[Buddha-l] Was Buddhists Taking a Stand Against Islamophobia

G. McLoughlin caodemarte at yahoo.com
Tue Sep 25 18:13:30 MDT 2012

Pretty much any standard modern history of the early conquests and the Islamic expansion  tells the same story.  Muslims were not interested in conversion of non-Muslims by the sword. For example, the popular The Arabs in History , Revised Edition (p. 56 - 59. Harper-Colophon Books,) by Bernard Lewis describes the astonishment of the early Arab conquers that conquered non-Arabs would try to convert. Not only did this confound the belief that God loved the Arabs best, the state lost certain revenues on non-believers.  There was little motive for forcible conversion. In fact the Koran states, "There is no compulsion in religion." For the Arab conquests the old story of a vigorous new society rising up at the same time the old, established and rich empires were becoming weak  (the Persians, etc.) seems to be a far more plausible narrative than a desire to convert by the sword (as distinct from raiding, robbing, killing,
 looting, and conquering those you can which seem to be universally popular activities).  

The whole question of what you do with "pagans" and "the idolatrous" under Muslim rule is different from the question of what you do with people of the book (Christians and Jews) who have a special status. I believe the answer has varied widely in time and place, but typically has been more in line with giving them third class status below Muslims and the second class Christians and Jews than forcible conversion. 

For the non-Muslim Arab case of Mecca remember that the early Muslims had been kicked out of Mecca by the "pagans" and were at war with the Meccan establishment.  I believe that the conquest of Mecca was less a matter of conversion by the sword and more of a matter of physically destroying the hostile "pagan" religious establishment and the "pagan" gods (although the main "pagan" religious tourist attraction, an apparent meteorite, was incorporated into the Islamic pilgrimage).  

The next great Islamic empire was that of the Ottoman Turks (who also conquered the Arabs)  where the practice was very similar.  Many Jews fled Christian persecution by felling to Muslim lands where they would not be subject to  forcible conversion as they were threatened with forcible conversion to Christianity or death (although like the Christians they would normally be second class subjects).  Many Spanish Jews ended up in Bosnia where there is a great historical  mystery  concerning conversion to Islam. Only in Bosnia do we see  conquered Christians converting in large numbers  under Turkish Muslim rule. The  conversion of Bosnia is the historical mystery of the region. Why did Bosnians convert in such numbers under Ottoman rule and not other peoples who were under the same conditions, say Serbs?  One theory is that the Bogomils (Bosnian Christians who many believe were Gnostic or pro-Cathar, but there is
 little compelling evidence and they may have had no clear theology) switched en masse because they were rejected by Rome as heretics (the  fate of the Cathars made pretty clear what happened to such heretical groups without protection of a larger church or state), and some Muslim religious practice seemed similar in form to some of their own. In short, if you have to choose religions better the side that won't kill you and looks a little like you. The Bogomils became Muslims in such number that they more or less completely disappeared as a separate religion. The fact that the conversion was so rare, I believe unique, underlines the well established fact that the Islamic Ottoman state was not interested in forcible conversions. Over time it is possible that many people would convert, less out of belief and more to avoid the real disadvantages of being a non-Muslim in Muslim society, but to say this
 was conversion by force or such conversion was the  motive for the conquests seems unsupportable. 



 From: Gregory Bungo <gbungo at earthlink.net>
To: Buddhist discussion forum <buddha-l at mailman.swcp.com> 
Sent: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 12:34 PM
Subject: Re: [Buddha-l] Was Buddhists Taking a Stand Against Isllamophobia
Hi Gerald,

>Gerald McLoughlin <caodemarte at yahoo.com> wrote:
>Please note that Arab conquests were not wars of religion as such. The conquered were not even allowed to convert to what was then seen as the religion of the Arabs for a very long period of time. Finally the view that Islam was open to all carried the day, but forced conversions, if existent, would have been rare to the vanishing point. Of course,  Islamic states were historically far more tolerant of Christians and Jews than the Christian states, "pagans" being a different complex story.

What's your source for saying that the conquered weren't allowed to convert for a very
long period of time?  My understanding is that while Muhammad was still alive there
was a religious conquest of Mecca by Muhammad's followers from Medina.  Yarmuk followed
pretty soon after that.

I'm also skeptical about the rarity of forced conversions.  What's your source?


Greg Bungo  

buddha-l mailing list
buddha-l at mailman.swcp.com

More information about the buddha-l mailing list