Anyone paying attention to Western political leaders in the years since September 11, 2001, will have noticed that they often opine about what Islam is or is not. To cite a recent example, in responding to the massacre of the senior staff of Charlie Hebdo, a Paris magazine that published cartoons deriding Muhammad, French President Francois Hollande said this: “Those who committed these acts, these fanatics, have nothing to do with the Muslim religion.”Read More
In part one, we saw that the rise of Islam is prophesied in Revelation Nine, and we discussed the Fifth Trumpet and First Woe. In this article, we will continue to explore Revelation Nine, examining the Sixth Trumpet and Second Woe, after which we will discuss the time prophecies.
The sixth angel sounded his trumpet, and I heard a voice coming from the horns of the golden altar that is before God. Rev. 9:13
The Hebrew sanctuary was a model of the original in heaven (Ex. 25:40; Heb. 8:5; Rev. 11:19; 15:5). There were two altars with horns on their four corners---the altar of burnt offering in the courtyard and the altar of incense in the first apartment---but the altar of incense was made of acacia wood overlaid with gold (Ex. 30:1-10), whereas the altar of burnt offering was overlaid with brass (Ex. 27:1-8). Hence, the heavenly original here referred to is the golden altar of incense.
The altar of incense is in the first apartment of the sanctuary, indicating that this prophecy concerns a time before the second apartment was opened, as it later would be (Rev. 11:19). This means that the anti-typical day of atonement, the investigative judgment, has not yet begun. Thus, we should expect that this prophecy will have been fulfilled prior to 1844.
Incense was burned on the golden altar every morning and evening, a perpetual sweet savor before God (Ex. 30:7-9). The incense symbolizes the prayers of God's people (Psalm 141:2; Rev. 5:8; 8:3-4). Just prior to the sounding of the seven trumpets, an angel took a censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it to the earth (Rev. 8:5). This seems to indicate disapproval and disgust and likely portends that the prayers of Christendom would not be efficacious to spare them from the coming catastrophes symbolized by the seven trumpets.
In Bible prophecy, horns symbolize kings or nations (Dan. 8:15-27; Rev. 17:12). In this instance, the horns of the golden altar symbolize the kingly power of God, His power to establish kingdoms and pull them down (Dan. 4:17; Jer. 1:10; Luke 1:52). That the voice came from the horns of the golden altar symbolizes that the coming catastrophe would be a judgment from God, and an exercise of His ability to set up and pull down kingdoms.
It said to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” And the four angels who had been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year were released to kill a third of mankind. The number of the mounted troops was two hundred million. I heard their number. The horses and riders I saw in my vision looked like this: Their breastplates were fiery red, dark blue, and yellow as sulfur. The heads of the horses resembled the heads of lions, and out of their mouths came fire, smoke and sulfur. A third of mankind was killed by the three plagues of fire, smoke and sulfur that came out of their mouths. The power of the horses was in their mouths and in their tails; for their tails were like snakes, having heads with which they inflict injury. Rev. 9:14-19
Previously in John's visions, we see four angels holding back the four winds of strife (Rev. 7:1-4). Now, God commands them to loose destructive forces that had previously been held back. The River Euphrates symbolizes a barrier to invasion from the east. The Turks originated in south-central Asia, on the east side of the Euphrates River, and from there migrated across that river and into Palestine and Asia Minor.
The number two hundred million has no known significance. The number is variously translated as twice ten thousand times ten thousand, two myriads of myriads, and two hundred thousand thousand. Obviously, no mounted army of 200 million has ever been fielded, so the number is likely not intended literally. It seems intended to convey a numberless host, a huge force impossible to defeat.
The figure killed by this immense force is given as one third of mankind. Here we must understand that Scripture is not intended as a general history of the world. Rather, it is the story of redemption which focuses on the righteous line, the history of believers, from Adam to Noah to Abraham to Moses, to the Hebrews, and finally to the Christians. Since this prophecy points to events in the Christian era, it is concerned with the plight of Christians, not with all of mankind. Given that Christianity had primarily taken root in the post-Roman Mediterranean world, it is a fair estimate that, between the Arab and Turkish Muslim conquests, a third of Christendom was lost. In saying that a third of mankind was killed, the prophecy is predicting that a third part of the Christian world would be swept away; this prophecy was fulfilled by the loss of Christian North Africa, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and Asia Minor/modern Turkey.
This point is worth dwelling on, because the religious facts of the pre-Muslim Mediterranean world are today long lost in the mists of time. The most important bishoprics of the 4th through the 7th Centuries were Constantinople, Alexandria and Rome, and their relative importance was often ranked in that order. The Bishop of Rome was a titular first among equals, but the other two often had more real power because of the economic and political prominence of their cities. Of course, Alexandria was overrun by the Arab conquest and Constantinople by the Turkish phase of Islamic conquest.
Moreover, many of the most famous and influential “church fathers” were from places now well within the dar al-Islam (the “house of Islam”): Augustine (354-430 AD) was Bishop of Hippo, now Annaba, Algeria; Tertullian (160-225 AD) was Bishop of Carthage, now in Tunisia; Origen (185-254 AD) was from Alexandria, Egypt; Ignatius (35-110 AD) was Bishop of Antioch, now in Syria; and Polycarp (69-155 AD) was Bishop of Smyrna, now Izmir, Turkey. The most noteworthy of the Greek-speaking fathers were from places that are now Islamic: Clement, Athanasius, and Cyril were all of Alexandria; John Chrysostom and Gregory Nazianzus were Archbishops of Constantinople, Basil was of Ceasaria, Gregory of Nyssa hailed from what is now southern Turkey, and John of Damascus was obviously from Syria. Additionally, the “Seven Churches” of Revelation—Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea—were all in Asia Minor, which today is thoroughly Muslim western Turkey. All of these places were predominantly Christian before the Arab and Turkish conquests made them predominantly Muslim.
The Muslim conquest of so much of the Christian world would rightly have been seen as an epochal catastrophe for Christendom and the Christian religion. Christianity's birthplace along with several of its leading bishoprics and teaching centers were lost to Muslim domination. The notion that there would not be a Bible prophecy addressed to such earth-shaking events is symptomatic of a peculiar ignorance of history. We would expect to find a scriptural warning of this catastrophe, and indeed we do.
The colors that John saw on the breastplates are traditional Turkish colors, particularly red and yellow, which have figured prominently in Ottoman flags down through history. The Turks had a remarkable red dye known as “Turkey red” (originally developed in India) made from madder root by a very tedious and complex process, but the result is as striking and almost as lasting as the red in a garnet gemstone. (The British military later dyed their famous red coats with a madder root dye.) The Turks also came up with a bold yellow dye made from Persian berries. Blue has also figured prominently in Turkish cloth, though not as much as red and yellow. These colors identify the mounted host as Turkish.
The fire, smoke and sulfur that came out of the horses' mouths doubtless refers to the Turks' use of gunpowder. Gunpowder was invented by the Chinese in the 9th Century, and came to the west over the trade route known as the silk road, which meant that it reached Muslim domains before reaching the Christian West. Muslim armies began using gunpowder as early as the middle 13th Century, about a hundred years before it came into use in the West. At the first Ottoman siege of Constantinople, in 1422, the Muslim forces deployed cannons. For the final conquest of Constantinople, in 1453, a Hungarian armorer cast a 27-foot long cannon that was used to lob massive stones at the ancient walls of the city This enormous and loud weapon doubtless left a deep impression on all who saw and heard it; it heralded a new kind of warfare, with exotic new weapons that belched fire and smoke.
We have seen that, in the first woe, “it was given to them that they may not kill them, but that they may be tormented . . .” But in the second woe the third of mankind is spoken of as being “killed.” Why is the Arab conquest called torture, whereas the Turkish conquest is compared to death? Perhaps because even though the Arab conquest stripped the Eastern Roman/Byzantine Empire of most of its territory, that empire still existed. The ancient seat of Constantine—that great center of Greek-speaking Christianity and scholarship—still stood and would continue to stand for seven more centuries after the Arab conquests. But that ended with the fall of Constantinople. After 1453, the Byzantine Empire was well and truly dead, never to return; its former territory was encompassed within the Ottoman Empire, and its proud capital was now the seat of that Muslim empire. Christendom was permanently dead and buried in that third of the old Roman Empire.
Christianity would continue to exist in pockets of the Muslim territories, and still does today. But those overrun by the Turks, and thereby exposed to their “tails that bite like snakes” (Rev. 9:19), would learn the same hard lessons that those conquered by the Arabs had previously learned—along with some new ones. To the usual terms of the dhimmi or “treaty” that we discussed in Part I, the Turks added a new form of oppression, unknown to the Arabs and not sanctioned by Islamic law: the devşirme, or “blood tax,” pursuant to which the Christians of Greece and southeastern Europe were required to give some of their children to the Turkish Sultan as slaves, to be raised as Muslims. These children were destined for the Janissaries (the Turkish professional military), the harem, or, in the case of select few of the best and the brightest, the administration of the Sultan's government. It has become fashionable in scholarly circles to argue that the poor Christian peasants were happy to have their children follow this path of advancement into an elite class of civil and military servants, but ask yourself whether you would like to have your children forcibly taken from you and raised as Muslims.
The rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts Rev. 9:20-21.
This passage makes all the more obvious that the Islamic conquests were divine judgment upon the apostate Christianity of the middle ages. Eastern Christianity had fallen into a species of idolatry involving the veneration of murals, or wall paintings, known as icons. This degrading practice continued even after the chastening of Muslim domination (the Muslims being exemplary in their rejection of all types of image-making); indeed, the Eastern Orthodox still venerate icons today. Western Christianity had a similar problem with idolatry involving statuary. Statues of pagan deities, such as Jupiter, were brought into churches, given biblical names, and venerated; this encouraged pagans to join the Catholic Church, but unconverted idolaters corrupted the church from within. And, as Rev. 9:21 indicates, when the Second Commandment is violated, every type of degrading immorality follows in the train of the idolatry (Ex. 32:5-6; Rom. 1:21-27).
Sadly, the two thirds of Christendom still alive and intact after the Arab and Turkish Muslim conquests did not repent of the gross apostasy. If anything, the fallen church of the West was hardened in its rebellion against revealed truth and the God of heaven. The fall of Constantinople meant that a rival variant of Christianity was swept aside, leaving the Bishop of Rome to claim universal headship of the Christian Church. The Roman Church not only continued its apostasy and blasphemous pretensions, it grew ever worse.
A Note on the Time Prophecies
There are two time prophecies in these passages. Rev. 9:5 states, “They were not allowed to kill them but only to torture them for five months,” and Rev. 9:15 states, “These four angels had been kept ready for an hour, a day, a month and year, to kill a third of mankind.” Josiah Litch (1809-1886) was a prominent Methodist preacher in the Millerite movement in the years leading up to 1844. Litch agreed with William Miller on the day-year principle of prophetic interpretation, pursuant to which a day of prophetic time equaled one year of real or literal time; this was a commonly accepted principle of prophetic interpretation, including among Methodist commentators such as the noted Adam Clarke. Litch applied the Fifth and Sixth Trumpets to Islam, as did most in the historical school of prophetic interpretation, and hence sought an application of the time prophecies to the Ottoman Empire, which was very much a going concern in the late 1830s.
The five prophetic months of Rev. 9:5 equals 150 actual years. Litch anchored the beginning of this period to the Battle of Bapheus, which Edward Gibbon, in his monumental work “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” dates to July 27, 1299. Bapheus was the battle in which Osman/Othman, after whom the “Ottoman” Turks would be named (to distinguish them from the pre-existing Seljuk [or Seljuq] Turks), rose to prominence by inflicting a defeat on the Byzantine forces. Going forward 150 years from July 27, 1299 takes us to July, 27, 1449. Although Constantinople did not fall until May, 1453, Litch argued that the fact that the Byzantines were forced to seek the Turkish Sultan's intervention in a dispute regarding succession after the death of John VIII Palaiologos (1392-1448) –and hence Sultan Murad II crowned Constantine XI Palaiologos as the next (and, as it happened, the last) Byzantine Emperor—meant that Byzantium had effectively fallen under Turkish domination, and the capture of Constantinople four years later merely dramatically illustrated that reality. With the fall of the Byzantine Empire, the torture ended and the death began.
The next prophetic time period, “an hour, a day, a month, and a year,” equals 391 literal years, plus—if the “hour” is given a prophetic time value—two weeks. Writing in 1838, Josiah Litch predicted that the Turkish power would be overthrown sometime in August, 1840 (the prophetic period expiring on August 11, 1840). In 1840, a 16 year-old Sultan, Abdülmecid I, was at war with Muhammad Ali, an Ottoman officer of Albanian extraction. Ali had been sent as Ottoman viceroy to Egypt shortly after the end of Napoleon's brief invasion, but was a far more able administrator than the sultans he served, and he effectively established his own personal kingdom; by 1838 Ali was ready to declare independence from the Ottoman Empire. Ali had defeated the sultan's forces at the Battle of Nezib, and the commander of the modest Turkish fleet had just handed it over to Ali. At this point, the European powers--including Great Britain, Austria, Prussia and Russia--intervened on behalf of the young sultan, signing in London, on July 15, 1840, a pact ordering Ali to withdraw from Syria and Lebanon, in return for which he and his descendants would be given hereditary rule of Egypt (which his descendants did rule until 1952).
This ultimatum, which the powers enforced by blockading the Nile and shelling Ali's positions in Lebanon and Syria, reached Ali in Egypt on August 11, 1840, the exact date Litch pointed to as the end of the prophetic time period of Revelation 9:15. There was a remarkable parallel to the beginning and end of the prophetic period: both were demarcated not by an absolute fall, but by a weakening to the point where old enemies were dictating terms. In 1449, the Byzantines were so weak that the Turks had dictated the Byzantine succession, and in 1840, the Ottoman Porte was so frail that the Christian powers dictated a modus vivendi to the sultan and his rogue viceroy, and enforced it on both. Ellen White writes of the encouragement that Litch's astonishingly successful prophetic interpretation brought to the Millerite movement, particularly in its vindication of the day-year principle:
When it became known, multitudes were convinced of the correctness of the principles of prophetic interpretation adopted by Miller and his associates, and a wonderful impetus was given to the advent movement. Men of learning and position united with Miller, both in preaching and in publishing his views, and from 1840 to 1844 the work rapidly extended (GC 335).
Although the Ottoman Empire did not fall until the First World War, its power to persecute Christians was interfered with. It was called “the sick man of Europe;” Britain and France propped it up mainly as a buffer against Russian imperial expansion; the frustration of Russia's attempts to expand its empire southward became such a fixture of Victorian-era British foreign policy that it became known as “the great game,” and assistance to the Turks (such as in the Crimean War) was part of this game. But Western help came with a price: the Turks were forced to abolish the jizyah (the poll tax on non-Muslims) and numerous other features of the ancient treaty or “dhimmi,” as the European powers competed with each other to be seen as the protectors of the Christian peoples of the Ottoman Empire.
Islam, a totalitarian religio-political ideology that combines religious beliefs with a body of law and a belligerent nationalistic outlook, is re-asserting itself after centuries of quiescence. The military power of Islam, ferocious and rightly feared for centuries, was broken around the turn of the 19th century. Soon thereafter, most Muslim territories became colonies, client states, or protectorates of Christian nations. The European powers all eventually relinquished their Muslim colonies, but the native regimes that followed were usually secular and modeled after the Western governments that had recently controlled them; these benign governments typically were overthrown by dictators, but the dictators were almost always secularists and, in many cases, socialists. For the most part, they wanted nothing to do with Islam as a governing ideology. There were very few Islamic governments in the Muslim world for several decades. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, founded after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and never a Western colony, long had the most Islamic government in the world. (Close ties between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia prevented it from becoming jihadist in character, but the Saudis used their enormous oil wealth to peacefully promote Salafist Islam around the world.) Then came the Iranian Revolution of 1979, in which a pro-American secularist dictator, the Shah, was replaced by an explicitly Islamic government, a government run by Muslim clerics who sought to implement sharia law as interpreted in the Shia tradition. Although Kemal Ataturk, the leader of Turkey after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, took elaborate precautions to guard against a resurgence of political Islam in that nation, the past decade has seen the slow death of Kemalism (Turkish secularism) under the Islamist government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Last year's “Arab Spring,” saw the removal of several secularist Arab dictators, most notably Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, a long-time friend and ally of the United States, who was replaced by an Islamic government led by the Muslim Brotherhood (and another Salafist party even more militant than the Brotherhood).
In summary, what is happening in the Muslim world is an Islamic revival. Secular governments that had looked to the West for governing laws, principles, and structures are being rejected by their Muslim constituents. They are being replaced, often violently, by governments that look to Islamic law (sharia law) for guidance. Sharia law is a system of law, developed mostly in the 7th through the 10th centuries, derived from the Quran, the hadith (collections of oral traditions about the life and teachings of Muhammad), and the various schools of Islamic jurisprudence.
The current Islamic revival has many Christians wondering about Islam's place in Bible prophecy. Any discussion of prophecy must begin with a basic methodology of prophetic interpretation. One school, preterism, contends that the prophecies were all fulfilled by events that took place close to the time they were written. Another school, futurism, contends that everything remains to be fulfilled; it is all still in the future, and will take place shortly before the Second Coming of Christ. A third school of prophecy, historicism, contends that many of the prophecies were fulfilled during the 20 centuries between John the Revelator's time and our time. Although preterism and especially futurism are now more popular in evangelical circles, Seventh-day Adventists have always taken the historical approach.
Historicists have generally seen Islam as prefigured in the fifth and sixth trumpets, or first and second woes, of Revelation Chapter Nine. The fifth trumpet, or messenger, which is the first woe (Rev. 9:1-12), is seen as the Saracen or Arab wave of Islamic expansion. The Arab wave destroyed the Persian Empire, stripped the Byzantine/Eastern Roman Empire of most of its territory, swept away Christian Egypt and North Africa, destroyed a Christian Visigothic kingdom in Spain, and crested in northern France in 732 A.D. at the battle of Tours/Poitiers, at which Frankish forces led by Charles Martel (“the hammer”) defeated a large Muslim raiding force.
The sixth trumpet/messenger, which is the second woe (Rev. 9:13-20), is interpreted as the Ottoman Turkish wave of Islamic expansion. This Turkish wave destroyed the old Byzantine/Eastern Roman Empire (when Constantinople, now Istanbul, finally fell to the Turks in 1453), eventually conquered most of Greece and Southeastern Europe, and reached its high water mark at the gates of Vienna in 1529, and again in 1683 when King Jan III Sobieski of Poland defeated the Ottoman forces.
The historical school of prophetic interpretation views Islam as divinely-allowed retribution against the apostate Christianity of the middle ages, that period of 42 prophetic months or 1,260 literal years lasting from 538 to 1798 AD, which was a time when pure, Bible believing Christians were furiously persecuted and the biblical witness was muted, forced to testify “clothed in sackcloth” (Rev. 11:2-3; 13:5). As Uriah Smith wrote, “The Saracens [Arabs] and the Turks were the instruments by which a false religion became the scourge of an apostate church . . . .” and later, “The hordes of the Saracens and Turks were let loose as a scourge and punishment upon apostate Christendom. Men suffered the punishment, but learned no lesson from it.” It was not long after the beginning of the period of Papal supremacy in 538 AD that Muhammad was born (570 AD), and Islam's assault on Christendom began in earnest soon after his death in 632 AD.
Let us now see what John wrote regarding the visions shown him on the Isle of Patmos, and discuss how it was fulfilled by Islam:
And the fifth messenger did sound, and I saw a star out of the heaven having fallen to the earth, and there was given to it the key of the pit of the abyss, and he did open the pit of the abyss, and there came up a smoke out of the pit as smoke of a great furnace, and darkened was the sun and the air, from the smoke of the pit. Rev. 9:1-2
The star that fell from heaven to earth was Lucifer, now Satan (Isaiah 14:12; Ezekiel 28:14-187; Luke 10:18; Rev. 12:7-9, 13, 17). Muhammad believed his prophecies were inspired by the angel Gabriel (Quran 2:97); in reality, his inspiration came from a different angel, a fallen angel. Satan was given the key to open the abyss, meaning that he was allowed to inspire Muhammad to form a false religion. Like every Satanically-inspired false religion, Islam is a mixture of truth and error. Included among its positives are its acknowledgment of the inspiration of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, it promotion of monotheism, and its strong condemnation of idolatry and any sort of veneration of icons or statuary. But Islam denies the divinity of Christ and denies that Christ died on the cross to save the human race from its sins. These denials are the dark smoke that obscures the saving light of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In the New Testament, the “abyss” is a dark abode where demons are held (Luke 8:30-31; 1 Pet. 3;19; Jude 6), and a place from which demonic things emerge (Rev. 17:8). After the Second Coming, the lifeless, empty, desolate earth forms an “abyss” in which Satan is locked (Rev. 20:1-3, 7-10). So the abyss is both a dark abode for demons and a desolate place. The term “abyss” in Revelation nine can symbolize both 1) that Islam would emerge from the abyss from which demonically inspired doctrines come, and 2) that Islam would emerge from the desolate desert wastes of Arabia.
And out of the smoke came forth locusts to the earth, and there was given to them authority, as scorpions of the earth have authority, and it was said to them that they may not injure the grass of the earth, nor any green thing, nor any tree, but--the men only who have not the seal of upon their foreheads. Rev. 9:3-4
The false religion of Islam was soon to invade Christendom like a plague of locusts—although obviously not a literal swarm of locusts, because such swarms always destroy every green and growing thing. These “locusts” do not injure the grass or the trees. Gibbon notes that Abu Bakr, the first successor (caliph) to Muhammad, ordered his warriors not to destroy palm trees, fruit trees or grain fields, thus fulfilling this part of the prophecy.
Those who lack the seal of God will be sorely afflicted by these locusts. The seal of God is the Sabbath; the Fourth Commandment describes God's creation of the heavens and the earth, and thus establishes God's sovereignty over that creation, and His right to make laws to govern it. (Gen. 2:2-3; Ex. 20:8-11; 31:13, 17; Ezek. 20:12, 20. See, also, PP 307). Most Christians of the seventh century embraced the name of Christ while neglecting His laws and precepts, beginning with the Sabbath commandment. They had for centuries been neglecting Christ's commandments while persecuting and killing each other in pointless, inane controversies over the exact mixture of human and divine in the person of Christ.
And the likenesses of the locusts are like to horses made ready for battle, and upon their heads as crowns like gold, and their faces as faces of men, and they had hair as hair of women, and their teeth were as those of lions, and they had breastplates as breastplates of iron, and the noise of their wings is as the noise of chariots of many horses racing to battle; and they have tails like scorpions, and stings were in their tails; and their authority to injure men five months; and they have over them a king--the messenger of the abyss–his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in the Greek his name is Apollyon. Rev. 9:7-11
The prophecy obviously does not speak of actual grasshoppers, or any other insects. We are here being shown a ferocious warrior nation that specialized in fast-moving cavalry attacks. This mode of warfare was the signature of the Arab Muslim armies, composed of magnificent Arabian horses ridden by skilled horsemen. These fearsome mounted armies rapidly conquered much of the world; within a century after the death of Muhammad (570-632 AD), Muslims had conquered all of Arabia, Mesopotamia, Persia, Palestine, Egypt, North Africa, and Spain, and had raided deep into France. Abaddon and Apollyon both mean “destruction” or “destroyer,” and that perfectly describes Satan, his prophet Muhammad—the prophet or messenger of the abyss—and what Islam did to the Persian Empire, the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, and the Visigothic kingdom of Spain:
[A]nd it was given to them that they may not kill them, but that they may be tormented five months, and their torment is as the torment of a scorpion, when it may strike a man; and in those days shall men seek death, and they shall not find it, and they shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them. Rev. 9:5-6
Islam is a militant creed that prescribes constant warfare against the infidel until sharia law is established throughout the world. However, Islam protects the lives of non-Muslim “people of the book”--Christians and Jews—on condition that they accept the treaty (“dhimmi,” in Arabic) pursuant to which they agree to live in submission to Muslim overlords. (In this respect, Islam compares favorably with the medieval Papacy, which tended to purposefully exterminate heretics and non-conformists in inquisitions or pogroms; the crusade against the Albigenses/Cathars was one such campaign of extermination.) Christians and Jews who live under the protection of the treaty are called dhimmis.
The plight of the dhimmi is not a pleasant one. The details of dhimmitude varied from place to place, but the main features were the same. Since Islamic persecution of the Copts has recently resumed in earnest, we will discuss the conditions of dhimmitude in Egypt that, over the course of about a thousand years, reduced the Egyptian Christians from the overwhelming majority of the population to a small minority of about ten percent. (Interestingly, when the Arabs first conquered Egypt in 641 AD, the Copts found them preferable to their erstwhile Byzantine rulers, largely because most of the Copts were monophysites who were persecuted by the Chalcedonian Byzantine government [monophysitism and Chalcedonianism being competing schools of thought regarding Christ's exact human/divine nature] and the Muslims put a stop to this internecine persecution. Some years later, after the Muslims had consolidated their grip on power, the Copts were introduced to the true nature of Islamic tolerance.)
First, dhimmis are required to pay a special poll tax called the jizyah that Muslims are not required to pay, and typically paid other commercial taxes at a higher rate than Muslims. The jizyah is paid in a humiliating public ceremony at which the dhimmi is slapped in the face or hit on the back of the neck. He was then issued a receipt that allowed him to travel, but if he lost the receipt he was subject to execution. Dhimmis were not allowed to travel without a passport, and any boat transporting a dhimmi lacking a passport was burned.
Second, title to land was forfeit to the Muslims; dhimmis had to pay a land tax called the kharaj to continue to cultivate their own land. The kharaj instantly reduced many of the Copts to destitution. Thousands left the land or converted to Islam. But the Muslim rulers could not afford to lose their peasant class, so they rounded up Coptic villagers and branded them with identifying brands, so that they could not escape their serfdom. For many years, Copts were forbidden to sell their land to Muslims, because that would exempt the land from the kharaj, which the Muslim rulers needed. To discourage mass conversion, the jizyah was extended to new converts to Islam.
In theory, dhimmis are allowed freedom of religion, but they are not allowed to build new churches or repair existing churches. They must worship in quietness and are not allowed to ring church bells, or have singing at church or lamentations at funerals. They were forbidden to proselytize. Disparaging or criticizing Muhammad or Islam is considered a serious breach of the treaty, punishable by death. (When today we see Muslims demand that Westerners not disparage the prophet, they are treating Westerners as already conquered dhimmis; many Western leaders, much to their disgrace, try to accommodate these sharia demands, not realizing that submitting to one sharia demand will only lead to more and still more such demands until submission is complete. Islam means submission.)
A dhimmi man is not allowed to marry or have relations with a Muslim woman; this also is breach of the treaty serious enough to warrant death. By contrast, Muslim men are allowed to marry Christian women. A dhimmi is not allowed to own or carry a weapon. Dhimmis are not allowed to have any authority over a Muslim, nor testify against a Muslim in court. Dhimmis were required to wear special clothing, usually ugly, ill-fitting and ridiculous, to distinguish them from Muslims; they could not wear clothes that Muslims wore, nor certain colors, such as green. The purpose of these clothing regulations was to both humiliate and to easily distinguish dhimmis. Dhimmis were not allowed to ride noble mounts such as horses or camels, but were relegated to donkeys and mules. Dhimmis were not allowed to build houses as high as the houses of Muslims, and often were consigned to ghettos away from the Muslim neighborhoods. Dhimmis were required to stand and remain standing in the presence of Muslims.
The enforcement of the treaty fell to the Muslim ruler of the land, and these varied greatly in the extent to which they enforced it. On many of those occasions when enforcement was lax and dhimmis got too far above their station, however, the Muslim “street” would take matters into its own hands; rioting Muslims would often destroy dhimmi property and kill dozens to hundreds of dhimmis. They reasoned that by ignoring the restrictions of the treaty, the dhimmis had forfeited its protection of their lives.
The bleak life of dhimmitude was indeed “as the torment of the scorpion.” It is little wonder that most of the Copts eventually chose conversion to Islam, and even this route out of their serfdom was not always open to them. But the plight of the dhimmi was better than the fate of non-Muslims captured in raids and in piracy; these were not entitled to the protection of the treaty. Piracy has always been acceptable in Islam, following the example of Muhammad, who practiced brigandage against desert caravans. For hundreds of years, Muslims raided the coasts of Greece, Sicily, Italy, France, and even Ireland. Mediterranean shipping was not safe from Muslim piracy until after the Napoleonic Wars. Captives taken in these raids were booty, the spoils of war. They could be killed or forced to convert to Islam. Typically their fate was slavery, which usually meant concubinage for the women, and often meant castration for the men. Muhammad's example in owning slaves and concubines legitimized slavery, both sexual and non-sexual, for his followers down through history. (One of Muhammad's concubines was “Mary the Copt,” who was gifted to him by the Byzantine governor of Egypt in 628 AD.) Although we think of Islam as the realm of the veil, niqab, chador and burka, slave girls could be exhibited in the marketplace naked from the waist up.
Clearly, during the First Woe, many Christians would “desire to die, but death would flee from them.”