Interpretation of the Three Phases of Arab History
By Dr. Wajih I. Saadeh
An Arab American Catholic Scholar
The three phases of Arab History were basic and fundamental in making and structuring Arab History in its entirely. Many times these phases interweaved or encroached on each other, and at times were transitional and outlived rulers and periods in history. A phase in history had these mentioned qualities and descriptions beside the moving elements that may refine or change the national social history, political thinking, diplomatic relations with other nations, history of thoughts and ideas and the national habits and characters. Also characteristics of a former social order served as a stepping stone or as a model to the next, be it in history or other fields of study.
The Three Phases of Arab History (Refer to the Three Phases on Al-Bushra 7)
1- The phase of Ignorance and High Literature ( 750 BC- 634 AD )
This phase goes back to past 750 BC, and someone else may choose a different date to start it or end it. It depends on personal findings of certain facts and evidence that carry weight and importance in history. A. Musil, a known historian said, " During the one thousand years before Christ, most international trade in the Arab Peninsula was controlled by the kingdoms of Saba, Main, and Himyar". It was approximately around 750 BC or 50 years after the formation of the kingdom of Saba, and until 32 BC when the Romans controlled international trade in the Red Sea. Many historical events took place before that year, those led to changes in the tribal system and way of life of the people. Arab control of international trade on the Red Sea coast line of the Arab Peninsula enriched their kingdoms and gained them international status. Being an important historical achievement and fulfilling to my purpose, I considered the year 750 BC to begin the phase of History under discussion.
The first phase of Arab History was brought politically to a halt at the end of al- Radda wars during the term of the first Caliph Abu Baker 632- 634, of al Rashidoun Caliphate, 632-661. He subdued Arab tribes who claimed prophets during and after the death of prophet Mohammed of Islam ( 632 ), too, he restored them under the authority of the caliphate and diminished their political power and influence and ended the tribal system. The year 634 BC is meant also to end this phase of Arab History.
2- The Phase of Christianity and the Monarchy ( First century AD to 650 AD )
Naturally, this phase of Arab History began early in the first Christian century. Najran in South Arabia became an important Christian center. Also Buhaira, AlHira, Uqola, Mecca and others became prelate locations. Natural Syria had the more Christian centers and churches especially Palestine being part of natural Syria then. St. Paul came to Arabia to convert the inhabitants to Christianity. The picture of St. Mary carrying the child Jesus was hung in al- Kaaba around 250 AD by Syrian missionaries. Other sources mentioned that Aksoum the Ethiopian, hung those holy pictures in Al-Kabaa around 550 AD. Later, and three months before his death, Prophet Mohammed entered Al-Kaaba and ordered all pictures on its walls to be removed, but that of St. Mary and Jesus, he ordered it to stay (illustrated in Encyclopedia of Mankind, Marshall Cavadish, LTD, 1978, vol.l Page 100) However at a later stage the picture of St. Mary carrying the Baby Jesus was removed.
a - Meanwhile, the Nabateans settled northern Arabia and by the 6th century BC, they moved to what is now Jordan where they formed their state and kingdom. Petra, their capital, was a trading center between Arabia and the Mediterranean Sea. They defeated the Saloki Greeks in 86 BC and extended their rule to Syria and Sinai. They also had to fight the Macabi Jews, who tried to extend their rule to Jordan, defeated them and destroyed their army at Addida, near Lydda, around 85 BC. The Nabateans confessed Christianity in the 3rd century.
b - Kingdom of Tadmur, or Palmyra as named by Greeks and Romans. They succeeded the Nabateans and formed their kingdoms in the city of Hums, Syria. Their history goes back to 9 BC. Nothing before that is known. Othayna, king of Tadmur, had a strong army, and when the Persian king Sabur defeated the Romans in 260 AD and despised the gifts sent to him by Othayna who sent his army to revenge from Sabur, defeated Sabur and restored all Roman territories occupied. As a reward, the Caesar of Rome gave Othayna the title of Augustus. Othayna was killed thereafter and his wife Zanobia succeeded him. She fought the Romans and defeated them, and planned to take Rome, but the Romans defeated her in 274 AD and took her captive. Tadmur confessed Christianity around 350 AD, their realm ended by the advancing Arab Moslem forces in 637 AD.
c- Kingdoms of the Ghassanids and Muntherits ( 250 AD to 638 AD ). Christian Arab Kingdoms of the Ghassanids and Muntherits became the powers controlling the Arab Peninsula from Syria as far south as Yemen and Oman, and from Iraq as far south as the Arab Sea. They with other friendly allied tribes kept enemy tribes in check. These kingdoms were an upstage in governing and in administering the business of government and in conducting foreign relations and internal affairs. Kingship was an advancement in the ruling process and in the learning scheme within the school system which brought and encouraged boys and girls to attend classes together, under able and qualified teachers, who enlightened them and opened new spheres in their thinking. These Christian kingdoms modeled themselves after Byzantines and Rome in natural Syria, and after Sassanid Persians in Iraq. They grew stronger and became a threat to these empires. These kingdoms were Christians in religion and Arabs in conviction. Arab culture foundations were formed and the Arab personality began to assert itself and refine its core. Christianity was a turning point in their daily life and thinking. Christianity brought them peace of mind and a new way of life, and contributed to a social brotherhood.
Meanwhile, after occupying northern Egypt, Arab forces went west and occupied Burca in 648 to rid Egypt of any Roman attacks from there. Approximately, around 650 AD, Arab forces completed the conquest of Christian Coptic Egypt and by then, too, the first stage of Arab conquest ended..
3. The Phase of Islam and Caliphate ( 632 AD to 1798 )
The third phase of Arab history began its political life as a state - Caliphate in 632 AD. After the death of the prophet, Abu Baker, 632-634, of Al- Rashidoun Caliphs had to fight the wars of AL- Radda, to bring back those Arab tribes who claimed prophets of their own before and after the death of pr~phet Mohammed 632 AD. AL- Radda means to bring back. He was successful in doing that and in consolidating the authority of the Caliphate over the tribes and politically brought the tribal system to an end. However, in time of Caliph, Omar Ibn Al-Khattab, 634-644, Arab Moslem expansion extended to Syria, Egypt, and Iraq. After defeating the forces of both Byzantine-Roman, and Persia. Omar was killed by a Persian while praying in the Mosque. During his term. Arab Moslem forces defeated or ended the Christian Arab kingdoms of Tadmur, the Ghassanids in natural ; Syria and Muntherits in Iraq 638 AD. Omar ordered Christians out of Arabia and ordered them to build towers of their churches lower than those of mosques. In his famous "Edict of Omar". he confined the activities of Christians though when occupied Jerusalem, he reserved the Holy Sepulcher to Christians. Othman Ibn Affan 644-654, the third caliph of al- Rashidoun consolidated the occupied territory, and Christian Coptic Egypt which had its upper north taken by Arab forces earlier was completely occupied around 650 when also the first stage of Arab conquest ended. Othman also unified the Quran as we see it now, otherwise there could have been more and different editions. Disputes and intrigues created tense situations during the rule of Othman, who was married to Christian Arab Naela. He was murdered in 654 and succeeded by the fourth and last Caliph, Ali Eben Abu Taleb, of Al- Rashidoun, his term was filled with disputes about the caliphate. He was accused to instigate the killing of Othman, by Muaweyah, governor of Syria, who also relates to Othman. The dispute was given to arbitrators who favored Muaweyah on Ali, and that created schism in Islam. Thus, followers of Ali divided into Shiats supporters of Ali, and Kherejets who opposed him. Internal wars raged and Ali was murdered in 661 AD and the same fate retook his sons Al-Hassan and AlHusain.
By now, a new era began by the Umayyads under ca]iph Muaweyah Ibn Abu Sufyan who was earlier the governor of Syria. He was the builder of the Umayyad Empire 661-750 and ruled from Damascus the capital of the empire. He was married to a Christian Arab Maysoon, a relative to Naela, wife of caliph Othman. He gave the Christians of Mount Lebanon special status within the empire and was succeeded by Abd alMalek Ibn Marwan who, and others, expanded the empire as far east as China and India and west as far as north Africa and Spain.
The Umayyads began a cultural renaissance and literary enlightenment by way of massive translations from Greek to Arabic. Ummayad courts were open to the learned Chrisffan Arabs, Assyrians, Chaldeans, and many others who shared and served in enhancing the cultural and learning process in the Empire be it in Damascus or in Arab Spain. As a result, Damascus became one of the greatest learning centers in the world like Constantinople in Byzantuim and Cordoba in Arab Spain. Arab Moslem expansion and rule made the most glorious history to the Arab nation, and also spread a civilization to enlighten western and world civilizations. Umayyad Caliphs left the Syrian inhabitants Christians as they were, with the exception of Caliph, Omar Ibn Abdal-Aziz 717-720 who put a head tax on the Christians.
The Abbasids took the Caliphate in 750 when they slaughtered the Umayyads. They were helped by non-Arab Moslems to come to power 756-1258, and lost power by the same group of Persians and Saljuk Turks who brought them to power. The Abbasids reached their zenith during Caliph Al-Mamoun (813833), in the Golden Age when Baghdad became one of the greatest centers of learning and culture in the world. Thereafter, Abbasid Caliphs became figure heads and instruments in the hands of army officers who as foreigners served their interests and disregarded Arab needs and motives, resulting therefore in the loss of the identity and personality of the Arabs, and disrupting their learning process and achievements. That continued to be true also, during the Turkish rule 1517-1918.
The Abbasid empire fell to the forces of Genghis Khan in 1258 at the time the wars of the crusades 1097-1291 were raging between Christians and Moslems.
The Abbasids mistreated the Christians being Arabs, Assyrains and Chadeans or others. They infringed their human rights, diminished their status and introduced harsh measures against their beliefs and practices.
What ever happened in Arab history, we the Arab Christians cherish our Arab origin wherever we are, and still will love our Moslem brothers and humanity as a whole.
It was only during the Napoleonic expedition to Egypt in 1798, that Arab revival began to grow, a fact which explains my choice in ending the third phase at this time. The French expedition to Egypt brought to the Arab people elements and philosophy of the French Revolution 1789, to begin the struggle for liberation of Arab land. The year 1798 was an end of a period and a beginning of a new movement in Arab history. Also the American War of Independence 1776 and basic elements of this American Revolution kindled Arab spirit for liberation and freedom, all of which led to the Independence of Arab states before 1950.
The Arab nation went through unity and empire to regional divisions and thereafter, to a number of states and kingdoms in the twentieth century.
CIN St. Gabriel E-Mail
Copyright © 1996 Catholic Information Network (CIN) - November 24, 1996