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The Middle East: At the Rise of Islam

May 09, 2023
By Bassam M. Madany

In our previous lecture, we covered the history of the early Church highlighting the development of episcopacy, and the eventual division of the Church between East and West. We alluded to the further divisions that occurred in the East, as the Church grappled with the subject of the natures and wills of Jesus Christ. As a result, more schisms took place. The Orthodox Church used the arm of the Byzantine Empire to persecute those who refused to accept orthodoxy as defined by the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD.

The non-Chalcedonian Churches were regional, and were located in such geographical areas as Egypt, Syria, and Mesopotamia. Since Byzantium held political power over Egypt and Syria, it persecuted these independent Churches with the blessing of the Orthodox Church. This forms a sad chapter in the history of the Church, especially as these churches had already suffered during the first three centuries of the Christian era, prior to the conversion of Constantine. Beginning with 451, the persecutors were fellow Christians!

South of the Byzantine Empire lay the vast Arabian Peninsula. Most of it consisted of barren desert regions. They were inhabited by warring tribes, with a few urban centers such as Mecca and Medina. In the southern part of Arabia, lay the rich land of Yemen, the home of the Queen of Sheba of OT times.

In order to keep the Arabian tribes from invading the southern areas of the Empire; the Byzantines encouraged some semi-nomadic tribes to be their clients, and to act as defenders of the southern borders of the Empire. Most of these tribes had accepted the Christian faith, and for a good deal of time, they kept their agreement with Byzantium.

The great threat to the Eastern Empire lay further in the East. For centuries, Persia had been a rival of Byzantium. In fact, during most of the 6th Century, the two empires fought each other over areas known nowadays as the Middle East.? Persia considered Mesopotamia (Iraq) as within its sphere of influence and had some native client tribes that kept peace on the borders of Arabia. All seemed quiet on these two fronts until the sudden rise of Islam early in the 7th century. Persia and Byzantium faced the challenge of a new faith that had a very active political component.

At this point, it must be noted that by the time Muhammad was born in Mecca (570 AD,) Persia and Byzantium had exhausted their resources, having fought each other for an entire century. The subsidies promised to their client 'states' were rapidly diminishing. So, when the Arabs, after the death of Muhammad in 632 AD, burst out of Arabia and began the conquest of the Middle East, those Christianized tribes were not eager to fight them on behalf of either Persia or Byzantium. Some, joined the invading Arab tribes, while others offered hardly any resistance to their military incursions. By the middle of the 7th century, the Persian Empire fell, and the Byzantines lost Syria (including Palestine) and Egypt. By 732 AD, the Arab/Islamic armies had conquered parts of Asia, Africa, and Spain, calling the latter, Andalusia.

As mentioned before, most of the population of Syria and Egypt were Monophysite Christians. Since they were considered heretical, they were persecuted by the Byzantines. At first, these Christians welcomed the advancing Arab armies imagining they were their liberators! Ironically, to the East, i.e., in Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq,) the Nestorians had enjoyed more freedom than their fellow-Christians to the West, since they lived within the Persian Empire. At that time, Persia professed Zoroastrianism, a dualistic faith that taught the existence of two equally powerful and antagonistic principles: good and evil. But Persia did not withstand the advancing Arab armies, and quickly collapsed, thus allowing the invaders to proceed further East to the borders of India.

At this point, I would like to advance the thesis that the Arabs, having adopted Islam, were no longer to continue in the age-long custom of raiding one another. Muhammad had convinced them that they had become one nation (Umma.) As their local resources were scarce, they looked northward and eastward for a new source of booty. In their first incursions beyond Arabia, they were surprised by their rapid success within the Byzantine and Persian Empires. Here we must remember the historical fact that their conquests preceded their reflecting on the meaning of their spectacular successes in building a world empire. In the early history of Islam, practice came first, theorizing followed conquest. Eventually, they developed a strong belief that it was the will of Allah for Muslims to conquer the world. Thus they divided the world into two areas: Dar al-Islam (the Household of Islam) those areas conquered by Muslims, and Dar al-Harb (the Household of war), those areas yet to be conquered through warfare!

During the lifetime of Muhammad, and especially after his migration to Medina in 622, he dealt with Jewish and Christian tribes of Arabia. He had hoped that these followers of 'heavenly' (theistic) faiths who had received God?s Revelations through Moses, David, and Jesus, would now welcome him as the final Messenger of God. That did not happen however. Soon after he conquered Mecca in 630, he persecuted the Jews, slew some of their men, and enslaved their women and children. After his death, his successors (the Caliphs) decreed that no Jew or Christian may continue to live within Arabia. This prohibition is still maintained today. Exception is made for non-Muslim technicians to live temporarily in Saudi Arabia, but none may hold any worship services even within the sanctity of their homes. This prohibition was illustrated by the fact that when President Bush visited Saudi Arabia in November 1990 during Operation Desert Shield, he had to leave the Saudi territory in order to attend a Thanksgiving Day service on board of a U.S. aircraft carrier stationed in the Persian Gulf!

What about the conquered lands? The invading Arab/Islamic armies expected all pagan subjects to Islamize; but they did allow Jews and Christians to remain within their faith according to specific restrictions. The Arabs granted them the status of 'Dhimmis,' an Arabic word that literally means 'under the protection' of the new masters. The terms of this 'protection' were defined by the 'protectors.' Religious traffic flowed one way: from Judaism or Christianity, to Islam, and never vice-versa. Once a Muslim, always a Muslim. The Law of Apostasy was imbedded in the Quran, and an apostate could expect no mercy, death was the penalty for leaving Islam. Christians were restricted to worshipping within their churches, but were not allowed to evangelize. No new church buildings could be built. Christians were expected to pay a poll tax for the 'protection' they received from their new masters.

Since both the Persian and Greek administration of the conquered areas had collapsed, the Arabs allowed the Christians (natives) of Egypt, Syria, and Mesopotamia, to continue in their governmental work, and to use the local languages. But slowly, while Islamization slowed down, Arabization of the culture proceeded without delay. Within about 200 years after the arrival of the Muslims, Egypt, Syria, and Mesopotamia were Arabized. This can been seen by the fact that the first known translation of the Bible into Arabic by national Christians took place near Damascus, in the middle of the 9th century!

Having established the historical background for our study of the Plight of Eastern Christianity under Islam, we shall proceed in our next lecture, to the study of sources that document our thesis. We shall rely on a book, The Decline of Eastern Christianity, From Jihad to Dhimmitude, by Bat Ye'or, published in 1996 by Associated University Presses, Cranbury, NJ.

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The Future of Israel According to Saint Paul

May 06, 2023
By Bassam Michael Madany

The Future of Israel According to Saint Paul

Bassam Michael Madany

1 May 2023

On Saturday, the 15th of May 1948, the BBC broadcast the news of the birth of The State of Israel. At dawn, Arab armies responded by attacking from the north, the east and the south. The Haganah that was defending the Jewish people in Palestine during the British Mandate, became the IDF (Israeli Defence Force,) that has been guarding the country for the last seventy-five years!

There are two aspects to the subject of the Future of the State of Israel: one is Historical/Political, the other is Biblical as taught by Saint Paul in his Letter to the Romans, Chapters 9-11.


The Historical/Political Background

Prior to the Arab/Islamic conquest of the Holy Land in the middle of the seventh century, most of the people living in Palestine were Christians, with a Jewish minority living alongside. The conquest resulted in the Arab Muslims becoming a majority of the Palestinian population. While most of the Jews lived in the Diaspora for centuries; they maintained a strong yearning for returning to their ancestral land. They expressed that at the Passover celebration with "Next year in Jerusalem!"

During the19th century, Jews were persecuted in Russia and discriminated against in Western Europe. The rise of anti-Semitism became evident at the trial of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, the son of a wealthy Jewish textile manufacturer in France. In 1894, Dreyfus was accused of selling military secrets to the German military attaché. He was arrested on October 15, and on December 22, he was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. He entered the infamous penal colony of Devils Island off the coast of French Guyana, on 13 April 1895.

Theodor Herzl (1860-1904) was a Jewish correspondent for the Viennese newspaper Neue Freje Presse in Paris. He covered the Dreyfus trial and became convinced there was no hope for the Jews to achieve complete emancipation in Europe. In 1896, he published “The Jewish State,” and became the father of the Zionist Movement that advocated the establishment of a national home for the Jews. After many debates at World Zionist Congresses, it was decided to establish this home in Palestine.

After Herzl’s death, the leadership of the Zionist Movement was assumed by Dr. Chaim Weizmann, a Polish Jew who was teaching chemistry in England. During WWI, he helped the British Navy by inventing materials to combat German submarines. Eventually, the British Government published the Balfour Declaration, favoring the establishment of a Jewish State in Palestine.

At the end of WWI, the British assumed the government of Palestine with a mandate from the League of Nations. For the next thirty years, Britain faced a great opposition from the Palestinian Arabs against the plan. In 1946. The British Government brought the matter to the United Nations Organization. A U.N. Commission of Inquiry studied the matter and proposed a Partition of Palestine into a Jewish State and an Arab State. The Jews accepted the plan, while the Arabs rejected it.

Britain ended its Mandate in Palestine on 14 May 1948. David Ben-Gurion with other Jewish leaders, announced the birth of the State of Israel on 15 May 1948. The response of the Arab states was immediate. Armies of Syria, Lebanon, Transjordan, Iraq, and Egypt entered Palestine to thwart the Zionist victory.  By mid-June 1948, the United Nations Security Council arranged a cease-fire between the warring sides. Major wars between Israel and the Arab states took place in 1956, 1967, and 1973. Eventually, Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat took the initiative of signing a peace treaty with Israel, followed by Jordan.

During the second decade of the 21st century, the United States succeeded in getting several Arab states to an agreement of normalizing their relations with Israel in a document called The Abraham Accords.

The Accords ended the official Arab denial of the right of Israel to exist, However, the Islamic Republic of Iran became a determined foe to Israel. It supplies   Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Palestinian Hamas organization in Gaza with weapons to harass Israel. While it is impossible to predict the future, the past 75 years give evidence that Israel’s existence may be frequently challenged.


Saint Paul’s Teaching on The Future of Israel in Romans 9 -11

Saint Paul’s Letter to the Church in Rome is as a major work on Christian doctrine. Most likely, it was organized by people who had gone to Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost, an event narrated in the second chapter of the Book of Acts. Peter’s sermon was delivered to a vast audience of pilgrims from several parts of the world, including visitors from Rome. Around three thousand believed and were baptized. 

While waiting for an occasion to visit Rome, Paul wrote an exposition of the Christian Faith, that he called The Gospel. 

The first eight chapters of the Letter act as a Commentary on the Gospel. In chapters 9,10, and 11, Paul focused on the future of Israel. In Chapter 9, Paul listed the privileges the Jews had received as witnesses to God's glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law of Moses, the worship in the temple, and the promises of God. Another privilege Paul listed was that through the line of the patriarchs came Christ, the promised Messiah. In Chapter 10, Paul described his desire and prayer for the people of Israel to be saved through faith in Christ.  

In chapter 11, Paul asked if God has rejected His chosen people, Israel. His answer: "By no means!" and points to himself as the first evidence that God has not rejected Israel.

Paul now asserts that Israel's hardening will end when the "fullness" of the Gentiles has come to God through faith in Christ. The "fullness of the Gentiles" means "the complete number.”

The meaning of this verse has been hotly debated by Bible scholars. What does Paul mean, exactly, when he says that all Israel will be saved? Many Bible teachers have concluded that by "all Israel," Paul means the Nation of Israel as a whole. 

Chapter 11 ends with a poem, structured as a hymn, expressing Paul’s profound reaction both to God's ways and to His mercy to sinful human beings. 

“To God be glory forever. This is both a statement of fact and a prayer for its fulfillment. Glory will flow to God forever, and Paul affirms that is exactly as it should be in the form of a prayer. He ends this section of his letter with a formal amen.”



In the preparation of this article, I have relied on and quoted extensively from the website of                                   

I found the material in harmony with my life-long study of this subject, in the writings and the lectures of the following Bible scholars: 

John H. Gerstner

Oswald T. Allis 
Oswald Thompson Allis (September 9, 1880 – January 12, 1973) was an American Presbyterian theologian and Bible schola. He taught at Princeton Seminary, then left to found and teach at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvnia.  

John Murray 
John Murray (14 October 1898 – 8 May 1975) was a Scottish-born Calvinist theologian who taught at Princeton Seminary and then left to help found Westminster Theological Seminary, where he taught for many years. He was ordained in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in 1937. 


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A Colourful History of Antioch

May 06, 2023
By Bassam Michael Madany

A Colourful History of Antioch

Bassam Michael Madany

20 March 2023

Antioch was founded in 300 B.C. by Seleucus I Nicator, a general of Alexander the Great. The new city soon became the western terminus of the land routes over which goods were brought from Persia to the Mediterranean. 

Antioch’s strategic command of north-south and east-west roads across northwestern Syria greatly contributed to its growth and prosperity during the Hellenic, Roman, and Byzantine times. The suburb of Daphne was a favourite pleasure resort and residential area for Antioch’s upper classes. Seleucia Pieria, at the mouth of the Orontes River, was the city’s harbour.

Antioch was the centre of the Seleucid Kingdom until 64 B.C., when it was annexed by Rome, and made the capital of the Roman province of Syria. It became the third largest city of the Roman Empire in size and importance, after Rome and Alexandria, with its magnificent temples, theatres, aqueducts, and baths. 

Antioch was also one of the earliest centres of Christianity; it was there that the followers of Christ were first called Christians, and the city was the headquarters of the missionary Saint Paul.i

In the 4th century A.D. Antioch became the seat of a new Roman office that administered all the provinces on the empire’s eastern flank. Because the church of Antioch had the distinction of having been founded by the apostles Peter and Paul, its bishops ranked with the bishops of the other apostolic centers Jerusalem, Rome, and Alexandria. 

Antioch prospered in the 4th and 5th centuries from nearby olive plantations, but the 6th century brought a series of disasters from which the city never fully recovered. A fire in 525 was followed by earthquakes in 526 and 528. The city was captured by the Persians in 540 and 611.

During the early Arab-Islamic Futuhat (Conquests), Antioch was occupied in 637, and became much smaller. Its fortunes changed in 969, when the Byzantines recaptured the city, and it served as a frontier barrier against Islamic powers. The Seljuk Turks occupied the city in 1084, only to be ejected in 1098, when it was captured by the Crusaders, who made it the capital of one of their kingdoms. In 1268 the city was taken by the Turkish Mamluks, who razed it to the ground. Antioch never recovered from this last disaster, and it had declined to a small village when it was taken by the Ottoman Turks in 1517. It remained part of the Ottoman Sultanate for the next four centuries.

In WWI, the Ottomans sided with Germany and Austria. The victory of the Allies led to the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire. Syria and Lebanon came under the rule of France by Mandate from the League of Nations. With the end of the Ottoman rule, Turkey became a Republic under General Mustapha Kemal Ataturk. He initiated radical changes in the country: Abolishing the Caliphate in 1924, a process of secularization of society, and the adoption of a Latin alphabet in lieu of the Arabic script.

During the 1930s, certain parts of the Turkey were still under occupation by Allied Forces, Ataturk sought to end their rule by negotiation. He succeeded in terminating the French occupation of Cilicia (Asia Minor). Encouraged by that success, Ataturk claimed that the Syrian province of Alexandretta, which included Antioch, belonged to Turkey. Actually, Alexandretta was the most cosmopolitan part of Syria, and was the home of French, British, and Italian schools. The population consisted mostly of Christians from various communions: Orthodox, Catholic, Chaldean, Assyrian, and Protestant. A significant remnant of the Armenian Genocide had also settled in Alexandretta. Nevertheless, France handed the province over to Turkey in June 1939. Around 90,000 people of the province moved to other parts of Syria and to Lebanon. 

“Remarkably, few remains of the ancient Antioch are now visible, since most of them lie buried beneath thick alluvial deposits from the Orontes River. Nevertheless, important archaeological discoveries have been made in the locality. Excavations conducted in 1932–39 in Daphne and Antioch uncovered many fine mosaic floors from both private houses and public buildings. Dating largely from the Roman imperial period, many of the floors represent copies of famous ancient paintings that otherwise would have been unknown. 

“The activities of the modern town are based mainly on the agricultural produce of the area, including the intensively farmed ‘Amok plain. The chief crops are wheat, cotton, grapes, rice, olives, vegetables, and fruit. Antioch has soap and olive-oil factories, cotton ginning and other processing industries.  Before the Province of Alexandretta (that included Antioch) was annexed by Turkey, its population was around 220,000. Eight decades later, Antioch’s population alone, had reached 216,960ii

Demographically, Antioch had become a Turkish city, as I experienced during my visit in July 1975. When reporting on the massive 7.8 earthquake of 6 February 2023, most Western media, referred to Antioch as “the ancient Turkish city of Antakya.” The irony is that Antioch had become Turkish, in a relatively short time! While during the four centuries of Ottoman Turkish rule of Syria, which included Antioch, the population retained their Arabic language and culture. 

The world response to the 6 February 2023 destructive earthquakes has been heartwarming. Aid groups from several parts of the world rushed to help, not only in Turkey, but in nearby Syrian areas The United Nations’ estimate of the devastating earthquakes is about 50,000 people killed, with many more injured, and hundreds of thousands homeless. The magnitude of the geological damage to the area in and around Antioch is beyond belief! It would make the rebuilding of the city a gargantuan challenge in the future!


1. Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.  While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”  Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.  So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. Acts of the Apostles13:1-4 

iiii Antioch | modern and ancient city, south-central Turkey | Britannica

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Reflections of the Earthquakes' Impact on Alexandretta, Antioch, and Seleucia

May 06, 2023
By Bassam Michael Madany

Reflections of the Earthquakes' Impact on Alexandretta, Antioch, and Seleucia

Bassam Michael Madany

9 March 2023

Last month, I celebrated my 95th birthday. A few days later, on Monday, 6 February, a massive earthquake hit an area in southern Turkey that flattened the place beyond recognition. It was the place where I was born and spent the first eleven years of my life. 

This is a story that goes beyond earthquakes and natural disasters; it’s an account of a forgotten tragedy, as most of those who had experienced it, have passed away. 

The Middle East was conquered by Islam in the seventh century. Christians and Jews were allowed to keep their faith by paying the Jizya tax. My ancestors remained Christian, and for some time kept their Aramaic language and culture. By the ninth century, they had Arabized but didn’t Islamize. A Christian scholar in Damascus undertook the translation of the New Testament into Arabic, providing the Christians of the Levant with the necessary spiritual food. i

The Mongolian destruction of the Abbasids in 1250 was a disastrous event for Middle Eastern peoples. Eventually, the Seljuk Turks governed the area, and were followed by the Ottoman Turks, in the sixteenth century. The Ottomans had global ambitions, their conquests included the Byzantine empire in 1453, and lands in eastern and central Europe. In 1529, they laid siege to Vienna, but failed to conquer Austria. One hundred fifty years later, the Ottomans returned with a larger army, and attempted to enter Vienna. Thanks to the help the Austrians received from the Poles, the Ottomans failed and retreated, leaving behind several sacks of coffee beans!  

The Ottomans were staunch defenders of Sunni Islam, as their Sultans had assumed the role of Caliphs. While ruling the Balkans and the Middle East, the Ottomans did not force the subject peoples to adopt Turkish. Middle Easterners kept their Arabic language. During the nineteenth century a revival of Arab culture took place in Egypt under the regime of Muhammad Ali Pasha and his successors.

In Lebanon, American missionaries founded the American University of Beirut. Several of its graduates moved to Egypt where they published newspapers and magazines. The translation of the Bible into Arabic was a major event in the 1860s, a work of significant importance for the Arabic-speaking Christians of the world.

In WWI, the Ottomans took the side of Germany and Austria. The victory of the Allies led to the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire. Syria and Lebanon came under the rule of France by Mandate from the League of Nations. My education took place during the French presence at British and French schools. That included learning English, French, and Classical Arabic. 

With the end of the Ottoman rule, Turkey became a Republic under General Mustapha Kemal Ataturk. He initiated radical changes in the country: Abolishing the Caliphate in 1924; a process of secularization of society, and the adoption of a Latin alphabet in lieu of the Arabic alphabet.

As certain parts of the Turkish mainland were still under occupation by Allied Forces, Ataturk sought to end that rule by negotiation. In the 1930s, the French ended their occupation of Cilicia (Asia Minor.) Not satisfied with those accomplishments, Ataturk claimed that the Syrian province of Alexandretta belonged to Turkey. He renamed the area as Hatay and kept pressing France to cede it to Turkey.

The province included Antioch and Seleucia as well and was the most cosmopolitan part of Syria. Besides the French schools, there were British and Italian schools. The population was mostly Christians of various communions: Orthodox, Catholic, Chaldean, Assyrian, and Protestant. A significant remnant of the Armenian Genocide had settled in Alexandretta.

The pressure on France kept increasing. In 1938, Turkish Forces entered the province.  At the school I attended, a Turkish teacher arrived to teach Turkish. He was an amiable person, friendly, but smoked a lot. He taught us to sing the Turkish National Anthem!

I’ll never forget June 1939. My mother passed away of a stroke on the tenth of the month. France handed the province over to Turkey; around 90,000 residents left for other Syrian provinces and to Lebanon. Our family settled in Beirut, Lebanon. To have remained in Alexandretta meant our total Turkification. That was not an option for our family. My ancestors had willingly adopted the Arabic language a millennium before. It became ours, and we loved both the Classical and the Colloquial dialects. 

When the successive earthquakes happened on 6 February 2023, one news media with no historical knowledge of the area, reported the following:

“Turkey's historic city of Antakya, known in Roman and medieval times as Antioch, has been flattened by powerful earthquakes in the past – and rebuilt itself.” 

Do eighty-four years of Antioch’s occupation qualify it as an historic Turkish city?! Antioch was the capital, of th Seleucid Kingdom, a Macedonian Greek dynasty (312–64 BC.) It was founded by Seleucus I Nicator. Carved from the empire of Alexander the Great, the Seleucid domain included Babylonia, Syria, and Anatolia. When the Romans conquered the area in 64 BC, they kept Antioch as the capital of the region that included Palestine. 

Antioch qualifies as an historic Christian city “It was in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.” Acts 11: 26b. The Antiochian church ordained Paul and Barnabas as missionaries; they sailed from its port Seleucia, on their world mission.

My reflections were evoked by the February earthquakes in a region that had witnessed other types of human disasters caused by political ambitions.


(2) Review of the Arabic Text of MT. SINAI ARABIC CODEX 151 | Bassam Michael Madany -


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May 06, 2023
By Bassam Michael Madany



Bassam Michael Madany

10 February 2023

The 31 January 2023 issue of the Wall Street Journal carried this headline:  

         “Iran’s Deadly Street Protests Are Replaced by Quiet Acts of Rebellion.”

It began, “Four months after a nationwide uprising erupted in Iran, a lethal crackdown and an ailing economy have quieted antigovernment street demonstrations.”

Whether the quieting of the “antigovernment street demonstrations” will last, only time would tell. In this article, I explain how the Eschatology (End-Times beliefs) of the Iranian Religious authorities, provides them with an inflexible steering of the governance of the country at this crucial time in Iran’s history. This would mark the first time in the History of Islam, when the religious establishment took over the reins of government.

From its beginnings, Islam became a State whose leader was prophet, legislator, and ruler. Muhammad didn’t leave any instructions regarding the leadership of the Islamic Umma after his passing. Some of his close associates, rushed to choose Abu Bakr as the First Caliph in 632 AD. After his death in 634, Umar succeeded him. His rule lasted ten years, during which the Islamic Futuhat (Conquests) began. After his assassination in 644, Uthman became Caliph. He collected manuscripts of the Qur’an; chose one as a Textus Receptus and sent copies to several Islamic-occupied territories. Uthman’s caliphate was riddled with controversies, which led to his assassination in 656.

Ali (cousin and a son-in-law of Muhammad) assumed the Caliphate in 656. However, Muawiya, the governor of Syria contested the election of Ali, leading to war between the two men. When Ali accepted arbitration between the two factions, some of his followers rebelled and murdered him in 661. Muawiya assumed the role of Caliph and founder of the Umayyad Dynasty, with Damascus as its capital. It lasted for nearly 100 years, during which Islam spread from India in the east to Spain in the west.

Ali’s followers, known as these Shi’ites (partisans) refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Umayyad Caliphate. Ali had two sons by Fatima (daughter of Muhamad,) Hasan and Husain. Hasan declined to assume the role of the Shi’ite leadership, leaving the position to his brother Husain. In 680, he moved to Kufa in Iraq to reclaim the Caliphate. He was defeated and massacred at the Battle of Karbala, on 10 October 680 (10 Muharram 61 AH)

From this point on, the Shi’ites would become an underground opposition movement. Husain and his descendants carried the title of Imam. (In Sunni Islam, an Imam is simply the leader of a mosque, in charge of the daily and weekly Salaats (worship services.)

The Umayyad Caliphate was challenged by the Abbasids who defeated them in 750. The blood bath that followed resulted in the extermination of every member of the Umayyads. One member managed to flee to Al-Andalus (Spain,) where he began a rival Islamic caliphate.

The Abbasids were descendants of an uncle of Muhammad. It was during their Caliphate that the Arab Islamic civilization flourished. Baghdad became the capital of the Abbasids, translation of works from Persian, Aramaic, and Greek sources was accomplished at the House of Wisdom. The Four Schools for the Interpretation of the Islamic Shariah were founded; the Sirat Muhammad (Life of the Prophet) was composed, first by Ibn Is’haq, and revised by Ibn Hisham. The initiative for all these accomplishments came from the Caliphs.

An intellectual group known as the Mu’tazilites appeared on the scene and discussed doctrinal and philosophical issues. A major theological topic was the Qur’an’s createdness. When Imam Hanbal preached the uncreatedness of the Qur’an, the contemporary Caliph Al-Ma’moon imprisoned him. That precipitated an event known as Mihnat al- Qur’an (the Ordeal of the Qur’an!)

Following the Mongolian advance and the destruction of Baghdad in 1258, the Abbasid Caliphate had reached its twilight. Eventually, the Sunni Caliphate was assumed by the Ottoman Turks; it lasted until the early years of the 20th century. Rival Shi’ite caliphates arose in Egypt under the Fatimites, from 969 to 1171. Persia that had followed Sunni Islam for centuries, underwent a radical change in 1501, when Ismail I, the first Shah of the Safavid Dynasty (1601–1722), captured Tabriz and proclaimed Twelver Shi’ism to be the faith of his new realm.

The Twelvers believe that, at the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632, the spiritual-political leadership of the Islamic Umma, was to pass down to Ali, and to ʿAlī’s son Husain and to other Imams (leaders) down to the 12th. He was born around 870, and went into occultation, (a state of concealment by God) in 874. This Hidden Imam is still alive and bears the title of Mahdi. Upon his return, he will inaugurate an era when the Twelver Shi’ism would be the dominant faith in Islam.  

It becomes clear from a review of Islamic history that the state played an exclusive role in all the decisions that impacted Muslim society. Beginning with Uthman’s choice of the official manuscript of the Qur’an, to Al-Mamoon’s standing for the createdness of the Qur’an. It was the Fatimites rulers who imposed Shi’ism on Egyptians and founded the University Mosque of Al-Azhar.

Things changed drastically during the Ayyubid Dynasty’s occupation of Egypt (1171-1250.) Egypt was reintegrated into the Sunni world, with Al-Azhar University Mosque becoming a bastion of Sunni Islam.

Early in the 16th century, Egypt with the rest of the Middle East, were incorporated into the Ottoman Empire that played the role of defender of Sunni Islam. During the 19th century, the Ottomans had to deal with the Wahhabis, a fundamentalist Islamic movement in Arabia. Aided by the Saudi tribe, the Wahhabis captured Mecca that had been under Ottoman control. Gradually, the Saudis extended their rule over Arabia. While Wahhabi Islam continued to be the official faith of the kingdom, political, economic, and social issues; remained in the hands of the House of Saud.  Saudi Arabia in the Third Millennium is drastically different from the 1930s! Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has initiated several reforms — concerts, movie theaters, and a permission for women driving cars, without a male chaperon! The impetus for change and modernization in Saudi Arabia came from the governing authorities, and not from the Wahhabi establishment who have been the custodians of “authentic” Islam.

It is evident that a modus operandi that had lasted for 1400 years, namely the primacy of the state in governance, was broken when Ayatollah Khomeini became the religious and political leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran. As a religious establishment professing the Eschatology of Twelver Shi’ism took over the reins of governance in Tehran, they claim their authority is derived from the infallible Mahdi. This led the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran to become intransigent, in their response to the ongoing Intifada of the young generation of Iranii


i Iranian Youth is the largest population bloc in Iran. Over 60 percent of Iran’s 80 million people are under 30 years old. Iranian youth are among the most politically active in the 57 nations of the Islamic world. As the most restive segment of Iranian society, the young also represent one of the greatest long-term threats to the current form of theocratic rule.

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