Did Islam Spread by the Sword in the Golden Age of Islamic Civilization?
No. When the Muslims conquered the Middle East and beyond in the seventh to eighth centuries CE, they concluded treaties with the local populations whereby the local populations kept their religions and paid a poll tax (jizya) on adult males in return for the Muslims’ protection. The theoretical foundation for this arrangement was the Qur’anic concept of “people of scriptures,” identified in the Qur’an as the Jews, Christian, and “Sabaeans,” the jizya-verse in Qur’an 9:29, and the Prophet Muhammad’s precedent. At the early stages of the conquests, the Muslims encountered mainly Christians and Jews, but soon began encountering other religious groups they did not know. So, for practical purposes, they considered them among the ambiguous “Sabaeans” and thus they became “people of scriptures.” At first, conversion into Islam was slow, but it accelerated in the eighth and ninth centuries due to various factors, including social pressure, the desire to avoid paying extra taxes, and the desire to have more economic and social opportunities. It was not until the tenth century that the Muslims became the majority of the population in the lands of the Muslim empire. In Africa and South and East Asia, conversion resulted mainly from trade and commercial activities between Muslims from North Africa and Southern Arabia, respectively. Islamic governments in general did not encourage conversion into Islam, and only few Islamic sectarian groups, like the Isma’ilis, had standing missionary activities. These, however, sought to convert people to their own brand of Islam, which means that their targets were often Muslims, not non-Muslims.
“Conquest: The Early rise of Islam (632 – 700).” Religion & Ethics: Islam. BBC. Link to resource (accessed April 30, 2010).
Avalon Foundation Distinguished Service Professor of Islamic Studies, Emerita, Department of Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations, University of Chicago
1. Explain why environmental determinism is an inadequate measure of changing societies. Give an example.
2. Explain how cultural filters of societies may impact societal decisions regarding interaction with the environment.