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The Byzantine Empire before the advent of the Prophet

Tuesday 28/04/2009

The Byzantine Empire, also known as the Roman Empire, included Rome in Asia Minor (currently Turkey) and extended to countries that lined the eastern and southern basin of the Mediterranean. In this way, the Empire comprised several races from the Berbers and Copts to Arabs and Romans; however, there was no unifier in terms of language, culture or customs.

Even though Christianity was widespread among its constituents, it failed to bring them harmony, due to doctrinal disputes that weakened the loyalty of the subjects in Ash-Shaam (the Levant) and Egypt, where there was absolute monarchy. Regardless, Christianity does not regulate societies and the state, but rather the relations between the human being and his Creator, in implementation of a statement attributed to Jesus: "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God's." [Matthew 22:21]
 
Political and economic state
 
It was the common belief of the Christian churches at the time that God selected the emperor for that position, whereby he deserves his subjects' veneration in political and religious matters. Hence, as cooperation between church and state, ritual ceremonies were held in the royal palaces and people would bow before the emperor when he would make his entrance. So, despite Christianity, it is safe to say that Roman law and the pagan culture of the Greeks dominated life in the empire.
 
Heraclius was the Byzantine emperor (610-641) at the advent of Islam. He is considered one of the most iconoclastic patriarchs in the history of the Roman Empire, which he strove to revive by restructuring the state, rebuilding its army and increasing its reserves by regulating taxes and the ways they were collected. He managed to gain victory over the militarily superior Sassanid Empire, to which the Quran referred to; Muslims were pleased with the Christian Roman victory over the Zoroastrian Persia, after a campaign that lasted from 621 to 628 A.D. (12 years after the advent of the Prophet,  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ), and in the fourth year after the emigration of Muslims to Madeenah).
 
As for the economic system of the Byzantine Empire, usury and monopoly formed the basis of its foundation. Further, Heraclius imposed higher taxes on the subjects in provinces that were dissatisfied with Roman rule; it was vital to do so, to settle the enormous deficits arising from the expenses of the wars against Persia. Yet, this pushed the Byzantine Empire into a drastic decline, further compounded by a decline in trade, neglect of agriculture and a decrease in the construction of buildings. To understand the system of governance of provinces in the Empire, we can read Butler’s statement about the administration in Egypt: "The Romans used to collect tributes per capita from the Egyptians alongside many other taxes." He added that this was done in an unfair manner; it seemed that the only purpose of the government in Egypt was to extort money from the subjects for the ruler. Even the Romans themselves could not evade the high taxes that were levied, especially the farmers who had no choice but to sell their land and immigrate to the cities.  
 
Religion and Culture
 
In the Byzantine Empire, culture and Orthodoxy were infused; hence, Christian teachings were no longer applied in the manner preached by 'Eesa (Jesus), may Allah exalt his mention. In fact, the teachings of the Church were muddled with varying opinions of pagan philosophers, so much so that their intellectual methods were employed to explain the Christian creed.
 
Therefore, Christianity lost its spirit and monotheism as a result of the idolatrous tenets introduced by its greatest advocate, Paul, who held similar beliefs before he had converted to Christianity. Similarly, when Constantine, a Byzantine emperor, embraced Christianity, he too blended Greek myths, Roman idolatry, Egyptian Platonism and monasticism with the faith. This caused Christianity to be further altered, having lost its original teachings, and more inclined to allow the worship of priests and statues.
 
Doctrinal disputes also threatened the empire and its belief in Christianity from within; they basically revolved around interpreting the nature of 'Eesa (Jesus), may Allah exalt his mention. Heraclius promulgated that the Empire adopt the doctrine of Monothelitism, which reconciles the orthodox view that Jesus has both a divine and a human nature, with the Monophysite doctrine prevalent in As-Shaam and Egypt, that held Jesus to have only one nature,  divine.
 
In his attempt to enforce unity with the compromise in this doctrine, Heraclius held a religious council that ended in the banning of any further discussion on the two natures of Jesus and agreeing that he has only one will. However, disagreements persisted, leading to wide schisms between the state and its subordinates. Moreover, the Egyptians refused this doctrine and were subjected to persecution by torture and burning, which obviously hindered the success of his attempt at religious unity. Consequently, the loyalty of the Monophysites to the Byzantine Empire was greatly weakened.
 
It was not just religious deviation, but intellectual degradation that resulted in the people of the Empire rendering 'Eesa, may Allah exalt his mention, the slave and Messenger of Allah The Almighty, as God. That also led all classes of the Byzantine society to believe in astrology, divination, omens and communication with devils.
 
Social and moral state
 
The Byzantine Empire inherited the pagan traditions of the Greek and Roman societies. It is no wonder then, that there was moral corruption and social disintegration widespread in their palaces and among the common people.
 
The Emperor, leaders of the army and ministers of the church formed the top of the social class hierarchy. Meanwhile, thousands of slaves inhabited sprawling farms where they suffered from malnutrition and a substandard quality of life. Even free men, such as poor craftsmen, from the lower classes lived in similar conditions, aware of the gross inequality, which prompted revolutions that mostly failed. Then there were the employers who exploited these poor, creating a middle class comprising multitudes of people.
 
Thus, the Byzantine society was built on a caste system, feudalism and a gross lack of social justice; violence, fanaticism and ignorance molded the lives of its individuals. This was no less than a direct result of the weakness of true belief in Allah The Almighty and His Messengers, along with being deceived by and indulged in the worldly life to the extent that it overwhelmed their religious life.
 
Despite such signs of weakness and corruption in the Byzantine Empire at the advent of Islam, it would be inaccurate to overstate them, because they did manage to amass mighty armies to fight the Muslims' advance later on, outnumbering them in terms of soldiers and weaponry.
 
However, the Muslims’ true belief and ardent spirit for Jihaad (struggle against offensive disbelievers), along with the support of Allah The Almighty enabled them to prevail in a long military campaign that they waged against this and many a well-organized power, veteran army, impenetrable fort and well-trained nation.

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