In the mid 500’s an Ethiopian army poured into Arabia to defend Christians being killed by pagan and Jewish persecutors. The Ethiopian king established his rule in Yemen, at a Christian pilgrimage site. Christianity flourished.
The Ethiopian king was the unrivalled ruler of the region, but his army was expensive to keep. The nearby city of Mecca held an annual pagan pilgrimage that was also lucrative. The Ethiopian king marched on Mecca to stop its idolatrous worship of the Kaaba stones. Whether the king was only against idolatry, but also wanted to stop commercial competition from Mecca we do not know.
The leader of Mecca at this time was Mohammed’s grandfather. Mohammad was a child. Mecca sued for peace and the Ethiopian king demanded they hand over the Kaaba, which would have ensured that the city no longer had status as a pilgrimage centre. Mecca refused. Surprisingly Mecca was able to hold off the attack and the Ethiopian king withdrew. Later Islam continued to use Mecca and the stones of Kaaba as a pilgrimage centre, ridding it of all pagan gods but Allah.
Islam’s justification for war was the idolatry of the church in those regions. Christianity had become syncretised (meshed in) with the cultures of the region. In Egypt and Ethiopia they worshipped Isis the mother god and her son, renaming them Mary and Jesus. It was syncretism, not really Islam, which was the church’s downfall. The church has survived in all those countries till today. In Iran there are significant numbers of Christians and Jews who are forced to pay a tax, to allow them some freedom of worship.
The rise of Islam was not novel. Mohammed claimed to be the Comforter that Jesus promised would come. Several false prophets before him claimed the same. By Comforter Jesus was referring to the Holy Spirit, given to the church on the Day of Pentecost. Manichaeism was a sect started prior to Islam, founded by Mani. His career was strikingly similar to Mohammed’s.
Mani claimed to be the Comforter and the greatest in a succession of prophets including Old Testament prophets and Jesus, just as Mohammed did. Islam is a syncretised Christian/Jewish sect. Mani distinguished between more spiritual worshippers and laity, the former taking confession from the latter and abstaining from marriage, which the Roman Catholic priesthood followed.