Islamic identity of Rûm (Rome) and Romans II

This piece is written to cover the misconceptions of the Roman from Finland – see here and should be read in conjunction with this.

The Roman from Finland extensively used the work of Koray Durak to make his claim that the ‘Romans’ according to Islam were simply the Byzantines who collapsed and hence, Romans do not exist anymore. The paper from Koray Durak actually works against his claim. The following may become boring so try to focus and for clarity and better read, I have emphasised major parts:

The region in question is the territory that lay to the north and west of the Islamic Near East and North Africa; it corresponds roughly to today’s Europe and Turkey. In Arabic sources from the early Middle Ages, the term Ru¯m (Roman) was used to represent Romans of the republican and imperial periods, Byzantines, Europeans or Christian Melkites (followers of the Byzantine Church in the Near East), while Bila¯d al-Ru¯m (the Land of the Romans) stood for the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire and Europe occasionally.

Historians, such as Goitein and El-Cheikh, who wrote on the medieval European and Byzantine Islamic relations, felt the need to define the terms, but confined their discussion to a few sentences in the introduction of their works. They claimed that the terms referred to Western Europe and Byzantium, but most frequently to Byzantium (Goitein 43; El-Cheikh Byzantium 2224; Marin 111).

What the Finnish Roman did was utilize definitions from the ninth to eleventh centuries extensively and not go before that and even for these, he cherry picked to his liking as we will see below:

In the light of present scholarship, my first aim is to specify, if possible, the meaning of the term Ru¯m, and to define the geographical extent of the Land of the Romans in Islamic geographies that date from the ninth to the eleventh centuries. I chose this timeframe as the period to focus on because these two centuries represent the peak of the medieval geographical writing in the Islamic world.

We see the first examples of Arabic geographical writing produced in ninth-century Baghdad. As a result of the translation movement patronised by the Abbasid court in Baghdad in the eighth and ninth centuries a series of Greek works on geography, such as Ptolemy’s Geography, became available to Islamic scholars; together with translations from the Iranian and Indian geographical works, these Greek works formed the basis of early Islamic geographical knowledge.

Using definitions from another era and applying them on another is not fair especially when the definitions and terms were heavily loaned from the Greek language; however, we will see that even with this approach, we do not find his stance to hold. The Muslims throughout Islamic history have included all of Europe to be within the definition of Rome and if we say that USA is the strongest of the Roman nations, we would not be wrong just like how Muslims from the ninth to the eleventh centuries thought of the eastern Byzantines as the leaders of the larger Rome.

The Roman Empire took a strong hold in the eastern part and later on took strength in the western part. In their own considerations, there was serious overlap and hence, if Islam paints all of them as Romans, then this should not be a surprise.

The Frankish kingdom (in 800 CE) posed a serious ideological threat, if not a political one, to the Byzantine Empire that claimed to be the sole heir of the Roman legacy.

The Finnish Roman’s use of Koray Durak’s work is misused and not presented with proper disclosures. The research or work quoted is not presented in its proper context because a tax collector will present his definitions in one way while a military geographer will present in another.

The writers of general geographies, which provide the most information on the study of Ru¯m, had different emphases, and wrote in various genres.

Ibn Khurrada¯dhbih’s work is truly an example of administrative geography, written for the purpose of providing information on itineraries and taxes in the provinces of the Abbasid Empire. Even the discussion of the non-Islamic regions such as Byzantium and China focuses on the routes, administration and military strength of the existing states.

The book (of al-Yaqubi) deals mainly with topography and itineraries. The author discusses non-Islamic regions, but unfortunately, the northern part that dealt with Byzantium is largely missing.

Now let us examine the definitions of some writers from the ninth to the eleventh centuries from Koray Durak’s article.

Ibn Khurrada¯dhbih lists only Cyprus, Crete and Sicily among the ‘Roman islands’ excluding western Mediterranean islands that were not part of the Byzantine Empire in the ninth century.

The author’s focus was primarily the territories in his era and not to provide the Islamic definition of Rome. Below are some interesting quotes from Koray’s work:

Ibn al-Faqı¯h’s conceptualisation of Ru¯m works on two levels. On the first level, he is very clear about the geographical limits of the Roman territory. He writes twice that ard al-Ru¯m (territory of the Romans) extends from Antioch to Sicily and from Constantinople to Tu¯liya (Thule meaning either Britain or the Shetlands). This description definitely encompasses all of Western Europe and Byzantium.

Unlike earlier writers of administrative geography, ibn al-Faqı¯h simultaneously sees in the term ‘Roman’ a larger territorial unit corresponding to Europe, and a more specific unit representing only the Byzantine Empire. He does not make an explicit distinction between the two entities; he simply uses ard al-Ru¯m to refer to the whole European continent, and Ru¯m to refer to Byzantium specifically.

In ibn Rusta’s work, ‘the land of the Romans’ is quite a vague term referring to the Byzantine Empire and to Western Europe in general at the same time. On the one hand, Bila¯d al-Ru¯m covers territories of the Byzantine Empire and Western Europe; specifically, Italy, Burgundy, Frankish lands and Britain. On the other hand, the ruler of the Romans (malik alRu¯m) resides in Constantinople, reigning over the empire of the Romans (mulk alRu¯m), while the Lombards have their capital city in Pavia; the city of Rome is run by the Pope; Burgundy and Francia have their kings; and Britain is governed by seven princes. Europe seems like a conglomeration of independent political entities. Very much like in ibn al-Faqı¯h’s imagination, we see here a double use of the term ‘Roman’ referring to the geographical unit of Western Europe and Byzantium as well as to the political unit of the Byzantine Empire. However, unlike ibn al-Faqı¯h, ibn Rusta does not differentiate between ard (territory) and bila¯d (land) of the Romans, describing the Byzantine Empire and Europe both as bila¯d occasionally.

In short, Bila¯d al-Ru¯m meant the Byzantine Empire for the geographers who, writing in the category of ‘Routes and Kingdoms’, emphasised the administrative aspect of geographical data. ‘Ru¯m’ was, for them, distinct from the territories of the Franks and Slavs; it was predominantly a political term representing the Byzantine Empire. However, when we examine the works of ibn al-Faqı¯h and ibn Rusta, neither of which belonged to the category of ‘Routes and Kingdoms’, we see that Ru¯m encompasses all of the Christian north.

The geographer (al-Istakhrı) saw in Ru¯m the totality of Europe.

Kita¯b Su¯rat al-ard is very similar to the work of al-Istakhrı¯ in the sense that the term al-Ru¯m represented both the Christian north in general and the Byzantine Empire. In the first sense, mamlaka al-Ru¯m extends from the Islamic world, to the Atlantic Ocean.

In short, a different conceptualisation of the term Bila¯d al-Ru¯m occurs among the tenth-century geographers who wrote general geographies with an emphasis on economy, society and culture. The term ‘Roman’ at the same time signified Byzantium and Western Europe for these geographers. It was a term that represented the whole of Christian Europe.

Geographical works that were not written from an administrative perspective saw in Bila¯d al-Ru¯m the whole of Europe and Byzantium.

All the quoted parts are from the essay of Koray Durak which was used extensively by the Finn. I did not delve into it as my approach was to provide references from Islamic sources and prove how his understanding is immensely at fault; however, this may have given him a misconception that his sources were strong and hence, his cited work has been looked at above and it only goes against him.

In modern times, Romans are what we call ‘the West’ and include Europeans, North Americans (USA and Canada), and Australians. For the Islamic prophecy to be true, the Western world has to be the majority among the people. Europe is around 740 Million, North America is around 580 Million, and population of Australia and New Zealand is around 30 Million forming a total of around 1.3 Billion (approx.) very slightly lower than that of China. The Romans have to become the majority before the world ends and this will come to pass sooner or later.

The Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) is the last messenger of God and I pray for the guidance of the Finnish Christian.

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