Sunday, November 28

Christian Sahner, author of the book “Conversion to Islam in the Pre-modern Era”: The forced conversion of Islam is rare and the vitality of Islamic civilization is caused by the mixing of peoples

The conversion to Islam is a phenomenon of great importance in human history, at the beginning of the time of Islamic rule in the seventh century AD, Muslims formed a small minority in most of the areas under their control, but with the beginning of the modern era they turned into a majority in most areas from North Africa to Southeast Asia .

Across these diverse lands, peoples and time periods, the conversion to Islam was a complex and diverse phenomenon. The converts lived in a world of overlapping and competing religious, cultural, social and family affiliations. The effects of converting to Islam were manifested in every aspect of life, and therefore the conversion to Islam provided researchers with a mirror of world history. .

Professor Christian C. Sahner, Professor of Islamic History at Oxford University, is a historian specializing in the medieval Islamic world. He is also the author of a number of books, including “Among the Ruins: Syria Past” (Among the Ruins: Syria Past) and Present) issued by Oxford University Press in 2014.

He also edited a book issued in 2020, about which the dialogue will revolve, which is “Conversion to Islam in the Premodern Age” in partnership with Nimrod Horvitz, Luke Yarbrough, and Uriel Simonson, which was published by the University of California Press, and conducted Al Jazeera Net with him this interview:

  • The book refers in more than one section to the positive role that women played in the early stages of Islam, where women were characterized by courage and responsibility, and even played roles.. Can you explain this idea more? How did women form the societal fabric of Islam in that era?

In fact, you are right, the book contains a number of stories about prominent women who converted to Islam in the life of the Prophet Muhammad, the most famous of whom was the Prophet’s first wife, Khadija bint Khuwaylid, and this confirms the high status of women in early Islamic society. The first person to convert to Islam, she played an important role in reassuring the Prophet Muhammad of the sincerity of the message that was being sent down to him at a stage when he himself was unsure of the revelation that he had begun to receive. .

The book also contains stories about the conversion of many of the Prophet’s female relatives to Islam, including his aunt Arwa bint Abdul Muttalib. It is interesting here to note that most of the Prophet’s uncles remained pagan (except for Hamza and Abbas, sons of Abdul Muttalib), but many of his aunts became Muslim.

The book “Conversion to Islam in the Pre-Modern Era” was published in 2020 by the University of California Press (social networking sites)
  • The early Muslims witnessed great persecution by the polytheistic majority in Mecca, which prompted them to migrate the first to Ethiopia, and the second to Yathrib (Medina).

Perhaps the migration was the most important event in the life of the Prophet, no wonder that since the seventh century AD, Muslims have made this a reference for their chronological calendar. so to speak.

In Mecca, the early Muslims faced violence and ostracism, but in Medina the Muslims had the opportunity to join a dominant social and political group. 630 AD The repercussions of the conquest were mostly peaceful, as the pagans of Quraysh embraced Islam, and this conquest witnessed a small number of dead Muslims and pagans who had abused the Prophet previously.

  • After the death of the Prophet Muhammad, Islamic history witnessed what became known as the “wars of apostasy.” What is the value of these wars in preserving Islamic unity?

The apostasy wars are an important episode in the beginning of Islamic history. After the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 AD, many tribes that had embraced Islam saw that they were no longer obligated to obey the new Caliph Abu Bakr. It is interesting to think of this rebellion as a form of religious “apostasy” as does the Islamic tradition.

For many tribes, it was not a matter of religious belief per se, but of the political and economic relations they had with the state in the post-Prophet Muhammad, and it seems that many tribes saw themselves as loyal to the person of the Prophet Muhammad more than to the religious movement brought by Islam.

As is well known, the Qur’an does not mention anything about the execution of apostates, and in this regard many historians believe that this position – which formed the viewpoint of Muslim jurists in the following decades and centuries towards “apostasy” from Islam – emerged as a result of the apostasy wars, at that time Muslims realized The first are that apostasy constitutes a serious threat to the unity of society, and must be stopped with the most severe punishments.

  • How did the Umayyads deal with non-Muslims and loyalists? You pointed out that the loyalists felt unjust towards the tax policies in the time of the Umayyads, is this true? Was the era of Omar bin Abdul Aziz changed with the loyalist? And how did the Umayyad policies towards the loyalist paved the way for the emergence of the Abbasids?

In many respects the treatment of non-Muslims and the loyalist are two separate issues. Under the legislation established by the early jurists, non-Muslims—including Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians (dhimmis)—are entitled to maintain their faith on the condition that they pay a tax to the state (in the form of jizya, kharaj, etc.). .), as well as the need to acknowledge the sovereignty of Muslims.

The term mawwali refers to non-Arabs who converted to Islam and entered Islamic society by belonging to ancient Arab tribes. Many of the muwali were originally slaves captured during conquests that included places such as Iraq, Iran, and Central Asia.

As such, they often faced discrimination by their fellow Muslims and were treated as second-class citizens, in fact during the Umayyad era some officials continued to tax the loyalists as if they had not changed their religion at all, and this act was associated with the well-known ruler of Iraq, Al-Hajjaj bin Yusuf Al-Thaqafi. Until the Caliph Omar bin Abdul Aziz came to put an end to this practice, and the book dealt with this in one of its chapters.

The grievances against the loyalist led some to support the religious and political opposition movements during the Umayyad era, and it had many Arab supporters, not only the loyalist.

The grievances against the loyalist led some to support the religious and political opposition movements during the Umayyad era. These uprisings included the Shiite sects in Iraq, and the most famous of these revolutionary movements was the Abbasid revolution (747-750 AD), and here it is important to mention, however, that these uprisings had Lots of Arab supporters, not just the loyalist.

  • The Abbasid policy was distinguished, as stated in one of the book’s research, in that it gave the mawli more attention to political and administrative positions, so how was this manifested? And what is its effect?

The Abbasid Revolution originated in eastern Iran, and as a result, the high ranks within the Abbasid state belonged to large numbers of Arabs of Iranian origin or to the benefit of Persian Muslims who had recently converted to Islam. A number of famous Abbasid officials belong to this second group, including the writer Ibn al-Muqaffa, The astronomer Nabakht Al-Ahwazi, and the geographer Ibn Khordadbeh, I like to think of these figures as “cultural mediators” who brought elements of the pre-Islamic Persian intellectual, cultural and political heritage to Islam. The Abbasid period also witnessed the conversion of large numbers to Islam, the Arabs were no longer the majority Within the Islamic nation, which was reflected in the rise of the loyalist to positions of power.

The Abbasid period also witnessed the conversion of large numbers to Islam, the Arabs were no longer a majority within the Islamic nation, which was reflected in the rise of the loyalist to positions of government

  • The expansion of the geographical area of ​​Islam paved the way for large numbers of people from different social and religious backgrounds to enter Islam, so how did this lead to the enrichment of Islamic civilization?

Although Islam began as a religion mainly for the Arabs, the conquests of the seventh and eighth centuries brought to Islam wide groups of non-Arab groups, and these included the Persians, along with the Greeks, Berbers, Copts, Sogdians (inhabitants of Central Asia), Turks, Syriacs, and others, all of whom gradually began to convert. The converts to Islam may have adopted the Arabic language or started using Islamic names, but this does not mean that they have forgotten their previous cultural heritage. The enormous vitality witnessed by Islamic civilization in the Middle Ages – whether in literature, art, science, music or philosophy – owes to this great mixture. of the peoples.

You owe the tremendous vitality witnessed by the Islamic civilization in the Middle Ages, whether in literature, art, science, music or philosophy, to this great mixture of peoples.

  • The entry of Khorasan and Persia to Islam did not erase all the Sassanid and Zoroastrian heritage of the converts to Islam, and as it is known, an important segment of the great scholars in the early stages of Islam were Persians. Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali, in which he said that “the king and the two religions are twins”?

You are absolutely right that many of the greatest Muslim thinkers of the Umayyad and Abbasid eras were Persian converts to Islam. Their ancestors were Zoroastrians, Christians, Jews and Buddhists in the former Sassanid Empire, and I agree with you, these converts also brought the cultural natures of their old worlds into their new world when they became Muslims. .

We can see this clearly in Islamic ideas associated with legal politics. The Abbasids in particular treated the Sassanid kings as good models of government, and it was no coincidence that they established their new capital, Baghdad, under the ancient Sassanid capital Ctesiphon (known to the Arabs as Al-Madain). I have a book on how to combine Islamic and Persian ideas on governance is the book “Sir al-Muluk” (Siyat Namah) of Nizam King Hussein al-Tusi (d. 1092 AD), the Grand Vizier of the Seljuks, and in this guide for rulers describes the king’s system of each of the Sassanid emperors and caliphs as models of rule side by side.

  • How did Muslim scholars contribute to producing a jurisprudence that calls for “coexistence” between Muslims and others?

As a historian, I do not like the term “coexistence” when applied to the distant past, it is a modern term laden with contemporary value judgments (about tolerance, pluralism, etc.) that simply did not exist in the pre-modern world, or was not expressed as such, which is Something that applies not only to the Middle East but also to Europe, China and any pre-modern society.

In many medieval societies around the world, inter-communal violence occurred, but forced conversion was rare, and there is a lack of evidence to confirm that non-Muslims were subjected to systematic persecution.

When it came to medieval ‘ulama’ they did not aim to create a jurisprudence of ‘coexistence’ as such, instead their goal was to create a legislative system to regulate relations between dominant and dependent groups, i.e. between Muslims as rulers and non-Muslims as subjects.

They did this in order to maintain the social and political hierarchy, and through this they aimed to create a stable society within which the groups could live side by side.

In many respects the system they created was very successful. Inter-communal violence occurred like many medieval societies around the world, but forced conversion was rare, and there is a lack of evidence of systematic persecution of non-Muslims.

  • One of the research papers in the book indicated that mixed families resulting from interfaith marriage or conversion of spouses pose a threat to Christian communities in the Middle East, so how is this done? How was the matter dealt with for the survival of Christian groups?

Under Islamic law, Muslim men were free to marry Jewish and Christian women, and this was fairly common throughout the medieval period, and the law also stipulated that children of mixed marriages must be raised as Muslims, meaning that although the family may be religiously mixed in the first generation Subsequent generations were destined to be fully Muslim, and so intermarriage was an important (overlooked) driver of religious conversion (to Islam).

Mixed marriage was an important (overlooked) driver of religious conversion

For obvious reasons many Christians and Muslims have tried to prevent these mixed marriages from taking place, in fact we have sources going back to the Umayyad period (including a Syriac text translated in the book) in which Christian writers have tried to devise ways to prevent Christian women from marrying Muslims when they cannot stop these Marriages, where they made laws preventing Christian women from converting to the new religion, for example Ya’qub al-Rahawi (died 708 AD) a Syriac-speaking bishop wrote the text I mentioned above, and when asked whether it was appropriate to deprive a Christian woman married to a Muslim man of the sacrifice The sanctuary said that it was better to continue to give her the Eucharist than to deny her, as he would risk expulsion from the church altogether.

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