Vita Sancti Muhameti: A "No Islam" Timeline

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by Laskaris, May 6, 2014.

  1. Laskaris Active Member

    Joined:
    May 30, 2012
    "No Islam" scenarios are a staple of alternate history fiction since Turtledove's Agent of Byzantium. The premise has been discussed on this forum many times, but actual timelines are rarer. Here are a few:

    https://www.alternatehistory.com/discussion/showthread.php?t=35120
    https://www.alternatehistory.com/discussion/showthread.php?t=267220

    This is my attempt at my own timeline. The POD is that the men who were going to take Muhammad to Yathrib (the town that became Medina in our timeline) are killed by the Quraysh, so Muhammad cannot go to Yathrib and takes refuge in the Christian kingdom of Aksum instead.

    Disclaimer: The aim of the thread is to discuss an interesting alternate history scenario. It is not intended to insult Islam, Muslims or the prophet Muhammad (or any other religion, for that matter). I am neither a Christian nor a Muslim myself and thus have no personal stake in either religion. Please read my timeline in the spirit in which it was given, and refrain from inflammatory discussions of conflicts in the real world.

    ------------------------------

    Excerpts from Abdul Rad, Muhammad and the Believers: At the Origins of Arab Christianity, Damascus 2012*:

    Because of the lack of contemporary sources, the life of the man who came to be known as Saint Muhammad is shrouded in considerable mystery. Historians generally agree that our most reliable source on Muhammad is a nearly-complete Latin text from 8th century northern Italy, which came to be known as the Vita Sancti Muhameti. The Vita adapted a series of earlier Syriac Greek sources, now lost to us, which were written several decades after Muhammad's death. It is thought that the Vita, along with the usual legends and miraculous stories typical of texts about the lives of saints, contains a considerable amount of eyewitness accounts from the life of Muhammad that were transmitted orally and first written down by Syriac chroniclers under early Arab rule.

    (...)

    Details about Muhammad's early missionary work in his hometown of Mecca are few and far between. We cannot even say with certainty that he actually considered himself a Christian at the time. While Church authors insist that Muhammad already proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ during his early years in Mecca, an idea that has recently gained traction among scholars is that Muhammad may in fact have started out preaching a native Arab version of monotheism that borrowed heavily from Christianity and Judaism but was distinct from both. Of course, this thesis cannot be verified in light of our sparse historical sources, and some preeminent historians have dismissed it as fanciful speculation. However, it does seem to make sense of some puzzling passages and wordings in the Vita Sancti Muhameti.

    For instance, the Vita does not usually use the term "Christian" when referring to Muhammad and his early followers in Mecca, but "believer". While the term "Christian" appears only six times during the recounting of Muhammad's early missionary work, the term "believer" is employed more than fifty times. Furthermore, it seems clear from some passages that "believer" and "Christian" are distinct (a person could be a "believer" without being a Christian), and that Muhammad's early followers included not only Christians, but also Jews and even some adherents of an Arab form of monotheism dubbed hanif. This "believer movement", if we may call it that, seems to have been an ecumenical movement open to anyone who professed a belief in the oneness of God. Its common enemies were the ruling polytheists of Mecca, the Quraysh, whereas rivalries between different monotheists like Christians, Jews and hanif were downplayed.

    (...)

    Muhammad's position in Mecca became untenable after the deaths, in quick succession, of his first wife Khadija and his uncle Abu Talib, his main sources of social support. Abu Talib was succeeded as head of the Hashim clan by another of Muhammad's uncles, Abu Lahab, who was not sympathetic to his nephew and soon withdrew his support. The Vita recounts how Muhammad, becoming increasingly desperate, tried to win supporters and gain refuge in the town of al-Ta'if (some 100 km west of Mecca), but was rebuffed.

    Eventually, Muhammad was contacted by a group of men from Yathrib, a cluster of oases about 300 km north of Mecca. The people of Yathrib had long been torn by strife between rival clans and, having heard of Muhammad's pious reputation, sought in him someone to reunite their community. They offered to return the next year with a larger group and take Muhammad to Yathrib. For a while, it looked as if this would be a way for Muhammad to escape the increasing persecution in his hometown. However, the Quraysh heard about the plan and paid a band of brigands to attack and kill the men from Yathrib when they were on their way to Mecca the next year. The Vita paints a vivid picture of Muhammad's despair when, hearing about the massacre, he realized that his last hope of finding refuge somewhere in the Hedjaz had been crushed.

    As is well known among Arab Christians, Muhammad then undertook the "hjira" ("taking refuge" or "emigration") to Aksum, the Christian Abyssinian kingdom across the Red Sea. The Aksumites were well regarded by Muhammad because of their belief in the one God. In fact, he had advised a group of his followers, including his daughter Ruqayya and his son-in-law Uthman ibn Affan, to take refuge in Aksum a few years earlier. Upon Muhammad's arrival in Aksum, which modern historians tentatively date to 622 CE, there already existed a sizeable community of Meccan emigrants who welcomed him and rejoiced at being reunited with their spiritual leader. According to the Vita, Muhammad was also received warmly by the Aksumite king, Sahama. While the story that Sahama instantly recognised Muhammad as a saint is obviously fiction, it seems clear in light of the subsequent events that the king quickly came to appreciate Muhammad as a man of great charisma and piety.

    (...)

    Little is known about the events leading up to the Aksumite expedition to the Hedjaz, or about the causes of the expedition. What we know for sure is that Muhammad, if he had not done so earlier, explicitly declared himself a Christian during his exile in Abyssinia, as evidenced by numerous statements and tales in the Vita. There was an identity shift in the "believer movement" from a group that had also accepted Jews and hanif (Arab monotheists) in its ranks to a group that was now exclusively Christian. It also seems to be a historic fact that when Aksumite forces landed on the Hedjaz coast in 626 CE, Muhammad was one of the commanding generals, although historians continue to debate whether he really was the leader of the expedition as claimed in the Vita. In all likelihood, an Abyssinian general whose name is lost to us was the leader while Muhammad, the head of the Meccan expatriate community in Aksum, was in a subordinate position.

    There were several precedents for the expedition. Around 520 CE, King Kaleb of Aksum had conquered the Jewish Himyarite kingdom of Yemen. The Aksumite viceroy of Yemen, Abraha, had mounted an unsuccessful siege of Mecca sometime before or around the time of Muhammad's birth. Controlling the Hedjaz and its trade routes had long been a goal of the Aksumites. It may well be that, when king Sahama recognised Muhammad's skills as a leader and the influence he held over the Arab community in Aksum, he decided to use them as a tool towards this end. It is also possible that sending Muhammad on this expedition was a way for Sahama to get rid of the growing and potentially troublesome community of Meccan exiles. Whatever the king's motive, Muhammad did not need much persuasion. The Vita makes it clear that, ever since his flight from Mecca, he had vowed to one day return to the city in triumph. Now he had the men and the means to do it.

    When the Quraysh in Mecca heard that a force of Aksumites and Meccan exiles had landed in the Hedjaz and that Muhammad was among them, they sent out an army to drive the invaders back into the sea. According to the Vita, Muhammad and his forces took up defensive positions in hilly terrain and dug a trench that rendered the enemy cavalry ineffective. The clash that took place in the spring of 627 CE and came to be known as the Battle of the Trench ended with a stalemate, but seems to have considerably improved Muhammad's prestige.

    In the following months, he negotiated alliances with several tribes in the region. It seems that Muhammad sometimes had to allow pagan Arabs to cling to their ancestral religion (even though the Vita downplays this), but many of his allies also embraced his message of Christianity. Muhammad's forces raided the caravans coming in and out of Mecca and eventually set up a full blockade of the trading town. In 628 CE, after a siege and heavy fighting, they took Mecca and expelled all the Quraysh who did not accept Christianity. Muhammad ordered the removal of pagan idols from the shrine at the center of the town, the Kaaba, and converted it into a church. The Church of Saint Muhammad remains the most important Christian site in the Arabian peninsula today, and the destination of pilgrims from all over the Middle East.

    (...)

    While the Vita goes into considerable detail about Muhammad's triumphant return to Mecca, the subsequent campaigns of the Aksumite-Meccan expedition are less clear. The people of Yathrib, who had invited Muhammad to be an arbiter in their affairs even before his Abyssinian exile, converted to Christianity around 630 CE, although the exact circumstances are not known. The Vita describes it as a peaceful conversion while modern historians assume that at least some military force was used in the subjugation of the town. The sizeable Jewish community of Yathrib was forced to convert or go into exile. Muhammad then turned his attention to al-Ta'if, the third major town of western Arabia, which continued to reject his advances. He defeated the forces of al-Ta'if and their nomadic allies in a field battle and, after a brief siege, took the town itself.

    Muhammad was now unquestionably the major political figure in western Arabia. If he had not been the leader of the Aksumite expedition from the start, he had by now usurped command of the mostly native Arab troops. In all likelihood, Muhammad still formally recognised the authority of the Aksumite king while setting himself up as a de facto independent ruler of his overseas territory. This would be a similar development to the Aksumite rule in Yemen, where the viceroy had also quickly become independent some one hundred years earlier.

    Muhammad received delegations from numerous tribal groups in Arabia, both settled and nomadic, who hastened to pledge their allegiance to him. His growing political and military strength enabled him to disperse with the policy of making alliances with pagans, which had earlier been a necessity. Now, according to the Vita, he announced that all polytheists would henceforth be forced to submit to the Christian god, by the power of the sword if necessary. Muhammad also organised a major military expedition to the town of Tabuk in the far north, which is poorly understood. Whatever its exact goals were, it does indicate that Muhammad sought to expand his rule to the north during his final years.

    (...)

    According to the Arab Christian tradition laid out in the Vita, Muhammad undertook a pilgrimage to Jerusalem at the end of his life and was ordained as a bishop there. Virtually all modern historians hold the view that this is fiction. The Vita and historians agree that Muhammad died from fever while at home in Mecca, in or around the year 632 CE. It is said that his head was cradled in the lap of his wife Aisha. Following local custom, his body was interred beneath the floor of his house.

    Who was Muhammad, whom Arabs and other Christians throughout the Middle East today venerate as a saint? Was he a general or a man of peace, a worldly ruler or a spiritual leader? When we read the sources available to us and try to separate fact from fiction, it seems likely that he was all of the above to some extent. What is certain is that he was a man of extraordinary vision and skill, who transformed the history of Arabia forever.

    ------------------------------

    And that, in a nutshell, is the POD. More to come!

    (* A variation on our timeline's book by Fred M. Donner, Muhammad and the Believers: At the Origins of Islam, Harvard 2012. Some of the passages above have been adapted from it, but the majority is completely original writing of mine.)
     
    Last edited: May 7, 2014
  2. NikoZnate γνῶθι σεαυτόν

    Joined:
    Jul 2, 2011
    Location:
    K’emk’emelá‎‎ý
    Looks interesting! I'll be paying attention :)

    One minor linguistic quibble: The name Abdul al-Rad should be "Abd(u) al-Rad" or "Abdul-Rad", otherwise you're technically repeating the definite article "al-" twice.
     
  3. St. Just Angel of Death

    Joined:
    Jan 24, 2010
    Location:
    A mistake
    Very interesting. Is Arabia Miaphysite, Nestorian or Nicene?
     
  4. Unknown Member

    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2004
    Location:
    Corpus Christi, TX
    Taking this to today?

    Good start.
     
  5. Basileus Giorgios Augustus and Autocrat

    Joined:
    Mar 28, 2008
    Location:
    West Riding
    This is brilliant stuff, Laskaris: one of the most impressive opening posts for a TL that I've seen on here in some time. Thoroughly looking forward to more from you.

    My advice to a new poster is to take it slow: don't push yourself to update every few days, or the quality is likely to go down. I find it can be helpful to write a chapter or two well ahead of where you're up to presenting it on the forum: this again keeps the pressure down.

    I can see this becoming an AH.com "big hit": so keep up the good work! :D

    Monophysites and Nestorians are both Nicene denominations. A more precise term is "Chalcedonian", for this period: the Council of Chalcedon was an attempt to condemn Nestorianism once and for all but was rejected by Monophysite hardliners for not being anti-Nestorian enough. Despite energetic efforts by Justinian in particular, this perceived problem was never overcome, although doctrinal disputes were probably never anything like as violent as some imagine.

    Back on topic, I'd imagine that a heavily Aksumite influenced Arabian state would be Monophysite.
     
    Last edited: May 6, 2014
  6. Russian woolly rhinoceros

    Joined:
    Sep 3, 2011
    Location:
    Russia, Saint-Petersburg
    Laskaris, that was a good beginning. I will definitely follow this TL.
     
  7. Huehuecoyotl Reinar es Agridulce

    Joined:
    Oct 6, 2010
    Location:
    Xibalba
    An approach oft-discussed, but rarely explored. I really, really like this. :D
     
  8. ramones1986 Grumpy and Lazy

    Joined:
    Apr 21, 2012
    Location:
    Las Filipinas
    This is really interesting...
     
  9. angakkuq Friendly Neighborhood Geek

    Joined:
    Apr 21, 2009
    Location:
    Arizona
    An intruguing concept. Subscribed.
     
  10. Pururauka Miraculous Chanka Slayer

    Joined:
    Dec 12, 2012
    Location:
    Andean Highlands 6705 AD
    Intriguing indeed!
     
  11. TFSmith121 War is the remedy that our enemies have chosen ... Banned

    Joined:
    Nov 11, 2013
    Location:
    21st Century AD
    Very interesting road into late antiquity

    One minor thing - presumably this: "Arab peninsula today" should be "Arabian Peninsula today"?

    Inshallah
     
  12. starwarsfan Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Mar 13, 2012
    hmm, pretty interesting

    Looking forward to more updates
     
  13. Dfront21 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Apr 7, 2012
    One thing, Yemen was under Sassanid control during the time of Muhammad.
     
  14. Malta Kirked

    Joined:
    Jul 2, 2007
    Location:
    Baltimare
    Huzzah. My TL was remembered.

    Still, a interesting take on events.
     
  15. Tredecimus The Man from UNCLOS

    Joined:
    Dec 10, 2013
    Location:
    The Thousand-Island Reich
    Very interesting. Subscribed.
     
  16. Timaeus Basileus of Zosyneia

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2013
    Location:
    The Pearl of the Orient.
    ooh! such fun.

    so arabia is monophysite?

    i wonder if this will start a melee a trois between the mostly chalcedonian byzantines, the persians, and the rising power of aksum?

    it seems to imply the fall of the persians still.
     
  17. Grouchio Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Oct 9, 2011
    Location:
    Gorham, Maine, USA
    Suddenly my 6th century Recap thread has become relevant again. :D
     
  18. Laskaris Active Member

    Joined:
    May 30, 2012
    Thank you all for your interest and for your words of encouragement.

    Yes, I plan on making updates every week or two weeks. I would rather have good quality and slower updates than quick updates and lower quality.

    Thanks, I corrected that.

    As Basileus Giorgios pointed out, "Chalcedonian" is the more precise term during this period for the churches that in our timeline became Catholic / Eastern Orthodox, and that is the term I am going to use.

    Furthermore, I am going to use the term "Miaphysite" instead of "Monophysite". "Monophysite" is a term that, to my knowledge, was usually used in a derogatory context and rejected by the Oriental churches. They thought of themselves as "Miaphysite", and in fact, this seems to describe their Christology more accurately. So that is the term I am going to use.

    As for the question about Arabia: there will be several variants of Christianity in Arabia in my timeline. Without the new religion of Islam to unify them, the Arabs will remain divided by tribalism and infighting. There will be several Arab kingdoms belonging to different churches, according to their geographical location.

    Just wait and see! :D

    I don't know yet how far I am going to take the timeline. Obviously, the butterflies will be huge after a while. I will try to take it as far as I can, as long as I and the readers remain interested. I do plan on writing about the events from the perspective of late 20th / early 21st century authors in this alternate timeline, as I did in the opening post. Even if I don't take the timeline itself that far, this will provide hints about what this alternate world looks like "today".

    Indeed. Corrected.

    Yes, and nothing I wrote contradicts that. Note that everything I wrote so far about Yemen takes place before the POD and is therefore the same as in our timeline.
     
  19. St. Just Angel of Death

    Joined:
    Jan 24, 2010
    Location:
    A mistake
    Can't believe I made the Chalcedonian error- and a divided Arabia Christianity wise seems apt, what with Orthodox Ghassanids, Nestorian Lakhmids, and what looks like a Miaphysite Muhammad...
     
  20. Basileus Giorgios Augustus and Autocrat

    Joined:
    Mar 28, 2008
    Location:
    West Riding
    I hate to be that guy who corrects all over the place, but the Ghassanids were anti-Chalcedonian Monophysites. :p