THE SPREAD OF ISLAM AMONG THE CHRISTIAN
NATIONS OF WESTERN ASIA
A History of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith
T.W. Arnold Ma. C.I.F
Professor Of Arabic, University Of London, University College. Written in 1896, revised in 1913
Rearranged by Dr. A.S. Hashim
When the Muslim army reached
the valley of the Jordan and Abu Ubaida pitched his camp at Fihl, the Christian inhabitants of the country wrote to the Arabs, saying:
Muslims, we prefer you to the Byzantines, though they are
of our own faith,
because you keep better faith with us and are
more merciful to us and refrain from doing us injustice
and your rule over us is better than theirs, for they have robbed
us of our goods and our homes."
The people of Emessa closed the gates of their city against the army of Heracleus and told the Muslims that they preferred their government
and justice to the injustice and oppression of the Greeks.
Such was the state of feeling in
Syria during the campaign of 633-639 in
which the Arabs gradually drove the Roman army out of the province. And when
Damascus, in 637,
set the example of making terms with the Arabs, and thus secured
immunity from plunder and other favorable conditions, the rest of the cities of
Syria were not slow to
Emessa, Arethusa, Hieropolis and other towns entered into
treaties whereby they became tributary to the Arabs. Even the patriarch of Jerusalem surrendered the city on similar
The fear of religious compulsion
on the part of the heretical emperor made the promise of Muslim
toleration appear more attractive than the connection with the
Empire and a Christian government, and after the first terrors
caused by the passage of an invading army, there succeeded
a profound revulsion of feeling against the Christian government and in favor of the Arab
For the provinces of the
Byzantine empire that were rapidly acquired by the prowess of the Muslims found themselves in the enjoyment of a toleration such as,
on account of their Monophysite and Nestorian opinions, had been unknown to them for many
They were allowed the free and undisturbed exercise of their religion with some few restrictions imposed for the sake of
preventing any friction between the adherents of the rival religions, or arousing any fanaticism by the ostentatious exhibition of
religious symbols that were so offensive to Muslim feeling.
The extent of this toleration—so striking in the history of the seventh
century—may be judged from the terms granted to the conquered cities, in which protection of life and property and toleration of
religious belief were given in return for submission and the payment of jizyah.
The exact details of these
agreements cannot easily be disentangled from the accretions with which they have
become overlaid, but whether verbally authentic or not, they are significant as representing the historic tradition accepted by the Muslim historians of the second century of the
Hijrah—a tradition that could hardly have become established had there been extant evidence to the contrary.
As an example of such an agreement, the conditions
may be quoted that are stated to have been drawn up when Jerusalem submitted to the
Khalifa Omar b. al-Khattab:
"In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate!
This is the security which Omar, the servant of God, the
commander of the faithful, grants to the people of Ælia (Jerusalem).
He grants to all, whether sick or sound, security for their lives, their possessions, their churches and their crosses, and for all that concerns their religion.
Their churches shall
not be changed into dwelling places, nor destroyed, neither shall they nor their
appurtenances be in any way diminished,
nor the crosses of the inhabitants nor aught of their possessions, nor shall any constraint be
put upon them in the matter of their faith, nor shall any one of them be harmed."
Tribute was imposed upon them of five Dinars for the rich, four
for the middle class and three for the poor. In company with the Patriarch, Omar visited the holy places,
and it is said while they were in the Church of the Resurrection, as it was the appointed hour of prayer, the Patriarch bade
the Khalifa offer his prayers there, but Omar thoughtfully refused, saying that if he were to do so, his
followers might afterwards claim it as a place of Muslim worship.
It is in harmony with the same spirit of kindly consideration for his subjects of another faith, that Omar is recorded to have ordered an allowance of money and food to be made to some Christian lepers, apparently out of the public funds.
his last testament, in which he enjoins on his successor
the duties of his high office, he remembers the dhimmis (or protected persons of other
commend to his care the dhimmis, who enjoy the protection of God and of the Prophet; let him see to it that the covenant with them is
kept, and that no greater burdens than they can bear are
laid upon them."
There is abundant evidence to show that the Christians in the early days of the Muslim conquest had little to complain of in the way of religious
disabilities. It is true that adherence to their ancient faith rendered them obnoxious to the payment of
jizyah—a word which originally denoted tribute of any
kind paid by the non-Muslim subjects of the Arab empire,
but came later on to be used for the capitation-tax as the
fiscal system of the new rulers became fixed;
but this jizyah was too moderate to constitute a burden, seeing that it released them from the compulsory military service that was
incumbent on their Muslim fellow-subjects. Conversion to Islam was certainly attended by a certain
pecuniary advantage, but his former religion could have
had but little hold on a convert who abandoned it merely
to gain exemption from the jizyah; and now, instead of jizyah, the convert had to pay the legal alms, Zakat, annually levied on most kinds of movable and immovable property.
The pecuniary temptation to
escape the incidence of taxation by means of conversion was considerably lessened when
financial considerations compelled the Arab government, towards the end of the first century, to insist on the new converts continuing to pay jizyah even after they had been received into
the community of the faithful.
The rates of jizyah
levied by the early conquerors were not uniform,
and the great Muslim doctors, Abu Hanifa and Malik, are not in agreement on some of the less important details;
the following facts taken from the Kitab al-Kharaj, drawn up by Abu Yusuf at
the request of Haroon al-Rashid (a.d. 786-809) may be taken as generally representative of Muslim procedure under the Abbasid Khilaafah.
The rich were to pay
the middle classes twenty-four,
while from the poor, i. e. the field-laborers and
artisans, only twelve dirhams were taken.
This tax could be paid in kind if desired; cattle,
merchandise, household effects, even needles were to be accepted in lieu of specie, but not pigs, wine, or dead
animals. The tax was to be levied only on able-bodied males, and not on women or children.
The poor who were dependent for their livelihood on alms and the aged poor who were incapable
of work were also specially excepted, as also the blind, the lame, the incurables and the insane,
unless they happened to be men of wealth; this same condition applied to priests and monks, who
were exempt if dependent on the alms of the rich, but had to pay if they were well-to-do and lived in comfort. The collectors of
the jizyah were particularly instructed to show leniency, and refrain from all harsh treatment or the infliction of Corporal punishment, in case of non-payment.
This tax was not
imposed on the Christians, as some would have us think, as a penalty for their refusal to accept the Muslim faith, but was paid by them in common with the
other dhimmis or non-Muslim subjects of the state whose religion precluded them from serving in the army, in return for the protection secured for them by the arms of the
When the people of Hirah contributed the sum agreed upon, they expressly mentioned that they paid this jizyah on condition that "the Muslims and
their leader protect us from those who would oppress us, whether they be Muslims or others."
Again, in the treaty made by Khalid with some towns in the neighborhood of Hirah, he writes: "If we protect you, then jizyah is due to us; but
if we do not, then it is not due."
How clearly this condition was recognized by the Muslims may be judged from the following
incident in the reign of the Khalifa Omar.
The Emperor Heracleus had raised an enormous army with which to drive back the invading forces of the Muslims,
who had in consequence to concentrate all their energies on the impending encounter. The Arab
general, Abu Ubaida, accordingly wrote to the governors of the conquered cities of Syria, ordering them to pay back all the
jizyah that had been collected from the cities, and wrote to the people, saying,
"We give you
back the money that we took from you, as we have received news that a strong force is advancing
The agreement between us was that we should protect you, and as this is not now in our power, we return you all that we
But if we are victorious we shall consider ourselves bound to you by the old terms of our agreement."
order, enormous sums were paid back out of the state treasury, and the Christians called down blessings on the heads of the Muslims, saying,
" May God give you rule over us again and
make you victorious over the Romans;
had it been they, they would not have given us back anything,
but would have taken all that remained with us."
As stated above, the jizyah
was levied on the able-bodied males, in lieu of the military service they would have
been called upon to perform had they been Muslims; and it is very noticeable that
when any Christian people served in the Muslim army, they were exempted from the payment
of this tax.
Such was the case with the tribe of al-Jurajimah, a Christian
tribe in the neighborhood of Antioch, who made peace with the Muslims, promising
to be their allies and fight on their side in battle, on condition that
they should not be called upon to pay jizyah and should
receive their proper share of the booty.
When the Arab conquests were pushed to the north of Persia in
A.h. 22, a similar agreement was made with
a frontier tribe, which was exempted from the payment of jizyah in consideration
of military service.
We find similar
instances of the remission of jizyah in the case of Christians who served in the army or
navy under the Turkish rule.
For example, the inhabitants of Megaris,
a community of Albanian Christians, were exempted from the payment of this tax on condition
that they furnished a body of armed men to guard the passes over Mounts Cithæron
and Geranea, which lead to the Isthmus of Corinth; the Christians who served as pioneers of the advance-guard of
the Turkish army, repairing the roads and bridges, were likewise exempt from tribute and received grants of land quit of all
and the Christian inhabitants of Hydra paid no direct taxes to the Sultan, but furnished instead a
contingent of 250 able-bodied seamen to the Turkish fleet,
who were supported out of the local treasury.
The Southern Rumanians, the
who constituted so important an element of strength in the Turkish army
during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and the Mirdites, a tribe of Albanian
Catholics who occupied the mountains to the north of Scutari, were exempt from
taxation on condition of supplying an armed contingent in
time of war.
In the same spirit, in consideration of the services they rendered to the state, the capitation-tax was
not imposed upon the Greek Christians who looked after
the aqueducts that supplied Constantinople with drinking water,
nor on those who had charge of the powder-magazine in that city.
On the other hand, when the Egyptian peasants, although Muslim in faith, were made exempt from military service, a tax was imposed upon them as on the
Christians, in lieu thereof.
Living under this security of
life and property and such toleration of religious thought, the Christian community —especially in the towns—enjoyed a flourishing prosperity in the early days of the Khilaafah.
Caetani, vol. iii. p. 813; vol. v. p. 394. (" Gli abitanti accettarono con non celato favore il
mutamento di governo, appena ebbero compreso che gli Arabi avrebbero rispettato i loro diritti individuali, ed avrebbero lasciata completa libertà di coscienza in materia
religiosa. In Siria, città ed interi distretti si affrettarono a trattare con gli Arabi anche prima della rotta finale dei Greci. Nel Sawād si lasciarono passivamente
sopraffare accettando il nuovo dominio senza pattuire condizioni di sorta; è probabile che anche in Siria questo fosse il caso per molte regioni remote dalle grandi vie di
Gottheil has brought together a valuable collection of documentary evidence as to the condition of the protected peoples under Muslim rule in his "Dhimmīs and Moslems in
Balādhurī, pp. 74 (ad fin.), 116, 121 (med.).
For a discussion of this document, see Caetani, vol. iii. p. 952 sqq.
Ibn S'ad, III, i. p. 246.
Mémoire sur la conquête de la Syrie, p. 143 sq.
Annali dell' Islām, vol. iii. p. 957.
Some authorities on Muhammadan law held that this rule did not extend to villages and hamlets, in which the construction of churches was not to be prevented.
(Hidāyah, vol. ii. p. 210.)
"The Ulamā' are divided in opinion on the question of the teaching of the Quran: the sect of Mālik forbids it: that of Abū Ḥanīfah allows it; and Shāfi'ī has two opinions
on the subject: on the one hand, he countenances the study of it, as indicating a leaning towards Islam; and on the other hand, he forbids it, because he fears that the
unbeliever who studies the Quranbeing still impure may read it solely with the object of turning it to ridicule, since he is the enemy of God and the Prophet who wrote the
book; now as these two statements are contradictory, Shāfi'ī has no formally stated opinion on this matter." (Belin, p. 508.)
Such as the forms of greeting, etc., that are only to be used by Muslims to one another.
Abū Yūsuf (p. 82) says that Christians were to be allowed to go in procession once a year with crosses, but not with banners; outside the city, not inside where the
The nāqūs, lit. an oblong piece of wood, struck with a rod.
Gottheil, pp. 382-4, where references are given to the various versions of this document.
There is evidence to show that the Arab conquerors left unchanged the fiscal system that they found prevailing in the lands they conquered from the Byzantines, and that
the explanation of jizyah as a capitation-tax is an invention of later jurists, ignorant of the true condition of affairs in the early days of Islam. (Caetani, vol. iv. p.
610 (§ 231); vol. v. p. 449.) H. Lammens: Ziād ibn Abīhi. (Rivista degli Studi Orientali, vol.
iv. p. 215. )
Goldziher, vol. i. pp. 50-7, 427-30. Caetani, vol. v. p. 311 sqq.
 Caetani, vol. v. pp. 424 (§ 752), 432.
 Balādhuri, pp. 124-5.
 A. von Kremer (i), vol. i. pp. 60, 436.
 A dirham is about fivepence.
 Bell, pp. xxv, 173.
Abū Yūsuf, pp. 69-71.
Tabarī, Prima Series, p. 2055.
Ṭabarī, Prima Series, p. 2665.
Marsigli, vol. i. p. 86 (he calls them " Musellim").
Finlay, vol. vi. pp. 30, 33.
De la Jonquière, p. 14.
Thomas Smith, p. 324.
De la Jonquière, p. 265.