That force was not the
determining factor in these conversions may be judged from the amicable relations that existed between the Christian and the Muslim Arabs.
Muhammad himself had entered into treaty with several
Christian tribes, promising them his protection and guaranteeing them the free exercise of their
religion and to their clergy undisturbed enjoyment of their old rights and authority.
A similar bond of friendship united his followers with their fellow-countrymen of the older faith, many of whom voluntarily came forward to assist the Muslims in their
military expeditions in the same spirit of loyalty to the new government as had caused them to hold aloof from the great
apostasy that raised the standard of revolt throughout Arabia immediately after the death of the
It has been suggested that the Christian Arabs who guarded the frontier of the
Byzantine empire bordering on the
desert threw in their lot with the invading Muslim army, when Heracleus refused any
longer to pay them their accustomed subsidy for military service as wardens of the marches.
In the battle of the Bridge
(a.h. 13) when a disastrous defeat was imminent and the panic-stricken Arabs were hemmed in
between the Euphrates and the Persian host, a Christian chief of the Banu Tayy sprang forward like
another Spurious Lartius to the side of an Arab Horatius, to
assist Muthanna (the Muslim general) in defending the bridge
of boats which could alone afford the means of an orderly retreat.
When fresh levies were raised to retrieve this
disgrace, among the reinforcements that came pouring in from every direction was a Christian tribe of the Banu Namir, who dwelt within the limits of the Byzantine empire, and in the ensuing battle of Buwayb (a.h. 13), just before the final charge of the
Arabs that turned the fortune of battle in their favor, Muthanna rode up to the Christian chief and said : "Ye are of one blood with us; come now,
and as I charge, charge ye with me.” The Persians fell back before their furious onslaught, and
another great victory was added to the glorious roll of Muslim triumphs.
One of the most
gallant exploits of the day was performed
by a youth belonging to another Christian tribe of the desert, who with his companions,
a company of Bedouin horse-dealers, had come up just as the Arab army was being
drawn up in battle array. They threw themselves into the fight on the side of their compatriots; and while the conflict
was raging most fiercely, this youth, rushing into the center of the Persians, slew their leader, and leaping on his richly-caparisoned
horse, galloped back amidst the plaudits of the Muslim line, crying as he passed in triumph: "I am of the Banu Taghlib. I am he that
hath slain the chief."
The tribe to which this young
man boasted that he belonged was one of those that elected to remain Christian, while other tribes of Mesopotamia, such as the
Banu Namir and the Banu Qudha’ah, became Muslim.
The Banu Taghlib had
sent an embassy to the Prophet as early as the year a.h. 9. The heathen members of the
deputation embraced Islam and he made a treaty with the
Christians according to which they were to retain their old
faith but were not to baptize their children. A condition
so entirely at variance with the usual tolerant attitude of
Muhammad towards the Christian Arabs, who were allowed
to choose between conversion to Islam and the payment
of jizyah and never compelled to abandon their faith, has
given rise to the conjecture that this condition was suggested by the Christian families of the Banu Taghlib themselves, out of motives of economy.
The long survival of
Christianity in this tribe
shows that this condition was
certainly not observed. The Khalifa Omar forbade any pressure to be
put upon them, when they showed themselves unwilling to abandon their old faith and ordered
that they should be left undisturbed in the practice of it, but that they were not to oppose the conversion of
any member of their tribe to Islam nor baptize the children of
such as became Muslims.
They were called upon to pay the jizyah
or tax imposed on the non-Muslim subjects, but they felt it to be humiliating to their pride to pay a tax that was levied in return for protection of life and property, and petitioned the Khalifah to be allowed to make the same kind of
contribution as the Muslims did. So in lieu of the jizyah they paid a double Sadaqah or alms,—which
was a poor tax levied on the fields and cattle, etc., of the Muslims.
It especially irked the Muslims that any of the Arabs should remain true to the
The majority of the Banu Tanukh had become Muslim in
the year a.h. 12, when with other Christian Arab tribes they submitted to Khalid b. al-Walid,
but some of them appear to have remained true to their old faith for nearly a century and a half, since the Khalifa al-Mahdi
(a.h. 158-169) is said to have seen a number of them who dwelt
in the neighborhood of Aleppo, and learning that they were Christians, in anger ordered them to
accept Islam— which they did to the number of 5000, and one of them suffered martyrdom rather
But for the most part, details are lacking for any history of the disappearance of Christianity from among the Christian Arab
tribes of Northern Arabia; they seem to have become absorbed in the surrounding Muslim community by an
almost insensible process of "peaceful penetration"; had attempts been made to convert them by force
when they first came under Muslim rule, it would not have been possible for Christians to have survived among them up to the times of the Abbasi Khalifas.
The people of
Hirah had likewise resisted all the efforts
made by Khalid to induce them to accept the Muslim faith.
This city was one of the most illustrious in the annals of Arabia, and to the mind of the
impetuous hero of Islam it seemed that an appeal to their Arab blood would be enough to induce them to enroll themselves with the followers of
the Prophet of Arabia.
When the besieged citizens sent an embassy to the Muslim general to arrange the terms of the
capitulation of their city, Khalid asked them, "Who are
you? are you Arabs or Persians?" Then Adi, the spokesman of the deputation, replied, "Nay, we are pure-blooded
Arabs, while others among us are naturalized Arabs."
Khalid asked "Had you been what you say you are, you would not have opposed us or hated our cause." They answered "Our pure
Arab speech is the proof of what I say."
Khalid said " You speak
truly. Now choose you one of these three things: either (1) accept our faith, then your rights and obligations will
be the same as ours, whether you choose to go into another country or stay in your own land; or (2)
pay jizyah; or (3) war and battle. Verily, by God! I have come to you with a people who
are more desirous of death than you are of life."
They retorted "Nay, we will pay you jizyah." Khalid
then said "Ill-luck to you! Unbelief is a pathless desert and foolish is the Arab who, when two guides meet him wandering therein
— the one an Arab and the other not — leaves the first and accepts the guidance of the foreigner."
Due provision was made for the
instruction of the new converts, for while whole tribes were being converted to the
faith with such rapidity, it was necessary to take precautions
against errors, both in respect of creed and ritual, such as might naturally be feared in the case of ill-instructed converts.
Accordingly we find that the Khalifa Omar appointed teachers in every country, whose duty it was to
instruct the people in the teachings of the Quran and the observances of their new faith.
The magistrates were also
ordered to see that all, whether old or young, were regular in their attendance at public prayer, especially on Fridays
and in the month of Ramadhan.
The importance attached to this work of instructing the new converts may be judged from the fact that in the city of
Kufa it was no less a personage than the state treasurer who was entrusted with
From the examples given
above of the toleration extended towards the Christian Arabs by the victorious Muslims
of the first century of the Hijrah and continued by succeeding generations, we may surely infer that those Christian
tribes that did embrace Islam, did so of their own choice and free
The Christian Arabs of the present day, dwelling in the midst of a Muslim population, are a living testimony
of this toleration; Layard speaks of having come across an encampment of Christian Arabs at al-Karak, to the east of the
Dead Sea, who differed in no way, either in dress or in manners, from the
Burckhardt was told by the monks of Mount Sinai that in the last century there still remained several families of Christian Bedouins who had not embraced Islam, and that the last
of them, an old woman, died in 1750, and was buried in the garden of the convent.
Many of the Arabs of the
renowned tribe of the Banu Ghassan, Arabs of the purest blood, who embraced Christianity towards the end of the fourth century, still retain the
Christian faith, and since their submission to the Church of
Rome, about two centuries ago, employ the Arabic language in their religious services.
If we turn from the
Bedouins to consider the attitude of the settled inhabitants of the towns and the non-Arab
population towards the new religion, we do not find that the Arab conquest was so rapidly followed by conversions
to Islam. The Christians of the great cities of the eastern
provinces of the Byzantine empire seem for the most part to have remained faithful to their ancestral creed, to which
indeed they still in large numbers cling.
In order that we may fully
appreciate their condition under the Muslim rule, and estimate the influences that led
to occasional conversions, it will be well briefly to sketch
their situation under the Christian rule of the Byzantine empire which fell back before the
Arab arms. In giving some show of unity to the
Roman Empire, (but after
his death it rapidly fell asunder), and at this time there was an entire want
of common national feeling between the provinces and the seat of government.
made some partially successful efforts to attach
Syria again to the central government, but unfortunately the general methods of reconciliation which he adopted had served only to increase dissension instead of
Religious passions were the only existing substitute for national feeling, and he tried,
by propounding an exposition of faith, that was intended to serve as an eirenicon, to stop all further disputes between the contending
factions and unite the heretics to the Orthodox Church and to the central government.
The controversy between the orthodox party and the Monophysites, who flourished
particularly in Egypt and Syria and in countries outside the Byzantine empire, had been hotly contested for nearly two centuries, when Heracleus sought to effect a reconciliation by means of the doctrine of Monotheletism:
But Heracleus shared the fate
of so many would-be peace-makers: for not only did the controversy blaze up again all the more fiercely, but he himself was
stigmatized as a heretic and drew upon himself the wrath of both parties.
Indeed, so bitter was the
feeling he aroused that there is strong reason to believe that even a majority of the
orthodox subjects of the Roman Empire, in the provinces that were
conquered during this emperors reign, were the well-wishers
of the Arabs; they regarded the emperor with aversion as a
heretic, and were afraid that he might commence a persecution in order to force upon them his Monotheistic opinions.
They therefore readily — and even eagerly — received the new masters who promised them
religious toleration, and were willing to compromise their religious position and their
national independence if only they could free themselves from the immediately impending danger.
Michael the Elder,
Jacobite Patriarch of Antioch, writing in the latter half of the twelfth
century, could approve the
decision of his co-religionists and see the finger of God in
the Arab conquests even after the Eastern churches had had experience of five centuries of Muslim rule.
After recounting the persecutions of Heracleus, he writes: