1. Explain why Shia and Sunni Muslims don’t get along with each other:
2. Say how the Umayyad and Abbasid Dynasties were different:
3. Muslim society, learning, inventions: pick 5 things that interest you.
4. Describe the result of contact between Muslims and Crusaders:
ISLAM AFTER MUHAMMAD’S DEATH
After Muhammad’s death in 632 AD, Abu Bakr, his father-in-law, was chosen to replace him as leader. He and later leaders of Islam were called caliphs, which mean “successors.” Abu Bakr only ruled for two years, but he built up a strong army to unite the tribes of Arabia under Islam, and fought beyond the peninsula to gain more territory. He established the Umayyad Dynasty.
However, there were conflicts among Muslim leaders. Not everyone had supported Abu Bakr as caliph, and after he died, these Muslims wanted Muhammad’s cousin Ali to be in charge. After years of fighting and the eventual assassination of Ali, most Muslims reluctantly accepted a caliph from Abu Bakr’s Umayyad clan. These Muslims were called Sunnis (“Followers of the Sunna” – the book on the life of Muhammad) and believed that any qualified man deserved to be caliph, not just the descendants of Muhammad. Ali’s supporters, however, refused to go along with the Umayyads. They became known as the Shia (“Supporters of Ali”), and opposed any caliph who was not a blood relative of Muhammad.
Conflict between the Sunni and Shia deepened as time went by. A grandson of Muhammad named Husayn led a rebellion against a Sunni caliph. Husayn was killed and his forces slaughtered or taken prisoner. The battle became known as the martyrdom of Husayn, and is a major holy day for Shia Muslims. Even today, the Sunni-Shia split remains bitter. The Shia are a minority in the Muslim world, and reside mostly in Iran and Iraq. The rest of the Muslim world is overwhelmingly Sunni.
The Umayyads made Arabic the official language of the
empire and created a uniform money system for all. They began construction of the finest mosque in Islamic architecture, the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Built near the Jewish Second Temple, the Dome commemorates the site where Muhammad was taken up to heaven. Jerusalem is a city where three major religions have holy sites.
Umayyad armies conquered territory all the way to the borders
of China and the Indus River Valley in the east. In the west, they galloped across North Africa and invaded Spain in 711. The Spanish kings were powerless to stop them as they swept through the Iberian Peninsula, but the army of a French king, Charles Martel (“Charles the Hammer”) defeated the Muslim armies just north of the Pyrenees Mountains in the Battle of Tours. This is considered a turning point in history, because if King Charles had failed, Muslim armies might well have conquered all of Europe. How different the United States would be today if our European pilgrim forefathers spoke Arabic and practiced Islam instead of Christianity when they came ashore at Plymouth Rock!
Shia Muslims continued to oppose Umayyad rule and wars were fought over who would be the next caliph. The creation of a powerful, privileged leading class also led to further opposition. Eventually, the Umayyad dynasty was weakened by rebellion. Led by a direct descendent of Muhammad’s uncle, a family known as the Abbasids united many Umayyad enemies. The Abbasids took power in the late 740s.
THE ABBASID DYNASTY
The Abbasids moved the caliphate’s capital from Mecca to Baghdad (the capital of modern-day Iraq). The Abbasid caliphs cut themselves off from the people and relied on Persian government officials to run the business of the empire. They also changed the nature of Islam by inviting all people to join it – not just those of Arabic blood. As Muslim traders traveled, they took Islam as far as West Africa and Southeast Asia, where the majority of Muslims worldwide reside today.
THE END OF UNITY
Abbasid political power began to weaken, and by the 900s a number of small, independent states broke away from the Muslim empire. The caliph became a powerless figurehead.
In the 1000s, Christian armies pushed Muslims to the south of Spain and went to war against Muslims in and around Jerusalem in quests called the Crusades. They wanted to make the Holy Land
region Christian. The last Muslim caliph in Spain was removed from power in 1492 by the Spanish Catholic kings, Ferdinand and Isabel.
Other threats to the Abbasids came from Egypt. Later, a group of Turks that supported the Abbasids created their own empire, further shrinking the Muslim empire. The Mongol Khan Hulagu, who had already conquered China and Central Asia, killed the Abbasid caliph in Bagdad by rolling him up in a carpet and galloping his calvary over him. That was the end of the Abbasid caliphate.
Even after the Abbasid Empire broke up, Muslim civilization remained distinct. One reason is that Islam affected practically all
aspects of daily life. Islamic texts provided guidance on how
Muslims should deal with many issues, including each person’s role within the family, the main unit of society. The man was the head of the family. According to the Qu’ran, he could marry up to four wives, but was supposed to treat his wives equally.
Women played important roles in the early Muslim community. According to the Qur’an, women are equal to men before Allah. Women could inherit property and seek divorce. However, women lost status during the Abbasid Dynasty. It became common for women to cover their hair and wear a veil during Abbasid rule.
Muslims were allowed to own slaves, but had to treat their slaves fairly. Freeing slaves was praised as a religious act, but slavery remained a part of daily life and of the economy. Muslim merchants traded slaves over a wide area.
The Muslim world valued learning and scholarship. Islam requires its followers to examine the world and seek evidence of Allah in its wonders. Muslim scholars translated the works of Greek scientists and philosophers into Arabic. Those texts inspired further study by Muslim scholars. The Arabic versions of many works were eventually translated into Latin and used by European scholars. If it weren’t for the Arabs, much of the writings of ancient Greece and Rome would have been lost to us forever after the collapse of the Roman Empire.
Islamic religious festivals and rites are determined by the lunar calendar with 30-day months based on the phases of the moon. The study of astronomy was important because Muslims needed to study the moon to predict the beginning of the new month. Even today, a Muslim holy man carefully observes the night skies to identify the first sliver of the new moon when it appears to declare the official beginning of the new month.
Muslim astronomers used texts from Persia, India and Greece, which helped them understand the movements of the planets and stars. Muslim scholars helped perfect the design of the astrolabe, an instrument that helps find the positions and movements of stars and planets. Sailors used astrolabes to determine their position at sea, and to calculate the time of day. Muslim scientists worked with optics and created telescopes. They also knew about pendulums.
Muslim doctors had to pass rigorous tests before they could practice medicine. They developed many skills, including the use of anesthesia, eye surgery, eye glasses and the concept of cleanliness to help patients survive.
Geographers created travel guides to help pilgrims find their way to Mecca. One geographer measured the earth’s circumference with considerable accuracy. In the 1300s, Ibn Khaldun wrote a history of the world that is still influential.
Muslim mathematicians shared their use of Arabic numbers to Europeans who were still using roman numerals. They also taught them the concept of zero, trigonometry and algebra.
ARTS AND LITERATURE
Muslim artists worked in a range of materials. One feature is common: none of the religious works contains human or animal figures. Muslims believe that portraying people or animals could tempt people to worship those images. Worship of anyone but Allah is a terrible sin. Instead, Islamic art features geometric patterns, floral designs, and calligraphy, beautifully styled Arabic writing of verses from the Qu’ran.
Architecture developed distinctive features throughout the Muslim world. Mosques have domes and minarets, tall towers from
which the faithful are called to prayer. Muslim castles had outer walls for protection and round towers which were much stronger than square ones. Muslim engineers also perfect ways to attack castles by mining underneath the towers to collapse them!
The most significant literary work of Islam is the Qur’an. In non-religious literature, 10001 Arabian Nights is still popular.
Trade was important to the Muslim community, partly because of ancient trade routes that crossed the Arabian Peninsula. Traders expanded the use of coins, and used the same weights and measures wherever they traded. Trade provided the wealth to maintain the empire and led to the growth of Muslim cities.
When Europeans came into contact with the Muslim world during the Crusades, they were dazzled by the luxury products they saw. Trade connections between the two cultures quickly developed. European merchants became wealthy, creating a new social class between rich and poor: the middle class.
Here are some Muslim products unknown (or extremely rare) in Europe before the Crusades. Think how common these are now in modern culture:
Fine fabrics: silk, cotton, linen and velvet.
Cosmetics: rouge, henna, kohl – and glass mirrors to admire the results!
New foods: sugar, lemons, apricots, plums, dates, rhubarb, almonds and watermelons.
New herbs and spices: cinnamon, cloves, mace, nutmeg, saffron and black pepper.