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Christian losses to Islam: 7th century

A major blow to the Christian empire of the east is struck by the Arab armies, moving at astonishing speed in the 7th century north through the Middle East and westwards along the Mediterranean coast of Africa. The cities of Palestine and Syria, conquered by the Muslims between 635 and 638, have been jewels of the Byzantine empire since the time of Constantine. So has Alexandria, which falls in 642.

Further west in Africa, the region round Carthage has recently been recovered by Justinian from another variety of Christian - the Vandals, believers in Arianism. This rich area too is lost to the Muslims later in the 7th century.

Muslim tolerance of Christianity means that the religion does not vanish from these areas. Christian communities survive and worship freely, though many change to Islam once the new rulers are clearly established and conversion is allowed (in the early decades only Arabs may be Muslim).

In most of north Africa Christianity is largely replaced by the newer religion. Elsewhere Islam has differing but profound effects. In Egypt Muslim rule increases the isolation of the Coptic church from the rest of the Eastern Orthodox community. In Palestine the new inaccessibility of the holy places of Christendom eventually provokes a desperate rescue attempt - in the form of the Crusades.

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