The Expansive Realm of Islam (Chapter 14)

In 632 C.E. the prophet, Muhammad, visited his native city of Mecca. This set an example that devout Muslims have sought to emulate ever since. The Hajj is the holy pilgrimage to Mecca. It draws Muslims by the hundreds of thousands from all parts of the world to Saudi Arabia.

A Prophet and His World

Islam arose in the Arabian peninsula and it faithfully reflected the social and cultural conditions of its homeland. Most of the Arabian peninsula is desert, so agriculture was only possible in well watered areas, like portions of Yemen. The Bedouin were nomadic people who migrated through the deserts and kept herds of sheep, goats, and camels. They organized themselves in family and clan groups so individual families could rely on the whole clan for support. The Bedouin develped a strong sense of loyalty to their clans and gaurded their common interests with determination. They survived for centuries after the appearance of Islam. Arabia was also greatly involved in long-distance trade networks of the post-classical era. People arrived at ports on the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea, and the Red Sea, and then traveled overland by camel caravan to Palmyra or Damascus, which offered access to the Mediterranean basin. Trade passing across the peninsula was especially important for the city of Mecca, which became an important site of fairs and stopping point for caravan trafic.

Muhammad and His Message
The prophet Muhammad was born about 570 C.E. into a family of merchants in Mecca. By the time he was 6 years old, Muhammad ibn Abdullah lost both of his parents and moved in with his grandfather and uncle, who provided him with an education. He gained a position of some prominence in Meccan society when he married a woman, Khadija, in 595 C.E. By age 30, he was established as a merchant and he made a comfortable life for himself in the Arabian society. Most Arabs regonized many gods, goddesses, demons, and nature spirits whose favor they sought through prayers and sacrifices. Large communities of Jewish merchants also worked throughout Arabia and many Arabs converted to Christianity by Muhammad's time.
Around 610 CE, Muhammad underwent a profound spiritual experience that transformed his life and left a deep mark on world history. His experience left him with convictions that in all the world there was only one true deity, Allah. He believed that Allah would bring his judgment on the world, rewarding the righteous and punishing the wicked. Muhammad had visions telling him to explain his faith to others. He began to expound his faith to his family and close friends and gradually, others showed interest in his message. By about 620 C.E. a zealous and expanding minority ofMecca’s citizenry had joined his circle. Muhammad originally spread his faith orally, but as the Islamic community grew, his followers prepared written texts of his teachings. The Quran is the holy book of Islam, and most important after it are traditions known as hadith. These traditions include sayings attributed to Muhammad and several collections appeared between the ninth and eleventh century CE.
Muhammad's Migration to Medina
Tensions were caused with the growing popularity of Muhammad's preaching. Conflict centered on his idea of Allah being the only god. Muhammad's attack on idolatry also represented an economic threat to those who owned and profited from the many shrines to deities that attracted merchants and pilgrims to Mecca. The best know of theses shrines was the Ka'ba. It drew worshipers from all over Aravia and brought considerable wealth to Mecca. The ruling elites of Mecca then began to persecute the prophet and his followers. The pressure became so great that some of Muhammad's followers flet to Abyssinia. Muhammad also fled to Yathrib in 622. Muslims called their new home Medina, meaning "the city of the prophet." Hijra, is known as Muhammad's move to Medina and serves as the starting point of the official Islamic calender. Muhammad then organized his followers into a cohesive community called teh Umma and provided it with a comprehensive legal and social code. He led daily prayers and looked after the economic welfare. Muhammad began to refer to himself as the "seal of the prophets" -- the final prophet through whom allah would reveal his message to humankind. He accepted the authority of previous Christian and Jewish prophets, but considered himself as the last one.

The Establishment of Islam in Arabia
While they were in Medina, Muhammad and his followers planned ultimately to return to Mecca, which was both their home and the leading city of Arabia. In 630 CE, they attacked Mecca and conqured the city. All elites were forced to adopt Muhammad's faith and they imposed a government dedicated to Allah. Pagan shrines were destroyed and mosques were put in their place. Mosques were buildings that sought to instill a sense of sacredness and community where Muslims gathered for prayer. Only the Ka'ba escaped their efforts to cleanse Mecca of pagan monuments. In 632, Muhammad hiself led the first Islamic pilfrimage to the Ka'ba, thus establishing the hajj as an example for all devout Muslims. Shortly after the prophet's death in 632, followers had brought most of Arabia under their control. The foundation of the Islamic faith as elaborated by Muhammad consists of obligations known as the Five Pillars of Islam.
  1. Muslims must acknowledge Allah as the only god and Muhammad as his prophet.
  2. They must pray to Allah daily while facing Mecca.
  3. They must observe a fast during the daylight hours of the month of Ramadan.
  4. They must contribute alms for the relief of the weak and poor.
  5. Those who are physically and financially able must undertake the hajj and make at least one pilgrimage to Mecca.
These 5 pillars constitute a simple yet powerful framework that has bound the umma as a whole into a cohesive community of faith. Some muslims ecen go to the extent of taking the Jihad as an additional obligations for the faithful. It litterally means "struggle" and calls on Muslims to truggle against ignorance and unbelief by spreading the word of Islam and seeking converts to the faith. In some cases, it also involves physical struggle, obliging Muslims to take up the sword and wage war agains unbelievers who threaten Islam. Sharia is the Islamic holy law and it emerged during the centuries after Muhammad. It offered detailed guidance on proper behavior in almost every aspect of life. The Sharia drew its inspiration especiall from the Quaran and the early historical accounts of Muhammad's life and teachings. Islam became more than a religious doctrine: it developed into a way of life complete with social and ethical values drived from Islamic religious principles.

The Expansion of Islam

Muhammad had made no provision for a successor, so after his death, confusion would be implied. Within a short time, the Islamic community had embarked on a stunningly successful round of military expansion that extended its political and cultural influence far beyond the boundaries ofArabia.

The Early Caliphs and the Umayyad Dynasty
Since Muhammad was the “seal of the prophets” no other prophets could succeed him. Shortly after his death, his advisors elected Abu Bakr, a genial man who was one of the prophet’s closest friends and most devoted disciples, to serve as caliph (deputy). Abu Bakr and later caliphs led the umma not as prophts, but as lieutenants or substituees for Muhammad. During the century after Muhammad’s death, Islamic aries ranged well beyond the boundaries of Arabia. Their religion and authority was carried into Byzantine and Sasanid territories and beyond. Between 633 and 637 CE, taking advantage of their difficulties, Muslim forces seized Byzantine Syria and Palestine and took most of Mesopotamia from the Sasanids. During the 640s they conquered Byzantine Egypt and north Africa. In 651 they toppled the Sasanid dynasty and incorporated Persia into their expanding empire. In 711 they conquered the Hindu kingdom of Sind in northwestern India and between 711 and 718 they extended their authority to northwest Africa and crossed the Strait of Gibraltar, conquering most of the Iberian peninsula and threatening the Franking kingdom in Gaul. By the mid 8th century an immense Islamic empire ruled lands from India and central Asian steppe lands in the east to northwest Africa and Iberia in the west. Problems of governance and administration were encountered during this rapid expansion. One problem was the selection of caliphs. During the early decades after Muhammad’s death, high ranking leaders appointed the caliphs, but disputes soon led to the rise of factions and parties within the Islamic community. Disagreements over succession led to the emergence of the Shia sect, the most important and enduring of all the alternatives to the faith observed by the majority of Muslims, known as Sunni Islam. The Shia sect originated as a group supporting the appointment of Ali and his descendants as caliphs. He was a cousin and son in law of Muhammad and he briefly served as the fourth caliph, but his enemies assassinated him, killed many of his relatives, and imposed their own candidate as caliph. The Shias then were formed and strengthened its identity by adopting doctrines and rituals distinct from those of the Sunnis. They also served as a source of support for those who oppose the policies of Sunni leaders. After Ali was assassinated, the Umayyad dynasty (661-750 CE) was established and temporarily solved the problem of succession. They established their capital at Damascus whose central locations enabled them to maintain better communications with the cast and still expanding Islamic empire. Although they solved the problem of succession, administrative problems arose because of their tightly centralized rule. The Umayyads ruled the dar al-Islam as conquerors, and their policies reflected the interests of the Arab military aristocracy. They appointed memers as governors and administrators of conquered lands and distributed the wealth that they extracted among this priviledged class. The jizya was a special head tax on those you did not convert to Islam. By midcentury the Umayyad caliphs faced resistance of the Shia faction and the discontent of conquered peoples throughout their empire and even the disillusionment of Muslim Arab military leaders.

The Abbasid Dynasty
The leader of the rebellion against the Umayyad was a descendant of Muhammad's uncle named Abu al-Abbas. In the 740's his party seized control of Persia and Mesopotamia and rejected the Umayyad authority and in 750 they defeated Umayyad forces in battle. After this, he invited the rest of the Umayyad members to a banquet to reconcile their differences, but during the banquet they arrested and slaughtered the Umayyads. This led to the annihilation of the Umayyad clan and the founding of the Abbasid dynasty. During the Abbasid dynasty Arabs played a large role in government, but Persians, Egyptians, and Mesopotamians also rose to play bigger roles and gained wealth and power. The Abbasids did not look to conquer, but they looked to administer the empire that they had inherited. Their administration was designed on the Persian techniques of statecraft. Their main city of power was Baghdad (capital of modern Iraq). They used governors that represented the caliph to implement his political and financial policies in provinces distant to the city of Baghdad. They used religious leaders called ulama ("people with religious knowledge") and qadis ("judges") to set moral standards in local communities and resolve disputes. Ulama were scholars who sought to develop public policy in accordance with the Quran and the sharia. Qadis were just like modern judges except they made their judicial decisions in accordance with the Quran and the sharia. Besides this, the Abbasid caliphs manage to establish bureaucratic ministries in charge of taxation, finance, coinage, and postal services. They also mantained the network of roads that the Islamic empire inherited from the Sasanids. The Abbasid dynasty hit a high point when Harun al-Rashid was the caliph. At this time Baghdad had turned into a center of banking, commerce, crafts, and industrial production while the city was flush with wealth. Soon after al-Rashid's reign ended the empire entered a period of decline due to civil wars between his son over succession rights. At this time governors of provinces to advantage of this and seceded from the Abbasid state. The empire was also being weakened by uprisings and peasant rebellions. Later they fell under control of the Saljuq Turks. The Turks kept the caliphs as head of government but the Saljuq sultan or ruler was the true power of the Abbasid empire.

Economy and Society of the Early Islamic World

In the dar al-Islam, the peasants tilled the land and did the farming while the manufacturers and merchants supported a thriving urban economy. Commerce served as a economic stimulus for the countryside and the cities within the zone of trade, exchange, and communication that was created by the Umayyad and Abbasid empires.

New Crops, Agricultural Experimentation, and Urban Growth
As soldiers, administrators, diplomats, and merchants traveled throughout the dar al-Islam, they encountered and introduced new plants and agricultural techniques to the empire's various regions. These included crops such as sugarcane, rice, cotton, indigo, and other fruits and vegetables. This led to a more varied and richer diet. The growing season also extended due to them finding crops that grow well in the high heat. They used crops like cotton for industrial uses and it became the basis for a thriving textile industry throughout much of the Islamic world. This diffusion made it for them to experiment with agricultural techniques and it made new crops and improved techniques, which supported the economy throughout the dar al-Islam. This agricultural production contributed to the growing populations of cities throughout the Islamic world. Many cities had populations of around one hundred thousand. These cities had flourishing markets and industries. The paper industry was introduced also after the Abbasid defeated the Chinese in battle in 751 C.E.

The Formation of a Hemispheric Trading Zone
Muhammad was a merchant so he held other merchants at high esteem. They were able to use the ancient network of roads that the Abbasid inherited and this promoted more travel and trade. Trade benefitted from when banking was established.They were able to draw letters of credit in one city and cash them in another. After transportation was improved, this made long distance trading easy. They dealt with silk and ceramics in China, spices and aromatics in India, and jewelry and fine textiles from the Byzantine Empire.

The Changing Status of Women
As the Quran still recognized men as the dominant race, it still gave women many rights not available in other lands. They could legally inherit property, divorce husbands, and engage in business ventures. The Quran saw women as honorable individuals to the male instead of the male property. The upper class women wore veils for modesty so they wouldn't attract male attention from other families.

Islamic Values and Cultural Exchanges

Since the seventh century, the Quran has been the foundation of Islamic society. Still today, Muslims look at the Arabic text of the Quran as the only reliable scripture because translations do not hold the power and authority of the original.

The Formation of an Islamic Cultural Tradition
Muslim theologians and jurists use the Quran, and other sources of Islamic doctrine to formulate moral guidelines that would be apporopriate for their society. The body of civil and criminal law, found in the sharia, provided cultural unity for the vastly different lands of the Islamic world. Ulama, qadis, and missionaries helped spread Islamic values throughout the dar al-Islam. Islamic educational institutions also helped to promote Islamic values. Many mosques had schools that provided an elementary education and religious instruction. Wealthy Muslims often established schools and provided provided endowments for their support. Institutions of higher education, called madrasas, began to appear around the tenth century. They became established in the major cities of the Islamic world by the twelfth century. Muslim rulers often had interests of recruiting literate and learned students with an advanced education in Islamic theology and law for administrative positions. Mystics, known as Sufis, were among the most effective Islamic missionaries. Many of them had an advanced education in Islamic theology and law. They did now find formal religious teaching to be especially meaningful. Instead of concerning themselves with fine points of doctrine, Sufis worked to deepen their spiritual awareness. Muslim theologians often mistrusted Sufis, fearing that in their lack of concern for doctrine, they would adopt erroneous beliefs. Sufis became increasingly popular in Muslim societies after the ninth century because of their piety, devotion, and eagerness to minister to the needs of their fellow human beings. One of the most important early Sufis was the Persian theologian al-Ghazali, who argued that human reason was too frail to understand the nature of Allah, therefore could not explain the mysteries of the world. Only through devotion and guidance from the Quran could human beings begin to appreciate the uniqueness and power of Allah. Sufis were especially effective as missionaries because they emphasized devotion to Allah above mastery of doctrine. The Sufis led ascetic and holy lives, which gave them the respect of the peoples whom they preached. They symbol of Islamic cultural unity was the Ka'ba at Mecca, which attracted pilgrims from all parts of the Islamic world. The Abbasi caliphs encouraged observance of the hajj. They built inns along the main roads to Mecca for the convenience of travelers, policed routes to ensure the safety of the pilgrims, and made lavish gifts to shrines and sites of pilgrimage. Over the centuries, the pilgrims helped to spread Islamic beliefs and values to all parts of the Islamic world.

Islam and the Cultural Traditions of Persia, India, and Greece
As the Islamic community expanded, Muslims of Arab ancestry interacted with peoples from other cultural traditions, including those of Persia, India, and Greece. Particularly in lands ruled by the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties, large numbers of conquered peoples converted to Islam and they brought elements of their inherited cultural traditions into Islamic society. Since the land of Persia fell under Islamic rule at an early date, Persian traditions quickly found a place in Islamic society. Meanwhile, Persian administrative techniques, which Muslim conquerors borrowed from the Sasanid empire, were crucial for the organization of the imperial structure through which Umayyad and Abbasid rulers governed their vast empire. Persian ideas of kingship profoundly influenced Islamic political thought. Persian influence was also noticeable in literary works from the Abbasid dynasty. Indian mathematics, science, and medicine captured the attention of Arab and Persian Muslims who established Islamic states in northern India. Muslims adopted what they called "Hindi" numerals, which enabled Muslim scholars to develop an impressive tradition of advanced mathematics that concentrated on algebra, trigonometry, and geometry. Indian numerals also simplified bookkeeping for Muslim merchants who worked in the lively commercial economy of the Abbasid dynasty. With the help of their powerful mathematics, Indian scholars were able to carry out astronomical calculations. This helped inspire the development of Muslim astronomy. Indian medecine appealed to Muslims because of its treatments for specific ailments and its use of antidotes for poisons. Muslims also admired the pholosophical, scientific, and medical writings of classical Greece. They bacame very impressed in Plato and Aristotle, whose works they translated. During the tenth and eleventh centuries, some Muslim philosophers sought to synthesize Greek and Muslim thought by combining Plato with the teachings of Islam. They encountered resistance among conservative theologians like the Sufi al-Ghazali. Since it relied on frail human reason rather than the revelation of the Quran, al-Ghazali considered Greek philosophy a completely unreliable guide to ultimate truth. Twelfth-century Muslim philosophers turned their attention more to Aristotle than Plato. The most memorable figure in this development was Ibn Rushd, qadi of Seville in the caliphate of Cordoba, who followed Aristotle in seeking to articulate a purely rational understanding of the world. During the thirteenth century, his work greatly influenced the development of scholasticism. After the thirteenth century, Muslim philosophers and theologians drew inspiration more from Islamic sources than from Greek philosophy. Platonic Aristotelian influences did not disappear, but they lost favor in official seats of learning. Muslim thinkers used Greek philosophy to advance the interests of their own society. Scholars in classical Greek and Hellenistic societies had developed elaborate tradtitions of scientific thought that appealed strongly to Muslims. Greek mathematics did not make use of Indian numerals, but it offered a solid body of pwerful reasoning when dealing with calculations in algebra and geometry. Muslim scholars abosrbed Greek traditions, combined them with influences from India, and used them all as points of departure from their own studies. This provided Muslim societies with powerful tools for understanding the natural world.

Time Line:

570 C.E: Muhammad was born
595 C.E: Muhammad married Khadija
610 C.E: Muhammad underwent a spiritual experience that left him with the idea that there was only one true diety
630 C.E: Muhammad's followers conquered Mecca
632 C.E: Muhammad died
633-637 C.E: Muslim forces seized Byzantine Syria and Palestine and took most of Mesopotamia from the Sasnids
656-661 C.E: Ali served as 4th Caliph
661-750 C.E: Umayyad Dynasty
751 C.E. Arab forces defeat a Chinese army at the battle of Talas River
1058-1111 C.E. al-Ghazali
1126-1198 C.E. Ibn Rushd