Re-writing histories

9 Apr 2012

The Times, (March 31st, 2012) in 'Shining a light on the origins of Islam' is a review of In the Shadow of the Sword, by Tom Holland (Little, Brown:2012) and is an attempt to lift the shroud of mystery surrounding the origins of Islam. Several books on this subject have appeared of late, and this one is less controversial than some of the others. It is assumed that Islam was the spark that caused Arab armies to plunder far and wide, creating an empire from North Africa to Iran and all points in between (Pakistan came somewhat later). The author disputes the normal version of history. He says there is no firm evidence the Arab empire was Islamic, as such, to begin with, although such a religion existed - but Jews and Christians were absorbed into and became part of the initial phase of the Arab expansion, even taking part in the wars of conquest. The Arabs called themselves 'Believers' and this appears to have embraced all religions of 'the book' (scriptures). In fact, proto-muslims were strongly influenced by Jewish and Christian exiles in Arabia (outside the Roman world) and Caliph Muawiya, 661-680, was crowned in Jerusalem - not in Mecca. He prayed at Christian and Jewish shrines in the Holy Land and left no coinage or inscriptions featuring Mohammed. Even the Koran does not appear to have existed at that time and Islam appears to have been regarded as of junior status in comparison with the other two faiths. It all changed in the reign of the Ummayad Caliph Abd al-Malik, 685-705, who claimed to be the Deputy of God. He was the equivalent of St Paul in Christianity, it is inferred - he took Islam and created a major religion, and it became the faith of the empire. He went on to build the Dome on the Rock, thereby eclipsing the other two religions (as far as power was concerned, at the heart of all three faiths). In order for Islam to flourish its adherents were given special economic and cultural status, above and beyond the other two religions - and pagans even less so. In spite of this Christians and Jews survived down through the ages, especially the Armenians, the Copts in Egypt, the Maronites in the Levant, and so on. The Serbs in the Balkans resisted pressure to convert to Islam - and mutual dislike still exists between the descendants of those that did switch religions, and those that did not. The author claims it is at this time that Koranic inscriptions appear, and Mohammed as the Messenger of God was elevated to primary status. In other words, he seems to be implying the religion was given life by the empire rather than the empire giving life to the religion, a somewhat neat twist of accepted views, classic revisionist scholarship. One is left wondering why the Arab armies erupted out of the Arabian desert at that particular moment in time if they were not fired up by religious zealotry. What might have been going on in the sky at that time? It seems that between 600 and 650AD, there was an enhanced phase of meteoric fireworks - was the end of the world expected?