The discussion of the events of the Muslim conquest fills many a page of Eutychius. I confess that it doesn’t excite me. Much of the material seems written with an eye to the events, not of the 7th century, but of the 10th, and to safeguarding church property – always an important concern for senior clergy, whatever their creed – from Muslim encroachments.
7. Omar ibn al-Khattab then wrote to Amr ibn al-As to go with his army into Palestine, saying, among other things: “I have appointed Yazid ibn Abi Sufyan as governor of Damascus, Sarhabil ibn Hasana as governor of the territory of Jordan, and Abu Ubayda ibn al-Garrah as governor of Homs”. Amr ibn al-As then left for Palestine, Sarhabil for the territories of Jordan and Abu Ubayda ibn al-Garrah went to Baalbek. [The people of Baalbek] said: “We have no objection to making a covenant of friendship with you, in the same way as the inhabitants of Damascus did.” He granted them a guarantee in writing and left for Homs. Then he granted a written guarantee to the people of Aleppo and to every [other] town that asked him. Then the news of the arrival of Omar ibn al-Khattab came to the muslims. Abu Ubayda ibn al-Garrah left the command of his men to Iyas Ibn Ghanm; Yazid ibn Abi Sufyan left his to Muawiyah ibn Abi Sufyan, Amr ibn al-As to his son Abd Allah, and they met with Omar ibn al-Khattab. Then they all set out for Jerusalem and besieged it. Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, then went to Omar ibn al-Khattab. Omar ibn al-Khattab granted him his protection, and wrote a letter to them which stated that: “In the name of God, gracious and merciful. From Omar ibn al-Khattab to the inhabitants of the city of Aelia. A guarantee is granted on their persons, their children, their property and on their churches, and they will not be destroyed or be reduced to dwelling places” and he swore this in the name of Allah. After the gate of the city was opened and he went in together with his men, Omar went to sit in the courtyard of the Church of the Resurrection. When it was time for prayer, he said to the patriarch Sophronius: “I would like to pray.” The patriarch replied: “O prince of believers, you may pray as well just where you are.” “I will not pray here,” said Omar. Then the patriarch Constantine led him into the church and ordered mat to be laid in the middle of the church. But Omar said: “No, I will not pray either.” Omar then went out and walked to the step that was at the door of the Church of St. Constantine, on the east side. He prayed alone on the steps, then he sat down and said to the patriarch Sophronius: “Do you know, O patriarch, why I have not prayed in the church?” The patriarch replied: “I do not really know, O prince of the believers.” “If I had prayed in the church,” said Omar, “it would have been taken away from you, and you would have lost possession because on my departure the Muslims would take it from you, saying in chorus: ‘Here Omar prayed'”. Bring me a piece of paper so I can write you a ‘sigili'”. Omar then wrote a ‘sigili’, prescribing that no Muslim should pray on the steps except one by one, and that ritual prayer could be held unless someone the muezzin ascended. He wrote a ‘sigili’ and gave it to the Patriarch. Then Omar said: “You owe me for your life and for the goods which I granted you. Come, give me a place where I can build a mosque.” The Patriarch said: “Give to the prince of believers a place where he can build a temple that the king of Rum was not able to build. This place is the Rock on which God spoke to Jacob and Jacob called “the gate of heaven”; the sons of Israel called it “Sancta Sanctorum” and it is at the center of the earth. It was once the temple of the children of Israel, which they have always magnified and every time they prayed they turned their faces towards it, wherever they were. This place will I give you, provided you write me a ‘sigili’ that no other mosque will be built in Jerusalem other than this”.
Omar ibn al-Khattab wrote him a ‘sigili’ and handed it to him. When the Rum became Christians, and Helena, mother of Constantine, built churches in Jerusalem, the place of the Rock and its surroundings were lying in ruins and abandoned; on the Rock so much earth had been thrown and it was reduced to a huge garbage dump. The Rum had totally neglected it, and not held it in high regard, as in fact had the children of Israel. They had erected no church on it, because of what Christ, our Lord, had said in his holy gospel: “Behold, your house is left in ruins,” and again: “There will not remain one stone upon another that has not been demolished and destroyed”. It was for this reason that the Christians left it in ruins and not built on there any church. The patriarch Sophronius took Omar ibn al-Khattab by the hand and took him out to that place of refuse. Omar lifted the hem of his robe, filled it with earth and poured it into the valley of Gehenna. As soon as the Muslims saw Omar ibn al-Khattab take the earth in his lap, they all hastened to take the earth, each in his lap, or clothes, or shields, some in baskets of palm leaves and some in basins until they emptied the place, cleaned it up and the Rock became visible. Then some of them said: “Let’s build the mosque so that the Rock is our qibla“. But Omar said: “No, let’s build the mosque and leave the Rock out at the back”. So Omar built the mosque, leaving the Rock at the rear of it. Then Omar went on a visit to Bethlehem. Now it was the time of prayer, and he prayed inside the church facing Mecca. At this time it was all covered with mosaics. Then Omar wrote a ‘sigili’ for the Patriarch which provided that Muslims would not pray in that place but in another. He also forbade prayer in the church and the muezzin to call the faithful to prayer. He also stipulated that no changes should be made to these provisions. In these present days the Muslims have contravened the ‘sigili’ of Omar ibn al-Khattab. They have removed the mosaics from the ceiling and have written what they wanted, they make communal prayer, and the muezzin is calling the faithful. The same thing they have done at the step that was at the door of the Church of Constantine and on which Omar had prayed; they have appropriated the middle atrium of the church and have built inside it a mosque which they have called the mosque of “Omar”. Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, died after having held the office four years. After his death Jerusalem remained without a patriarch for twenty-nine years.