A Christian Survey of World History

Islam – The Frontier Age, I


*This is an unedited and unoffical print version of R.J. Rushdoony’s lecture.

Speaker 1: 00:01 Our subject, first of all, tonight is that of Chapter 12, Islam. As I point out in the chapter, it is the religion founded by Mohammed, and Islam means to resign oneself. That is, to profess the way of righteousness. The dates of Mohammed are 570 to 632 AD. Our concern in our lectures is to supplement the notes, as I have pointed out, by feeling with some of the underlying ideas, and motive forces in a particular area, and era. Sunday morning in our class, we touched upon a very significant aspect of Mohammedanism. You will recall, those of you who were there, I cited Saint Paul’s statement in Romans 2, I believe Verses 28 and 29, that he is a Jew who is one inwardly. That is, he is one of the chosen people, call them Jew, or Israelite, or the covenant people of God, who is one inwardly from the heart, who by faith and obedience manifests his faithfulness to the Lord. It begins with a heart, with a faith, with a thought, and the feeling of man.

Speaker 1: 01:38 Directly in contradiction to Saint Paul, Mohammed declared he is a Muslim, who is one outwardly. This of course makes Mohammedanism a very simple religion. As I pointed out Sunday morning, one of the things that Muslims and black Muslims say as against Christianity over and over again is that it is too difficult, in fact, it is an impossible religion for anyone to follow. Because it makes too great a demand on man. It requires of man that which is an impossibility, whereas Islam, they declare, is a very practical religion, and what it has to say is down to earth, very simple, and can be easily followed. This of course is because of its externalism. On page 112, I give the six basic articles of faith, and the six basic duties of Islam, and the quote that’s in the middle of the page, the faith requires belief in Allah, the one God, in angels, in Mohammed as the great and last prophet, belief in the Quran, belief in the day of resurrection, belief in fatalism. The duties are reciting the profession of faith, affirming the unity of God and the role of Mohammed, five daily prayers, fasting during the daylight hours, not after dark or before dawn, of the month of Ramadan, pilgrimage to Mecca, the holy war against unbelievers.

Speaker 1: 03:33 The six duties are all of them things that are external. Very simple things. You recite a prayer five times daily, and you say you believe in Islam, and you make a pilgrimage to Mecca, although if you don’t do it, no harm done. You help if there’s a holy war, by lopping off as many heads of Christians and Jews as possible, but nothing is required of you as far as your heart is concerned. In fact, you can be a very depraved person, but if you fulfill those five duties, you are a man of righteousness. As far as the basic faith is concerned, you can have a great deal of latitude there, you can interpret these things with considerable variation of opinion, or with very little opinion. It doesn’t matter. You can treat it very casually. In other words, it is a faith which is in essence external. Islam means to resign oneself. That is to the way of righteousness as declared by Mohammed, but when the way of righteousness is something that is external, then you are in effect saying that an external force, an external way of life is the essence of truth.

Speaker 1: 05:20 An external type of religion makes for statism. This is why when Christianity came on the scene, statism was challenged and disappeared. In every century since, whenever Christianity has waned, statism has increased. The correlation between the two is like night and day. When Christianity, the darkness of statism appears, because man then emphasizes externals, and if man feels externals are important rather than the heart, the faith, the character of man, man will be ruled by externals, will he not, because he says they’re important. Since his faith, his character, his heart, is no longer important, who is man then to resist, to stand up to the powers that be? You can talk about Christian martyrs. Can you talk about Mohammedan martyrs? Of course not. For someone to make a stand out of conviction from the heart, in a religion of externals, that’s nonsense. It just isn’t in character, and how else can you have man to make a stand against anything, and to bring about freedom, to bring about a social order in which men have character, if it is not something that is from the heart?

Speaker 1: 07:07 He is a Jew. He is a member of the covenant of God, who is one inwardly, but Mohammed said he is a Muslim who is one outwardly. Not surprisingly, Islam, which means to resign oneself, is not a term for the religion. If you’re talking about the religion, the word is Mohammedanism, and a Mohammedan doesn’t talk about Mohammedanism. He talks about Islam, and what is Islam? It’s a state. It’s the Islamic social order, a statist social order. That’s the idea, so Islam has always created a strong state, a very powerful state. As we shall see soon, a state which is conducive to military power, but not for the [inaudible 00:08:13] of character. It produces a stagnant type of society because since externals are what are important, how are people to grow? How are people to develop? A Mohammedan feels there is something wrong with all of us. What? Those Christians. Always dissatisfied with themselves, always troubling themselves because they haven’t done everything God has required of them. Readily discontent.

Speaker 1: 08:50 Which is great. Nobody in all history has ever been more discontented than the Christians, but no one has ever been happier, because when he sees problems, he resents those problems, those difficulties, those evils. He wants to do something about them, but go to a Mohammedan country and see what life is like. Children with their mouths open and flies walking in and out of their mouths. The mother isn’t at all distressed about it, because they’re doing the same to her. I’m not exaggerating. I’m telling what somebody told me who came back not so long ago, and it wasn’t the first time I had heard that, which is true. You’re not dissatisfied. You get what you can get when you’ve got it, but when your attitude is one of externalism, you will have a social order which is basically statist, and in which man is content with a declining lot, and so you have stagnation. There’s a great deal said in the book, as I point out in this chapter, about how glorious Mohammedanism has been in various eras, and yet the progress was always a product of a Christian background.

Speaker 1: 10:28 The sons of Christian wives who had been seized and put into harems. When they no longer had Christian girls to seize, to gave their sons some kind of social vitality, some kind of character, Islam began to stagnate. As long as it could conquer, and take in an element, it was able to keep expanding, it was able to get vitality and energy. It started here, in Arabia. It moved to north Africa, first of all. Then it moved into this area, and finally into India, and to China, and throughout central Asia. It moved up into Europe, and for a time, the Muslims under the Turks were at the gates of Vienna, and all but took Vienna. All the while, it was functioning on the basis of captives. Captives. The Turks, for example, are a Mongol people in origin, but they look like most Europeans now. Why? Because they took captives from Germany, from Hungary, from all of central Europe, from throughout the Mediterranean world and the Near East, and put them in their harems.

Speaker 1: 12:06 As a matter of fact, their best soldiers were the Janissaries. The Janissaries were not Turks. The Janissaries were Christian boys who had been taken from their parents at the ages of three, four, five, and brought up to be only Mohammedans, Turks, to know nothing of their background, trained only for warfare. They were the terror of the world. They came from a background, you see, that gave them more social energy and vitality. As a matter of fact, even the sultans were afraid of their Janissaries. They kept them on the march, continually conquering, because they didn’t want them at home. When finally, their conquest stopped, and they were there on the grounds, they were a terror, and finally they had to be liquidated. They couldn’t control them. Most of the prime ministers of any consequence were again from captive peoples. There was no element of progress possible in a religion which emphasizes externals, but a religion like that is popular. Mohammedanism spread rapidly and easily.

Speaker 1: 13:37 If you were to take a course in religion at USC or UCLA, and I don’t know what is taught there, but I’m just guessing, I know that at all the universities today where I’ve checked, you would get a very favorable reaction from the professor about Mohammedanism, and a hostile one about Christianity. Why? The Mohammedans put it very bluntly. The God of the Bible, or the God of the Christians, because they claim they were getting the true interpretation of the Bible, that the Quran is the Bible, correct? The Bible gives a peeping tom God. I’m putting it in modern language, but that was their feeling. This awful God who pries into your life, probes into your heart, knows every thought of your mind. Neither the Muslim or the modern man likes him. Here is the God who is content, who’d turn a blind eye to all of that. All he wants is externalism. Isn’t that a much better God? He’s not poking and prying in your mind. The Quran, as a result, is anti-biblical to the core, anti-Christian, anti-Jewish. It is unitarian. It is statist. It is fatalistic.

Speaker 1: 15:09 It makes basic to Islam, the khalif or khalif, and the caliphate, as the means of governing all Muslims. I cite in the text of this chapter how very powerful the khalifs were. Now as I said, the character of Islam made it ideal for a military kind of people. Externals was all that mattered, and if you were a soldier and died fighting with Christians, or Jews, or the unbelievers generally, you would be rewarded by Allah in paradise. In fact, I believe I cite two or three of the fantastic ways you would have such romantic love affairs with the dowries that would be provided by Allah, that the climaxes sexually would last 10,000 years. This would be the privilege of those who died fighting the Christians. Oh, this kind of belief, naturally they thought, especially in a religion where the people were sensual, and course to the nth degree. They would charge into battle with a readiness to be killed. As a result, they were a terrifying force for Christians to meet. I’d like to cite a few facts about the turning point. Islam from the sixth century on began its history in the seventh century.

Speaker 1: 17:04 It was beginning its conquest. It owned a great deal of Europe. It was the most powerful force in the world. It was checked at the seat of Malta. This was in the middle of the sixteenth century, in the 1560s, 1564, I believe. 1565. One of the most amazing events in all history, and one of the turning battles of all history, fought by the knights of Malta against the whole force of Islam under the Turkish Empire. The battle that means a great deal to me particularly, because I happen to be a knight of Malta. The story has been very well told by Ernle Bradford in The Great Siege. If you want dramatic reading which will keep you awake all night, and thrill you, this is the story. When the attack was made on Malta, which was of strategic importance, for military purposes, for naval purposes. It was an offense to the Turks that here in the Mediterranean was this little island of such importance in the hands of the knights of Malta. The knights at that time were down to a small group, but they didn’t underrate their power, and so they made an attack.

Speaker 1: 18:59 The grand master of the knights of Malta at that time was a very remarkable man, La Valette. John Paraiso de la Valette, a man of 70. Not a young man. A military commander, 70 years old. On top of that, he had only a handful of men under him. Let me read from Bradford’s account. By the early spring of 1565, La Valette had under his command 541 knights and servants at arms. This was the hard core of the order. It did not include the chaplains of the [inaudible 00:19:50] or the other clergy, who in theory, at any rate, were never permitted to bear arms. The main body consisted of three to 4,000 Maltese irregulars, a hearty race experienced from youth in skirmishes against Moorish corsairs, but little trained for the long, drawn out exigency to siege warfare. The order’s galley slaves numbered 500, with they being nearly all captured Muslims, could only be used under the lashes of their overseers to restore defenses, build walls, and act as a labor force. There were a further 1,000 slaves available for the same purposes.

Speaker 1: 20:29 All these slaves had of course to be continually guarded, since given the opportunity, they would naturally have risen against their Christian master. As the winter weather softened in the spring and the flowers and clover began to bloom in the small, rocky fields, the galleys went north to Sicily. They brought back with them as well as stores, powder, artillery, and provision. A number of knights and followers who had collected in Messina over the winter. By April, La Valette reckoned that he had 600 members of the order, later to increase to 700, and a total force of eight to 9,000 men. This is counting all kinds, including the slaves. With this, he must withstand the full weight of the Turkish navy and army. While the Turks landed, it was on March 29, 1565 that the Turkish fleet made its way out of the Bosporus, and sailed down to the Golden City to embark the army in the stores. Suleiman the sultan was there in person to view the proud, the power and pride of his empire float on the waters of the golden horn. 170 ships, not counting a number of small sailing vessels from the armada. 130 of them were the long-oared galleys, and 30 were [inaudible 00:22:06] and galliasses. The galliass is one of the largest vessels of the period, carrying something like 1,000 men. Accompanying the fleet were 11 large merchant ships, one of which alone carried 600 fighting men, 6,000 barrels of powder, and 1,300 rounds of cannon shells. They landed against a total force of eight to 9,000 men, of which only 700 were really fighting men, perhaps four or 5,000 others who could fight. No, four or 5,000 of the Maltese, 700 and four or 5,000. Close to 50,000 men. It was a fearful siege. It lasted over four months. They took one castle after another, one bulwark after another, but they refused to surrender. When they finally told the knights, “Surrender and we’ll give you favorable terms,” La Valette did not hesitate, we are told. He would impress upon his own followers as well as the Turks, that there could be no question of honorable surrender. He gave orders for all Turkish prisoners to be executed. There were many of them in Birgu who had been captured in Marshall Copier’s cavalry raids.

Speaker 1: 23:56 They are at once taken to the executioner. Their heads were struck off, and their bodies thrown into the sea. He commanded the heads of his Turkish prisoners to be struck off and shot from the large guns into the enemy lines. When he did that, he made sure that nobody on his side would think about surrender. How could you surrender then, when you had done something like that? In other words, he burned his bridges behind him. A great many around him were talking surrender. La Valette, as commander, ended all such talk. The prissy historians nowadays think that was terrible of La Valette. Of course the Turks had been doing that sort of thing right along, but he should have been a nice boy and not have done something like that. Even after that, a few weeks later, when the battle was raging furiously, and sometimes there were only a handful of the knights who were able to stand up at any given time, the Turks didn’t feel they could conquer, so they offered terms.

Speaker 1: 25:29 He offered that they might retire from Malta to Sicily with the normal honors of war. A messenger was accordingly dispatched under a flag of truce to the grand master in Birgu. Admitted through the landward gate, the messenger’s eyes were immediately blindfolded. The man, chosen perhaps because he could speak French or English, was led in front of La Valette. The latter listened to the Turkish proposals without deigning to reply. Then, take him away and hang him, he said. The messenger fell on his feet and begged for his life. It was not his fault, he cried, that he had been made the Pasha’s messenger. It is unlikely that La Valette had any intention of carrying out his threat, but he was adamant that whatever story got back to the Turkish commander in chief Mustafa would clearly understand that the grand master was inflexible, and his determination never to yield. Bandage his eyes again, he ordered. The man was led out from the council chamber, and they took him out by the gate of Provence and set him before the bastions of Provence and [Avern 00:26:50].

Speaker 1: 26:51 When he was in the middle of them, they uncovered his eyes and let him see the depth of the ditch before him, and the height of the walls above. ” What do you think?” They asked. The man looked at the thickness of the walls, at their height, and at the ditch beneath him. The Turks will never take this place, he answered. Then La Valette gave him his reply to Mustafa’s offer. Tell your master that this is the only territory that I will give him. He pointed to the ditch. There lies the land which he may have for his own, provided only that he fills it with the bodies of his Janissaries. They led Mustafa’s messenger back between drawn up ranks of soldiers and blindfolded him again. So frightening had been his experience, so awe-inspiring the guns, the battlement, and the defense, so grim the silent ranks of armored men that the chronicle tells us he dirtied his britches. Mustafa’s reaction to La Valette’s reply was one of blind fury. He had offered the best of terms to this Christian madman and the only reply he got was an insult.

Speaker 1: 28:07 The conquerer of St. Elmo, the victor of 100 battlefields from Austria to Persia, was not to be treated in this way by a Christian pirate, the leader of a handful of fanatics. He would take Birgu and Senglea, he swore, and he would put every member of the accursed order to the sword. The battle that raged was just of unbelievable fierceness, and they did not win. Finally there was a report that a landing ship with a relief army had come, so the Turks boarded ship to evacuate, to lift the siege. Then they had their intelligence report, it was just a small handful. They decided to reembark, but at that point, with only a handful of men, just a handful able to stand, La Valette ordered a charge against the thousands of Turks who were landing again. The sheer audacity and confidence of it won the day. The Turks had no more stomach for battle with these madmen. Here is the situation at the conclusion. Nearly 250 members of the order lost their lives, and of those who remained, almost all were badly wounded or crippled for life.

Speaker 1: 29:58 Out of the Spanish and foreign soldiers, and the Maltese inhabitants, 7,000 had died in the defense of the island. Out of the garrison force originally consisting of nearly 9,000, the grand master had only about 600 left still capable of bearing arms, and many of them were wounded. 600. Mustafa had been correct when he had surmised that a few more weeks must inevitably deliver the island into his hands. The problem was all his men had lost all heart for fighting them. The minimum losses of the Turkish forces were, Bradford estimates, about 30, 000. This still would not take into account the ships and men lost between the island in the north African coast through the attacks of the Sicilian galleys. It would be a pleasure to go on to read more about that tremendous siege of Malta, but suffice it to say it was that battle that broke the power of Islam, and since then it has been a weak and a declining power wherever it exists, decadent, incapable of very much. We saw in the Israeli war how the various Muslim states, the Arab states, crumbled before Israel.

Speaker 1: 31:56 Even though they had a vast numerical and technological superiority through the help of the Soviet Union, but Islam is still very much with us. It does control the major sources of oil in the world. Its wealth, as a result, is tremendous. It is definitely a very important force on the world scene for that reason, where over one of the most important spots in the world is still controlled by a more or less Islamic country, Turkey, the Dardanelles. It’s the key to central Europe. Most of the trade of the world passes either through the Danube and down through the Dardanelles, or through Gibraltar. Control of either of those areas is a control of immense power. Turkey is an artificial country that has been kept alive precisely because, since its position is one of externalism, the great powers have always felt we can trust the Dardanelles in the hand of a puppet government like the Turkish government, because they can be bought. If we allowed a Christian power to take it, they might stand on principle, and so this is one reason why Turkey for a couple of centuries has been kept alive, artificially, by the great powers.

Speaker 1: 33:42 The religion of externalism makes a dependable man. You know he has no principles. Now to continue with our study of the frontier age, Chapter 13, Page 118. I called this era, which history books have long called the Dark Ages, the Frontier Age. The term is not original with me. As I point out in this chapter, it is called the Dark Age, or the Dark Ages, because of the anti-Christian stand of historians. The term Dark Ages was coined by Christians. It’s not a modern term. It was coined by them to describe the non-Christian world, the Roman Empire, Greece, Asia, Africa, Europe, every part of history, and every part of the world outside of Christ. The humanistic scholars felt that the Dark Ages were the ages controlled by Christians, and so they called everything from the fall of Rome to the birth of the Renaissance the Dark Ages. Later they divided that into the Dark Ages and Middle Ages, but they did not regard the Dark Ages as too … Middle Ages as anything but really dark.

Speaker 1: 35:29 I call attention to the fact that one scholar, [inaudible 00:35:37] says that the Dark Ages began with the death of Boethius in 524, and ended with the birth of Abelard in 1079, which is very interesting. Boethius, the last of pagan philosophy, Abelard, who was in the bosom of the church, revived Aristotle. Anything between that was darkness, precisely because it was Christian. James Westfall Thompson, who was not in any sense an orthodox Christian, nonetheless has called this era that is called Dark Ages the age of pioneers, which is a very interesting term. When do you have a time of pioneering? You can have pioneering when you come to a new land. The people who landed in America, North, South, Central, were in a sense pioneers. Pioneers are especially those who try to create a new life. This is why the word pioneer is more often reserved to Americans, and the term conquistadors for the Latin peoples, because they were simply there to exploit, but the pioneer goes into a new country to develop it. Also, you had pioneering in a collapsing civilization when any group of people believed that this is the time for rebuilding, for reconstruction.

Speaker 1: 37:26 This is why we can call ourselves pioneers, because if we believe in Christian reconstruction, in this day, the end of the age of humanism, we are then facing it precisely as James Westfall Thompson says the Christians faced the fall of Rome. As pioneers, to rebuild a collapsing, decaying world. Long before of course Abraham was a pioneer. God called him out of Ur of the Chaldees, which had a modern civilization. You would recognize the homes. They look very much like the Spanish style of home. Two stories, with a nice veranda on both floors, and servants’ quarters were on the first floor, usually. Public schools, co-educational schools in Ur, and so on, and God called him out of that, a decaying civilization, to Canaan, to be a pioneer, to leave what was dying in order to make for a new people that would control the future. Now in the so-called Dark Ages, the Frontier Age, or the age of pioneers, there were two kinds of pioneers in the main who were important. One of these were Jews. The Jews were the businessmen who were scattered throughout Europe. They were lonely, alone. They didn’t have rabbis. They took with them the Torah of the law of Moses, and they applied it, and so between 400 and approximately 1,000 AD, these Jewish businessmen who very earnestly believed the Torah and applied it, built the cities of Europe. There were no cities when Rome fell. Within a generation or two, cities began to disappear everywhere. Rome from a population of two million in its heyday, finally had, somewhere in the Dark Ages, so-called, 500 people. That’s quite a downfall, isn’t it? From two million to 500. The new cities were built as centers of commerce. A Jewish trader would come to a fork, a good spot where there were people roundabout, and he would start a shop there. He was robbed, but little by little, he gained an immunity. How? If you rob me, I won’t come back. Then you won’t have the goods I have to sell. If you want what I have to sell, leave me alone. Then a little city would form around him. Other merchants, and he would apply the law of Moses.

Speaker 1: 41:02 Urban law in the Western world was derived from biblical law, the Talmud. The Jews, up to the time of the crusade, were great pioneers in the founding of cities. The other on the more important pioneers was the monk. The monks. There are many things about the beliefs of the monks that we cannot agree with. We cannot regard [inaudible 00:41:40] celibacy, that is staying single because you believe that this was a necessary thing to do to be morally perfect, as biblical. Nonetheless, we must say that God and His providence allowed these people to develop such ideas and use them to His glory, and we can understand why when we analyze the situation. Rome had fallen. Rome had conquered and controlled a great deal of Europe. Central Europe, portions of Russia, across the boundaries into the southern reaches of Germany, risen up to the Scottish border, Spain, north Africa, great areas of the Middle East. Throughout this area, there had been cities, there had been civilization, and now all this had collapsed.

Speaker 1: 42:48 It took some real pioneering to reestablish something, and the monk was the ideal person. The monk had no family. He believed that he was called by God to remain single, and he could best serve God this way. He would go out and on foot travel back and forth across length and breadth of Europe, everywhere converting people, establishing a monastery, moving on. It was amazing how some of the English and Irish monks walked back and forth across Europe again and again, into their old age, when they were 60, 70, 80. They’d just take a walking stick, and they’d set out, and if they’d hear on their journey somewhere there was trouble, say, in Germany, and they were in France, they’d walk up to Germany. They would actually go and interfere in courts, and lecture the kings. They got killed for it very often, but they also converted many of them. What they did was nothing short of amazing, miraculous. Let me cite something from the venerable Bede. The venerable Bede, in England, about the time of Charlemagne.

Speaker 2: 44:26 Please turn over the cassette and continue the message.

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965.  His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.”  He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

Learn more about R.J. Rushdoony by visiting: https://chalcedon.edu/founder