[Illustration: 322.jpg TAILPIECE]
The Rise of Muhammedanism: The Arabic Conquest of Egypt: The Ommayad and Abbasid Dynasties.
The course of history now follows the somewhat uneventful period which introduced Arabian rule into the valley of the Nile. It is only necessary to remind the reader of the striking incidents in the life of Muhammed. He was born at Mecca, in Arabia, in July, 571, and spent his earliest years in the desert. At the age of twelve he travelled with a caravan to Syria, and probably on this occasion first came into contact with the Jews and Christians. After a few youthful adventures, his poetic and religious feelings were awakened by study. He gave himself up to profound meditation upon both the Jewish and Christian ideals, and subsequently beholding the archangel Gabriel in a vision, he proclaimed himself as a prophet of God. After preaching his doctrine for three years, and gaining a few converts (the first of whom was his wife, Khadija), the people of Mecca rose against him and he was forced to flee from the city in 614. New visions and subsequent conversions of influential Arabs strengthened his cause, especially in Medina, whither Muhammed was forced to flee a second time from Mecca in 622, this second flight being known as the Hegira, from which dates the Muhammedan era. In the next year, at Medina, he built his first mosque and married Ayesha, and in 624 was compelled to defend his pretensions by an appeal to arms. He was at first successful, and thereupon appointed Friday as a day of public worship, and, being embittered against the Jews, ordered that the attitude of prayer should no longer be towards Jerusalem, but towards his birthplace, Mecca. In 625 the Muhammedans were defeated by the Meccans, but one tribe after another submitted to him, and after a series of victories Muhammed prepared, in 629, for further conquests in Syria, but he died in 632 before they could be accomplished. His successors were known as caliphs, but from the very first his disciples quarrelled about the leadership, some affirming the rights of Ali, who had married Muhammed’s daughter, Fatima, and others supporting the claims of Abu Bekr, his father-in-law. There was also a religious quarrel concerning certain oral traditions relating to the Koran, or the Muhammedan sacred scriptures. Those who accepted the tradition were known as Sunnites, and those who rejected it as Shiites, the latter being the supporters of Ali, both sects, however, being known as Moslems or Islamites. Omar, a Sunnite, obtained the leadership in 634, and proceeded to carry out the prophet’s ambitious schemes of conquest. He subdued successively Syria, Palestine, and Phoenicia, and in 639 directed operations against Egypt. The general in charge of this expedition was Amr, who led four thousand men against Pelusium, which surrendered after a siege of thirty days. This easy victory was crowned by the capture of Alexandria. Amr entered the city on December 22, 640, and he seems to have been surprised at his own success. He immediately wrote to the caliph a letter in which he says: