Following Pope John Paul II's visit to the Middle East in 2000 and 2001, some prominent Muslim leaders openly discussed the future dominance of Islam in Europe, including conquesting the Vatican.
While the identity of the next pope is decided, one of the pressing issues he will have to deal with is the growing Muslim community in Europe, part of which have Islamist inclinations. As the New York Times reported this week, the next pope will be facing "increasing secularism in Europe, contrasting with the religious revival in the Islamic world… and the rising number of Muslim immigrants in Europe."
Saudi Sheikh Muhammad bin Abd Al-Rahman Al-'Arifi, Imam of the mosque of King Fahd Defense Academy, discussed the coming Muslim conquest of the Vatican. Citing a Hadith in an article posted on the Kalemat website in 2002, he stated: "… We will control the land of the Vatican; we will control Rome and introduce Islam in it. Yes, the Christians, who carve crosses on the breasts of the Muslims … will yet pay us the Jiziya [poll tax paid by non-Muslims under Muslim rule], in humiliation, or they will convert to Islam…"
Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi, spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and head of The European Council for Fatwa and Research and the founder of European based International Council of Muslim Scholars (Imams) posted a fatwa on the website www.islamonline.net, in 2002 about the "signs of the victory of Islam" in Europe.
Also citing a well-known Hadith, Al-Qaradhawi wrote: "… The Prophet Muhammad was asked: 'What city will be conquered first, Constantinople or Romiyya?' He answered: 'The city of Hirqil [i.e. the Byzantine emperor Heraclius] will be conquered first' - that is, Constantinople… Romiyya is the city called today 'Rome,' the capital of Italy … and we hope and believe [that it too will be conquered]."
Al-Qaradhawi elaborated on what this Islamic ruling means in the current period of history, "This means that Islam will return to Europe as a conqueror and victor, after being expelled from it twice … I maintain that the conquest this time will not be by the sword but by preaching and ideology…"
On his weekly Al-Jazeera religious program in 1999, Al-Qaradhawi made similar statements: "All right, Constantinople was conquered, and the second part of the prophecy remains, that is, the conquest of Rome. This means that Islam will return to Europe. Islam entered Europe twice and left it… Perhaps the next conquest … will be by means of preaching and ideology. The conquest need not necessarily be by the sword… Perhaps we will conquer these lands without armies. We want an army of preachers and teachers who will present Islam in all languages …"
In November 2000, Al-Qaradhawi again speaking on this subject on his Al-Jazeera show elaborated on the importance of European Da'wa (spreading Islam to non-Muslims): "Europe will see that it suffers from materialistic culture, and will seek an alternative … Islam will return to Europe and the Europeans will convert to Islam."
Following this statement, there were media reports about the growing Muslim community in Italy. On May 14, 2000, the Boston Globe stated that at the time there were nearly 1 million Muslims in Italy, a number which doubled in just 10 years. The report also noted there were over 10,000 Italian-born converts, with the number of mosques and Islamic cultural centers having gone from 12 to 400 in the past 16 years.
Other Muslim religious figures to discuss the coming Islamic conquest of the Vatican include: the Palestinian Authority's Deputy Minister of Awqaf, Sheikh Yousef Juma'a Salameh; Saudi Sheikh Naser Muhammad Al-Naser; and Sudanese Sheikh Muhammad Abd Al-Karim. As this discussion has been occurring, the population of Muslims in Europe has grown exponentially and as Al-Qaradhawi in fact predicted, that has happened not by the sword but by preachers.
Since September 11, 2001, European governments have begun to monitor the activities and sermons of Imams: The Spanish government proposed monitoring Imams sermons following last year's Madrid bombings. The Netherlands began a program to train its own Imams and no longer allows them to come from abroad following the murder of filmmaker Theo Van Gogh; In France where 10% of the total population is Muslim, the French government has begun to expel Islamist Imams; In Britain Islamist Imams are now on trial for connections to Al-Qa'ida; Italy has also expelled Imams for pledging allegiance to Osama bin Laden.
The issue of Islam in Europe can be expected to be high on the agenda of the next Pope.
Steven Stalinsky is the Executive Director of the Middle East Media Research Institute.