Continuity: St. Francis of Assisi, Fr. Zakaria Botros, and Islam

by Raymond Ibrahim

Jihad Watch

While not formally connected, two books I recently finished reading — St. Francis of Assisi and the Conversion of Muslims and Defying Death: Zakaria Botross, Apostle to Islam — complement each other very well, specifically by establishing continuity between medieval and modern Islam, and, in so doing, demonstrating that Islamic intolerance has a long pedigree. 

For instance, after St. Francis and his companions challenged the sultan’sulema to a theological disputation in order to show the superiority of Christianity to Islam, the latter refused and “instead insisted that they be killed [by beheading], in accordance with Islamic law.” (p. 60)

Medieval Muslims appear to have also had the same soft spots of today’s Muslims. A contemporary notes, “The Saracens treated with great cruelty those Christians who spoke ill of the law of Mahomet.” (p. 90) Other anecdotes reveal that Muslims could tolerate Christians — except whenever the latter questioned Muhammad. Reminiscent of how today’s non-Muslims often get themselves in trouble, or worse, killed, whenever they allude to the prophet of Islam — whether by quoting history, publishing cartoons, or naming teddy bears “Muhammad.”

After St. Francis asked the sultan to convert to Christianity, the latter confessed: “I could not do that. My people would stone me.” (p. 65) Indeed, the sultan was eventually attacked “for his tolerant attitude towards Christians and was accused of failing to be a ‘fervent Muslim.’” (p. 75) These two points are a reminder that today’s Muslim apostate, no less than his medieval counterpart, must be executed — as we see in daily headlines — and that Muslims who are too “friendly” with infidels, in direct contravention to Koran 3:28, can be denounced of apostasy.

If the reader still thinks the above is aberrant or “outdated” behavior for Muslims, another book — Defying Death: Zakaria Botross, Apostle to Islam(2007) — makes clear how tenacious such reactions are. A Coptic priest who has spent his life proselytizing Muslims, Botross’ experiences with the former mirror those of St. Francis. According to his biography, when the priest began preaching to Muslims in Egypt, he was imprisoned, tortured, and eventually deported; when Muslims actually began converting, his life, according to Islamic law — which condemns both the convert and converter — was forfeit.

Undeterred and now in his mid 70s, he currently hosts a very popular Arabic satellite program dedicated to examining Islam vis-à-vis Christianity, especially through their scriptures, in an effort to debunk the former. And just like St. Francis, he constantly invites the ulema to debate him — only to receive death threats, including a multi-million dollar bounty on his head.

Botross often explores arcane Arabo-Islamic texts, many which contain unflattering material concerning the Prophet — he recently ran a series dedicated to documenting the “perverse sexual habits of the Prophet.” As with St. Francis’ experiences, the Muslim response, including live callers hysterically promising to cut Botross’ head off, confirms that Muhammad, then and now, is a soft spot for Muslims.
Finally, as with the sultan who, reflecting upon the possibility of his conversion to Christianity, concluded that “I could not do that. My people would stone me,” the many Muslim converts appearing on his show and calling in, reveal that their apostasy from Islam has made them outcasts, many in hiding, others on the run for their lives, often from their families.

Raymond Ibrahim is the associate director of the Middle East Forum and the author of The Al Qaeda Reader, translations of religious texts and propaganda.
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