KILDARE (JamesFaheyIRE) It was the year 632 CE and Prophet Muhammad was returning from Mecca to Medina after preaching to his followers to treat all Muslims equally including slaves and women. Not so long after this he became sick. In his final moments Mohammad rested his head on his wife Ayesha’s lap and peacefully past away. In that moment God’s messenger was dead. Filled with pain and anger Mohammad’s best friend Abu Bakr proclaimed to his followers “O Muslims! Those of you who worshipped Mohammad, know that Mohammad is dead. Those of you who worship Allah, know that Allah is alive and immortal.”
This article will examine the birth of early Islam. The life and death of Mohammad will be covered as will the spread of Islam throughout the world and the relationship between Muslims and non muslims around the world.
I would like to point out that Islam’s portrayal has often been associated with terror and inequality. If we were to examine Fox News or even more mainstream reporting ever since 9/11 it is clear that there is an attempt to associate them as simultaneous organisms working hand and hand to destroy freedom and democracy. While certain regions in the world may have issues, Islam is still a religion nonetheless and shares commonalities between other major religions and powerful empires throughout history.
Islam is often misunderstood. Many people do not know where was created or how it originated. As we shall see, Mohammad’s revelations inspired a generation whose influence still lasts until the present day.
Birth of Islam
Mohammad was thought to have been born around 570 CE although the exact date is hard to confirm. A member of Mecca’s most powerful tribe (Quraysh) by the time reached six years old, Mohammad had lost both parents. Fortunately for Mohammad his relatives took under their wing and treated him like no other family member.
When Mohammad was in his middle twenties he married his business partner Khadija whom he worked for to manage her enterprise. Later Khadija would become the world first Muslim! As time went on for Mohammad he started to feel lost in life. He was searching for something and began to isolate himself away from others in the mountains to meditate and find meaning. One day Mohammad had a revelation which is thought to have been a visit from angel Gabriel. Commanding him to recite, yet Mohammad didn’t know what exactly to recite he became inspired and began:
Recite in the name of the Lord Who created,
Created humans from a Drop of blood.
And your lord is most beautiful.
He who taught humans by the pen,
Taught humans that which they knew not.
After the experience Mohammad was distraught with fear. He didn’t know what had happened to him. Was it a godly figure that had visited him? Or evil spirit who had possessed him. Mohammad was shocked.
Khadija was assuring once Mohammad had explained what had just happened and proclaimed that the experience which Mohammad had witnessed was his recruitment into the service of God. Therefore, Khadija became the first supposed worshipper of Islam.
Mohammad started to convert his close family members and trusted friends, but once more and more revelations started to come to Mohammad, he began to preach to the population of Mecca more broadly. He declared to the people of Mecca “there is only one God. Submit to His will, or you will be condemned to hell.” What he meant by this was – no debauchery, cruelty, assisting the old and vulnerable and doing the community and area good.
All of the this preaching made the wealthy and powerful in Mecca afraid of what may come if Islam were to gain a foothold on the region. There was a lot at stake for the businessmen and tourist sector in Mecca and so began a campaign to discredit and attack Mohammad and his ideas. Some years later, members of Mohammad Quraysh tribe decided the best course of action would be to assassinate him and eliminate the threat he posed. Even one of his uncles was the leader of the operation put a stop to his advances along with six other relatives.
Luckily for Mohammad he found about this planned operation to eliminate him. He was assisted by two close allies – Ali and Abu Bakr. Both of these companions would go on the be Caliph leading the Muslim Empire after Mohammad.
Mohammad had been working to convert many people to Islam and he developed a strong relationship with some from a town called Yathrib near the coast of Arabia. Impressed by his conflict resolution and leadership skills Mohammad became a sort of judge and jury in the conflicts within Yathrib deciding the best outcomes and fairest decisions for the parties involved. Yathrib would go on the become known as modern day Medina (the “city” or “city of the prophet”) – containing one the three holiest sites in Islam along with the Kaaba in Mecca, Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
When Mohammad had escaped the attempted assignation by his relatives he went to Yathirb to find a sanctuary. He was joined by many of his converts in Yathrib including Abu Bakr. The Hijra is the day the first Islamic community (umma) was born and therefore is a significant development in the history of early Islam, Twelve years after the Hijra the Muslim calendar was created. Muslims felt that it would be useful to before the Hijra (BH) and after the Hijra (AH) similar to Christian before christ (BC) and after Christ (AD).
Mohammad would return to his home town of Mecca to spread his message and promote it through the entire region. Many infamous battles ensued between the Muslims and Quraysh tribes. Several skirmishes and larger conflicts couldn’t stop Mohammad and its new Islamic community. However, in 6AH (632 CE) Mohammad went back to Mecca although he didn’t know it would be for the final time. Falling ill he soon passed at the age of sixty two. (770 words)
The name Allah is an Arabic word meaning “god.” Al translates to “the” and lah derives from ilaah meaning God.
Spread of Islam Globally.
Upon Mohammad gaining a following throughout Arabia Islam began to spread throughout the region over time. Islam would become the dominant religion across many continents today stretching from as far as Indonesia to Pakistan and also much of North and East Africa. Spain didn’t escape Islamic expansion where the caliphate of Cordoba was a state under the Umayyad Dynasty.
On the eve of the birth of Islam, much of what we now know as Iran and Turkey fell under the rule of the Sassanid and Byzantine empires. It was in between these two empires where the gap lay for the rise and development of Islam as Rome was on the brink of collapse. Over the next number of next number of decades Islam would take over due the four caliphates as well as a number of large dynasties who had become the dominant powers of their time. The four caliphates’ included:
- The Rashidun Caliphate (632–661);
During this period the caliphate stretched to the Arabian Peninsula had subjugated the Levant, to the Transcaucasus in the north; North Africa from Egypt to present-day Tunisia in the west; and the Iranian plateau to parts of Central Asia and South Asia in the east. This caliphate had 4 four successors to Muhammed who become known as the “rightly guided ones.” They included:
The Rashidun Caliphate covered over two million square miles at one point. It was also during this period where the schism between Shia and Sunni occurred which would divide the religion into two major sects going forward. Muslim Shia argue that Ali (last of the four “rightly guided ones”) was entitled to become the next Calipha to the Prophet Muhammad after he passed in 632 approximately.
Unfortunately for the Shia followers, Ali was murdered in 661 after his tenure in charge which was filled with conflict between warring factions. Two of his children, Hassan and Hussein never had the chance to rule as Hassan felt Muawiyah, the first caliph of the Sunni Umayyad dynasty too irresistible with his bribe offer and Hassan doubly accepted it. Hussein died fighting for he cause and it was these events these events gave rise to the Shia concept of martyrdom. (BBC). Abu Bakr started to campaigns against byzantine and Sassanid empires which resulted in the first expansion of Islam outside of todays Saudi Arabia. Both of these formerly powerful empires were tired of fighting each other and were on the brink of collapse. Ultimately, this exhaustion essentially opened the opportunity for the Rashidun caliphate to expand – which it did do in 632.
2. The Umayyad Caliphate (661–750);
The Umayyad Caliphate was the next ruling empire. It was during this period where Hussein was decapitated by his enemies. The Umayyads continued the Muslim conquering of foreign land in incorporated their new regions into the empire.
Under the Umayyads Transoxiana, Sindh, the Maghreb and the Iberian Peninsula (Al-Andalus) were all captured thus becoming under the sphere of influence. At its greatest extent, the new Caliphate covered over 4 million square miles, making it one of the largest empires in history in terms of area. The Umayyads moved the capital to Damascus because it was closer to the battlefront and was still technically in Arabia.
The Umayyad empire was very inclusive of other religions as well as multiethnic. The empire and had many Christians and Jews were free to practice their own religion and live in harmony with each other. The only difference was a tax implemented by the ruler Muawiya ibn Abi Sufyan, which was deemed not necessary for muslims to pay. In contrast, Muslims were to pay a Zakat which was designated to fund welfare programmes within the empires.
However inclusive the Umayyads were with other religions, they still tried to keep an Arab elite locked in positions of power whereby, realistically only they had a chance to attain such influential leadership roles. Understandably, this would upset many non Arab muslims under Umayyad rule, who now made up a large part of the population.
After a revolt took place under the leadership of Abū Muslim, Marwān II, was defeated in 747 and became known as the final Umayyad caliph. This defeat led to the proclamation of the first Abbasid caliph, Abū al-ʿAbbās al-Saffāḥ.
3. The Abbasid Caliphate (750–1258);
The first Abbasid caliphate to rule the new empire was Abbas ibn Abdul-Muttalib. The Abbasids’ decimated the Umayyad caliphate and lasted until the Mongol invasion of 1258. They were known to be much more friendly to non Arab muslims including leaving open the opportunity to get into positions of power much more than their predecessors. This openness to other people, ideas and culture afforded the opportunity for societal advancement and what ensued under the newly developing empire was a “golden period” in islamic cultural and philosophical development.
Artists, poets, writers, doctors and scientists all began to flourish in the new era which saw major strides in the empires development – something which had not been seen since Hellenistic times. Arabic also replaced Greek as the language of culture, philosophy and medicine going forward. The Dark Ages for Europe were obviously a difficult time while in contrast it was actually quite a good time for the Islam.
In contrast to the expansion route of the Islamic world under the Umayyads global now began to conquest went east rather than westward. The islamic world would now cover caliphates in Spain, Egypt and to the new capital of the empire – Baghdad.
Much of the strength of the Abbasid army from the use of Turkish slaves known as Mamluks who were often young boys train from a young age to survive on the battlefield. This tactic ultimately led to the degradation of the empire over time as.
The Abbasids’ time in power came to and end in 1258 once Baghdad was destroyed by Mongol leader Hulagu Khan. Hulagu executed of Al-Musta’sim. The remaining Abbasid rulers sought safety in Cairo in 1261.
4. The Ottoman Caliphate (1517-1924);
The fourth major caliphate, the Ottoman Caliphate, was established after their conquest of Mamluk Egypt in 1517. The Ottomans grew so powerful that they lasted over six hundred years until the end of World War 1. During 15th and 16th centuries they grew to be one of the most powerful empires. At its peak the empire claimed the lands of what we know today as;
- the Balkan region;
- parts of Ukraine;
- parts of Iraq, Syria, Israel, and Egypt;
- North Africa including Algeria;
- large parts of the Arabian Peninsula.
European nations began to form a sense of statehood in this period which meant that they could challenge the Ottoman Empire. The Peace of Westphalia and the Industrial Revolution enabled France, Britain and other europeans to reassemble and challenge Ottoman hegemony. Some reasons for this Ottoman downfall included poor governance, obsolete political processes, and an sluggish attempt to develop technologically compared to Europe the Islamic empire failed to match this resurgence and thus became less powerful and less influential.
The empire was severely centralised and its rulers all came from the same family for seven centuries. Religion became even more central to the way of life where society was united under Islamic ideology. In 1453 Constantinople became the capital of the Empire after it was annihilated by Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II it became known as Istanbul.
When World War 1 broke out after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand the Ottomans sided with Germany and the Austria-Hungary and upon the their defeat by Russia, France and the UK Mehmed VI agreed to work with the allies to to dissolve the parliament and establish an administration consisting of the victors of the war.
Muslims and non muslims relations around the world.
On September 11th 2001, nineteen hijackers crashed planes into the world trade centre in New York and the Pentagon in Washington DC killing almost three thousand people. The hijackers came from all predominantly Muslim countries – Saudi Arabia, USA, Lebanon and Egypt. This understandable global disgust and anger after the atrocious attacks produced a wide array of anti-muslim sentiment throughout the US as well as other non Muslim countries.
On 20th September 2001 and President Bush addressed a joint session in congress asking why do they hate us? The answer, he stated, was, they hate American Freedoms and way of life. But if we are to look closer to the causes of 9/11 Osama Bin Laden clearly outlined his reasons for anger toward the west; US troop presence in Saudi Arabia and its support of Israeli atrocious in Palestine. This was the reason rather than a dislike of American freedom.
As we can see at this video there is a misguided mental framework in which Islam is viewed, especially in the US where we have become accustomed to hate, racism xenophobia and fear toward minorities.
Parts of the UK and other European countries have seen more attacks targeting muslims since 9/11 which has induced reactionary attacks to the demonisation. France, Belgium, Denmark and Germany have all seen sharp increases in such attacks in recent years. In 2015, Reports from the European Commission and civil society organisations and recent surveys point to persistent intolerance and racism against Muslims in the Europe, as well as to structural forms of discrimination directed against vulnerable people including women with a Muslim background.
Many Muslim figures have sought to reform Islam as the centuries past. Some of these figures felt that Muslims were becoming too modern in the way they live their lives, which they believed was a problem for the muslim community as a whole. By returning to the ways of life of the first Islamic community where Mohammed was the Caliphate people would once again be set on the right track in their lives and a more pure religious life. The more extreme reformers have given Muslims a bad name in the eyes of some. This is of course a general stereotype which is never too useful when looking at religion of almost two billion people as there are so many more pacifist Muslims than there are extreme.
Islam is a historically significant religion which today is the second largest on the world. As we have seen Islamic empires flourished and crumbled after Mohammed with the Rashidun, Ummyad, Abbasid and Ottoman caliphates all dominating the regions which we know as the middle east of today, along to parts of Spain and to Indonesia in different periods. Islam is a peaceful religion like many other religions. People use religion in different ways Islam has inspired million of people around the world to work for a better life and to be better people.
While some people have acted extremely in the name of religion it shouldn’t be considered an accurate representation of what it consist of why it was created. Different people bring different things to their religion.
Mohammed’s story is epic and truly inspiring. Could he have imagined since his death in 632 AD he would gained such significance globally? The story of Islam lives on and continues to be such a significant part of almost two billion peoples lives even though Muslims may be judged unfairly in many other parts of the world.
While you are here….
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