Misconception 1 – Seizing the wealth of the Copts and humiliating them.

 Misconceptions relating to his conquest of Egypt, his governance, his relation with its people, and more specifically the Copts – Preface
January 26, 2022
Misconception 2 – Portraying the people of Egypt in a negative and unseemly manner in a letter to Amir al Mu’minin ‘Umar
January 26, 2022

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Misconception 1 – Seizing the wealth of the Copts and humiliating them.

 

This is based on what has been mentioned by John of Nikiû, the Egyptian Coptic Bishop, in his book Tarikh al ‘Alam chapter 113. He states:

 

أن عمرو بن العاص… قبض على القضاة الرومان وقد أيديهم وأرجلهم بالسلاسل والأوتاد الخشبية ونهب أموالا كثيرة وقام بمضاعفة الضرائب على الفلاحين وأجبرهم علي إحضار العلف لخيوله وبالإجمال مارس كل أعمال العنف

‘Amr ibn al ‘As captured the Roman judiciary, shackling their hands and feet with iron fetters and wooden fastenings. He plundered much wealth, imposed numerous taxes on the farmers, and forced them to bring fodder for his horses. In short, he oversaw many merciless acts.[1]

 

In chapter 121 he writes:

 

وأنا لعاجز عن أن أصف مدى الحزن والأنين الذي أصاب المدينة بعد ذلك فقد بلغ الضيق بالسكان إلى درجة سلموا أبناءهم في مقابل المبالغ الضخمة التي كان عليهم دفعها شهريا

I am unable to describe the extent of grief and despair that afflicted the city after that. The inhabitants faced austerity to the point of selling their children into slavery in order to pay the exorbitant monthly taxes.[2]

 

Similar is what Ibn ‘Abdul Hakam has recorded in his book, Futuh Misr:

 

إن عمرو بن العاص لما فتح مصر قال لقبط مصر من كتمني کنزا عنده فقدرت عليه قتلته وسمع عمرو أن أحد أهالي الصعيد اسمه بطرس كان عنده كنز فلما سأله أنكر ولما تبين لعمرو صحة ما سمع أمر بقتله فبدأ القبط بإخراج (إظهار) ثرواتهم خوفا من القتل

When ‘Amr ibn al ‘As conquered Egypt, he addressed the Copts saying, “If I come to know of anyone hiding any treasure from me, I will kill him.”

‘Amr heard that someone in Upper Egypt, who went by the name of Batras, had some treasure. When he asked him about it, he denied possessing any. When ‘Amr came to know of the legitimacy of the initial information, he had him killed. Thus the Copts began taking out and presenting their fortunes in fear of being killed.[3]

 

In the same book Ibn ‘Abdul Hakam writes:

 

أن بعض الأقباط ذهبوا لعمرو بن العاص طالبين أن يخبرنا ما على أحدنا من الجزية فيصير لها، فأجاب عمرو : لو أعطيتني من الأرض إلى السقف ما أخبرتك ما عليك. إنما أنتم خزانة لنا إن كتر علينا كثرنا عليكم وإن  خفف علينا خففنا عليكم

Some Copts went to ‘Amr ibn al ‘As asking him to definitively stipulate their tax. He said to them, “If you give me from the floor to the ceiling, I still would not inform you what taxes you owe. You are a treasure to us. If we are in dire straits we will ask more of you, and if we require less we will ask less of you.”[4]

 

Answer

This misconception can be answered in eight ways:

 

1. Fairytales

What has been mentioned of the oppression by ‘Amr ibn al ‘As radiya Llahu ‘anhu as far as humiliating the Copts, plundering their wealth, and forcing them to sell their children due to the exorbitant monthly taxes are all just stories and tales that have no chain of transmission.

 

2. The Three Options Before Waging War and Was Egypt Conquered Peacefully or Through War? The implications of each.

The teachings of Islam[5] instruct Muslims to give the disbelievers three options before waging war, viz.:

  1. Islam: The first hope for the disbelievers is to take them out of darkness and bring them in to the light. The Prophets were sent for this very reason. If they enter the fold of Islam, it will be accepted of them and they will become subjects of the Islamic State. They will be expected to now follow the Islamic injunctions.
  2. Jizyah: If they refuse to accept Islam, they will be asked to pay Jizyah.
  3. War: If they refuse the second option as well, then the option of war is left. The assistance of Allah will be sought in fighting them. If Allah grants the Muslim army victory, then their wealth and weapons will be taken as booty. The fate of the prisoners of war will be left to the discretion of the Leader who will act according to what is most prudent at the time. The following verse serves as evidence of his discretionary authority:

فَإِذَا لَقِيْتُمُ الَّذِيْنَ كَفَرُوْا فَضَرْبَ الرِّقَابِ حَتَّىٰ إِذَآ أَثْخَنْتُمُوْهُمْ فَشُدُّوْا الْوَثَاقَ فَإِمَّا مَنًّا بَعْدُ وَإِمَّا فِدَآءً حَتَّىٰ تَضَعَ الْحَرْبُ أَوْزَارَهَا

So when you meet those who disbelieve [in battle], strike [their] necks until, when you have inflicted slaughter upon them, then secure [their] bonds, and either [confer] favor afterwards or ransom [them] until the war lays down its burdens.[6]

 

The narrations that depict how Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and the al Khulafa’ al Rashidin dealt with the prisoners of war is further evidence of this discretionary authority.

 

 

Was Egypt conquered peacefully or through war? Or some of it peacefully and other parts through war?

The scholars have differing opinions on the matter[7]. Ibn Taymiyyah has reconciled between the different views in the following manner:

 

فتحت أولا صلحا ثم نقض أهلها العهد فبعث عمرو بن العاص إلى عمر بن الخطاب رضي الله عنه يستمده فأمده بجيش كثير فيهم الزبير بن العوام ففتحها المسلمون الفتح الثاني عنوة

Initially, it was conquered peacefully but the Egyptians broke the treaty. Thus, ‘Amr ibn al ‘As sought reinforcements from ‘Umar ibn al Khattab radiya Llahu ‘anhu. The latter sent a large army which boasted the likes of al Zubair ibn al ‘Awwam. The Muslims then conquered it a second time through war.

 

This is why we find the request of al Zubair ibn al ‘Awwam radiya Llahu ‘anhu narrated from many sources. He requested ‘Umar ibn al Khattab radiya Llahu ‘anhu to distribute the spoils of war amongst the army just as Bilal radiya Llahu ‘anhu had requested the distribution at al Sham. ‘Umar consulted the Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum on the matter and the senior Sahabah, such as ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib and Muaz ibn Jabal radiya Llahu ‘anhuma, advised him to keep it as fay’ for the Muslims by which the current and future generations will benefit. ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu and some who had opposed it concurred with their view. Others who opposed the view passed away and thus the matter was settled.[8]

In any case, if we say it was conquered by war, then it would have been booty for the Muslims. However, ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu prohibited its distribution and regarded its allocation as fay’ to be more prudent, by which generations of Muslims will benefit. And if we say it was conquered peacefully, then this wouldn’t be in line with what is known and recorded since they initially refused submission. The leader of Alexandria agreed to pay the jizyah only after the prisoners had already been dispersed to Makkah and Yemen. A treaty was then agreed to in which the prisoners on hand would be returned. As for those who had been dispersed off, they were considered as spoils of war which the shari’ah had permitted.

After the treaty was enacted, the Muslims honoured the treaty and treated them in a amicable manner as attested to by the Christians themselves. More on this in the eighth answer.

If we were to say that some parts of Egypt were conquered peacefully and others through war, then the matter under discussion would have occurred in those territories that were conquered through war, or in those that were conquered peacefully before a treaty was signed. Whatever was taken during this time would have been permissible for the Muslims under Islamic Law as spoils of war and cannot be termed as plundering oppression.

As for the incident wherein ‘Amr radiya Llahu ‘anhu is said to have killed the one who concealed his treasure, then this would have been following the precedent of how Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam dealt with Ibn Abi al Huqayq when he concealed the purse of Huyayy ibn Akhtab. The incident is as follows:

 

ان النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قاتل أهل خيبر فغلب على النخل والأرض وألجأهم إلى قصرهم فصالحوه على أن لرسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم الصفراء والبيضاء والحلقة ولهم ما حملت ركابهم على أن لا يكتموا ولا يغيبوا شيئا فإن فعلوا فلا ذمة لهم ولا عهد فغيبوا مسكا لحيي بن أخطب وقد كان قتل قبل خيبر كان احتمله معه يوم بني النضير حين أجليت النضير فيه حليهم قال فقال النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم لسعية أين مسك حيي بن أخطب قال أذهبته الحروب والنفقات فوجدوا المسك فقتل ابن أبي الحقيق وسبى نساءهم وذراريهم وأراد أن يجليهم فقالوا يا محمد دعنا نعمل في هذه الأرض ولنا الشطر ما بدا لك ولكم الشطر

Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam fought with the people of Khaybar, and captured their palm-trees and land, and forced them to remain confined to their fortresses. So, they concluded a treaty of peace providing that gold, silver and weapons would go to the Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, and whatever they took away on their camels would belong to them, on condition that they would not hide and carry away anything. If they did so, there would be no protection for them and no treaty with Muslims.

They carried away a purse of Huyayy ibn Akhtab who was killed before the battle of Khaybar. He took away the ornaments of Banu al Nadir when they were expelled.

Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam asked Sa’yah, “Where is the purse of Huyayy ibn Akhtab?”

He replied, “The contents of this purse were spent on battles and other expenses.”

Later on they found the purse. So, he executed Ibn Abi al Huqayq, captured their women and children, and intended to deport them.

They said, “Muhammad, leave us to work on this land; we shall have half (of the produce) as you wish, and you will have half.”[9]

 

‘Amr radiya Llahu ‘anhu having them bring him feed for the horse’s forms part of the treaty. The Imam may enact whatever clauses he deems fit. Some of the treaties that were enacted during the era of the Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum included hosting the Muslims who pass through for three days.

As for ‘Amr ibn al ‘As radiya Llahu ‘anhu refusing to inform them of the jizyah that is due on them, this can be answered by bearing in mind the following two considerations:

 

1. The narration has a weak chain of transmission.

It has been reported by IbnAbdul Hakam who said, Haywah ibn Shurayh narrated — from al Hassan ibn Thawban — from Hisham ibn Abi Ruqayyah al Lakhmi who said:

 

أن صاحب إخنا قدم على عمرو بن العاص فقال له أخبرنا ما على أحدنا من الجزية فيصبر لها فقال عمرو وهو يشير إلى رکن کنیسة لو أعطيتني من الأرض إلى السقف ما أخبرتك ما عليك إنما أنتم خزانة لنا إن كثر علينا كثرنا علیکم وإن خفف عنا خففنا عنكم فغضب صاحب إخنا فخرج إلى الروم فقدم بهم فهزمهم الله وأسر النبطي فأتي به عمرو فقال له الناس اقتله فقال لا بل انطلق فجئنا بجيش آخر

The ruler of Ikhna (a city of old near Alexandria) came to ‘Amr ibn al ‘As and asked him, “Tell us how much we owe the state in Jizyah so we may endure it.”

‘Amr whilst pointing to a pillar they were in replied, “If you give me from the floor to the ceiling, I still would not inform you what taxes you owe. You are a treasure to us. If we are in dire straits we will ask more of you, and if we require less we will ask less of you.”

Angered, the ruler of Ikhna left for Rome and came back with an army. Allah caused their defeat and the Copt was imprisoned.

When he was brought to ‘Amr, the people said to him, “kill him”.

‘Amr responded, “No, let him go and bring another army.”

 

Sa’id ibn Sabiq said:

 

كان اسمه طلما وإن عمراً لما أتي به سوره وتوجه وكساه برنس أرجوان وقال له إيتنا بمثل هؤلاء فرضي بأداء الجزية فقيل لطلما لو أتيت ملك الروم فقال لو أتيته لقتلني وقال قتلت أصحابي

His name was Talama. When he was brought to ‘Amr, the latter treated him well and gave him an reddish hooded cloak to wear.

He said to him, “Why don’t you resurrect another army like this?”

He understood and agreed to pay jizyah.

It was said to Talama, “Why don’t you to the Roman Emperor?”

He replied, “If I went to him, he would kill me and say that I killed my people.”

 

The chain of this narration is munqati’ since the narrator between ‘Abdul Hakam and Haywah is not known. If we deem it to be authentic, then this incident would have occurred after the treaty was broken, since ibn ‘Abdul Hakam has deemed the disinclination of ‘Amr radiya Llahu ‘anhu to acquiesce the Copts request of determining the jizyah as the reason for the Alexandrians breaking the pact during the era of ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu. The peace treaty and determination of the jizyah was fixed during the era of ‘Umar as noted by the letters written. This demonstrates the breaking of the pact and re-conquering by ‘Amr radiya Llahu ‘anhu for a second time and as such they were then treated as those who were conquered by the sword. Further, the leader is not bound to determine a stipulated amount of jizyah, he may affect any amount necessary according to the needs of the state. Besides, the narration states he treated him well, gave him a hooded cloak, and allowed him to leave whereas he had attached himself to the Romans. In any case, the Copt thereafter agreed to pay the jizyah and remained there, refusing to return to the Roman Emperor though they shared the same faith out of fear of being taken to task. Where then will you find such character?

 

2. This is refuted by the narration which states ‘Amr radiya Llahu ‘anhu had in fact determined a stipulated jizyah for them. Amongst these narrations is the following as recorded by al Tabari which outlines the treaty between ‘Amr ibn al ‘As and the Egyptians:

 

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم هذا ما أعطى عمرو بن العاص أهل مصر من الأمان على أنفسهم وملتهم وأموالهم وكنائسهم وصلبهم وبرهم وبحرهم لا يدخل عليهم شيء من ذلك ولا ينتقص ولا يساكنهم النوب وعلى أهل مصر أن يعطوا الجزية إذا اجتمعوا على هذا الصلح وانتهت زيادة نهرهم خمسين ألف ألف وعليهم ما جنى الصوتهم فإن أبي أحد منهم أن يجيب رفع عنهم من الجزاء بقدرهم وذمتنا ممن أبي بريئة وإن نقص نهرهم من غايته إذا انتهى رفع عنهم بقدر ذلك ومن دخل في صلحهم من الروم والنوب فله مثل ما لهم وعليه مثل ما عليهم ومن أبي واختار الذهاب فهو آمن حتى يبلغ مأمنه أو يخرج من سلطاننا عليهم ما عليهم أثلاثا في كل ثلث جباية ثلث ما عليهم على ما في هذا الكتاب عهد الله وذمته وذمة رسوله وذمة الخليفة أمير المؤمنين وذمم المؤمنين وعلى النوبة الذين استجابوا أن يعينوا بكذا وكذا رأسا وكذا وكذا فرسا على ألا يغزوا ولا يمنعوا من تجارة صادرة ولا واردة شهد الزبير وعبد الله ومحمد ابناه وكتب وردان وحضر فدخل في ذلك أهل مصر كلهم وقبلوا الصلح

In the name of Allah, the merciful, the compassionate.

This is the text of the covenant that ‘Amr ibn al ‘As has granted the people of Misr concerning immunity for themselves, their religion, their possessions, churches, crucifixes, as well as their land and their waterways. Nothing of these will be interfered with or decreased and Nubians will not be allowed to share their homesteads. It is incumbent upon the people of Misr, if they agree on the terms of this covenant and when the rise of the Nile water comes to a halt, to afford the jizyah, to give fifty million (dirhams) They will have to account for the crimes committed by robbers from among them.

If anyone refuses to comply with the terms of this treaty, obligations will be lifted from them commensurate with their numbers, and we will be exempt from awarding protection to those who do so. If their river fails to reach the highest point when the rise of the water has come to a halt, then, commensurate with the losses suffered, their jizyah payments will be reduced.

Those Byzantines and Nubians who are willing to accept the same terms as in the covenant with the people of Misr will have the same privileges and duties as the latter. He who refuses to accept these terms and chooses to depart will enjoy immunity, until he has reached his destination where he can be safe, or has moved out of the territory where our authority prevails. It is incumbent upon them to comply with the following terms: in three installments, every third part of the year, they will have to afford one third of what they have to pay.

For the terms of this document the covenant of Allah and His protection, as well as that of His Messenger, that of the Khalifah, the Commander of the Faithful, as well as the protection awarded by all the Muslims, are guarantees.

It is incumbent upon the Nubians who have accepted the terms of this treaty that they assist with so many men and so many horses, in the understanding that no raids will be mounted against them and that they will not be prevented from trade, export or import.

Al Zubair, his sons—’Abdullah and Muhammad, have witnessed the concluding of this covenant.

All the people of Misr entered into this covenant and accepted the peace treaty.[10]

 

Muqawqis, the Egyptian ruler, is recorded have accorded a treaty with ‘Amr ibn al ‘As radiya Llahu ‘anhu upon two gold coins due from each Copt whilst exempting the elderly, the children, and the women. This has been recorded by Ibn Zanjawayh in al Amwal, vol. 1 pg. 326; Ibn ‘Abdul Hakam in Futuh Misr, pg. 92; Al Baladhuri in Futuh al Buldan, pg. 216; and al Lalaka’i in al Iktifa, vol. 2 pg. 335.

 

3. Their Jizyah Was Less Than the Zakat of the Muslims

The jizyah system institutionalized by ‘Amr ibn al ‘As radiya Llahu ‘anhu upon the Copts who had not accepted the Islamic faith, was far less than the obligatory zakat which was being discharged by the Muslims, notwithstanding the exemption of the elderly, the children, the women, and the poor.

During the Byzantine reign, the Egyptians were subjected to exorbitant amounts of tax which bore them down heavily. Most of the Egyptian farmers, under this law, were effectively slaves of the state. English historians such as Allan Chester Johnson and Edward Rochie Hardy in their respective books, Byzantine Egypt: Economic Studies and The Large Estates of Byzantine Egypt have provided much detail of the tragedies that were prevalent during this disastrous era. They have outlined the Roman attitude towards the Egyptian farmers; one of animalistic slavery, which left them with zero rights. This tragedy came to an end by the Islamic conquest. The Egyptians found the character and temperament of the Muslims to be in complete opposition to their previous Roman overlords. This is why they hoped for Muslim domination over Rome and the destruction of the oppressive Byzantine Empire under which Egypt had languished.[11]

 

4. Jizyah: a Boon

Taking the jizyah from them was in lieu of their residency within the Islamic State which secured them safety and Muslim protection. ‘Amr ibn al ‘As radiya Llahu ‘anhu said to Abu Miryam prior to entering Egypt:

 

فنحن ندعوكم إلى الإسلام فمن أجابنا إليه فمثلنا ومن لم يجبنا عرضنا عليه الجزية وبذلنا له المنعة

We call you to Islam. Whoever accepts our call will enjoy the same rights as we do. Those that do not, we will present to them the opportunity to pay jizyah in lieu of which they will enjoy our protection.

 

This can also be understood from the incident of Yarmuk. When Heraclius gathered his armies to fight the Muslims, the Muslims returned the tax they had taken from the people of Hims citing their inability to protect them during this time of battle.[12]

Further, taking jizyah from them was a great boon for them since it is a law that accepts material loss in order to mitigate a higher loss; a common theme of the shari’ah law.[13] So, even though jizyah may apparently seem to be an exercise in humiliation, in fact it is a result of the mercy of Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala. Consider, had they all been killed, the door of faith would have forever been shut on them and they would have suffered eternal damnation to the fire. On the other hand, paying jizyah and living amongst the Muslims allowed for a greater purpose. They would observe the beauty of Islam in contrast to the dark twisted nature of disbelief, which would become a catalyst for their acceptance of the faith and eternal salvation.

Additionally, they were not oppressed by the institution of jizyah. They were treated in an amicable manner based on shar’i guidelines wherein the old and weak were exempt.

 

5. Nothing New

Neither did Islam nor did the Muslims introduce the novel idea of jizyah. The religions and people of old would take jizyah from those who were brought under their dominion. This is a noted fact which human history bears testimony to which cannot be disputed. The Bible recalls the conversation wherein Jesus said to Simon:

 

ماذا تظن يا سمعان ممن ياخذ ملوك الأرض الجباية أو الجزية امن بنيهم ام من الاجانب قال له بطرس من الاجانب قال له يسوع فاذا البنون احرار

“What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth receive toll or tribute? From their children, or from strangers?”

Peter said to him, “From strangers.”

Jesus said to him, “Therefore the children are exempt.”[14]

 

The Old Testament also speaks of jizyah and the Prophets who had taken jizyah from the conquered territories:

 

فلم يطردوا الكنعانيين الساكنين في جازر. فسكن الكنعانيون في وسط أفرايم إلى هذا اليوم، وكانوا عبيدا تحت الجزية

And they drove not out the Canaanites that dwelt in Gezer: but the Canaanites dwell among the Ephraimites unto this day, and serve under tribute.[15]

 

They were thus slaves and payed jizyah.

The Christians note the instruction of Jesus to his followers in paying jizyah to the Romans. And he, himself went to hand it over. The Bible remembers Peter saying to Simon:

 

اذهب إلى البحر وألق صنارة والسمكة التي تطلع أولا خذها ومتى فتحت فاها تجد إستارا فخذه وأعطهم عني وعنك

So go cast a line into the lake and pull out the first fish you hook. Open its mouth, and you will find a coin. Use it to pay your taxes and mine.[16]

 

The Bible also speaks of Matthew asking:

 

أيجوز أن تعطى جزية لقيصر أم لا.. فقال لهم لمن هذه الصورة والكتابة قالوا له لقيصر فقال لهم أعطوا إذا ما لقيصر لقيصر وما لله لله

“Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”

He said to them “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”[17]

 

The New Testament also considered discharging jizyah a legal right of the leader which should be given in reverence and faith. Paul said:

 

لتخضع كل نفس للسلاطين …السلاطين الكائنة هي مرتبة من الله حتى ان من يقاوم السلطان يقاوم ترتيب الله و المقاومون سياخذون لانفسهم دينونة …إذ هو خادم الله منتقم للغضب من الذي يفعل الشر لذلك يلزم ان يخضع له ليس بسبب الغضب فقط بل أيضا بسبب الضمير فانكم لاجل هذا توفون الجزية أيضا إذ هم خدام الله مواظبون على ذلك بعينه فاعطوا الجميع حقوقهم الجزية لمن له الجزية الجباية لمن له الجباية و الخوف لمن له الخوف و الاكرام لمن له الاكرام

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities… the authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honour, then honour.[18]

 

6. Misrepresentation of Historical Actualities

What they have mentioned regarding the oppression and suppression of the Copts by ‘Amr radiya Llahu ‘anhu is not only unfounded, it is a direct misrepresentation of historical actualities. Anyone studying history will note its fallacy. If history could speak, it would say, Exalted are You, Allah this is a great slander! And if the land of Egypt was given a tongue, it would speak its truth and bridle the mouths of slanderers with irrefutable evidences.

Historians[19] have noted that Egypt came under Roman rule from the year 30 A.D. to the year 295 A.D. During this time, from the era of Nero, Christianity began its spread throughout Egypt and more so after the travels of Mark the Evangelist to Alexandria. This new faith garnered hostility from the pagan Byzantine Emperors, especially during the era of Diocletian (284-305 A.D.) whose reign saw the last major persecution of Christians. This lasted until Constantine came to power and became the sole emperor. He accepted Christianity and adopted it as the state religion in the year 323 A.D.

The Copts though were not kept at bay for long, they quite quickly began discussing, debating, and arguing the nature and attributes of Christ and so the Egyptian Church settled on the notion of a single nature in Christ. However, the state declared them two after Council of Chalcedon issued the Chalcedonian Definition, which repudiated the notion of a single nature in Christ, and declared that he has two natures in one person and hypostasis. The state deemed anyone who believed in the former a deviant and an apostate.

In the year 610 A.D. Heraclius came to power as emperor and a few years later in the year 616 A.D. the Persian Empire conquered Egypt. Egypt remained under their control for a decade or so in which they persecuted the Egyptians to no end. Heraclius then managed to gather some might and defeated them. After freeing Egypt from the clutches of the Persians, he turned his attention to unifying the Christian belief by ordering the drowning of all those who deemed the Chalcedon decree to be false whilst allowing those who accepted it to go free.[20] Thus the monks and priests fled to the mountains, monasteries, and caves so not to be killed, imprisoned, or tortured by the state.

This precarious situation remained for a time, until Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala liberated the Egyptians at the hands of ‘Amr ibn al ‘As radiya Llahu ‘anhu and his forces which landed in Egypt around the year 641 A.D. during the reign of ‘Umar ibn al Khattab. The Egyptian bishops and monks were overjoyed and returned from the desserts and caves they had taken to. Upon their arrival ‘Amr radiya Llahu ‘anhu guaranteed their safety.

 

7. The Justice of Sayyidina ‘Umar and His Governors

‘Amr radiya Llahu ‘anhu was not acting in his individual capacity, he was appointed at the stead of the Khalifah whose instructions he carried out. ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu, the khalifah, in turn was acting at the stead of the khalifah of Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, whose biography sketches his strict adherence to the boundaries of Allah. Justice and impartiality are synonymous with his caliphate, it was the era of differentiating between truth and falsehood. The old, the young, good and the evil alike were all in awe of him.

There are many incidents that depict the absolute justice that prevailed during his era. Hereunder are some examples:

 

  • Qatadah narrates from Sa’id who said:

 

شخص رجل من الدهاقين إلى عمر بن الخطاب في مظلمة له فلما قدم المدينة سأل عن عمر فقيل هو ذاك وإذا هو مستلق قد جمع إزاره تحت رأسه ودرته إلى جنبه فقال إني أريد أمير المؤمنين قيل فذاك أمير المؤمنين عمر فقال في نفسه لقد غررت بنفسي وذهبت بنفقتي ثم دنا من عمر فأخبره بقصته فأخذ قطعة جلد فكتب فيها بخطه لينصفن هذا الدهقان أو لأبعثن من ينصفه فقال الدهقان لقد خبت وخسرت أنفقت مالي وأتعبت نفسي وتجشمت هذا السفر البعيد الشديد ثم رجعت بقطعة جلد من صحيفة وهم أن يلقيها فلما صار إلى العامل ودفعها إليه قام على رجليه فلم يجلس حتى أنصفه فقال الدهقان هذا والله الملك وهذه الطاعة لا ما كنا فيه

A man from the Dehqan[21] journeyed to ‘Umar ibn al Khattab in order to seek justice in a matter of oppression. When he came to al Madinah, he asked regarding the whereabouts of ‘Umar and was directed to his whereabouts. He saw a man lying down with his loincloth gathered under his head and his whip by his side. He said, “I am looking for the Amir al Mu’minin.”

The reply was, “Well, there is the Amir al Mu’minin, ‘Umar.”

He thought to himself, I am a fool and have wasted my money coming this far. He came closer to ‘Umar and informed him of the injustice carried out against him. ‘Umar took a piece of leather and wrote, “Give justice to this Dehqan or I will send someone who will mete out justice.”

The Dehqan thought, I was disillusioned to come here. I spent my wealth and exhausted myself by a lengthy journey and I am given a piece of leather? He even thought to throw it away.

When he returned to his governor, he gave him the piece of leather. The governor stood and did not sit until he had meted out justice in his case.

The Dehqan said, “By Allah! This is a true king and this is compliance unlike anything we have seen.”[22]

  • ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu sent Hudhayfah ibn al Yaman and ‘Uthman ibn Hunayf radiya Llahu ‘anhuma to survey the land of al Sawad and calculate the Kharaj tax. He cautioned them against imposing exorbitant taxes on people that they cannot afford by saying:

 

تخافا أن تكونا حملتما الأرض ما لا تطيق. فقال عثمان لو شئت لأضعفت وقال حذيفة لقد حملت الأرض أمراً هي له مطيقة وما فيها كبير فضل فجعل عمر يقول انظر ما لديكما أن تكونا حملتما الأرض ما لا تطيق

Have you imposed taxes on land at a rate the people find too high?

‘Uthman replied, “[I set taxes on their land that is at a level affordable to them and] I can easily raise it.”

Hudhayfah said, “I impose taxes on land that the people can afford and not only that, they still have plenty left after tax.”

‘Umar responded, “Be mindful and ensure that you don’t set taxes at a level that cannot be borne by the land.”[23]

 

  • Amongst the incidents of ‘Umar’s radiya Llahu ‘anhu sympathy towards the Ahl al Dhimmah is the following:

 

مر عمر بن الخطاب رضي الله عنه بباب قوم وعليه سائل يسأل شيخ كبير ضرير البصر فضرب عضده من خلفه وقال من أي أهل الكتاب أنت؟ فقال: يهودي قال فما ألجأك إلى ما أرى قال أسأل الجزية والحاجة والسن فأخذ عمر بيده وذهب به إلى منزله فرضخ له بشيء من المنزل ثم أرسل إلى خازن بيت المال فقال انظر هذا وضرباءه فوالله ما أنصفناه أن أكلنا شبيبته ثم نخذله عند الهرم

‘Umar passed by a door at which there was a beggar who was an old blind man. ‘Umar touched his arm from behind and asked, “To which People do you belong?”

He said, “I am a Jew.”

‘Umar said, “What has compelled you to begging?”

The Jewish man replied, “I am begging in order to pay for jizyah and for my needs, as I am old”.

‘Umar held his hand, and took him to his house and gave him some for his needs. ‘Umar then sent for the treasurer and instructed him to take care of this man and whoever was like him.

‘Umar added, “We have not done justice to him, as we took jizyah from him when he was young, but we forsook him when he was old.”[24]

 

  • ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu wrote to the governor of Egypt:

 

واعلم يا عمرو أن الله يراك ويرى عملك فإنه قال تبارك وتعالى في كتابه ﴿وَاجْعَلْنَا لِلْمُتَّقِينَ إِمَامًا﴾ [الفرقان: 74] يريد أي من المؤمنين أن يقتدى به وأن معك أهل ذمة وعهد وقد أوصى رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم بهم وأوصى بالقبط فقال استوصوا بالقبط خيرا فإن لهم ذمة ورحما ورحمهم أن أم إسماعيل عليه السلام منهم وقد قال صلى الله عليه وسلم من ظلم معاهدا أو كلفه فوق طاقته فأنا خصمه يوم القيامة احذر يا عمرو أن يكون رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم لك خصما فإنه من خاصمه خصمه

Know well ‘Amr! Allah sees you and your actions. Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala says in His book:

وَاجْعَلْنَا لِلْمُتَّقِيْنَ إِمَامًا

And make us a leader [i.e., example] for the righteous.

This refers to any believer who is in a position of leadership. You have under you those with whom you have made a pact and the Ahl al Dhimmah. Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam has advised regarding treating them well. He also advised regarding the Copts, “Treat the Copts well. They have a pact and they are family.” They are family in consideration to the mother of Isma’il ‘alayh al Salam who hailed from them. Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam also said, “Whoever wrongs one with whom a covenant has been made or burdens him with more than he is able to bear, I will be his adversary on the Day of Judgment.”

Beware ‘Amr that Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam be your adversary on the Day of Judgment, since whoever Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam challenges will be defeated.[25]

 

  • ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu made a bequest on his death bed to his would-be successor to treat the Ahl al Dhimmah well, to give them their rights, and to be sympathetic towards them.

He said:

 

وأوصيه بذمة الله وذمة رسوله أن يوفي لهم بعهدهم وأن يقاتل من ورائهم وأن لا يكلفوا إلا طاقتهم

I advise him of the covenant of Allah and His Messenger and to adhere to it. To secure their safety and not to burden them beyond their capability.[26]

 

Consider, if justice had reached such levels, can one even fathom that he would oppress the Copts? And would the Sahabah and others have remained silent if ‘Amr radiya Llahu ‘anhu had truly pillaged their wealth?

 

8. The Christians Own Testimony

This misconception is uprooted when one considers the positive testimony of the Christians themselves with regard to the treatment and leadership of ‘Amr radiya Llahu ‘anhu.

  • The Christians of Hims wrote to Abu ‘Ubayidah ibn al Jarrah radiya Llahu ‘anhu stating:

 

لولايتكم وعدلكم أحب إلينا مما كنا فيه من الظلم والغشم ولندفعن جند هرقل عن المدينة مع عاملكم

Your leadership and justice is more beloved to us than the oppression and tyranny we were subjected to. We will expel the army of Heraclius from the city with your governor.[27]

 

They then shut the door of the city to the Romans, with whom they shared the same faith.

 

  • John of Nikiu says:

‘Amr instructed the churches be exempt from taxation that was imposed upon them. He did not take anything from the churches nor did he make any advances to pillage them. In fact, he made provisions to ensure their safety during his time in office.[28]

 

  • Severus ibn al Muqaffa states after speaking of the differences that occurred between the Christians regarding the nature of Jesus:

 

Heraclius imprisoned St. Mennas, the brother of Pope Benjamin I of Alexandria and tortured him by burning him and removing his teeth. Heraclius had advised his governors saying, “If anyone agrees to the two natures of Jesus then leave him. As for those who oppose it, drown him in the sea.” Thus, they drowned him too.

When ‘Amr ibn al ‘As conquered Egypt he issued a safe conduct to Benjamin to return. He wrote to his governors of Egypt saying, “Wherever Pope Benjamin is, he is safe and I guarantee his safety. He should present himself with the knowledge of his safety and discuss the issues of his people.”

When Benjamin heard of this, he returned, overjoyed, to Alexandria after being in exile for thirteen years. Hiding for ten from Hercules of Rome and another three years before the Islamic conquest.

The Copts were ecstatic with these reforms, just as a child is when reunited with his mother.[29]

 

This leads us to the discussion of Yacoub Rufila and his comments regarding the favorable treatment of the Copts by ‘Amr ibn al ‘As radiya Llahu ‘anhu. His recollection is based on the honour, clemency, and ease of taxation adopted by ‘Amr ibn al ‘As radiya Llahu ‘anhu in relation to the Copts. The Copts in return loved him and were distraught at his death.

He says:

 

When the Arabs gained a foothold in Egypt, ‘Amr ibn al ‘As made efforts to pacify their fears and gain their trust. He worked closely with their leaders and wise men, answering to their needs. The first resolve he undertook in this order was to grant a safe accord to Pope Benjamin who had been in exile for many years, hiding from Heraclius. When Benjamin came to ‘Amr, the latter honoured him and personally guaranteed his safety. He also deposed the Pope that had been instated by Heraclius and returned Benjamin to his headquarters of old. He also took his counsel regarding matters of importance relating to the country. The general Copt populous looked upon this in a favorable light and considered it a great boon of ‘Amr.

‘Amr then turned his attention to the administration and development of the country. Knowing well that the indigenous populous knew their lands much better, he sought counsel from the intelligent and wise Copts in administering the land in a fair and impartial manner that would keep the layman and governing bodies happy. He demarcated areas to be run under Copt rule by way of his instruction. They would see to the issues of the public and magistrate cases that arose. This allowed them a freedom and independence that had been snatched from them during the Roman regime.

He taxed them in a fair manner with the revenue collectors being appointed from amongst their own ranks. He developed record keeping and tax collecting in a manner that did not burden its residents with the Copts themselves being in possession of the ledgers. All this was in Coptic. ‘Amr collected twelve million gold coins per year in this manner whereas Muqawqis during the Roman reign demanded no less than eighteen million. In short, the Copts found themselves in ease which they hadn’t experienced in a long time.

When the khalifah, ‘Umar ibn al Khattab passed away and ‘Uthman ascended to the caliphate, the latter deposed ‘Amr ibn al ‘As and appointed ‘Abdullah ibn Sa’d ibn Abi al Sarh in his stead. He had previously served under ‘Amr ibn al ‘As as governor of Upper Egypt.

When ‘Amr ibn al ‘As returned during the caliphate of Muawiyah, they were delighted. And when he passed away they were distraught. Their sadness was not misplaced since no governor had treated them in the way ‘Amr had. He saw to their needs, governed in a fair manner, administered the country appropriately, and did not seek any more tax than they had initially agreed upon throughout his tenure.[30]

 

The orientalist, Sigrid Hunke, writes regarding the impartiality and clemency of the Muslims during their conquests in her book Shams al ‘Arab Tasti’ ‘ala al Gharb. She notes:

 

In the ninth century the patriarch of Jerusalem wrote to his brother the patriarch of Alexandria. He said regarding the Arabs. They are unequalled in their justice; they do not oppress us in the least and neither do they deal with us in a harsh manner.[31]

 

Dear reader, based on what has been presented before you, it becomes abundantly clear that the allegations of oppression that are plastered to ‘Amr ibn al ‘As radiya Llahu ‘anhu are naught but falsities and fabrications. He was an exemplary leader upon whose return the populous were ecstatic and upon whose death they were distraught.

 

NEXT⇒ Misconception 2 – Portraying the people of Egypt in a negative and unseemly manner in a letter to Amir al Mu’minin ‘Umar


[1]Tarikh al ‘Alam, pg. 209.

[2]  Ibid., pgs. 233-234.

[3]Futuh Misr, pg. 87.

[4]  Ibid., pg. 153.

[5]  As recorded in the hadith of Buraydah ibn al Husayb radiya Llahu ‘anhu who said:

كان رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم إذا أمر أميرا على جيش أوصاه بتقوى الله وبمن معه من المسلمين خيرا ثم قال اغزوا بسم الله في سبيل الله قاتلوا من كفر بالله اغزوا ولا تغلوا ولا تغدروا ولا تمثلوا ولا تقتلوا وليدًا وإذا لقيت عدوك من المشركين فادعهم إلى ثلاث خصال فأيتهن أجابوك إليها فاقبل منهم وكف عنهم

When Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam appointed a commander over an army or a detachment he instructed him to fear Allah and consider the welfare of the Muslims who were with him. He would say, “Go forth in Allah’s name in Allah’s path and fight with those who disbelieve in Allah. Go forth and do not be unfaithful regarding booty, or treacherous, or mutilate anyone, or kill a child. When you meet the polytheists who are your enemy summon them to three things, and accept whichever of them they are willing to agree to, and refrain from them…”

Sahih Muslim: Kitab al Jihad wa al Siyar: 1731.

[6]  Surah Muhammad: 4.

[7]  See Ibn ‘Abdul Hakam: Futuh Misr, pgs. 97-104.

[8]Ahkam ahl al Dhimmah, vol. 3 pgs. 117-118.

[9]Abu Dawood: Kitab al Kharaj wa al Imarah wa al Fay: 3008.

[10]Tarikh al Tabar, vol. 4 pg. 109.

[11]  Muhammad al Mahami: Al Jizyah fi al Islam, pg. 24.

[12]  Al Baladhiri: Futuh al Buldan, vol. 1 pg. 162.

[13]  Al Qarafi: Al Furuq, vol. 3 pg. 21.

[14]  Matthew 17: 25-26.

[15]  Joshua 16:10.

[16]  Matthew 17:27.

[17]  Matthew 22: 17-21.

[18]  Romans 13: 1-7. Refer to ‘Ali ibn Nayef al Shahud: Al Mufassal fi Sharh Ayah La Ikrah fi al Din, vol. 1 pg. 448.

[19]  See, Severus ibn al Muqaffa: Tarikh Misr, pg. 573; Yacoub Rufila, Tarikh al Ummah al Qibtiyyah, pgs. 24-38; Samir Adib: Tarikh wa Hadarah Misr al Qadimah, pgs. 309-318; Dr. Ahmed ‘Abdur Razzaq: Tarikh wa Athar Misr al Islamiyyah, pgs. 13-14.

[20]  This purge wasn’t only directed to the Copts who weren’t on his beliefs. He came down hard on the Jews as well for their inciting the Persians against the Christians. He sanctioned the Christian killings of Jews, pillaging their wealth, and enslaving their women. Tarikh al Ummah al Qibtiyyah, pg. 36.

[21]  The dehqan or dehgan, were a class of land-owning magnates during the Sasanian and early Islamic period, found throughout Iranian-speaking lands.

[22]  Al Baladhuri: Ansab al Ashraf, vol. 4 pg. 408.

[23]  Ibn Sa’d: Al Tabaqat al Kubra, vol. 3 pg. 337.

[24]Dirasah Naqdiyyah fi al Marwiyyat fi Shakhsiyyah ‘Umar ibn al Khattab, vol. 2 pg. 1055. The author writes in the marginalia, regarding this incident:

“Abu Yusuf narrated it al Kharaj, pg. 139 with the chain of ‘Umar ibn Nafi’ — from Abu Bakr. Ibn Zanjawayh narrated it in al Amwal, Hadith: 165 and the common narrator is ‘Umar ibn Nafi’ al Thaqafi. Kufi narrator, weak. He is from the sixth category, al Taqrib, Entry: 417. Al Mizzi has stated that he is the narrator from Abu Bakr al ‘Absi. As for al ‘Adawi, he is Thiqah, (reliable). Thus, the narration is weak.”

Al Mizzi has recorded in al Tahdhib that he narrated from Abu Bakr al ‘Absi. This is an indication of precedence though it cannot be a deciding factor. There is another narration that corroborates it as recorded by Abu ‘Ubaid in al Amwal, Hadith: 119 with the chain of Muhammad ibn al Kathir — from Abu Raja’ al Khurasani — from Jisr Abi Jafar who said, “I was present at the letter reading of ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul ‘Aziz which was read to us at Basrah. It said, it has reached me that Amir al Mu’minin ‘Umar passed by an old man of the Ahl al Dhimmah who was begging at the doors of people. He commented, “We have not been just to you. We took jizyah from you when you were young and have forsaken you in your old age.” He then stipulated a stipend for him form the treasury.’”

— Muhamad ibn Kathir ibn Abi ‘Ata al Thaqafi al San’ani, Abu Yusuf. A resident of Masisah:

Truthful (Saduq) but erred a lot. Al Taqrib, Entry: 6251.

— Matr ibn Tahman Abu Raja’ al Sulami Mawlahum al Khurasani:

Truthful (Saduq) but erred a lot. His narrations from ‘Ata are weak. Al Taqrib, Entry: 6699.

— Jisr ibn Farqad al Qassab Abu Jafar Basri:

Al Bukhari said, “He is not considered much according to them.”

Ibn Ma’in said, “He doesn’t amount to much.”

Al Nasa’i said, “Weak.” He said, “Sa’id ibn ‘Amir Jisr ibn Farqad, may Allah have mercy on him. Reliable and trustworthy. He was a pious man.”

Abu Hatim said, “He is not strong, he was a pious man.”

See, Ibn Abi Hatim: Al Jarh wa al Ta’dil, vol. 2 pg. 539; Ibn Hajar: Lisan al Mizan, vol. 2 pg. 104.

[25]  Al Muttaqi al Hindi: Kanz al ‘Ummal, Hadith: 14304.

[26]Sahih al Bukhari, Hadith: 2887.

[27]  Al Baladhuri: Futuh al Buldan, pg. 139.

[28]Tarikh al ‘Alam al Qadim, pg. 233.

[29]  Severus: Tarikh Misr, pgs. 573-595.

[30]  Yacoub Rufila, Tarikh al Ummah al Qibtiyyah, pgs. 54-64.

[31]Shams al ‘Arab Tasti’ ‘ala al Gharb, pg. 364.

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