Empires - Islam: Empire of Faith
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Between the fall of Rome and the European voyages of discovery, few events were more significant than the rise of Islam. Within a few centuries, the Islamic empires blossomed, projecting their power from Africa to the East Indies, and from Spain to India. Inspired by the words of the Prophet Muhammed, and led by caliphs and sultans, this political and religious expansion remains unequaled in speed, geographic size and endurance.
Islam: Empire of Faith is narrated by Academy AwardÂ®-winning actor Ben Kingsley. The three-hour program tells the spectacular story of the great sweep of Islamic power and faith during its first 1,000 years â¹ from the birth of the Prophet Muhammed to the peak of the Ottoman Empire under the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent. Historical re-enactments and a remarkable exposition of Islamic art, artifacts and architecture are combined with interviews of scholars from around the world to recount the rise and importance of early Islamic civilization. Increasingly, scholars and historians are recognizing the profound impact that Islamic civilization has had on Western culture and the course of world history.
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1) According to the narrator, Islam "spread" to the north, south, east and west. Only later is it mentioned that there was a military component to this expansion, but it is described as being barely resisted due to the various peoples' displeasure with their then current rulers. No mention, at all, of Muslim atrocities, or even the harshness, of these early conquests. In fact there is no mention of any harshness attributed to any Muslim conquests in the entire film. Even later in the film when the siege of Constantinople is described, there is a curious absence of any mention of the horrific slaughter and enslavement that followed. One is left wondering if anyone was ever killed or enslaved during the expansion if Islam. Certainty the film makes no effort to describe such atrocities.
2) No mention of any negative event or activity attributed to Islam. None. At all. The only "criticism" is the burning of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre that is immediately categorized as the irrational act of a "madman" and was used as an excuse for the malevolent Christian West to launch the Crusades (no mention of the Muslim takeover of Asia Minor after the Battle of Manzikert and the resultant threat to Europe as the event the shocked Christian Europe into finally confronting the Muslims). But even when attributing the Crusades to the overreaction of the burning of a Christian church, the producers couldn't bring themselves to attribute the church's burning to Islam, and instead contort the presentation with an unpersuasive exercise in rationalization. Although the brevity of the excuse making is an indication that the producers seemed to know they were out on a limb on this one.
3) Every apparent Islamic achievement is followed by a disparaging comparison to Europeans. Offensive on one level, but revealing on another. Clearly one gets the sense that the producers have a deep-seated belief that Islamic achievements are inferior to those of Europe. If not, why the constant need to belittle the Europeans rather than simply stand on the achievements of Islam? It seems to be a case of trying to look big by tearing the other guy down.
4) Outright misleading comments about several important developments including the scientific method, the Italian Renaissance, the use of the dome in architecture, the use of paper, gunpowder (to name a few) which are presented in such a way so as to give the viewer the impression that Islam is to be credited for them. The obvious and repeated attempts at "culture stealing" seem to once again reveal the producers' sense of inferiority about Islam's lack of genuine achievement.
5) The forcible taking of small Christian boys from the Balkans to be brought up and raised as Muslim soldiers in order to have them later fight and kill their fellow Christians is presented as a "caring and benevolent system of education". If the producers had any appreciation for critical analysis, this practice should have been described as one of the cruelest and evil episodes in human history. Please understand that there's a distinction between grown men fighting against one side only to join them later after having been defeated (somewhat common throughout history), and the intentional kidnapping and brainwashing of small boys with the intention of having them fight and kill their own people as grown men. Absolutely cruel. Certainly not a "caring system of education".
6) The accounts of the Crusades are taken from Western sources that exaggerated the battles in order to glorify and encourage more Christian men to join the effort. Yet the film makes no effort to put these accounts in their proper context, and instead makes every attempt to convince the viewer of their accuracy. This discredited practice, coupled with the absence of any mention of Muslim atrocities, is really all one needs to know about the film's propagandistic agenda, although other clues include the use of the phrase "Dark Ages" (rather than the more scholarly and objective "Middle Ages") and the clear preference for the name "Istanbul" rather than "Constantinople", which was the city's proper name during the period covered by the film.
7) No mention of the tax non-Muslims had to pay for being non-Muslims, or the humiliating public ritual they had to endure when paying it (which often included beatings).
8) No mention of the strict prohibition against proselytization by non-Muslims (a practice that continues to this day).
9) No mention of the absolute and unquestioning submission of women to the will of men (a practice that also continues to this day).
10) The use of harems was not erotic, but forced upon the Islamic leaders to produce offspring. Their mothers had a great say in who was accepted into the harem. Just plain laughable.
11) No mention of the slaughter and subsequent enslavement of sub-Saharan Africans by Muslims, let alone the fact that the relationship between these two peoples has changed little since Islam was "introduced" to sub-Saharan Africa.
12) No mention of the Battle of Tours. Perhaps it was too difficult for the propagandists to spin this as pro-Muslim, since they would have to make the twin admissions that Islam wasn't wanted by the West AND was actually defeated by it (not by the weather or muddy roads, as they spun the Muslim defeat in the battle for Vienna).
Finally, let me mention that the so called "scholars" who appeared on this program should be ashamed of themselves for being enablers to this type of propaganda. Aside from ruining their professional reputations, their personal integrity has to be called into question given the obvious and overt nature of this misleading presentation.
I have to be fair though, because I don't know if any of them objected to the final project. I have to assume some of them did, given the presence of one group of scholars on any given topic, followed by their absence on another, only to reemerge again on yet another topic. This tactic, coupled with the fact that so many "scholars" were used in the making of this program, is an indication that the producers cherry-picked only the positive responses from their large group of "contributors" and edited out the criticisms, which means that perhaps some of the contributors weren't pleased with the final product. Again, I don't know if this is the case, but I'd like to think these professors weren't such absolute fools so as to allow themselves to be used in such a blatant and overt manner and not protest against it on some level.
But I hasten to add that the women who appeared on this presentation, with their constant grins, smiles and upraised eyebrows, especially when talking about the more shameful aspects of Islam, seem to indicate that they, at least, were willing patsies in the making of this film. It would be interesting to know more about them, particularly what motivates them to be such "happy apologists" for a religion that demands their absolute submission.
In the end this film may be useful in a class on film propaganda, alongside films like Leni Riefenstahl's "Triumph of the Will" or Michael Moore's numerous "documentaries". Aside from that, this film really has no value. Most people will probably walk away from it less informed about Islam than they hoped, and far more cynical than they'd prefer.
There is absolutely no doubt that Islamic civilization during the Middle Ages was spectacular, rich, and more advanced than European civilization. They preserved Greek philosophy and expanded upon it, developed geometry and discovered trigonometry, and adapted Indian numerals to a decimal system, greatly advancing mathematics. Art and architecture under the empire was simply stunning, breathtakingly beautiful. Muslims also developed an anatomy that was used for centuries afterward by Europe, discovered inoculation and formed the precursor to modern hospitals. The Islamic empire was so rich and powerful it became a great threat to Christian Europe, who responded with the Crusades. Over one hundred years of conflict ensues in the Levant, until Saladin re-conquers and ends the Crusading campaigns. The account of the Crusades is short, and not historically complete. It is also quite biased in its presentation of details.
The rise and spread of the Ottoman Empire is narrated in the third installment. Their power, spread into Europe, their great architecture, and their antagonism with the Iranian Safavid Empire are all included. By far the best part of this DVD is its telling of the life of Suleyman the Magnificent. He was certainly an extraordinary ruler and he receives his due attention in this documentary.
Now the bad. This production is quite biased, sometimes subtly in its choice of pictures, other times not so subtly in its choice of language. What you will not hear about is the gruesome nature of the Arabic conquest. While, according to this documentary the Muslims were led by a noble faith in God, the truth is many people were slaughtered in the conquests. Many thousands of Zoroastrian Persians were slaughtered; the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) were allowed to maintain their faith, but were subject to a special Muslim toll tax that did not apply to Muslims. They also were not allowed to proselytize, and their legal testimony was not as valid as their Muslim overlords. Many people were given only three options: conversion, death, or slavery. All peoples have conquered and slaughtered the Other; neither Muslims nor Christians are exempt from such behavior. Nonetheless, some Christians received more toleration than they had had under the Byzantine Empire. But the fact of the matter is that modern religious toleration was birthed in the European Enlightenment, not in the Middle East or West Asia. Muslims did develop much philosophy and learning, however many of the scholars working in Cordoba and Baghdad were Jews and Christians, albeit studying in peaceful cooperation with the Muslims. Paper was discovered via Chinese slaves brought into the empire, and the slave trade formed an integral part of the economy of the Muslim lands. Although Muslims did not invent slavery, which has been around since the dawn of civilization, they did innovate the African slave trade. Several times we hear about Europe "languishing in the Dark Ages". No serious historian uses the term Dark Ages anymore, as the past decades have revealed a much more complex and intellectually interesting history. The term has been abandoned for the more appropriate Middle Ages, being as it is the bridge between the ancient and modern worlds.
A great oversight is its short shrift of Iran. Iran is one of the centers of Islamic civilization, the center of Shiism, and a complex and interesting culture. The glory of the Safavid Empire and the beauty of its capital Isfahan are briefly mentioned, but there is no word on Shah Abbas, Iran's ruler at the height of this empire.
Also, this DVD focuses on politics, not religion. You will not gain a deep understanding of the myriad forms of Islamic faith in this documentary, certainly a key point of interest for some individuals. The Sufi dervishes were only very briefly mentioned, which is a shame because Sufism is a fascinating expression of Islamic mysticism, looked at with great suspicion by more conservative Muslims. Neither will you hear much detail about the schism between the Sunni and Shiites. The roots of this split are told, but the theological differences are not discussed. It was the development of Shiism that was a great impetus for the conversion of the Zoroastrian Persians to Islam, as it incorporated Zoroastrian ideas, merging the Saoshyant with the Hidden Imam to be revealed in later times.
So, it's biased, but extremely beautiful and informative. This could have been a four or five star documentary, but because of its political correctness it gets three.
While the video virtually ignores the violent nature of Muhammad and Quran and their conquest by war, it spends about ten minutes condemning the European Crusades for trying to retake the Holy Land which had been conquered by Islam. It is hard to tell whether the producers of this video were ignorant of Muslim origins and sources, or it they intentionally hide them in an attempt to whitewash Islamic history and authoritative sources.