Muslim Invasion into or Arab uprising within Syria; The Conundrum of the Seventh Century Sources
University of Utah
Published in Historia: the Alpha Rho Papers, Vol I.
After Mohammed died in Medina in 632 C.E. his successors, Abu Bakr and then Umar, ordered the Muslim armies north to Syria, (the region now known as Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Syria, and Lebanon) to conquer in the name of Allah and his prophet, Mohammed. In less than a decade, they were able to defeat in huge battles both the Byzantine army and the remnants of the Persian Sassanid Empire. The Muslims from the Arabian Peninsula then migrated into these regions building new cities and a new empire according to Islamic traditions. The problem, however, lies in that traditional Islamic history was not written until the Abbasids ruled in Baghdad 150 years after the events and long after all eyewitnesses were gone. When critically examined, these traditions appear to speak more of the political rivalries, theological disputes, and social tensions of the Abbasid Empire in the late eighth and the early ninth century.
Because the archaeological, numismatic, and textual records lack evidence to support the Islamic rendition of history, revisionist historians ask hard questions of the traditional account of the Muslim conquest. Why did early Arab rulers never mention Mohammed in their inscriptions? Why did the early Umayyads put Christian crosses or Zoroastrian fire temples on their coins? Why do the archaeological sites show no destruction layer and no change in material culture to mark the change? And the most important question for this discussion, why did the seventh century eyewitnesses in Syria never mention any Muslim invasion or armies in their writings? The most convincing explanation is that Arabs were already present in Syria with a long political heritage of ruling the countryside under both Rome and Byzantium. Rather than invading from the desert to conquer Byzantine armies, the Arabs already present in Syria rose up to fill the vacuum left by the Byzantines after the long war with the Persians which culminated in 622.