History has dealt the Islamic world a terrible hand. From the 13th century onward, the defining moments in the world of Islam were the Mongol invasions and the imperialist intrusion of the west and the advent of colonial dependency. It is significant how little the western approach to the Muslim world has changed during this period. The modus operandi is the same. Praise Islam as the religion of peace and love but carry war and destruction to weak and defenceless Muslim countries if they refuse to toe the line. Praise the Holy Prophet (PBUH) but unleash the hounds of war against his followers, bomb innocent men, women and children, occupy their lands, change their government by force of arms and replace it with client regimes.
The new president of the United States, Barack Obama, unites within himself American and African Muslim heritages. On the day that Obama became president-elect, his paternal grandmother, Habiba Akuma Obama held a cerebration in her village. In his Cairo speech, Obama vowed to bridge the rift with Muslims, imploring Americans and the Islamic world to drop their suspicions of one another and forge new alliances. His overture to the Islamic world reminds me of Napoleon Bonaparte. Before embarking on his Egyptian expedition, he presented himself to the Islamic world as its greatest champion and a great admirer of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). On June 22, 1798, he set out to conquer Egypt, a country he described “as the first theatre of civilisation in the universe”.
“Soldiers”, Bonaparte proclaimed, “You are going to undertake a conquest, the effect of which, upon commerce and civilisation, will be incalculable. The eyes of mankind are fixed upon you. The Mameluke Beys, who tyrannise over the unhappy inhabitants of the banks of the Nile, will no longer exist in a few days after our arrival. The people among whom you are going to live, are Mahometans: the first article of their faith is, ‘there is no other god but God and Mahomet is his Prophet. Do not contradict them. Treat their Muftis and their Imams with respect”.
After establishing his headquarters at Alexandria, Bonaparte issued the following proclamation in Arabic:
“In the name of God, gracious and merciful. There is no god but God; he has no son nor associate in his kingdom. Inhabitants of Egypt! When the Beys tell you the French are come to destroy your religion, believe them not: it is an absolute falsehood. Answer these deceivers, that they are only come to rescue the rights of the poor from the hands of their tyrants, and that the French adore the Supreme Being, and honour the Prophet and his Holy Quran.
“All men are equal in the eyes of God: understanding, ingenuity, and science, alone make a difference between them. As the Beys do not posses any of these qualities, they cannot be worthy to govern the country. Yet they are the only possessors of extensive tracts of lands, beautiful female slaves, excellent horses, and magnificent places! Have they, then, received an exclusive privilege from the Almighty? If so, let them produce it. But the Supreme Being, who is just and merciful towards all mankind, wills, that, in future, none of the inhabitants in Egypt shall be prevented from attaining to the first employments, and the highest honours. The administration, which shall be conducted by persons of intelligence, talents, and foresight, will be productive of happiness and security.
“The French are true Mussulmen! Not long since they marched to Rome, and overthrew the throne of the Pope who excited the Christians against the professors of the Mahometan religion. Our friendship shall be extended to those of the inhabitants of Egypt who shall join us, as also to those who shall remain in their dwellings, and observe a strict neutrality; and, when they have seen our conduct with their own eyes, hasten to submit to us; but the dreadful punishment of death awaits those who shall take up arms for the Beys, and against us: for them their shall be no deliverance, nor shall any trace of them remain”.
Accompanied by his staff and the members of the National Institute, attended also by a powerful guard, and conducted by several Muftis and Imams, Bonaparte commenced the following interesting conversation with Suluman, Ibrahim, and Mahumed, the chief Muftis.
Buonaparte: “Glory to Allah! There is no other god but God, Mahomet is his Prophet, and I am his friend”!
Suluman: “The salutation of peace to the envoy of God! Salutation to thee, also, invincible warrior, favourite of Mahomet”!
Buonaparte: “Mufti, I thank thee: the divine Quran is the delight of my soul, and the object of my contemplation. I love the Prophet, and I hope, ere long, to see and honour his tomb in the Holy City; but my mission is first to exterminate the Mamelukes”.
Ibrahim: “May the angels of victory sweep the dust from thy path, and cover thee with their wings! The Mameluke has merited death”.
Buonaparte: “He has been smitten and delivered over to the black angels, Monkir and Quakir. God, on whom all things depend, has ordained that his dominions shall be destroyed”.
Suluman: “He has extended the hand of rapine over the land, the harvest and the horses, of Egypt”.
Buonaparte: “And over the most beautiful slaves, thrice holy Mufti! Allah has withered his hand: if Egypt be his portion, let him shew the lease which God has given him of it; but God is just and merciful to his people”.
Ibrahim: “Oh! most valiant among the children of Issa! (Jesus Christ) Allah has caused thee to follow the exterminating angel to deliver his land of Egypt”.
Buonaparte: “Has not Mahomet said, that every man who adores God, and performs good works whatever maybe his religion, shall be saved”?
Suluman, Muhamed, Ibrahim (inclining themselves): “He has said so”.
Ibrahim: “Glory to Allah and his Prophet! Who have sent thee into the midst of us to rekindle the faith of the weak, and to open to the faithful the gates of the seventh heaven”?
Buonaparte: “You have spoken my wishes, most zealous Muftis! Be faithful to Allah, the sovereign ruler of the seven marvellous heavens, and to Mahomet, his vizir, who traversed all the celestial mansions in a single night. Be the friends of the Francs, and Allah, Mahomet, and Francs, will reward you”.
Ibrahim: “May the Prophet himself cause thee to sit at his left-hand, on the day of the resurrection, after the third sound of the trumpet”.
Buonaparte: “The hour of political resurrection has arrived for all who groan under oppression. Muftis, Imams, Mullahs, Dervises, and Kalenders! Instruct the people of Egypt, encourage them to join us in our labours, to complete the destruction of Beys and Mamelukes: favour the commerce of the Francs in your country and their endeavours to arrive at the ancient Land of Brama. Let them have storehouses in your ports”.
Suluman (inclining himself): “Thou hast spoken like the most learned of the Mullahs. We place faith in thy words: we shall serve thy cause, and God hears us”.
Buonaparte: “God is great, and his works are marvellous: the salutation of peace be upon you, Thrice Holy Muftis!”
The snake, it is said, covers its prey with saliva before devouring it. Before launching the attack on Afghanistan, President Bush visited the Islamic Centre in Washington DC and addressing the gathering quoted from the Holy Quran: “In the long run, evil in the extreme will be the end of those who do evil. For that they rejected the signs of Allah and held them up to ridicule”!
Obama’s speech was impressive, but he delivered it in a country where an aging dictator is passing power to his son, where the country is crumbling to dust because of repression and stagnation. So words are not enough. What is needed is action, not just fine rhetoric. The Islamic world would judge Obama not by his intentions, not by his words, but by his deeds.