Expansion after Muhammad and Decline; continued #2

Islam     Session Fifteen

Item #4, bullet #2 of outline:  Expansion after Muhammad and Decline; continued

We have seen how Islam, conquering by the sword, created an empire extending from Arabia northeast into Central Asia, east to India, west across north Africa to the Atlantic Ocean and north to Spain.  This first Islamic Empire (Caliphate) began about 630 AD with Muhammad’s conquests in Arabia.  Most historians mark its peak with the battle of Tours, France in 732 AD.  In that battle the Muslim ruler of Spain, Emir Abdul Rahman, was defeated by a Frankish and Burgundian force about 150 miles southwest of Paris ending Islam’s advance north from Spain. In all, this first Islamic Empire was able to sustain itself more than 600 years until 1258 AD.

The first four caliphs were known as the Rashidun (“Rightly Guided”) caliphs and reigned from 632 to 661.  From the death of the last Rashidun, Ali (he was assassinated), to the end of the first Caliphate in 1258 there were 52 caliphs; 14 Umayyads (from 661 AD to 750 AD) and 38 Abbasids (from 750 AD to 1258 AD ).  Many of these caliphs did not die a natural death.  During the 600+ years this first Caliphate was besieged by forces both from within and without.

From within, “would-be” caliphs and others dissatisfied with the 56 “official” caliphs (caliphs of varying degrees of competence and leadership) carved out their “own” caliphates and emirates:  the caliphate of Cordoba (Spain), the Fatimid caliphate of northeast coastal Africa and, at times, all of the coastal areas of North  Africa, the Idrisid Caliphate of the area of modern Morocco, the Aghlabid Emirate of Tunisia, the Samarid Emirate of Central Asia, the Saffarid Emirate of Persia, the Umayyad Emirate of Spain and others.  These lesser caliphates and emirates and their caliphs and emirs fragmented the empire and destroyed the ability of the “official” caliph in Baghdad to govern.

From the outside, the caliphate was constantly at war with the resistance forces of the lands they invaded and opposing empire builders.  Forces such as the Franks and Burgundians mentioned above, the Byzantine Empire, the Holy Roman Empire and the Mongol hoards from the east stopped the expansion of the Islamic Empire and weakened its ability to effectively control the conquered lands.

The opposition from within and without eventually weakened the caliphate to the point that, in 1258, the Monguls under Hulagu sacked Baghdad and killed the caliph.  Thus ended the first Islamic Empire.

Item #4, bullet #3 of outline:  The Crusades

The Crusades will be discussed only because Islam has portrayed itself as the “victim” of these conflicts that began late in the eleventh century and continued through the twelfth century.

Knowledge of the history of the “Holy Lands”is vital to an understanding of the conflicts known as “The Crusades.” Prior to the existence of Islam, and hundreds of years before Muhammad the area known as the Holy Land was populated mainly by Jews and Christians.

In his book, “Islam Unveiled”, Robert Spencer describes the Christian Middle East at the inception of Islam this way: “Islam originated in Arabia in the seventh century.  At that time Egypt, Libya and all of North Africa were Christian and had been so for hundreds of years.  So were Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Asia Minor.  The churches that St. Paul addressed in his letters collected in the New Testament are located in Asia Minor (now Turkey) as well as Greece. “ (#15, P. 132)

When the Muslim armies expanded under the first caliphate virtually all of the lands noted above came under their control.  The invasions were by no means peaceful with the locals eager to embrace Islam.  To wit:

  • “Sophronius (Bishop of Jerusalem), in his sermon . . .636 AD, bewailed the destruction of churches and monasteries, the sacked towns, the fields laid waste, the villages burned down . . . In a letter the same year . . . he mentions the ravages wrought by the Arabs.  Thousands of people perished in 639 AD, victims of the famine and plague that’s resulted from these destructions.” (#15, P. 13)
  • “Then (in the 640’s) the Muslims arrived in Nikiou (an Egyptian town).  There was not one single soldier to resist them.  They seized the town and slaughtered everyone they met in the street and in the churches – men, women and children, sparing nobody.  Then they went to other places, pillaged and killed all the inhabitants they found . . .” (#15, P. 134)
  • “An eyewitness of the Muslim conquest of Armenia n 642 tells what happened when they took the town of Dvin: ‘The enemy’s army rushed in and butchered the inhabitants of the town by the sword . . . After a few days’ rest, the Ismaelites (Arabs) went back whence they had come, dragging after them a host of captives, numbering thirty-five thousand.

On the island of Cos a few years later, the Muslim general Abu al-A’war, according to another contemporary account, ‘laid waste and pillaged all its riches, slaughtered the population and led the remnant into captivity, and destroyed its citadel.”  (#15, P. 135)

“According to one medieval Muslim historian, over the two-year course of a particularly ruthless Christian persecution campaign, some 30,000 churches were burned or pillaged in Egypt and Syria alone.  In another notable church attack during Abbasid rule, in the year 936 AD, ‘the Muslims in Jerusalem made a rising and burnt down the Church of the Resurrection which they plundered, and destroyed all they could of it.’  Nearly a century later, Hakim bi-Amr Allah (caliph 996  -1021) ordered that the already ravaged Church of the Resurrection be torn down ‘to its very foundations, apart from what could not be destroyed or pulled up’, and they also destroyed the Golgotha and the Church of Saint Constantine and all that they contained, as well as all the sacred gravestones.  They even tried to dig up the graves and wipe out all traces of their existence.” (#7, P.37)

Serge Trifkovic, in his book, “The Sword of the Prophet”, accurately describes the Crusades: 

“Far from being wars of aggression, the Crusades were a belated military response of Christian Europe to over three centuries of Muslim aggression against Christian lands, the systemic mistreatment of the indigenous  Christian  population of those lands, and the harassment of Christian pilgrims.” (#18, P. 97)

The Crusades spanned over 100 years, starting in 1095 and ending with the  fourth Crusade in 1204.  For various reasons the Crusades failed in their goal of liberating these ancient lands of Christendom.  It is not our purpose to go into the actual details of the many battles of the Crusades.  For a more detailed and accurate account of the Crusades, I recommend the book, “The New Concise History off the Crusades”, by Thomas F. Madden (item #10 of the bibliography).

In the next session we shall begin a discussion of the Ottoman Empire.