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April 4, 2009

Should Tony Blair Be Compared With Emperor Heraclius?

By John Sanidopoulos

This months issue of New Statesman contains an article titled "Kingdoms Not Of This World" whose author, Tom Holland, speaks of the Islamic penetration into Great Britain and the Christian response to it. Within the article he makes an interesting comparison between Emperor Heraclius' response to Islam with that of Tony Blair. Tony Blair has been noted to have given an impeccably ecumenical reply to the destruction of the Twin Towers just a few days after their demise by saying: “Jews, Muslims and Christians are all children of Abraham. This is the moment to bring the faiths closer together in understanding of our common values and heritage – a source of unity and strength.” What historical merit is there that provides a similar view being held by Emperor Heraclius?
The answer is that there is no credible historical merit in making this assertion. If Holland had checked his sources, which I'm sure he did but failed to mention, he would have made the point that he used well-known Islamic propaganda to make his comparison.
According to various Muslim sources from the earliest written traditions of Islam, it is said that as Muhammad was in the process of conquering Arabia he sent personal letters to various kings, including the Roman Emperor Heraclius and the Persian King Chosroes. The letter basically is reported to have stated that they should as a kingdom embrace Muhammad as their Prophet and Allah as their God or else be conquered. When Chosroes received the audacious letter it is said he took it and angrily tore it in half, then dispatched soldiers to capture Muhammad and bring him to Persia. When Muhammad received this news, he said: "So will his kingdom tear apart," and predicted that Chosroes would die at the hands of his own son. However, Heraclius' response to this letter is said to have been thoughtful and favorable. The sources do not agree on the details of the story, but they all show a receptive attitude displayed by Heraclius. In fact his response is so favorable that he eagerly desires to embrace Islam after making serious inquiry, but his Christian subjects are hostile to his intentions causing the Emperor to relent to their pressure.
When examining the details of these stories, it is clearly intended by these Muslim authors to show Muhammad in a favorable light and his future penetration of the Persian and Roman Empire as destined by Allah. In the first, Muhammad shows himself to be a Prophet who should not be rejected without facing consequences, and in the latter tale the details show that after serious inquiry the Roman Emperor himself is convinced of Muhammad's legitimacy. Furthermore, it gave Muslims a divine purpose behind the fall of the Persian Empire and the continuance of the Roman Empire. However it would seem highly implausible that Muhammad would have dared to send such audacious letters at a time when he had not even yet conquered Arabia.
No serious historian takes these stories seriously and gives credibility to them. Besides Arabic these stories are not told in any other language of the time, nor are they even alluded to by any non-Muslim source until a much later date. Surely a Persian or Roman historian opposed to the policies of their respected ruler would have favored such tales and recorded them if found to be true, and any defender of these rulers would have responded to such a tale being circulated through gossip.
As far as Heraclius is concerned, there is absolutely no evidence of even a possible secret embrace of Islam. In fact, history proves the complete opposite. First, during the entire supposed exchange between Heraclius and Muhammad, Heraclius embraced and encouraged Monothelitism as a compromise between the Orthodox and the Monophysites. Monothelitism taught that Christ has two distinct natures, divine and human, manifested in only one will and activity. Such a doctrine would have been anathema to Islamic teaching based on the fact that Islam completely rejects the divinity of Jesus. Heraclius encouraged the reunion of the Monophysites with the Orthodox because he saw that such dissension divided his Empire (nearly all of Egypt at this time was Monophysite) and this division would likely lead to the downfall of his Empire at the hands of the Islamic Saracenes. Second, in 628, the same year of the supposed exchange between Heraclius and Muhammad, Heraclius lead a crusade against the Persians for stealing the True Cross and restored it to Jerusalem in 630. Here we have a contradiction in historical accounts as well as at least a verbal assent to belief in the crucifixion death of Jesus, which is also a doctrine anathema within Islam. Third, Heraclius fought the Muslims. In 635 the Muslims attacked Damascus, which then surrendered. Heraclius counter-attacked in 636 and went to war with the Muslims with an army of 200,000 at the Battle of the Yarmuk in Syria on 20th August. At that time, the aging Heraclius was more than 60 years old, and had been involved in more than 100 battles. He was soundly defeated, and lost Syria to the Muslims.
The sources of Muhammad's biography are numerous, but on the whole untrustworthy, being crowded with fictitious details, legends, and stories. None of his biographies were compiled during his lifetime, and the earliest was written a century and a half after his death. The Quran is perhaps the only reliable source for the leading events in his career. All these collections and biographies are based on the so-called Hadiths, or Traditions, the historical value of which is more than doubtful.
These details point to the certainty that the events described by Holland in his article probably never even took place, hence making the comparison between the ecumenicity of Tony Blair with that of Heraclius as unfounded and without evidence.