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The roots of islam and Arabian imperialism

Reader comment on item: Friendless in the Middle East
in response to reader comment: The Roots of Islam

Submitted by dhimmi no more (United States), Jan 29, 2012 at 09:49

Hi BB King

This time I will discuss the Arab invasion of the Middle East and the reasons behind it.

Let me start by saying that it is axiomatic that history is written by the winner and indeed the Arab invasion and Arabian imperialism is a case in point

The Islamic tradition and the Muslim ulama in the 3rd century of islam and in distant Mesopotamia tell us that the Arabs invaded the Middle East either because they wanted to spread islam or because al-Ruum (read this as the Greeks) attacked them at Tabuk or because they wanted to help the Copts and the Syrians from al-Ruum oh and only allahu a3lam or only Allah knows

Well this is far from the truth because:

1. There is no extant historical evidence that the Greeks were interested in al-Hijaz or were even a threat to the Arabs as the Greeks in 633CE when the Arabs invaded the Middle East were still recovering from the very long war with the Persians and as a matter of fact they retreated to only the big cities of the Levants and Egypt and therefore there was indeed a political vacuum that was filled by the Arab polity and this Arab polity was the Umayyads who resided not in al-Hijaz but in the Syrian desert and Mesopotamia. They had nothing to do with the Hijaz otherwise they would have established their capital in Mecca and not Damascus and they would have bulit their first "Islamic" monument in Mecca and not in Aelia/Jerusalem

2. There is no doubt that the first real and attested character in the saga of Islam is Mu3awiyya. Did Muhammad exist? I doubt it very much

3. In Western scholarship you will find the following reasons for the Arab invasion and you can select what you think makes the most sense

A. There are those that believe the islamic tradition and that they indeed got the outline of what really happened and it was about spreading Islam but the problem here is there is no extant evidence that comes from Mecca or from any place in al-Hijaz that would support such idea. The sources are silent and what we have here as evidence is a literary tradition written 300 years after the events that it is supposed to be describing in far away Mesopotamia by non Arabs

B. M. Watt believed that it was Meccan trade that ignited such invasion but the problem with this thesis and as was proven by Crone that Meccan trade if it really existed it was local trade in cheap food stuff and leather and no more and that it was the Qur'an and in particular the opaque allusions in Q106 or surat Quraish that resulted in the invention of this Meccan trade

What is most surprising here is that if Meccan trade was for real then how come no one in the civilized Middle East be it the Syrians or the Copts have anything to say about it as in "Oh those invaders the Arabs are the follower of Muhammad who used to be a tajir or trader" The silence of the sources here is significant

C. The Greek historians divided the world into the civilized (the Greeks and the Helenized) and the Barbarians (read this as the non Greeks) and they told us that the barbarian would invade the land of the civilized because the civilized had something (be it food or land or water or resources or slaves) that the barbarian lacked but wanted and this is indeed what happened in the case of the Arab invasion. And in the words of Crone: "Muhammad had to conquer, his followers liked to conquer, and his deity told him to conquer, do we need anymore." And this is indeed the truth.

So what it really comes down to is that the Arabs invaded not to spread islam but to collect booty and no more.

D. Now what would happen to the barbarian that invades the land of the civilized? Historians tell us that the barbarian will adopt the language of the civilized as well as their religion(s) so in the case of the Arab invasion we would have expected that the Arabs would have been Coptic or Syriac or Persian speakers by now and they would have been Christian or Zoroastrians or even pagan. Unless the Arab polity were selecting a religion from among the multitude of religions that existed in the Middle East in the late antique period and for reasons that are still unclear they opted for what was to become Islam and it was a new religion that was created in Mesopotamia in the time of the early Abbassids.

Oh the language switch? As we would have expected that the invading Arabs should have been Syriac or Coptic speakers by now! I can very much argue that the so called classical Arabic is a language that never existed and no one ever spoke and what we have are "languages" be it Egyptian Arabic or Syrian Arabic or even Persian that has 20% loan words from Arabic. In other words it was indeed the civilized that shaped and created a new language albeit with loan words from the language of the barbarians as would have been expected

Now let us take us take the case of Egyp: we are told by the early Muslim historians that wrote the history of the Arab invasion of Egypt the likes of al-Tabari and ibn Abd al-Hakam that it was the Copts that welcomed the Arab invaders who wanted to help the Copts to get rid of the Greeks that ruled Egypt for almost 1000 years.

The problem here is both Ibn Abd al-Hakam as well as al-Tabari had no clue about what Egypt was all about in 642CE. They make mistakes in the geography of the country and they tell us about that opaque character al-Muqawqas and that he was Egyptian and he surrendered Egypt to the Arabs and that the Copts were persecuted by the Greeks because they did not follow the imperial Church and had their own Coptic church

Well here are the facts:

1. Egypt was the bread basket of the Middle East and Greece at the time of the Arab invasion and the population was around 7M. It was very prosperous and Alexandria was a great center of education and commerce and manufacuring

2. The relationship between the native Egyptians and the Greeks was an interesting relationship. Those Egyptians that desired to be Helenized moved to Alexandria or to the capitals of the Nomes (districts of Egypt) and there was a live and let live attitude and Egyprians spoke their language and were not forced to speak Greek and to select thier brand of Christianity

3. In the past 30 years many Western scholars of late antique Egypt indeed proved beyond doubt and in the words of Berkey: "doctrinal tensions between the Chalcedonian and Monophysites did not imply an intractable hostility between Greek speaking imperial Chlacedonian Christians on the one hand and Coptic speaking Monophysite Egyptian Christians on the other. Several historians have persuasively argued that the cultural overtones and political implications of the theological division should be minimized that by the end of late antiquity there was in fact a close symbiosis of (and not of the atavistic struggle between) Greek and Copic cultures in Egypt and that Monophysite anger al the Chalcedonian creed did not imply that Egyptian Christians were hostile to the Empire itself (see Fowden Empire to commonwealth and Bowersock's Hellenism in late antiquity)"

In other words the Arab historians just did not get it

And more damaging evidence that the Arabs came to save the Copts from the Greeks in Egypt is that by 730CE Egypt was in ruins and Alexandria was declining fast and we had the Coptic uprising againts the Umayyads (Bashmour) and of Copts fleeing their homes and villages (see the women of Jeme) and this fast decline was due to the fact that the taxes imposed on the native Coptic population led to the fact that Copts were abandoning their homes and leaving their lands

We must dismiss tha claim by the Arab historians that the Arabs invaded Egypt to free the Copts from the Greeks otherwise they would have left Egypt in 646CE after suppresing the Manuel uprising in Alexandria as by then the Greeks could not have been able to free Egypt from the Arabs

So the Arab invasion was more than anothe page in history where the barbarians invade the land of the civilized and later historians try to justify the obvious that is was not more than Arabian imperialism

Next will be what does the Qur'an say about Jesus and you will be surprised so stay tuned


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