Anthropology tells us that early modern humans slowly populated what is now sub-Saharan Africa and then began to migrate out into the rest of the world. Whether this was out of curiosity, the search for food or population pressure is unknown, but it was probably some combination of all three. The most likely route was along the western coast of the Red Sea and then into the Eastern Mediterranean. From there, humans slowly fanned out across the globe. It’s all speculation, but that’s the logical route out of Africa.
The point here is the first wave of human migration was south to north. Humans appear to have made it as far north as Siberia and Scandinavia before changes in climate forced people back south again. There are some who think that the populations to the north had acquired better cognitive and maybe even physical tools that allowed them to migrate south and displace the populations in the more temperate zones. The changes in climate had the effect of improving the human populations in Asia and Europe.
That may be debatable, but what is not debated is that large scale human migrations change both the invaded and the invader. The people being conquered are either massacred or bred out by the winning tribes. On the other hand, the invading people tend to borrow things from the conquered people, including genetics from the female line. The Irish say the Vikings took the best looking women with them to Iceland, which is why Icelandic women are some of the most beautiful in the world.
A good example of this may be Islam. Historians have assumed Islam grew out of the polytheistic religions of Arabia in the late 6th century. While the details of Mohamed’s life are not clear, it has generally been accepted that he was a real person, who lived around Mecca in the 6th century. It has been assumed that Islam was an Arab response to the growth of Judaism and various Christian sects. In time, Islam spread through the Middle East, as the Arabs conquered the region.
There’s some interesting revisionism of the origins of Islam and the accuracy of the alleged Arab conquests. This New English Review article from a few years back is a nice summary of it. The archaeological evidence suggests that Islam was a Persian implementation of a Jewish-Christian sect that disappeared after the Council of Nicea in 325. Persian coins from the period, for example, when Mohamed was allegedly leading the Islamification of Arabia, have Christian symbols on them, in addition to Persian symbols.
The revisionist think Eastern Christians migrated into Arabia and Persia. In time, their form of Christianity evolved into a monotheistic religion of the Persians. According to this line of thinking, the Persians actually conquered the region and spread this hybrid Christianity that would evolve into Islam. It was only later, when the Arabs took over for the fading Persians, that the tale of Mohamed was created, as well as the story of the Arab conquests. Islam as an off-shoot of a now extinct form of Christianity is not implausible.
What’s interesting about both approaches to the origins of Islam is the base assumption that it filled a void that existed within Arab populations. Christianity and Judaism were the dominant religions of the Near East, but those people were the hated rivals of the Arabs and Persians. A need for a unifying faith to compete with the monotheism of their rivals was probably understood by Persians and Arab rulers. Religion has always been the business of kings, so it is reasonable to think they encouraged this development.
It’s also interesting that Islam most likely evolved from a mix of Judaism, Christianity and other ancient religions. What may have started out as a Jewish heresy was transformed by the people into a religion that was useful to them. Put another way, Christianity made its way into a less than fertile land, but adapted and mutated until it was something that could thrive. The fact that Islam has not spread too far past the boundaries of the people who created it suggests something about religion in general and Islam in particular.
When you look at what is happening to Europe, there are some similarities to the Arabs and Persians in late antiquity. The attempts to replace Christianity with the sterile bureaucratic super state have largely failed. Falling birth rates and an unwillingness to resist invasion are signs of a people who have no purpose. The average European today lives for carnal pleasures and the acquisition of goods. There’s a void in the center of European life and perhaps Islam is what is going to fill it.
It could very well be that the Muslim invasion of Europe is the end of a cycle that was started by Emperor Constantine when he made Christianity the religion of his empire and bound the Church to Rome. The losers at Nicea wandered off into the desert, presumably to be forgotten, but instead, their decedents are back to reclaim Europe. Like the people who migrated north and then returned ahead of the ice sheets, the Muslims are coming into Europe armed with a purpose, against which the locals have no answer.
Alternatively, maybe the people in charge of Europe, away from the public and the press, know that their people need a religion. Maybe like the Persian king Chosroes II, who historians are sure practiced a form of Christianity, the leaders of Europe are inviting Islam into their lands, even if it means taking in Muslims. After all, the Archbishop of Canterbury seem pretty keen on Islam. It’s unlikely that there is a secret mosque in Brussels for the EU rulers, but maybe they think some form of Islam would not be such a bad thing.
Regardless, we may be seeing the start of a reconquest, of sorts. Instead of Christianity making a come back in the West, it is the forgotten version, the one many think was the first and therefore the correct version of Christianity. Islam as practiced today will never work in Europe, but it could certainly evolve into something that does work. Maybe what’s happening is that the old original form of Christianity is coming back, but first as its foreign incarnation. In time, it will evolve into something the West can use.