The Christian Majority Becomes a Minority Once Again(continuation)

B. The 'Proclamation of Omar', 638

The first juridical problem of this period is that of the "Proclamation of Omar (32). It is of great importance since this document, an "Aman" or guarantee, was to define the status of the Christian community under the new Muslim rule.

According to traditions, the meeting between the Caliph and the patriarch, who had summoned him, took place on the Mount of Olives. Historical texts claim to record the whole of the proceedings and the text of the accord. But since they are remote - two or three centuries after the event - a juridical assessment requires a calm critical approach.

1. The text of the Proclamation

There are two versions of this Aman, one complete and the other shortened.

The complete edition

It is by the Persian historian, Tabari (838-923of the Hegire=310), in his extensive 13-volume work "Tarikh'r-rusul wa 'I-muluk". Tabari, who came almost three centuries after the events, arranges these according to the years of the Hegire and here he refers to Sayf ibn Omar:

"In the name of Allah, the merciful Benefactor! This is the assurance granted to the inhabitants of Aelia by the servant of God, 'Umar, the commander of the Believers. He grants them safety for their persons, their goods, churches, crosses - be they in good or bad condition - and their worship in general. Their churches shall neither be turned over to dwellings nor pulled down; they and their dependents shall not be put to any prejudice and thus shall it fare with their crosses and goods. No constraint shall be imposed upon them in matters of religion and no one among them shall be harmed. No Jew shall be authorised to live in Aelia with them. The inhabitants of Aelia must pay the gizya in the same way as the inhabitants of other towns. It is for them to expel from their cities Roums (Byzantians) and outlaws. Those of the latter who leave shall be granted safe conduct... Those who would stay shall be authorised to, on condition that they pay the same gizya as the inhabitants of Aelia. Those of the inhabitants of Aelia who wish to leave with the Roums, to carry away their goods, abandon their churches and Crosses, shall likewise have their own safe conduct, for themselves and for their Crosses. Rural dwellers (ahl 'I-ard) who were already in the town before the murder of such a one, may stay and pay the gizya by the same title as the people of Aelia, or if they prefer they may leave with the Roums or return to their families. Nothing shall be exacted of them.

Witnesses: Khaledb.A1-Walid, 'Amrb.A1-Alp, 'Abdar-Rahmanb. 'Awf Muawiya b. Abi Sufyan, who wrote these words, here, In the year15 (33).

The abridged version

This is the version of Balathuri (892-879), two centuries and a half after the event, in his history (34).

2. Analysis of the Proclamation text

Origin of the document

As Caetani(35) points out, the common source of these authors is the collector of "hadith" or traditions, Sayf ibn Omar, of the second century of the Hegira. De Goeje at first gave him full credence, but, alerted by the criticisms of Wellhausen, he later recognised the weak points of this traditionalist. Caetani enumerates them (36). He himself relied on previous sources, on the "hadith" or traditions at the time accepted uncritically, given that the lsnad (the succession of transmitters) was correct. But it is well known how intense the elaboration of hadiths was in the early times, precisely to satisfy the demand from traditionalists who collected them. Sayf himself, apart from what he bad received, did not hesitate, according to Caetani, to "amplify, retouch and adorn (37), what he found was too scant in the originals, without mentioning the extreme disorder of the narratives, that was probably due as much to his sources as to Sayf himself. Besides, it is already quite disturbing enough that the whole text of Tabari is unknown to the sources anterior to this historian. In summary, by reason of the certainly apocryphal nature of the documents presented by Sayf, Caetani would have seen in Sayfs text, in the most favourable view "a later composition, based on some document that is perhaps authentic"(38), This conclusion, given this content, seems to us too pessimistic, too influenced by the critical prejudices of Wellhausen.

The existence of an agreement between Omar and Sophronius remains certain. Such pacts were, besides, normal practice among the conquering Arabs. Lacking technical resources to take fortified towns by force, and seeking principally booty and the regular income got through taxing captured towns, they were quite willing to grant guarantees. Mohammed had acted in this way. In 628 he granted life and goods to the people of Khaibar, but he required of them half of their harvest; each year he sent an agent to assess and collect what was due(39). In 630, he imposed a tax on the people of Dumat el-Jandal(40), and Aila or Aqaba(41). It was a remote antecedent of the gizyah, a tax on each person. In effect Mohammed and the conquerors at first demanded a global sum. In 632, Mohammed made his final agreement with Nedjiran. It seems to have been a synallagmatic contract, based on equality, without a tax, but including the provision of 2,000 "hullah" or pieces of cloth by the people of Nedjran(42) . Fattal thought, however, that it was in fact a kind of gizyah(43).

Before Jerusalem, the Muslims made an agreement with Damascus. Khaled ibn 'I-Walid granted the people of Damascus a guarantee for their lives, churches and goods, on condition that they paid a gizyah(44). But for this treaty, as for that of Jerusalem, we also find the greatest confusion in the account of what took place and in the lack of harmony among the traditions(45). While some say that the Damscenes had to give up half their houses, Balathuri claims that the Muslims occupied the houses abandoned by the many inhabitants who left with the Byzantines. This assertion, however, is equally subject to caution, since the Muslims of the first conquests remained in their own camps. Syria's at Jabiah was a day's journey south of Damascus.

There was therefore, without any reasonable doubt, an agreement at the capitulation of Aelia (Jerusalem). But the traditionalist text comes to us through Tabari(46), a historian who died in 923, three centuries afterwards. Obviously he depended on his predecessors and these in turn on the "hadith" or traditions, as well as anecdotes or historical events, which are the foundation of all Arab historic and religious information. For the Arabic authors, a "hadith" was guaranteed if the chain of tradition, the lsnad, was correct. On the other hand, it has been said that criticism of it is not fundamentally difficult. Nevertheless, the intense elaboration of "hadith" carried out in the two first centuries, for all sorts of reasons, obliges us to accept only the most precise texts, and with circumspection at that.


The document of the treaty of Jerusalem, so late in appearing in its present form, invites some observations. It has been especially closely scrutinised by Caetani, who takes issue on it with the assertions of De Goeje. The latter reasoned on the basis of documents of jurists, among them Abou Yousuf (+782-798), the author of a classical treatise on the "kharaj" or land tax. But it is not possible to know with precision about Muslim history on the basis of information provided by Muslim juridical authors. In practice they set out not from actual facts but from an ideal state of things, except "to colour the appearance of the history of intellectual speculations(47) . Thus Omar, the great and unquestioned authority in Islam, has had attributed to him many prescriptions and definitions unknown to him and which in fact were made long after him.

For Caetani, the primary source of the document, given by Balathuri, is Sayf ibn Omar, who is typical of the collectors of "hadith" who hardly inspire confidence. A first mistake is to hold that the treaty was made at Jabiah(48), when it was in fact made at Jerusalem. The year 15 is also inaccurate, since Omar came to Jabiah at the beginning of 17 H.=638, from where he came to Jerusalem at the beginning of 638. Further, it is only in 638 that Omar inaugurated the Hegira age and it is very doubtful that the document had a date of the Hegira, all the more so because of the false date applied by Tabari according to Sayf. Besides, Balathuri says that Amrou ibn 'I-Ac began the siege of Jerusalem after the victory of Yannouk, 15 = 636, and that Abou 'Ubaidah came to help him in 16 = 637. There is nothing more chaotic that the dates of Arab authors as a starting point!

Neither is it possible to give unqualified credence to the list of witnesses to the act: "Khaled ibn 'I-Walid, 'Amrou ibn 'I-Ac,'Abd 'rRahman ibn'Awf, Mo'awiyah ibn Abi Soufyan, who wrote these words". One would sooner wait for the general-in-chief Abou'Ubaidah to accompany Omar to Jerusalem. Mo'awiyah might well have been added because, in his capacity as old secretary of Mohammed, he was respected for his place in Jerusalem, to draft such a document.

The essence of the document

These reservations having been expressed, the essentials of the document are certainly authentic. What mattered to the Muslims was the gizyah, the financial imposition. Omar, the old merchant from Mecca, was quite clear on the matter. It was difficult enough for him to agree to an exception for the Christian Arab tribe of Taghleb. He was prevailed upon to see that it could ally itself to the enemy. Omar was sufficiently impressed to impose on them only a "double sadaqa"(49), the Muslim tithe.

Omar granted the people of Jerusalem safety for "their persons, their goods and churches". These were the ordinary terms of the convention granted by the Muslims to all. By contrast the specifications in the text,

" Their churches shall neither be turned over to dwellings nor pulled down; they and their dependents shall not be put to any prejudice and thus shall it fare with their crosses and goods."

are, by all appearances, subsequent expansions not present in the original text.

Contrarily, the three mentions of the Roums or Byzantines is normal in the authentic text (50). It was quite natural that Omar should think of expelling from Jerusalem those elements of an enemy with which war was being waged. As well as this, the mention of "Roum" is tied up in the Proclamation with the tribute to be paid, the immediate perspective of the very down-to-earth Caliph.

Similarly the mention of the Jews is easy to understand in the original text. Omar must have been made aware of the resentment felt by the Christians against the Jews, after their misdeeds of 614. Chosroes himself, in 622, had banished them from Jerusalem. What is more, the Muslims, after Mohammed, had no sympathy for the Jews. Since Omar would have shared the sentiments of their departed prophet towards them, he was thus naturally disposed to accept on this point what the Christians of Alia calmied. This exclusion of the Jews, which is easy to explain in 638, would have been plausible at a later date when the Jews had re-established a good position in Muslim society.


In summary , the famous Aman, the guarantee of Omar, should be accepted as a historic fact that is fundamentally certain: the essentail of the document id beyond doubt: a guarantee for the inhabitants , their churches and their goods; the exclusion of Byzantines and Jews and ' it goes without saying, the imposition of the gizyah. But, as we have emphasized, with all the modem authors who have made a critical study of the document, the later date of its appearance, the evident elabo-rations in the text, the inaccuracies of dates and witnesses, its very confusion and repetitions do not allow us to state with certainty that we are dealing with the original and authentic text of the agreement made in the spring of 638 between Omar and Sophronius.

It will be noted that the text of this guarantee does not contain onerous conditions for the people of Jerusalem, as are seen in other texts of capitulation treaties. there was no mention of ceding churches as at Damascus" and Horns", nor of accommodating Muslims". This too suggests that the document is fundamentally authentic. But it becomes obvious how later a set of vexatious obligations, all attributed to Omar, were thought up and hung onto the guarantees accorded by the Caliph.

In the course of time, with the oppression becoming increasingly onerous, it is understandable that the Christians invoked the Proclamation of Omar, an authority beyond question for the Muslims. It is probable that their use of the document is what gave rise to the amplifications and repetitions, later marked in the text, regarding churches and goods. It is from the same point view of protection against the Muslims using the authority of Omar, that we can understand a text of Eutychius. This doctor who wrote a universal history, the "Annales" was to become the patriarch of Alexandria from 933 to 940, under the name of Sa'id ibn Batrick (Yahya ofantioch). Writing about the conquest of Jerusalem, he reports in a strongly apologetic way the meeting between Omar and Sophronius:

"As soon as the Gate was opened, Omar entered the town with his companions and came to sit in the atrium (sahen) of the Anastasis (Qiameh). When his time of prayer came, he told the patriarch Sophronius, "I wish to pray". The patriarch replied, "Emir of the faithful, pray in the place where you are". - "I shall not pray here" replied Omar. Therefore the patriarch led him to the church. But Omar told him, "I shall not pray here either", and he went out onto the stairway before the door of the church of St. Constantine, in the east. He prayed alone on the stairway. Then, having sat down, he told the patriarch Sophronius, "do you know, o patriarch, why I did not pray inside the church?" - "Prince of the faithful said the patriarch - I do not know why". Omar replied, "If I had prayed inside the church, it would have been lost to you and would have slipped from your power; for after my death the Muslims would take it away from you, together saying, "Omar prayed here". But give me a sheet of paper so that I may write you a treaty. And Omar made a decree in these terms: "The Muslims shall not pray on the stair, unless it be one person at a time. But they shall not meet there for the public prayer announced by the muezzin call". After having written this treaty, he gave it to the patriarch"(54).

The account was evidently meant to protect the Holy Sepulcher from occupation by the Muslims. There was, in fact, a mosque set up to the south of the portico of the Martyrium, and the omeyyad mosque still stands to the south of the forecourt of the basilica. But the next commentary on the "shurut" would make this use of Omar's authority still more clear.

These cases of using and altering the proclamation of Omar would continue in the following centuries.

In the seventeenth century, an episode in the struggle between Greeks and Catholics for the Holy Places presents a typical case of such manipulation of the proclamation of Omar. The Greek patriarch Theophanius (1 608-1644), was aided in his struggle by his nephew Gregory, who spent three years in Constantinople forging proclamations attributed to Omar, Mo'awiyah, Mohammed 11 and Selim. With the help of a substantial "baksheesh" (bribe) of 40,000 ecus to the sultan Murad IV (1623-1640), these proclamations won the Greeks the sanctuaries of Jerusalem in 1634. However, the year after, Theophanius and Gregory fell out and Gregory revealed the forgeries to ambassadors from Constantinople. These then were able to recall the Turkish proclamation and to restore the sanctuaries in 1636.

In his forgery, Gregory was also mistaken in assigning the proclamation of Omar to the fifteenth year of the Hegira, the capture of Jerusalem to the year 639, and in saying that the town yielded unconditionally and with exemption of the tribute, which would have been unthinkable to Omar. finally, he makes reference to the gates of the basilica of Bethlehem, at the time a bone of contention between the Greeks and the Latins. the proclamation rejected by the Turks in 1636, 1690 and 1852, is an example, both recent and proven, of a document falsified because of new requirements(55).

C. The "Shurut", Obligations of Christian minorities

As adjunct to the Proclamation of Omar, another text of juridical tendency should be quoted: the "shurut". It also concerns Jerusalem and is attributed to Omar.

Let us begin by saying that it is an apocryphal text. The guarantee of Omar for Jerusalem, accorded to Sophronius, reproduced, in broad outline, conventions granted to other towns such as Lud and Damascus. the same goes for the counter-undertaking, the so-called commitments taken on by the Christians of Jerusalem, which are also found, according to Arab historians, in conventions passed with other towns. But while the guarantee of Omar is fundamentally certain, the counter-undertaking, apart from the commitment to pay the tax, is not certain, but a historical and psychological impossibility.

What is more, the document is very late in appearing; the oldest reports of it are five years after the events. Thus for Turtushi (+5401 126), Ibn Asaker (+571-1176). The statement of Souyouti (+911-1505) that older authors knew it is certainly not sufficient. Of course, the historians give their isnad in the traditional Arab method. Turtushi also does this for the same document attributed to Omar at the treaty convened with the Syrians: "We have from 'Abd ir-Rahman ibn 'Awf" (+678687)... But it has already been said how little confidence can be placed in the isnads (chains of witnesses) of traditionalists.

The shurut texts

Let us begin, though, by looking at the text concerning Jerusalem reported by a modem Muslim historian, a great specialist in the history of the Holy City, Aref il- Aref (+ 1 973). He transcribes it in his "Tarikh il-quds" (1 95 1 ):

"in the name of Allah, the merciful Benefactor! This is a letter addressed by the Christians of a certain town, to the servant of Allah 'Umar b. al-Khattab, Commander of the Faithful. When you came to this country, we asked you for safekeeping for us, our offspring, our goods and our companions in religion. And we made in your presence the following pledge:

We shall not build in our towns and their surroundings any more convents, churches, monks' ceIls (qallaya) or hermitages. We shall not restore, neither by day or night, those of such buildings that should fall into disrepair, or which are situated in the Muslim districts. We shall open wide our doors to passers-by and travelers. We shall offer hospitality to all the Muslims who come to us and shelter them for three days. We shall not give protection, neither in our churches nor in our dwellings, to any spy. We shall hide nothing from the Muslims that could be to their prejudice. We shall not teach the Koran to our children. We shall not make public show of our worship and shall not preach it. We shall not prevent any of our relatives from embracing Islam if such is their wish. We shall be full of respect towards the Muslims. We shall rise from our seat if they wish to sit. We shall in no way seek to resemble them, by their clothing, by the qalanswa, their turban or their shoes, or by the manner of wearing their hair. We shall not use their ways of speaking; we shall not take their kunyas. We shall not ride in the saddle. We shall not wear a sword. We shall not keep any kind of armament or carry such on our persons. We shall not have our seals engraved in Arabic characters. We shall not sell any fermented drink. We shall shave our faces. We shall always dress in the same manner wherever we might be; we shall bind the tattle with the zunnar. We shall never show our Crosses or our books on the paths frequented by the Muslims and in their markets. We shall beat the naqus in our churches but very softly. We shall not make public processions on Palm Sunday or at Easter. We shall not raise our voices when accompanying our dead. We shall not pray aloud on the paths frequented by Muslims and in their markets. We shall never bury our dead in the neighbourhood of Muslims. We shall not use slaves that have been allocated to Muslims. We shall not overlook the dwellings of Muslims"(56).


If we compare this text with that of the agreement with the Syrians", we find a remarkable agreement in the introduction, the composition and the underlying ideas, but also a certain number of variations.

This counter-undertaking of the guarantee of Omar constitutes what the Muslim authors were to call the "shurut", or obligations; these are quite astonishing. Most of the shuruts do not mention the payment of the tax.. this is, nevertheless, for the Muslims, the first and essential condition of any surrender or treaty. This silence alone would be enough to betray it as unhistorical.

It has been pointed out that such a document does not fit at all with "the mentality of Arabic conquerors(58). Only one thing mattered to them: the commitment to pay them tribute. All the humiliating conditions enumerated in this document are absolutely foreign to the mentality and thought of Omar; they are a psychological impossibility.

They are also, for 638, a historical impossibility. In effect they transpose to this date anti-Christian measures whose origins history places much later.

These shuruts, attributed to Omar at the treaty of 638, are thus a total forgery. They do not mention the essential commitment required of Christians, that of paying tribute. Instead they list conditions unthinkable for that time, and that would only apply in later centuries. That such a document should appear so late, several centuries after the capitulation of Jerusalem, also does much to give away its falseness.


These shuruts of Jerusalem, like those of other countries, should be considered a fabrication by later Muslim jurists. They made idealised constructs with elements taken from everywhere, without concern for time or place. Once they had built their ideal picture - in this case made of all possible vexations that could be imposed on Christians - they attribute it to the incontrovertible authority of Omar, in disregard of any historical or psychological realism. Methods enshrined in tradition allowed them to present the required isnad as a plausible link back to Omar.

The only merit this ideal picture of the shurut has for us is that it gives a complete and impressive list of anti-Christian vexations.

It is difficult to give a definite date to the appearance of each. Modem historians are sure, on the grounds of historical witnesses, that even these vexations were not imposed all at the same time or permanent.

Nevertheless, here or there, in one country or another, Christians dominated by Muslims were affected by them, and this includes those who were in Palestine.



32 Firman' is the Turkish term meaning'Decree.

33 TABARI, Tarikh'r-rusal wa'l-muluk, 1, p. 2405-2406, French traduction of FATAL, "Le statut ldgal des non-musulmans en pays d'lslarn", Beyrouth 1958, p. 45-46:

34BALATHURI, kitab futuh il-buldan, Cairo 1319 H.=1901, p.164. See also AI-YA'COUBI, Tarikh, Lyde 1883 !!, p. 167: Similarly YAHYA of ANTIOCH, Annals (CSCO, Series Ill, t. VII, p. 17).

35 CAETANI L., Annali dell'lslam, 10 voll., Milano 1905-1926, 111, p. 953.

36 Ibid., p. 954-955.

37 Ibid., p. 953.

38 Ibid., p. 955.

39 BALATHURI, op. cit., p. 26.

40 Ibid., p 73.

41 Ibid., p 71-72.

42 Ibid., p 77.

43 FATTAL, op. cit., p. 25.

44 BALATHURI, op. cit., p. 144.

45 FATTAL, op. cit., p. 4 1.

46 TABARI, op. cit., p. 2405.

47 op. cit., p. XII.

48 TABARI, op. Cit., Ill, p. 608.

49 BALATHURI, op. cit., p. 216; TABARI, op. cit., 1, p. 2482; FATTAL, op. cit., p. 37.

50 HAJJAR J., Les Chretiens uniates du Proche-Orient, Paris 1962, p. 77. This expulsion is mentioned here quite clearly: "It even seems, according to the spirit of the documents, that the country experienced a considerable exodus of the Christian or Byzantine population and its clergy". It is in fact known that clerics from Palestine emigrated at that time to Sicily and that one of them, Theodosius, became pope (642-649).

51 FATTAL, op. cit., p. 43. 52 TABARI, op. Cit., 1, p. 2493.

53 Ibid., p. 2662.

54 YAHYA of ANTIOCH, op. cit., (CSCO, Series 111, t. VII, p. 1 7):

55. GOLUBOVICH G., Biblioteca bio-bibliografica della Terra Santa e dell'Oriente Franciscano, Quarracchi (Firenze) 1906, p. 163 ss.

56. FATTAL, op.cit., p.61; 'AREF il-'AFEF, Tarikh il-quds, Jerusalem 1951, p. 47-48

57. See text in FATTAL, op. cit., p.63 ss

58. FATTAL, op. cit., p.67.