CAPTURE OF JERUSALEM
15 A.H. / 636 A.D.
THE main attack of the Arabs was, as we have seen, on the Hauran. Issuing from Arabia, their northward course had been along the highway to Damascus, the pilgrim route of the present day, east of the Dead Sea. The base of operations throughout the Syrian campaign was at Al-Jabiya, a town on the high land to the east of the Sea of Galilee; from whence columns could be forwarded, by the great military roads, either to Damascus and the north, or westward to Tiberias, the Jordan, and Palestine. Soon after the battle of Fihl and siege of Damascus, the greater part of the Jordan province fell rapidly under the arms of 'Amr and Shurahbil. In Palestine proper, Jerusalem, Ramleh, and Cæsarea alone held out.
Towards Jerusalem, full of associations sacred to the Muslims, 'Amr first directed his steps. On his approach, Artabun (Aretion) retired with his army into Egypt. The Patriarch sued for peace. One condition he is said to have made, that 'Omar should himself come to the Holy City, and there in person settle the capitulation.
The Caliph, braving the objections of his court, at once set out, journeying direct for Al-Jabiya. It was a memorable occasion, the first progress of a Caliph beyond the limits of Arabia.
Jerusalem was to the Muslim an object of intense veneration, not only as the cradle of Judaism and Christianity, but as the first Kibla of Islam, or sacred spot to which the Faithful turn in prayer; and also the shrine at which Mohammad alighted on the heavenly journey which he performed by night1. 'Omar, having inspected the site of
1 Kor. 17, 1. Life of Mohammad, p. 121.
1 Kor. 17, 1. Life of Mohammad, p. 121.
the temple of Solomon, said his prayers near the church of St Mary, which stood on the site of the Aksa Mosque.
Mohammadan tradition gives no further detail respecting this memorable visit. But Christian writers say that 'Omar accompanied the Patriarch over the city, visited the various places of Pilgrimage, and graciously inquired into their history. At the appointed hour, the Patriarch bade the Caliph perform his orisons in the church of the Resurrection, where they chanced to be. But he declined to pray either there, or in the church of Constantine where a carpet had been spread for him, saying kindly that if he did so his followers would take possession of the church for ever as a place where Muslim prayer had once been offered up. 'Omar also visited Bethlehem; and having prayed in the church of the Nativity, left a rescript with the Patriarch, who accompanied him on the pious errand, securing the Christians in possession of the building with the condition that not more than one Mohammadan should ever enter at a time. The stipulation was disregarded and a Mosque was eventually erected there as well as on the site of the church of Constantine.
Whatever the truth in these traditions, 'Omar did not prolong his stay in Jerusalem. Having settled the matter for which he came, the only other duty he performed was to divide Palestine into two provinces one he attached to Jerusalem, and the other to Ramleh. He then returned by the way he came back again to Medina.
Thus was Syria, from the farthest north to the border of Egypt, within the space of three years, lost to Christendom. One reflects with wonder at the feeble resistance of the Byzantine power, military and naval, and of its renowned strongholds, to this sudden inroad. The affinity of the Syrian Bedawin to the Arabs no doubt facilitated the conquest. There was also an element of weakness in the settled population; luxurious living had made the race effeminate, and unable to resist the onset of wild and frantic invaders. Still worse, they had no heart to fight. What patriotic vigour might have still survived, was lost in religious strife, and rival sects rejoiced each in the humiliation of its neighbour. Loyalty was smothered by bitter jealousies, and there are not wanting instances of
active assistance rendered by Jews and Christians to the enemy. There may have been even a sense of relief in the equal, though contemptuous, licence which the haughty conquerors conceded to all alike. But there was a deeper cause,the decrepitude of the Roman empire. The virtue and vigour needed to repel the shock of barbarian invasion were gone. And while northern hordes gradually amalgamated with the nations which they overran, the exclusive faith and intolerant teaching of Islam kept the Arabs a race distinct and dominant.
The conquerors did not spread themselves abroad in Syria as in Chaldæa. They founded here no such Arabian towns and military settlements as Al-Basra and Al-Kufa. The country and climate were also less congenial. Though a land of brooks of water, of vines and fig-trees, of oil-olive and honey, still the Syrian shores offered fewer attractions to the Arabian than the hot and sandy plains of Al-'Irak with their familiar garb of tamarisk and date. The Arabs came to Syria as conquerors; and as conquerors they settled largely, particularly the southern tribes, in Damascus, Hims and other centres of administration. But the body of native Syrians, urban and rural, remained after the conquest substantially the same as before; and through long centuries of degradation they clung, as the surviving remnant still clings, to their ancestral faith.
I have spoken of the loss of Syria as the dismemberment of a limb from the Byzantine empire. In one respect it was something more. For their own safety, the Greeks dismantled a broad belt on the border of hostile and now barbarous Syria. The towns and fortresses within this tract were razed, and the inhabitants withdrawn. And so the neutral zone became a barrier against travel to and fro. For all purposes, social, religious, and commercial, the road was for generations closed. Pilgrimage, it is true, and commerce, from the West, could be maintained by sea; but in respect of communication by land, the East for the time was severed from the West.
"The abomination of desolation stood in the Holy place." The cradle of Christianity, Zion, the joy of the whole earth, was trodden under foot, and utterly cut off from the sight of its devoted worshippers. And all is told by the Byzantine
writers in a few short lines; while the pen of the Christian annalist refused, as well it might, to write the sad story of cowardice and shame.
The following is the tenor of the treaty made at Al-Jabiya by which Jerusalem was ceded to the Muslims, as it is handed down by a number of traditionists:
"In the name of the most merciful God.
"This is the treaty for the people of Aelia. This is the favour which the servant of God, the Commander of the Faithful, grants to the people of Aelia. He gives them the assurance of the preservation of their lives and properties, their churches and crosses, of those who set up, who display and who honour these crosses. Your churches will not be transformed into dwellings nor destroyed, nor will any one confiscate anything belonging to them, nor the crosses or belongings of the inhabitants. There will be no constraint in the matter of religion, nor the least annoyance. The Jews will inhabit Aelia conjointly with the Christians and those who live there will require to pay the poll-tax, like the inhabitants of other towns. Greeks and robbers are to leave the town, but will have a safe conduct until they reach a place of security. Still, those who prefer to remain may do so on condition of paying the same poll-tax as the rest. If any of the people of Aelia desire to leave with the Greeks, taking their goods, but abandoning their chapels and crosses, they will be granted personal safety, until they arrive at a sure place. The strangers in the town may remain on the same condition of paying the tax, or, if they wish, they may leave also with the Greeks, and return to their own land. They will have nothing to pay until one harvest shall have been gathered in. All that this treaty contains is placed under the alliance and protection of God, and of His Apostle (peace upon him!), and of his successors, and of the Faithful, so long as they pay the tax.
"Witnessed by Khalid ibn al-Welid, 'Amr ibn al-'As 'Abd ar-Rahman ibn 'Auf, and Mu'awiya ibn abi Sufyan."1
'Omar, who had defeated two Emperors upon their own territory, entered Jerusalem riding on a camel, and wearing
1 Khalid recalled from Emesa, went to Medina,
and now seems to have returned with 'Omar to Syria. It is curious that Abu 'Obeida
is not a witness.
1 Khalid recalled from Emesa, went to Medina, and now seems to have returned with 'Omar to Syria. It is curious that Abu 'Obeida is not a witness.
a worn-out mantle of camel's hair.
It is said that his own subjects, rendered less unsophisticated by what they had seen of the world, were scandalized and begged him to change his dress and to mount a horse. 'Omar yielded as to the last point, but kept the halter of his camel in his hand. Not liking the pace of the horse, however, he remounted his camel. Theophanes thus describes the impression which 'Omar made upon the Christians. "He entered the Holy City clad in a worn mantle of camel's hair and showing a diabolical expression of piety. He demanded to be shown the temple of the Jews, which Solomon had caused to be built, that there he might adore his own blasphemies. Sophronius the archbishop, seeing him, cried: "See the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet standing in the holy place." And this champion of piety wept over the Christian people with many tears. Arrived in the town, 'Omar was offered by the patriarch a vestment of linen and a shirt, but the most he could be prevailed upon to do was to wear them until his own were washed, when he returned them to Sophronius.
Such tales from a Christian source confirm similar legends of the Muslims. One narrator mentions that 'Omar on the way to Al-Jabiya, on coming to a ford, dismounted, undressed, and waded across, leading his camel. Abu 'Obeida remonstrated: "Today you have done a scandalous thing in the eyes of the people of the land." 'Omar's feelings were hurt. "O Abu 'Obeida, would that another than you had said that to me! Just think! We were the most obscure and despised of men and the feeblest, and God has glorified us by Islam. If you seek to glorify it in another way, God will humble you." Another account states that it was Abu 'Obeida who appeared in public in a coarse woollen dress, and was reproved: "See, you are commander-in-chief of the armies in Syria, and we are surrounded by enemies. Change your attire and put on a better;" to which he replied: "I will not alter the state in which I was when the Apostle of God lived."
Eutychius and the authors of the histories of Jerusalem devote several pages to the discovery of the Temple of Solomon by 'Omar.
That, however, the object of 'Omar's journey to Syria
was not merely to receive the capitulation of Jerusalem appears from the fact that he did not apparently make directly for that City, but went first to Al-Jabiya in the confines of Damascus. The purpose of his coming was to set the whole government of the country upon a sound basis, to revise the treaties and fix the taxes upon real and other estate, and the mutual relations of conquerors and conquered to each other.
For the purposes of taxation the land was divided into two classes, 'oshriya, i.e. tithable, and kharajiya. By the former were indicated those countries in which the inhabitants had embraced Islam from the commencement which had been cleared by the Muslims, and which had been conquered and redivided amongst them. The second included those of which the inhabitants had submitted under treaty. 'Omar had from the first the intention of considering the whole of Syria as a conquered province and of distributing it amongst the Muslims. On the advice, however, of Mo'adh ibn Jebel it was all made kharajiya, with the exception of a small quantity of which the owners had gone away and which was given by election to some Muslims, or which consisted of uncultivated land, without legal holder, which Muslims had taken up. The conquest had made the country a public domain, ager publicus, of which the occupant had only the usufruct (possessio), for which he paid annually to the State for every jarib (a piece of land 60 cubits X 60, but varying in different countries) a certain quantity of fruit or a ground-rent in money (kharaj). The sale of such land alienated only the usufruct, since the domain (rikab al-ard) belongs to the State. Consequently the kharaj continues to be collected whether the owner turns Muslim or not.
In addition to this tax on land (census soli) the new Muslimsin Syria, Christians, Jews, and Samaritanshad to pay a capitation tax (census capitis) or jizya. Learned Mohammadans consider this tax as a ransom from death accorded to the "people of the book" (including in this term Magians as well as Christians and Jews), in opposition to idolaters, who have to choose between conversion and the sword. The jizya is not payable by women, children, or persons incapacitated, but only by men capable of bearing
arms"those wearing a beard." The richer proprietors paid four dinars or forty dirhems per annum; those in comfortable circumstances half that amount; and all others a quarter (one dinar or ten dirhems). In addition each one had to pay per month a certain quantity of wheat, oil, vinegar, honey, and dripping, for the maintenance of the Muslims, to whom one was also obliged to accord hospitality for three days for soldiers on the marchstabling (without barley) for the horses, and food (which did not necessitate the slaughtering of a sheep or even of a fowl) for the men. The expense of this entertainment was repaid once a year. The jizya varied with the cultivable value of the country. That of Syria was higher than that of the Yemen.
Upon these clients or "people of protection" (ahl adh-dhimma) twelve conditions were imposed, six necessary and six desirable. The former were that they should not revile the Kor'an, nor Mohammad, nor Islam; that they should not marry a Muslim woman; that they should not attempt to convert a Muslim or injure him in life or goods; and that they should not assist the enemy nor harbour spies. From the client committing any of these offences the protection of the Muslims was withdrawn; that is, he becomes an outlaw and his life forfeited. The six "desirable" conditions are that they should wear distinctive clothing, the ghiyar, a yellow patch on their dress, and the girdle (zannar); that they should not build houses higher than those of the Muslims; nor ring their wooden bells (nalcus), nor read their scriptures in a loud voice; nor drink wine in public, nor let their crosses or swine be seen that their dead should be wept and buried in silence; and that they should not mount a horse, only mules and asses. The breach of these regulations was visited with penalties.1
Such in substance was the Contract of 'Omar which regulated the civil and ecclesiastical position of the conquered people. It permitted the free exercise of worship within churches and houses, forbidding, however, the erection of new buildings. The civil prescriptions on the contrary were odious and degrading. Jews and Samaritans shared the lot of the Christians, but, until the accession of the second Umeiyad Caliph (60-64 A.H.), the latter were exempt from
1 Cf. Hamaker, Incerti auctoris liber, etc., p. 165 f.
1 Cf. Hamaker, Incerti auctoris liber, etc., p. 165 f.
the land tax, in return for services rendered by them since the conquest.
Financial affairs had been regulated for the time being by treaties made with individual towns by the generals who took them. 'Omar contented himself with revising them with a view to uniformity. Thus the Christian governor of Bosra in the Hauran claimed that the treaty made with that town stipulated for the supply of a certain quantity of wheat, vinegar, and oil as ransom for himself and the town, and prayed 'Omar to ratify it. Abu 'Obeida, however, denied the fact alleged, and the town had to submit to the same terms as the rest, the payment of land (kharaj) and capitation tax. This shows that at first these treaties were not written, and the law not always consistently executed. When at Al-Jabiya 'Omar saw some Christian lepers, and ordered that they should be provided for out of the poor's rate (zakat). Since the canon law, however forbade the participation of unbelievers in the zakat, this charity fell into disuse.
Jabala, the "king" of Ghassan, according to one account, remained Christian. Being a high-born Arab, he objected to pay the capitation tax of the subject races, but 'Omar refused in spite of his lineage to let him off with the zakat alone which the Muslims paid. Jabala therefore went into voluntary exile with many of his tribe to Asia Minor. Later on, however, 'Omar repented of his severity, and in the year 21 he invited him to return upon his own terms. Jabala declined; but when the tribe of Taghlib, who were settled in Mesopotamia, threatened to follow his example for the same reason, 'Omar and his council went out of their way to devise a means to retain them upon Muslim territory.
According to another account Jabala did become a Muslim, but when 'Omar permitted an Arab whom Jabala had struck to retaliate by striking back, Jabala's pride was so offended by this equality of high and low that he fled to Constantinople and died a Christian.
But whilst the purpose of receiving the submission of Jerusalem was not the sole motive for 'Omar's journey to Syria, he must have desired eagerly to be one of the first to enter the Holy City, round which clustered so many sacred memories of the prophets, and which was the goal
of the night-journey of the Prophet of Arabia. It should be added that Sir William Muir rejects the Contract of 'Omar as unworthy of him; and the six "desirable" conditions enumerated above certainly seem to belong to a later generation. Perhaps there is a confusion between 'Omar I and 'Omar II.
The Caliphate: Its Rise, Decline, and Fall [Table of Contents]
Answering Islam Home Page