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The Rise of Islam


First off the museum wants to point out that History does not occur in a vacuum, nor is it random. It is a linear progression, building on the past even when that past is unknown (pre-history obviously, but also a whole lot of events in the “historical” era).

We began with the Part of the Roman Empire that didn’t fall, which is now called Byzantium, and has reached it mid-millennium height under Justinian. In 533 he decides to unify the Roman Empire again by retaking the Western portion. His armies roll through the Vandals in North Africa, yes, that is where they had finally ended up, but the Ostrogoths in Italy were a different story. It takes 20 years to subdue them, with more fighting with Persia in-between. He also reclaims the south of the Iberian Peninsula, establishing the province of Spania, from the Visigoths. His project “works”, but it is a far bigger empire than the resources of Byzantium can sustain.

And by the turn of the century the Persians are at it again, using the excuse of internal Byzantium politics to renew their war. By 626 the Sassanid Persians, on the Asian side and the Avars and Slavs from Europe besiege Constantinople. The Emperor Heraclius after successfully defending the city strikes out at the Persians, defeating them decisively in 627 at the Battle of Nineveh. This brings on a peace treaty in 628 after 26 years of war that has left both empires crippled. Now the Arabian tribes have always been raiders on the borders of the two empires, striking where they were weak, but never staying, as they are just after booty. Mohammad and his followers are stirring the religious pot on the peninsula so things are getting interesting around Mecca. Mohammad dies in 632 his influence growing, however the raids after 628 find the Persians and Byzantines crippled along all their borders and starting in 633 they start filling the void, and by 651 the now totally Islamic Caliphate has conquered the Persians, and the Zoroastrians, adherents of that fine old Persian religion, start to fade away.

The same is true on the Borders of the Byzantine Empire. Damascus falls in 634, Jerusalem and Antioch in 637, and then in 640 it’s on to Egypt. They are unstoppable, conquering and picking up Berber support along the way, the Byzantine Exarchate of Africa. Tripolitiana and Carthage fall and by 700 North Africa is part of the Caliphate. Visigothic Spain is next starting in 711, and the conquest taking only 8 years, leaving only some areas in the Northwest, the Basques being one of them. They are finally stopped by the Franks who have not been weakened by previous conquest, but still only 87 years after the death of the Prophet the Caliphate Stretches from the Pyrenees to the Caucasus.

But this was not jihad. Rather when you look at the timing and the historical evidence, this is an expansion that pulled Islam along with it, not at the forefront, and this is not unusual in History. Christianity had spread after the victories of Constantine, and victorious armies tend to adopt the religion that brings them victory. How could the Arab armies fail to adopt Islam after so much success? In such a quick expansion, so many riches, how could this not be the will of God? And indeed, so new and unproselytizing is this religion that it is welcomed by many of the non-Christian subjects in the rather religiously oppressive Byzantium Empire.

“The people of Homs replied [to the Muslims], “We like your rule and justice far better than the state of oppression and tyranny in which we were. The army of Heraclius we shall indeed, with your ‘amil’s’ help, repulse from the city.” The Jews rose and said, “We swear by the Torah, no governor of Heraclius shall enter the city of Homs unless we are first vanquished and exhausted!” The inhabitants of the other cities, Christian and Jews, that had capitulated to the Muslims, did the same. When by Allah’s help the “unbelievers” were defeated and the Muslims won, they opened the gates of their cities, went out with singers and music players who began to play, and paid the Kharai.”

Al-Baladhuri , a great 9th century Persian historian.

It should be noted that the Persians in their whole history, to their credit, were never religiously motivated, and were after their conquests very light handed demanding only two things of the conquered, the payment of taxes, and troops for their wars. Their god aided them and obviously by their victory was better than your god. Thus for the most part this was true with Islam too.

The current spike in Islamic fanaticism tends to obscure its long tradition of tolerance, but these things also tend to run in cycles. ISIS is far more damaging to Islam than it is to the West and in the end it is the Islamic community that will solve the problem. The West will not be able to impose a settlement and indeed, as history has shown, such efforts will be counterproductive rather than helpful. History also shows that it is in our best interests to support the 99.9% of Muslims in their efforts to solve the problem, but alas history also shows, time and again, people doing things, for whatever reasons, counter to their own self-interest.



Uncle Willie loves to have feedback from both readers who appreciate his point of view as well as from missguided souls who disagree.