History of religion

The spread of Christianity and the spread of Islam

In "The fire of Christianity" we asked the question of what may have prompted people in the first centuries to become Christians. to become Christians.
Now let's take a brief look at the rapid spread of Christianity in its early days.
The spread of early Christianity
When we talk about the Christianization When we talk about Rome, we involuntarily think of Rome as the most important starting point. But this is only partly true. For the origins of Christianity lie in Palestine. The most important events in the history of salvation took place in Jerusalem or its surroundings. Disciples and apostles of Jesus traveled from there to the East and West to spread his good news. (Cf. "The early Christian communities").
The most famous missionary was Paul, who preached on three journeys around the eastern Mediterranean and finally landed in Rome as a prisoner on his fourth journey. According to the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 28:16-31), he was given enough freedom there to do missionary work until he was possibly executed, together with other Christians, as an arsonist by Nero after the burning of Rome (64). (1, S. 253).
According to tradition, the Apostle Andrew worked in Greece, Turkey and Constantinople; the Apostle Peter was the first bishop of Rome, according to the controversial doctrine of the Catholic Church; the Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew founded the Armenian Church (around 313/314 Armenia became the first Christian kingdom); the Apostle Bartholomew preached in the Parthian Empire; the Apostle Thomas came as far as India around 52, where a Christian community still exists today, and so on.
After the legalization of Christianity in 313 by Constantine the Great, this religious confession was finally able to appear in public and spread rapidly throughout the Roman Empire. It became the state religion in 391.
In 395, the Roman Empire was divided into the Western Roman Empire with the capital Milan (from 402 to Ravenna) and into the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire with the capital Constantinople.
For some historians, this division of the empire marked the end of antiquity.
That Western Roman Empire soon collapsed in the storms of the migration of peoples, until it died out in 476 with the deposition of the last emperor.
However, Christianity, with an important religious center in Rome, continued to spread and displaced pagan religions.
That Eastern Roman Empire was able to maintain its position for over a millennium and even expand in the meantime. Missionary work was also successfully carried out from here.
Under Justinian I (482-565), the Byzantines had conquered Germanic kingdoms in North Africa and Italy. The tough war with Persia was ended and an uprising put down.
However, nomadic peoples from the steppe threatened both Roman empires, as well as the Persian Empire.
In the 6th centuryEngland, Gaul (France), Italy, Ireland, North Africa, Eastern Europe with Byzantium, Palestine, Scotland, Switzerland, Spain, southern Germany, etc., i.e. essentially the entire territory of the Roman Empire, were at least partially Christian. Germanic conquerors were also baptized.
Less well known is the spread of Christianity from Constantinople in the middle, even in the distant East. There were Christian communities among the Medes, Parthians, Persians, in Azerbaijan, in Arabia, in India and allegedly even in China.
In the early Middle Ages Christianity seemed to be well on its way to conquering the entire known world. However, in various cultic forms with differing theologies (Arian, Assyrian, Ethiopian, Byzantine, Coptic, Nestorian, Roman, etc.) and with patriarchs in Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem and Constantinople, as well as the Bishop of Rome claiming a special position. This fragmentation led to much trouble, fierce disputes and even schisms, which could not be overcome despite many efforts. In 1054, this finally led to the "schism", the division of the church into Latin (Rome) and Greek (Byzantium) Christianity.
This internal fragmentation was later compounded by disputes with dissenters (heretics) and the question of the classification or toleration of the Jews.
There were also serious setbacks for the whole of Christendom:
The Black Death
The bubonic plague, which broke out in Egypt in 541, spread rapidly throughout the Mediterranean from 542 onwards. In 545, it raged as the "Julian plague" in Constantinople, where "ten thousand people died every day for a while". (3, S. 104).
"The bubonic plague brought misery, despair and death. It also triggered a prolonged depression. Fields without farmers, cities without consumers and an entire generation killed off at a young age changed the demographics of late antiquity and caused a significant decline in the economy". (3, S. 105).
Persian Wars
The old, never completely extinguished enmity with Persia flared up again under the successors of Justinian I and led to protracted wars in which it went back and forth.
To make matters worse, there was internal turmoil, disputes over the throne and religious conflicts.
In 626, the Persians, together with the Avars, an equestrian people from the steppes, stood before Constantinople. The assault on the city failed at the famous Theodosian Walls (Emperor Theodosius II 401-450).
Now the Persian War became a religious war, the battle of "Jesus against Zoroaster".
Then the Avars ran out of horse feed, and the Persians learned of a threat to their empire in the east from the Kök Turks (Old Turks, forerunners of the Ottoman Empire).
The attackers had to leave.
The Roman emperor Herakleios (575-641) dared a stunning counterattack and was able to defeat a large Persian army at the Battle of Nineveh in 627. The Persian leadership collapsed, the Shah Khosrau II (590-628) was assassinated and his son had to ask for peace.
Zoroastrianism, the Persian state religion, was also in ruins.
The Eastern Roman Empire could see itself as the winner!
And with it the Christianitynothing seemed to stand in the way of its further expansion.
But things turned out differently:
The storm from the desert
At the beginning of the 7th century, a new danger emerged completely unexpectedly.
In the middle of the desert, in a faraway nowhere that hardly anyone in the great empires knew, a prophet appeared in Mecca by the name of Mohammed (ca. 570-632), who wanted to unite Judaism and Christianity in a continuing, strictly monotheistic religion. These two Abrahamic religions were already known in the Arabian Desert, where polytheistic natural religions dominated. Judaism and Christianity provided Muhammad with many ideas, which were also reflected in the Quran.
At first, the "Prophet of Allah" aroused little enthusiasm.
In 622, he and his followers were expelled from his pagan hometown of Mecca, a trading metropolis and pilgrimage center of polytheism that wanted to remain a center of attraction for idol worshippers.
Muhammad and his entourage were able to find shelter in Jathrib (today Medina).
There he became an "armed prophet" (Machiavelli), who had to start out as a desert bandit in order to implement his theological mission by force and spread Islam.
The "Prophet of Allah" was now the religious leader and at the same time the earthly ruler as a general. First over his entourage and then over the conquered territories.
This unity of religious and earthly power over all believers, in one hand, is still the model for fundamentalist Muslims today, who see it in a renewed "caliphate".[i] despite all cultural, economic, political and religious (Sunni and Shia) differences.
Jews and Christians rejected the new doctrine, the Islammostly off.
In discussions with Jews trained in Rabulism, the Prophet got into trouble and was even ridiculed, for which he took cruel revenge - e.g. on the Jews of Jathrib (2, p. 221 f.).
By the time of his death in 632, Muhammad had established a loose rule over the Arabian Peninsula, which had to be consolidated and expanded by his successors, the "caliphs".
The spread of Islam
Under the caliphs, the warriors from the desert enjoyed a unique run of victories with their new religion. Last but not least, rich booty was brought in.
The two large, neighboring empires - Ostrom and Persia - were greatly weakened by protracted wars, economic crises, epidemics and religious disputes.
Both empires underestimated the danger from the desert, which had never posed a serious threat.
Ideal conditions for the Arab invasion.
636 the Byzantine army was crushed by Omar (592-644), the second caliph, in the Battle of Yarmuk. The south-east of the Byzantine Empire, as well as Syria, Palestine and North Africa with Egypt were lost to the Christian world.
The Persians fared even worse:
After the decisive defeat of Nehawend (642), the Sassanid Empire fell apart and finally collapsed with the assassination of Yazdegerd III, the last Persian Great King (632-651).
Persia was subjugated by the Arabs and Islamized.
Organized resistance against the Muslims had largely collapsed by the middle of the 7th century. One city after another was forced to surrender without a fight.
Not much was destroyed during these conquests, but plenty of booty was taken, of which the fighters also received their share.
The chance to make loot encouraged further conquests and made poor desert warriors flock to the army.
The "gateway to the world" was now open to Islam, whose triumphal march seemed unstoppable.
Borders fell, new trade routes were created and the economy flourished. The new rulers received abundant tax revenues from the flourishing economy.
These were the best conditions for the economic and civilizational upswing of the Arab-Islamic empires, which is much admired by Muslims today.
First the caliphate of the Umayyads (661-750) in Damascus, and then that of the Abbasids (750-1517). Everyone knows the name Harun al-Rashid (766-809) from "One Thousand and One Nights" and the dream city of Baghdad with its legendary oriental splendor.
In the early Middle Ages, the Orient was ahead of the Christian West in many areas. Not least because they knew how to use sources from ancient Greece as well as scientific knowledge from India and China, or the knowledge of Jewish and Christian scholars.
Around 750 (128 years after Muhammad's flight from Mecca), Islam had spread to Spain in the west, India in the east and as far as the Chinese border. An area that can be compared in its extent to the Roman Empire in its heyday.
And the spread of Islam continued. From Africa via India to China. Through conquest (India) or voluntary conversion (Mali, Indonesia, etc.).
It is hardly surprising that Islamic mullahs saw and still see this incredibly rapid, initially violent and later peaceful spread of the new faith as the work of Allah.
A gentle reign
The victorious Muslim Arabs were initially mild rulers.
Jews and Christians were able to remain true to their religion as "Peoples of the Book" (Bible?). The Roman and Sassanid administrative structures were preserved and most officials were able to keep their posts.
This consideration was necessary. After all, the victors were far too few in number for strict control of the conquered countries. Especially as the conquests continued and the troops were needed on the fronts. The Arabs also lacked experience in the administration of larger states.
But this gentleness did not last.
Internal Islamic disputes broke out, particularly over the rules of succession. Three of the first four caliphs were murdered.
The political climate hardened.
The treatment of the conquered became harsher, and from the end of the 7th century onwards, the conversion of the "unbelievers" became more important.
From then on, Jews and Christians suffered oppression, e.g. higher taxation. Pogroms against Jews also occurred (as initiated by Muhammad himself), similar to those in the West.
The Zoroastrians (not a "people of the book") were the most severely persecuted, forcing them to flee to India and Pakistan, where they are still known today as "Parsees" (Persians).
A long defensive battle
A defensive struggle of Christian Europe against an aggressive Islam that lasted almost a millennium had to follow.
Islam was the most dangerous, the longest lasting threat to the West, which had to defend itself if it did not want to go down without a fight.
in the West In 732, the Muslims who had advanced from Spain to Gaul were stopped by Charles Martel (ca. 688-741) at the Battle of Tours and Poitiers.
The invaders retreated. However, not - as the Christians believed - because they had been crushed.
Central Europe had been impoverished and largely destroyed by the migration of peoples, the economy was in ruins and trade had collapsed. There was no hope of any booty here to justify a costly military campaign.
The 8th century also saw the beginning of the "Reconquista", the reconquest of Spain, which was not completed until 1492.
The loss of the "Holy Land", the places where Jesus worked, i.e. the places of the most important events of faith, was particularly painful for Christianity. In addition, important centers of the Christian faith were located in North Africa and Palestine in the first centuries, which were lost from the 7th century onwards.
Through the Crusades Although it was possible to reconquer Jerusalem in 1099, the "Holy Land" could not be held in the long term.
Not all crusaders were completely filled with religious enthusiasm. Some hoped for booty or a fiefdom in the conquered territories. For the competing maritime trading powers, ship transportation was initially a lucrative business. Then it was all about settlements in "Outremer" (overseas) and trade relations with the Muslims. Disputes soon broke out between rival Christians in the "Holy Land", and the European states, which were at odds with each other or even enemies, no longer wanted to provide the necessary support.
After the Battle of Hattin (1187), the Kingdom of Jerusalem was lost, and the other Crusader states (Antioch, Edessa, Tripoli) were also finished by 1302. 
Thus, the Crusades remain just an episode, which still serves Islamist propagandists today as proof of the aggressiveness of Christianity.
Muslims do not want to give up Islamic land under any circumstances, but see the conquest of non-Islamic countries as legitimate.
The West in danger
After the Arab conquests in the Middle East, North Africa and Spain, which began in the West 732, a threat to the existence of the Western world, the Greco-Roman-Christian culture, followed from the East; first by Arab Muslims, then by Turkish Muslims.
A siege of Constantinople by the Arabs under Caliph Muawiya I (605-680), which lasted from 674 to 678, was repelled by the "Greek fire" (a forerunner of the flamethrower). Otherwise Constantinople would have fallen and the Arabs would have invaded central and perhaps even western Europe - no one knows how far.
The mysterious "Greek fire", a "wonder weapon" that was the terror of Muslim sailors, saved Constantinople from ruin for almost eight centuries.
The wild riders from the steppe
Perhaps the greatest danger to the Christian West came from the Mongols from.
After a German army under Henry II of Silesia was destroyed at Liegnitz in 1241, the Mongols were forced to retreat. But not - as my history teacher claimed - because they were so impressed by the bravery of the German knights, but because the Great Khan Ögödei died in distant Karakorum.
After the election of the successor, the Mongols turned to more lucrative targets, conquered Baghdad in1258, destroyed the Abbasid caliphate[ii] and advanced as far as Egypt.
After this, the Mongol Empire, the largest mainland empire in history, disintegrated into several parts due to internal disputes.
A devastating plague epidemic originating in the Asian steppes overran and depopulated almost the entire known world from 1347-1350. (Cf. "The fourth horseman").
There was now a lack of strength for major action almost everywhere. The pandemic also triggered economic and social developments that would change Europe.
The way was cleared for the rise of a new Islamic empire.
The Ottoman (Turkish) Empire
After the Mongol invasion, wandering nomads from the far reaches of Asia (Turkic peoples) arrived, among them Turkish Muslims and Muslim Seljuks, who took over the legacy of the destroyed caliphates.
In 1301, Osman I (1281-1326) became sultan and founded the Ottoman Empire. As the heir to the Arab caliphates, it now became a threat to the existence of the Christian world
The capital of the greatly diminished Byzantine Empire was conquered by the Turks in 1453 with the help of the largest cannons ever seen.
The entire Balkans, some of which had already been lost, now seemed to be easy prey for the Muslims.
In 1529 and 1683, the Turks were in front of Vienna. Austria, southern Germany and the entire Western world were in danger.
The Ottoman Empire came under pressure after the second siege of Vienna (1683), which was as narrow as it was fortunate for the Europeans.
Austria reconquered lost territories.
In the colonies, European powers were increasingly able to assert themselves against the now slowly disintegrating Ottoman Empire, the "sick man on the Bosporus", and from the 18th century onwards, Islamic states no longer posed a serious military threat to Europe until the Ottoman Empire collapsed after the First World War.
End and new beginning of the Christian mission
After great initial successes, the Christian mission suffered severe setbacks in the conflicts with the competing Islam. The spread of Christianity had initially collapsed in the 7th century; Islam spread unchecked, even across regions that were once Christian.
Christian churches - now with different denominations - were only able to proselytize again during the colonial period. Almost only on non-European continents and especially among peoples with natural religions.
Today, Christianity is the most persecuted religion, but hardly anyone in the democracies is aware of this; not even the Pope seems to be bothered by the discrimination against Christians, e.g. in Islamic countries.
In our age of areligious materialism, Christianity is often associated with colonialism and it is pointed out that the Bible contains justifications for slavery, colonialism and the devaluation of peoples of colour, which were still used to religiously legitimize apartheid in the 20th century, for example.
The great saying of Jesus "You will recognize them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:16) unfortunately speaks very strongly against the so-called "Christians" and their self-righteous priests, who are just as guilty of the most serious crimes from the past as they are of unsightly scandals from more recent times. 
Unfortunately, the reputation of the high teaching of the Son of God has suffered greatly due to the behavior of his priests and believers.
Today, Christians therefore have a difficult time with missionary work, especially when a large proportion of those being addressed are agnostics or atheists. Catholic, Orthodox and numerous Protestant churches, as well as Christian and other sects, whose teachings often contradict each other, are in competition with each other. They often have enough trouble slowing down their own loss of members.
From a European perspective, one can hardly speak of a mission in the classical sense; it is more about social and economic development aid projects than about the typical "conversion", the proclamation of the Gospel.
Sects with many different, sometimes even bizarre, religious ideas are more popular today.
The spread of Islam
In Islamic countries, a (Christian) mission is virtually impossible, as Muslims consider apostasy to be a crime worthy of death.
On the other hand, Islamic mullahs around the world are diligently and aggressively proselytizing. Even Islamist fundamentalism or even terrorism - which wants to destroy democracies - can operate and gain ground fairly unhindered in Western countries with liberal constitutions (freedom of religion).
Anti-Semitic statements in the Koran and especially in the hadiths[iii]are usually not taken seriously enough in liberal countries.
In the middle of the 21st century, Islam is likely to become the largest world religion ahead of Christianity, if only because of the population growth of Islamic countries. Will this increase the pressure to Islamize other countries?
The peace that Islam supposedly strives for[iv] will only be achieved - according to fundamentalist teachings - when Islam rules everywhere without exception.
Back to the Middle Ages?
Unfortunately, not only (religious) fundamentalists and populists, but also some of today's politicians harbor nostalgic dreams:
Vladimir Putin wants the Soviet Union, or even the entire territory of Tsarist Russia, back.
China is demanding the annexation of Taiwan, wants to become the leading world power and wants to regain the technological leadership it had until the 14th century.
Recep Erdogan thinks too much about the glory days of the Ottoman Empire and wishes for a Greater Turkey.
Viktor Orban wants to revise the Trianon Treaty of 1919, which means that around 40% of Hungarians do not live in their home country.
Narendra Modi wants to develop his nuclear power India into a leading Hindu superpower and is aiming to join Pakistan and Bangladesh (both Muslim).
Fundamentalist Muslims dream of the resurrection of the caliphate, the introduction of Sharia law[v] and the Islamization of the world.
Such nostalgic hopes - including those of important politicians and dictators in many countries - are usually not taken seriously enough in Western democracies, such as during the war in Ukraine.
This can lead to political misjudgements that distort our view of the future and cause the already fragile world order to totter even further.

Read also "The Christian mission - a failed utopia
(1) Durant, Will, "Kulturgeschichte der Menschheit", Volume 9, Editions Recontre, Lausanne, n.d., page 253.
(2) Essad Bey, "Mohammed", dtv, Munich 1993.
(3) Frankopan, Peter, "Light from the East", Rowohlt, Reinbeck, 2017.
[i] Caliph = successor of Muhammad. There were various caliphates, the last of which was the Ottoman Caliphate, which was officially ended in 1924, two years after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.[ii] After the destruction of Baghdad, the caliphate initially ceased to exist. The Abbasids only formally ruled Egypt under the rule of the Mamelukes. The caliphate was not renewed until 1770 in the Ottoman Empire.
[ii] After the destruction of Baghdad, the caliphate initially ceased to exist. The Abbasids only formally ruled Egypt under the rule of the Mamelukes. The caliphate was not renewed until 1770 in the Ottoman Empire.
[iii] Hadith = statements and actions attributed to Muhammad. After the Koran, the most important sources for the Islamic faith.
[iv] The often-heard assertion that "Islam" means "peace" is a mistranslation. "Islam" means "submission", submission to God. From the fundamentalist point of view, the "kingdom of peace" is only realized when Islam rules with Sharia law. Non-Islamic territories belong to the "realm of war" and should be conquered for Islam.
[v] Sharia = The Islamic understanding of law.