(Translated Book Summary)
Verily, Allah looked towards the people of the world and He disliked them, both, the Arabs and the non-Arabs except for some remnants of the People of the Book.” (Hadith)(1)
Such was the state of the world before the mission of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). So, who are those remnants of the People of the Book who were excluded?
Fundamental Principles: Freedom and Coexistence
“Muslim Copts before Muhammad”, a book that was originally a master’s thesis with a title “Self-defense was One of the Motives of the Muslims’ Conquest of Egypt”. The author is Fadel Soliman, the director of Bridges Foundation, an Egyptian engineer, translator of the Qur’an and researcher on the History of the Church, starts his book with an emphasis on two fundamental principles.
The first principle is the freedom of belief. The freedom of each human being to choose what to believe in and uphold as the correct creed, and to freely practice the rituals and the acts of worship they want. In the end, all matters return to Allah, the Judge, Who will judge between all people on the Day of Resurrection.
The second principle is the importance of coexistence between all people, despite their differences in affiliations and beliefs, based on cooperation in the issues that are agreed upon and fostering an attitude of mutual respect among them.
Then the author highlights an important issue that causes many problems and unrest between Muslims and Christians, as a result of some inherited ideas, and the solution for it lies in mutual dialogue between both parties on the basis of knowing the historical facts behind the illusions and ideas that people repeated and believed in without trying to test their correctness and/ or accuracy.
Sword Misconception Vs. Fighting Tyranny and Self-Defense
At the beginning of his research, the researcher moves quickly to the misconception of ‘the spread of Islam with the sword’ around which the main topic and the conflict dealt with in his research. The conflict of the research is represented in “Negating the accusation of the spread of Islam by force and imposing it on the peoples of the conquered territories, through studying the religious and political history of one of those conquered countries, which is Egypt”.
The researcher refutes this misconception and rebuts it as being a false allegation that the enemies of Islam used to tarnish the image of this religion. Using the Islamic conquests in tarnishing the history of Islam, exposes either a severe ignorance of history and its events, or the intention of those claimants to disfigure and obscure the truth and hide it from their readers and listeners.
The Conquest of Egypt
Through his research, the author clarifies and proves that some of the Islamic conquests, among them is the conquest of Egypt, were not merely for fighting the tyrants and removing them from the way of people’s freedom to choose their religion and belief, but also for self-defense and for resisting the persecution of “the Muslims” in those countries who suffered from injustices and torture by the Trinitarians over centuries before the Islamic conquest.
Accordingly, this research totally disproves the accusation of spreading Islam by force and imposing it on the peoples of conquered territories and proves that one of the reasons for the conquest of Egypt was self-defense, through proving the existence of “Muslims” in it who were under persecution before the coming of the Islamic conquest.
The Definition of “Muslim”: Who is The Muslim?
From this point, we will need to define the word “Muslim”; this is exactly what the researcher did. He already defined the word “Muslim” and clarified that the Muslim is not only the one who followed the Legislation (Shari’ah) of Allah that He revealed down on the last and final of His Prophets, Muhammad ibn Abdullah (PBUH), rather, the Muslim is whoever followed the Prophet of his own time and the Legislation of Allah which He revealed down to His servants on that Prophet.
Accordingly, whoever said, “There is no god but Allah” and affirmed that Jesus, the son of Mary (peace be upon them), is a human, a servant of Allah and His messenger, in the period between the two messengers Jesus and Muhammad (PBUT) were the Muslims of their time.
Throughout the chapters of his research, the researcher confirmed the applicability of this definition to the followers of some priests like Arius, who had followers in Egypt, the Balkans and many other territories that were all under the Romans’ rule until the time of the Islamic conquests, and were all subject to killing, torture, and severe persecution till that time. However, despite all this persecution, these groups did not seize to exist. They actually attended the Islamic conquests, the fact that most of the books of Christian history ignored.
The research also proves the great interest of the Messenger of Allah, Muhammad (peace be upon him), in freeing those Non-trinitarian faithful groups from that severe persecution that was, as mentioned earlier, one of the important reasons for the Islamic conquests.
The Origin of “Arianism”
The researcher then moves to talk about the doctrines of Unitarian Christians, focusing on the most widespread group that lived at the same time of the Islamic conquest and which originated four centuries before it, namely the “Arians” whose founder was Arius, who was born in Libya and was a priest of the church of Bokla in Alexandria, Egypt in the beginning of the fourth century (AC).
The teachings of Arius were the foundation of the doctrine of “Arianism” which considers the Christ to be a creature of God. Arius is one of the graduates of the School of Antioch that is more literalist than other schools of thought at that time, and was founded by Lucian the Martyr who revived the principles of monotheism that Paul of Samosata called for in Antioch. From this monotheistic school of theology Arius graduated.
It is worth mentioning that the name “Arians” was given to the followers of Arius in the beginning by the Trinitarians, in order to stereotype them as heretics, the followers of a heretic called Arius while Trinitarians are called Christians so they must be the true followers of Jesus Christ.
The name stuck with the followers of Arius in the beginning then over time it became the label of everyone who rejected the divinity of Jesus and the concept of Trinity, even those who never saw Arius nor read anything for him.
Arians outnumbered Trinitarians to the extent that made St. Jerome, the famous Bible translator who translated it from Greek into Latin, say: “The whole world groaned and marvelled to find itself Arian”.(2) Despite this fact, their image was tarnished and they were labelled as heretics because the Trinitarians were more influential among the elite.
Thus, Unitarian Christians hated the names “Arians” and “Arianism” and considered it a kind of discrimination against them. This is because they believed that they were the true followers of Jesus Christ and therefore deserve the name “Christians”, they were the followers of the Christ (PBUH), who believed in him as a Prophet, a Messenger and a servant of God.
Arius: Cogency of Argument
Historians describe Arius as being an attractive ascetic personality who succeeded in attracting many followers. He was extremely stubborn and strong in proclaiming his opinion.
Prof. Dimitrios Kousulas wrote:
“Arius was not the type of man who could be easily silenced, nor was he alone in having these beliefs; rather, many bishops and priests in the East preferred his teachings.”(3)
From among what Arius said in his debates with the priests of the Trinitarian doctrine was:
“If we supposed that the Christ is, in reality, the Son of God, this would mean that God existed before him, and accordingly there was a time during which the Son did not exist; then his essence and substance did not exist at a certain time, and as long as God in His essence existed from the beginning of time to eternity, then Christ can never be from the same essence of God.”
Arius raised the motto “Let’s follow Jesus as he taught”…
- Since there can never be anyone who is greater than God, and since Christ said about himself in the Gospel of John “The Father is greater than me”, and since Christ does not say but the truth, then he is not God. Add to this that he never said “I am God” or even “Worship me”.
- Since God is capable of doing anything, and since Christ said about himself in the Gospel of John “By myself, I can do nothing”, and since Christ does not say but the truth, then he is not God.
- Since God is All-Knowing, and Christ said about himself in the Gospel of Mark “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the son, but only the Father”, and since Christ does not say but the truth, then he is not God.
- Since God is the One Who sends down revelations and no revelations can be sent to Him, and since Christ said about himself in the Gospel of John “But He who sent me is trustworthy, and what I have heard from Him I tell the world”, and since Christ does not say but the truth, then he is not God.
The Religious Persecution of Arians
After that, the researcher shows the stages of persecuting the Unitarian Christians, who are metaphorically known as the “Arians”, starting from civil punishments, such as ousting from positions, to execution and torture with inhumane, gruesome methods. The researcher shows this with notifying the reader not to think that those persecuted, tortured Unitarian Christians were a minority; rather, the complete opposite is true since the Trinitarians themselves, people of great standing among them like St. Jerome as mentioned earlier, admitted they were the majority of the Christians. Torture reached its epitome under the rule of the Romans, even after the Islamic conquest of some of its lands.
The Existence of Unitarian Christians before The Islamic Conquest
The researcher then moves to the evidence of the existence of Unitarian Christians until the Islamic conquest of the conquered territories, especially Egypt. For proving this, the researcher inferred from four sources: The Holy Qur’an, The Purified Sunnah, the testimonials of Prophet Muhammad’s Companions who took part in the conquests, and the history books.
For example, for proving the existence of the Arians in Egypt at the time of the Islamic conquest, the researcher used the book “The Chronicles of John of Nikiu” written by the Egyptian bishop John of Nikiû who was an eyewitness of the Islamic conquest of Egypt. The researcher referred to the importance of emphasizing the credibility of this book through many ways:
- Ensuring that the author has no interest in proving the existence of the Unitarian Christians until the time of the Islamic conquest, and this is achieved by proving the belonging of the author to the Trinitarian Christians.
- Ensuring the honesty of the translation, and this is achieved by matching the Arabic translation which was done by a Muslim translator with the English translation that was done by a non-Muslim translator.
- Verifying from trusted sources that the author contemporarily lived and witnessed the events of the Islamic conquest, and this is achieved by reading his biography that the Egyptian Church published.
The Concern of Prophet Muhammad about Arians
After the researcher proved through the chapters of his research the compatibility of the Arians’ doctrine with the doctrine of Islam, their subjection to oppression, torture, and murder, which exposed them to persecution in their religion, and their existence in the Roman-Byzantine empire until the time of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the Islamic conquests later, the researcher moved to showing and proving the concern of Messenger Muhammad (PBUH) about the Arians’ affairs.
After Al-Hudaibiyyah treaty and relatively securing the Arab Peninsula, the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) sent his envoys with his letters through which he called the kings and rulers of the world. Among them were three Christian rulers: Heraclius the Byzantine emperor, Cyrus the Ruler of Egypt, and Negus the King of Abyssinia. He sent to Heraclius of Byzantine warning him about continuing the persecution of Unitarian Christians, calling them “Arians” as they were called at that time. And he sent to Cyrus of Egypt warning him about continuing the persecution of the Copts.
Style of Message Delivered to Cyrus of Egypt
Here, we notice that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) addressed Heraclius of Byzantine using the term “Arians” which he could understand. He held him responsible for the religious persecution of the Arians who existed throughout the empire by saying: “… upon you will be the sin of the Arians”, while in his letter to Cyrus of Egypt he held him responsible for the persecution of the Copts only among them, so he said “… upon you will be the sin of the Copts” as shown in the text of the messages that are shown in the research.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) sent to Negus as well, but it is noticeable that he did not warn him or hold him responsible for the persecution of anyone as he did with Heraclius and Cyrus. Also, history did not record that any Muslim army went to Abyssinia where people enjoyed freedom of belief.
Finally, the researcher concludes with the results and findings of his research, which are as follows:
- Establishing the compatibility of the description “Muslims” with the Unitarian Christian groups which appeared after Jesus, and among them are the Arians.
- Proving the continuous subjection of the Arians to severe persecution until the time of the Islamic conquest all over the Roman-Byzantine empire, including Egypt.
- Proving the concern of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the Muslims after him with the Arians’ affairs.
- Proving that one of the Muslims’ motives to conquer territories where the Arians exist, and among them Egypt, was the self-defense. This is since the Muslims and the Companions of Muhammad ibn Abdullah (PBUH) went to rescue their Muslim brothers, the Companions of Jesus, the son of Mary (PBUH).
- Proving that the Muslims of Egypt are the descendants of the Arians. Most of them were neither the descendants of the Arabs who came to Egypt with the Islamic conquest, nor the descendants of the Christians who believed in the doctrine of the Trinity. Therefore proving that Islam was rooted in Egypt even before the Islamic conquest and before the birth of Prophet Muhammad himself.
This was, in brief, the story of the priest who changed the face of the earth, Arius, the story of the Arians, and the history of Arianism that was hidden from the world.
This was the history of the world that is not said to the world.
(1) Prophet Muhammad’s Saying (Hadith).
(2) A History of the Church, from the Edict of Milan, A.D. 313, to the Council of Chalcedon, A.D. 451, William Bright.
(3) The Life and Times of Constantine the Great, Dimitrios George Kousoulas.