30 years of observing Islamic peace and love


Although the nearly 13-hour flight out of New York’s JFK Airport was uneventful, I found myself somewhat apprehensive as my Saudia Airlines flight prepared to land in Riyadh.  Despite having spent a few weeks during the previous summer in Iran and Turkey, I had no idea what to expect in the Muslim land which considered itself to be the guardian of the pilgrimage cities of Mecca and Medina.

After landing, all passengers were subjected to a painstaking inspection by the Saudi Arabian customs service, during which my Bible was confiscated. Thus, I was introduced to the country where I would reside for the next six years.

After settling into my quarters in faculty housing at King Saud University, other expatriate faculty members quickly made me aware that openly professing or practicing any religion other than Islam was a serious violation of Sharia law, the legal system and principles of governance taken from the Koran, which serves as the constitution of Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, after a few weeks in country, I discovered that there existed a clandestine Christian fellowship that met on Friday, the Muslim holy day, on the McDonnell-Douglas residential compound in central Riyadh.  Each Friday morning, services were led there by an Armenian-American Presbyterian pastor, who had entered Saudi Arabia under the guise of being an engineer.  In time, I became a regular attendee.

In many ways, my six-year stay in Saudi Arabia was idyllic.  My work-day at the university ran from 7:30 AM to 2:30 PM, giving me ample opportunity to study Arabic and to sharpen my tennis game on the courts at the U.S. Military Training Mission, where I had a membership.  Eventually, my Arabic language skills began to exceed my tennis ability, and I began to spend more and more time around the markets and shops of Riyadh, listening to spoken Arabic and trying to strengthen my accent.

There was one day of the week when I did not venture out to the main market, as public executions by beheading were conducted nearby at the principal mosque on Fridays.  These events, I was told, were attended by hundreds of enthusiastic Muslims who took great pleasure in observing the law of Islam being put into practice with the headsman’s scimitar.

Another feature of life on Fridays in Riyadh was the constant cacophony of screaming imams emitting from the public address systems and speakers attached to the minarets of the hundreds of mosques scattered throughout the city.  At the outset of my stay in Riyadh, those sounds made no sense to me; but, as I developed greater Arabic proficiency, I came to understand that those were not words of peace and love.  On the contrary, they were condemnations of unbelievers, and the faithful were being told to look forward to an eventual day of reckoning, when Christians, Jews and others not of Mohamed’s faith would be slaughtered.

I vividly recall the day I attempted to engage a Saudi colleague with a Ph.D. from Michigan State University in a dialogue concerning religious freedom.  Naively, I asked him why it was that Christians could not worship freely in Saudi Arabia, while the Kingdom was lavishly spending billions in constructing large mosques in American cities like Houston.  Consequently, I discovered that a Muslim could be the most urbane, educated and charming of individuals; but, when it came to Islam, such a person swiftly became illogical, allowing me to see that Islam was, for all practical purposes, an intellect expunger.

In my third year in Riyadh, I developed my own hypothesis about Islam and its position among the religions of the world.  As the Islamic calendar began with Mohamed’s flight (al-Hegira) to Medina (622 A.D.), Muslims had only advanced into their 15th century, and had missed any developments that might be synonymous with a Renaissance, a Reformation or an Enlightenment. Granted, there was the great university of al-Azhar at Cairo and there were the intellectual achievements of the Abbasids and the Umayyads, but from the 13th century, Muslim intellectual life had stagnated and had been overpowered by an oppressive theology and constant tension and discord between Sunnis and Shiites. Eventually, as my knowledge of Islam grew, I no longer even considered it to be a religion, but, instead, saw it as an ideology that sought to control politics, government, economics, and virtually all aspects of society.

After six years, I informed my superiors at King Saud University that I wished to return to the United States.  Despite 80-day summer vacations with airfare being provided through Europe or Asia to the United States, furnished housing with utilities and annual generous salary raises, I had a craving for freedom and home.  The Saudi dean to whom I reported even shed a few tears when I informed him of my decision.

Shortly after my departure, I was informed that the Christian fellowship which had been secretly meeting in Riyadh had been discovered by the authorities.  Some of the leaders spent  time in jail.  All were eventually expelled from the country.

From that time, I have witnessed an apotheosis of Islam, which has seen its numbers and influence rise throughout the Western world; and, increasingly, much of Islam has become ever more aggressive.  For many of us, since 9/11, Islam and terrorism have become synonymous.  And now it is an article of faith for many Muslims that they will overcome Western civilization by the sheer force of demographics.  There are at present 52 million Muslims in Europe.  And, in the United States, the Muslim population has grown from 900,000 in 1970 to over 9,000,000 in 2010.

Even more frightening is the tendency of the American Muslim population to practice a kind of cultural jihad by using American institutions based on toleration and accommodation to gain more and more concessions for Sharia and practices that are antithetical to a constitutional republic.  Recent polls indicate that at least 50% of Muslims residing in the United States consider themselves to be Muslims first and

Americans second. No doubt Major Nidal Hassan arrived at the point where his Islam trumped his Americanism at Ft. Hood.  And, why, we might ask, do we continue admitting to our country people who tend to favor taking our lives and participating in “honor killings” and other abominations?  Should not our immigration policies reflect the compatibility or incompatibility of those who seek to reside within our country?

The latest outrage from the “religion of peace and love” is a proposal to build a 13-storey mosque/cultural center, to be called Cordoba House, in the space formerly occupied by the old Burlington Coat Factory building, adjacent to Ground Zero in New York City.  Although polls show that a majority of both New Yorkers and Americans outside New York feel that such a project would be inappropriate at that location, it appears that, in the name of political correctness and multiculturalism, the scheme will be approved and construction will go forward.

Our hearts should go out to the family members of the victims of 9/11.  Many seem incredulous that a mosque could be constructed beside the spot where their loved ones perished at the hands of Islamic terrorism.  Could we, in our wildest dreams, imagine a Japanese shrine being built near the resting place of the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor?  Would it be appropriate to build a memorial to German World War II dead beside Bergen-Belsen or Treblinka?  Is the Islam represented by those pushing the Cordoba House so devoid of compassion and lacking in sensitivity that it has no regard for the families of the victims?

An imam of Egyptian origins, Feisal Abdul-Rauf, is the chief proponent of the project.  In September 2001, shortly after 9/11, Abdul-Rauf stated on CBS’s 60 Minutes, “…United States policies were an accessory to the crime that happened.”  Furthermore, on more than one occasion, questions have been raised by members of Congress about Abdul-Rauf’s ties to terrorist groups.  And, when asked about financing for the 100-million dollar Cordoba House project, Abdul-Rauf’s responses have gone from vague and equivocal to mum and reticent.  Informed sources speculate, however, that the 100-million is coming from three sources:  Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Indonesia.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) bills itself as the largest Muslim civil rights advocacy organization in America, and CAIR has been in the forefront of the defenders of Cordoba House.  This group has a questionable background as well, and has even been shown to have been involved in a Hamas funding case. The FBI has presented solid evidence showing that CAIR’s founders were indisputably connected with a Hamas front-group, the Holy Land Foundation, and checks from the Holy Land Foundation were directly traced to CAIR.

Wake up, America!  A cancer is growing within our society.  Formerly discreet and inconspicuous, that cancer is now so confident of its power that it intends to raise up a symbol of its strength at the very spot where the we suffered the single greatest loss from a foreign enemy on American soil.  Have we allowed our culture to become so weak and helpless that we are incapable of recognizing our peril?  Will we continue to fall on the sword of political correctness in behalf of a depraved, compasionless and wicked ideology which masquerades as a religion?  The clock is ticking, but there is yet time to take a stand.

John Barham, formerly a dean at UTB/TSC, retired from the University of Missouri in 2006.  During his career, he spent six years in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.