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:

“O 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.”[29]

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.[30]

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 follow.

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 terms.

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 Roman 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 conquerors.[31]

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 centuries.

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.[32]

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. [33]

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[34] 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.” [35]

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.[36]

Even in 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 faiths):

“I 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.”[37]

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;[46]

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.[47]

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.[48]

The rates of jizyah levied by the early conquerors were not uniform,[49] and the great Muslim doctors, Abu Hanifa and Malik, are not in agreement on some of the less important details;[50] 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.

  1. The rich were to pay forty-eight dirhams[51] a year,
  2. the middle classes twenty-four,
  3. 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.[52]

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.[53]

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 Muslims.

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.”[54]

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.”[55]

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 against us.

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 took.

But if we are victorious we shall consider ourselves bound to you by the old terms of our agreement.”

In accordance with this 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.”[56]

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.[57]

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.[58]

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 taxation;[59] 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.[60]

The Southern Rumanians, the so-called Armatoli,[61] 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.[62] 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,[63] nor on those who had charge of the powder-magazine in that city.[64] 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.[65]

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.

[29] Azdī, p. 97.
[30] Balādhurī, p. 137.
[31] 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 comunicazioni.”)
[32] 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 Egypt.”
[33] Balādhurī, pp. 74 (ad fin.), 116, 121 (med.).
[34] For a discussion of this document, see Caetani, vol. iii. p. 952 sqq.
[35] Ṭabarī, i. p. 2405.
[36] Balādhurī, p. 129.
[37] Ibn S’ad, III, i. p. 246.
[38] Mémoire sur la conquête de la Syrie, p. 143 sq.
[39] Annali dell’ Islām, vol. iii. p. 957.
[40] 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.)
[41] “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.)
[42] Such as the forms of greeting, etc., that are only to be used by Muslims to one another.
[43] 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 mosques were.
[44] The nāqūs, lit. an oblong piece of wood, struck with a rod.
[45] Gottheil, pp. 382-4, where references are given to the various versions of this document.
[46] 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. )
[47] Goldziher, vol. i. pp. 50-7, 427-30. Caetani, vol. v. p. 311 sqq.
[48] Caetani, vol. v. pp. 424 (§ 752), 432.
[49] Balādhuri, pp. 124-5.
[50] A. von Kremer (i), vol. i. pp. 60, 436.
[51] A dirham is about fivepence.
[52] Bell, pp. xxv, 173.
[53] Abū Yūsuf, pp. 69-71.
[54] Tabarī, Prima Series, p. 2055.
[55] İd. p. 2050.
[56] Abū Yūsuf, p. 81.
[57] Balādhuri, p. 159.
[58] Ṭabarī, Prima Series, p. 2665.
[59] Marsigli, vol. i. p. 86 (he calls them ” Musellim”).
[60] Finlay, vol. vi. pp. 30, 33.
[61] Lazăr, p. 56.
[62] De la Jonquière, p. 14.
[63] Thomas Smith, p. 324.
[64] Dorostamus, p. 326.
[65] De la Jonquière, p. 265.

To be Continued