As a seventh or eighth grader, I was trying to challenge my history teacher who was telling the class that Islam had spread in its early years from the Arabian Peninsula with the force of the sword. I attended Iranzamin, an international school in Tehran, our lecturers were American or European and most of our textbooks, including the history book our teacher was referring to, was American.
The textbook said exactly the same thing; that Islam had spread not due to the belief and conversion of people who had got the reviving message and were persecuted by their rulers and tyrants, but by force of the sword. A commonplace evident distortion of history by Christian historians, reflects the policy of denial that was practiced for a long time.
That history book was full of references to the merits of the Roman Civilization and excessive references to the services that European civilization had rendered to humanity and of course the American civilization. Very little, if any, mention was made of the great services that Islamic scholars, scientists, artists and leaders had provided. That was back in 1974.
Today, there is more understanding and recognition of the Islamic civilization in many dimensions, there are many sincere attempts on behalf of Christian authorities and scholars to appreciate the role of Islamic culture in the scientific, technological, social and political advancement of the human civilization.
Yet, there still are malevolent attempts to incite religious hatred and to depict a distorted image of Islam for the world. There seems to be a well orchestrated ongoing effort to portray Islam as a religion of violence, hatred and revenge. The film "Fitna" by Dutch far-right MP Geert Wilders, which features images of attacks in New York and Madrid intertwined with recitations from the Holy Quran, has provoked widespread condemnation.
I saw the film on the internet last night. It is very unfortunate that under the disguise of freedom of speech, which is a highly valued principle, a European politician would go to the extremes of insulting a divine religion known to be the fastest growing religion on earth.
The coincidence of the news given by Monsignor Vittorio Formenti, the compiler of the Annuario Pontificio, the Vatican yearbook is striking. He said "For the first time in history, we are no longer at the top: Muslims have overtaken us." He added that figures for 2006 showed that Catholics accounted for 17.4 per cent of the world population while Muslims accounted for 19.2 per cent.
Asked for an explanation Monsignor Formenti observed that "While Muslim families, as is well known, continue to make a lot of children, Christian ones on the contrary tend to have fewer and fewer". He said the figure for the Muslim global population was derived from data submitted to the United Nations by Muslim countries. He did not mention the high number of converts particularly in European countries.
I think there is an ongoing effort to create tensions leading to a collision course between Muslim and Christian societies who have been living together in peace for centuries. Muslims in Europe are emerging as a reality that has to be dealt with in a just and dignified manner. Up to now they have been generally excluded from the political and economic processes of their societies. Contrary to Iran, where religious minorities have a quota in the Parliament, Muslims lack any political representation in many European countries although they have strong minorities. These populations are mostly peaceful, law abiding and hardworking citizens.
The Fitna is a test for the values of democracy, tolerance and respect for diversity of opinions that Europeans claim to cherish and promote.