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A thousand years ago, Islam was a powerful force in parts of Europe. Today, Islam is once again making itself felt, in ways that trouble many Europeans. Will we see an Islamic Europe—and what will it mean for end-time prophecy?
In the southern Spanish town of Granada, on July 10, 2003, a remarkable event marked a dramatic milestone in European history. Yet it achieved few headlines, and even today only a handful understand its full significance.
For more than 700 years—from the early eighth century AD to nearly the end of the fifteenth—Muslim rulers had governed Spain, and Islam had been a thriving force on the Iberian Peninsula. In 732AD, a Muslim army under Emir Abd al-Rahman almost reached Paris before being stopped near Tours, France. Islam's spread across Europe reached its zenith in the eighth century. Then, over hundreds of years, non-Muslim forces gradually chipped away at Islamic rule. Finally, in 1492, the armies of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella conquered Spain's last Muslim stronghold, Granada. For the first time in centuries, no part of Spain was under Muslim rule. Within a few years, Spain's remaining Muslim population had converted to other faiths, and Islam no longer held sway where it had once ruled supreme.
Five hundred years later, with new Spanish converts joining Muslim immigrants to celebrate the opening of Granada's new Great Mosque, many Europeans wondered, "Could it all happen again?" In the years ahead, Europe's history of violent conflict with Islam will have a growing influence on current events. We need to be aware of the history—and of where the Bible tells us the conflict will inexorably lead.
The Great Mosque was Granada's first new mosque in five centuries. European observers found it especially noteworthy because Granada had been Islam's last stronghold in Spain. "The powers that be didn't want the mosque built because Granada was a symbol of the reconquest," said Abdelkarim Carrasco, head of the Spanish Federation of Islamic Religious Entities. The reconquest—or "reconquista"—is what historians call the centuries-long struggle that drove Muslim rulers from Spain. The new mosque spurred fears of a reversal—an "Islamic reconquista." Malik Abderraman, president of the foundation that runs the mosque, said bluntly, "It's clear that Islam is eating into Catholic turf" ("Islam's Global Gains Pressure Catholics to Rethink Strategy," Wall Street Journal, April 19, 2005).
Islam had once reached into Europe far beyond Spain; Muslim armies sacked Rome in 846AD, and in the eighth century had even come close to capturing France. In 732AD, Muslim forces marched through France, toward Paris, only to be stopped by the Frankish army under Charles Martel, the grandfather of Charlemagne. Near Tours, France, the Frankish army fought a great battle that historians today recognize as a pivotal moment in the history of western civilization. Although outnumbered, Martel rallied his Frankish troops to hold the line against the onslaught of Abd al-Rahman's horsemen—and Frankish forces won the day. The noted historian Edward Gibbon describes what would have happened to Europe if Martel and his Franks had failed to halt and reverse the Muslim drive:
"A victorious line of march [by the Muslim forces] had been prolonged above a thousand miles from the rock of Gibraltar to the banks of the Loire; the repetition of an equal space would have carried the Saracens to the confines of Poland and the Highlands of Scotland; the Rhine is not more impassable than the Nile or Euphrates, and the Arabian fleet might have sailed without a naval combat into the mouth of the Thames [near London]. Perhaps the interpretation of the Koran would now be taught in the schools of Oxford, and her pulpits might demonstrate to a circumcised people the sanctity and truth of the revelation of Mahomet" (Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 5, Ch. 52, Part II).
A Muslim France? Historically, it nearly happened. But as a result of Martel's fierce opposition, which ended Muslim advances and set the stage for centuries of war thereafter, Islam moved no farther into Europe. European schoolchildren learn about the Battle of Tours in much the same way that American students learn about Valley Forge and Gettysburg. For today's Europeans, however, yesterday's battles remind them of the modern challenge posed by Islam.
There is a new Muslim conquest of Europe underway—but this time, it is a peaceful invasion. Millions of Turks, Arabs, Algerians and other Muslims have immigrated to European countries, seeking employment and a better life. Often they begin as guest workers before becoming permanent residents. For years, these workers were largely welcomed by nations that needed their lower-cost labor. Increasingly, however, immigrant Muslim populations in Europe are growing to the point that they have become a major cultural and political force affecting their host countries. Rather than assimilate, they are testing the limits of European tolerance—and social tensions are growing.
In 1970, according to the World Christian Encyclopedia, there were 20 percent more Roman Catholics around the world than there were Muslims. By 2000, this proportion had almost reversed; there were 1.20 billion Muslims worldwide, compared to just 1.06 billion Roman Catholics. And Islam is growing, both through births and conversions, at a rate far greater than Roman Catholicism.
This shift is particularly visible in France. Demographers note that among French youth, the percentage of Muslims is much higher than among the general French population. In a recent column, commentator Cal Thomas speculated, "At current rates, the Muslim population will grow… to a majority in 25 years. French culture, possibly French secularism and liberty, cannot be sustained in the face of such demographic facts" ("Lessons Learned," January 11, 2006).
Europeans who once assumed that Muslim terrorism was an American problem are now discovering that it is their problem, too. Spain and Great Britain have experienced bombings. France has seen widespread rioting by radicalized young Muslims. A Danish newspaper found itself at the hub of international uproar when it printed cartoons that some Muslims found offensive—and this controversy is galvanizing Muslim sentiments around the world. As Voice of America reporter Benjamin Sand recently noted, "Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf says the controversy over editorial cartoons of… Islam's prophet, Muhammad, is uniting moderate and radical Muslims. As he spoke, thousands of Pakistanis protested, and there were several instances of violence, as the caricatures continue to fuel anti-western rage across the Muslim world." (Voice of America News, February 13, 2006).
Although there are many voices urging moderation, controversy ver the Danish cartoons is fanning anti-Muslim sentiments as well. Some of Europe's non-Muslim commentators are no longer as keen on tolerance as they once were—and other Europeans are listening. Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci echoed an increasingly common sentiment: "Europe is no longer Europe. It is a province of Islam, as Spain and Portugal were at the time of the Moors. It hosts almost 16 million Muslim immigrants and teems with mullahs, imams, mosques, burqas, chadors. It lodges thousands of Islamic terrorists whom governments don't know how to identify and control. People are afraid, and in waving the flag of pacifism—pacifism synonymous with anti-Americanism—they feel protected" ("The Rage, the Pride and the Doubt," Wall Street Journal, March 13, 2003).
In 2004, when the European Union added ten new member states—primarily from Eastern Europe—the Vatican took note. Pope John Paul II observed: "If the unity of the European peoples is to endure, it cannot be merely economic and political… The history of the formation of the European Nations keeps abreast with their evangelization. Consequently, despite the spiritual crises that have marked the life of the Continent in our day, its identity would be incomprehensible without Christianity… Only a Europe that does not eliminate but rediscovers its Christian roots, will be able to take up the challenges of the third millennium: peace, intercultural and interreligious dialogue, the safeguarding of creation. All believers in Christ of the European West and East are required to make their own contribution through open and sincere ecumenical cooperation" (Regina Caeli, May 2, 2004).
Despite Vatican wishes, Europe has continued its drift toward secularism. When the European Union was codifying its proposed constitution, debate raged as to whether it would make reference to Europe's "Christian roots" as the Vatican had urged. Noting the degree of European opposition to such a reference, Vatican public affairs chief Joaquin Navarro-Valls lamented:
"The Holy See cannot but express its distress over the opposition of some governments to the explicit recognition of the Christian roots of Europe. It is a question of disregard of the historical evidence and of the Christian identity of European peoples. The Holy See expresses heartfelt appreciation and gratitude to those governments that, aware of the past and of the historical horizon in which the new Europe is taking shape, worked to express concretely its recognized religious heritage. Not to be forgotten is the intense commitment of different entities to have the Christian heritage of Europe mentioned in this treaty, stimulating the reflection of political leaders, citizens, and public opinion on a question that is not secondary in the present national, European and world context" ("Pope Disappointed Christian Roots Not Recognized," Catholic Information Office, June 22,2004).
Navarro-Valls was surely pleased that after the French and Dutch rejections of the proposed constitution last year, European Union officials chose to suspend the ratification process. Some see the suspension as a renewed opportunity to add a "Christian identity" clause to the EU constitution—a sentiment that may increase as a reaction to Muslim assertiveness sweeping across Europe. Yet such a clause would further worsen tensions between Islam and Europe.
What will be the result of the increasing tension between Europe and Islam? Bible prophecy tells us what to look for. Jesus Christ told His followers to watch world events, so that they could observe the signs that would indicate His soon return. He said: "Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of earth to the farthest part of heaven. Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that it is near—at the doors!.… And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!" (Mark 13:26–29, 37).
Bible prophecy reveals that the rise of a "king of the South" will be one key sign leading up to Christ's return (for more on this topic, see page 22 of this issue). In Bible terminology, "south" here refers to a kingdom south of Jerusalem. Although Iran and Iraq may be part of, or allied with, this kingdom, simple geography demonstrates that the "head" of this kingdom will be to the south of these nations.
Is the Muslim world likely to unite under one autocratic ruler? Some consider this farfetched, and point to increasing democratic tendencies in such countries as Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Palestinian Authority. Even Iran has elections, though candidates must first be approved by Muslim religious authorities. But what have these elections produced? In Egypt, when elections were made more free, the radical Islamist group—the Muslim Brotherhood—quickly won 84 of the 454 seats in the nation's parliament. In Iraq, votes were split largely along sectarian lines, and many observers fear that ruling Shiites will try to institute an Islamic government as they did in Iran. And even though Iraq has held elections, the most powerful man in Iraq may be the unelected Shiite leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
Palestinian moves toward "democracy" have also been problematic. Last January, the world was shocked when Palestinian voters rejected the more moderate Fatah party and instead gave a solid majority in Palestine's legislative assembly to Hamas, a radical Islamic terrorist group that calls for the destruction of Israel and the imposition of a Muslim republic.
In Iran, the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has worsened tensions between Europe and the Muslim world. Ahmadinejad has described the Holocaust as "a myth" and has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map." He also anticipates the coming of a "Mahdi" or "Twelfth Imam" who will unite world Islam.
Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, from his mosque in London, England, has told his followers that the world should be run by a Muslim caliphate "sitting in the White House." Such comments obviously make Europeans nervous about the Muslim influence in their midst.
Why are Muslims using democracy to install leaders who oppose democracy? Analyst Thomas L. Friedman writes: "You cannot go from Saddam to Jefferson without first going through Khomeini. Why? Because once you sweep away the dictator or king at the top of any Middle East state, you go into a free fall until you hit the mosque—as the U.S. discovered in Iraq. There is nothing between the ruling palace and the mosque. The secular autocratic regimes, like those in Egypt, Libya, Syria and Iraq never allowed for the emergence of any truly independent judiciary, media, progressive secular parties or civil society groups—from women's organizations to trade associations.… That is why the minute any of these Arab countries hold free and fair elections, the Islamists burst ahead" ("Addicted to Oil," New York Times, February 1, 2006).
Another way of looking at it is that, no matter how fervently Western governments seek to promote "democracy" or "reform" or "moderation" in these nations, it is God—not man—who sets up governments and takes them down (Daniel 2:21). Despite the continual attempts—and failures—of those who want to make the Muslim world into something it is not, God will carry out His plan. When it is time for the prophesied king of the South to rise, it will happen—whether or not analysts understand the reasons why.
Daniel, a prophet from the tribe of Judah, lived in Babylon and Medo-Persia (near modern day Iraq) in the sixth century BC—long before the Greek and Roman empires, and more than a thousand years before Muhammad. Daniel 11, which was written during the reign of the Medo-Persian Empire, contains some remarkable prophecies, including those of the king of the South and the king of the North. Daniel's prophecies accurately foretold the history of Judea during the rise of the Greek empire—and they also foretell amazing events that will take place in our time.
When Alexander the Great died, his kingdom was divided among his four main generals—as Daniel had prophesied long before (Daniel 8:21–22; 11:4). One of those generals, Ptolemy-Soter, became ruler of a kingdom centered in Egypt, and is foretold as a king of the South (Daniel 11:5). Remember that Egypt is to the south of Jerusalem, and Syria is to the north. The prophecy also foretells specific events in the life of Ptolemy Philadelphus of Egypt (a king of the South) and his contention against Antichious II (Theos) who ruled a Syrian kingdom and is called the king of the North (v. 6). Daniel then describes that another generation of Egyptian kings (Ptolemy III) would wage war against the king of the North in Syria, invading through Judea (vv. 7–9). These specific events—and many others like them, described in Daniel 11—took place in the recorded history of the Greek empire. Daniel's prophecies continue forwardthrough the transition from a Greek empire to the Roman Empire, at which point we see the Roman Empire identified as the king of the North in prophecy.
Beginning at verse 40, Daniel's time frame jumps to the "time of the end"—the time in which we now live. He writes: "And at the time of the end shall the king of the south contend with him; and the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass through. He shall enter also into the glorious land, and many [countries] shall be overthrown; but these shall be delivered out of his hand: Edom, and Moab, and the chief of the children of Ammon. He shall stretch forth his hand also upon the countries; and the land of Egypt shall not escape. But he shall have power over the treasures of gold and of silver, and over all the precious things of Egypt; and the Libyans and the Ethiopians [indicating kingdoms south of Jerusalem] shall be at his steps" (Daniel 11:40–43, ASV).
Daniel's remarkable prophecy foretells the rise of a great Middle Eastern power that will challenge a great European power. Regular readers of this magazine know that shortly before Jesus Christ returns, a powerful European leader will unite ten European kings or nations into a powerful political-religious system that will enforce its will fiercely on all who try to oppose it.
This great power will go to war against the king of the South—certain nations of the Middle East. But rather than going to war to end tyranny or spread democracy, this power will seek its own ends through force that is anything but benevolent. Will this war be spurred by the contention between Europe and Islam? When a provocation as mild as a newspaper cartoon can bring many of the world's Muslims together in violent rage, how much more will major political and religious developments stoke the fires of anger between the historically Roman Catholic nations of Europe, and the nations of resurgent Islam? Watch world events in the light of Bible prophecy, and you will see this long-prophesied conflict set the stage for Jesus Christ's return and the establishment of His kingdom on earth.