The following period in Palestine is marked by the rise of an Arabic Islamic majority. By the same process the Christian majority, at its height at the end of the Byzantine reign, dwindled slowly to become a modest minority. Under the Moslems, it was subjected to an entirely new juridical code that has remained in place until modern times under the Ottoman empire (1516-1918). Millenarian juridical structures of the Christian minority began to develop during these eight centuries. Hence the importance of studying them in the historical context that gave rise to them. This Arabic period can be divided into three distinct stages, each one having its own part to play in influencing the Christian minority's code of law. This chapter is subdivided along these lines:

- under the Arab regime (638-1099)

- under the Crusades (1 099-129 1)

- under the Mameluk regime (1 291-1516)

In the juridical perspective of this study we shall only mention the historical context when it is indispensable for placing and explaining the juridical structures arising from it.


In the spring of 638 the surrender of Jerusalem, negotiated by the octogenarian patriarch Sophronius with the caliph Omar, set a seal on the conquest of Palestine by the Islamic Arabs. However, the fate of the country had been determined on the 26 August 636, when the Moslems annihilated the Byzantine army of Yarmouk. The resistance of Cesarea, the administrative capital and most easily held sea port, only broke in 640, and did not have a significant outcome.

With the arrival of Moslems from Hedjaz, the population of Palestine became predominantly both Arab and Moslem. It should be noted that before the Moslem conquest of 638 the native population of Palestine had also had a share of Arabic people, who had come from transjor-danian tribes and who had all become Christians. These Arabs integrated well with the population of the country. As pointed out above, this gradual influx of people can be seen through certain personalities. There is the case of Peter-Aspebet, the Bedouin bishop of the desert of Juda (1), with his tribe of Paremboles, whose signature at the Council of Ephesus in 431 was 'Petros Episcopos Parembolan', Peter the Bishop of Paremboles (or tents). A little later there was Elias (494-516), also an Arab patriarch (2) of Jerusalem. But the arrival of the Moslems in 638 was the beginning of the definitive Arabic majority. With them a new religion, Islam, entered Palestine. In the first chapter we witnessed the birth of a Christian minority, which ended up by becoming a majority. In this chapter it is a Moslem minority, which mastered the situation politically and became the new majority of the country in three centuries. In so doing it reduced the Christian majority of 638 to a minority and imposed on it an entirely new juridical code, which is the formal object of this study.

A. From majority to minority

The change was not sudden. The Moslems did not arrive in multitudes; Lammens (3) estimates very reasonably that their forces at the decisive battle of Yarmouk on the 26 August 636 would have numbered about 25,000 men. This victory, which won them Syria, must have quickly drawn others. In particular they would have followed the Caliph Omar, arriving at the beginning of 638 from the camp of Djabia in Syria, to take over Jerusalem at its surrender.

The conquest of Palestine can not have mobilised more than a few thousand Moslems. The country held by the Byzantines was only defended by 'police forces and municipal guards' (4). At Gaza sixty soldiers were able to hold back the Moslems for a long time, before surrender was negotiated in July 637 (5).

At these early stages of the conquest the Arabs did not live in the towns. The assembled in camps, or jounds' (6) , military governorships, whose chiefs held control over the country and the gathering of tribute, the great preoccupation of conquerors.

In Palestine, the headquarters were set up at Amwas (Emmaus). It was there that in 639 the plague (ta'un lmwas) broke out. Spreading among the Moslems of Syria and Palestine, it claimed some 20,000 victims (7) Among these were Abu Ubaidah, the general-in-chief, and Yazid Abu Sufyan, the governor of Syria, who was succeeded by his brother Mou'awiya. After this scourge the Moslems of Palestine transferred their chief camp to Ramleh. This site remained that capital and the administrative and military centre of Moslem Palestine for three centuries. The Caliph Ommeyade Suleiman (715-717) also set up residence there in place of Damascus; the town was built by him (8), after having been for 77 years a mere camp.

Jerusalem had already become a well-known name even among the Arabs. The Caliph Omar came in person to accept the surrender from the patriarch sophronius.

The very lenient terms, 'rather a guarantee of safety than conditions imposed on the vanquished'(9), were written in the so-called Proclamation of Omar. A legal study of this is to follow the present work. Around 670 the Gaullish bishop Arculf (10) travelled to the Holy Land in full liberty and without needing documents of safe conduct. He mentions only a very modest Moslem place of worship, made of wood, on the forecourt of the temple, visited in 638 by Omar.

The situation was quick to change, under the Caliph Abd'I-Malek (685-705) who took over Jerusalem to create, with the mosque of Omar, a Moslem sanctuary to rival Mecca, 'where in gold mosaics shone verses of the Koran opposed to Christian doctrine'(11) He doubled the poll tax and his fiscal policies created an increasing burden that became an encouragement to apostasy. He arabised the administration of the empire, replacing Greek with Arabic as its language. Finally he imposed a new currency, replacing the Byzantine and Persian coins with ones bearing the names of Allah and the Prophet. The new phase of the Arab conquest as a religion had been introduced.

Nevertheless, the story of St. Peter of Capitolias shows Walid to have been a liberal Caliph. He summoned Peter, who in his zeal for martyrdom had insulted Mohammed in presence of the sheiks of Capitolias: You are free to recognise as God Jesus who is a man and a slave of the Creator. But why do you blaspheme our religion and call our peaceful prophet a master of error and lies? (12)

It was only in the face of Peter's incredible obstinacy that he ordered his torture.

Some fifty years after Arculf s peaceful journey, the English pilgrim Willibald found conditions quite different in 724 (13). A safe-conduct was required of him, and he was imprisoned. He wrote that a system of arbitrary fines and humiliations was becoming established. At Nazareth, the Christians had to pay to save their sanctuary (14). In 723 sixty pilgrims were massacred in the Holy Land (15)

Conditions for Christians had become worse before the end of the Omeyyad empire in 750. The Abbasids would make them much worse and establish anti-Christian legislation, which we shall study in the section on juridical matters. Here we show only the broad historical outline of this oppressive rule that was largely responsible for the reduction of Palestine's Christian population to a minority.

The first Abbasid Caliph, Mansur (754-773), seized crosses and churches, and forced Christians to wear a distinctive sign. In 751 the governor of Syrian Palestine, Abdallah, pillaged the Holy Places and massacred the leading citizens assembled at Antipatris. Harun (786-809) was also hostile to Christians. Nevertheless, his dealings with charle magne led to his admission of some measures in favour of the Holy Land. Our juridical paragraph will deal with what has been inaccurately called 'the Protectorate of Charlemagne over the Holy Places'. Under Ma'moun (815-833) the Christian found themselves so persecuted that'many went to Cyprus and to the lands of the Byzantine empire' (16) All the more were the Christians, including those of Palestine, affected by the pitiless persecution of Mutawakkil(847-861),until its replacement by the more liberal rule of lbn Tulon of Egypt, in 878.

The tenth century was particularly unfortunate for the Christians of Palestine, especially at Jerusalem. This was due, especially in the second half of the century, to the effort at reconquest by the Macedonian dynasty of Byzantium, which reclaimed cyprus and Antioch (969). Each Byzantine victory caused, in Palestine, difficulties for the Christians. Thus with the destruction of the churches of Ramieh, Ascalon and Cesarea(17), in 909. In 938 also, when on Palm Sunday the Moslems attacked the Holy Sepulchre, burning its gates and plundering the Anastasis (18) In 966, in reaction to the victory of Nicephorus Phocas, there, was a new attack on the Holy Sepulchre by the Moslems and the Jews, who destroyed the church, killing and burning the Patriarch:

Then (the Moslems) gathered before the gates of St. Constantine and set fire to them. They went in as far as the Anastasis and found it closed. They burned its gates, the dome of the Anastasis fell in, and they thus entered the church where they ravaged all they could find. The mob then set on the church of Sion, burning and pillaging it the same day, and this took place on the Monday before Pentecost, 23 May of the Greek year 1277; the 5 of the second Jumadda of the year 355. - The Jews pillaged and destroyed even more than the Moslems. On the Tuesday following this day, they found the patriarch hiding in one of the oil cistens of the church of the Resurrection, dragged his body to the atrium (sahen) of St. constantine and burned it (19)

Yet worse was the beginning of the eleventh century with the ac- cession in Egypt of the Caliph Hakem (996-1020) who systematically destroyed the churches. He made a point of razing to the ground the church of the Holy Sepulchre on the 28 September 1009, through the agency of his governor of Ramleh:

And (Hakem) wrote in Syria to Baruch, who was at Ramleh, to destroy the church of the Resurrection in such a way as to make all trace of it vanish and to strive to tear up its illustrious foundations. Baruch sent his son Yusef and Hosein son of Daher el-Ouzan and added to their party Abu el-Fauaris ed-Daif. They appropriated the church and its adjoining buildings, and destroyed it totally, but for the parts whose demolition offered difficulties. They demolished the Cranion, and the church of St. Constantine and all that was to be found within the precincts, and they set themselves to reduce to nothing the holy remains. lbn Abi Daher was furiously zealous to destroy the Holy Tomb and to remove all trace of it, and in fact cut out and removed a large part of it. In the neighbourhood there was a convent of women, by the name of Deir es-Serry (or Serb), that was also destroyed. The destruction began on Tuesday, five days before the end of the month of Safar, in the year 400. All that remained of the moulk and ouaqf goods was plundered, and all the movable goods and jewellery were carried off (20)

Renewing and strengthening the austerity laws decreed by Mutawakkil (21), he forced the Christians to become Moslems (22) It is fortunate that he soon revoked his orders, for fear of reprisals against the mosques in Christian lands (23), allowing Christians to return to their religion and to rebuild their churches, even at the expense of the treasury (24) At Jerusalem, in again in 985, the Palestinian geographer, al-Maqdisi, emphasised with evident animosity the importance of the Christian element:

... (the letters of Islam) are not often found there; the numerous Christians behave insolently in the public places (25).

Yet at the same time Moslem pilgrims were frequenting Jerusalem in ever greater numbers. This was because the way to Mecca was often obstructed by the Karmates (26) , the subversive groups who controlled Arabia in the ninth and tenth centuries and once more took control of Mecca in 930 (27) Thus the Moslems came in far greater numbers to Jerusalem and many settled there. As a consequence, after four centuries of Arab occupation Palestine had a definitive majority of Moslems in its population.

It is difficult, nevertheless, to know precisely the moment when the Moslems began to be in the majority in Palestine. It did not take place everywhere at the same time. The thoughts of Maqdisi mentioned above make it certain that in 985 Jerusalem had a majority of Christians. It may also be that there were isolated concentrations of Christians (28) : some of these remained until the nineteenth century. By contrast, due to their position as political masters, the Moslems though less numerous were able to take on the authority of a majority in relation to the Christians they governed. In any case, when intermarriages began to occur, there is no longer any doubt that the Palestinian population was predominantly Moslem.

Contrary to Kremer (29) , Lammens (30) believes that the increase due to Moslem polygamy was neutralised by the loss of Moslem lives in the incessant wars with the Byzantines, the internal wars, plagues and famines. Jahez(3l) emphasises that the monogamy of Christians doesnotpre-vent them from being more prolific than Moslems and from 'filling the earth'.

Whatever the case, the unfavourable development of the Christian population of Palestine is only too easy to explain. The sixth century, which witnessed their rise to a majority, was also marked by devastating and murderous uprisings by the Samaritans at Nablus and in the plain. The Persian invasion so disastrous for its churches also led to much slaughter in Jerusalem. Afterwards the Moslem regime, ever more crushing with taxes, vexations and public punishments led to the progressive diminution of the Christian population, while the Moslems increased. The situation at the beginning of the Crusades is as clear as it is understandable. At the end of these four centuries of Moslem rule, the Christian majority of the seventh century in Palestine had become a minority. From then on it would remain one.



1.BRUNOT A., LEveque bedouin du desert de Juda (Ve 8.), in Jerusalem, XL (1 974), p. 147-153.

2.GENIER R., Un arabe patriarchs de Jerusalem, in conferences de Saint Etienne, 191 0, p. 286-820.

3 LAMMENS H., La Syrie: Precis historique, 2 voll., Beirut 1921, 1, p. 56.

4.Ibid., , p. 58. 5.DELEHAYE H., Passio Sanctorum sexamginta martyrum, in Analecta Bollandiana, Bruxelles-Paris 1904, XXIII, p. 290-307;

5.MENDEBIELLE, Saint Porphyre (347-420), Eveque de Gaza, in Jerusalem, XXXIV (1968), p, 90.

6.HITTI P., History of the Arabs, London 1953, p. 154. There were four 'Jounds': Damascus, Hims, Jordan (comprising Galilee up to the Syrian desert), and Palestine (the part south of the plain of Esdralon). The northern governorship, Quinnastin, was added later by the Omeyyade Caliph Yazid 1.

7.LAMMENS, op.cit., p. 58; HITTI, op. cit., p. 1 54.

8.LAMMENS, Ibid., p. 89.

9.ABEL, Histoire de Palestine, 11, p. 402.

10.GEYER P., Itinera hierosoly mitana saeculi Ill- VIII, Lipsiae 1898, cit. Arculfe.

11. ABEL, Jerusalem Nouvelle, Ill-IV, p.936.

12. PEETERS P., La passion de S. Pierre de Capitolias (+ 18 janvier 71 5), in Analecta Boliandiana, 1939, LVII, P. 801; MENDEBIELLE P.,Un martye dirbed, S. Pierre de Capitolias, in Jerusalem, XXVII (1961), p. 79-87.

13.TOBLER T. and MOLINER A., Itinera hierosolymitana Terrae Sanctae bellis sacris anteriora, Genevae 1879, cit. Willibald.

14. BALDI D. Enchiridion locorum sanctorum, Jerusalem 1935, p. 6, 8:Illam ecclesam Christiani homines sepe comparabant a paganis Sarracenis, quando illi volebant earn destruere'.

I5. MUSSET H., Histoire du Christianisme specialemen't en orient, 3 volt., Harissa (Lebanon) 1948, 1, p. 254-255.

16. Ibid., p. 25 1.

17.PAPADOPOULOS, Typicon de I'Eglise de Jerusalem, in Musset, Histoire du Christianisme specialement en Orient, 1, p. 388.

18.YARHA OF ANTIOCH, Annales, in corpus Seriptorum Christianorum Orientalium (CSCO),

19.after CHABOT 1.-B,

20.Series Telia, tomus VII, p. 87:

21.TABARI, Tarikh 'r-rusal wa 'I-muluk, 13 voll, Egypt 1962, 111, p. 713, 1889, 1419.

22LAMMENS,Op.cit., p. 151.

23. lbn. al-QALANISI, Tarikh aw Thayl tarikh dimashq, Beirut-Leiden 1908, p. 68.

24.YAHYA OF ANTIOCH, Annals (CSCO, Series 111, t. VIII, p. 23 1); LAMMENS, La Syrie: Precis Historique, 1, p. 151.

25.ABEL, Jerusalem Nouvelle, Ill-IV, p. 939; Le STRANGE G., Palestine under the Moslems, London 1890, p. 86: 'Everywhere the Christians and Jews have the upper hand: and the mosque is void of either congregation or assembly of learned men'.

26.HIIM, Op. cit., p. 444-445.

27.Ibid., p. 445; LAMMENS M., L'Islam, croyances et institutions, Beirut 194 1, p. 208.

28.Thus Beth Jaia and Taybeth remained wholly Christian until the twentieth century.

29.KREMER A. Yon, Kulturgeschichte des Orients unter den Chalifen, Vienna 1966, p.115.

30. LAMMENS, La Syrie: Precis Historique, 1, p. 120.

31 JAHEZ, Fousoul Mukhtara, Egypt 1905, p. 176.