The early history of Islam following inscriptional and numismatic testimony

Volker Popp

Excerpts selected by John Perkins

The fiction of a unified history of early Islam

The central event was the surprising victory of the Byzantines 622.The supposed Hijra in 622 is not historical. What began was the new era of self government of the Arabs

On the prehistory of Islam

The religious war between the Byzantines and the Sassanians

The Arabians connected with the Nestorians of Iran were the kings of al Hira from the clan of Lakhmids. The Ghassanids, (emigrants from Arabia), were the rulers of Syria and were supporters of the Monophysite confession. The Ghassanids were part of the aristocracy of Byzantium.

At the end of the 6th century, two Arabian dynasties were pitted against one another both serving as representatives of foreign empires taking the role of regional rulers and defending different Christian confessions.

The Sassanians in the footsteps of their Iranian predecessors in Syria and Egypt.

Iranians had occupied Egypt many times over the centuries. They made use of conflict among Christians in the Byzantine Orient in order to proceed to Syria and Palestine in 614. The Byzantine Emperor Mauritius dissolved the Ghassanids buffer state in 584 and the Ghassanid federation broke up into fifteen tribes. The Byzantines had partially given over Syria in the 6th century so that the Arabs had erected building inscriptions in their own language. Arabic appeared as a first language of authority. Aramaic remained the language of literature and the church liturgy. Scribes then began to use Arabic rather than Greek.

After the attempt of Justinian (527-565) to resurrect the Roman Empire in its former splendour and glory, an attempt faltered by an over-extension of the empires means, the results of intervening catastrophes forced Heraclius into a reform of the empire in a geographically restricted manner1. Syria was excluded from the empire along with the Byzantine east.

After the 614 Sassanian conquest, Nestorians and Monophysites replaced the Byzantine bishops. The Jews were given Jerusalem. Many of the churches were destroyed and the reliquary of the true cross was shipped to Persia. However the Sassanians still minted coins in Egypt in a Christian form.

The Byzantines regarded themselves of as protectors of Holy sites and resolved to rout the Sassanians and recapture Jerusalem. In 622 the emperor set out as head of the army (a highly unusual practice for emperors at that time). Instead of infantry he employed cavalry, especially emphasising horses ridden by lightly armoured archers. He led the Sassanians into Armenia and defeated them decisively 622. This reversed a 50 year pattern of Byzantine defeat. The Lakhmids now saw the Byzantines as their saviours. Regarded as a momentous event, a reference to the battle appears in the Quran, where Heraclius, as "the two horned one", is compared to Alexander the Great.

Heraclius avenged Sassanianc attack on Jerusalem, then further defeated the Iranians in Nineveh. At the end of hostilities a settlement between the Sassanians and Byzantines was agreed. The event saw the return of lands that once belonged to the Byzantine Empire: Armenia, Roman Mesopotamia, Syria, Palestine and Egypt. Heraclius visited Jerusalem only once, in 630, and restored the Holy Cross. But he did not plan a permanent occupation of Syria

The Arabs of Iran who remained in the areas held by the Sassanians defended a community of Christians that would not accept the theological possibilities for resolution which Heraclius had suggested. The text of the proposed compromise formula of 638 (the Ekthesis), was inscribed in the narthex of the Hagia Sophia.

The patriarch of Jerusalem had already caused the Byzantines to withdraw. In Mesopotamia, Monophysites and Nestorian Christians formed a united front against Byzantines. The Byzantines desperately wanted to retain Egypt but with were forced to withdraw from there in 642. The locals preferred the Arab Christian yoke to that of Byzantium.

In future the defender of orthodoxy, the church of the emperor, would stand against the defenders of Christian confessional fellowship in the East. Christological questions were the main controversy.

The period of the first Umayyad rulers

The Arabian empire at the time of Muawiya (641-682?)

After the death of Heraclius in 641 the Arabs began to rule in Syria - that is year 20 of the Arabian era. Dated coins bearing the name of Muawiya are known only from Darabjird in Persia. The coins are written in Aramaic and are dated to 41. The name Muawiya ("the weeper") could be a nom de guerre.

The title Amir-i wlwyshnykn

The legend on the coins of Muawia, Amir-i wlwyshnykn in Aramaic has been translated as "commander of the faithful". This is al-muminin in Arabic. A better understanding is "leader of the protectors". His Aramaic name is MAAWIA, His Arabic name is not given on coins.

In the area of former Sassanian rule, Muawiya continued to use the official language of his deposed Persian predecessors. In Arabia though, he was Arabian. There is an inscription on a dam in south east Arabia near Ta'if, dated to the year 58. Here, the title Amir al-muminin is joined to the name Muawiya. In Palestine we see a Greek translation of the same title in the inscription at Hader Garder.

The title of Abd Allah in the protocols of the Arabian rulers.

The inscription in Ta'if reads: li'Abd Allah Muawiya Amir al-muminin. Muawiya’s successors Abd al-Malik, al-Walid, Sulayman, Hisham and Marwan all used the same protocol. The term Abd Allah is translated as "Servant of God".

The Ibad, the "tribe" of the Arabian servants of god

Other Arabian Christians also called their god Allah. The rulers saw themselves in the tradition of prophets. Whoever called himself Abd Allah paid the prophets respect.

The title of Abd Allah as a sign of abandoning a claim of descent from the gods for the ruler

The Persian rulers claimed descendancy from the gods. With Abd Allah, the Arabs were firmly declaring themselves to be servants of god not descendants. The term Caliph/Khalifa, used in the historicising Abassid literature2, does not appear in the written witnesses to the early period.

The era of the Arabians in a Greek inscription

The inscription on the baths at Gadara begins with a cross, and is in Greek. It begins saying "In the days of Muawiya" and refers to "in the year 42 following the Arabs". The fact that the inscription was made in Greek is a sign of imperial imitation of the Byzantines.

Problems of dating

The "era of the Arabs" is one method of dating complimenting the traditional date forms without replacing them. A coin in the name of Abd al-Malik from Darabjird in Iran gives its date as the year 60. We know that this is in the year of the Arabs so the traditional dating of Abd al-Malik is incorrect.

At the time of Muawiya’s rulership, the exciting life history of the pugilistic prophet of the Arabians was not yet known. Writing his Aramaic name, it was clear that as leader Muawiya did not have to be an Arab3.

Greek was not a foreign language because the philosophers of the Athenian Academy had emigrated to the Sassanian empire after the school was shut in 529 by the order of Byzantine Emperor Justinian 1.

The Islamic historicising literature only allows Abd al-Malik to enter the scene in year 65 to allow the theological a period of five years after the sons of Muawiya were condemned to be destroyed. No coins or inscriptions are known that name any sons of Muawiya of the Protectors. The historicising literature selectively chooses between the dates of the Persian tradition, in an attempt to correctly sequence its events.

The discovery of Muawiya’s inscription on the baths at Gadara, dated to the year 42 of the Arabian era, makes it possible to pass by the commonly accepted chronology and to understand the data on the coins as a dating following the error of the Arabians. Followers of traditional conceptions want to note the sign of the cross at the beginning of Muawiya’s inscription serves as a sign of "Islamic tolerance".

It is difficult for them to explain the naming of the era as the era of the Arabians. Perhaps, as a Muslim he was one of the founders of taqiyya, because he knew how to conceal his support for the prophet of the Arabians4.

Why did Muawiya choose Damascus as his residence

Muawiya was only able to ensure his authority in the West by returning to an Arabian tradition of connecting authority with the protection of a holy place. As a Christian, he chose the tomb of John the Baptist and his Basilica in Damascus

John the Baptist stood for "prophethood", an institution that would become a central idea of the Arabian church in the Arabian Empire.

There are many coins that until now have been ascribed to the caliph Umar and his general Khalid Ibn Walid both known from the Islamic historical literature. These coins are most likely connected with the cult of the Baptist in Damascus.

The idea of Zion at the time of Muawiya

There is a coin from Jerusalem at the time of Muawiya. It shows an image of the ruler holding a cross. On the reverse in Greek is the legend "belonging to Jerusalem".

Abd al-Malik’sl reign actually began in the year 60, in which case it took 12 years to build the Dome of the Rock. Copper coins found in Palestine and bearing the legend Zion are a sign of the self-conception of the Arabian Christians and time of Muawiya. They saw themselves as heirs of the tradition of Israel and considered themselves to be the "true Israel".

Muawiya 's military victories

The dissolution of the Sassanian dynasty sealed the fate of Zoroastrianism. The living religion from now on in Iran was Nestorian Christianity.

When the Lakhmid rulers of al-Hira accepted Christianity, the Arabian Christians from that era saw the completion of the Arabian Christian state. The Arab defenders of Christianity took power in the continuation of the war against Byzantium.

The dominance of the military during Muawiya’s reign is likely one main reason that he implemented no drastic changes in governmental structures. He was not an Arabian Arabiser of freshly conquered regions, but rather and Arabian Iranian in areas already conquered by the Sassanians.

The imperial army of Iran was first defeated in 622 in Armenia and in 627 was pushed to the brink of annihilation at Nineveh. However the troops of the Arabian vassals of Iran, serving as occupying forces in Syria and Egypt survived this catastrophe unscathed. The Persians abandoned their posts of authority in Syria in 628 following a truce forced by them by the Byzantines.

Muawiya showed himself to be a benefactor to the peoples of the occupied lands by rebuilding many public buildings and institutions5.

The situation at the time of Muawiya was not a conflict between Arabian Islamic conquerors and a Byzantine Christian emperor as the later historicising literature of the Abbasids would have it's readers believe. Rather the conflict involved Christians of the former Byzantine East and the Christians of the emperor in Constantinople. The conflict played out as a war of religion between the eastern devotees of a Semitic understanding of Christianity and the Defenders of the Hellenistic and Roman version. Questions of Christology were still the central problem. The inscription on the Dome of the Rock addresses Christians as a whole "Oh you people of the Book!"

Muawiya continues the political policies of Iran in Syria and attempt to re-establish Iranian authority in the region

Muawiya remained in Syria at this time and he busied his followers with raids into the Byzantine and Armenian border lands. He took spoils from Cappadocia.

Muawiya was able to combine Iran's military power on land with the Egyptian and Syrian fleets. But the time to attack Byzantium had not yet come. Muawiya concluded a treaty with Byzantium in 659.

The Arabian emirs fought over Darabjird as the former royal residence of the Sassanians. In 41, Muawiya appeared and was acclaimed the first Amir-I wurroyisningan.

Muawiya is a successful organiser of the war against Byzantium, but "Greek fire" impedes an ultimate victory.

In 674 the Arabs attacked Constantinople but their attempts to storm the most effective fortress in the world failed. The Byzantines attacked the Arab ships with projectiles made from chalk and burning sulphur. Muawiya conceded a peace treaty with Byzantium and later sent the Emperor a yearly gift of 3000 gold pieces in addition to horses and slaves.

Muawiya loses his support in the eastern portion of the region of Arabian authority

Muawiya’s opponents used in his failure as an opportunity to carry out a coup in the east. Abd Allah of the family Al Zubayr was elected emir. His coins minted in Darabjird begin in the year 53 (673).

Abd al-Malik’s Jesus is muhammadan

The appearance of muhammadanism: Abd al-Malik's mission that Jesus be understood as (muhammadan) servant of God (Abd Allah).

A new Christian movement intended to unite all the Christians of the Arabian Empire was announced by a demand that an understanding of Jesus as the muhammad be adopted. This demand was preceded by another, namely that Jesus be conceived as Abd Allah.

The point of this demand was to give Christian theology in the Orient a leitmotif that could be employed over Byzantium as a unifying program for Christians in the former Byzantine east and the former Eastern Sassanian Empire.

The idea of Jesus as Abd Allah is reminiscent of the position of Arias who came from Antioch. It can also be found later in the inscription on the Dome of the Rock which states, along with the date of 72 following the Arabian era, muhmmadan Abdu Ilahi wa- rasuluhu (referring to Jesus).

Abd al-Malik provokes his opponents Muawiya and Ibn al-Zubayr with his demand concerning muhammad. Muawiya lost power around the year 60 (679-680), being discredited after his loss at Constantinople.

The muhammad motto in the eastern portion of the area of Arabian Rule

Coins that bear the inscription muhammad come from Shirajan dated 38, and Rayy (near Tehran) dated 52 (672). The word muhammad does not refer to the prophet of the Arabs. If what appears on a coin is intended as a name of an emir, generally speaking, the name of the father also appears. This is true of Muhammad b Abd Allah who minted coins in Herat in the year 67 of the Arabian era. This is the first time that the personal name Muhammad appears in historical records.

Coins with the muhammad motto in the eastern portion of the area of Arabian rule

Coins have been found bearing the motto muhammad in Arabic alongside MHMT in Pahlavi script. They appear to be from Azerbaijan.

Scholars until now have rarely understood the inscriptions with the motto Abd Allah and the motto muhammadan as pointers to Jesus and his status as Abd Allah ("the servant of God") in the sense of east Syrian theology; just as rarely have they understood the categorisation of Jesus as muhammadan ("chosen or praised").

The minting of coins with the muhammad formula in Syria and Palestine

A coin minted in Amman has been found which bears a cross and the motto muhammad.

The muhammad motto and the standing Caliph in Iran: depiction of the cross is replaced by the "stone" Beth-el

Along with the followers of Abd al-Malik the muhammad motto migrated from East to West.

The arrival of Abd al-Malik signals an entirely new perspective. Syrian religious conceptions returned to the place of their birth after a nearly 200 year exile following the flight of their defenders into the Sassanian East.

Abd al-Malik wanted to strengthen the empire from within by erecting an Arabian Church of the Arabian Empire. His goal was to unify under the banner of the muhammad the adherents of the old Syrian theology who had been driven into the East.

The muhammadanism of Abd al-Malik cannot simply be equated with Nestorianism. His muhammadanism derives much more from the Arabian understanding of Syrian theology that arose as the tribal religion of the Mesopotamian and Iranian Arabs. Abd al-Malik saw himself as a competitor with the Byzantines in the debate over the nature of Christ. He inscribed his own Ekthesis in the Temple shrine he had built, the "Repository of the Rock" in 72.

The Emperor Justinian II called himself "servant of Christ" on his coin inscriptions. Abd al-Malik answered his practice calling himself Kalifat Allah or speaker for God.

The mistaken belief that the Arabs leaders had all called themselves caliph arises from the times of the Abbasid caliph al Mamun.

Signifying Abd al-Malik’s competitive stance with Constantinople, coins from Harran bear the image of Beth El (house of god) in the form of Yegar Sahaduta as a witness stone6. This type of coin was well known in Europe. This coin appeared before coins bearing the name Abd al-Malik

Both the motto Abd Allah in the year 41 and muhammad in the year 60 first appear on coins in the regions of former Sassanian rule. This type of coins formulation spread west to Syria and then Africa.

The fixation of Abd al-Malik’s movement on the muhammad idea as part of its self-understanding as a "true Israel", explains this return to the Semitic tradition. The replacement of the sign of the cross with the image of Beth El was the part of the ideological controversy with Byzantium.

Coins bearing on the obverse, the motto muhammad, and a figure bearing the sword of judgement on the reverse, depict an Arabian ruler. The assumption that this refers to the prophet of the Arabs is a misunderstanding based on the later Abassid historical reconstruction.

mahammadan Rusulu 'llah – praised/chosen is the Apostle of God

This expanded conception of Jesus is found first on the Arabo Sassanian coins in Iran. The earliest is dated to the year 66 of the Arabian era. The formula has been expanded to include the word apostle (rasul).

Ali as the vizier of the praised chosen one

The concept of Ali as a vizier or representative of God is another specifically Christian Arabian development. Wali allah is an expression known to the Shia.

The praised chosen one as bearer of the logos

The contemporary epigraphic materials allow one to reconstruct the contents of Abd al-Malik’s dawa (mission). The understanding of Jesus as muhammad who as Rasul is the apostle of the Sassanian Arabs.

From the epoch of Abd al-Malik until the end of the reign of his sons in the year 125 of the Arabian era (742-43)

The Arabian empire and the succession of the imperium (consecutio imperii)

The controversy between Abd al-Malik and the emperor in Constantinople reached a high point when the Arabian empire began to mint gold coins. Silver coins were minted in the formerly Sassanian regions of the East and copper coins were minted in Syria. The situation was supplemented by independent minting of gold coins, following the tradition of the west, especially Egypt.

This pragmatic approach was necessary to ensure smooth activity at a governmental level in a region that was unified for the first time in a millennium, since Alexander the Great.

This dynamic movement, which according to the traditional Islamic scholarship, had its origin in the preaching of the prophet, shows the arrangement did not spread to Syria from Arabia but in fact from Iran. Or rather, Muhammadanism did not move from south to north, but rather from east to west.

After the year 138 of the Arabs (756) these salvation-historical ideas replaced the knowledge of the actual historical process. First, the Arabian aristocrats in the Sassanian empire received their power as military chieftains in occupied Syria and Egypt after the defeat of the Sassanian dynasty which resulted from the defeat of 622. Second they remained with their contingents of Arabians in those places rather than returning to their Mesopotamian homelands. Finally, in concert with the non-Byzantine hierarchy of the formerly Byzantine East, they affected the withdrawal of Byzantine troops who had stayed behind.

Imperial acts: statuary, the building of roads, a central shrine of the national church, and the idea of Zion.

A life size statue of an Arabian ruler in the vicinity of Jericho could be that of Abd al-Malik. In connection with the building of the Dome of the Rock, the road from Damascus to Jerusalem was improved.

The Dome of the Rock is a building of imperial size, competing with the dimensions of the church of the Holy Sepulchre. It embodies the Syrian conception of the church as a structure that follows the plan of the Temple of Solomon.

This is still the case with Ethiopian churches, which are divided into three concentric areas. The innermost part, only the priest and the king are allowed to enter. The middle area is reserved for sacraments and sacred rights, while the choir fills the outer area. The faithful stand in the square in front of the church and follow what is happening through open doors.

The Dome of the Rock follows this mode of division. The building took as its basis the plan of the Persian fire temple. The plan is also found in Armenian churches.

The reference point of the twelve inner columns of the Dome of the Rock becomes clear from the meaning of the building as the New Zion: they are the 12 disciples of Jesus.

Toward an understanding of the inscription in the octagon of the Dome of the Rock as Abd al-Malik’s Ekthesis

Abd al-Malik had his Christological theses inscribed on the inner octagon of this building. Here for the first time in a historically verifiable form, one can see a text exhorting the duty of Islam.

The idea of one God demanded the one community as its counterpart in a contractual relationship, and this one community had to find a unified understanding of scripture. Consequently religious duty (din) is a result of a contract with God and is affected through submission (al Islam).

This served to further distinguish Abd Al-Malik’s approach from that of the church of the Byzantine emperor.

Depiction of temple vessels from the Solomonic temple on the coins of Abd al-Malik: the seven branched lampstand with an Islamic inscription

There was a special issue of copper coins concerning Abd al-Malik 's haram, the Dome of the Rock, which replaced Muawia’s haram, the shrine of John the Baptist in Damascus, as the holy place of the Arabian Empire. The new coins depicting vessels of the temple pointed to the Zion complex. The coins depict a seven branch lampstand with an Arabic inscription.

It was likely that Arabic was the primary language of the ruling Arabian elite at the time. But people may have spoken Nabataean in the village, Greek at school, Aramaic in church, and Arabic in the military and as the lingua franca. Functional multilingualism had a long history. Abd al-Malik defended his Zion idea just as much as his predecessor Muawiya.

At the time of Abd al-Malik, the imitation Jewish prototype lampstand with seven lights had begun to decline in favour of a five branched lampstand.

Abd al-Malik as the new David

Abd al-Malik presented himself as a new David, naming in his own son Sulayman. This was a continuation of the rivalry with Constantinople. Since 629 Heraclius no longer called himself Emperor but "the king who is faithful in Christ". To similarly equip himself for rule, Abd al-Malik styled himself as "Speaker for God", Kalifat Allah.

The spread of mahammadanism in the west as far as Spain

Many mints were allowed to operate but there were none in Egypt, under Abd al-Malik. No dirhams are known to have been minted during the time of Abd al-Malik and is his successors in either Egypt or in areas of Arabian authority lying further to the West.


One of Abd al-Malik brothers, Abd al-Aziz, was emir in Egypt. An inscription on a bridge over the canal of Fustat bears witness to his building activity. The inscription lacks a reference to muhammadism. The concept was one developed in Syrian theology. The emir abd al-Aziz remained neutral and avoided controversy.

Tripolitania at the time of Abd al-Malik

Tripolitnian copper coins only convey to us the name of the local ruler which was Musa bn Nusayr. We find here the national religious symbol of Abd al-Malik, the Yegar Sahaduta, the "Stone". The inscriptions were in Latin. Arabic was not prevalent there at that time.

In other parts of the empire, local languages also prevailed. In the eastern portion of Iran this was Pahlavi written in the Aramaic script. In Syria the language of rule had been Arabic since the sixth century, for the Ghassanids, having emigrated from Arabia, did not enjoy the background of a Hellenistic education. In the west however, Latin remained language of authority.

The coins did not bear the muhammad motto. North Africa was primarily an area of retreat for those Arabian powers who had previously been connected with Muawiya. The symbol of the stone was acknowledgement of Abd al-Malik’s authority. Coins were dated in Arab years.

The former Roman province of Africa with its capital city of Carthage at the time of Abd al-Malik

Coins here also carried symbol of the stone, but they had Byzantine not Arab dates, and they lacked the muhammadan motto. What caused the missionaries of the conception of Jesus and muhammad to fail in North Africa?

The coins did carry the inscription in Latin "There is no God but one; there is no other associate like him". This points to the presence of Monophysites, Monarchians, Nesorians and Arians among the inhabitants of Africa. The leadership in the west consisted only of an alliance of Christians opposed to the emperor7.

We can see the behaviour of Abd al-Malik as a double role or perhaps different policies for different places. He defended the mission of the Muhammad in his own homeland and the formally Sassanian East and in the region that was the source of Syrian theology, in order to emphasise his Arabian understanding of Christianity. Outside this region, he led the alliance of the emperor's Christian opponents without influencing their theological ideas.

Coins in Maghrib

As well as some non-Christian Berber coins there is a contemporary coin from Tangier. This has an inscription "Lord God who is like you?". On the reverse it has an inscription in Arabic saying in the name of God this coin was minted in Tangier.

The reign of Abd al-Malik’s sons

General characterisation

From this time on the Marwanids8 enjoyed a status in Syria of at least the spiritual relatives of the "chosen one". They derived their authority as protectors of the House of David in Jerusalem. The question is moot whether they acted as kings or caliphs. The name "caliph" does not appear on either gold or silver coins of the Arabian Empire after the years 77-78.

Abd Al-Malik’s successors adopted the role of Arabian Sayyids, whose primary task is to organise pilgrimages to the tombs of the saints and be present at these locations as guardians of the shrines. This portrait accounts for Abd al-Malik’s peaceableness. He never went to war against his Christian brothers in Byzantium. It also accounts for the fact that we never hear of military action described as jihad in this period.

The Marwanid al-Walid rebuilt the church of John the Baptist in Damascus. This included an expanded "place of prayer", masjid, but one could not equate this with a mosque building program. It should rather be seen as a further development and improvement of the Christian sanctuaries.

The coins of the Abd al-Malik’s sons in the West

Solidus coins (their weight does not correspond to that of the dinars from Damascus) from the province of Africa were dated following the Byzantine tax years up to the year 94 of the Arabian era. From 84 (703) until 94 (712-13) the solidi are purely inscriptional and bear Latin legends.

It was only during the reign of Sulayman that the leaders attempted to a Arabise the coin inscriptions in the province of Africa. In 95 the Arab year appear for the first time,

In the east of the empire, anonymous gold and silver coins were minted from the year 78 mentioning muhammad as rasul. In the west however it was only in the year 97 of the Arabian era that in gold coins were minted with bilingual legends in Arabic and Latin.

In the year 66 of the Arabian era (685-6), muhammad had already appeared in on coins in Iran. Thirty one years later the conception of Jesus as the muhammad found its place in the coin legends of the Western portion of the Empire. In the year 97, the spread of the idea of Jesus as the muhammad had reached the Western portion of the Arabian Empire.

Spanish coins from the first century of the Arabian era

There is only one Spanish coin known from this period: a solidus is from the year 93 of the Arabian area (711-12). The text on the obverse in Latin says "In the name of the Lord, there is no God but God alone; there is no other [like him]". On the reverse, the coin declares it was made in Spain in 93, and the world similis, "like him’, carries over from the obverse.

The name al-Andalus appears first in coin legends in the year 98 of the Arabian year (716-17). The coin bears the legend muhammadin rasul Allah.

The Arabian conquest of Spain was not, as often depicted, but was rather a common effort between Christian Berber North Africans and the non-Catholic population of Spain against the Catholic Visigoth ruling house.

Further development of the muhammad concept in the second century of the Arabian era

The development of the Ali idea; Moses is the proclaimer; Musa and harun; Jesus is muhammad; Isa and Muhammad; Muhammad is the Proclaimer; Muhammad and Ali

Moses is mentioned 136 times in the Quran, Jesus (Isa) 24 times, Mary (Maryan) 34 times, while the term muhammad is used four times.

In 1999, amongst a hoard of Viking treasure, an Arab silver coin was found, dated to 766 bearing the inscription Musa rasul Allah, "Moses is the messenger of God".

With the erosion of theocratic authority of the Marwanids, another development followed muhammadanism. Corresponding to early Arab inscriptions, Moses is seen as the prophet and Aaron is visier.

In this conception the chosen one (muhammad) is a noble (Ali) and is given an exalted associate as his representative. In line with Sassanian conceptions, the vizier became a martyr.

The Marwanid Sayyids in the west were not able to successfully maintain their theocratic primacy after the death of Abd Al-Malik’s sons. Pilgrimages to Jerusalem and Rusafa were stopped and the city of the Baptist, Damascus, lost is exalted status as the capital.

Following Arab tradition, leadership is passed to the nearest relative of the "chosen one". Jesus had no sons and no (named) father. Muhammad, as the concept developed, needed an earthly father, or an adopted son. In place of "muhammad" Isa bn Maraym, who was an Abd Allah, Muhammud bin Abd Allah entered the scene. The exalted one became his son in law, to satisfy the Arabian understanding of succession in terms of family relationships9.

It is astounding that all these religious upheavals had an Iranian background. The muhammad mission of Abd Al-Malik began in eastern Iran, and members of the family following Ali had their centre in Fars and Jilbal. Further, the powerful figures of the Al Muhammad could be found further in the east.

The defender of the Al Muhammad (the family of Muhammad) called himself Abu Muslim Amir Al Muhammad. ("the arch-Muslim, the emir of the family group of Muhammad") on coins from al- Rayy dated to the year 131. Another coin dated to 132 but without giving a location, calls him Abu Muslim. Again we may be dealing with a nom de guere.

The building inscription from the year 135 found on the Shrine in Medina, that would later be called the grave of the prophet does not point clearly to revolutionary changes in the early period of the Abassid caliphate. There is for the first time a verifiable mention of the "sunnah of the prophet". At the time this was written it referred to the prophet Moses and the law of Moses. At this point the twofold description of Jesus has "Chosen one" and "Servant of God" has not yet become Muhammad the son of Abd Allah.

There was a dispute between the expectations of the Muhammad family and the successors to the Marwanids, between 128 and 135. Victory fell to a third party who took over the old Marwanid expressions onto their coin inscriptions but discarding Christological matters.

At this time the former Byzantine east became an area of aggressive occupation, but in the east of the empire, there were heavy losses. In the year 118 of the Arabian era, Badakhshan in the Pamir Mountains was conquered, after conflict with the Tibetans.

The rule of viziers

The Barmakids emerged onto the stage of history as court officials at approximately the same time as the Abbasids. According to the traditional narrative of the historicising literature of the Abassids, the first Bamdakid named Khaled, was the right hand man and vizier of the first ever Abasssid, (known only from legend) and his successor al-Mansur. Harun Al- Rashid appointed Yahya (John), the son of Khaled, as vizier, following his accession to the throne.

Jihad as reappropriation of Sassanian political policy toward Byzantium

Hostilities towards the Byzantines resumed under Harun Al Rashid as the leader of jihad against the infidels. To attack Byzantium, suffering from inner weakness, stood in the tradition of the opportunistic conquests the time of the Muawayi in North Africa and Spain.


Al-Mamun’s alliance with the Alids

To resolve internal conflict, al-Mamun decided upon Ali bin Musa al-Kazim as his successor in 201 (817). A description of this issue on coins that name Ali as the successor, al-Mamun calls himself Kalifat Allah. Thus he revived Abd al-Malik’s protocol but under different circumstances. Al-Mamun also declared himself Imam.

Al-Mamun in Baghdad

At the time of al-Mamun’s return in the year 204, Baghdad was an intellectual centre with a diverse population. The Jewish community that lived there studied the Talmud, but they also worked on the development of the Mishnah (in Arabic sunna). Manichaeans made known the book of their founder Mani. The Zoroastrians were followed by the example of the Christians, who dispersed their own scriptures, namely a harmony the New Testament in one book. The author of the Diatessaron was Tatian who had earlier had great success with that in the second century. From the 5th century on, the complete translation of all four gospels regarded by the Arabians as a falsification of the original one volume book.

At the time of al-Mamun, prophetic literature had been committed to writing to such a degree that:

1. Jews were able to refer to their "book" in a written form
2. Zoroastrians could present their book in the form of the collected Avesta
3. Christians were able to offer their book in the form of Tatian's gospel harmony. The Aramaic translation of the four gospels. later became the foundations of the Islamic discussion of falsification of the text.
4. The Arabs were only able to testify to their religious traditions by means of Quranic materials. These materials were still not thought of as a single independent book. Rather they were still considered to be apocryphal texts (kitab Allah). The word Quran, originally Aramaic, is not found anywhere in the early Arabic inscriptions. Al-Mamun’s goal must have been the creation of an independent tradition of his own spiritual authority not recognisably derived from the Christian tradition.

The discovery of traditions had to proceed in such a fashion that all religious movements could be localised with Arabian origins, within the panorama of theological history so that no individuals could become known in future as relatives of the prophet and deserved make plans of their own.

Al-Mamun on the road to Egypt - like Alexander

Al-Mamun had stayed in the eastern portion of the Arabian Empire, Khorasan, for more than ten years before settling down in Baghdad. The conditions there from 127 (729) as in the traditional literature, reflect the end of the reign of Al Rashid. Al-Mamun entered Baghdad from the east with his Iranian, Arabian and Turkish legions in the year 204. Islam, as it was stood after him, was his own creation.

In his time in the east, in regions that reached as far as the borders of China, had given al-Mamun the experience of a new journey on the heels of Alexander the Great. The "Prophet of the Arabians" was developed in al-Mamun’s Academy.

On reaching Damascus he would have visited what is now known as "the Mosque of the Umayyads" and read the inscription as "and our prophet is Muhammad". He understood this to mean something quite different to what it meant when it was written.

In Jerusalem the inscription on the Dome of the Rock was read to him as though it concerned a succession of a personal name and the name of a father "Muhammad (bn) Abd Allah. This text had formerly been understood as referring to the "chosen/praised servant of God".

Following Oriental tradition, he obliterated the mention of Abd al-Malik’s name. In the midst of Abd al-Malik’s protocol, he put his own title and name. With this action he ensured the validity of the Ekthesis as he understood it. Al-Mamun was able to understand the date of the inscription,72, as an indicator of time in the Arabic festival character, beginning with the hijra of the prophet of the Arabians, from Mecca to Medina.10

Notes by John Perkins

1. The building of the Hagia Sophia, commissioned by Justinian, consumed a large portion of the resources of the empire. When completed, if was by far the largest building in the world and remained so for centuries.
2. Popp refers to the later works of the Abassids, such as the biography of the Prophet, which rewrites the history according to an Islamic scheme, as "historicising Abassid literature".
3. In the post-Abassid conception of history if would be inconceivable that a leader not be an Arab, let alone be Christian.
4. Popp allows himself some subtle humour here. Taqiyya is the concept that it is permissible to lie, provide the cause of Allah is advanced.
5. Popp’s version of history regarding the Arab conquests is far more plausible than the traditional Islamic version, where band of Arabs storm out from the desert and suddenly defeat the troops of two great empires.
6. Yegar Sahaduta ("witness pile" in Aramaic) is a biblical reference to a pile of stones that signifies a covenant between Jacob and Laban the Syrian.
7. This notion of a cooperative alliance with the conquered territories is much more plausible than the version based on the Islamic notion of Prophet inspired jihad. A difficulty with the latter is that there is no evidence of mass destruction in the archaeological record, as would be expected from a more violent conquest.
8. Popp used the term Marwanid rather than Umayyad for Abd Al-Malik and his successors. The term arises from Abd al-Malik’s reported father Marwan I, but Popp does not regard these predecessors as historical.
9. Popp is being quite reserved here about what he thinks happened. He alludes to the nature of characters that later appear in the biographical construction of the Prophet. In the east of the empire it appears that matters of succession became mixed with theological concepts. A cultic belief perhaps emerged regarding Ali, which seems associated with partial reversion to Zoroastrian concepts. These are imposed on the existing biblical characters.
10. Popps "revisionist" account answers many questions that mainstream historians, and especially traditional Islamic historians, cannot. Yet ditching the legend of the prophet is something they yet seem unable to do.

Table of dates as cited by Popp
Arab Roman estimate Event
Justinian orders the Athenian Academy to be closed
Byzantines disssolve Ghassanid buffer state
Sassanians invade Syria and Palestine
Byzantine victory in Armenia
Byzatines defeat Persians at Nineveh
Persisans abandon their posts in Syria following truce with Byzantines
Heraclius styles himself "the king who is faithful in Christ"
Heraclius restores True Cross relic to Jerusalem
Heraclius posts Ekthesis in narthex of Hagia Sophia
Muawiya - coin bears his name in Darajbird, Persia (leader of the protectors)
Byzantines withdraw from Egypt
First coin bearing inscription muhammad, from Shirajan
Muawiya makes truce with Byzantines
Coin bearing inscription muhammad, from Rayy, near Tehran
Al Zubayr mints coins in Darajbird
Arabs under Muawiya attack Constantinople by land and sea, and are defeated
Abd Al-Malik - coin bears his name in Darabjird
Muawiya loses power
Leader called Muhammad bn Abd Allah mints coin bearing his name in Heart
Start of Abd al-Malik's reign according to Abassid historicising literature (AHL)
First coin with inscription muhmmad rasul allah
Coin bearing inscription muhammad, had already appeared in Bishapur, in Iran" (p84)
Dome of Rock inscription with muhammad
gold and silver coins with muhammad as rasul appear in east of empire
Coin bearing muhammad is minted in west Africa
Coin bearing al-Andalus in Spain
Spanish coin with Arab date
Coins with Arab dates appear in Africa
ref to AHL p97
Salvation historical ideas replaced knowledge of actual history
Coin bearing Musa rasul Allah
Al-Mamun usurps title Imam
Al-Mamun names successor
Al-Mamun enters Baghdad

See also: Islam Timeline and  List of Caliphs