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Muslim conquest of Egypt

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

At the commencement of the Muslim conquest of

Egypt, Egypt was part of the Byzantine/Eastern Roman Muslim conquest of Egypt
Empire, which had its capital at Constantinople. Egypt Part of the Muslim conquests and the Arab
had been conquered just a decade before by the Persian Byzantine wars
Empire under Khosrau II (616629 AD); however,
Emperor Heraclius re-captured it after a series of
campaigns against the Sassanid Persians, only to lose it
to the Muslim Rashidun army ten years later. Before the
Muslim conquest of Egypt had begun, the Byzantines had
already lost the Levant and its Arab ally, the Ghassanid
Kingdom, to the Muslims. All of this left the Byzantine
Empire dangerously exposed and vulnerable.[1]

1 Rashidun invasion of Egypt
Date 639642
1.1 Rashidun army crossing the Egyptian
border Location Egypt, Libya
1.2 Conquest of Pelusium and Belbeis Result Rashidun victory.
1.3 Siege of Babylon Territorial Muslims annex Egypt, Cyrenaica,
1.3.1 Reinforcements from Madinah changes Tripolitania and Fezzan.
1.3.2 Battle of Heliopolis
1.3.3 Conquering of Fayoum and Belligerents
Babylon Byzantine Empire Rashidun Caliphate
1.4 Surrender of Thebaid (Southeastern Commanders and leaders
1.5 March to Alexandria Emperor Heraclius Caliph Umar
1.6 Conquest of Alexandria and fall of Egypt Theodorus Amr ibn al-Aas
2 Invasion of Nubia Aretion Zubair ibn al-Awam
Constans II Miqdad bin Al-Aswad
3 Conquest of North Africa Ubaida bin As-Samit
4 Stance of the Egyptians towards the invading Cyrus of Alexandria
Muslims Kharija bin Huzafa
5 Egypt under Muslim rule
5.1 Fustat, the new capital
5.2 Reforms of Caliph Umar
6 See also
7 References
8 Bibliography
9 External links

Rashidun invasion of Egypt

Rashidun army crossing the Egyptian border

In December 639, 'Amr ibn al-'As left for Egypt with a force of
4,000 troops. Most of the soldiers belonged to the Arab tribe of
'Ak, although Al-Kindi mentions that one-third of the soldiers
belonged to the Arab tribe of Ghafik. The Arab soldiers were also
joined by some Roman and Persian converts to Islam. However,
'Umar, the Muslim caliph, reconsidered his orders to Amr, thinking
it foolhardy to expect to conquer such a large country as Egypt
with a mere 4,000 soldiers. Accordingly, he wrote a letter to 'Amr
commanding him to come back.[2]
Pyramids of Giza.
The messenger, 'Uqbah ibn 'Amr, caught up with Amr at Rafah, a
little short of the Egyptian frontier. Guessing what might be in the
letter, 'Amr ordered the army to quicken its pace. Turning to 'Uqbah, 'Amr said that he would receive the
caliph's letter from him when the army had halted after the day's journey. 'Uqbah, being unaware of the
contents of the letter, agreed and marched along with the army. The army halted for the night at
Shajratein, a little valley near the city of El Arish, which 'Amr knew to be beyond the Egyptian border.[3]
'Amr then received and read 'Umar's letter and went on to consult his companions as to the course of
action to be adopted. The unanimous view was that as they had received the letter on Egyptian soil, they
had permission to proceed.

When 'Umar received the reply, he decided to watch further developments and started concentrating
fresh forces at Madinah that could be dispatched to Egypt as reinforcements. On Eid al-Adha, the Muslim
army marched from Shajratein to El Arish,[2] a small town lacking a garrison. The town put up no
resistance, and the citizens offered allegiance on the usual terms. The Muslim soldiers celebrated the Eid
festival there.

Conquest of Pelusium and Belbeis

In the later part of December 639 or in early January 640, the Muslim army reached Pelusium, an Eastern
Roman garrison city that was considered Egypt's eastern gate at the time. The Muslim siege of the town
dragged on for two months. In February 640, an assault group led by a prominent field commander
Huzaifah ibn Wala successfully assaulted and captured the fort and city.[4][5][6][7][8][9] Armanousa, the
daughter of Cyrus who fiercely resisted the Muslims in Pelusium and fell hostage in their hands, was sent
to her father in the Babylon Fortress.[10]

The losses incurred by the Arab Muslim army were ameliorated by the number of Sinai Bedouins who,
taking the initiative, had joined them in conquering Egypt.[11] These Bedouins belonged to the tribes of
Rashidah and Lakhm[12] The ease with which Pelusium fell to the Muslim Arabs, and the lack of Byzantine
reinforcements to aid the city during the month-long siege, is often attributed to the treachery of the
Egyptian governor, Cyrus, who was also the Monothelite/Monophysite Patriarch of Alexandria.[11][13]

After the fall of Pelusium, the Muslims marched to Bilbeis, 40 miles from Memphis via desert roads and
besieged it. Belbeis was the first place in Egypt where the Byzantines showed some measure of
resistance towards the Arab conquerors. Two Christian monks accompanied by Cyrus of Alexandria and
the famous Roman general Aretion came out to negotiate with 'Amr ibn al-'As. Aretion was previously the
Byzantine governor of Jerusalem, and had fled to Egypt when the city fell to the Muslims. 'Amr gave them
three options: to either convert to Islam, to pay Jizya, or to fight the Muslims. They requested three days
to reflect, thenas mentioned by al-Tabarirequested two extra days. At the end of the five days, the
to reflect, thenas mentioned by al-Tabarirequested two extra days. At the end of the five days, the
two monks and the general decided to reject Islam and Jizya and fight the Muslims. They thus disobeyed
their ruler, Cyrus of Alexandria, who wanted to surrender and pay Jizya. Cyrus subsequently left for the
Babylon Fortress, while the two monks and Aretion decided to fight the Arabs. The fight resulted in the
victory of the latter and the death of Aretion. 'Amr ibn al-'As subsequently attempted to convince the
native Egyptians to aid the Arabs and surrender the city, based on the kinship between Egyptians and
Arabs via Hagar.[14] When the Egyptians refused, the siege of Bilbeis was continued until the city fell after
a month. Towards the end of March 640, the city surrendered to the Muslims.[13] With the fall of Belbeis,
the Arabs were only one day away from the head of the Delta.

Siege of Babylon
Amr had visualized that the conquest of Egypt would be a
walkover. This expectation turned out to be wrong. Even at the
outposts of Pelusium and Bilbeis, the Muslims had met stiff
resistance. The siege of Pelusium had lasted for two months and
that of Bilbeis for one month. Both battles were preludes to the
siege of Babylon, which was a larger and more important city.
Here, resistance on a larger scale was expected.[2] After the fall
of Bilbeis, the Muslims advanced to Babylon, near modern Cairo.
The Muslims arrived at Babylon some time in May 640 AD.[15]
Babylon was a fortified city, and the Romans had prepared it for a
siege. Outside the city, a ditch had been dug, and a large force Map detailing the route of the Muslims'
was positioned in the area between the ditch and the city walls. invasion of Egypt.
The Muslims besieged the fort of Babylon some time in May 640.
The fort was a massive structure 60ft. high with walls more than 6ft. thick and studded with numerous
towers and bastions. A Muslim force of some 4,000 men unsuccessfully attacked the Roman positions.
Early Muslim sources place the strength of the Byzantine force in Babylon about six times the strength of
the Muslim force. For the next two months, fighting remained inconclusive, with the Byzantines having
the upper hand by repulsing every Muslim assault.[15]

Some time in May 640 AD, 'Amr sent a detachment to raid the city of Fayoum. The Byzantines had
anticipated this and had therefore strongly guarded the roads leading to the city. They had also fortified
their garrison in the nearby town of Lahun. When the Muslim Arabs realized that Fayoum was too strong
for them to invade, they headed towards the Western Desert, where they looted all the cattle and animals
they could. They subsequently headed to Oxyrhynchus (Per-Medjed), which was defeated. The Arabs then
returned to Lower Egypt down the River Nile.[16]

Reinforcements from Madinah

In July, 'Amr wrote to 'Umar requesting reinforcement; but before the letter reached him, the caliph had
already dispatched the first reinforcement, which was 4,000 strong. The army was composed mostly of
the veterans of the Syrian campaigns. Even with these reinforcements, 'Amr was unsuccessful. By August
640, 'Umar had assembled another 4,000 strong force, which consisted of four columns, each of 1,000
elite men. Zubair ibn al-Awam, a renowned warrior and commander, veteran of the Battle of Yarmouk and
once a part of Khalid ibn Walid's elite mobile guard, was appointed the supreme commander of army
'Umar had indeed offered Zubair the chief command and governorship of Egypt, but Zubair had

declined. The column commanders included Miqdad ibn al-Aswad, Ubaidah ibn as-Samit, and Kharijah ibn
declined. The column commanders included Miqdad ibn al-Aswad, Ubaidah ibn as-Samit, and Kharijah ibn
Huzaifah. These reinforcements arrived at Babylon sometime in September 640. The total strength of the
Muslim force now rose to 12,000, quite a modest strength to resume the offensive.[3]

Battle of Heliopolis

Ten miles from Babylon was Heliopolis.[15] The Muslim army reached Heliopolis in July 640.[17] It was the
city of the Sun Temple of the Pharaohs and was famous for its grandiose monuments and learning
institutions.[18] There was the danger that forces from Heliopolis could attack the Muslims from the flank
while they were engaged with the Roman army at Babylon. With some detachments, 'Amr and Zubair
marched to Heliopolis. There was a cavalry clash near the current neighbourhood of Abbaseya. The
engagement was not decisive, although it resulted in the occupation of the fortress located between the
current neighborhoods of Abdyn and Azbakeya. The defeated Byzantine soldiers retreated to either the
Babylon Fortress or the fortress of Niki.[19] At an unguarded point of the wall of Heliopolis, Zubair and
some of his picked soldiers scaled the wall of the city, and after overpowering the guards, opened the
gates for the main Muslim army to enter the city. Heliopolis was thus captured by the Muslims. 'Amr and
Zubair returned to Babylon.

Conquering of Fayoum and Babylon

When news of the Muslims' victory at Heliopolis reached Fayoum, its Byzantine garrison under the
command of Domentianus evacuated the city during the night and fled to Abuit. From Abuit, they fled
down the Nile to Nikiu without informing the people of Fayoum and Abuit that they were abandoning
their cities to the enemy. When news of this reached 'Amr, he ordered a body of his troops to cross the
Nile and invade Fayoum and Abuit. The Muslim soldiers captured the entire province of Fayoum without
any resistance from the Byzantines.[20]

The Byzantine garrison at Babylon had grown bolder than ever before and had begun to sally forth across
the ditch, though with little success. There had been a stalemate between the Muslim and Byzantine
forces at Babylon, until the Muslim commanders devised an ingenious strategy and inflicted heavy
casualties on the Byzantine forces by encircling them from three sides during one of their sallies. The
Byzantines were able to retreat back to the fort, but were left too weak for any further offensive action.
This situation forced the Byzantines to negotiate with the Muslims. The Byzantine general Theodorus
shifted his headquarters to the Isle of Rauda, whilst Cyrus of Alexandria, popularly known as Muqawqis in
Muslim history, entered into negotiations with the Muslims, which failed to give any productive results.
Emissaries were also exchanged between Theodorus and 'Amr, leading to 'Amr meeting Theodorus in
person. After fruitless negotiations, the Muslims acted on 20 December, when, in a night assault, a
company of hand picked warriors led by Zubair managed to scale the wall, kill the guards and open the
gates for the Muslim army to enter. The city of Babylon was captured by the Muslims on 21 December
640, using tactics similar to those used by Khalid ibn Walid at Damascus. However Theodorus and his
army managed to slip away to the island of Rauda during the night.[21]

Surrender of Thebaid (Southeastern Egypt)

On 22 December, Cyrus of Alexandria entered into a treaty with the Muslims.[22] By the treaty, Muslim
sovereignty over the whole of Egypt, and effectively on Thebaid, was recognized, and the Egyptians
agreed to pay Jizya at the rate of 2 diners per male adult.[15] The treaty was subject to the approval of the
emperor Heraclius, but Cyrus stipulated that even if the emperor repudiated the treaty, he and the Copts

of whom he was the High Priest would honor its terms, recognize the supremacy of the Muslims and pay
of whom he was the High Priest would honor its terms, recognize the supremacy of the Muslims and pay
them Jizya.[23] Cyrus submitted a report to Heraclius and asked for his approval to the terms of the
treaty. He also offered reasons in justification of the acceptance of the terms of the treaty. 'Amr
submitted a detailed report to 'Umar and asked for his further instructions. When 'Umar received this
report, he wrote back to say that he approved of the terms provided Heraclius agreed to submit to
them.[15] He desired that as soon as the reactions of Heraclius were known, he should be informed so
that further necessary instructions could be issued promptly.[22] Heraclius's reaction to Cyrus's report was
violent. He removed him from the viceroyship of Egypt, but he remained the Head of the Coptic Church:
this was a matter in which the emperor could not interfere. Heraclius sent strict orders to the
commander-in-chief of the Byzantine forces in Egypt that the Muslims should be driven out from Egypt.
Cyrus waited on 'Amr and told him that Heraclius had repudiated the treaty of Babylon. He assured 'Amr
that so far as the Copts were concerned the terms of the treaty would be followed. 'Amr reported these
developments to 'Umar. 'Umar desired that, before the Byzantines could gather further strength, the
Muslims should strike at them and drive them from Alexandria. It is recorded that Cyrus requested three
favors from the Muslims, namely:

1. Do not break your treaty with the Copts;

2. If the Byzantines after this repudiation ask for peace, do not make peace with them, but treat them
as captives and slaves; and
3. When I am dead allow me to be buried in the Church of St. John at Alexandria.[3][24]

This position was to the advantage of the Muslims, as the Copts were the natives of the land of Egypt
and[23] both the Byzantines and the Muslims were strangers. Though some Copts from personal
considerations continued to support the Byzantines, the sympathies of the Copts were now, by and large,
with the Muslims. The Copts were not supposed to fight against the Byzantines on behalf of the Muslims,
but they undertook to help the Muslims in the promotion of war effort and in the provision of stores,
build roads and bridges for them, and provide them moral support.[15]

March to Alexandria
The Byzantine commanders knew that the next target of the
Muslims would be Alexandria. They accordingly prepared for the
expected siege of the city. Their strategy was to keep the Muslims
away from Alexandria by destroying their power through continued
sallies and attacks from the fort. Even if this did not keep them
away, it would weaken them morally and physically. It would be
more of a war of patience than strength.[22] In February 641, 'Amr
set off for Alexandria from Babylon with his army. All along the
road from Babylon to Alexandria, the Byzantines had left
regiments to delay, and if possible, inflict losses on the advancing
Muslims. On the third day of their march from Babylon the Ancient Roman theaters in Alexandria.
Muslims' advance guard encountered a Byzantine detachment at
Tarnut on the west bank of the Nile.[15] The Byzantines failed to
inflict heavy losses, but they were able to delay the advance by one more day. The Muslim commanders
decided to halt the main army at Tarnut and send the advance guard cavalry forward to clear the way
from the possible Byzantine detachments. This was done so that the main army could reach Alexandria as
soon as possible without being delayed by Byzantine regiments mid-way. Twenty miles from Tarnut, the
Byzantine detachment that had withdrawn from Tarnut the day before, joined the detachment already
present at Shareek to form a strong offensive force. They attacked and routed the Muslim advance guard.
The next day, before the Byzantines could resume their offensive to annihilate the Muslim advance guard
The next day, before the Byzantines could resume their offensive to annihilate the Muslim advance guard
completely, the main Muslim army arrived, prompting the Byzantines to withdraw. At this point the
Muslim commanders decided not to send forward the advance guard, so the whole army marched
forward, beginning the following day. The Muslims reached Sulteis where they encountered a Byzantine
detachment. Hard fighting followed, but the Byzantine resistance soon broke down and they withdrew to
Alexandria. The Muslims halted at Sulteis for a day. Alexandria was still two days' march from Sulteis.
After one day's march the Muslim forces arrived at Kirayun, twelve miles from Alexandria. Here the
Muslim advance to Alexandria was blocked by a Byzantine detachment about 20,000 strong. The strategy
of the Byzantines was that either the Muslims would be driven away before they actually arrived at
Alexandria, or that they would be as weak as possible if they did. The two armies were deployed and
fighting followed, but action remained indecisive,.[3] This state of affairs persisted for ten days. On the
tenth day the Muslims launched a vigorous assault. The Byzantines were defeated and they retreated to
Alexandria. The way to Alexandria was now cleared, and the Muslim forces resumed the march from
Kirayun and reached the outskirts of Alexandria in March 641 AD.

Conquest of Alexandria and fall of Egypt

The Muslims laid siege to Alexandria in March 641 AD.[23] The city was heavily fortified: there were walls
within walls, and forts within forts. There was no dearth of provisions and food supply in the city. The city
also had direct access to the sea, and through the sea route help from Constantinople in the form of men
and supplies could come at any time.

As 'Amr surveyed the military situation, he felt that Alexandria would be a hard nut to crack.[22] The
Byzantines had high stakes in Alexandria, and they were determined to offer stiff resistance to the
Muslims. They mounted catapults on the walls of the city, and these engines pounded the Muslims with
boulders. This caused considerable damage to the Muslims and 'Amr ordered his men back from the
advance position so that they might be beyond the range of the missiles. A see-saw war followed.[3]
When the Muslims tried to go close to the city they were hit with missiles. When the Byzantines sallied
from the fort, they were invariably beaten back by the Muslims.

It is said that Heraclius, the Byzantine emperor, collected a large army at Constantinople. He intended to
march at the head of these reinforcements personally to Alexandria. But before he could finalize the
arrangements, he died. The troops mustered at Constantinople dispersed, and consequently no help came
to Alexandria. This further demoralized the Byzantines. The siege dragged on for six months, and in
Madinah 'Umar got impatient. In a letter addressed to 'Amr, the caliph expressed his concern at the
inordinate delay in the invasion of Egypt. He further instructed that the new field commander would be
'Ubaidah, and he would launch an assault on the fort of Alexandria. 'Ubaidah's assault was successful and
Alexandria was captured by the Muslims in September 641. Thousands of Byzantine soldiers were killed
or taken captive while others managed to flee to Constantinople on ships that had been anchored in the
port. Some wealthy traders also left.[15]

On behalf of the Egyptians, Cyrus of Alexandria sued for peace, and his request was granted. After the
invasion of Egypt 'Amr is reported to have written to Caliph 'Umar:

We have conquered Alexandria. In this city there are 4,000 palaces, 400 places of
entertainment, and untold wealth.
The permanent loss of Egypt meant a loss of a huge amount of Byzantium's food and money. The loss of
Egypt and Syria, followed later by the invasion of the Exarchate of Africa also meant that the
Mediterranean, long referred to as the "Roman lake", was now contested between two powers: the
Muslim Caliphate and the Byzantine Empire. In these events, the Byzantine Empire, although sorely
Muslim Caliphate and the Byzantine Empire. In these events, the Byzantine Empire, although sorely
tested, would be able to hold on to Anatolia, while the mighty walls of Constantinople would save it
during two great Arab sieges, from the fate of the Persian Empire.[25]

An attempt was made in the year 645 to regain Alexandria for the Byzantine Empire, but it was retaken by
'Amr in 646. In 654 an invasion fleet sent by Constans II was repulsed. From that time no serious effort
was made by the Byzantines to regain possession of the country.

Invasion of Nubia
The land of Nubia lay to the south of Egypt. It stretched from Aswan to Khartoum and from the Red Sea
to the Libyan Desert. The Nubians were Christians and were ruled by a king. The capital of the kingdom
was Dongola. In the summer of 642, 'Amr ibn al-'As sent an expedition to Nubia under the command of
his cousin 'Uqbah ibn Nafi. The expedition was ordered by 'Amr on his own account. It was not a whole
scale invasion but merely a pre-emptive raid to show the arrival of new rulers in Egypt to the bordering
kingdoms.[26] 'Uqbah ibn Nafi, who later made a great name for himself as the Conqueror of Africa, and
led his horse to the Atlantic came in for an unhappy experience in Nubia. In Nubia, no pitched battle was
fought. There were only skirmishes and haphazard engagements, and in this type of warfare the Nubians
excelled. They were skilful archers and subjected the Muslims to a merciless barrage of arrows. These
arrows were aimed at the eyes and in the encounter 250 Muslims lost their eyes.

The Nubians were very fast in their movements.[13] The Muslim cavalry was known for its speed and
mobility, but it was no match for the Nubian horse riders. The Nubians would strike hard against the
Muslims, and then vanish before the Muslims could recover their balance and take counter action. The hit-
and-run raids by the Nubians caused considerable damage to the Muslims. 'Uqbah wrote to 'Amr of this
state of affairs.[22] He said that the Nubians avoided pitched battle, and in the guerilla tactics that they
followed the Muslims suffered badly. 'Uqbah further came to know that Nubia was a very poor land, and
there was nothing therein worth fighting for. Thereupon 'Amr ordered 'Uqbah to withdraw from Nubia.
'Uqbah accordingly pulled out of Nubia with his forces.

Conquest of North Africa

After the preemptive raid on Nubia in the south 'Amr decided to undertake campaigns in the west, so as
to secure the western borders of Egypt and clear the region of Cyrenaica, Tripolitania and Fezzan from
Byzantine influence. Some time in September 642, 'Amr led his troops west. After one month of marching
the Muslim forces reached the cities of the Pentapolis. From Burqa, 'Uqbah bin Nafi was sent at the head
of a column to undertake a campaign against Fezzan. 'Uqbah marched to Zaweela, the capital of Fezzan.
No resistance was offered, and the entire district of Fezzan, what is present day north-western Libya,
submitted to the Muslims. 'Uqbah then returned to Burqa. Soon after the Muslim army marched westward
from Burqa. They arrived at Tripoli in the spring of 643 C.E. and laid siege to the city. The city fell after a
siege of one month. From Tripoli, 'Amr sent a detachment to Sabratha, a city forty miles from Tripoli. The
city put up feeble resistance, and soon surrendered and agreed to pay Jizya. From Tripoli, 'Amr is reported
to have written to the caliph the details of the operations in the following words:

We have conquered Burqa, Tripoli and Sabratha. The way to the west is clear, and if the
Commander of the Faithful wishes to conquer more lands, we could do so with the grace
of God.
'Umar, whose armies were already engaged in a massive campaign of conquering the Sassanid Empire did
'Umar, whose armies were already engaged in a massive campaign of conquering the Sassanid Empire did
not wanted to engage himself further along north Africa, when Muslim rule in Egypt was as yet insecure.
The caliph accordingly disapproved of any further advances and ordered 'Amr to first consolidate the
Muslims' position in Egypt, and issued strict orders that there should be no further campaigning. 'Amr
obeyed, abandoning Tripoli and Burqa and returning to Fustat. This was towards the close of the year 643

Stance of the Egyptians towards the invading Muslims

The Muslims were assisted by some Copts, who resented the persecutions of the Byzantines,
and of these some turned to Islam. Others sided with the Byzantines, hoping that they would
provide a defense against the Arab invaders.[28]

In return for a tribute of money and food for the occupying troops, the Christian inhabitants of Egypt
were excused from military service and left free in the observance of their religion and the administration
of their affairs. This system was a new institution, as a mandate by a religion. But it was adopted as an
institution, by the Muslims from previous poll tax systems in the ancient Middle East. Indeed, the
Egyptians had been subject to itas non-Romansduring Roman rule before the adoption of Christianity
by the Roman state. After that, all non-Christian subjects of the Roman Empire had to pay it, including
non-Christian Egyptians. The Persians also had a similar poll tax system.

On the twentieth of Maskaram Byzantine general Theodorus and all his troops and officers set out and
proceeded to the island of Cyprus, abandoning the city of Alexandria. Thereupon 'Amr, the Muslim
commander, made his entry into the city of Alexandria. The inhabitants received him with respect, for they
were in great tribulation and affliction. 'Amr exacted the taxes which had been determined upon, but he
took none of the property of the churches, and he committed no act of spoliation or plunder.

Egypt under Muslim rule

Muslims gained control over Egypt due to a variety of
factors, including internal Byzantine politics, religious zeal
and the difficulty of maintaining a large empire. The
Byzantines did attempt to regain Alexandria, but it was
retaken by 'Amr in 646. In 654 an invasion fleet sent by
Constans II was repelled. From that time no serious effort
was made by the Byzantines to regain possession of

In the book "The Great Arab Conquests" Hugh Kennedy Rashidun Empire at its peak under third
writes that Cyrus the Roman governor had expelled the Rashidun Caliph, Uthman- 654
Coptic patriarch Benjamin into exile. When Amr occupied Strongholds of Rashidun Caliphate
Alexandria, a Coptic nobleman (duqs) called Sanutius
persuaded him to send out a proclamation of safe
conduct for Benjamin and an invitation to return to Alexandria. When he arrived, after thirteen years in
concealment, Amr treated him with respect. He was then instructed by the governor to resume control
over the Coptic Church. He arranged for the restoration of the monasteries in the Wadi Natrun that had
been ruined by the Chalcedonian Christians, which still exists as a functioning monastery in the present
On Amr's return the Egyptian population also worked with Amr.[30] In the book "The Great Arab
Conquests" Hugh Kennedy writes "The pious biographer of Coptic patriarch Benjamin presents us with the
striking image of the patriarch prayed for the success of the Muslim commander Amr against the
Christians of the Cyrenaica. Benjamin survived for almost twenty years after the fall of Egypt to the
Muslims, dying of full years and honour in 661. His body was laid to rest in the monastery of St Macarius,
where he is still venerated as a saint. There can be no doubt that he played a major role in the survival of
the Coptic Church"[29] Coptic patriarch Benjamin also prayed for Amr when he moved to take Libya.[31]

In the book "The Great Arab Conquests" Hugh Kennedy writes "Even more striking is the verdict of John of
Nikiu. John was no admirer of Muslim government and was fierce in his denunciation, but he says of Amr:
'He extracted the taxes which had been determined upon but he took none of the property of the
churches, and he committed no act of spoliation or plunder, and he preserved them throughout all his
days'"[32] He writes "Of all the early Muslim conquests, that of Egypt was the swiftest and most complete.
Within a space of two years the country had come entirely under Arab rule. Even more remarkably, it has
remained under Muslim rule ever since. Seldom in history can so massive a political change have
happened so swiftly and been so long lasting."[32]

Uqba ibn Nafi then used Egypt as a launch pad to move across North Africa all the way to the Atlantic
ocean.[33] In the book "The Great Arab Conquests" Hugh Kennedy writes that when Uqba reached the
Atlantic, he is said to have ridden his horse into the sea until the water was below his chest, and then
shouted 'O Lord, if the sea did not stop me, I would go through lands like Alexander the Great, defending
your faith'. Kennedy writes further that this image of a warrior whose conquest in the name of God was
stopped only by the ocean remains important in the history of the conquests.[34]

Fustat, the new capital

With the fall of Alexandria the Muslims were the masters of Egypt. At the time of their Egyptian campaign,
Alexandria was the capital of the country. When Alexandria was captured by the Muslims, the houses
vacated by the Byzantines were occupied by the Muslims. The Muslims were impressed and attracted by
Alexandria, "the queen of cities". 'Amr wished for Alexandria to remain the capital of Muslim Egypt.[3] He
wrote to Caliph 'Umar seeking his permission to do this. 'Umar rejected the proposal on the basis that
Alexandria was a maritime city and there would always be a danger of Byzantine naval attacks.[15]

He suggested that the capital should be established further inland at a central place, where no mass of
water intervened between it and Arabia.[22] As per the treaty with Cyrus of Alexandria, the wealth of the
Egyptians in Alexandria was spared and that of Romans and Greeks was taken as booty. Greek citizens
were given a choice, to return to Greek territories safely without their wealth, or to stay in Alexandria and
pay Jizya. Some chose to stay, while others went to Byzantine lands.

'Amr next proceeded to choose a suitable site for the capital of Egypt. His choice fell on the site where he
had pitched his tent at the time of the battle of Babylon. His tent had been fixed about a quarter of a mile
north east of the fort. It is reported that after the battle was over, and the army was about to march to
Alexandria, the men began to pull down the tent and pack it for the journey, when it was found that a
dove had nested on top of the tent and laid eggs. 'Amr ordered that the tent should remain standing
where it was. The army marched away but the tent remained standing in the plain of Babylon. In this
unusual episode 'Amr saw a sign from Heaven. He decided "where the dove laid its nest, let the people
build their city". As 'Amr's tent was to be the focal point of the city, the city was called Fustat, which in
Arabic means the tent. The first structure to be built was the mosque which later became famous as
Mosque of 'Amr ibn al-'As.[28] The city of Fustat was built due east of Babylon. In the course of time,
Fustat extended to include the old town of Babylon. It grew to become a bustling city and the commercial
centre of Egypt.[22]

Reforms of Caliph Umar

To consolidate his rule in Egypt, 'Umar imposed the jizya on Egyptians. However, during later Umayyad
rule higher taxes were imposed on the Egyptians.

By 'Umar's permission, 'Amr ibn al-'As decided to build a canal to join the Nile with the Red Sea; it would
help the traders and Arabia would flourish through this new trade route. Moreover, it would open new
markets for the Egyptian merchants and open for them an easy route for the markets of Arabia and Iraq.
This project was presented to Caliph 'Umar, who approved it. A canal was dug, and within a few months
was opened for merchants. It was named Nahar Amir ul-Mu'mineen i.e. The canal of Commander of the
Faithful referring to the title of the Caliph 'Umar.[22]

Amr proposed another project: digging a canal that would join the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea.[23]
The project was once again sent to 'Umar for approval, but Umar viewed it as a threat to national security
and rejected on the basis that it would open a way for Byzantine navy to enter the Red Sea via that canal
and posing a threat to Madinah itself.[3] This project however was completed in the form of what is now
known as the Suez Canal 1300 years later. Each year the caliph instructed a large amount of jizya to be
used on the building and repairing of canals and bridges.[35] The Arabs remained in control of the country
from this point until 1250, when it fell under the control of the Mamelukes.

See also
Aegyptus (Roman province)
Muslim conquests
Byzantine-Arab Wars
Umayyad conquest of North Africa
Spread of Islam


1. Haykal 1944, chpt. 18

2. Haykal 1944, chpt. 19
3. Al-Maqrizi, Mawaiz wa al-'i'tibar bi dhikr al-khitat wa al-'athar.
4. Al-Kamil, pp. 451452
5. Al-Gawzi, Al-Montazim, pp. 532534
6. al-Tabari, History of the Kings, p. 862
7. Abu Salih the Armenian, The churches and monasteries of Egypt and some neighbouring countries, tr.
B.T.A.Evetts, p. 168
8. Butler 1902, p.234
9. Kamil Salih, Pope Benjamin the First and the Arab invasion of Egypt, p. 65
10. Al-Maqrizi, Mawaiz wa al-'i'tibar bi dhikr al-khitat wa al-'athar, p. 231
11. Butler 1902, p.213
12. Al-Maqrizi, Mawaiz wa al-'i'tibar bi dhikr al-khitat wa al-'athar
13. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04597c.htm
14. Butler 1902, p.216
15. Butler 1902
16. Butler 1902, pp.254255
17. Raymond, Andre, Cairo, transl. Willard Wood, (Harvard University Press, 2000), p. 10.
18. Butler 1902, p.258
19. Butler 1902, p.263
20. Butler 1902, p.264
21. Haykal 1944, chpt. 21
22. Haykal 1944, chpt. 22
23. "Umar (634-644)", The Islamic World to 1600 Multimedia History Tutorials by the Applied History Group,
University of Calgary. Last accessed 20 Oct 2006
24. Haykal 1944, chpt. 23
25. Kaegli, Walter. Heraclius: Emperor of Byzantium.
26. Akram, A.I., Muslim Conquest of Egypt and North Africa, ISBN 978-0-19-597712-7
27. Haykal 1944, chpt. 24
28. http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/nikiu2_chronicle.htm
29. Kennedy 2007, p.164
30. Kennedy 2007, p.167
31. Kennedy 2007, p.163
32. Kennedy 2007, p.165
33. Kennedy 2007, p.212
34. Kennedy 2007, p.214
35. Haykal 1944, chpt. 25

Butler, Alfred (1902). The Arab Conquest of Egypt and the Last Thirty Years of the Roman Dominion.
Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Charles, R. H. The Chronicle of John, Bishop of Nikiu: Translated from Zotenberg's Ethiopic Text, 1916.
Reprinted 2007. Evolution Publishing, ISBN 978-1-889758-87-9. [1] (http://www.evolpub.com/CR
Haykal, Muhammad Husayn (1944). Al Farooq, Umar.
Kennedy, Hugh (2007). The Great Arab Conquests: How the Spread of Islam Changed the World We
Live in. Da Capo Press. ISBN978-0-306-81740-3.

External links
Edward Gibbon, History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (https://web.archive.org/web/20
110519211753/http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/g/gibbon/edward/g43d/chapter51.html) Chapter 51
Bishop John NIkiou The Chronicle of John, Bishop of Nikiu (http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/nikiu2_c
hronicle.htm) Chapters CXVI-CXXI

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Categories: 7th-century conflicts 7th century in Egypt Muslim conquest of Egypt Medieval Egypt
Islam in Egypt ArabByzantine wars Byzantine Egypt

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