The History of Islam is the history of the Islamic faith and the world it shaped as a social, cultural, and political phenomenon. Its history begins in Arabia in the 7th century with the emergence of the prophet Muhammad. Within a century of his death, an Islamic state stretched from the Atlantic ocean in the west to central Asia in the east. The later empires of the Abbasids, Mughals, and Ottomans were among the largest and most powerful in the world, while Islamic scientists and philosophers had a tremendous impact on world history as well. This is the history of Islam from 570 to the present.
Main article: Muhammad
Before the time of Muhammad, Arabia was inhabited by Arabs, most of whom were Bedouin. At that time the majority of Arabs followed various polytheistic religions, based on ancestral gods and idol worship, although a few tribes followed Judaism, Christianity (including the followers of Nestorius) or Zoroastrianism. The city of Mecca was the primary religious and commercial center of the area due to the presence of the Ka'aba, a shrine thought to have been built by Abraham.
Muhammad was born on the outskirts of Mecca in the Year of the Elephant, which most Muslims equate with the Western year 570 but a few equate with 571. His father died before his birth, and his mother died at a very early age, so he was raised by his uncle Abu Talib. When he was about 25 years old, Muhammad married a wealthy widow, Khadija, who was 40, and began his career as a trader. Fifteen years later, according to Islamic tradition, he experienced his initial prophetic call while meditating alone inside a cave in the hills above Mecca. Therefore, the origin of Islam as a religion can be dated from about 610.
Muslims believe that Muhammad was chosen by God, like prophets before him, to teach a sacred message. Though marginalized and opposed initially, Muhammad began to gain followers, most of whom came from lower classes and marginalized peasantry. The first wealthy men accepting the prophet-hood of Muhammad were Abu Bakr and Umar ibn al-Khattab.
As Islam attracted more believers, Muhammad encountered severe opposition by residents of Mecca who felt threatened because Islam undermined the pagan idols around the Ka'aba. The pagan idols around the Ka'aba were important to the residents of Mecca not only for religious reasons, but also for economic reasons. As pilgrims visited the idols in Mecca, they brought economic prosperity to the city, and many feared that a monotheistic religion would remove this source of prosperity and trade.
As Muhammad's opponents in Mecca began to organize to bring about an end to his prophecy, Muhammad withdrew with many of his followers to Medina in September of 622. This migration is called the Hijra, and its year is used to establish the Muslim calendar; thus the year 1 AH (Anno Hegirae) begins during 622. The AH system dates from the beginning of the lunar year in which the Hijra took place. Lunar years are shorter than solar years, so it does not coincide with the Julian or Gregorian calendars. After three major battles against the Meccans, Muhammad returned to the city victorious and unopposed. Through conversion of allies and suppression of a few rebellions, Muhammad had managed to unite the entire Arabian peninsula by his death on June 8, 632.
The spread of Islam
After Muhammad's death, Abu Bakr was accepted as caliph, or head of the Islamic state. The next three caliphs were all relatives of the prophet, but were succeeded by another household of the same Makkan tribe, a change not universally accepted, leading to the major schism in Islam between the Sunnis (in the majority) and the Shiites (in the minority). The new household was the first major caliphate dynasty, the Umayyads, who conquered the Sassanian empire (Persia) and the southern Byzantine provinces as far as Spain. See also Ali Ben Abu Talib
Most Muslims believe that when Muhammad died in 632, he did not name a successor. The next four leaders of Islam are known as the "Four Rightly Guided Caliphs." Abu Bakr was the first as he was the oldest and seen as the wisest; he was Muhammad's father-in-law, and he laid foundations for the years ahead uniting the tribes of Arabia under Islam. He began the great wave of Muslim conquests, initiating the advance into Syria, leading to the decisive victory against the Byzantine Empire at the Battle of Yarmuk. Umar succeeded Abu Bakr and conquered Persia, Syria, Egypt, and northern Africa. After Umar came Uthman, who conquered even more territory and developed a navy based in Alexandria. Within three generations Islam had developed into a large empire.
The zenith of Islamic power
When Uthman died, Ali Ben Abu Talib became Caliph. Ali was a cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad. Ali was the husband of Fatima Zahra, Muhammad's daughter. There are people that believe that he should have been the first Caliph because they believe he was named by the prophet. This is rejected by the majority of Muslims who say that the Prophet Muhammad did not nominate anyone and the Caliph was chosen by the majority of the Muslims at that time. His supporters were known as Shi'a ul Ali, (of Party of Ali) or Shi'a for short. The Shi'a believe that the other three Caliphs were illegitimate because they were not named by the prophet. Over time, differences between Shi'a Muslims and Sunni Muslim rose, to the point that a few Sunni leaders hold that Shi'a is not truly a form of Islam (and vice-versa). These are, however, a small minority of the leaders.
The majority of this new empire was of course non-Muslim, and aside from a protection tax (jizya) the conquered people found their religions tolerated. Nonetheless the new religion penetrated deeply, to the point where conversions were discouraged since they might have been motivated by avoiding taxes, rather than true belief, and choosing a religion should override such economic concerns. At the same time the Umayyads had dedicated their prestige to conquering the Byzantine empire, and started running into real opposition from the Orthodox provinces. Thus there was a revolution in 750, and a new dynasty, the Abbasids, took the caliphate, marking the transition to a more settled empire and a (disputed) golden age.
The decline of political unity
The political unity of Islam began to disintegrate. The emirates, still recognizing the theoretical leadership of the caliphs, drifted into independence, and a brief revival of control was ended with the establishment of two rival caliphates: the Fatimids in north Africa, and the Umayyad's Caliphate of Cordoba in Spain (the emirs there being descended from an escaped member of that family). Eventually the Abbasids ruled as puppets for the Buwayhid emirs.
A series of new invasions swept over the Islamic world. First, the newly converted Seljuk Turks swept across and conquered most of Islamic Asia, hoping to restore orthodox rule and defeat the Fatimids but soon falling prey to political decentralization themselves. After the disastrous defeat of the Byzantines at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 the west launched a series of Crusades and for a time captured Jerusalem. Saladin however restored unity, defeated the Fatimids and recaptured the city, and later crusades accomplished little other than the looting of Constantinople, leaving the Byzantine empire open to conquest.
Meanwhile, though, a second and far more serious invasion had arrived: that of the Mongols, who conquered most territories up to the borders of Egypt, and permanently ended the Abbasid caliphate. Their wanton destruction left the Islamic world damaged and confused. However it reached a new peak under the Ottoman empire, a tiny state in Turkey that conquered the Byzantines and extended its influence over much of the Muslim peoples.
The Ottoman empire
The Ottoman empire even threatened to conquer Europe. However, in 1529 the Siege of Vienna failed, stopping the advance of the Ottoman Empire into Eastern Europe. The Battle of Vienna in 1683 began the withdrawal of the Ottoman Empire from Eastern Europe and later the Balkans.
Three muslim empires
In the 18th century there were three great Muslim empires: the Ottoman in Turkey, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean; the Safavid in Iran; and the Mogul in India. By the end of the 19th century, all three had been destroyed or weakened by massive influence of Western civilizations.
Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab (1703–1792) led a religious movement in the east of Arabia that saw itself as purifying Islam. His most important follower was the then leader of the family of ibn Saud, which came with massive funding and political support. This movement is controversial among Muslims, as its adherents claim to follow the Qur'an and Sunnah while rejecting traditional Islamic scholarship regarding Fiqh. But so, too, do other movements in more modern Islamic philosophy, some of which claim also to be purifying or restoring Islam, in particular, to be renewing ijtihad.
The 20th century
The end of World War I: European powers control the Middle East
- to be written.
The end of the Caliphate and the rise of the Saudis
- to be written
The establishment of Pakistan and the partition of India
- to be written
The creation of the state of Israel
- to be written
Oil wealth and petropolitics dominate the Middle East
- to be written
The Iranian revolution
See Iranian Revolution
Reformist Islam vs. Islamism
- to be written
Islamism, Al Qaida, the U.S. and the battle for oil wealth
- to be written
See: Timeline of Islamic history
Dynasties of Islamic Rulers
Last updated: 06-02-2005 02:26:26
Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13