| By the late Professor Abdul Latif TIBAWI
It was, however, the second caliph, 'Umar b.
Al-Khattăb, who organized the conquest of the whole of Syria,
Al-'Iraq, and Egypt, and who, moreover, devised a system of administration,
which had the double merit of simplicity and practicability. 'Umar
was further responsible for the expulsion of the Christians of
Najrăn from Arabia, and his name is associated with alleged restrictive
measures supposed to have been imposed on Christian subjects and
generally known as the Ordinance of 'Umar. We will deal with Najrăn
and then the Ordinance of 'Umar last. Our immediate concern is
to draw illustrations of his general policy as revealed by the
early sources. The illustrations we propose to take are the following:
(a) the terms agreed in respect of Damascus and Jerusalem; (b)
the case of the land of As-Sawăd in Al-'Iraq; c) the case of the
land of Egypt.
The Arab and Semitic inhabitants of Syria seem
to have responded more readily than the Arabs of Al-Hirah to their
racial ties with the Muslim conquerors."1"
They had good reasons for hating their Byzantine rulers. They
were antagonized by sectarian differences,"2"
heavy incidence of taxation, and, as far as some border princes
were concerned, by the withdrawal of cash subsidies just on the
eve of the Muslim conquest. Although the conquest was easy, the
Arabs fought at least two major battles before they conquered
Syria. Perhaps one of the contributory factors to their success
was the general tolerant attitude of the military commanders in
their dealing with the civilian population.
When Khălid b. Al-Walid, who was ordered from
Al-'Irăq to Syria and assumed command of the Muslim armies, reached
the gates of Damascus he laid siege to it. After six months, its
surrender in A.H. 14/A.D. 635 was arranged by the Bishop of the
city on these terms:"3"
'In the name of Allah the merciful, the compassionate.
This is what Khălid Ibn al-Walid would grant to the people of
Damascus if he enters their city. He would give them security
of their lives, property, and churches."4"
Their city shall not be demolished, and Muslims shall not be quartered
in their houses. These terms are given as a pact of Allah and
a protection of His Messenger.... So long as they pay the poll-tax
nothing but good shall befall them.'
The poll-tax was assessed, as hitherto, at
one dinar and one jarib of wheat per male adult. Both the military
commanders and the civilian population understood that the payment
of tax was in return for protection. Thus when military considerations
preceding the battle of Yarmük necessitated a retreat, all the
towns with which capitulation agreements had been signed received
back the amounts they paid to the Muslims, who were not, according
to the terms of the compact, able to protect them."5"
Him is reputed to have shut its gates in the face of the Byzantine
army."6" On the other hand,
the town wrote to Muslims: 'We very much prefer your government
and justice to the oppression and injustice of our former rulers."7"
Jerusalem does not seem to have shared these
sentiments. If only because Hellenistic influence was here, as
in a few other places, more marked. After a prolonged siege, the
Patriarch Sophronius sued for peace, and expressed an earnest
wish to settle the terms of the capitulation with the Caliph himself."8"
The Patriarch was no doubt aware of the Muslim veneration of Jerusalem
as the first qiblah and the traditional site associated with the
Prophet's Isra' and Mi'raj."9"
The request suited 'Umar's purpose. He was anxious to meet the
commanders and give them personal directions as to the administration
of the conquered province. He travelled all the way from Medina
to the military camp of Al-Jabiyah northeast of the Sea of Galilee.
His subsequent visit to Jerusalem and his exchanges with the Patriarch
deserve careful investigation which the limited scope of this
paper does not permit. We are more concerned here with the terms
of the surrender of Jerusalem which took place in A.H. 17/A.D.
'In the name of Allah the merciful, the compassionate'
[begins the document]."10"
'This is the covenant which 'Umar, the servant of Allah, the Commander
of the Faithful, granted to the people of Aelia."11"
He granted them safety for their lives, their possessions, their
churches, and their crosses. . . . They shall not be constrained
in the matter of their religion, nor shall any of them be molested."12"
No Jew shall live with them in Aelia."13"
And the people of Aelia shall pay jizyah as it is customary in
the (other) cities. It is incumbent upon them that they drive
out from their city the Byzantine and brigands. Whoever leaves
the city shall be safe in his person and his property until he
reaches his destination. Whoever remains shall receive the same
treatment as the people of Aelia. . . . Nothing shall be taken
from the people to whom this covenant is given until the harvest
has been gathered in. The terms of this covenant are guaranteed
by the pledge of Allah, the protection of His Messenger, and the
protection of the Caliphs and of the Faithful, as long as they
(to whom the pledge is given) pay jizyah.'
Like other treaties before it, there is no
mention in this one of the amount of t he jizyah which must have
been agreed separately. There was no uniform rate. In general,
it was four dinars from the rich, two from the less well-to-do,
and one from those who are not destitute, infirm, or dependent
like monks on charity. With the exception of the payment of tribute
the Muslim conquerors made little or no demands on their subjects.
The internal administration was so little disturbed that no change
was made in its system or personnel. Ecclesiastical authorities
remained in control of the religious affairs, and such civil service
as was required by the Muslims was entrusted to former Byzantine
or local officials. The country was in military occupation, and
the Muslim rule was primarily military in character to start with.
Syria was divided into four military districts, each district
was aptly called jund, army, corresponding roughly to previous
divisions. The four divisions under 'Umar were those of Dimashq
(Damascus), Hims (Emesa), Al-Urdun (Jordan), and Filastin (Palestine).
But soldiers were forbidden to live in the cities or to acquire
immovable property."14" They
kept to their camps like Al-Jăbiyah and Amwăs. The conquered land
was by practice, later systematized into law, a state domain,
fai', which was left in the hands of its former owners to work
it and pay the Muslim state the dues.
We turn now to the eastern front in Al-'Iraq.
Some of the pagan Arab tribes that were encountered by the Muslim
armies seem to have accepted Islam. However, there were, apart
from the people of Al-Hirah, other Christian Arabs who were not
prepared to renounce their faith by embracing Islam. The case
of Banu Taghlib deserves to be noted here. This tribe had sent
a deputation to the Prophet and it was agreed that the pagans
among them would accept Islam, while the Christians would pay
tribute and keep their faith. Apparently this agreement was considered
a personal one which was terminated with the death of the Prophet.
During Umar's caliphate, a new agreement was offered to Banü Taghuib.
In return for the payment of tribute they were to be left free
to profess Christianity, but not to constrain any member who wished
to embrace Islam, or to bring up the children of those who embrace
it in the Christian faith."15"
Banü Taghlib, however, considered the payment
of tribute as a sign of humiliation. They sent a deputation to
Umar. The Caliph was advised to make concessions to a proud Arab
tribe, lest they be compelled to emigrate to Byzantine territory
and strengthen the enemy to the disadvantage of Islam."16"
Umar did make a concession which seems to have been merely verbal.
Banu Taghuib were to pay a double-tithe, not called jizyah, but
sadaqah as if they were Muslims."17"
Not only they escaped the indignity of jizyah. They won honour
by fighting on the Muslim side and contributing to the victory
over the Persians at the battle of Buwaib. This fact resulted
in their exemption as we shall point out below.
Although skirmishes in Al-'Iraq "18"
started at least as early as those in Syria, large-scale fighting
with the Săsănids did not begin in earnest till the whole of Syria
was practically in Muslim occupation. Sad b. Abi Waqqas won at
Al-Qadisiyyah in A.H. 16 A.D. 637 "19"
such a decisive victory over the Persians as opened all the fertile
lowland of Al-Iraq west of the Tigris to Muslim occupation. With
Sa'd's entry into Al-Madă'in (Ctesi-phon), the Persian capital,
and other events that followed this victory we are not concerned
here. Suffice it to say that within four years after Al-Qadisiyyah,
an army that advanced north joined, near Al-Mausil, another that
had advanced from Syria into northern Mesopotamia. The inhabitants
of the towns and villages of Al-lraq, mostly Semites and many
of them Arabs professing Christianity, were as glad to get rid
of the Persians as were the inhabitants of the towns and villages
in Syria glad to get rid of the Byzantines, for the same or similar
reasons. Thus here again the Muslim conquerors found themselves
in a friendly country. As in Syria, the Muslims kept themselves
in military camps, left the civil and religious affairs of the
people in the hands of their ecclesiastical authorities or in
the management of former officials of the Persian administration.
But there was a much greater influx into Al-Iraq of Arabs who
came to settle permanently and make it their new homeland.
The spoils of war were fabulous, and the proverbial
fertility of the lowlands around the two rivers known as As-Sawăd
posed some problems for Umar and his commanders. The legal fifth
of the booty (ghanimah) was received by the Caliph for the state
treasury, Baitu Mali'l Muslimin; the rest was distributed among
the victors on the spot. With regard to the land, 'Umar declared
it as fai'. "20" state-domain,
to be held by its former owners in return for payment of revenue
to the state treasury. He is reputed to have ordered the land
to be surveyed and a census of the population taken for the purpose
of assessing revenue.
The assessment and incidence of taxation was
similar to the system devised for Syria. Distinction must he made
here between two kinds of taxes, though not vet between the two
relevant Arabic terms that refer to each tax. No doubt Christians,
and certain others, paid a tax for religious freedom and independence
in the administration of their religious affairs. They also paid
a tax either cash or in kind on the produce of the land. At this
early stage, both taxes are covered by the term jizyah."21"
Later on, a distinction was made between a poll-tax "jizyah'.
and a land-tax (kharaj). In both Syria and Al-'Iraq there were
also what may be called emergency' dues demanded for the support
of the armies. Specified quantities of wheat, oil, honey, &c.,
are mentioned, together with the obligation-by no means of universal
application-of entertaining for three days soldiers passing through
any given locality."22"
1) Cf. W. Muir, The Caliphate, p. 127: 'The Muslims
were to all intents and purposes in a friendly country. Cf. further
Caetani, iii. 813.
2) Cf. W. A. Shedd, Islam and the Oriental Churches
(New York, 1908), pp. 105-109, who quotes Finlay.
3) Baladhuri, p. 121.
4) The legend that the Muslims shared the churches at Damascus,
especially the Cathedral of St. John, with the Christian inhabitants
has been exploded by no less an authority than Caetani, iii. 355
f. 387 f.
5) Abu Yusuf, Kitab al-Kharaj, p. 81; cf. Arnold,
The Preaching of Islam,p. 61.
6) Baladhuri, p. 137; cf. Muir, The Caliphate, p.
7) Baladhuri, p. 137.
8) Baladhuri, pp. 138-9; Tabari, i.2404.
9) Cf. Qur'an, Surah xvii. I.
10) Tabari, i. 2405 f.: this source gives an earlier date
for the surrender of Jerusalem; see the Encyclopaedia of Islam,
ii, pt. 2, pp. 1094 f. article 'Al-Kuds' by F. Buhl. Cf. Hastings's
Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, xii, article by T. W. Arnold
on Toleration (Muhammadan), 365-9, especially p. 367 on Jerusalem.
11) The name given to the city bt Hadrian after removing
all the Jews from it in A.D. 130 was Aelia Capitolina. Only the
first part of this name was preserved in early Arabic usage as Iliya.
Cf. G. Le Strange, Palestine under the Moslems (London, 1890), p.
12) Some claim that the clauses that follow are accretions,
but there is nothing in them that seems to be at variance with practice
of the time. Hence they may be accepted as authentic evidence, in
intention if not in wording. Caetani, iii. 952 f., discusses the
treaty in detail.
13) This clause must have been inserted at the request of
the Patriarch. During the Perso-Byzan-tine war, the Jews aided the
Persians who, in turn, slaughtered many Christians. Cf. A. L. Wismar,
A study of Tolerance as practised by Mohamed (pbuh) and his Immediate
Successors (New York, 1927), pp. 82-83.
14) Cf. the tradition of the prophet: 'The stability of my
followers rests upon the hoofs of their horses and the points of
their lances; so long as they do not work the land; whenever they
begin to do that, they become like the rest of them.
15) Tabari, i. 2482.
16) Baladhuri, p. 171.
17) Caetani, iv. 226 f. suggests that this was an invention
of a later epoch to explain a fiscal situation of a Christian tribe
being treated as if it was Muslim.
18) Arab writers like to describe the victory of the Banu
Bakr led by Hani' b. Mas'ud Ash-Shaibani over a Persian army at
Dhu Qar some time after A.D. 610 as a rehearsal for the major victories
under Muslim commanders. When he heard of the victory, Muhammad
(pbuh) is reported to have said: 'This is the (first) day whereon
the Arabs have obtained satisfaction from the 'Ajam (Persians).
'The last phrase of this tradition is hard to construe with sense.
Literally it means 'through me they (i.e. the Arabs) have been victorious',
but the context seems to suggest rather this: 'through me they will
be (more) victorious'. Cf. the commentary on Surah x1viii 15 quoted
above (note 2, p.32).
19) The date is variously given. See the Encyclopaedia of
Islam, ii, pt. 2, pp. 611 f., article 'Al-Kadisiya' by M. Streck.
20) Surah viii. 42. The distinction made by 'Umar between
movable property which can be shared between the Caliph purse, and
his soldiers, and immovable property like land which cannot be shared
is not explicit in this verse. Cf. Surah lix.6-7.
21) Cf. the Encyclopaedia of Islam, i,pt.2,pp.1051-2, article
'Djizya' by C.H. Becker.
22) Cf. Abu Yusuf, Kitab al-Kharaj, p.22 The entertainment
of soldiers was, however, a relic of Byzantine practice to which
Muslim soldiers seldom resorted, as they were under orders to keep
to their camps.
The Islamic Quarterly, London
January - April 1961