History of the Muslim Conquests

07/09/2013 07:45

by Raymond Ibrahim


Because it is now almost axiomatic for American school textbooks to whitewash all things Islamic (see here for example), it may be instructive to examine one of those aspects that are regularly distorted: the Muslim conquests.

Few events of history are so well documented and attested to as are these conquests, which commenced soon after the death of the Muslim prophet Muhammad (632) and tapered off circa 750. Large swathes of the
Old World---from the India in the east, to Spain in the west---were conquered and consolidated by the sword of Islam during this time, with more after (e.g., the Ottoman conquests).

By the standards of history, the reality of these conquests is unassailable, for history proper concerns itself with primary sources; and the Islamic conquests are thoroughly documented. More importantly, the overwhelming majority of primary source materials we rely on do not come from non-Muslims, who might be accused of bias. Rather, the foremost historians bequeathing to posterity thousands of pages of source materials documenting the Islamic conquests were not only Muslims
themselves; they were---and still are---regarded by today's Muslims as pious and trustworthy scholars (generically, the /ulema/).

Among the most authoritative books devoted to recounting the conquests are: Ibn Ishaq's (d. 767) /Sira/ ("Life of Muhammad"), the oldest biography of Muhammad; Waqidi's (d. circa. 820) /Maghazi/ ("Military Campaigns [of the Prophet]"); Baladhuri's (d. 892) /Futuh al-Buldan/ ("Conquests of the Nations"); and Tabari's (d.923) multi-volume /Tarikh al-Rusul wa al-Muluk/, ("History of Prophets and Kings"), which is 40 volumes in the English translation.

Taken together, these accounts (which are primarily based on older
accounts---oral and written---tracing back to Muhammad and his- Show quoted text - many debilitations conquered non-Muslims avoided---extra taxes,second-rate social status, enforced humiliation, etc.---by converting to Islam In fact, in the first century, and due to these debilitations,many conquered peoples sought to convert to Islam only to be rebuffed by the caliphate, which preferred to keep them as subdued---and heavily taxed---subjects, not as Muslim equals.

Meanwhile, as U.S. textbooks equivocate about the Muslim conquests, in the schoolrooms of the Muslim world, the conquests are not only taught
as a matter of course, but are glorified: their rapidity and decisiveness are regularly portrayed as evidence that Allah was in fact on the side of the Muslims (and will be again, so long as Muslims uphold their communal duty of waging jihad).

The dissimulation of how Islam was spread in the early centuries contained in Western textbook's mirrors the way the word jihad, once inextricable to the conquests, has also been recast. Whereas the word jihad has throughout the centuries simply meant armed warfare on behalf of Islam, in recent years, American students have been taught the Sufi
interpretation of jihad---Sufis make up perhaps one percent of the Islamic world and are often seen as heretics with aberrant interpretations---which portrays jihad as a "spiritual-struggle" against one's vices.

Contrast this definition of jihad with that of an early edition of the
venerable /Encyclopaedia of Islam/. Its opening sentence simply states, "The spread of Islam by arms is a religious duty upon Muslims in general.... Jihad must continue to be done until the whole world is under the rule of Islam.... Islam must completely be made over before the doctrine of jihad [warfare to spread Islam] can be eliminated."  Muslim legal manuals written in Arabic are even more explicit.

Likewise, the Islamic conquests narrated in the Muslim histories often mirror the doctrinal obligations laid out in Islam's theological
texts---the Koran and Hadith. Muslim historians often justify the actions of the early Islamic invaders by juxtaposing the jihad injunctions found in Islamic scriptures.

It should also be noted that, to Muslims, the Islamic conquests are seen
as acts of altruism: they are referred to as /futuh/, which literally means "openings"---that is, the countries conquered were "opened" for the light of Islam to enter and guide its infidel inhabitants. Thus to Muslims, there is nothing to regret or apologize for concerning the conquests; they are seen as for the good of those who were conquered (i.e., the ancestors of today's Muslims).

In closing, the fact of the Muslim conquests, by all standards of history, is indisputable. Accordingly, just as less than impressive aspects of Western and Christian history, such as the Inquisition or conquest of the Americas, are regularly taught in U.S. textbooks, so tooshould the Muslim conquests be taught, without apology or fear of being politically incorrect. This is especially so because it concerns
history---which has a way of repeating itself when ignored, or worse, whitewashed.


Raymond Ibrahimis is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum/