A little this and that and a lot of Quigley about Islam
For those unfamiliar with the rise of Arabic Islam, Carroll Quigley in his uncompleted masterwork, “Weapons Systems and Political Stability,” provides an insightful look at the rise of Mohammed and the Medieval explosion of the Semitic speaking Arabs from the southern grasslands of the Near-east.
It is interesting to note that the Arab political dominance of Islam lasted only 300 years or so, thereafter the Islāmic world was ruled mostly by non-Arab Muslims (Turks, Kurds [Saladin], Moors and the like) until at the end of WWI (1918) when the allies created the system of Arab controlled states at the expense of those Islāmic tribes and nations that commanded the Near and Middle East for the previous 1000 years.
Also, the Arabs like the Hebrews were Semite language speakers from tribes that migrated out of grasslands south of the Fertile Crescent during dry periods. Thus, ironically, not only do they share the same language family, original culture and genetics but also the same religion in some respects since the Koran acknowledges the Hebrew bible as among its founding documents and Gabriel himself supposedly directed the Prophet to begin his vocation.
Muhammad, “the Messenger of God,” provides one of history’s best examples of the right man in the right place at the right time. He was an unusual man and a very unusual Arab. As a great, great, great-grandson of Kusaiy and a grandson of Abdul Muttalib (c. 497-578), Muhammad had an established place in the community of Mecca. Abdul Muttalib, head of the Kuraish tribe in Mecca, had seven sons. Muhammad’s father, Abdullah, the fifth son, died before Muhammad was born, so the infant was placed to be suckled with a tribe outside Mecca. He returned to his mother and grandfather at the age of six, but his mother died within a year (leaving him in care of a slave girl) and his grandfather died the next year, leaving the child to his second son, Muhammad’s uncle, Abu Talib, who was not rich.
Muhammad had no notable talents and no economic position until, at age twenty-five, he went on caravan to Syria as agent for a well-to-do widow of 40 years, Khadija, who was also a great, great, great-grandchild of Kusaiy, and was thus a fourth cousin of Muhammad. On the latter’s successful return from Syria, his employer suggested that they marry. This, the first of Muhammad’s eleven marriages, was a great success, from Muhammad ‘s point of view, despite fifteen years difference in age. They had six children of whom two sons died in infancy, while four daughters survived. Khadija gave Muhammad economic support and unwavering personal loyalty, even when he turned increasingly to a life of solitude and meditation.
From this meditation, which sometimes kept Muhammad alone for days in the hills east of Mecca, came Islam. The archangel Gabriel appeared to Muhammad and instructed him to restore the religion of the one true God. This religion had been revealed to Abraham, to Moses, and to Christ but in each case had become corrupt. Now Muhammad, as the last and final messenger of God, was ordered to reestablish it in its correct form.
There can be no doubt that Muhammad was convinced of the divine mission revealed to him by Gabriel and supplemented by an inner voice. But the religious message he brought was a backward version of Judaism.
We have already indicated that the development of men’s ideas on the nature of deity passed through numerous stages over two millennia, from about 1500 B.C. to about the time of Muhammad.
Of these stages we have mentioned the beliefs that God was: (1) omnipotent; (2) one; (3) transcendental; (4) good; and (5) love. Of these five stages, Allah, the God of Muhammad, had only the first two, a deficient version of the third, and little of the last two. Allah was One God, the Only God, and Muhammad was his last and final prophet. This God was omnipotent, the essence of Will and total Power. Since everything that happened was a consequence of his Will and could just as easily have been otherwise, there were no rules or law, in the cosmos. Everything was totally entangled in the Will of Allah, which was Fate. The mission of man was not to exercise freedom or growth or to develop his potentialities, but to submit totally to God’s Will. Such submission was “Islam.”
Man had free will and thus was responsible, in the sense that he could submit to God’s Will or defy it. But, since the universe was a reflection of God’s Will (which was totally free and unhampered), there were no rules or laws independent of God. Accordingly, there were no distinctions of good and evil. God was not under any ethical restraints and the ultimate rule of the universe was still power (even if God’s power) and not law. Thus individual growth in personal freedom and responsibility under law was not possible in the Moslem system. Those who submitted to God’s Will were rewarded in Paradise; those who violated His Will burned in Hell.
According to Muhammad, God’s demands on men were relatively simple: Belief in one God, Allah, and submission to Him and to His Messenger; brief prayers five times a day; fasting in daylight in the month of Ramadan; no use of alcohol; alms to the poor; no more than four wives at a time. Those who obeyed these rules would win eternity in paradise, which was a bedouin’s idea of perfection: cool, flowing waters, green trees with luscious fruits, and beautiful virgins, forever young for endless enjoyment. This perfect state was promised immediately to those who died in battle against unbelievers.
Islam, while offering what any bedouin would want in the hereafter and at relatively small cost, nevertheless was an almost total rejection of the bedouin way of life. It rejected enjoyment and power in this world for rewards in the hereafter. It rejected the security and loyalties of the kin group for the solidarity of the community of believers. It rejected the narrow values of the pastoral nomad, challenging their ideal of manliness with a new concept of holiness, and rejecting the bedouin need for revenge to wipe away any personal affront or injury with the new (and, to the bedouin, effete) idea of forgiveness. Muhammad’s emphasis on moderation and fasting, and his ambivalent, if not suspicious, attitude toward women and wine, were an almost complete reversal of bedouin values. Above all, the Arab emphasis on the basic reality of personal, face-to-face relationships within the narrow confines of the blood grouping, was overturned by Muhammad’s emphasis on social equality in the universal unity of Islam.
On this basis, Islam and Muhammad’s substitution of a single divine will and power for the myriad of powers and spirits of Arab superstitions pointed toward a world empire in which the ordinary Arab would be lost. For this reason, as Islam moved toward a universal world empire based on providential monarchy, the Arabs, particularly the bedouins, were left behind in a backward localism of only nominal adherence to Muhammad’s teachings.
The Arabs’ inability to free themselves from kinship loyalties and to rise emotionally, conceptually, and socially to a wider sense of community explains why the Arab Near East today is unable to organize an effective community. This inability is reflected in the fact that Arab marriage is still endogamous within the kinship group. While other, more advanced, communities generally forbid marriage with first cousins, the preferred marriage among the Arabs has traditionally been of this kind, with father’s brother’s daughter (what anthropologists call parallel cousin marriage).
This imprisonment of Arab experience, and especially of security and trust, within the narrow kinship group also explains why it became necessary for Muhammad’s Islāmic community to become non-Arab if it were to cover a larger geographic area. It did this by becoming cosmopolitan imperial, although the Arab language, by growth and adaptation, was able to respond to the challenge and became fully capable of functioning as the linguistic vehicle of a universal empire and culture. The Arabs, in other words, were simply left behind by the growing community which Muhammad started, and they were left behind from inability to adapt emotionally to such a larger community.
The new community invented by Muhammad had at least three characteristics: (1) it was a religious community, that is a community of belief, not of blood or other allegiance; (2)within that community all men were brothers and fundamentally equal in value in the eyes of Allah; and (3) all authority within that community was in the hands
of Muhammad, as the direct Messenger of God on earth. A possible fourth point was that Muhammad’s authority was not differentiated so that he was lawmaker, judge, commander-in-chief, religious leader, economic expert, and first in social precedence all rolled together into one.
This totalitarian jumbling together of all authority into one gave rise to gigantic organizational problems when Muhammad died and the community began to move outward toward a universal system on a non-Arab base.
Muhammad’s religious community was not created by the fact that a certain number of Arabs accepted his claim that there was but one God and that he was the Messenger of God. Rather it was created by the second oath of Aqaba in 622.
Muhammad’s teachings were a direct challenge to the basic kinship loyalty on which Arab society was based. This challenge did not come from his insistence on one God, something that many Arabs were willing to accept, but from his equal insistence that the believers in that one God must be totally subordinated to himself as Messenger of that God. This was subversive to the precariously balanced structure of kinship loyalties on which Arab society and all personal security in that society rested. Few could conceive of loyalty to a larger social grouping as capable of providing greater personal security, especially when that larger grouping did not yet exist and when its absolute leader would be Muhammad. For Muhammad’s personality was almost antithetical to the Arab idea of manliness. He was neither a fighter nor aggressive and he taught of a God who was “Lord of the Weak” when the only attribute of deity which the average Arab could understand was power and strength.
Muhammad’s teachings were subversive to Meccan society, whose position was based on its trade, which, in turn, was based on its position as a pagan shrine. The people of Mecca were not bedouins, although fully familiar with the nomad way of life. They were a commercial oligarchy, in which the richest and most powerful, working through their clans, dominated the life of the town with great profit to themselves. In the growing political disturbances of Arabia, only the existence of Mecca as a religious center in which all Arabs could meet in peace allowed the growing profits of the Hejaz trade routes to be exploited. The merchants of Mecca were losing their tribal way of life in a growing rich and individualistic way of life, completely opposed to the bedouin way of life. But as the latter grew weaker, the Meccan leaders had no way for replacing those things which tribalism had provided: protection, support for the weak, poor, unfortunate, and exploited. The tribal way of life in Mecca itself was being replaced by a selfish and individualist materialism, with accumulation of money and luxurious living of which the bedouins had never dreamed. Muhammad’s teachings were just as individualistic as the practices of the rich of Mecca, perhaps more so. He insisted that the individual would stand alone at the Last Judgment, without family, weapons, wealth, or high birth, to answer for his sins. At that time, what would count was how he had lived during his life on earth. There was, of course, nothing new in these ideas, except in Arabia; they could be found in Egypt more than 2000 years before Muhammad. But these teachings were not only new in Arabia; they were essential if some substitute was to be found for the disrupting tribal way of life. The leaders of Kuraish did not see this need for a new political organization. All they could see was the threat of Muhammad’s teachings offered to their economic organization. For this reason, they determined to be rid of him.
Getting rid of Muhammad was not simple, for he was still protected by his own clan, the Beni Hashim. Anyone who injured him would be subject to their tribal vengeance.
When Muhammad denounced the idols in the Kaaba as “nothing but names which you and your fathers have given them, on whom God has given no authority” and when he insisted that the ancestors of Kuraish were in hell fire for worshipping these idols, the elders of Kuraish asked Abu Talib, Muhammad’s uncle, to withdraw his clan’s protection from Muhammad, so that the prophet could be killed. Abu Talib refused, but the strain on tribal loyalties was almost at the breaking point. The leaders of Kuraish decided to establish a boycott of the Beni Hashim, agreeing to have nothing to do with its members, especially no business nor social relationships, including marriage. This ostracism of Beni Hashim lasted for three years and then was lifted because it applied to all members of the clan when only a few were Muslims.
As the danger grew, Muhammad decided to move his followers to the agricultural oasis of Yathrib (later Medina), 210 miles northeast of Mecca. During the pilgrimage of 619, Muhammad converted twelve men of Yathrib to his beliefs. The following year, these twelve came again on pilgrimage and met Muhammad secretly in the valley of Aqaba, four miles east of Mecca. There they took the first oath of Aqaba, swearing to worship only the one true God, to obey His Messenger, and to abstain from theft, adultery, infanticide, and slander. For this they were promised eternal life in paradise.
The situation in Medina was even worse than in Mecca at that time, since the town was divided in a cold civil war. It was a purely agricultural oasis, whose original inhabitants were either Jews or Judaized Arabs. Following the break of the Marib dam, Arabs from the south had settled in the oasis, originally as clients of the established Jewish clans, who continued to hold the best lands. The Arab arrivals soon split into two clans which, by 620, were in open warfare with each other. About that time, they had a battle, in which some of the Jews and some local bedouin Arabs took part on both sides. Peace was restored, but the situation remained precarious. Obviously, there was no solution to this political problem within the Arab tribal system. A number of local people from both Arab clans were looking about for some way to restore security in Medina and were at the same time hearing rumors of monotheism, but were not eager to add more difficulties to the situation by becoming either Jews or Christians. At this point, members of one Arab clan of Medina made contact with Muhammad and decided that he would be an objective arbitrator of Medina’s disputes. Muhammad, however, would not go to the town until the invitation came from both Arab clans.
During the pilgrimage of 621, many more believers came to Mecca from Medina, including members of both Arab clans. In the night following the ceremonies, 73 men from Medina met with Muhammad and gave the second pledge of Aqaba. Each of them individually touched Muhammad’s hand and swore to receive him and his followers in their town and to protect them there. Twelve of these converts were named as an advisory council, drawn from both clans. In return, the Messenger of God told them: “I am of you and you are of me. I’ll war against them who war on you, and I will be at peace with those who are at peace with you.”
This agreement created Muhammad’s community, the Umma. Once it was established, the Prophet instructed his followers in Mecca, few in number and mostly poor, to go quietly to Medina, where he would join them. These departures could hardly be kept secret, and Muhammad’s bitter opponent, Abu Jahal, suggested how Muhammad could be killed without risk of a blood feud with Beni Hashim; he thought that the deed could be done by a representative of each clan in Mecca striking with his dagger at the same moment, since Beni Hashim could not feud on all the clans at once. When news of this plan spread, Muhammad and his most loyal convert, Abu Bekr, fled on camels with a hired guide to Medina. This flight, known as the Kegira, opens the Muslim era (June 622).
The emigrants to Medina, about 75 in number, were without land or money. Since the Medina helpers outnumbered the refugees, Muhammad arranged for each emigrant to be adopted by a helper as a brother. A written charter was drawn up among nine groups, the eight local clans and Muhammad’s emigrants. This was really a confederation, having the same friends and enemies, agreeing to settle all disputes peacefully and to leave critical ones to Muhammad’s arbitration. The inhabitants of Medina did not have to become Muslims, but all shared in the peace of the city as equals. Thus the protection and security of the tribe was replaced by the security and protection of the place, guaranteed by the confederation. Later, when all the inhabitants of Medina were converted or expelled or killed, this arrangement became the religious umma of Muhammad.
The creation of the umma may have provided security, but it did not provide any economic basis for the emigrants. This the Messenger sought to find in odd jobs, alms from the faithful, and banditry. He announced that God, through Gabriel, commanded the Muslims to fight the unbelievers. Combining economic advantages with religious zeal, the Prophet directed his emigrants in bandit attacks on the caravans going south past Medina from the Levant to Mecca. The first attack, in January 624, was against a great caravan of a thousand camels, owned by the leaders of Mecca and commanded by Abu Sufyan. This skilled trader evaded the Muslim ambush of 314 men near Bedr. A Kuraish rescue force of about 750 men from Mecca intercepted the Muslim raiders and were badly beaten. Kuraish lost about 50 killed and 50 more were captured. The captives, including Muhammad’s uncle Abbas, who had accompanied the Prophet at the second oath of Aqaba, were ransomed. Following the battle, Muhammad had his followers drive one of the Jewish clans from Medina and appropriated their property for his believers.
This great day set the pattern of expansion of the Muslim community. By raids on caravans, attacks on Jewish groups, and assassination of opposition leaders, Muhammad’s power was consolidated. From the booty the Prophet took one-fifth for himself, to finance his charitable and political activities. The bedouin tribes were gradually won over, by alternation of attacks and bribery, to sign agreements of various kinds with Muhammad. Since with the bedouins nothing succeeds like success, the growing strength of the Muslims made such agreements desirable. Soon many bedouins wanted to join this profitable raiding.
The key to these Muslim victories did not rest in weapons, weapons systems, or tactics, for the Arabs did not get the composite bow or such complex weapons as artillery, a siege train, a navy, or stirrups for their horses until after the conquest of Syria. They had the wooden bow, but rarely used it in war. Thus they began their conquests with little more than mobility, combined with swords, spears, daggers, and archery, with some coats of mail for defense. Fighting was generally on foot, in a mêlée of hand-to-hand fighters. General lack of discipline made any group tactics almost impossible, except, perhaps, in timing the first assault.
The great Muslim advantage was in morale. Before the battle, and often in the course of it, Muhammad promised the fighters that those who were killed would go immediately to paradise. The pagans fought simply to establish superiority, not to annihilate the opposition and had the primitive belief that a battle should be fought only to the point where superiority was indicated for that day. They saw no point in fighting to the death, had no desire to destroy their opponents totally, and had little desire to kill them. To them fighting was an opportunity for booty or ransoms, or simply to obtain a recognition of superiority. It had many of the elements of a game, offered an opportunity to demonstrate one’s masculinity, and was carried on with chivalric overtones. On the other hand, the Muslims fought to win, to destroy the enemy totally, and to wipe him permanently from the earth. This difference gave a very great advantage to the Muslims. Moreover, it was soon combined with a moderate policy toward those who surrendered without a fight, thus encouraging surrender when the only alternative seemed to be total destruction. These differences appeared clearly at the battle of Uhud, which the Muslims lost.
Uhud occurred as a result of a Meccan attack on Medina in an effort to reopen the caravan route northward to the Levant (625). The attackers numbered about 3000 men, of which 700 had coats of chain mail, and 200 had horses.
Medina sent out a defensive force of about 1000. Just before the battle, the elected chief of Medina abandoned the field with 300 followers, leaving Muhammad with only 700 men, of which about 100 had defensive armor, and none had a horse. The Muslims won the battle but fell to looting before the enemy left the field and were overwhelmed in a counterattack in which the Kuraish riders circled the Muslim position and attacked it from the rear, wounding Muhammad and sending the Muslim remnants fleeing on foot into the surrounding rocks and hills.
The Meccans, instead of hunting down the fugitives and sacking Medina, casually plundered the dead and withdrew to Mecca with a parting message from Abu Sufyan, “We’ll meet again next year at Bedr.”
The failure of the pagan Meccans to push their victory at Uhud to conclusion by destroying the Muslims and by sacking Medina, or their failure even to impose terms on the defeated shows the casual Arab attitude toward warfare. They were satisfied with moral victories. Muhammad was not. He sent an assassin to Mecca in a vain attempt to murder Abu Sufyan and, when that failed, compensated for the defeat at Uhud by having his followers seize all the property of the second Jewish tribe in Medina and force its members to migrate to Syria
Two years later, an overwhelming force from Mecca marched on Medina again. A Persian convert in Medina suggested that the open side of the town be protected by digging a trench along it. This was done, under Muhammad’s direction, in six days. The military ignorance of the Arabs is evident from the fact that the attackers were unwilling to cross the open trench and were soon forced to give up the siege and return to Mecca by their own dwindling supplies.
Muhammad used this attack of 627 as an excuse for putting to death all the men of the third and last Jewish tribe of Medina. In this heroic deed 700 Jews were beheaded after they were forced to dig ditches as graves for their own bodies. Later, Jewish groups in other settlements were despoiled of all their movable property and left on their lands in return for 50 per cent of their crops as annual tribute.
The Muslim feud with Mecca ended in 629 when Muhammad led the Muslims there on pilgrimage and agreed to accept the kaaba, with its meteorite, as a pilgrimage shrine, in return for the removal of the idols. As the number of Muslims grew, the prospects of Mecca becoming their pilgrimage site won over most of the people of Mecca to accept the arrangements, even when they would not adopt Islam themselves. The Muslims occupied the town, executed four opposition leaders, and forced all the residents to swear loyalty to Muhammad (630). The following year, non-Muslims were excluded from the pilgrimage, but by that time, Muhammad had bought off the surviving opposition leaders by rich gifts paid from the one-fifth of the booty he reserved for himself. The richest gifts went to Abu Sufyan and his sons of the Omayyad clan.
By 632 when Muhammad died, only ten years after the Hegira, much of Arabia was in some kind of political relationship with him, usually consisting of a pact of friendship with tribal leaders in which they agreed to pay nominal tribute and Muhammad reserved the right to settle dangerous disputes. By that time, many Arabs were turning their minds to the idea that coöperation with the Muslims would open the doors of opportunity to great material benefits in this world as well as eternal blessings in the next world.
When Muhammad died in 632, no one knew what to do, because the umma was Muhammad’s possession, and no constitution nor rules of succession existed. Tribal leaders who had made agreements with Muhammad considered that these were purely personal agreements which lapsed at the death of either party. At the Prophet’s death, Abu Bekr was chosen as caliph (successor) to Muhammad by general agreement and at once set out, by force as necessary, to compel reestablishment of the bedouin tribes’ agreements with Muhammad. This, by a combination of fighting and generous terms, took about a year. But at the end of that year, the fighting did not stop. The whole process continued northward against the soft underbelly of the decaying Persian and Byzantine empires north of Arabia. The Arab raiders, who had been subduing Arabia, could not be reduced to unemployment and idleness; they were simply directed outward, plundering traders and tribesmen, and offering the sword, tribute, or conversion. In some ways, there is a parallel between these methods of Islāmic expansion and the methods by which large corporate conglomerates have been built up in recent years. In each case, the victim has been offered a choice, to join the system by becoming part of it through conversion or to be taken over as a subordinate subject to tax. The difference was that Islam’s alternative to submission (conversion) was conquest by force, while the conglomerate’s alternative to submission (by exchange of securities) was conquest by a battle of proxy votes. In both cases, it is not surprising that many elect to join an expanding system rather than to fight it.
The achievement of Muhammad was very great, but the whole subsequent history of Islāmic civilization was marked by his errors and omissions. Most of these rest on his very backward conception of the nature of deity and of the relations between God and men. His God was not fully transcendental since He constantly interfered in the world, and indeed, had to interfere in order to keep it going, for Muhammad had no conception of natural laws. His God was a God of supreme power, but was not transcendental or good. Thus the failure to recognize the nature of law as a process of relationships which function apart from the constant personal intervention of God included the failure to recognize rules of ethics (which included God). This meant that God was not recognized as Good but only as Power. To some extent Muhammad did reach the idea of God as love but only in the rather limited form of compassion. This involved divine recognition of man’s weakness and pity toward man for this reason, but did not involve the love of God in the Christian sense which includes God’s wish that man should develop his potentialities toward strength.
All of these weaknesses in Muhammad’s ideas of the nature of deity continued in Islam and left it a permanently flawed society. It left an idea of the nature of man as weak, with limited free will and thus a limited sense of individual personal responsibility (since freedom for man allowed only the acceptance or rejection of the Will of Allah and rejection was punished by God’s retaliation in the Last Judgment by inflicting personal suffering on the sinner).
This failure to achieve any idea of law as a relationship higher than will influenced every aspect of Islāmic life subsequently. Among other things it prevented any real idea of the rule of law or of a constitution. This lack was made worse by the fact that Muhammad established no rules of government or of succession to his office. His own rule was personal, reinforced by his claims to be the Messenger of divine revelation. This meant that his successors, however chosen, would have to rule personally, without this power, since revelation, according to Muhammad, ended with him. Thus Islam, unlike western civilization, never could achieve the latter’s idea that “the truth unfolds in time.” In Islam “the Gates of Truth” were closed and, in consequence, a very unfinished community had to be regarded as finished, just as a very unfinished idea of the nature of deity had to be regarded as finished.
This idea of truth as finished was crippling to many aspects of Islāmic society (such as science, law, and politics), and became especially crippling in the extreme form it took in Islam with establishment of the idea that the Koran, as the vehicle of revelation, was not only sufficient, complete, and finished, but was also uncreated (that is had existed with God in all eternity before it was revealed to Muhammad). This had the effect of putting Truth outside the world of space-time (the world of created things), leaving this temporal world the area of evil in an almost Zoroastrian sense. All of these beliefs served to discourage human effort to improve this temporal world or their own behavior in it. This dualistic tendency, which was one of the outstanding characteristics of the whole period covered by this chapter, was also observable in the late classical civilization, in Byzantine civilization, and in western civilization in this period, as well as in Islam.
Thus we have a very flawed heritage left by Muhammad as in Islāmic civilization because of three omissions (failure to move from a universe of will or power toward a universe of rules and law; failure to establish rules of government, or at least of succession for the ruler; and insistence that his ideas of deity and human relations with deity were the final truth, thus ending revelation and intellectual growth). But Muhammad also left a positive decision which was more obviously and more directly fatal to the future of his community. This is his decision to support the religious community by raiding, plunder, and war.
The whole future of Islāmic civilization was marked by this decision which eventually made it almost impossible to achieve a community, for the two were almost antithetical: that the community be based on religion (that is on persons who trust each other because they have the same God and the same relationship to Him) and the belief that that community can support itself in this world by plundering and enslaving other persons. This cannot be done, simply because the effort to support any community by war creates a military machine which comes to dominate the community on a basis totally different from the religious basis on which it is presumed to rest. In Islam, centuries of confusion were spent in conflict over the vain effort to achieve a government which was simultaneously both military and religious. The very effort to do this gave rise to extremist religious sects who, as microscopic minorities, were determined to get control of the government. Other sects, despairing of this, tried to withdraw into a small segregated community of their own. The Kharijites were an example of the first, while the Assassins (Ismailis) were an example of the second. The final solution of the problem, which grew very slowly in the period 900-1300, was to abandon any effort to combine the umma and the militarized government in the same community. This was equivalent to permitting a government which was little more than a military machine to ride over a community which was a structure of private relationships operated as a community under customary relationships among individuals and groups.
This solution was well adapted to the socio-economic conditions of the period, especially to the autonomous nature and stable structure of economic (especially agrarian) enterprise at that time, but it was not a system which could adapt to modern conditions because the ruling entity, under this Islāmic compromise, was a government without being a state; it was in fact a military organization and little else. It was not a state because it did not control and hardly influenced justice, law, education, social life (including family life), economic affairs, or intellectual and religious life. As a largely military machine it did not have, and could hardly expect to obtain, loyalty from its subjects or their active or spontaneous coöperation.
Efforts were made, at various times, to overcome this fissure between government and community, usually by the former displaying great respect and support for the orthodox Islāmic community (the ulama and the caliphate). This was done, for example, by the Seljuks and, most successfully, by the Ottoman Turks, but the fundamental problems which had been left by Muhammad were never overcome.
The Arabic expansion after the death of Muhammad was Arab rather than Muslim, since many raiders went along simply to share in the plunder, remaining unconverted (or only nominally converted) to Islam themselves. Indeed, the original expansion was regarded by those who started it as a series of raids rather than a conquest. It became a conquest because so many submitted so easily. Where Islam triumphed from sustained tenacity of purpose and simply because it was a going and growing concern which anyone might agree to join, the enemy crumpled before this pressure because of their own disorganization and low morale.
Later Quigley adds:
The inability of the Arabs to rise above the narrow and suspicious world of blood kinship was so great, that the original expansion of Islam took the form of moving tribes. These tribes did not mix together but retained their separate identity, quartered in separate camps in the field or in separate districts in cities. Conversion to Islam, for several generations, was not conceivable in terms of joining a religious community (as it had been viewed by Muhammad himself) but was seen in terms of joining an Arab tribe by adopting an Arab clan name. These converts acquired a permanently subordinate position as clients of the Arab tribes into which they were adopted.
Such conversion was intimately associated with a growing system of taxation and finance. The basic idea, going back to Muhammad’s original use of raiding as a means of support for his community, was that the believers should be supported by the non-believers. All plunder of war, all lands overrun, were regarded as the possession of the community, with one-fifth going to Muhammad and to
his caliph successors and the rest divided among the tribes. As the conquests rolled onward, it was necessary to consolidate the conquests for a more permanent method of exploitation than war plunder. Since the conquerors had no desire to mingle with the conquered, had no administrative rules nor skills or their own, were generally illiterate, and were not eager to assume any burden of routine work, they simply allowed the arrangements they conquered to continue, fixing global sums of tribute and allowing these to be collected and administered by those who had been doing these things. Gradually the conquerors had to take a closer concern with such matters but, for at least twenty years, conquest was more important than consolidation and booty more significant than taxes. Until 661 the caliph remained in Medina, far from the firing line, flooded with his one-fifth of the plunder and making little real effort to control what was going on.
The basic decisions on how the conquests should be consolidated and what should be the relationship between the conquering Arabs and the overrun systems were made by the second caliph, Omar (634-644) . His decision was that the Arabs be kept totally segregated from the conquered peoples, as an army of occupation superimposed over the existing systems. To this end the Arabs were kept in military camps, organized as tribes, close to the edge of the grasslands. They were forbidden to acquire land or to engage in commerce, while the conquered peoples were forbidden to have weapons. The only relationship between the Arabs and the conquered was administrative, chiefly fiscal. And, as Joel Carmichael put it, “the fiscal theory of the Arab kingdom rested on this simple concept of mulcting the unbelievers on behalf of a treasury on which all Muslim Arabs had a collective claim.”
The conquered systems were left intact, as much as possible, with their own laws, officials, and customs. Local officials, generally on a religious basis, continued to administer justice, while taxes, including the imposed Arab tribute, continued to be collected by the local officials who kept their accounts in the same language as before. Even the coinage continued to be used and minted with the old images on them: only in 692, more than half a century after the conquest, did the Arabs begin to mint gold coinage of their own. Five years later public accounts were ordered to be kept in Arabic, except in northern Iran.
The treatment of conquered areas varied greatly from place to place and changed in the course of time, often very rapidly, for lack of established traditions or written rules. In most cases the original treatment of the conquered depended on whether they surrendered on terms or were overwhelmed by force. In the former case, the area covered, usually a city or district, obtained a written agreement regarding terms. Similarly, treatment of individuals depended on whether they accepted Islam or retained their previous beliefs. There was little compulsory conversion, as we have said, but there was, naturally, a steady movement toward the acceptance of Islam, simply because of the social and economic advantages this provided. Because of these advantages, some Arabs tried to establish a rule restricting Islam to Arabs. This, of course, could not be done, and by 800 not only were many non-Arabs in the Near East Muslims, but it was almost impossible to tell an Arab from a non-Arab except on the basis of language (although, to the Arabs, “Arab” did not mean “Arab-speaking” but “descended from an Arab tribe”).