The Origins of Islam

From Ch. 8 of In Search of the Loving God by Mark Mason

. . .
Another quite astounding, but little heard of, consequence of this doctrinal bickering in the sixth century, was that it paved the way for the rise of Islam, which has ever since been the Christian world's greatest enemy, and fiercest competitor. The western Arabs in Syria had long been Monophysite Christians, and as such had been greatly persecuted by those favoring a dual-nature Christology, including Justinian himself, before he met Theodora. Mundhir, a late sixth century leader of the Syrian Arabs, like his father before him, proudly protected the Arab Christians from the Persian Arabs, who were pagans. He twice defeated the Persians, who were also the enemies of Constantinople and the Christian Empire, breaking their power. Conscious of the service he had rendered Constantinople, Mundhir wrote to one of Justinian's successors asking for money to pay his tribes for their military service. Not only did he receive back an insulting refusal from the emperor, but by mistake he also received a letter intended for the imperial commander, who had also been fighting the Persians, ordering him to invite Mundhir to a conference and kill him! Not surprisingly, this treachery caused Mundhir to withdraw his support, and this in turn allowed the Persians to regain their strength, regroup, and defeat the weak Greek forces. Mundhir was not, however, about to allow the Persians to plunder Christian Syria, so he once again fought on the side of the Greeks, and achieved a great victory over the Persians. This time he brought home huge amounts of booty, and was finally able to handsomely reward the tribes the emperor had refused to supply money to pay. After this Mundhir did his best to heal the rift in Christianity which kept his countrymen fighting each other, and had long been a cause of their persecution by the Greeks. He traveled to Constantinople (in 580 A.D.) to plead with the emperor to put a stop to the theological disputes which were ruining Arab Christianity, and to beg for tolerance of the Monophysite position. The emperor received him with honor, pledged his support, and called the disputing bishops together, getting them to agree to live in peace with each other. Unfortunately the disputing factions did not keep their promises, and were soon persecuting each other again.

Consideration of the political and military machinations of church leaders in those days shows why "bishops" are among the title pieces in the game of chess, along with knights, castles, kings and queens. Mundhir's appeal to the emperor obviously created resentment amongst some of the bishops, for the upshot of it was that a plot was laid against him. A false friend asked him to visit him to discuss a religious matter, and while Mundhir was away from his guards, accused him of treachery, seized him, and sent him in chains to Constantinople. He ended up in permanent forced exile in Sicily. This outrage, on top of all the persecution they had received from the empire, greatly angered the Arab Christians, and this anger soon hardened into an implacable hatred of the Greeks. From this time on the Syrian Arabs joined forces with the Persians, their former enemies, and the supremacy of the Christian Arabs ended. Although Christianity persisted amongst them, it became less popular, as it was seen to be associated with their loathsome enemies, the Greeks. This end of the predominance of Christianity amongst the Arabs, and their seeking instead unity amongst themselves, was a direct consequence of the treachery and intolerance of the Imperial Christian Church. The church would pay dearly for this treachery, and for its long history of shameful treatment of Arab Christians: Muhammad, the founder of Islam, was just at this time approaching manhood.[10]

Within two centuries Muhammad's powerful and united Islamic empire would advance as far as France, and threaten the very existence of Christian Europe. Constantinople itself, the capital of the early Christian empire, later fell to the Muslims, and remains Islamic to this day, as the city of Istanbul. Justinian's exquisitely beautiful church of Haghia Sophia, in this city, has been a Muslim Mosque since the fifteenth century. If the sixth century Christian establishment had been able to be even reasonably tolerant of Monophysite Christianity, and had been able to avoid even just the grossest of their treachery, then Muhammad would not have had fertile ground in which to plant his new religion, which was, in the beginning, only very reluctantly accepted by the Arabs, and it is highly likely the Arab world would be Christian today. Instead, the policy of the Imperial Christians was, in the words of one modern scholar, "as foolish as it was wicked. Henceforth they stood for tyranny and injustice in the eyes of the Arabs, and through them Christianity was associated with perfidy."[11]

As a result of the rise of Islam, Eastern Christianity, while surviving, became much less influential, and the center of the Christian world shifted westward to Rome. It could be claimed that the rise of Islam was a necessary corrective for a corrupt Christianity. Certainly, the Enlightenment in the West in the last few centuries was made possible, at least partly, by the Islamic impetus to scholarship which was picked up by Europe from Muslim Sicily and Spain. As we shall see in later chapters, this Islamic influence helped drive the Renaissance and the push for the secular state in Europe and America. . .

From: In Search of the Loving God by Mark Mason -- Copyright © 1997.

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