The Islamic state expanded very rapidly after the death of Muhammad through remarkable successes both at converting unbelievers to Islam and by military conquests of the Islamic community's opponents. Expansion of the Islamic state was an understandable development, since Muhammad himself had successfully established the new faith through conversion and conquest of those who stood against him. Immediately after the Prophet's death in 632, Abu Bakr, as the first Caliph, continued the effort to abolish paganism among the Arab tribes, and also to incorporate Arabia into a region controlled by the political power of Medina. United by their faith in God and a commitment to political consolidation, the merchant elite of Arabia succeeded in consolidating their power throughout the Arabian peninsula and began to launch some exploratory offensives north toward Syria.
Expansion Under The First Four Caliphs
During the reigns of the first four caliphs (632-661), Islam spread rapidly. The wars of expansion were also advanced by the devotion of the faithful to the concept of jihad. Muslims are obliged to extend the faith to
unbelievers and to defend Islam from attack. The original concept of jihad did not include aggressive warfare against non-Muslims, but "holy war" was sometimes waged by Muslims whose interpretation of the Koran allowed them such latitude. Jihad was directly responsible for some of the early conquests of Islam outside of the Arabian peninsula.
The Islamic cause was also aided by political upheavals occurring outside of Arabia. The Muslim triumphs in the Near East can be partly accounted for by the long series of wars between the Byzantine and Persian empires. Earlier Byzantine victories had left both sides exhausted and open to conquest. Moreover, the inhabitants of Syria and Egypt, alienated by religious dissent and resenting the attempts of the Byzantine Empire to impose Christianity on the population, were eager to be free of Byzantine rule. In 636, Arab armies conquered Syria. The Muslims then won Iraq from the Persians and, within ten years after Muhammad's death, subdued Persia itself. The greater part of Egypt fell with little resistance in 640 and the rest shortly afterward. By the end of the reigns of the first four caliphs, Islam had vastly increased its territory in the Near East and Africa.
The new conquests of Islam were governed with remarkable efficiency and flexibility. The centralization of authority typical of military organization aided in the incorporation of new peoples. Unbelievers in the conquered territories became increasingly interested in the new religion and accepted Islam in great numbers. In addition to the obvious power of the religious message of Islam, the imposition of a personal tax on all non-Muslims encouraged many to become converts. Contrary to exaggerated accounts in western Europe of the forceful imposition of Islam upon conquered peoples, Jews and Christians outside of Arabia enjoyed toleration because they worshiped the same God as the Muslims; many non-Muslims participated in the Islamic state and prospered financially and socially.
Islam was and remains one the most effective religions in removing barriers of race and nationality. Apart from a certain privileged position allowed Arabs, distinctions were mostly those of economic rank in the early days of conquest. The new religion converted and embraced peoples of many colors and cultures. This egalitarian feature of Islam undoubtedy aided its expansion.
Arab Domination Under The Umayyads
The first three caliphs of Islam were chosen in consultation with the elders and leaders of the Islamic community, and a pattern was established for selecting the caliph from the Karaysh tribe of Mecca. The fourth caliph, Ali, who was the son-in-law of Muhammad, was devoted to Islam and convinced that leadership of the Islamic community should remain in the family of the Prophet. The followers of Ali were later called Shii or Shiites (after Shiat-u-Ali, or "party of Ali"), and believed that the first three caliphs had been usurpers to legitimate power. Ali and his followers were opposed first by Muslims under the leadership of Muhammad's widow Aisha, daughter of Abu Bakr, and later by the forces of Muawiyah, the governor of Syria and a relative of the third caliph. In 661 Muawiyah proclaimed himself caliph, made Damascus his capital, and founded the Umayyad Dynasty, which lasted until 750. Thus the caliphate became in fact, although never in law, a hereditary office, not, as previously, a position filled by election.
Umayyad military campaigns of conquest for the most part were highly successful. The Umayyad navy held Cyprus, Rhodes, and number of Aegean islands, which served as bases for annual seaborne attacks on Constantinople from 674 to 678. With the aid of Greek fire Constantinople was successfully defended, and the Arab advance was checked for the first time. Westward across North Africa, however, the Umayyad armies had much greater success. The Berbers, a warlike nomadic people inhabiting the land between the Mediterranean and the Sahara, resisted stubbornly but eventually converted to Islam. The next logical expansion for Islam was across the Strait of Gibraltar into the weak kingdom of the Visigoths in Spain. The governor of Muslim North
Africa sent his general, Tarik, and an army across the Strait into Spain in 711. Seven years later the kingdom of the Visigoths completely crumbled. The Muslims advanced across the Pyrenees and gained a strong foothold in southwest France, where they carried out a major raid to explore the possibility of a further northward advance. However, they were defeated by Charles Martel near Tours in 732, in a battle which, together with their defeat by the Byzantine emperor Leo III in 718, proved decisive in halting their northward expansion into Europe. Meanwhile the Muslims had been expanding eastward into Central Asia, and by the eighth century they could claim lands as far as Turkestan and the Indus valley.
The mainstay of Umayyad dynastic power was the ruling class consisting of an Arab military aristocracy, who formed a privileged class greatly outnumbered by non-Arabic converts to Islam - Egyptians, Syrians, Persians,
Berbers, and others. Many of these converted peoples possessed cultures much more advanced than that of the Arabs, and the economic and cultural life of the Arab empire came to be controlled by these non-Arab Muslims (mawali). Because they were not Arab by birth, they were treated as second-class citizens. High government positions were closed to them. They paid higher taxes than Arabs, and as soldiers they received less pay and loot than the Arabs. Resentment grew among the non-Arabic Muslims who objected to their lesser status as a violation of the Islamic laws of equality. Eventually the resentment of the mawali helped bring about the downfall of the Umayyads.
Shia Movement Against The Ruling Group
This resentment also found expression in the religious sphere, where large numbers of non-Arabic Muslims joined the sect known as the Shia, which had been forced from power on the accession of the Umayyads. The Shia continued to regard Ali and his descendants as the rightful rulers of the Islamic community, and believed that in every age a messiah-like leader would appear and that he must be obeyed. The Shia also rejected the Sunna, the body of later tradition concerning Muhammad that was not contained in the Koran; they insisted on the Koran as the sole and unquestioned authority on the life and teachings of the Prophet. Though originally an Arab party, the Shia in time became a general Islamic movement that stood in opposition to the ruling Arabic dynasty. The Shia evolved into one of the two major groups in Islam. The majority, called Sunni because they were the "orthodox" perpetrators of Muhammad's Sunna, or tradition, upheld the principle that the caliph owed his position to the consent of the Islamic community. The numerical superiority of the Sunni Muslims has continued to this day.
Three Tiered Reading Guide
For each of the following, please answer whether the article supports the statement (S) or does not support the statement (D). Below each statement rewrite the sentence in which the statement was supported or refuted.
_____ 1. Islam spread quickly throughout the Middle East.
_____ 2. Islam was spread largely through peaceful means.
_____ 3. The concept of Jihad has always included the idea that non-believers should be immediately and brutally sacrificed.
_____ 4. In some areas, Islamic leaders were able to take advantage of weak political situations in order to control more territory.
_____ 5. Muslims fought a difficult and long battle to control Egypt.
_____ 6. Most people who converted to Islam did so because they feared that they would be killed if they did not.
_____ 7. Muslim military campaigns were successful because they were met with little resistance in general.
_____ 8. Early caliphs were elected.
_____ 9. Non-Arabs were treated like second class citizens.
_____ 10. Islam split into two factions.
Please read the following and indicate whether you agree (A) or disagree (D) with the statement. Use a supporting sentence from the article to support your answer.
_____ 1. The growth and acceptance of Christianity helped to spread acceptance for Islam.
_____ 2. Islamic rulers discriminated against non-Mulsims in their communities.
_____ 3. Islam is a tolerant faith.
____ 4. The split in Islam occurred as the result of minor disagreements about leadership.
____ 5. Islamic law treats all people as fair and equal.
Please read the following and indicate whether you agree (A) or disagree (D) with the statement. Write a statement in your own words that supports your agreement and disagreement. Indicate a paragraph in the article in which one could find evidence to support your claim.
_____ 1. The Islamic empire was a peaceful one.
_____ 2. Islam is a unifying force for persons of different races and ethnicities.
_____ 3. There is only one acceptable interpretation of the Koran and of Islamic belief.