I grew up in Egypt and although I was raised in Muslim-majority country, I am atheist now. In history classes we were told a doubtful story:

The Muslims would have been kind and merciful invaders that treated the peoples of the invaded countries kindly, the indigenous people would have loved Islam and would never have revolted against Muslims. Eventually lots of them would have accepted Islam without any forced conversions. The Muslims would have been so much just and fair and they would never have forced anybody to accept Islam nor used violence towards the peoples they invaded.

The history I studied is about the Muslim invaders in Egypt, Libya, Morocco, and the rest of North Africa and their alleged kindness and justice.

How accurate is this history I studied in the school ?!

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    The Islamic invaders certainly treated the captured peoples better than the other predominant religious groups treated their captives. It wasn't all kitties and flowers, but there was certainly unprecedented levels of tolerance. Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 8:01
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    Seems like another case of "history is written by the victors". Since everything you were told is so obviously pro-muslim biased, perhaps you should look at the Spanish version of the invasion, which would likely be anti-muslim biased (as the country didn't remain Muslim). Then the reality was probably a mix of both versions.
    – Bregalad
    Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 9:38
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    I also read a very similar story in my middle school's history text book in Indonesia. Take it as you will.
    – Andrew T.
    Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 11:12
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    @Bregalad Actually, the spanish version more or less agrees. Islamic fundamentalism is a quite modern invention, and the muslim conquerors weren't particularly rigorous in its interpretation of islamic laws. The muslim kingdoms preserved much of the buildings and cultural heritages of the conquered lands, even roman marbles and paintings of human figures (which is prohibited by Islam). Also, while there was much warring between christian and muslim kingdoms, religion paid no part in it; a muslim and a christian kingdom would ally against a neighbour of whichever religion.
    – Rekesoft
    Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 14:15
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    That was 500 years after, and by turks instead of arabs or moors.
    – Rekesoft
    Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 15:11

2 Answers 2


The history is a bit sketchy about this period. The most well-known early source, Ibn Abd al-Hakam Conquest of Egypt and North Africa and Spain, was written in 870. Being written about two centuries after the conquest, he had to rely a lot on oral traditions. In addition, many early sources focused on highlighting the Muslim victories and had little information on the conquered population and how they were treated.

That said, the Quran does prohibit forced conversions (Quran 2:256 explicitly says "There shall be no compulsion in religion"), and we do know that during the early Caliphates this prohibition was generally observed. That doesn't mean that the caliphates were fully tolerant by modern standard. Non-Muslim subjects were required to pay jizya, a special tax which also exempted them from military service. While jizya seems like a form of discrimination today, this served as an incentive for the rulers to keep the religious minorities thriving and not forcibly converted. This relative tolerance allowed indigenous non-Muslim minorities to exist today even in areas under millennia of Muslim rule, e.g. Egyptian Copts or Syriac Orthodox Church.

While Christians remained in a significant number in Egypt, in the Maghreb (Western North Africa) the number is much smaller, and even that might have been partially introduced by colonial powers. C. J. Speel's 1960 paper The Disappearance of Christianity from North Africa in the Wake of the Rise of Islam, argued that this was due to the fact that the Maghrebi Christians were Arians. They didn't believe that Jesus was God and thus were theologically closer to Islam than the mainstream Christianity of the Byzantine Empire.

Sources/further reading:

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    Important point: Their rulers (the german Vandals) were Arians. The common people subscribed to the Nicene creed at the time of the Vandal takeover, and most did not stop just because their rulers found it convenient to hold a creed that kept them independent from Rome. Being ruled by a foreign elite of Germans, and then Greeks, probably had no small amount to do with the ease with which north Africa was conquered by the Arab armies. (The area had quite recently been reconquered by the Nicene Byzantines when the Muslims arrived).
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 14:16
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    There is very little information about this time period, but there is more information about other Muslim conquests later, when the Easter Roman empire was conquered, when civilians in conquered cities were often slaughtered. In the conquest of the Balkans, children of the native inhabitants were kidnapped, raised as Janissary, and then forced to fight against their former homeland. Just because the Quran (or Bible, or the Constitution) says something, it doesn't necessarily mean that people using it as a source of their power won't ignore parts of it they find inconvenient at the moment.
    – vsz
    Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 18:32
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    @vsz if you're talking about the Ottoman conquests, that's a different protagonist and timeframe (14th century onwards) and protagonists than the Umayyad conquest of North Africa that's in question here (7th century). Of course there are variations between various Muslim rulers in different parts of the world between the 7th century and now. What I said was based on what we know elsewhere during the period in question, the jizya approach was generally taken by the Muslims
    – user69715
    Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 19:38
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    @vsz - Probably a better reference would be the conquest of Spain by essentially these same armies only a few years later. The reported pattern there was that, outside of a couple of cities, the local rulers and people were allowed to continue life as before, as long as they paid the tax and acknowledge the Umayyads instead of Visigoths. Again, this along with the existing foreign rulers probably goes a long way towards explaining why the conquest went so quickly compared to the reconquest.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 22:07
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    islam prohibits forced conversions the same way Christianity does. Which is just interpreted as "you shall not accept a conversion while the victim is undergoing torture". Instead you torture them to where they relent and state they will convert, then after the torture is ended for a few seconds have him state the requisite phrases. That's how it works.
    – jwenting
    Commented Sep 12, 2017 at 7:22

This Jewish source characterizes Muslim rule in Spain during the Middle Ages as being "kind" by contemporary standards, but not by modern standards. Jews and Christians in Spain lived in a "second class citizenship," denied certain prvileges, but also free of "ghettoes," forced conversions, and outright persecution. Their fate in Moslem Spain was much better than under the Reconquista and Inquisition of the "Catholic" Ferdinand and Isabella. In fact, after the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, many of them fled to North Africa.

The above was fairly "typical" of the millennium between 700 and 1700, although there were exceptions at various times and places. On the whole, however, it is reflective of how Jews "voted with their feet" during this period.

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    Downvoted because your answer is too sketchy, so sketchy that looks biased. Muslim rule of some parts of Spain lasted 780 years, and all these centuries there were different muslim kingdoms and fiefdoms. In some of them there were forced conversions and expulsions of christians, specially since year 1100 by almohad and marinid north-african muslim invaders.
    – Ginasius
    Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 17:30
  • @Ginasius: OK, added a second paragraph to "qualify" my earlier remarks. A highly upvoted answer began, "The history is a bit sketchy about this period," so don't equate "sketchy" with "biased." As for "biased," my answer was that things were "down the middle": not great, but not the worst. And while there was a reference to "kind," it was in scare quotes, for a reason. I also noted the difference between "contemporary" and "modern" standards.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Sep 12, 2017 at 18:52

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