North Africa

North Africa

Andrew Sholl

The troubles in North Africa have been very much in the news in recent months, and are likely to be for a considerable time. We are erroneously told that most of these people are Arabs.

Having been very interested in this area for quite some time, I wondered how a pre-eminently Christian area, during the second half of the the seventh century, fell so readily to Islam, and became almost totally converted to that new and aggressive faith (except in Egypt) soon after Muhammad's death.

I carefully looked into the history of this area, and found some very disturbing facts and situations from present-day Libya to Morocco.

While the majority indigenous Berber tribes were largely not integrated by the long-established and dominant settlers, Phoenicians (also called Carthaginians), and later by the invading Romans, there was no serious attempt by and large by the local Christians to convert the Berbers to Christianity, they being largely left to their animist beliefs.

On the other hand, among the Carthaginians and Romans, there was too much infighting: among Manicheans (St Augustine was one for many years), Donatists and Catholics. The invasion of the Germanic Vandals towards the end of the fourth century only greatly aggravated matters. Last but not least, Byzantine rule was greatly resented, after Constantine moved from Rome to Byzantium in the fourth century, and much of North Africa came to be ruled from there.

Thus, by the time a minority of Muslim Arabs invaded, most Christian people had had enough of religious controversy and corrupt Byzantine rule. Their overall attitude seems to have become "a plague on all your houses", and so they readily converted to Islam en masse, to such an extent that despite North Africa having been such a vibrant Catholic area for centuries, tragically, almost nothing is left, except in Egypt!

As for the Berber majority, they came to regard the invading Muslim Arabs as liberators due to Christian wrangling and Byzantine oppression. Also, as they were not regarded by the Muslims as "the People of the Book" (i.e., Jews and Christians), they were only given two "choices" by the victorious Muslim armies: conversion to Islam or death by the sword. Needless to say, most "chose" conversion to Islam.

So what can we Christians and Catholics learn from this? Unless we are strong in our Faith, history can very well repeat itself, with the near-extinction of Christianity, and the triumph of Islam eventually on a wide scale. Of course, this is looking with human eyes, for God has the last say! Jesus guaranteed to St Peter that "the gates of hell will not prevail against" the Church (Matthew 16:18).

Townsville, Qld

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