Thursday, November 17, 2016

Fr Georges Massouh: Christianity in the Cradle of Islam

Arabic original here.

Christianity in the Cradle of Islam

Muslim historians testify to the presence of Christianity in the Arabian Peninsula from its start and spread at the hands of the Apostles. Here we will only present the presence of Christianity in Mecca, the cradle of Islam. Christianity entered the Hijaz, the region that includes Mecca, Yathrib (Medina), Taif, and other cities, at the beginning of the Christian era.

Ibn al-Athir, Ibn Khaldun and others recount that the sixth of the kings of Jurham, whose reign began shortly before the appearance of Christianity, was called by a Christian name, Abd al-Masih bin Baqiya bin Jurham, which means that Christianity entered the Hijaz very shortly after the beginning of Christianity. In his Book of Songs, al-Isfahani states that under the descendants of Jurham, the Bayt al-Haram (the Kaaba) "had a storehouse, a well into which were thrown jewelry and heirlooms that were offered to it, and at that time the bishop (the imam and religious leader of the Christians) was over it."

No doubt the most important testimony to a Christian presence in Mecca shortly before Islam is what appears in the Book of Reports about Mecca of Ibn al-Walid Muhammad bin Abdallah bin Ahmad al-Azraqi, where it states that on the columns of the Kaaba there were "images of the prophets, images of the tree, images of the angels, the image of Abraham, the Friend of the Merciful, and the image of Jesus, son of Mary. Then al-Azraqi mentions that Muhammad, on the day he conquered Mecca, "ordered that all these images be whitewashed, and they were whitewashed. He placed his arms of the image of Jesus son of Mary and his mother (peace be upon them) and said, 'Erase all the images except for what is under my hands,' and he lifted his hands [to reveal] Jesus son of Mary and his mother." The image was destroyed more than sixty years after the conquest of Mecca, in the time of Abdallah ibn al-Zubayr who fought against the Umayyad Caliphate. The Umayyads laid siege to Mecca under the leadership of al-Hajjaj, who did not hesitate to bombard the city with catapults and destroy the Kaaba.

Some Muslim historians speak of part of Quraysh having become Christian. Al-Ya'qubi confirms this in his History and says, "As for those from among the Arabs who became Christians, there was part of the Quraysh, from among the descendants of Asad bin Abd al-Uzza, including Uthman bin al-Huwayrith bin Asad and Waraqa bin Nawfal bin Asad." Likewise, in Ibn Hisham's Life of the Prophet it says of Waraqa that he "converted to Christianity, read the scriptures and listened to the people of the Torah and the Gospel." It also mentions Ubayd Allah bin Jahsh bin Riab, who immigrated to Ethiopia some some of Muhammad's followers. When he arrived there, he converted to Christianity and left Islam. There is also the famous story of Abu Qays bin Sarima bin Abi Anis, who was said by Ibn al-Athir to have "become a monk in the period before Islam and to have put on sackcloth." Among evidence for Christian monuments in Mecca, there is what al-Azraqi said about the presence of "the cemetery of the Christians, on the hill at the bottom of which is Mecca, on the right going out towards Medina."

What we have presented above, especially the fact that an image of the Lord Christ and His mother remained in the Kaaba, confirms the continuation of Christian existence in the Arabian Peninsula in general and Mecca in particular for almost a century. It is certain that the prophet of Islam allowed Christians to remain in Mecca, as evidenced by the statement of Abu Yusuf in his Kitab al-Kharaj that Muhammad "levied a tax of one dinar per year on the Christians of Mecca." As for the disappearance of Christianity from the Arabian Peninsula, this is a story for another time.

*My article "Arabism as a Christian Choice" provoked many questions among its readers. Therefore I will present from time to time various aspects of Arab Christianity.

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