The Three Phases of ArabHistory

Excerpt from "History of Arab Thought"

by Dr. Wjih I. Saadeh

These three following phases are the foundation for social and diplomaticArab History, and the Nucleus of Arab expansion and their thought and culture.

Christianity and Monarchy| Islam and Califate | Conclusion

1. The phase of Ignorance and High Literature(750 B.C - 634 A. D.)

The three phases of Arab history made a coherent philosophy and a literarycontinuity for Arab learning and culture, beginning with the first phaseof the Age of Ignorance and High Literature. That was the age of tribalArab nationalism when that national spirit was based on the sacred foundationof the tribe, on its origin and kindship, and on its honor and dignity.

The tribes fought each other for these same reasons and objectives,and the poets and men of literature then wrote in defense of these samesacred reasons and objectives. Many tribal knights and warriors died indefense of their tribes, and many tribal States or Kingdoms grew and developedin South Arabia and succeeded each other in the struggle for supremacy,and all flourished on agriculture and trade in the region of Northern ArabTribes on the Peninsula's Red Sea coast all the way to the Mediterraneanshores.

The tribal kingdoms of those Arabs remind us of the ancient city Statesof Greece and of those medieval City States in Italy. In each of thoselocations these States or Kingdoms were centers of culture, trade and Internationalcommerce. They were organized and Independent governments, there met, menof literature who produced unmatched literary products, and they had armiesto defend them and their seat of government. These tribal States foughteach other for whatever cause there was. Their knights fought on Arabianhorses and using the Yamani swords.

These tribes also gathered annually for a literary competition in SoukOkath to compete with each other for the finest orations or poems by menof literature represented in the Seven Odes which were and still are ofthe highest Arab literary production and which compelled me to give itthe name "The age of Ignorance and High Literature".

It was called the Age of Ignorance because the People were paganisticand worshipped many idols. I am adding "High Literature" becauseof the high literary production ever produced in that space of time, andon the belief that authors of all kinds of literary production misinterpretedand mistreated that age.

This phase of Arab history began after the fall of the last civilizationof our kinsmen, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Chaldians, the Phoeniciansand Cananites, to whom we are indebted and stand as representatives, andwe connect this to Christianity and the rise of the two Christian ArabKingdoms, the Gassanids and Montherits.

2- The Phase of Christianityand The Monarchy (First Century A.D. to 650 A.D.)

This second phase of Arab history survived as Christian Arab monarchiesin both Syria and Iraq for approximately six centuries. Those were Christiansin religion and Arabs in conviction, and were neighbors to the Christiansof Rome and Byzantine. Their conviction was separated from their religionof Christianity in running and administering the affairs of their states,for Christianity was already spread and already settled by then.

Their relation with Arab tribes of the Peninsula were based on goodkinsfolk relation and with mutual understanding. The Arab tribes had politicaland military respect and awareness for these monarchies especially thetwo monarchies, the Ghassanids in Syria, the Montherits in Iraq. Theirspirit of nationalism was Arabic in its forms and functions, it was representedin the person of the king in both kingdoms. It was an upstage in the scienceof politics and a fine grade of monarchy and one of the finest advancementin the history of the Arabs.

It was an age of enlightennent and of justice. It was a time of growthand development in all fields of study. Schools were opened and great teachersand philosophers lectured on students of boys and girls who came to studyin their separate schools.

The royal courts were opened for poets from inside and outside the kingdom,and most of all from the Arab tribes of the Arabian Peninsula. Andreligiously those Christian Arabs belonged to the Syrian Church, to eitherthe Jacobites or Nestorians, and those tried to christianize theArabs and had already missionary posts spread all over the region.

These two Arab Kingdoms, the Gassanids in Syria and the Montherits inIraq, were secular in their make-up and behavior, and this secularity ofthe state in both kingdoms was organized properly and administrated well.On this secularity, they based relations with their Southern Arab neighbors,and as well with the Roman, Byzantine and Persian Empires. From these Empiresthey acquired the administration of the state, the government set-up andfunction, the system of education and became part of these civilizationsof these same Empires, but remained Arab in souland spirit, and preserved the ideals of Arab nationalism and Arabculture and their influence endured throughout the Umayad Empire.

Those Christian Arabs of Gassanids and Montherits were brothersand came from the largest Arab tribe of Qahtan,they relate to the Arab tribes of Aws and Kazraj,also they and the Christians of the ancient Semiteswere parents of those translatos, men of medicine and sciences, and ofthe learned in all fields of study, the great scholars to whom Muawyahlbn Abu Suffian, builder of the Umayyad Empire, entrusted the administrationof the state and enrichement of its culture and learning process.On theshoulder of those Christians, Muawyah, this king and Caliph and his successors,built the foundation of the Arab Golden Agewhich reached its zenith in the days of the Abbasid Caliph AI-Ma'moun.

All of those ancient Semites who built great Empires converted to Chistianity,and too, from their kins Arabs converted to Islam and earlier a very fewconverted to Judaism. This phase ended politically when Muslim Arabs defeatedthe three existing empires of Rome, Byzantine and Persia.

Literally the impact of this phase extended throughout the Arab Empire,and it is felt at present in the transformation of Arab nationalism andmodern Arab literature and philosophy.

3- The phase of Islam and theCaliphate (632-1798)

The advent of Islam in Arabia unified and strengthened the Arabs. Theyjoined under one Arab Caliph and all under the banner of tribal traits,Arab nationalism, and the spirituality of the newreligion of Islam. Thus the Arab Muslim armies advanced to bothSyria and Iraq and defeated the Byzantines and Persians, and too broughtto an end the Christian Arab Kingdoms of the Ghassanid and Montherits,Tadmur in Syria and the Nabatiens in Petra, Jordan.

Meanwhile, in this "phase of Islam and theCaliphate", nationalism was based on Islam, it was religiousnationalism and tribal too, and this only time was combined with Arab nationalismand Arab convictions, and for that genuine combination and reason provedto be working well and very advantageous to the new Arab conquerors. Nevertheless,beginning with the Umayyad Caliph Muawiyah, the spirit of Arab nationalismbecame strongly entrenched in the whole system of this greatest periodof Arab history and Arab glory. Muawiyah was a real Arab Caliph and theUmayads built a vast Arab Empire and Arab national spirit grew and developedproportionately and Arab nationalism was the motto and banner of this unitedhappy Empire.

But history has its won mysteries and unpredictable events which maylead to diffrent and opposite directions and to new growth and developments.Now with the Umayyads being Arabs and the spirit of their nationalism beingArab too, the Abbasids had no national groundto build on their power, they looked therefore, for, and used the religiousissue solely to enhance the building of this Caliphate to acquire powerby appealing to Muslims of non-Arab origin.The Abbasids replaced the ArabUmayad Caliphate in 750 A.D. when they slaughtered the Ummayads near Jaffain Palestine.

Religious nationalism took course in Christian Europe in medieval timesand as far as the seventeenth century, and took a national and internationalforms throughout these centuries of somehow religious wars and persecutions.

The Abbasids used religious nationalism to come to power, and throughMuslims of non-Arab origin acheived that objective. Those of non-Arab origin- the Safanids, the Persians, the Suljuk-Turks- had destroyed and dividedthe Abbasid caliphate, also devastated the nucleus of the Arab nation,its spirit of Arab nationalism, its advanced learning process and the enrichementof Arab Culture. However, history acknowledges that when the Abbasid caliphswere in full control of the state of affairs, they made Baghdada world center of learning and culture, 813-850 A.D.The ArabGolden Age, reached its peak during the reign of the caliph Al Mamoun813-833.

The Arab people were dismembered and their lands were flatly openedto the many conquerors who humiliated the Arab personality and destroyedArab civilization. The boundaries of the Empire were dislocated and wereunprotected from all invaders of all sorts of people. Theywere Persians, Mongols and their tribes of Seljuk-Turks, the Kurdish, theCrusaders, and thereafter the Ottoman Turks who also were from theMongol race, ruled and oppressed the Arab people and destroyed their identityand their national entity and convictions, subduing the Arabs for hundredsof years under their yoke.

But years later and encouraged by the weakness of Turkey, the Europeanpowers began dividing its domain and destiny. The spirit of Arabnationalism began to revive in 1798 when the Napoleonic expeditionto Egypt and Syria brought in its folds the seeds of Liberty, Equalityand Fraternity of the French Revolution of 1789, and as well the teachingof Rousseau, Voltaire and Montesquieu, and the Declaration of the Rightsof Man, and the Napoleonic Code of Laws. All of these principles of theexpedition grew and developed in both Egypt and Syria, and revived toothe spirit of Arab nationalism. This growth of Arab nationalism began graduallyshaking Turkish rule in the area, and by the end of the first World War1914-1918, Britain and France replaced Turkey and thereafter British mandatedpolicy in Palestine created the chronic Arab-Israeliconflict at a time when most of the Arab states were free and independent.

Arab nationalism began and continue to cope with internal and internationalproblems due to foreign challenges and conspiracies. These external powersfear Arab unity and solidarity as an outcome and as a fact. Therefore thesechallenges and conspiracies may continue by way of taking different profilesand dress to suit the time and space. Simultaneously Arab nationalism maydefine and refine itself to suit time and space and to remain fully alertin the course of events. Modern Arab movements and parties represent thisfact.

Before ending, we should also remember that the expedition of Napoleonto Egypt and Syria in 1798, and its cultural and legal impact revived thespirit of Arab nationalism based on Arab convictions and Arab historicalbackground and heritage, and consequently the Arabs began the search andthe formulation of their personality and their historical national identity.

4- Conclusion

Interpretation of the contents of these three phrases will always extendthrough Arab history and will always revolve around it, and the spiritof Arab nationalism will always be the victorious element and the onlydominant factor in Arab societies at all times. ArabChristians and Arab Muslims worked/work hand in hand to acheivethat objective of national unity.Culturally, the Second phase remainedthe basic ground for Arab learning throughout the centuries, for it wasrich in all human endeavours and fields of studies, and appealing to Arabmind and spirit. The Arabs of the third phase entrusted its scheme andprograms and remained faithful to them.

However, from then until now and perhaps for tomorrow, the Arab worldmay remain divided as it is, and for sometime to come.

But it is my sincere hope to see a positiveArab approach developing towards cooperation and unity so that Arabs buildagain, as highly, a cultural theatre for the benefit of Humanity and forpeace in the world.