*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 26th of July. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I’m Adam Francisco in for Dan van Voorhis.

Today on Christian History Almanac, we look at a moment in the history of Islam that will have significant consequences on the history of Christianity. That moment is the shift of power away from the companions of Muhammad—who are called the rightly-guided caliphs—to a Syrian dynasty known as the Umayyads. The event that signaled this shift was the battle of Siffin.

The belligerents were the forces of the fourth caliph and cousin of Muhammad, Ali bin Abi Talib from Mecca and Medina, and the Syrian army of Muawiyya, governor of recently conquered Damascus and member of the Umayyad clan. The battle began on the 26th of July in 657. It ended, after about 70,000 died, on the 28th or 29th when Mu’awiyya’s forces requested or demanded that victory be decided by negotiation and discerned by which side was more orthodox than the other.

Ali, who was the caliph, agreed. This was seen as weakness and infidelity, and even though he walked away as the temporary victor, he would ultimately be the loser when he was assassinated. By 661, the seat of power in Islam was relocated from the Arabian Peninsula to the city of Damascus. It would be presided over by Muawiyya and his extended family for nearly a century.

Here’s why this is all relevant to Christian history. With the political center of the Muslim world now under 1000 miles from the capital of the eastern half of the Roman empire—or what is also called Byzantium—and the center of Christendom in the early middle ages, Christendom was increasingly vulnerable. Muslim forces had already conquered much of Syria, the holy land, and Egypt. In the 100 years following the battle of Siffin, Islam continued to expand into the Mediterranean world, which had been predominated by Christianity for centuries. By 711, North Africa had fallen to Islam. Spain was conquered and would be dominated by Islamic political regimes for decades and centuries to come. The eastern Mediterranean and much of Asia Minor, just shy of Constantinople, would be Islamized as well. (In the east, Islam would reach the Indian subcontinent and the western reaches of China by the middle of the century.)

This did not mean Christianity was wiped out in conquered lands. It wasn’t. But Christians would find themselves living in very different circumstances, in what’s called a state of dhimmitude as so-called people of the book. They would have to pay a special tax in exchange for the right to remain Christian. Their movement, dress, and worship would be restricted. They would effectively, over time, become second-class citizens, and the religion of their overloads would prove to be, as the great Oxford historian Richard Southern put it, the most far-reaching problem for medieval Christians.

A reading from Romans 9:30-10:4.

30 What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness[a] did not succeed in reaching that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 as it is written,

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

10 Brothers,[b] my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. 2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 26th of July brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.

The show is produced by Christopher Gillespie and written by Adam Francisco.

You can catch us here every day. And remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. In the end, everything is going to be ok.