Early in its history, Islam had had contacts with Africa. When the Islamic religion made its great sweep in the course of the seventh century, it moved across North Africa, sweeping everything before it from the Nile Delta to Gibraltar. It even crossed Gibraltar into Spain and across the Pyrenees into France. That year, 732 A.D., when the spearheads of Islam were blunted by Charles Martel at Tours, was one of the great hours of Europe and Christendom.

This sweep of Islam across North Africa, at the time the North African church collapsed like a house of cards, still puzzles us in many ways. Even today it makes strange reading. Why should groups of Christians in North Africa have welcomed the armies of Islam to their cities? Could they not realize what it would mean? What did they hope to gain through the Islamic conquests? Why exactly did this great North African Church of St. Cyprian and St. Augustine meet disaster and ignominy in this way? Why was it almost completely swept from the face of the earth with the exception of a few isolated Christian groups like the present day Copts of Egypt or the Abyssinians?

Some Reasons For Catastrophe

No single reason explains this vast catastrophe in one of the most promising areas of early Christendom. From a political standpoint, we can ascribe some of Islam’s early success to the fact that it moved into the vast power vacuum left after the enervating struggles between the Roman and Persian empires. This set the stage for the armies of Islam to sweep onward without any real opposition. It was like the opening of great flood gates over a vast flat land. Islamic armies were actually able to move for thousands of miles before they were blunted at Tours in France. But this factor in itself ...

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