Friday, June 17, 2005



At the time of Christ until Mohammedan dominance, the Persians, the Romans, the Egyptians and the Abyssinians (the modern Ethiopians), the major imperial powers at the time divided swaths of Arabia onto themselves. Nonetheless, this backwater, that would later become the most important kingdom in Islam.

The Arabs are Semitic people whose Biblical birthplace Ur is less than a hundred miles south of Modern Baghdad. Abraham’s father, Haran was an Arab and Abraham’s first born illegitimate son Ishmael, “the wild ass of a man” (Genesis 16:12) was an Arab who settled in modern Yemen where Osama bin Laden’s family hails from.

The Arabs for all their scarcity controlled the lucrative silk trade with China (Cathay) and with their triangular mast ships that caught the trade winds and because of piracy in the Red Sea had proved such a problem, merchants put their cargo onto camel bearing caravans across the vast wasteland of Arabia. The bedu or Bedouin, the desert dweller is something akin to the cowboy in our culture, rugged, independent, resourceful and courageous in war.

Though often confounding to scholars, Christian historians chronicle the mission to Arabia through the writings of Eusebius, Rufinus, Socrates, Nicephorus, Metaphrastes, Theodoret, Origen, and Jerome. Except for the remains of a fifth century church that had been converted into a heathen temple, little if anything remains in the way of monuments of literature. Nonetheless, Christianity in Arabia had three in centers in the north-west – a Roman province known as the Kingdom of Ghassan, north-east the Kingdom of Hira a buffer state under Persian sway, and south-west of the peninsula – the three kingdoms of Himyar, Yemen and Najran under Abyssinian domination. The central and southeast, such as Nejd and Oman, probably had knowledge of and a few followers of Christianity . Mohammed knew of Christianity. Christian influences persist throughout the Koran. Mohammed himself had been ministered by a Christian physician who assured him that he was crazy or possessed by the devil.

Christianity in the Roman Province of “Arabia Felix”

Problematic for most historians of this period is the lack of available sources for the Christian Arab. The bards who chronicled this period passed their traditions down orally. At the time of the rise of Islam, Muslim scholars recorded this oral tradition as late as the ninth century referring to this period as one of “anarchy and ignorance.” Nonetheless, we can divide the history of northwestern Arabia into three periods: the direct Roman rule until 261 A.D., the rebel kingdom of Palmyra (262-271), and the re-conquered Roman rule through the Ghassanid dynasty. The Romans called this region “Arabia Felix” or Happy Arabia and did so not so much to denote the disposition of the Bedouin, but to the wealth they controlled through their caravans that enriched the Nabataean kingdom whose architectural feat of Petra still stands as a monument to their genius of their culture. After failed expeditions to conquer the region under Pompey and Augustus, the Romans finally attained their prize by arming a fleet to compete directly with the Nabateans and campaigning during the monsoon months.

The rebel kingdom of Palmyra ably led by Queen Zenobia arose during a period of Persian strength and Roman debility due to Caesarean intrigues and assassinations. But the rebellion had been put down by the Ghassanids – a Christian tribe from Yemen who through conquest endeared themselves to their Roman masters.

Arabs had been present at Pentecost and the first Christian missionary to Arabia had been none other than the Apostle Paul who wrote: "Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned to Damascus" (Gal. I, 17) One suggestion about Pauline mission can be traced to the Koranic allusion to a certain Nebi Salih, or the Prophet Salih, who is said to have come to the Arabs preaching the truth and was not listened to, and who, consequently, in leaving them said: "O my people, I did preach unto you the message of my Lord, and I gave you good advice, but ye love not sincere advisers" (Surah vii). Since the persecutions of both the Roman and Persian of Christians appear particularly harsh, northern Arabia offered a safe haven during those periods of crisis. Christian Arabs became so numerous that Persian and Roman alike relied on Christian Arabs to protect their spice and silk caravans.

Evidence of the Christian influence over the region originates with Rufinus (Hist. Ecclesiastica, II, 6) tells us of a certain Arabian Queen Mu'awiyah, who, after having repeatedly fought against the Romans, accepted peace on condition that a certain monk, called Moses, should be appointed bishop over her tribe. Unfortunately for the Emperor Valens (about 374) had been an Arian and that Moses a hermit of the Egyptian desert refused to be ordained a bishop from the heretic Bishop Lucius of Alexandria. The Emperor had to bring an exiled Catholic bishop to procure the Bedouin queen’s request.

Christianity in Mesopotamian Arabia

Today as in antiquity, Al Anbar province has been a fertile seed bed of passionate religious activity. In modern times, the barren brown waste west of the Euphrates River to the Syrian border provides the Sunni insurgents its most fanatical followers. In antiquity, this austere region was a Christian stronghold in what would become modern Iraq.

Church fathers date Iraqi Christianity towards the first century with the settlement of Tenukh tribe led by Sheik Malik ibn Fahm followed by the Iyad, Azd, Qudâ'ah, and others tribes establishing a Christian Arab community in Hira, not far from the modern Kufa on the Euphrates. The blood of these martyrs at the hands of the Persians spread the faith throughout all of modern Iraq. The Persians called the Christians of Hira 'Ibâd, or "Worshippers.”

The first Christian king of Hira, which dominated the region politically and economically, King Nu’man reigned from 390 to 418. During his reign the Kingdom of Hira extended over all the Arabs of Mesopotamia, over Babylonia, along the Euphrates down to the Persian Gulf, and as far south as the islands of Bahrain. He built the two famous castles of Khawarnig and Sidir, celebrated in Arabic poetry for their unsurpassed splendor and beauty. The region produced one saint, the hermit Saint Simeon the Stylite who by his example converted many pagans into Christians.

Christianity amongst the Ishmaelites

African Judeo-Christianity owes itself in large part to a love affair between a man and a woman more than three thousand years old. When the Queen of Sheba gave herself to King Solomon, Judaism and later Christianity would safe and flourishing passage into modern Ethiopia which in turn spread the new faith to Egypt and North Africa, central and eastern Africa and across the pirate infested waters of the Red Sea into Arabia, Yemen – the land of the Ishmaelites a race of men whose father the Bible described as one “wild ass of a man.”

The King of Axum, at the time of Christ was Jewish and had been Jewish for quite some time. He sent missionaries and colonies across the straits into Yemen called Himyar and Abyssinians – the subjects of the kingdom of Axum who would become the modern day Ethiopians - enjoyed considerable influence. After the Roman destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem and the mass suicide at Masada, many Jews emigrated to Himyar escaping Roman persecution.

Saint Bartholomew traveled to Abyssinia and later to Yemen and won over many hearts to Christ. It may be of some note to consider that for the final thirty years following Christ’s crucifixion that the character of the Christian, the Pauline missions excluded were of a Jewish character.

In the second century, when the second great missionary Pantaenus, master of the school of Alexandria, arrived in Yemen, Pantaenus found Gospel of St. Matthew allegedly from the Apostle himself.

During the reign of Constantine, the third great mission to Himyar came from none other than Bishop Frumentius from Abyssinia who with many priests built churches and won many converts over to Christ.

In 356, the Byzantine Emperor Constantius sent Bishop Theophilus (Greek for lover of God), deacon of Nicomedia to Himyar with the express mission to protect Roman citizens in the free exercise of their religion. Bishop Theophilus won over the king that the king built three churches for them, one at Dhafar (or Safar), another at Aden or at Sanaa, and the third at Hormuz, near the Persian Gulf and according to Philostorgius, the king himself became a Christian.

In 523, the Christians suffered yet another persecution not by Persian or Roman pagans but by Jews in Najran under the Jewish King, Yusuf Dhu Nuwas.

Dhu Nuwas ordered a general massacre of all the Christians. "Large pits were dug in the neighbourhood and filled with burning fuel, and all those who refused to abjure their faith and embrace Judaism, amounting to many thousands, including the priests and monks of the surrounding regions, with the consecrated virgins and the matrons who had retired to lead a monastic life, were committed to the flames. The chief men of the town, with their prince, Arethas [called by some Arabian writers Abdallah ibn Athamir], a man distinguished for his wisdom and piety, were put in chains. Dhu Nuwas next sought their bishop, Paul, and when informed that he had been some time dead, he ordered his bones to be disinterred and burnt and their ashes scattered to the wind. Arethas and his companions were conducted to the side of a small brook in the neighbourhood, where they were beheaded. Their wives, who had shown the same constancy, were afterwards dragged to a similar fate. One named Ruma, the wife of the chief, was brought with her two virgin daughters before Dhu Nuwas; their surpassing beauty is said to have moved his compassion, but their constancy and devotion provoked in a still greater degree his vengeance; the daughters were put to death before the face of their mother, and Ruma, after having been compelled to taste their blood, shared their fate. When he had thus perpetrated the tragedy of Najran, Dhu Nuwas returned with his army to Sanaa." According to Ibn Ishaq, the number of the massacred Christians totaled 20,000, while the letter of the Bishop of Beth-Arsam recorded 427 priests, deacons, monks, and consecrated virgins, and more than 4,000 laymen.

The Dhu Nuwas massacre sent out an international outcry from Persia to Constantinople. The king of Abyssinia led a flotilla of seventy thousand men and invaded Himyar. They re-established religious control over the country but shortly after expelling the Jewish house, the Abyssinians were ousted by Himyarite patriots under a new leader who would become King Abramos.

King Abramos ruled over what would become the golden age of Ishmaeli Christianity. That golden age would be cut short in the year 570 A.D., Mohammed’s birth year and a time known to the Muslims as the “day of the Elephant.” The Ka’bah a religious temple for Arab pagans established in Mecca had been controlled by the Qur’aish tribe of which Mohammed was a member. King Abramos desiring to siphon off the lucrative Hajji traffic built a church in Sanaa that in size, scope and grandeur dwarfed the upstart Meccan dirge bowl. A criminal desecrated the church and King Abramos marched on Mecca with war elephants.

Abdul-Muttalib ibn Hashim, the grandfather of Mohammed and chief of the tribe entreated the King for peace which included one third of all the revenues collected from the Hajjis. King Abramos refused and marched on their mountain redoubts to his annihilation. The King himself died of wounds from the siege and his kingdom and the hope of Christianity in Southern Arabia died with him. Soon the Christians would feel Muslim mercy, conversion, slavery, death or deportation – the hallmarks Islamic tolerance - religious genocide.


The purpose of this article is not just to inform Christians, particularly American Christians of a long neglected period in the past but to argue for future missions political, economic, social, military and SPIRITUAL missions to a part of the world so desperate for peace that it can only come through Christ’s love. If we really want long term peace in the region, we must change the hearts of our enemies formed in the violent institutions of conformity and obedience that emanates from the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed. We must show the infidel that Christianity is more authentic and true to their native culture and pre-existing civilization than the newer and yet backward Islam.

Many nations that have ceased to exist anymore have been brought high and low casting their lots with the fortunes of war. Few of us are of military age, and further, in our national struggle for real change in the Middle East will thwart any direct and victorious military victory over one sixth of humanity. One critic of my first blog, “The New Crusade,” which argued for the cultural annihilation of Islam said how are we going to accomplish this realistically? You start with those prayer cards. It may help to put things in their proper historical context. But those prayer cards, circulate awareness. Awareness circulates action. Action could mean monies sent aboard, letters to the editor, your congressman. Action could mean that one of us could be called to be a missionary and if it is God’s will a martyr. Martyrdom like prayer cries out, just as the ill spilt blood – the blood of the good son Abel - cries from the soil. And God and only God will bring the Saracen to the civilized world if WE PREVAIL IN OUR FAITH!!!!

If this article prompts your faith to act beyond prayer, although prayers from all faiths and sects are welcome, then I suggest the following.

Contribute to the Archdiocese of Baghdad:
His Excellency Bishop Mar Sarhad Jammo Eparchy of Saint Peter the Apostle of San Diego of the Chaldeans 1627 Jamacha Way El Cajon, CA 92019 His Excellency Bishop Mar Ibrahim Ibrahim Eparchy of Saint Thomas the Apostle of Detroit of the Chaldeans 25603 Berg Road Southfield, MI 48034 Rt. Rev. Monsignor & Archimandrite Robert L. Stern Secretary General Catholic Near East Welfare Association 1011 First Avenue New York, NY 10022-4195

Contribute to the following charities and public policy institutes defending both Catholic and Evangelical Christians:

Contribute and support pro-Christian politicians concerned about the plight of our brothers and sisters abroad:
U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va

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