By UWE SIEMON-NETTO
Martin Luther considered the rise of Islam a sign of the impending apocalypse and God’s ferule for the backs of a wayward church. He was by no means the first great theologian to believe this. St. John of Damascus (676-749 A.D.) and the medieval mystic Joachim of Fiore (1135-1202 A.D.) viewed Islam as an anti-Christian power of the end of time and Mohammed as a precursor of the Antichrist.
None of these sages presumed to speculate on a precise date of Christ’s Second Coming in the way some contemporary sects do today. “The Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him,” Christ himself said (Matthew 24:43-44), and: “I will come like a thief” (Revelation 3:3). Therefore, warned Luther, predicting a date for this event was impossible and unnecessary.
Nonetheless, watching the blood-curdling events unfold in Egypt and other parts of the Middle East, it is worth remembering the historical circumstances under which John, Joachim and Luther interpreted Islam in apocalyptical terms. All three witnessed a weak, confused, splintered and often unfaithful Church.
In John’s day, Islam wiped out flourishing Christian cultures in North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean regions undermined by bickering, often heretical churches; some of these Christians even welcomed Muslims as liberators from their oppression by other Christians. Joachim was born in the aftermath of the Great Schism of 1054 A.D., which split Christendom into two hostile camps, the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox. In Luther’s day, the Turks had conquered much of southeastern Europe and were laying siege on Vienna.
The parallels between those historical sets of circumstances and today’s scenario must not be overlooked. True, the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims are also beset by schisms and the encroachment of modernity. But it is also true that among them are forces with more determination and, much clearer goals and seemingly more staying power that most Christians.
TV showman Glenn Beck has been foolishly ridiculed for insisting that the Muslim Brotherhood, which seems to play a key role in the Egyptian crisis, is busy scheming to establish a worldwide Caliphate ruling by Islamic law. But this is no wayward notion. Ever since it was founded by the Egyptian schoolteacher and imam Hassan al-Banna in 1928, the Brotherhood has displayed incredible flexibility and strategic skills in pursing this goal, including courting the Nazis and collaborating with Marxist-Leninists.
Amazingly, of all major American media personalities, only Beck has mentioned the Muslim Brotherhood’s point man the West, a Teflon character by the name of Tariq Ramadan. He is a Swiss citizen, a much-admired scholar. He is also al-Banna’s grandson, and he speaks, in the words of French journalist Caroline Fourest, “from both corners of his mouth.” Currently a professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford University, he claims to champion the re-interpretation of Islamic texts and emphasizes the heterogeneous nature of West Muslims, he sounds alarmingly duplicitous to discerning European ears.
When in 2003 Nicolas Sarkozy, then the French interior minister, now president, asked Ramadan about his brother Hani’s justification of the stoning of adulteresses, he replied, “I am in favor of a moratorium so that they stop applying punishments of this kind in the Muslim world. What’s important is for people’s thinking to evolve. What is necessary is a pedagogical approach.” Should we perhaps read this as a suggestion to teach first, and stone later?
Ramadan also termed terrorist acts “contextually” justified, told French television that “violence is legitimate” and, according to Swiss intelligence, been involved with Al Qaida leaders such as Ayman Al-Zawahiri and Omar Abdel Rahman as long ago as 1991. In 2009, the traditionally liberal Erasmus University of Rotterdam fired him for chairing the “Islam & Life” program of Press TV, a network wholly owned by the Iranian regime.
In that same year, the Obama administration issued Ramadan a 10-year scholar’s visa after he had been banned from entering the United States in 2004 when offered a professorship at Notre Dame University. The reasons why the Department of Homeland Security then prevented his entry then are rarely discussed. According to Islam critic Daniel Pipes they included: Ramadan’s praise for the brutal policies of the Sudanese political leader Hassan a-Turabi; Ramadan’s contacts with an Algerian terrorist and his “routine contacts” with an Algerian indicted for Al Qaida activities; his public references to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York on Sept. 11, 2001, and to the bloodbaths of Madrid and Bali as mere “interventions.” Still, Foreign Policy magazine rated him 49th among the world’s most important intellectuals today.
Tariq Ramadan, who wrote his doctoral dissertations on German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, knows the feeble state of Western Christianity well. Living in Europe, he cannot help observing the consequences of the scarcity of clergymen in France where the church no longer provides pastoral care, and where in most cases old ladies now conduct Christian funerals because no priests are available. A scholar of his intelligence won’t find it hard to appreciate the depravity of Protestantism in Germany where the synods (parliaments) of most of the 22 state-related regional churches voted to allow homosexual pastors to live with their partners in parsonages. When Ramadan eventually reaches U.S. shores he will find a similar state of affairs in American mainline denominations.
“You don’t have a decent way of life that we can import,” British radical Islamist Anjem Choudary told Fox news anchor Sean Hannity in an otherwise disgraceful interview recently – disgraceful because Hannity lambasted him on the air, calling him “one sick miserable S.O.B.,” instead of allowing his viewers to draw exactly the same conclusion after watching a professionally crafted interview that could not be misconstrued as further evidence of the decline of Western standards.
It is easy to see how radical Islamists such as the Muslim Brotherhood might interpret the current state of Western Christianity as an open invitation to push it over and recreate a caliphate on its ruins. It is also easy to read all this as a sign of the impending apocalypse. However, this would not be Christian by any biblical measure. It’s a warning, yes, a reliable timetable to Judgment Day it is not.
Uwe Siemon-Netto, the former religious affairs editor of United Press International, has been an international journalist for 54 years, covering North America, Vietnam, the Middle East and Europe for German publications. Dr. Siemon-Netto currently directs the League of Faithful Masks and Center for Lutheran Theology and Public Life in Irvine, California.