Monday, March 20, 2006

Hudgens, Ross

Id #: 300115378

20th March, 2005

RELI 203 - M 1:00-2:00

The Ease of Conquest

The Islamic (or Arabic) conquests came and went in a short, unprecedented amount of time. Unmatched land consumption and defeat of numerous countries and empires resulted from these efforts. Because of the uncalcutable success of these military engagements against established military powers by raw armies, untrained and undisciplined, there has been a plethora of unflinching research by academia and the like into the reasons for such achievement and dominance in the theatre of war. For the most part, this research has led to unsatisfactory, incomplete results. How could minute armies quench the anger of battlements three times the size? 4 Passion for religious diaspora? Keen military strategy? 1 Mutinous enemy ecampments? 2 There is no definitive answer for the widespread success of the Islamic and Arabic armies, but rather a body of knowledge that contributes to an encompassing landscape of work and military conquests that have no match throughout history. Through this knowledge it is unveiled that the success of the Islamic conquests is result of several far-reaching factors; the religious fervor of the troops and the desire to congregate, spread and fight for booty, honor and otherwise through said religious unity; neutrality or even goodwill of local Aramaic and Arabic populations in enemy territory; pompous and brilliant military leaders and strategists; unstable enemy governments and a bounty of other undefinable and indiscovered causes that led to the widespread success of the Conquests and the diaspora of a religious faith that would become a consumate force for the rest of time.
The first reason for the Conquests' success is often juxtaposed with an argument quaintly suffixed against it - did the Conquests even require the Islamic faith for it to succeed? As cited in Franceso Gabrieli's text Muhammad and the Conquests of Islam, a man known as Becker suggests "the whole movement would also be conceivable without Islam." Gabrieli effectively retorts "Even if Muhammad's religion was not the essential and decisive main force behind the diaspora, it was the cement which bound its disorderly centifugal energies together." 1 The point is grand and far-reaching. Even though the point of the Conquests was most likely not (largely) to propagate the Islamic faith, as proved in the congreuncy with other faiths in the years that followed the Conquests, the fact that the forces were cojoined by a similiar religious doctorine allowed for a bond and military union that resulted in high morale and success on the battlefield. Without this link the forces would have not had the same gusto and fervor that surely helped propel their cause into victory after victory.
Motivation within the army was not limited to religious piousness, however. The army was without a doubt severly influenced by the glory that came with imperialisation and the gold and wealth that resulted. Much of the benefit of going to war was the guarantee of the spoils therein - money, wealth, riches - and lots of it. Without that possibility on the table, it is likely that many an Arab that had cited religious faith would not have stepped into combat. 4
The Arabic armies were also drawn out by imminent civil-war. Inner conflict over who the justified caliph was after Muhammad's death led to an immediate desire to disperse and unpack a heated situation. It has also been shown that the climate before the conquests was pourous and declining, perhaps leaving the Arabics to believe they had to disperse before their civilisation crumbled under the weather. 1
The combination of these impulses surely led to a highly energized Arabic force that was integral in the defeat of armies and spread of Islam. Summarized efficiently, Franceso Gabrieli remarked on the culimination of these motivations:
" .. the one maintaining that the Arab success was the result of controllable religious fervour, the other, that the motive fore was the irresistible goad of famine. Surely in practice the soldiers must have felt a confused mixture of both incentives at once. They must have confused the idea that they were bearers of a new history, the champions of a young untamed race, with the equally inspiring belief that they were the propagators of a new rule of life, a new faith they were to spread and reveal to the world." 1
Indifference in enemy parties also led to success on the battlefront. Many encampments in Byzantine and Persian territories had Arabic and Aramaic populations, those of whom were indifferent or even enthusiastic about Arab invasions. 1 This indifference often led to desertion on the battlefield. There are also many reports that "Egyptian Christians and Jews aided the Arab armies by rising in revolt against their erstwhile rulers". 2 A quote from the Qur'an suggests something that many of the Arabic armaments may have been inspired by in going to war: “And why should ye not fight in the cause of Allah and of those who, being weak, are ill-treated (and oppressed)?- Men, women, and children, whose cry is: "Our Lord! Rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from thee one who will protect; and raise for us from thee one who will help!"” (4:76) 3 This further illuminates the idea of religious faith being a reason for pompous morale and war motivation in the defimation of unjust and unruly "oppressors".
However, it is important to note the bias inherent in these accounts. Much of the opposing sides literature was lost in conflict, as much of many civilisations were absorbed over time into the Arabs. Daniel Brown gives an account of the Sasanians in A New Introduction to Islam: "Sasanian political power was entirely supplanted by the Arabs, and Sasanian politcal, religious, and social structures were absorbed into the new regime and took on an Islamic cast." 2 This leads us to another important element of the Arabic Conquests. Much time has passed since these events have occured and due to that elapse, much has been lost and much has been changed. As is common in war and in times where proof was nonexistant, it is likely and even certain that many of the numbers detailing the forces the Arabs faced were exaggerated, and the numbers of Arabs actually in combat reduced. This done so the aforementioned glory and power of the Arabic army could be properly assertained and transposed into lore and legend as time elapsed. Undoubtedly, the Conquests were still a feat of great measure, but it would be asinine to not question the absolute validity of an untrained, undermanned army to emerge victorious time and time again against such loborious odds. Numbers were stretched and lessened to solidify the glory of an undoubtedly already-great army.
Said armies were still outmatched, and used outstanding leaders and strategists to gain the upperhand without sheer force. The foremost of this batch was Khalid ibn al-Walid, 'the sword of Allah', victorious on every front. He was a true military genius but still maintained a religious piousness that made him agreeable to the fact that he would willingly submit to the Caliph's authority at the time of his disgrace. Other great military leaders included Yazid ibn Abi Sufyan, Abu 'Ubaida, 'Amr ibn al-'As, 'Uqba ibn Nafi', Qutaiba ibn Muslim and Tariq. In these men, the war produced a whole staff of military leaders of exceptional brilliance and unusual flexibility. 1
The ineptitude and perishment of other leaders and armies, as well as terrain, can be positively attributed to the success of the Conquests. At The Battle of Guadalete the Arabic army killed Visigoth king Roderic and seemingly dissolved all leadership in the rest of his army, thus giving ease to the rest of the conflict. It has been conjectured that most of the prominent members of the Visigothic establishment, including the royal court, were also killed along with the king. This may explain the absolute lack of organized resistance to the invaders after the battle by the Visigothic state. 5 Around the year 636 CE, Rostam Farrokhzād, advisor and general for Yazdgird III led an army said to number 100 000 men across the Euphrates River to al-Qādisiyyah, near the present-day city of Hilla in Iraq. Some have criticised him for this decision to face the Arabs on their own ground — on the fringes of the desert — and surmised that the Persians could have held their own if they had stayed on the opposite bank of the Euphrates. The Caliph `Umar dispatched 30 000 Arab cavalrymen under the command of Sa`d ibn Abī Waqqās against the Persian army. The Battle of al-Qādisiyyah followed, with the Persians prevailing at first, but on the third day of fighting, the Muslims gained the upper hand. The Persians attempted to flee. The Persian general Rostam Farrokhzād was caught and beheaded. According to some Muslim sources, the Persian losses were enormous, but the Arabs lost only 7500 men. 6
While all of these reasons are valid and believable, few of them are provable and none of them can be juxtaposed together to give the absolute answer to why the Arab conquests were so successful. This is unescapable due to the ambiguous and disfiguring nature of time and a period of history where documentation was not a thorough or common occurence. When things were documented, they were oft transcribed to propagate an ideological doctorine or political goal, and even rigorous criticism and analysis of hadith and isnads can leave the past clouded. Through this fissure the past is blurred, but with thorough investigation and deductive reasoning, we can surmise an approximate answer: the Arab armies were motivated, led by pious, genius leaders, and were the beneficiaries of terrain, crippled governments and allies within enemy borders. Add it all up and you have the extremely efficient, entirely successful domino of military campaigns: The Conquests. The diaspora of a new faith into every crack and crevice of the world. The birth of a political landscape that would change the world forever. The birth of a new kind of power. The birth of a new kind of religion. The birth and rise to power of Islam.

1. Franceso Gabrieli, Muhammad and the Conquests of Islam
2. Daniel Brown, A New Introduction to Islam (4:075)
3. Translation of Qur'An,
4. John Bagot Glubb, The Great Arab Conquests
5. Wikipedia,
6. Wikipedia,


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