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Abstract

Christian sources of mid seventh century give relatively little attention to Muslims and even less to Islam, but the number of references is still considerable. The Christian approach to early Islam and Muslim rule was mostly negative, or at best neutral, but in the early sources this was not because of the contents of Islamic belief but because of what the Islamic rule did to Christians. Insiders’ and outsiders’ perspectives on Islam and Muslims were constantly at odds, however, and should not be confused. When the Muslim rule was established and the society started to adapt the Islamic system, conversions started to take place on growing numbers. The first known cases are rather early and imply that a noteworthy number of conversions took place even in the pre-Umayyad era in some places. The dominating motive seems to have been the will to avoid the discriminating taxation. Had there been a considerable amount of conversions because of the belief in the Quranic revelation, theological authors would certainly have reacted heavily. It was only in Abbasid times, however, that a need for theological apologies appeared. Even if the early cases of conversion were somewhat random, they were nevertheless unprecedented. Apart from certain cases during the persecutions of the early Church, conversions away from Christianity in the Christian East had been almost non-existent. Therefore, the Islamic rule was perceived and interpreted as an apocalyptic disaster: Rome or Persia had not been able to conquer the Church by persecution, but for the first time in history, big numbers of Christians were denouncing their faith. This process intensified in latter half of the eighth century, but it was already on the rise a century earlier.

In: Religious Polemics and Encounters in Late Antiquity