Violence and Belief in Late Antiquity: Militant Devotion in Christianity and Islam

By Thomas Sizgorich | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE
“Horsemen by Day and Monks by Night”:
Narrative and Community
in Islamic Late Antiquity

DURING THE CENTURY or so after the hijra OF 622 C.E.,1 monotheistic Arab armies conquered the Syrian, Egyptian, and North African territories of the Roman Empire, and completely overran the Persian Sasanian Empire in Mesopotamia. Later, the Visigothic kingdom of Iberia was destroyed and its territories absorbed into the new Arab commonwealth. The coming of these armed Arab monotheists to the lands outside of Arabia was preceded by the advent of an Arab prophet of the God of Abraham, although the connection between these two events is anything but clear.2 What is clear, however, is that the conquests left in their wake not only a landscape dotted with émigré Arab monotheist settlements but also an often tenuously united confessional community knit together from many smaller social and political groups. It was a community that seems to have felt strongly the imperative to define itself and that faced the immediate need to explain to its own members and to its neighbors how and why the landscape of the present world had come to change so rapidly. This process of explanation took place within the context of a growing imperial self-awareness on the part of Arab Muslims, as well as during a period of profound cultural fluidity and fecundity that manifested itself notably in the hermeneutic resources at the disposal of those who now imagined

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