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"Conversion was a very gradual process. Although earlier Muslim and Western writers assumed that the region was forcibly, quickly, and massively converted to Islam, nowhere in the sources is there mention of the conversion of large numbers of people, or of whole villages, towns, and regions. The only known exception may be on the Byzantine frontier. The available evidence points, rather, to a slow and uneven process of social and religious transformations. Moreover, the “modern” notion of conversion does not correspond to the historical process by which individuals came to identify themselves as Muslim for a variety of political, economic, and social reasons. Conversion did not necessarily imply a profound inner spiritual change.
There are a number of reasons for the slow pace of conversions. The Arab-Muslim elite assumed that they would form a dual society in which the conquerors would constitute an aristocracy and the conquered peoples a subject population: the former Muslim, the latter not. Arab elites were resistant to the conversion of masses of people partly to defend their exclusive privileges and partly to preserve the full revenue base of the regime. The early Muslim regime was also religiously tolerant of the non-Muslim populations. In the highly fluid social world of the seventh century, peoples of all ethnicities and religions blended into public life. Muslims and non-Muslims were not segregated in public spaces such as markets, baths, and festivals. In Syria, they even shared churches before the conquerors were ready to build mosques for themselves. The Muslims recognized or accepted these churches as holy places and may not have fully distinguished Islam from Christianity."