The Muslim conquest of Syria Palestina
Yemen is part of the Arabian Peninsula, so its rapid conquest by Islam was not surprising. But what is more in need of explanation is the rapidity with which the Muslims conquered such a large portion of the ancient world (see Map 6). At his death, in 632 CE, Muhammad controlled the Arabian Peninsula, but eighty years later the Umayyad caliphs ruled over the Middle East, from the river Indus in the east, and were starting to conquer Spain in the west. Muhammad’s successors, the Umayyads and the Abbasids, ruled over that territory until 945, and Islam and Arabic have remained dominant after that in all of it, except Spain, until this day. What accounts for the speed with which these territories fell to Muslim rule?
Hugh Kennedy, who has one of the most convincing explanations of this, and whose account I will follow, asks how small armies (never larger than 20,000 men and often smaller) were able to conquer major empires so rapidly and to maintain their identity while persuading the conquered peoples to adopt Islam and later Arabic. Within a century Greek- and Aramaic-speaking Syria, Aramaic- and Persian-speaking Iraq, Greek- and Coptic-speaking Egypt, Pahlavi-speaking Persia, and Latin-, Greek-, and Berber-speaking north Africa had all come under Islamic rule, and were in the process of conversion to Islam and becoming Arabic-speaking.