“Amir” versus “Sheikh”: understanding the Arab titles

king bahrain
His Majesty Hamad Ibn Isa Al Khalifa, the King of Bahrain. The Al Khalifa  family rules Bahrain since 1783 and their royal titles are “sheikh”. They’ve adopted “Amir” in 1971 and “Malik” (or King) in 2002

We could end this article in one sentence by saying that both titles, in essence, mean the same thing.

In the last couple of centuries, it was created a convention that the title “Amir” (or “Emir”) would be the equivalent of the European “Prince”.  According to several encyclopedias, “Amir”, means “lord” or “commander-in-chief”, being derived from the Arabic root ‘a-m-r’ or “command“. Originally, simply meaning “commander-in-chief” or “leader”, usually in reference to a group of people, it came to be used as a title for governors or rulers, usually in smaller states. Therefore, the title had a military – not necessarily royal/noble – connotation.

The title Emir or Amir was equivalent of that of Commander.” The Black Book of the Admiralty, 1873, V.2, p.xiii (Cambridge University Press, 2012 edition, edited by Travers Twiss)

In the past, amir was usually a military title, now used to mean prince or as a title for various rulers or chiefs.” The New Encyclopedia of Islam, By Cyril Glassé, Huston Smith, Rowman Altamira, 2003, p.48

Whereas the title “Sheikh” was used mostly in three different connotations:

  1. Religious – although more recent, doesn’t concern this article,
  2. Royal – “sui iuris” hereditary sovereign or semi-sovereign ruler,
  3. Noble – noble title given by a sovereign or semi-sovereign ruler hereditary (“ad eternum”) or not (“ad personam”)

Sheikh (pronounced /ʃeɪk/ SHAYK or /ʃiːk/ SHEEK; Arabic: شيخ‎ šayḫ [ʃæjx], mostly pronounced [ʃeːx/ʃejx], plural شيوخ šuyūḫ [ʃuju:x])—also transliterated Sheik, Shaik, Shayk, Shaykh, Cheikh, Shekh, and Shaikh—is an honorific title in the Arabic language. It commonly designates the ruler of a tribe, who inherited the title from his father. “Sheikh” is given to a royal male at birth, whereas the related title “Sheikha” is given to a royal female at birth.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheikh

The word ‘sheikh’ can be used as a label for a head of a tribe in the Arab culture; for a member of a ruling family (as in Kuwait and the other Gulf States, for example), or for a religious person who perform religious duties.” Religion and Terrorism: An Interfaith Perspective, by Aref M. Al-Khattar, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003, p.15

Important to note that the meaning of the word “tribe” in the Anthropological sense means a group of people, politically organized, that has the same language, beliefs, customs, and interests. However, some historians use the term “tribe” in a pejorative fashion, to mean indigenous, primitive, and insignificant.

“In such contexts, members of a tribe are typically said to share a self-name and a contiguous territory; to work together in such joint endeavours as trade, agriculture, house construction, warfare, and ceremonial activities; and to be composed of a number of smaller local communities such as bands or villages. In addition, they may be aggregated into higher-order clusters, such as nations.

As an anthropological term, the word tribe fell out of favour in the latter part of the 20th century. Some anthropologists rejected the term itself, on the grounds that it could not be precisely defined. Others objected to the negative connotations that the word acquired in the colonial context. Scholars of Africa, in particular, felt that it was pejorative as well as inaccurate.” https://www.britannica.com/topic/tribe-anthropology

Originally, the title “Sheikh” was more related to hereditary royal/noble pedigree than the title “Amir”.

Besides the sovereigns referred to above, there are several oriental potentates who should be mentioned, the rulers of the Sultanates and Sheikdoms of East Africa and the Persian Gulf (…) The style of these Sheikhs is His Highness.” “Titles: How the king became His Majesty”, L.G. Pine, New York, 1992 (Barnes & Noble) p. 137-138

In the modern United Arab Emirates, however, none of the rulers of the constituent states are called emirs (princes); all are Sheikhs.”

https://www.britannica.com/topic/emir

For a better understanding of the subject we strongly recommend the reading of the following article:

The Sheikhs El Chemor: a legal study of titles

Prince Gharios El Chemor receives attention from the Chinese press

Since young age, HRH Prince Gharios El Chemor is a enthusiast of the Asian culture being an experienced and recognized  master of martial arts and an expert in Asian religions and culture, giving lectures in Universities and events. Also, since 2015, Prince Gharios is an active member of the Honorary Board of the Asian world Film Festival, one of the most important in the world promoting Asian cinema. It’s also notorious the fact that the Ghassanids were the guardians of the Silk Road in the Middle East, therefore being allies to the famous Chinese trade endeavors for centuries. Today, the prince was in several news websites in China with Xia Long Long, a famous Chinese artist and humanitarian.

Here are the links to the Chinese press:

http://www.wwwjilin.com/html/finance/20180426/4849317120617098679.shtml

http://www.shrxnews.com/info/165580.html 

http://www.cdjdjj.cn/zixun/20180426/709803.html 

Prince Gharios El Chemor awarded with the title of “Colonel” by the Governor of Alabama

Alabama Colonel Award

HRH Prince Gharios El Chemor of Ghassan Al-Numan VIII was awarded with the title of “Honorary Colonel” by the 54th Governor of Alabama, the Honorable Kay Ivey. The Prince was also honored with the title of “Kentucky Colonel” in 2012.

He declared: “I’m very humbled and honored to receive the title of Colonel from Southern States, after all, I’m a Southern person myself, since I was born and raised in exile in Southern Brazil.”

Prince Gharios El Chemor attends event at the UN in NY

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HRH Prince Gharios El Chemor attending the Town Hall meeting with the UN Secretary General

The Royal House of Ghassan was accredited by the United Nations ECOSOC with the Special Consultative Status in 2016. Since then, HRH Prince Gharios El Chemor of Ghassan has been following all the major UN’s agendas and last week has participated on the 62nd edition of the Commission on Status of Women at the UN headquarters in New York.

His Royal Highness, an avid defender of women’s equality, has participated in several meetings. One of the events’ highlights was the Town Hall meeting with His Excellency the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

More about the Royal House of Ghassan HERE
More about HRH Prince Gharios El Chemor HERE

What makes a family “Royal”?

Royal-Family-665174
The British Royal Family, the most famous and prestigious in the world 

A royal family is the immediate family of a king or queen regnant, and sometimes his or her extended family. The term imperial family appropriately describes the family of an emperor or empress, and the term papal family describes the family of a pope, while the terms baronial family, comital family, ducal family, grand ducal family, or princely family are more appropriate to describe the relatives of a reigning baron, count, duke, grand duke, or prince. However, in common parlance members of any family which reigns by hereditary right are often referred to as royalty or “royals.” It is also customary in some circles to refer to the extended relations of a deposed monarch and his or her descendants as a royal family“. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_family

Just being related to a King or Queen doesn’t make a family necessarily royal or eligible to a royal title. Specially in Europe where is estimated that around 80% of the population descends from some European sovereign.

In the end, it all depends on the particular laws of succession of each Royal family.

For example, British Queen Elizabeth II‘s eldest grandson Peter Phillips (firstborn son of HRH Princess Royal Anne born in 1977) doesn’t even have a royal title due to the British Laws of succession. Although obviously considered to be part of the Royal Family,  he’s called just “master” and is currently the 13th in line to the British throne, however, no title. His cousin HRH Prince William was born in 1982 but due to those laws of succession has a royal title and is the 2nd in line to the throne. In contrast, the Saudi Royal family has thousands of princes due to their particular laws of succession since just the descent from a ruler entitles them to a royal title.

Still in the Middle East, if you ask any Lebanese, even historians, who’s “royal” for them, they’ll immediately think of the princely families that ruled the whole Mount Lebanon under the Ottoman empire (i.e. Shuf Emirate, Emirate of Jabal Druze, Emirate of Mount Lebanon, as well as Ma’an Emirate)

However, the Thesaurus’ definition of the word “Royal” is

of or relating to a king, queen, or other sovereign

But what does “sovereign” means?

1. a monarch; a king, queen, or other supreme ruler. 2. a person who has supreme power or authority.”

In the technical sense, the El Chemor family was also sovereign in Mount Lebanon as it was in Ghassan since their power was considerable autonomous and didn’t emanate from a higher authority. The family had to make deals with the Ottomans only in the last years of rule, to join the Iltizam system for some time culminating with the deposition.

According to accepted international law and its principle of “sovereign equality“, the Pope or the prince of Monaco is “as royal” as the Queen of England regardless of the size of their actual territories. That principle is one of the pillars of International Law itself.

By the aforementioned, the “sovereign” or “semi-sovereign” ruling Sheikh is the equivalent of a Prince. There are so many examples in the Arabian peninsula and Gulf like Kuwait, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Qatar, etc

“Besides the sovereigns referred to above, there are several oriental potentates who should be mentioned, the rulers of the Sultanates and Sheikdoms of East Africa and the Persian Gulf (…) The style of these Sheikhs is His Highness.” Titles: How the king became His Majesty”, L.G. Pine, New York, 1992 (Barnes & Noble) p. 137-138

“In the modern United Arab Emirates, however, none of the rulers of the constituent states are called emirs (princes); all are Sheikhs.”

  https://www.britannica.com/topic/emir

Even though all the Lebanese feudal titles were abolished by the Ottoman empire in 1858 CE, the empire could only do so with the titles bestowed by their own honor system. The El Chemor Family had both the Imperial and Royal Ghassanid titles and the ruling Sheikh titles by the “sui iuris” (by own right) legal principle, therefore, the revocation didn’t legally affect them.

However, both the empire and the subsequent Lebanese regimes have formally recognized all the feudal titles by printing them in the official documents like birth certificates, driver’s licenses and passports. No birth legal privilege attached to those titles, only the prerogative of using them publicly. Not much, but still a formal recognition.

As mentioned, the El Chemor family was ruling since 1211 CE, almost 80 years before the Ottoman empire was even founded and over 300 years before the first emirate was created with prince Fakhr al-Din I (1516–1544).

We can conclude that there’s a huge difference between the prestige of titles in Mount Lebanon and their actual legal value. Important to note that we’re not debating neither the prestige nor the historical deeds of a particular family, but the actual title’s legal pedigree. There are many families with a more active and glamorous participation in Lebanon’s history than the Sheikhs El Chemor, however, only the families that actually ruled before the Ottoman invasion can claim sovereign or semi-sovereign status along with the Maanid and the Shihab Emirs.

Another good example of the principle of sovereign equivalency is the fact that, without a single solitary doubt, the British Royal Family is the most famous and prestigious in the world. However, technically and legally, they’ve the very exact same value as the Tongan Royal Family that rules a small Polynesian archipelago with around 100,000 people. Also, although the British Royal Family is sovereign, famous and prestigious, they don’t hold much actual power. In contrast, the Sultan of Oman, as an absolute ruler has considerably more actual power than his British counterpart.

Important to notice that the El Chemor family has this name from the last king of Ghassan, Chemor (or Shummar, Shemir, Shemar, etc) Jablah VI Ibn Aiham  (ruled 632-638 CE). Therefore, they were known as the “Chemori” or “the descendants of King Chemor”. King Jablah VI, has received the name “Chemor” from a tradition started by King Jabalah IV (ruled 518-528 CE) who was also known by the “kunya” or teknonymy of “Abu Chemor” (or “the father of Chemor“) referring to the eldest brother to King Al-Harith V, the most famous Ghassanid King of all times (ruled 529-569 CE).

It is a reputed deep-rooted allegation that the heads of Al-Chemor tribe are rooted from Bani Chemor, who are the Christian Kings of Ghassan which belong to Al Jafna.” (Father Ignatios Tannos El-Khoury, Historical Scientific Research: “Sheikh El Chemor Rulers of Al-Aqoura (1211-1633) and Rulers of Al-Zawiye (1641-1747)”Beirut, Lebanon, 1948, p.38)

“The refugees of Al Ghassani and bani Chemor who seeked refuge to Al ‘Aqoura turned into Maronites because the town now only has Maronites Christians and because Al Chemor tribe are the princes and children of kings, the Maronites reigned them over the land where the document states that: “… and Al ‘Aqoura is their own village from a long time, they can do as they wish…” and Al Chemori family could have taken over the throne due to their relentless efforts, money or battles, no one knows.” (ibid p.42)

“Conclusion
This is the history of the Chemor family Sheikhs who are feudal rulers, a genuine progeny of the sons of Ghassan kings of the Levant… one of the most decent, oldest and noblest families in Lebanon.” (ibid p.125)     

To learn more about the 1948’s book about the El Chemor family, please click HERE

To learn more about the book’s recent scholarly validation, please click HERE    

Also very important to notice that there are only two ancient families named Chemor/Shammar in the whole Middle East. One, has never set foot in Lebanese territory due to its background. They’re present in Iraq and the GCC countries, originating from the Tayy tribe and has Bedouin origin and is Muslim since its inception (its leader, Hatim Al-Tayy, have converted to Islam while Prophet Mohammad was still alive, therefore, before adopting the name “Shammar“). They have adopted to use the name Shammar/Shammari after the 14th century since they briefly inhabited the Jabal Shammar region. The El Chemor Sheikhs from Lebanon come from a sedentary Arab and Christian origin and it’s documented to use this name two centuries before the Bedouin tribe. When they’ve ruled the city of Akoura in 1211 CE they were already using the name Chemor/Shammar. There are no register of the Muslim Shammari family ever to even inhabited Mount Lebanon. Thus, by simple logic it’s easy to conclude that every family member of the El Chemor family belongs to the very same family and ancestry. The ramifications of the family only happened in the 18th and 19th centuries originating the Gharios, Habaki and Farhat families. So, there’s no need to be an expert genealogist or to hold a PhD in History to understand, again by simple logic, unless proven otherwise, that the legitimate members of these families can prove to belong to the El Chemor family by only evincing their connection to the last ancestor using the El Chemor last name, since going back to King Chemor Jablah it’s absolutely certain, since only his direct descendants that inhabited the Mount Lebanon – and none else – used this particular family name.

Of course, if we think in European terms, that might sound strange. How can we assert an unequivocal royal lineage simply by a surname? In Europe, there are dozens of families with the same surnames that are not even related. Also, by the restrictive European laws of succession (including Salic and semi-Salic laws, morganatic marriages, etc.) the observance of the particular position on the family tree is indispensable. Not in the Middle East, where the simple descent in male line from the last ruler is mandatory.

We also must compare the populations of Europe and Mount Lebanon.

Mount Lebanon late 1500’s
150,000 people (including all religions)
(According to A.N. Poliak, see “Lebanon, a History 600-2011”, Oxford, 2012, William Harris, p.73)

Europe 1500’s
– French Crown 16,250,000
– Holy Roman Empire 16,000,000
– Spanish Empire 8,550,000
– English Crown 2,750,000
– Portuguese Empire 3,000,000
– Papal States 2,000,000
– Kingdom of Naples 2,000,000
– Republic of Venice 1,500,000
– Republic of Florence 750,000

Reference here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_population_in_1500

So, it’s obvious that in Mount Lebanon everyone knew the origins of this or that family, specially a prestigious and noble one.

Going even further, according to the Ottoman census:

  • Mount Lebanon 1780’s around 300,000 (all religions)
  • Mount Lebanon 1911 around 414,000 (all religions)

(see “Lebanon, a History 600-2011”, Oxford, 2012, William Harris, p. 166)

We mention here “all religions” since each and very sect in Lebanon have been keeping their own history and customs separately. While in Europe you’ve only Christianity (even having Catholics and protestants), there’s a homogeneity.

So, it’s easy to conclude that it’s considerably simple to establish a royal line in the aforementioned scenario.

We’d like to suggest some complimentary reading to fully understand this article:

·        The El Chemor/Gharios family Vis-à-vis with the International Law

.        Why is the El Chemor/Gharios Family endowed with the Ghassanid Royal Titles?

·        The Middle Eastern Laws of Succession 

·        Primogeniture in the Royal Arab Succession

·        The Laws of Succession of the Ghassanids

·        Understanding the Royal Ghassanid family tree

·        The Sheikhs El Chemor: a legal study of titles

More about the Sheikhs El Chemor and the Ghassanid Kings HERE

The peculiar Middle Eastern sense of history

saddam
All the 7th century events are very vivid in the minds of the Middle Easterners, something inconceivable in the Westerners minds. Noteworthy, the Battle of Al-Qadisiyya (637 CE), constantly cited by both sides of the Iran-Iraq in the 1980’s  

For a westerner, talking about a dynasty from the 7th century might sound absurd and outdated. In the western world, in our day and age, if we mention something from 300 years ago, we’re talking about “ancient history”. However, in the East, especially in the Middle East, the sense of history and its current relevancy is acutely diverse. The very sense of time lapse related to history is different.

According to philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, a man (and therefore a whole nation or people) can see, experience and use history in three distinct ways. If a man who wants to create greatness uses the past, he seizes upon it for himself by means of monumental history; in contrast, one who is habituated by tradition and custom insists on cultivating the past as an antiquarian historian; and only one whose breast is oppressed by a present need and who wants to cast off his load at any price has a need for critical history, i.e., history which tries and passes judgment.

Several scholars agree that, by Nietzsche’s definition, the Arab people are totally oriented by what he calls “antiquarian history”.

That fact is broadly known in the academic circles but unknown for the general public. One of the world’s leading experts in the Middle East, Professor Bernard Lewis FBA, Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, speaks frequently about the matter in his books and lectures.

Even the concepts of history and identity require a redefinition for the Westerner trying to understand the contemporary Middle East.
In current American usage, the phrase ‘that’s history’ is commonly used to dismiss something unimportant, of no relevance to current concerns, and despite an immense investment in the teaching and writing of history, the general level of historical knowledge in our society is abysmally low. The Muslim peoples [and all the Arabs], like everyone else in the world, are shaped by their history, but unlike some others, they’re keenly aware of it. Their awareness dates however from the advent of Islam, with perhaps some minimum references to Pre-Islamic times, necessary to explain historical allusions in the Qur’an and in the early Islamic traditions and chronicles.” (“The crisis of Islam – Holy war and unholy terror”, Bernard Lewis, 2003, p.xviii-xix)

From that citation, we can easily conclude, that what happened in the sixth and seventh centuries, keep being amazingly ‘fresh’ for the Arabs all over the Middle East. Everything from that period is very current and relevant.
All the 7th century events are very vivid in the minds of the Middle Easterners. Like the Battle of Al-Qadisiyya (637 A.D.) was constantly cited by both sides of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980’s.

References to early, even to ancient history are common-place in public discourse. In the 1980’s, during the Iran-Iraq war, for instance, both sides waged massive propaganda campaigns that frequently evoked events and personalities dating back as far as the seventh century, to the battles of Qadisiyya (637 C.E.) and Karbala (680 C.E.).” (“The crisis of Islam – Holy war and unholy terror”, Bernard Lewis, 2003, p.xxiii)

A very good proof of that is the adoption of the Sharia (Islamic) Law, shaped and used in those times and today with the very same importance and usage.

Islamic history, for Muslims, has an important religious and also legal significance, since it reflects the work of God’s purpose for His community – those that accept the teachings of Islam and obey its law.” (“The crisis of Islam– Holy war and unholy terror”, Bernard Lewis, 2003, p.xviii-xix)

Outside the few developed metropolis, the great majority of the Arab people still live in the very same way as, at least, a thousand years ago.

Rather than living in the present with their eyes turned toward the future, the Arabs lived in an illusory museum of petrified images of their past, a past that, in their presumption of its immortality, was in actuality absurd.” (“Egypt, Islam, and the Arabs: The Search for Egyptian Nationhood, 1900-1930”, Israel Gershoni, James P. Jankowski, 1987, p.108)

The Arab sense of history, they [Egyptian intellectuals] claimed, did not see its purpose as one of advancing the present through an understanding of the past. Rather, it tended to embalm and mummify the present in the image of the past. Rather than harnessing and using the past for the sake of the present, the Arab approach buried the present in the sarcophagus of the past.” (Ibid.,p.109)

For the Arabs, the study of the past was not a means of creating a better present and future; instead the present and future were perceived merely as an extension and continuation of the past.” (Ibid.)

The very same cultural and social behavior as well the code of etiquette and manners. Also, the usage of outfits both ethnic and religious had changed very little from those centuries.

burka
Even in the 21st century, Arab outfits are almost the very same as the ones in the 7th century

It was in modern Psychology that [Arab scholar Salama] Musa found the explanation for the inner drive behind the anti-historical, petrified Arab sense of history. In his view, the Arabs were attempting to ‘flee’ their dismal present through their addiction to the presumably more perfectly era of salaf [forefathers]. The constantly changing realities of the modern world which the Arab personality by its very nature was not adapted to, was replaced by the ‘fortified shelter’ of a more glorious and more perfect past.” (Ibid.)

Noteworthy, the Muslim rulers of today claim direct descent from the Prophet Mohammad (i.e. Hashemite Family of Jordan and Alaouite Family of Morocco). Hence, the sense of what could be called in the West of “Ancient Genealogy” is not considerate as such by the Arabs.

“Caliph ‘Umar [6th and 7th Centuries] is quoted saying to the Arabs, “Learn your genealogies, and do not be like the local peasants who, when they are asked who they are, reply: I am from ‘such-and-such place.’” (“The crisis of Islam– Holy war and unholy terror”, Bernard Lewis, 2003, p.xxi)

Also is worthy to mention, that Arabs have no sense of country as a nation as we have in the West.

“…because Arabs simply did not think in terms of combined ethnic and territorial identity.” (“The crisis of Islam– Holy war and unholy terror”, Bernard Lewis, 2003, p.xxi)

So, in other words, until very recently, in the Arabs’ minds there was only one great nation, the Islamic nation. By implication, all the Arabs, should be Muslims. That’s perfectly understandable because the countries we see today in the Middle East are simply recent European creations and its frontiers drawn mostly by British and French bureaucrats. There’s no historical legitimacy, fact that it’s constantly debated in today’s societies in the region.

We can also understand that, regardless of all the time that had passed, all the different dynasties that ruled the region, it’s common (and legal) understanding that the land was inhabited and ruled before by non-Muslims and it was taken away from them by the religious authority invested in the Muslims by God. The Muslims have been dwelling and ruling the land ever since.

In the early centuries of the Muslim era, the Islamic community was one state under one ruler. Even after that community split up into many states, the ideal of a simple Islamic polity persisted.” (“The crisis of Islam– Holy war and unholy terror”, Bernard Lewis, 2003, p.xxi)

All the other detail and minutiae, historically and legally regarded as important by Westerners are simply not valid in the eyes of Muslim Arabs, especially any claim that non-Muslims may had or have

“The Arab’s sense of history is not stretched out on a time line; rather, it is focused on the occurrence of clusters of important events.” (Saudi Arabia: a kingdom in transition, Abdulaziz I. Al-Sweel/Saudi Arabia – Mulḥaqīyah al-Thaqāfīyah/U.S., 1993, p. 87)

 

“The classical Arabic historians tell us that in the year 20 of the Muslim era, corresponding to 641 C.E., the Caliph ‘Umar decreed that Jews and Christians should be removed from all but the southern and eastern fringes of Arabia, in fulfillment of an injunction of the Prophet uttered on his deathbed: “Let there not be two religions in Arabia.” (“The crisis of Islam– Holy war and unholy terror”, Bernard Lewis, 2003, p.xxix)

The consequences of that can be seen and felt even today.

The expulsion was in due course completed, and from then until now the Holy Land of the Hijaz has been forbidden territory for non-Muslims. According to the school of Islamic jurisprudence accepted by the Saudi state and by Usama bin Ladin [Osama Bin Laden] and his followers, for a non-Muslim even to set foot on the sacred soil is a major offense. In the rest of the kingdom [of Saudi Arabia], non-Muslims, while admitted as temporary visitors, were not permitted to establish residence or practice their religions. The Red Sea port of Jedda for long served as a kind of religious quarantine area, in which foreign diplomatic, consular, and commercial representatives were allowed to live on a strictly temporary basis.” (“The crisis of Islam– Holy war and unholy terror”, Bernard Lewis, 2003, p.xxx)

“Their presence [foreigners non-Muslims, especially Americans], still seen by many as a desecration, may help to explain the growing mood of resentment.” (Ibid.)

Once more, capital evidence that there’s no difference for Arabs regarding the lapse of time in history; a fourteen centuries old decree, is still in force today.

Another good example of that is the whole legacy of the Christian Arabs. Even the term is new. May be one of the reasons that Christian-Arabs never had a voice is because they were never seen by the Muslims as such, but as “Greeks” or “Romans” or by the famous pejorative “infidels” or “unbelievers”. You either have Christians (regardless of ethnicity) or Arabs, in their minds by implication; an Arab is a synonym of a Muslim. Everything belonging to the Christian Arabs was outlawed.

The history of non-Muslim states and peoples conveys no such message and is therefore without value or interest. Even in countries of ancient civilization like those of the Middle East, the knowledge of pagan [in this case, non-Muslim] history – of their own ancestors, whose monuments and inscriptions lay around them – was minimal. The ancient languages and scripts were forgotten, the ancient records buried, until they were recovered and deciphered in modern times by inquisitive Western archeologists and philologists.” (“The crisis of Islam– Holy war and unholy terror”, Bernard Lewis, 2003, p.xix)

In Muslim tradition, the world is divided into two houses: the House of Islam (Dar al-Islam), in which Muslim governments rule and Muslim law prevails; and the House of War (Dar al-Harb), the rest of the world, still inhabited and, more important, ruled by infidels. The presumption is that the duty of jihad will continue, interrupted only by truces, until all the world either adopts the Muslim faith or submits to Muslim rule. Those who fight in the jihad qualify for rewards in both worlds – booty in this one, paradise in the next.” (“The crisis of Islam– Holy war and unholy terror”, Bernard Lewis, 2003, p.31-32)

 

[according to] Arthur Jeffrey (1942):
The classical works on jurisprudence define it [jihad] quite badly as ‘the religious duty of spreading Islam by force of arms’ and lay down five propositions concerning it:
* It is a duty because such war was ordered by the Prophet
* It must continue until the whole world is under the domination of Islam
* The sovereign must be at the head of it and direct it – not some upstart, self-appointed leader 
* The offer of Islam or Dhimmi status [second class citizenship for non-Muslims] must be made before the attack is launched
* Any Muslim who dies fighting on Jihad is a “shahid” (martyr) and as such is assured of Paradise will have particular privileges.” (“The Legacy of Jihad – Islamic Holy War and the Fate of non-Muslims”, Andrew G. Boston, MD, 2008, p. 95)

We also have to understand that, although there were some times of relative peace between Muslims and Christians, the latter were never considered to be equals by Islamic rulers. Even in times of truce and when collaboration flourished between both religions, the Christians were always considered second class citizens and although their religious practice could be relatively free, they always had to pay the tax (Jiyza) and even the absurd of paying differentiated prices in goods and services. There was a lowest price for Muslims, an intermediary for Jews and the higher price for Christians.

The renowned Ottomanist Roderick Davison has observed that under the Shari’a (Islamic Holy Law) the ‘infidel gavours [‘dhimmis’, ‘rayas’]’ were permanently relegated to a status of ‘inferiority’ and subjected to a ‘contemptuous half-toleration”. Davison further maintain that this contempt emanated from ‘an innate attitude of superiority’, and was driven by an ‘innate Muslim feeling’.” (“The Legacy of Jihad – Islamic Holy War and the Fate of non-Muslims”, Andrew G. Boston, MD, 2008, p.521)

sharia
There are Sharia Law Courts today all over the Middle East and even other non-Muslim countries. The rule of law is based upon the 7th century jurisprudence 

By all the above, it’s also easy to conclude that in the Arabs minds, there are only two historical periods: before Islam and after Islam. For Christians, the division of history in “before Christ” and “after Christ” is symbolic and subdivided in hundreds of other periods. And although Christians try to follow or even imitate Jesus, He stands in “ancient history” and albeit many religious leaders try to bring His teachings to our times it’s imprinted in Christian’s minds the words “at that time” as it was something holy but far away from our reality.

There’s a theological reason for that. Christians believe that the Bible was “inspired” by God. Muslims believe that the Quran is the word of God “ipsis literis, ipsis verbis” i.e. word by word, dictated to the Prophet Mohammad, therefore, it’s immutable.

For the West, the separation of church and State is a reality. For Arabs, it’s a sacrilege. Islam was conceived to be a political regime, not only a code of spiritual beliefs as Christianity or other religions. For Muslims, there’s no other identity but the Muslim. Everything else is secondary, even the modern phenomena called nationalism.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, with the Pan-Arabism movement, a secular alternative was tried and with that a considerable degree of modernization for the Middle East. However, with the advent of the Six-day war of 1967 and the Arab coalition’s defeat against Israel, the modernization was seen as a sacrilege and almost completely abandoned creating even a setback with more severe and radical religious allusions reinforcing the hatred against the West. It was clear at the time that, any tentative of abandoning the ‘old ways’ wouldn’t work and the real solace and source of so many past glories should come back to power. That just reinforced the sense of “antiquarian history” of the Arabs.

In conclusion, the Arab sense of time related to history, because of Islamic influence, is completely different from the Western. All the events of the 7th century are very alive for the Arabs as the WWII events are for the West. If for westerners, 300 years is a lot of time, for Arabs is just “yesterday”.