Asking myself the question, what is this for? Why are we doing this and studying this? brought me an answer which gave some focus to what we want to do. The answer is, from George Orwell: who controls the past, controls the future; who controls the present, controls the past.
But that puts us immediately in another relationship to the past: we are now thinking quite politically and engagedly. We are also not going to be too surprised to discover that we have not been told the truth about the past. This puts us in a tricky position, because if we abandon the clear scientific criteria of history, we may be subject to delusions of conspiracy or what-not, which I have already clearly evoked by referring to control of the present. So aware of all of the above, if not having dealt with it, let us precede. As much as possible we will stick with broadly accepted facts, so as to preclude marginalising ourselves with too arcane a view.
One piece of Qur'anic overview that we definitely need is that we expect when we encounter the past to find there cultures which in their early stages may well have been pure fitrah cultures with clear tawhid and some form of Shari'ah. These cultures we would also expect to degenerate at some point into idolatry and to lapse from their tawhid.
We have to state this view, which is derived from clear ayat of Qur'an and the Sunnah, because the dominant view within which we all live is that the basis of everything is this evolutionary process that started at the Big Bang. Humanity, they say, began with a sort of animism, evolved into polytheism, then to monotheism, then to the sophisticated rigmarole of christianity, and finally to our new era of sceptical scientific agnosticism or atheism.
The British Isles in their antiquity have these megalithic cultures, about whom an increasing amount is becoming known. These are cultures that often predate the pyramids and which are quite complex and sophisiticated. That in itself, when discovered, threw history into a tumult, because it was widely believed that the middle east was the birth place of civilisation, which then spread out from there.
More recently in our prehistory, the peoples known as the Celts arrived here in various ways, and were themselves somewhat awed by these megaliths. In Ireland they ascribed them to magical super-beings.
These Celts are widely regarded as two distinct groups, because there are two distinct language groupings among them: the P-Celts, i.e. the Welsh, people of Brittany and Cornwall, who were in fact the original inhabitants of all of England and Wales, at least in this most recent part of our pre-history and who clearly share much with the continental Celts such as the Gauls of France; and the Q-Celts of Ireland and later Scotland, and the Isle of Man. Much points to the Q-Celts, whose language is thought to be older, having arrived here later than the P-Celts by sea-routes. That is posited by acknowledging that whereas for us the land is a route and the sea a barrier, for many ancient peoples the land was heavily forested and thus a barrier, but the sea was a route. Those who take this interpretation say that there is evidence from language and culture linking the Gaels with middle and near eastern cultures, as well as with Spain.
The Gaels themselves in their own legends are quite clear that they came to Ireland from Spain and beyond, and this is exemplified in one historical document by Robert the Bruce (ironically a Norman) and the other Scottish Barons written to the Pope in which they stated their origins as follows:
Most Holy Father and Lord, we know and from the chronicles and books of the ancients we find that among other famous nations our own, the Scots, has been graced with widespread renown. They journeyed from Greater Scythia by way of the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Pillars of Hercules, and dwelt for a long course of time in Spain among the most savage tribes, but nowhere could they be subdued by any race, however barbarous. Thence they came, twelve hundred years after the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea, to their home in the west where they still live today. The Britons they first drove out, the Picts they utterly destroyed, and, even though very often assailed by the Norwegians, the Danes and the English, they took possession of that home with many victories and untold efforts; and, as the historians of old time bear witness, they have held it free of all bondage ever since. In their kingdom there have reigned one hundred and thirteen kings of their own royal stock, the line unbroken a single foreigner.
Scots here is the old name for the Irish. So let us return to Ireland. At some point in the history of this seafaring people, it may have been that another seafaring cultural imprint arrived: christianity. Now, I am deliberately discounting the official version, which is that the Romanised British Celt Patrick brought christianity. That is because, he is much too clearly a Roman and a trinitarian. He may have been a myth, but there is quite a possibility he is historical but that his role in the evangelisation of Ireland has been subsequently exaggerated in order to endorse the later Roman Catholic dominance in Ireland. Since that Roman Catholic presence has definitely muddied the water a great deal, and since the historians haven't yet really got to grips with the epoch of early christianity in Ireland, I have to admit that some of what I have said is speculative.
However, without too much detail, we can say that this early Irish christianity was not Roman. It is called Celtic christianity and it was in disagreement with Rome over substantial issues.
You might well ask at this point why we are giving so much emphasis to Ireland? That is because, as Ahmad Thomson said in his admirable little book on the nature of history, authentic history is the history of tawhid against kufr, of prophethood and of the awliya. Thus, we want to catch this thread because it is the nearest thing we have to a genuine fitrah society with some indications of tawhid, and it is in the contrast between it and the other model that we expect to find some light.
The other model is the Roman model. That takes us back to mainland Britain, since as you know the Romans invaded here, once in the time of Julius Caesar and then in 43 CE when the subjugation of the island began. So this Roman imperial model is essential to grasp because it is the basis of the world order under which we live today: it is pragmatic, brutal, imperialist (but always ready to evoke its old republican values), and polytheistic. Faced with the effect of christianity upon its populations, it finally, after brutal persecution, permitted it, and then finally in one of the most fateful events in all history, made it the state religion. That was not christianity's conquest of the state, but the state's subversion of the teaching of 'Isa, peace be upon him (who remarkably has the same name in Gaelic as in Arabic). Roman christianity was the way for the state of Rome to metamorphose and to continue in existence. Shortly before our story begins, two things happened: the western Roman empire collapsed, under attack from barbarians but also under the pressure of usurious debts which had grown exponentially out of control, and shortly afterwards Clovis the Merovingian was made the sword-arm of a new militant christianity in 481 CE.
However, those whom Clovis faced were the Germanic tribes who were all apparently infected with the Arian heresy, i.e. they did not believe that Jesus was a god, but that he was a prophet. In fact, the more you look in this early history, the more widespread does this 'heresy' seem to have been. You must understand that it is not just the Muslims who take this position. I refer you to the document from a man completely detached from any relationship to Islam, Peter Beresford-Ellis, who is a populariser of Celtic history, but in this small account gives an outline of early christianity in its jewish setting that every Muslim would instantly recognise. He explicitly connects this non-trinitarian form with Celtic christianity.
The first Celtic community to emerge in recorded history as accepting Christianity was Galatia in modern Turkey Christianity arrived in Galatia in the person of Paul of Tarsus who visited Pessinus, on the Galatian frontier, which was the tribal capital of the Tolistobogii, sometime between 40 and 50AD. Paul was apparently sick when he arrived but was surprised by the warmhearted Celtic hospitality he received and, on his recovery, succeeded in converting many to the new faith. The Galatians received a permanent place in Christian history when, about 50-55AD, Paul wrote his famous 'Letter to the Galatians' which is now part of the New Testament. Paul admonished them:
I am astonished to find you turning so quickly away from him who called you by grace, and following a different gospel. Not that it is in fact another gospel; only there are persons who unsettle your minds by trying to distort the gospel of Christ.
Paul, is so heated that at one point he exclaims: 'You stupid Galatians! You must have been bewitched!'
The document is reflective of the first great schism within the early Christian movement; the break between the teachings and ideas of Paul and those of the original Christian movement led by Jesus' brother Jacob (James) in Jerusalem. Paul, who had Latinised his name from Saul, was a native of Tarsus in Cilicia; a Jew born a Roman citizen and brought up within a Hellenistic cultural environment but also with a strict Judaic orthodoxy. He was sent to Jerusalem to study under the celebrated Pharisee Rabbi Gamaliel and also learnt the trade of a tent-maker. But Paul was a Sadducee, an aristocratic traditionalist sect. He became an agent for the Sadducee High Priest and began a persecution of the Christian sect. This sect, then called the Nazarenes, still saw themselves as part of the Judaic faith, believing in Jesus as the last of the Jewish Messiahs. Jesus was not regarded as divine by them nor did they consider themselves to be outside Judaic law. This was the movement led by the original disciples of Jesus.
Paul had witnessed the execution for blasphemy of Stephen in Jerusalem in 35AD, acknowledged as the first Christian martyr. It was about the following year that he converted to the Nazarene sect and soon established himself as one of its teachers. However, his views of Jesus' life and philosophical teachings were at variance with the leaders of the movement. It was Paul who gave Jesus a divine status, declared that he had abrogated Judaic law and introduced the 'salvation doctrine' and gnosticism. Many ideas seemed to spring from his Greek background. Paul's important innovation was that he did not see his religious interpretation as being confined as part of Judaic religion and he went out of his way to convert non-Jews. Initially those non-Jews who converted to Christianity were seen as converts to Judaism and had to be circumcised. But soon Paul was teaching that this was not necessary. The bulk of his followers came from a pagan Hellenistic background which enabled them to respond to the gnostic aspects of his teachings.
Paul's innovations brought him into bitter conflict with the Nazarene leaders such as Jacob (James), John and Simon Bar-Jonah who was nicknamed 'The Rock' - Kephas in Greek and Petra in Latin and it is by the Latin, Peter, that he is known to Christendom. Paul freely admits his quarrel with them and speaks of a face to face confrontation with Peter. To the compilers of the New Testament it seemed unseemly that Paul should quarrel with Peter; after all, according to the Gospel writers Peter was the man designated by Jesus to lead his movement. To get round this, they left the Greek 'Cephas' in the contentious passages while translating the name to the Latin Peter in others. Thus, in places, Cephas and Peter appear two different people instead of the same man – Simon Bar-Jonah.
Paul himself, claiming authority for his breakaway group, wrote to the Galatians that Jacob, John and Peter had given him their wholehearted approval.
They acknowledge that I had been entrusted with the Gospel for the Gentiles as surely as Peter had been entrusted with the Gospels for the Jews. For God whose action made Peter an apostle to the Jews, also made me an apostle to the Gentiles.
Recognising, then, the favour bestowed on me, those reputed pillars of our society, James (Jacob), Peter and John, accepted Barnabas and my self as partners and shook hands upon it, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles while they went to the Jews.
On the evidence of the later conflict it was obvious that the Nazarenes were appalled that Paul was surrendering their teaching to pagan idolatory, as they saw it. Within a short time there had been a deep split between the Nazarenes, who claimed they were the authentic transmitters of Jesus' teachings, and Paul's new movement. In this conflict the Nazarenes held their own for a little while and sent out missions to counteract Paul's teachings, spreading their version of Jesus' message. The Celtic Galatians were among the first to take notice of the Nazarenes and it was this that brought forth Paul's famous letter which was an attempt to bring them back to his movement. 'You were running well,' he told them. 'Who was it hindered you from following the truth? Whatever persuasian he used, it did not come from God!'
For one breathtaking decade, during the 60s AD, the struggle between the original Nazarene Christians and Paul's breakaway 'Gentile Christians' continued with neither side pre-eminent. Then in 67AD the Roman emperor Nero, angered by the continuing Jewish revolts against Roman rule, decided to move against the Jewish insurgents. The veteran general Vespasian was sent to bring them to heel. In the spring of that year he over-ran the flat regions of Galilee and attacked the stronghold of Jotapata, defended by Flavius Josephus (born in Jerusalem about 37-38AD). Josephus surrendered and, thankfully for posterity, was allowed his freedom. As a historian Josephus provides an invaluable source of information on the period.
After Nero's death in July 69AD, Vespasian was elevated to emperor and the campaign against the Jews continued under the general Titus. Jerusalem was besieged that summer. After its fall the Nazarenes, who had been in the forefront of the fight against Rome, suffered greatly. Josephus tells us that Annas, the High Priest, saw a chance to destroy this irritating movement completely. 'He assembled the Sanhedrin of judges and brought before them Jacob (James) the brother of Jesus who was called Christ, and some other men whom he accused of breaking the law and delivered them to be stoned.'
This single event was a considerable blow to the Nazarenes although they continued to exist and, indeed, existed as late as the 5th Century AD. The 'Gentile Christians' now constituted the bulk of the Christian movement and saw their opportunity to declare the Nazarenes as heretical. In 90AD the Nazarenes were also expelled from the Judaic fold for the same reasons. Their Gospels were suppressed although fragments have been found. To the end they taught that Jesus was the last Jewish Messiah but not a divinity and that Paul was the heretic who had perverted the teachings and merged them with pagan Hellenistic philosophy.
For the first two centuries of Paul's 'Gentile Christian' movement, both Peter and Paul were treated as equal apostles. But the early tradition was that Jesus had personally nominated Peter to found his church. According to the Gospel of Matthew, written about 80AD, Chapter 16, verse 17:
And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou Simon Bar-Jonah for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven
It was at the beginning of the 3rd Century AD that Pope Callistus, quoting this passage as his authority, declared Rome as the centre of the Christian Church; a claim hotly disputed by the Eastern and African Churches. Tradition then had it that Peter had journeyed to Rome, worked with his old antagonist Paul, and was executed there about the same time as Paul during the repression of Nero. There is no evidence of this, however, and, in view of the schism between the Nazarenes, of whom Peter was a leader, and Paul's 'Gentile Christians', it does not seem credible. An interesting point about Matthew's Gospel is that its author was not a Jew and that scholars claim that he was probably a Galatian.
So mainland Britain was composed of pacified, Romanised, christianised to some extent, Celts with admixtures of Roman citizens, probably from all over the Empire. Here you have a classic picture of a people without what Ibn Khaldun called 'asabiyyah that binding force of ties of kinship that forges a people into a strongly united group. Thus we have the pathetic cries from Britain as the Roman Empire collapses for someone to come and protect them. On Europe you had these vigorous 'barbarian' Germanic tribes, infected with this Arian teaching, and they are knocking down the walls of Rome, as well as subjugating Spain and North Africa.
One collections of these tribes, the Angles, Jutes and Saxons, whom we would really consider Danes, begin over quite a long period of time to take an interest in British affairs, moving over as farmers and workers, getting involved in internal British squabbles and the wars with the Picts. They have that Germanic solidness, energy, stamina, hardworkingness, and intellect. The Celts give way before them, but this is not a massacre nor are the Celts driven into Wales. However, this Germanic culture becomes the dominant one, and the people begin to speak this language, along with a lot of words from the old language.
One Germanic tribe, the Franks under Clovis fatefully undertake the mission of Roman christianity.
In Ireland, there is this other form, which has never been called Arian, but which retains some interesting characteristics.
This Gaelic synthesis was in Ireland and then, because of the kingdom of Dal Riada, spread quite naturally to Scotland. Dal Riada is in Northern Ireland from which Scotland is only a small rowing-boat journey away, and as we have seen for many peoples the seas were roads and not barriers.
In mainland Britain a figure emerges or doesn't depending on whether you regard him as myth or history, who checks the advance of the Saxons: King Arthur who is a Briton, a P-Celt, and whose traces extend up into Scotland.
Another figure later appears, who is completely historical: Columcille or Columba. Outgrowth of this dynamic Celtic monasticism, Columba is from the ruling elite, but has chosen the life of the spirit. However, that he engages in the power politics of the day no historian is in doubt of. In 563 CE he founds the settlement of Iona, seven years before the birth of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. This island monastery had such light that a visit to Iona is still memorable today. It was from there that Columcille brought his teaching to the rest of Scotland, which becomes Gaelicised in the process. These Picts, and I am still not sure that I know who the Picts were, and the Gaels become united. At this point too there is the beginning of a new branch of the Gaelic culture which for many centuries will be uniform across Ireland and Scotland at least linguistically, i.e. until around the time of Elizabeth, knowledgeable Gaels could speak the same language together in both domains. The Brehon law goes where the Gaels go, and the last Scottish king known to have ruled by it was MacBeth who was slandered so badly in Shakespeare's play.
So what is it that has happened? Some transmission from Sayyiduna 'Isa, peace be upon him, has got to Ireland and Scotland. People are intoxicated with learning, some others are set adrift from worldly ambition and they go off to find lonely locations in which to worship Allah for the rest of their lives. A system of justice that was originally Celtic but has been refined and filtered by the christians is spreading. Scotland accepts all of this. It begins to spread down into Northumbria.
However, there is an ominous note. In 597, the same year that Columcille dies, a man called Augustine arrives in Kent. He is the official face of Roman christianity, dressed in the purple and riding a horse. A foreigner and agent of a great imperial church. He has the reputation of a missionary, but much of his mission is to gain authority for Rome over churches that are already established. The pope who sent him, Gregory, has already corresponded with another dynamic Gael, Columbanus (543-615), who full of passion took to the Continent and established monasteries. Columbanus did not follow the authority of Rome, and so Gregory called him to heel, reminding him of the verses in the Gospels where 'Isa, peace be upon him, allegedly called Peter his rock on which he would build his church, and reminding him that, as was widely and commonly believed, Peter died in Rome, thus claiming Rome as the city with authority over christians, all of which Columbanus cheerfully acknowledges, only adding that, "A living dog is better than a dead lion."
This is the official beginning of christianity in Britain after the collapse of whatever order the old Roman empire brought. Note that at this point the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, is around 27 years old, and so has probably been married to Khadijah, may Allah be pleased with her, for a few years. The Qur'an has not yet been revealed. Note again, that these two very different christianities are only arriving in Great Britian at around the time of the revelation of the Qur'an. The case is even more extreme in Scandinavia, where christianity arrived several centuries after Islam, and possibly after Islam had actually arrived in some places in Scandinavia in the person of Muslims.
Now this force is at work in the north, but advancing northwards from the south is this other imperial force.
Our Messenger, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, emigrates to Madinah, and all of the events of the sirah take place. Christianity finds its way southwards from Scotland into Northumbria. And in 634 a man appears called Oswald, whose father, the previous king, had been killed by Edwin who subsequently accepted christianity by marriage to a christian princess from down south who took a missionary north with her. Their kingdom was overthrown by some of the P-Celtic tribes. Oswald had taken refuge on Iona, and on returning to the battlefield and retaking his kingdom he summoned a man called Aidan, who in 635, three years after the death of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, founded the famous island monastery of Lindisfarne.
The following account I have from a television documentary narrated by a certain Thomás O'Fiagh, whom I later discovered to be the primate of all Ireland of his time. Thus, it could certainly not be thought to be from an anti-Roman Catholic or anti-christian source. The quotes below are my paraphrase and do not represent his words:
Aidan, accompanied by Oswald, walked across Northumbria. When they met peasants in the field or people in the town they talked with them, and the demeanour of Aidan coupled with the sense he made when translated into Saxon by Oswald inspired people, who became christians in great numbers. On the contrary, Augustine arrived on horse and spoke in Latin from the back of his horse dressed in his imperial purple, and not many were interested.
However, representing as he did the new power structures then emerging, he could talk to kings, and so there is a record of kings, courtiers and queens becoming christians at his hands. Indeed, there is a very clear pattern in several of the events of the spread of this christianity, and that is the role of the wives of kings in it. Augustine's first success was through Bertha, the daughter of a Frankish king and a christian, and wife of king Æthelbert, who although a pagan was later to be one of Augustine's most spectacular missionary conquests, with thousands of his people following him into christianity.
Edwin had become a christian through marriage to Æthelbert's daughter from East Anglia, who in her turn brought missionaries north. We will come to another king's wife who will play a significant part. How does this happen? The cult of the virgin? Certainly in my time in catholic Ireland it was quite clear that catholicism emasculates men and produces devastatingly strong and often admirable women who singlehandedly hold their families together while the man becomes a hopeless drunk. An overstatement, but an indication of something.
Aidan dies in 651 CE and thus nineteen years after the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, sometime during the caliphate of Sayyiduna 'Uthman, may Allah be pleased with him.
Twelve years later in 663 CE, a king, whose wife is Roman Catholic whereas he is a 'Celtic' [although Saxon] christian, summons a synod, at a place called Whitby, a good deal further south than our story hitherto, in North Yorkshire. At the Synod of Whitby, the Roman Catholic and the Celtic church meet in one key doctrinal encounter.
Again from Thomás O'Fiagh in paraphrase:
…the Celts send a simple and devout monk but the Romans send a scholar, and that, combined with the aforementioned wife, swings the day. The synod finds in favour of the Romans, and it is the beginning of the end for Celtic christianity. The Celts return to Ireland,…
and they lapse into making silver chalices and illuminating manuscripts, until first the Vikings arrive to wake them from their slumbers, and finally the first and only English pope in history, Nicolas Breakspear or Adrian IV, issues a bull to the Norman Henry II of England granting him Ireland because of the 'apostasy' of the Irish. The Synod of Whitby took place in the caliphate of Sayyiduna Mu'awiyah, may Allah be pleased with him, two years after the death of Sayyiduna 'Ali ibn Abi Talib, may Allah be pleased with him.
Thus just prior to the spread of Islam, a more closely authentic christianity of a sort can be said to arrive in north Great Britain, and then to be snuffed out at the end of the period of the khulafa' ar-rashidun, may Allah be pleased with them, by the force that has withstood Islam until our day, and the same force that is attempting to exterminate Islam again today.
How do we understand that force?
We understand it as the continuation of the Roman Empire in a new phase. With the new model of christian kingship, sanctified by the church, the armies now moved in propagation of the creed of the man who is reported by that church to have told people to turn the other cheek and to love your neighbour as yourself. So it is:
Note that this Roman form is reformed in the Reformation, which is just another way for it to perpetuate itself, but that is another history for another day.But the protestant and catholic models only differ in details not essentials.
And the fitrah and tawhid model has:
Is that not something that is clearly on the road towards Islam?
So why did Celtic christianity just disappear precisely at that moment? We can say that because they had some degree of authenticity, when the new Messenger, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, appeared with the final revelation for all mankind until the end of time, then that transmission was abrogated, not only legally in the outward, but inwardly in the reality even though the people themselves might not yet have received the news of his coming. It is as if their light had been turned off, and only the form remained. However, the outward form of the Roman model, since it had no inner authenticity was not affected inwardly in the same way, but could even increase and grow in the vacuum created by the other's removal. However, the dynamic tension between on the one hand people's fitrah and their sense of tawhid and their aspiration to live in a just mode by just laws and on the other hand the imposition of a state and religion and later a banking system upon them has never gone away and determines the rest of British and European history up until today. Europeans by their inner natures have been and are reaching out for Islam.
Copyright ©2005 Bookwright