History of Islam

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The  (Süleymaniye Camii) in  was built on the order of sultan  by the great  architect  in
The Suleiman Mosque (Süleymaniye Camii) in Istanbul was built on the order of sultan Suleiman the Magnificent by the great Ottoman architect Sinan in 1557

The History of Islam is the history of the Islamic faith and the Islamic world it shaped. Islamic 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. This empire was not to remain unified for long; the new polity soon broke into a civil war known to Islamic historians as the Fitna, and later by a Second Fitna. After this, there would always be rival dynasties claiming the caliphate, or leadership of the Muslim world, and many Islamic states or empires offering only token obedience to an increasingly powerless caliph.

Despite this fragmentation of Islam, the later empires of the Abbasid caliphs, the Indian Mughals, and the Seljuk Turk Ottomans were among the largest and most powerful in the world. Islamic scientists and philosophers united the best of all the conquered cultures and made further advances in the Golden Age of Islam.

In the 18th and 19th centuries C.E., Islamic realms fell under the sway of European political and economic power. Following World War I, the remnants of the Ottoman empire were parcelled out as European protectorates or spheres of influence. After many centuries, the caliphate (which had been held by the Ottomans) had fallen.

Islam and Islamic political power have revived in the 20th and early 21st centuries. However, the relationship between the West and the Islamic world remains uneasy. This is further discussed in such articles as Gulf War, Iraq War, Islamism, War on terrorism, and September 11, 2001 attacks.

This is the history of Islam from 570 to the present.


Note on early Islamic historiography

There are several Muslim versions of early Islamic history, as written by the Sunni, Shi'a, and Ibadi sects. 19th century Western scholars tended to privilege the Sunni versions; the Sunni are the largest sect, and their books and scholars were easily available. Over the last hundred years, Western scholars have become much more willing to question the orthodox Sunni view and to advance new theories and new narratives. The account that follows is general enough to avoid many of the contentious details; however, readers should be aware that the events covered are in many cases extremely controversial. For further discussion, see Historiography of early Islam.


Missing image
By his death in 632, Muhammad had managed to unite the entire Arabian peninsula.

Main article: Muhammad

Arabia before Muhammad was scantly populated by a number of Arabian-speaking peoples. Some were Bedouin, pastoral nomads organized in tribes. Some were agriculturalists, living either in oases in the north, or in the more fertile and thickly settled areas to the south (now Yemen and Oman). At that time the majority of Arabs followed various polytheistic religions, although a few tribes followed Judaism, Christianity (including the followers of Nestorius) or Zoroastrianism. The city of Mecca was a religious center for some of the northern Arabian polytheists, as it contained the sacred well of Zamzam and a small temple, the Ka'aba.

Muhammad was born on the outskirts of Mecca in the Year of the Elephant. Most Muslims equate this with the Western year 570 but a few prefer 571. He was orphaned at an early age and was raised by his uncle Abu Talib. He became a trader, married a wealthy widow, and could have looked forward to a life of ease and prosperity.

However, when he was some forty years old, he is said to have experienced a divine revelation while he was meditating in a cave outside Mecca. This would have been in 610 C.E. After an initial period of doubt and fear, he started to preach to his kinfolk and then in public, to all Meccans.

Muhammad claimed that he had been chosen by God, like the Hebrew prophets before him, to preach repentance, submission to God, and a coming day of judgment. He said he was not preaching a new religion, just reviving the old and pure tradition that the Christians and Jews had debased. He attracted followers, and also created enemies.

In 622 C.E., Muhammad and many of his followers fled to the neighboring city of Medina. This migration is called the Hijra; it was the first year of Muhammad's "reign" as a secular ruler as well as a religious leader. Following the custom of the time, later historians took that year as the the start of the Muslim calendar.

The two cities of Mecca and Medina went to war. Muhammad and his followers won one battle (Battle of Badr) and managed to stalemate a Meccan attack in the Battle of the Trench. Through conquest and conversion, Muhammad was able to unite the surrounding tribes behind him and eventually assembled such a large force that Mecca capitulated without a fight. By the time Muhammad died, on June 8, 632, he and his followers had united the entire Arabian peninsula under his leadership, and had even sent raiding parties out into the areas now known as Syria and Iraq.

The spread of Islam

After Muhammad's death, Abu Bakr, his father-in-law and one of the earliest converts, assumed leadership of the Muslim community. This matter is still a matter of contention among Muslims; the largest sect of Islam, the Sunnis, and the various Shi'a sects, disagree radically as to the history and significance of Abu Bakr's succession to what was later called the caliphate. For further discussion, see Succession to Muhammad.

Abu Bakr spent most of his brief caliphate fighting the Ridda Wars, bringing rebellious Arabian tribes to heel. After dissaffection had been quelled, Muslim troops advanced into Syria, then a battleground between the Byzantine Empire and the Persian Sassanid empire. They won an unexpected victory against the Byzantines at the Battle of Yarmuk.

Under Abu Bakr's successor, Umar ibn al-Khattab, the Islamic empire expanded even further, absorbing most of what is now known as the Middle East, Egypt, northern Africa, and the Persian plateau.

The Fitna

Umar was succeed by Uthman ibn Affan, another of Muhammad's earliest followers. Under Uthman, the new empire fell into a civil war called the Fitna, or disorder. Many of Muhammad's family and earliest followers were unhappy with Uthman, feeling that he was unduly favoring his kinsfolk and acting less like a religious leader and more like king. Rebellious soldiers killed Uthman and offered the leadership to Ali ibn Abi Talib, Muhammad's cousin, foster-son, and son-in-law. Many Muslims refused to accept Ali as a leader and Ali spent his brief caliphate fighting against Muslim traditionalists and then against Uthman's relatives. Ali was killed by an assassin and Uthman's family, the Umayyads, claimed the caliphate. They managed to retain leadership of the majority of Muslims for several generations, but save for a brief period, never again ruled over an undivided Islamic empire. The Islamic faith diverged as well, splitting into the three main traditions of today (Sunni, Shi'a, and Ibadi). (This is perhaps a gross over-simplification of a complex religious history.)

The Second Fitna

The zenith of Islamic power

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.

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

Main article: 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 (17031792) 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

Present day

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

See also

External links

de:Geschichte des Islam es:Islam clásico fr:Histoire de l'islamisme ms:Sejarah Islam nl:Geschiedenis van de islam


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