Israel, Christianity, and Islam: The Challenge of the Future

By Ye'or, Bat | Midstream, February 2001 | Go to article overview

Israel, Christianity, and Islam: The Challenge of the Future


Ye'or, Bat, Midstream


Unlike most wars, solving the conflict in the Middle East does not only depend on the cession of land, since Israel is also the focus of age-old religious hatreds. The bigotries involved are so appalling that one avoids mentioning them, yet they still underlie the struggle. From its beginnings, the Arab-Israeli conflict involved not only the region of the Middle East but also Europe and the Church. It was hardly on account of its wealth and territorial extent that the Holy Land became a land of hostilities, but rather because it was the place where theological extremisms confronted one another. Only there, in their ancient homeland, could the Jewish people be freed from the curse with which Christianity had afflicted them. This malediction, which had been transmitted through Christian channels to Islam, was henceforth combined within the context of jihad and associated Jews and Christians in the same condemnation. Thus, the principle of a divine curse against the Jews as a people, first conceived by the early Church Fathers in patristic writings, was later adopted and reinterpreted through Islamic dogma against both Jews and Christians.

Despite the Islamic persecutions of Christians, judeophobia -- common to both Christianity and Islam -- has sealed the tight alliance between the Church and Islam in favor of the Palestinian cause. Thus, in the Land of Israel, the Jewish people have been confronted not only by prejudices arising from Christian doctrine but also by those arising from Islamic doctrine. The suppression of these Muslim prejudices against Jews that are generated by jihad doctrine would also imply the abolition of these same Muslim prejudices against Christians. The restoration of Israel's rights in its Biblical homeland is opposed to a concept of allegedly accursed peoples, hated by God -- condemned to humiliation for eternity until they convert.

Peace in the Middle East means equality among religions. Therefore, their historical zones of confrontation and interaction should be examined in order to understand their modern expressions.

Characteristics of the Conflict

The Israeli-Arab conflict is only one regional, limited aspect of the traditional, worldwide struggle engendered by the ideology of jihad. For over a millennium, Muslims had conquered and held lands populated by Christians and Jews on three continents: Africa, Asia, and Europe. In East Asia, they also colonized and Islamized Buddhist and Hindu empires. Caliphs and sultans administered this multitude of peoples through a juridic-political system based on interpretations of the Qur'an and the hadiths,(1) which integrated the pre-Islamic laws and customs of the vanquished peoples into an Islamic conceptual structure. This system of governing subjected populations, which I have called "dhimmitude,"(2) determined the demographic, religious, and ethnic changes in the countries absorbed by jihad. The term "dhimmitude" encompasses all the aspects and complexities of a political system, whereas the word "tolerance" implies a subjective opinion. The system of dhimmitude includes the notion of tolerance, but this latter term cannot express all the interactions of political, religious, and juridical factors that, over the centuries, shaped the civilization of dhimmitude.

The jihad ideology requires that the shari'a -- the law that governs the Islamic domain -- be applied over all the jihad-conquered lands. In this context, the Jews formed a small minority among the non-Muslim populations, all to be targeted by the jihad ideology. Islamic law confers an identical status on Jews and Christians as the People of the Book (the Bible), while Zoroastrians and others, considered pagans, were relegated to a far worse situation and subjected to more severe oppression.

In the Islamic-Christian context, the jihad-wars of Islamization, unleashed from the seventh century and sustained for over a millennium, have again -- in the last decades -- ignited jihad fires in Lebanon, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Armenia, Sudan, Nigeria, Kashmir, the Philippines, and Indonesia. …

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