Marxist and other materialist historians would be hard put to explain the phenomenon of the eruption of a Mohammedan empire in the Arabian desert in the seventh century CEThe mode of production of the Bedouins in that century had not changed from that of previous centuries. The climate was the same then as it had been before. Unless we ascribe this phenomenon to God’s inscrutable will, we will have to turn to the theory of the 'hero in history' for an explanation, This is the idea of the individual who creates history by seizing the opportunity at the right moment and bending it to his will. Mohammedanism was the creation of such a man - Mohammed.
Mohammed’s messiahship was in the new tradition of 'humility' introduced by the Jews. Prior to the Jews, all religious leaders had been nobles or princes, as for exampie Buddha, Confucius, and Zoroaster. Abraham may have been a Babylonian merchant prince before he set out for his journey to Haran. but the Old Testament made him a sheep herder. Moses may have been brought up as a prince in the Egyptian court, but when he receives the divine call, he is a hired hand tending his father-in-law’s flocks. Jesus was a carpenter. And Mohammed was a camel driver.
Mohammed is one of history’s more improbable figures, an Arab imbued with the fervor of Judaism, proclaiming all Arabs descendants of Abraham, and calling for Jews andChristians alike to join him in a true brotherhood of man in thename of Allah. He was the succcessful Don Quixote. prophet armed, who. convinced of his delusion, made it a realm by defeating the narrow-minded, armed only with reason. The rise of this camel driver was breathtaking in swiftness. Within less than a hundred years his empire embraced half the then known world. Islam had succeeded where Christianity had failed. In one century this new faith swept the lands encircling the southern half of the Mediterranean.
Arabia is the world’s largest peninsula, attached through Israel to Egypt, and through Syria to Turkey. The rest of her body floats in the Red Sea, Arabian Sea, and Persian Gulf. Like a cleric's tonsure, a fringe of green land, beaded by a few cities, surrounds the 500.000 square miles of desert surrounding her heartland. This country has been the homeland of Bedouin and Quraish Arabs since unrecorded history. It had bred no civilization, but its fecund women for five thousand years bred an abundance of Semitic Arabs for export to Sumerian. Akkadian, and Babylonian city-states, infusing strength into these effete civilizations with their barbaric vigor.
The religion of the Arabs was a diffused nature worship, democratically including heaven, stars, trees, stones— anything capable of being elevated to divinity by man’s ingenuity. This diversification found unity in the centralized worship of a black meteorite, the Black Stone, enshrined in Kaaba (cube), in Mecca.
The Bedouin Arabs were the sand dwellers, living in the desert; the Quraish Arabs dwelt along the coastal areas, where they had established trading villages at the end points of caravan routes. Here the Bedouins came to exchange the luxuries, robbed from caravans, for the necessities of life. But it was not until the end of the first century CE, when the Jews began to arrive, that commerce and industry began to hum, cities to flourish, and art to proliferate. The trickle of Jews into Arabia beginning after 70 CE reached the proportions of a flood in the fifth and sixth centuries, when a power struggle between the Sassanid and Byzantine empires squeezed Jews out of Syria and Palestine into Arabia.
Like the Ptolemies and Seleucids before them, the Sassanids and Byzantians constantly warred over Syria and Palestine. Fickle fate gave neither a decisive victory, and finally, out of sheer exhaustion, a treaty of mutual toleration was signed. Jews, Syrians, Lebanese, and others who had the misfortune to live in the disputed areas suffered the classic fate of all civilians caught in the path of clashing armies— glorious, impersonal deaths. Many Jews, once they were convinced it was going to be a protracted war, headed toward the western half of the Roman Empire, having been warned by fellow Jews that Byzantium was not a haven of liberty. Others, who had studied the situation (or long-term yields, decided to head eastward, into territory where warring armies seldom ventured. They chose Arabia.
Here in their new home in Arabia the Jews introduced handicrafts, the goldsmith’s art, and the date palm, which became to the Mohammedans what the potato became to the Irish. Here they founded Medina. Here they helped the Quraish convert their villages into cities. With their great numbers and twenty-five hundred years of experience, the Jews gave Mecca a cosmopolitan air.
In gratitude for the sanctuary given them, the Jews joined the Arabs in defeating invading Christian armies which came to proselytize and to plunder. Though Christianity was kept out, Judaism crept in, not by the sword, but by the exemploraryconduct of the Jews. As with the Greeks and Romans, many pagan Arabs liked the nonsexualized symbols of Judaism, its ascetic monotheism, and the devotion of the Jews to family life and education. The Arabs called the Jews 'the People of the Book' and Jew and Arab lived side byside in peace. .
In the same way as the Septuagint prepared the way for the teachings of Paul among the pagans in the Roman Empire, so a general knowledge of the Old Testament among the Arabs helped prepare the way for the coming of Mohammedanism. The stage was set for the hero in history to fuse the nature worship of the Arabs, the salvation doctrine of the Christians, and the monotheism of the Jews into a new God image. The hero was Mohammed; the creed was Islamism: the motivating ideology was Judaism.
Prophets should perhaps never be viewed with less than two millenniums of hindsight, to allow a lapse of time to blur human attributes into divine features. Mohammed is still young, as prophets go. and the impatient historian may be excused if he has not as yet fully perceived the divinity already discernible to the devout.
Mohammed (569-632CE) lost both parents before he was six. He was brought up first by his grandfather, and later by an uncle. Both forgot to have him tutored in reading and writing, an oversight quickly remedied in later life when Mohammed learned the art of instant reading by revelation. As with Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, we know nothing ofhis early youth except that at the age of twelve he was taken by caravan to Syria where he for the first time came imo contact with the Jewish and Christian religions. From this encounter he carried away a lifelong respect for 'the Book' of the Jews. The Jewish Patriachs became his heroes whom he later enshrined in the Koran, the Bible of the Mohammedans. At the age of twenty-five he married a wealthy, forty-year-old widow, with whom he lived in monogamy for a quarter of a century. After her death, in Mohammed s fifty-first year, his penchant for younger women between the ages of seven and twenty-one found its full expression. His later harem of ten wives and two concubines contained houris of various ages and stages of experience.
Mohammed was of medium height. His long black hair met his beard, and his beard fell down to his waist. Though he seldom laughed, he had a keen sense of humor, always, however, kept within the confines of dignity. Mohammed was proud of his Arab heritage, but deeply sensitive to the immature paganism of his brethren and their lack of a spirit of nationhood. Like Moses, he dreamed of uniting the dissident, warring tribes into one people, giving them a unifying religion, and raising them to an honored position in the world. The wish became father to the deed. The conviction that he was the prophet destined to bring this about for his people grew into revelation.
The 'I and Thou' encounter between Mohammed and God took place in a cave, where Mohammed, then forty, brooded on the problem of bringing salvation to his people. Here he had an experience which to the faithful was conclusive proof that Mohammed was the true successor to Moses and Jesus, but to the infidels merely confirmation that Mohammed was familiar with the Bible. As unto Abraham, Moses and Jesus, so God manifested Himself unto Mohammed, in the form of the angel Gabriel. The Koran, written by Mohammed. says that Gabriel showed Mohammed a tablet, which, though he was illiterate, he suddenly could read at Gabriel’s command. The message stated that Allah, the true God. had appointed Mohammed to be His messenger on earth.
Mohammed first sold his new religion to his wife, then to his relatives, and then to his more distant cousins, and finally to strangers. Here he met with the first sales resistance. Like the Christians before him, Mohammed made his first converts among the slaves. This earned him the suspicion of the Quraish, to whom Mohammed was a radical threatening the economy of the country. After ten years of effort, the bitterness was such that in 622 Mohammed had to flee from Mecca to Medina, where he hoped the large Jewish population would support him.
Mohammed was convinced that the Jews, upon whose religion so much of his own was based, would recognize his claim as successor to Moses and Jesus and would join him in battle against the pagans. But when the Jews firmly rejected his offer Mohammed turned against them. Though illiterate, he had native intelligence. Since the Jews would not help him, he decided to confiscate their wealth to serve his cause. He felt certain that a war against the Jews would not arouse the suspicions of the Quraish, who were envious of Jewish riches, even though tolerant of their religion. But instead of sharing the loot with the Quraish. Mohammed used his newfound wealth to equip an army of 10.000 men which he marched against Mecca. It was too late for the Quraish to regret their mistake in not aligning themselves with the Jews; seeing Mohammed's strength, they capitulated. Within two years all Arabia fell under Mohammed’s rule. Islam, the name of Mohammed’s new creed, was the religion of the land. In 632 Mohammed died.
“If we judge greatness by influence, he was one ot the giants of history,” said Will Durant of Mohammed. Just as Mohammed was the 'conquering word' of Allah, so Abu Bekr friend and successor to Mohammed, was the 'conquering sword' of Allah. It was Abu Bekr who carried the Koran to a world which was not waiting for it, but which heeded the swish of the scimitar that spread it.
In the sixth century the Arabs were desert nomads, in the seventh century they were conquerors on the march, in the eighth century they were masters of an empire that made the Mediterranean a Mohammedan lake, and in the ninth century they were the standard-bearers of a dazzling civilization. leaders in art. Architecture and science, while Western Europe was sinking deeper and deeper into a dark morass of its own making. One by one. countries in the path of the Arabs fell before their onslaughts—Damascus in 635. Palestine in 638, Syria in 640. Egypt in 641. The defeat of the Sassanid Empire in 636 deserves a sympathetic footnote. The day the numerically inferior Arabs attacked, a sandstorm blinded the superior Sassanid armies. The Sassanids too had a second chance, but it ended in disaster, when their army of 150.000 was annihilated by 30,000 Arabs. It was the end of the Sassanid Empire.
By 700CE the eastern half of the ByzantineEmpire and all of North Afnca had fallen into the hands of the Mohammedans. In 711 a mixed force of Arabs and Berbers led by a freed slave named Tariq invaded Spain, and by 715 they had crossed the Pyrenees. There was nothing to stop them except bad luck. As in the case of the Huns, who were stopped by the French at the Battle of Chalons, so the French, under the leadership of Charles Martel, stopped the invading Mohammedans at Tours, in 732. This battle resulted in a power stalemate for both Mohammedans and Christians. Although the spread of Mohammedanism was checked in the East by the Byzantine Empire and in the West by France, the spread of Christianity into Africa and Asia was checked by the counterforce of Mohammedanism.
The Mohammedans intellectually divided the people in their empire into two groups, those interested and those not nterested in science. In the first they included Jews. Greeks, nd Persians; in the sccond they lumped Chinese. Turks, and Christians. They looked with respect upon the former and with contempt upon the latter. The Christians, though they far outnumbered the Jews, produced neither great men nor a distinct culture of their own in the Mohammedan Empire, the Jews, on the other hand, produced a Golden Age during this period, generating great names in philosophy, medicine, science. mathematics, linguistics—in every area of human ndeavor except art. which the Jews did not enter until the Modem Age.
Soon after the death of Mohammed, the hostility against the Jews, manufactured out of political expediency, vanished. Whatever legislation against non-Mohammedans existed was usually ignored in practice. The Mohammedans were even more tolerant of other people’s religions than the Romans.
Of interest in this connection is the Pact of Omar (637CE) enacted after the conquest of Christian Syria and Palestine, one of the few discriminatory pieces of Mohammedan legislation we know of (dhimmis). The remarkable thing about this pact is that it mentions Christians only, though it is presumed, but by no means certain, that it also applied to Jews. In accordance with this pact, Christians could not display crosses on churches or in the street, carry religious images in public, chant loudly at funeral processions, strike any Moslem, shave the front ot ther heads, wear distinctive dress, imitate the True Believers, prevent aChristian from converting to Mohammedanism, convert Mohammedans to Christianitv. harbor spies in their churches, or build houses taller than those of their Muslim neighbours. They were to rise up to any Moslem who entered their assemblies and so on.
Technically, all non-Mohammedans had to pay a head tax for protection, which exempted them from military service and denied them the right to hold public office. But as far as the Jews were concerned, these were neglected laws, for the Jews seldom had to pay such a head tax, often served with great distinction and high rank in Moslem armies, and to the highest posts in government service, including grand vizier and princely rank.
The span of the Jewish Golden Age in the Mohammedan civilization corresponded to the life span of the Islamic Empire itself. When the latter broke up. the Jewish Golden Age broke up. The empire of the Mohammedans took as long iin dying as did the empire of the Romans, beginning to break up about 1000C.E. and coming to an end by 1500. We only note its passing with a brevity that does great injusticeto its quixotic complexity.
A curious schizophrenia ran through the ruling dynasties alternating between unbounded profligacy and extreme penury. One caliph would ruin the treasury by spending vastsums on luxuries, and his successor would swell the coffer by total miserliness. Because the spenders were able rulers and the misers bad administrators, the spenders enhanced the country’s culture while ruining its finances, and the misers ruined its prestige while leaving favorable balance sheets. As long as gold kept flowing in from an expanding an expanding empire' the country could afford its luxuries. Soon the Mohammedans had the worlds most beautiful cities, most sybaritic rulers, and most unstable governments. Governors of provinces stepped into this power vacuum, seized their respective provinces, and proclaimed themselves rulers of their own domains. By the year 1000, the solid Mohammedan Empire was no more. It consisted of a series of independent caliphates.
With the old unity gone, the Islamic Empire became prey to barbaric tribes. In the thirteenth century, the Mongols under Genghis Khan invaded the empire from the northeast. It was not a mystic destiny which led them west; they followed their cattle. Genghis Khan’s Mongols wore ox-hides, ate anything that lived—cats, dogs, rats, lice—and drank human blood for want of anything better. In their first encounter with the Mongols, an army of 400,000 Moslems was defeated. Genghis gutted the city of Bokhara, slew 30 000 and continued his march into the circle of civilization, burning libraries, sacking cities, and beheading people, stacking their heads into grizzly pyramids as neatly as the Nazis stacked concentration camp corpses. Barbarians, yes! But not untidy. When Baghdad capitulated, 800,000 civilians were put to death, the city laid waste, its wealth plundered, and its women violated and sold into slavery. Urged on by their victories, fate dealt the Mongols an unexpected blow from a most unexpected source. The Egyptians stopped them at the Battle of Damascus in 1303. But the Mongolian defeat came too late. The devastation they had wrought was so great that this part of the world has not fully recovered to this day.
What was left of the Mohammedan Empire became vulnerable to other forces. Timurids and Moguls seized the Arabian Peninsula; Ottoman Turks annexed Egypt, Palestine Syria, and Iraq; the Almohades became the rulers of North Africa;
(Note: from New World Encyclopedia The Almohad Dynasty (From Arabic الموحدون al-Muwahhidun, i.e. "the monotheists" or "the Unitarians"), was a Berber, Muslim dynasty that was founded in the twelfth century, and conquered all northern Africa as far as Libya, together with Al-Andalus (Moorish Iberia). The Almohad's were Islamic revivalists who set themselves the task of eradicating laxness and enforcing a strict and pious observance of Islam's rituals and laws. They chose an interpretation of the Qur'an that frowned upon the type of religious tolerance and inter-religious exchange for which al-Andalus had become renowned, and reversed the policy of previous rulers who had enabled this, resulting in Christians and Jews emigrating elsewhere (the end of the Jewish Goldern Era)......The Almohad's interpretation of the need for total dissimilitude between Muslims and non-Muslims was even stricter, similar to the teachings of Ibn Taymiyyah.)
(1) Jews, God and History, Chapter 15 pp190 et seq, Max I Dimont, 1994