It is not that the U.S. and other formerly Christian nations are now willing to abet Mohammedan power. It is not that the Mohammedans are becoming so numerous in places that were once Christian. It is not even, as was said at the beginning of this article, that too many Christians now lack sufficient belief in their religion to uphold it, let alone fight for it. Rather, it is that too many no longer know what they are supposed to believe in order to be Christian.
To fight for the Faith, after all, or simply to uphold it, is no more than to live it, but the believing has to infuse the living, and the believing depends on knowing. When men again know and then believe, they will also again begin to live the Faith. When it is lived, all the places that used to be Christian will be once more, and others that never were will become so, no matter the number of Mohammedans or anybody else.
A lot of inspiration for learning what needs to be known, and for soon going on to live the Faith, can be derived from recalling history such as has been briefly outlined here, but the history can never be more than inspiration. It is no substitute for belief. Of course the fundamental belief, the very reason for being Christian, is that outside the Church there is no salvation.
1 For the sake of clarity, we should note that “Allah” is simply the common Arabic word for “God.” It is spoken daily in the Catholic Arab world and was used by Christians long before Mohammed used it.
2 Of course, for convenience, “Islam” can be used at times — such as in the very name of this article; just as Protestants can — by virtue of Baptism — sometimes be called “Christians.”
The name Fatima is common in the Moslem world. The “Fatima” after whom so many Moslem women are named was the daughter of Mohammed, “The Prophet” himself. There is a relation between Fatima the place in Portugal, and Fatima the Prophet’s daughter, as the following explains:
“Here let us point out, that if we can believe the words of an ancient ballad, Fatima owes its clearly Arabic name to an episode in the reconquest of Portugal which took place in this era. Fatima, the daughter of a powerful Moslem prince of Alcacer do Sal, was captured by a Crusader, Gonçalo Hermingues. When the Christian knight asked for her hand in marriage, she converted and was baptized under the name Oureana, from which the village of Ourem took its name. «But the beautiful princess died young, and Don Gonçalo, in his distress, gave his life to God in the Cistercian abbey of Alcobaca.» Not long after, the abbey founded a small priory in the neighboring mountains; Brother Gonçalo was sent there and took with him the remains of his dear Fatima. The place took and kept her name.”
— from The Whole Truth About Fatima, Vol. 1, Science and the Facts by Frêre Michel de la Sainte Trinité.
Through the intercession of Our Lady, may the Mohammedans be brought to the True Faith!